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Many of the people I follow are participating in the A to Z challenge this month, so I expect they are plenty busy with this insanity right about now. (I say this with the utmost respect of one who could never in a million years be organized enough to post daily for an entire month, let alone have a theme involved tying all said fictional posts together – I am not that person.) I think they are all rock stars or mentally imbalanced, like people who purposely run marathons. Seriously, how do you do it?

Goals for this month:

1. Work on suggested revisions for Museum Crashers. I am deep into this goal at the moment and really enjoying it. The suggestions made during my conference critique have me on the right track. YAY!! I also meet with my critique group this week and they will add to the helpfulness, as they always do.

I may have neglected to mention this before, but two other members of my critique group, Barbara Lowell (who has her first book coming out this June!) and Sharon Martin (writer of the most kick-ass novel in verse I’ve read since Ellen Hopkins), both were chosen as top picks by the speakers. Man, do I have a fantastic critique group or what!

2. Work on suggested revisions for Institutionalized. This will be next after I’m done with Museum Crashers.

3. Read 6 books. I’ve just finished one book of poetry that I’m going to write a review on later this week and I’m in the middle of another, a sequel I’ve been really looking forward to reading – THE DREAM THIEVES by Maggie Stiefvater. I’m going a little slow on this one right now. It’s not clipping along with the same fantastic pace as the first one. Part of it may be that it’s been so long since I read the first book that I have trouble remembering everything that happened in the last book and I get a little lost.

4. If complete both 1 and 2, work on first draft of Pretty Vacant. Not ready for this, yet.

5. Yes, you still have to exercise. 4 times a week. Goal accomplished and my body hates it. Every day I wake up wondering why there is pain already. “Oh yeah. The exercise.” We’re not even up to pre-deathly ill month of February levels of exercise yet and my body is already whining. Too bad, chica, cause we’re not stopping. Slap on the icy hot and walk (limp) on.

 

Besides this, I’ve also been busy preparing for a talk I’m doing next month for our local SCBWI schmooze entitled “Intro to Twitter”. As part of this prep, I’ve been creating some lists on my Twitter account to share. Wow, was that time-consuming! I’m glad I’ve finally finished! One is called “Writers of fabulous blogs” and includes all the people I follow who also write really good blogs. Feel free hop on over and subscribe to it.

And how are you all doing with your goals?

I hope to get around to reading at least a sampling of the thousands of A to Z challenge posts out there; they are daunting in their numbers. I am interested in reading through all of Rebekah’s world-building series for sure. Talk about detail. Get on with your bad self!  Are there any A to Z challenges you’ve found fascinating?

Let’s dive right into Part Two, shall we?

Melissa Manlove2Following lunch, the dynamic Melissa Manlove, Editor at Chronicle Books stepped up to the stage and treated us to a talk about reading first pages like a pro. In the first page, editors can see how effective your use of language is. To read like an editor, she emphasized the importance of close reading, which is very different than reading for pleasure. When you close read something, you break down to elements and look at the construction of a story; you see what really makes it work.

For example, in the first page of Kate Messner’s OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW, the word choices not only dictate the cadence of the story, they evoke the mood of winter. See here in the very first lines:

Over the snow I glide. Into the woods, frosted fresh and white.

Over the snow, a flash of fur – a red squirrel disappears down a crack.

The end of the first line becomes a bit of a tongue twister, which slows you down as you read. The images of frosted and fresh and white evoke the wintery mood. Melissa mentioned that Messner also purposely chose words that together would mimic the feel of skis moving along the snow. THAT is paying attention to what works on more than one level in your story. And that is all just in the first line!

When discussing a good use of rhyme, Melissa gave the example of Liz Garton Scanlon’s book ALL THE WORLD. There is a great deal of cadence and structure, which is repeated. The author is showing she knows what she’s doing with structure in these first stanzas and it shows.

Rock, stone, pebble, sand,

Body, shoulder, arm, hand,

A moat to dig, a shell to keep -

All the world is large and deep.

 

Hive, bee, wings, hum,

Husk, cob, corn, yum,

Tomato blossom, fruit so red -

All the world’s a garden bed.

This is a goodnight book and in these type of stories, you want structure with a calming flow. Melissa went on to say that one of the reasons that many editors beg off rhyming manuscripts at the behest of their therapists is because most manuscripts they see only bother with rhyming the very last words in a line. While syntax is importance, it’s tough to make it sound natural if you don’t make it work in context with the entire story and take the overall RHYTHM of the story into account as well.

Melissa also said that mastering these skills, like all other skills, takes practice. Hoping to get it write like a bolt out of the blue isn’t the greatest plan. Writers may have to come up with a thousand mediocre ideas before they find that one great story. Then she said something that struck a chord with everyone:

Your brain is a machine made for generating ideas. Inspiration can feel electric, but lightning doesn’t strike the person laying in a sunny field, it strikes the person habitually cranking at the generator.

(Thank you to Gayleen Rabakukk for helping with the accuracy of that quote.)

There were so many other things she shared that were fantastic, I could blather on all day her talk alone. I suggest doing some close reading and practice writing of your own.

Melissa’s book recommendations: OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW by Kate Messner, CARNIVORES  by Aaron Reynolds, ALL THE WORLD by Liz Garton Scanlon, SKIPPYJON JONES by Judy Schachner, IT’S A TIGER by David LaRochelle, GOODNIGHT GOODNIGHT CONSTRUCTION SITE by Sherri Duskey Rinker, ON A BEAM OF LIGHT by Jennifer Berne,  and SWAN by Laurel Snyder (Fall release 2014)

Follow Melissa on Twitter.

 

Next up was the vivacious Kristin Miller-Vincent, Associate Agent, D4EO Literary Agency who talked about how to keep it fresh, get it fresh, and deliver it fresh. (Sounds like a pizza delivery commercial Kristin Miller Vincentwhen I say like that. She was much more eloquent.)

Fresh is hard to define. “We don’t know what it is, but we know it when we see it.”

So how can you bring fresh ideas to your stories?

  • Engage with the world and find truths that would make great fiction – find inspiration in the unusual things you come across that fascinate you. She gave an example of a strange statistic about the number of people hospitalized each year while taking down their Christmas trees in the nude.
  • Figure out what ISN’T actually out there – in pitch for the book,  THE EIGHTH DAY, it was described as there is a secret eighth day of the week, sandwiched between Wednesday and Thursday, with roots tracing back to Aurthrian legend.
  • Put a new spin on an old tale – reimagine a fairy tale or tell an old story from a different point of view. CINDER is a cyborg Cinderella story set in outerspace.

Those are just a few ideas as far as the plot are concerned, but what about voice?

Fresh voices are created are when authors know their characters well enough that they can let go of their own egos and let their characters use them as a vessel to tell the story.

Don’t get in the way of your narrative voice.

(Another speaker suggestion for delving deep into your characters – I’m sensing a theme.)

Kristin ended with discussing the critical mindset. You should welcome criticism and also be critical of your own work. Continue to question and wonder about ideas and the world around you.

There’s no room for complacency in publishing! You can do it!

Kristin’s book recommendations: PETE THE CAT by Eric Litwin, THIS IS NOT MY HAT by Jon Klassen, THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS by Rae Carson, THE EIGHTH DAY by Diane K Salerni, CINDER by Marissa Meyer, SCARLET by A.C. Gaughen.

Follow Kristin on Twitter.

 

Liza KaplanOur final speaker of the day was Liza Kaplan, Editor with Philomel Books, Penguin Group and she talked to us about tension.

A novel thrives on tension and drama, but the thing that makes a novel un-put-downable is the TENSION.

There are different types of tension:

DRAMATIC – those filled with situational difficulties, the most general tensions, romantical “will they or won’t they?” tensions

ENVIRONMENTAL – throughout the story the reader wonders if the character will survive. ex: BETWEEN SHADES OF GREY

WORLD-BUILDING – use of a forcible task or inescapable danger, very literally life and death situations. ex: HUNGER GAMES

THEMATIC – universal issues like love, freedom, free will, life and death, fighting for love at the cost of life. ex: 13 REASONS WHY

You should vary your use of the types of tension within your story. Remember that two opposing forces prolong uncertainty and delay resolution to keep up the tension. The faster we get to a resolution of a problem, the more comfort we feel. Make your readers wait for the resolution.

But tension isn’t the only thing needed for a great story. The stakes have to matter; the main character has to risk something big. And the higher, more demanding the stakes, the more tension you create.

Your novel should be like an emotional roller coaster. Your job is to be an emotional manipulator to your readers.

What helps create a visceral reading experience is making the reader care. If your character has stakes where s/she is personally invested, so will your reader.

Liza’s book recommendations: THE FIFTH WAVE by Rick Yancey, ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell, BEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray, WONDER by R. J. Palacio, THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak, AMELIA ANN IS DEAD AND GONE by Kat Rosenfield, 13 REASONS WHY by Jay Asher, HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, BETWEEN SHADES OF GREY by Ruta Sepetys

Follow Liza on Twitter.

After our brains were full to bursting with information, we wrapped things up with an informal dinner at a local barbecue place where everyone could unwind and mingle. Here are a few pictures from the end of the day. It was such a fantastic conference. I can’t wait for the next one.

SCBWI Group 2014

Last weekend there was a convergence of the sublime in Oklahoma City as the SCBWI Oklahoma chapter held its annual Spring conference. Great company, great speakers, great weather. Ah! I had so much fun and my brain was crammed with so many good ideas, it took me all week to process everything. And as two of my manuscripts were chosen for top speaker picks at the very beginning of the day, I did have to struggle at times to stay focused on being present, to listen and take notes, instead of sprinting down the revision tunnel express.

First speaker of the day was the lovely Tricia Lawrence, an associate agent with the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Tricia LawrenceI do apologize for missing out on most of Tricia’s talk as my face-to-face critiques were scheduled during this time. I did get to speak with Tricia during the weekend and I gleaned information about her talk from those who were able to hear her talk. First of all, I loved Tricia right from the start as we both share Pacific Northwest roots. I spent some of my formative years in her neck of the woods and I still hold a special place in my heart for that part of the country. (A friend of mine swears this is why I don’t sound like I’m from around here, even though I’ve lived in Oklahoma almost without interruption since I was about four.) Tricia talked at length about how her career path was guided by the need to stay on the West Coast. She spent years working as a freelance editor among other things before breaking into the agenting side of the business. Lucky for us, her stars aligned at the right moment when she came to the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

During her talk, Tricia discussed how important it was to really get to know your characters before you start writing, to sit down and have therapy sessions with them. Put them on the couch and get them to spill their guts. She said they may not want to open up at first, they may much rather run outside and ride bikes or go play video games, so you have to keep digging. Ask them about their biggest fears, their most hidden secrets, what they want more than anything. Keep asking until they crack; until you know your characters inside and out. Hey, therapy isn’t easy, folks.

It was a very stimulating talk that got several writers thinking of ideas all weekend. At least, I’ve never heard so many people eager to go into therapy. As a big proponent of self-exploration, I love this idea. I plan on putting my main character through some serious couch time starting this week.

Tricia, like all of the speakers, mentioned some books that showed great examples of the ideas she wished to convey. All of the speakers mentioned how important reading was to the craft of being a writer. I know I say it all the time, but it never hurts to remind you guys that the professionals say it as well. You gotta READ!!!

Tricia’s book recommendations: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green, GRAVE MERCY by Robin LaFevers

Follow Tricia on Twitter.

Next to present was the spunky and adorable Colleen AF Venable, Art and Design Editor at MacMillan’s First Second Books and author in her own right with her fabulous GUINEA PIG, PET SHOP Colleen AF VenablePRIVATE EYE graphic novel series. When she made the conscious decision to have her main character – a female guinea pig named Sasspants – NOT be drawn with over exaggerated eyelashes or a big bow to show her gender, “Because guinea pigs don’t have giant eye lashes or wear bows in nature”, I wanted to bow down at her feet or jump up and scream, “YES!” (I’m a huge believer in realistic role models for girls, obviously.)

Colleen took us all to school on graphic novels and taught us about what they were and were not. Simply put, graphic novels are defined thusly:

Visual story-telling using sequential images.

Well, gee, that could be anything, you might say. I mean, I’ve seen some picture books that might even qualify by that definition. And you would be correct. Still, they are NOT all about tightly-clad radiated people with superpowers. (Not that there is anything wrong with those kinds of graphic novels.) Here are some examples of graphics novels that may surprise you:

 

Monster EndPigeon

flotsam

The Arrival

 

 

 

 

 


Friends with Boys

RapunzelLaikaTo DanceLone Wolf

 

 

 

 

 

 

bk_floraLewis and clarkSmileGiants BewareHereville

 

 

 

 

 

It was such an enlightening talk and I must say, it made converts out of many of the participants. What struck me most was how many non-artists have written graphic novels: Shannon Hale, Neil Gaiman, Kate DiCamillo, Jane Yolen, Cecil Castellucci, Holly Black, and don’t forget Stan Lee, (totally not an artist!). Rainbow Rowell, author of ELEANOR & PARK, has a graphic novel series in the works with First Second Books right now. How exciting is that?

Colleen discussed how you can add an extra layers of depth to your story with the visuals in graphic novels. Even by just manipulating the layout of the panels and how you use the spacing between the panels – the gutters – you can create completely different pacing styles to the story, similar to how traditional writers use sentence and paragraph structure. Fascinating. She suggested that if you were interested getting started in graphics novels, as a writer, you should read lots of plays and comics to help you get the flow of graphic novels. Script writing especially can aid in learning to think more visually about how you tell your story.

Colleen gave us a comprehensive reading list hand out (another perk of coming to such a fabulous conference), broken down by age groups, so I won’t list all of her recommendations here. Some of them are pictured above. I will list others she mentioned by name.

Colleen’s book recommendations: AMERICAN BORN CHINESE by Gene Luen Yang, BENNY AND PENNY by Geoffrey Hayes, SMILE by Raina Telgemeier, SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD by Bryan Lee O’Malley, THE PLAIN JANES by Cecil Castellucci, OWLY by Andy Runton, BABY MOUSE by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm, ROBOT DREAMS by Sara Varon, ZITA THE SPACEGIRL by Ben Hatke

Learn more about Colleen here.

Follow Colleen on Twitter.

Andrew HarwellAndrew Harwell, Editor with HarperCollins came back to Oklahoma for a second time after doing such an amazing job for us at our Novel Revision Retreat back in 2012, and was christened an honorary Oklahoman. (That’s just how it goes, if you come back, we claim you as one of our own. Our list of these lucky conference alumni is steadily growing – Laurent Linn, Krista Moreno, Alexandra Penfold, all honorary Oklahomans.)

Andrew wanted to talk about something new this go around, so he delved into how the family dynamics in Middle Grade and Young Adult writing help to create richer characters. Strong central families are common in all the stories he is drawn to. He said that when he gives an elevator pitch for a book, he realized that he always begins by discussing the relationships first. No matter what kind of story you’re writing, whether it’s a fantasy, mystery, paranormal or whatever, you have to get the reader to care about the characters first, right? In order to do that that we have to get to know the character, and what better way to do that than by using the family. After all, Andrew asked us to think about this:

You are most yourself around your family.

Who else sees us at our most vulnerable? When we are exhausted, pushed to the limits, cramped in a minivan for hours on a road trip to Aunt Bonnies’s with nothing to do but listen to each other breathe and your brothers won’t stop farting or touching your side of the seat? Oh yeah. You really get to know a person in those circumstances.

There are all kinds of families. You have to ask yourself what your character’s family history is before you begin your story. This is your character’s beginning, after all. No matter how much of this history you decide to show, YOU as the writer need to know it. Knowing whether or not your MC is friends with everyone in his family (or not) or whether your MC is supported or misunderstood at home will determine how s/he interacts with the world at large. It will also add more emotional depth to your story.

Andrew showed examples from many different books to highlight the different ways that family dynamics can create amazing stories. Whether you use these dynamics to create empathy, as in THE HUNGER GAMES (whose heart didn’t break when Katniss volunteered to go into the death match in her sister’s place?) or to create conflict as in FANGIRL (what does it mean when your twin sister doesn’t want to be your roommate?) or to create a villain in the family as in THE GOLDEN COMPASS (Does Lyra’s mother love her or is she evil through and through?) bringing family dynamics into play can be the best thing for your character and your story.

Andrew’s book recommendations: PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ by A.S. King, THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, PANIC by Lauren Oliver, IF I STAY by Gayle Foreman, CASE FILE 13 by J. Scott Savage, WONDER by R.J. Palacio, SEA OF SHADOWS by Kelley Armstrong, ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Saenz, FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell, THE JUPITER PIRATES HUNT FOR THE HYDRA by Jason Fry, REALITY BOY by A.S. King, THE GOLDEN COMPASS by Philip Pullman, ASYLUM by Madeleine Roux, ALMOST SUPER by Marion Jensen, UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi, THE HARRY POTTER SERIES by J.K. Rowling, MOCKINGBIRD by Kathryne Erskine, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green, I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith, TENDER MORSELS by Margo Lanagan, ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell, PENNY DREADFUL by Laurel Snyder, ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia

Follow Andrew on Twitter.

Can you believe how much sage wisdom was imparted in this morning session alone?

It knocked my socks off.

After an entertaining lunch where I hosted a table with Tricia Lawrence, who was ever so gracious with her precious time and insights. I met some new writers, one was attending her very first SCBWI conference and was so enthusiastic about everything, it was delightful to see. There were so many writers there with teaching backgrounds at my table; I may have been the only one without a teaching degree. After lunch, and a brief (and humorous) commercial for our Fall Retreat, we returned for our remaining three speakers.

Stay tuned for PART TWO to hear what they had to bestow on our eager minds…

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To say that I had a positive experience at our SCBWI OK spring conference would be quite the understatement. One of the first things that happened before our speakers took the stage was the winners of the face-to-face critiques were announced. Each speaker chooses two manuscripts from their selections and those lucky souls get to sit down and discuss their writing for ten whole, uninterrupted minutes. I had not one, but two separate manuscripts chosen.

That was a first.

I was beyond thrilled, beyond honored. (Thankfully I was not beyond speech.)

The two speakers who chose my MG and YA manuscripts were both so fantastic. They gave me insightful suggestions that fit right along my vision for each story – neither thought I had to scrap the entire thing a rewrite either as, say, a paranormal/historical dystopian/time-travel piece. I can’t wait to get back to revising. Is it any wonder I had such a hard time concentrating on the rest of the conference? Once I made my way back into the main room, I did my best to stay focused. The speakers were all so brilliant, so diverse and amazing. It was just an all-around wonderful day. A recap of the rest of the conference will be coming later this week.

For now, let’s take the final look at this month’s #writemotivation goals:

  1. Make progress on new YA project (Pretty Vacant) including plotting out new story arc and starting on first draft with word count goal of 30K. I fell short by 10K, but this story did get off to a good start. I’m happy with the progress made.
  2. Submit first YA manuscript to at least 15 agents. Only sent out to about one-third. Lame, lame, lame.
  3. Read at least 6 books this month. Done! By the skin of my teeth. (That is a weird saying.) Good thing I brought some more books home from the conference; I was almost out – ha ha ha! I can’t even say that with a straight face.
  4. Get back into exercise routine slowly – at least three times week. No comment. (I did dance on stage during the conference while killing time before a bit, but I’m not sure that really counts. And sorry for those who saw that. For some reason, having my back turned made me think I was invisible.)

I hope you all had a productive March.

I am one of the few NOT participating in the A to Z challenge during April. (A themed blog post every day all month long? Those guys are crazy.) I will however, be setting more #writemotivation goals since I have some serious (and exciting) work to do.

If you want to join in all the fun, pop on over and sign up for #WriteMotivation April! 

bc-wintergirlsI love Laurie Halse Anderson. She is a fearless author who writes emotion so beautifully. I first read her novel SPEAK years ago and I still can’t get that book out of my head. I heard Anderson speak for the first time last summer at the SCBWI LA conference and got to tell her how awesome she was in person. Her keynote speech was one of the best of the conference and I was so inspired by her, I can’t even tell you. On top of that, she writes this story like she herself suffered through anorexia and had the words of a poet to make the reader know exactly what it feels like to be at war with your own body and to not be able to see yourself as you truly are. She has woven eating disorder pathology and effortless character voice masterfully into a story you just can’t put down.

“Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls.

“Tell us your secrets,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another.

I am that girl.

I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.

I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.

Lia and Cassie were best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies. But now Cassie is dead. Lia’s mother is busy saving other people’s lives. Her father is away on business. Her stepmother is clueless. And the voice inside Lia’s head keeps telling her to remain in control, stay strong, lose more, weigh less. If she keeps on going this way – thin, thinner, thinnest – maybe she’ll disappear altogether.

In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the National Book Award finalist Speak, bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson explores one girl’s chilling descent into the all-consuming vortex of anorexia. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

In her books like SPEAK and WINTERGIRLS, Anderson writes about scary topics and has her characters say out loud things that teens are thinking way down deep inside. She gives voice to the nightmares and the rages we may all have experienced and then helps her characters (and readers) see a way through to the other side. I could keep fangirling like mad or just let her words speak for themselves. Here’s a passage from the very beginning of WINTERGIRLS, on the morning Lia learns her former best friend is dead  - body found in a motel room, alone:

...When I was a real girl, with two parents and one house and no blades flashing, breakfast was granola topped with fresh strawberries, always eaten while reading a book propped up on the fruit bowl. At Cassie’s house we’d eat waffles with thin syrup that came from maple trees, not the fake corn syrup stuff, and we’d read the funny pages…

No. I can’t go there. I won’t think. I won’t look.

I won’t pollute my insides with Bluberridazzlepops or muffins or scritchscratchy shards of toast, either. Yesterday’s dirt and mistakes have moved through me. I am shiny and pink inside, clean. Empty is good. Empty is strong.

But I have to drive.

…I drove last year, windows down, music cranked, first Saturday in October, flying to the SATs. I drove so Cassie could put the top coat on her nails. We were secret sisters with a plan for world domination, potential bubbling around us like champagne. Cassie laughed.I laughed. We were perfection.

Did I eat breakfast? Of course not. Did I eat dinner the night before, or lunch, or anything?

The car in front of us braked as the traffic light turned yellow, then red. My flip-flop hovered above the pedal. My edges blurred. Black squiggle tingles curled up my spine and wrapped around my eyes like a silk scarf. The car in front of us disappeared. The steering wheel, the dashboard, vanished. There was no Cassie, no traffic light. How was I supposed to stop this thing?

Cassie screamed in slow motion.

::Marshmallow/air/explosion/bag::

When I woke up, the emt-person and a cop were frowning. The driver whose car I smashed into was screaming into his cell phone.

My blood pressure was that of a cold snake. My heart was tired. My lungs wanted a nap. They stuck me with a needle, inflated me like a state-fair balloon, and shipped me off to a hospital with steel-eyed nurses who wrote down every bad number, In pen. Busted me.

Mom and Dad rushed in, side by side for a change, happy that I was not dead. A nurse handed my chart to my mother. She read through it and explained the disaster to my father and then they fought, a mudslide of an argument that spewed across the antiseptic sheets and out into the hall. I was stressed/overscheduled/manic/no-depressed/no-in need of attention/no-in need of discipline/in need of rest/in need/your fault/your fault/fault/fault. They branded their war on this tiny skin-bag of a girl.

Phone calls were made. My parents force-marched me into hell on the hill New Seasons…

Cassie escaped, as usual. Not a scratch. Insurance more than covered the damage, so she wound up with a fixed car and new speakers. Our mothers had a little talk, but really all girls go through these things and what are you going to do? Cassie rescheduled for the next test and got her nails done at a salon, Enchanted Blue, while they locked me up and dripped sugar water into my empty veins…

Lesson learned. Driving requires fuel.

This is such a phenomenal and important book. It will move you; it will change you.

Learn more about Laurie Halse Anderson here.

Follow Laurie on Twitter here.

Follow Laurie on Tumblr here.

Spring GrassAh, spring!

It’s only a few days in and already I feel your magic. The trees are budding, the days are warmer, there is more sunlight.

I love springtime.

You saved me from the dreariness of winter in the nick of time.

That’s why I couldn’t believe this story I heard on NPR about this village Rjukan, in Norway that spends half a year in darkness. People living in darkness on purpose.

What?

That country’s first cable car was built in the town for the sole purpose of transporting villagers up to the light for their health. (My first question would be, if you have to do something that drastic, why would you ever, ever live there?)

Finally, one of it’s residents had a brilliant idea (no pun intended) to shed some light on the matter. (Yes, he was an artist.) Many people thought the idea was crazy and a waste of money, but apparently those same people are the ones you’ll find now standing in the town square basking in the warm sun, transported down from above by the fantastic combination of art and engineering. Computer-controlled mirrors now reflect the sun’s light and beam it down to the grateful people below. Brilliant, right?

My point? Just when you think you’re stuck in six months of never-ending darkness, maybe step back and reevaluate your surroundings, your plight. There  could be another way to look at your situation that you just haven’t thought of. I don’t know, I just found it creative as hell and hopeful.  Human beings are amazing, sometimes.

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Now to check on my #writemotivation goals for the week:

  1. Make progress on new YA project (Pretty Vacant) including plotting out new story arc and starting on first draft with word count goal of 30K. Steady progress made. I’m closer to 18K than 30K, which isn’t bad. Might just make this goal.
  2. Submit first YA manuscript to at least 15 agents. I’m behind on this goal, but I do have some potential agents narrowed down. I feel confident that I can meet this goal by next week.
  3. Read at least 6 books this month. (I’m a little behind on my yearly reading goal already!) This one is going well. I have finished five books already. I’m currently TheGraveyardBook_Hardcover_1218248432reading Neil Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK. It has a great opening line: “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” And this is accompanied by such an ominous illustration that the mood is perfectly set.
  4. Get back into exercise routine slowly – at least three times week. Meh progress. Two times. Next week comes the dreaded return of the elliptical. I know this helps me have more energy and helps me fight of the depression uglies, so do it I must.

Today I’m also posting over at The Great Noveling Adventure blog. I’m discussing craft books that have helped me stop totally sucking at making amateur mistakes and I’m looking for some more suggestions to stop making the even bigger mistakes. If you have a book on writing that you’ve found invaluable in your quest to be the best writer you can be, hop on over and share it with us.

Next weekend is the SCBWI OK spring conference! WOOHOO! I will be tweeting about the conference throughout the weekend at #SCBWIOK14 if you care to follow along. I will, of course, give you all the highlights and my favorite takeaways from the great speakers we have lined up in future posts, so stay tuned!

Hope you are taking command of your goals and bowing them to your will.

Keep writing!

cover-art-by-gigi-littleI met the editor of this book, Laura Stanfill, out in the blogosphere while we were both mutually admiring each others blogs. I found her just delightful and followed her progress as she bravely ventured out to start her own publishing house, Forest Avenue Press. Founded in 2012 in Portland, Oregon, Forest Avenue Press started with the mission to publish quiet novels for a noisy world.

This book is their first fiction release and debuts this month. I am delighted have read one of the Advanced Reader copies. This book was well chosen. The writing is solid and the pacing moves the story along well. Author Dan Berne brings the Alaskan scenery to life effortlessly as he weaves the tale of a broken family trying to reunite, missing one of its members, and struggling to fit the pieces back together.

Family means everything to widowed Alaskan fisherman Ray Bancroft, raising his granddaughter while battling storms, invasive species, and lawsuit happy tourists. To navigate, and to catch enough crab to feed her college fund, Ray seeks help from a multitude of gods and goddesses – not to mention ad-libbed rituals performed at sea by his half-Tlingit best friend.

But kitchen counter statues and otter bone ceremonies aren’t enough when his estranged daughter returns from prison, swearing she’s clean and sober. Her search for a safe harbor threatens everything Ray holds sacred.

Set against a backdrop of ice and mud and loss, this debut novel explores the unpredictable fissures of memory, and how families can break apart, even in the midst of healing. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Berne evokes rich sensory details of life on Yatki Island, Alaska, and the people there who live and die by the sea. It anchors the reader firmly in the world so well you can almost smell the creosote, diesel fuel, and gutted fish in the air and taste the elk stew Muskeg Sally has cooking down at the Blind Dog Tavern.

Here’s an excerpt from the first page:

Mud and rain invaded my dreams after Donna’s death. In southeast Alaska, where I’ve lived for half my life, we have precipitation 310 days out of the year. All those nights with the skittle-skattle of wet pellets against the windows, you’d think that rain would have formed the base molecules of my sleep a long time ago. And the mud. It’s everywhere up here, omnipresent and brutal. Until my wife died, my dreams were waterproofed, sealed against the elements. Maybe it was feeling her back against my chest as we lay in bed, her leg draped over my thigh. My arm around her waist, breathing in the scent of her skin, listening to her breathe. Twelve years she’s been gone, and I seldom sleep without the rain beating on the walls of my subconscious, the sludge seeping up through the decks of my memory.

Standing on the aft deck cabin of my crabbing boat, I read the letter from my daughter for the third time. She wants to come home. Jenny, who together with the rain and the mud, murdered my wife.

Powerful and tactile. And it doesn’t let up. I raced through this book; I couldn’t put it down. It wasn’t just the great pacing that kept me reading, though. I cared about the characters who were flawed and scarred and kept making the wrong choices just when you hoped they wouldn’t. It was a beautifully written story that I enjoyed to the very end.

About the Author:DanBerne1

Dan Berne owns a market strategy consultancy and lives with his wife Aliza in Portland, Oregon. His short stories and poetry have been published in literary magazines. This is his debut novel.

Learn more about Dan Berne here.