March #writemotivation check in

The back and forth weather this time of year leaves me feeling a bit discombobulated. One day I’m busting out the shorts and blinding people with the neon glow of my wintered legs, and the next I’m back in many-layered winter gear, building a fire to take off the chill. It’s like spring needs to throw us a few misfires, teasers of the warmer days ahead, before she can come on full-strength. I feel my writing progress this week had behaved in a similar manner. I’ve had bursts of manic activity followed by sludgy moments where I’ve had to wade through mental muck to get anything accomplished. My brain needs a thorough spring cleaning – or a nice vacation. That would do in a pinch. I know warmer days are ahead, even if I have to survive a few more frosty ones to reach them. Some days, that’s the only thing that gets me out of my PJs.

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This week’s #writemotivation goal progress:

1. Complete revision of Middle Grade manuscript (Museum Crashers) and prepare for final critiques. I revised three more chapters, so I’m almost halfway done. I may need more days with bursts of creative energy to get me through the month and reach this goal. (I want those #writemotivation cookies!)

2. Continue making progress on first draft of new Young Adult manuscript (Pretty Vacant). Not much progress made on this one. I had my critique group meeting this week, so any time not spent on my first goal was spent on critiquing. Never wasted time.

3. Follow up on submissions outstanding for Young Adult manuscript (Institutionalized) and pursue any additional avenues that arise. I did start working on my new short list of potential submission candidates. Yay! Progress made.
4. Exercise at least three times a week. Only exercised two times. Not terrible, but not stupendous either.

Don’t forget to check out KT Hanna’s #writemotivation page to sign up for April. It should be available soon. That way you can join us next month and share your goals. The more, the merrier!

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Pride & Prejudice in the Modern World – The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

pride-prejudice-bicentenary-challenge-2013-x-200You know that out of body experience  you get when you’ve never encountered something before and then once you do, you see it everywhere you turn? It’s like the universe is shouting at you, “Hey, this is important! Check it out!…Seriously. I mean, drop everything you’re doing and go look into this…Right now!” Well, a few weeks ago that happened to me regarding the outstanding web vlog series called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (LBD). I would see a random comments from writer friends online, talking about how much they loved it. At first I thought maybe it was a new book or something. It is the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice this year, so many new books have been released to celebrate it. Then another friend tweeted about catching up on watching some Lizzie Bennet episodes. Okay, not a book…a new series, maybe? The chatter got so loud and so gushing that I finally had to Google it just to find out what in the heck everyone was talking about. That search led me to the YouTube channel for The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and then the first episode began to play.LBD

Wow. What fun! A modern day vlog hosted by the character Elizabeth (Lizzie) Bennet, telling all about her life and the lives of her two sisters, Lydia and Jane. Perfect for this month’s Pride & Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge event! It’s the modern retelling of P & P, so sisters Mary and Kitty were recast as a cousin and…a cat. Those are not the only changes; Jane works in fashion, Lizzie is in grad school (with her vlog as her thesis project), and Lizzie’s best friend, Charlotte helps her film and edit the vlog episodes because she has aspirations of being a filmmaker. Bingley has been transformed into Bing Lee, the young (available & wealthy) medical student who’s just moved into town. Some things that are still the same; Mrs. Bennet still wants her daughters to get married and Darcy is is still very Darcy…or is he?

tumblr_mj6z7798V01s6lq53o1_500Not being very experienced with YouTube besides watching occasional episodes of  John Green’s vlogbrothers, I was fascinated by the world of the weekly vlog webisode, and taking literature into this techno place. (On a sidenote, John Green’s brother and other half of the vlogbrothers, Hank Green, was one of the co-creators of this project.)

In LBD, the characters address the camera directly and speak to us the viewers and to each other about their feelings. It feels more like peeking in on a webchat than watching a play or a movie. Still, the experience is very cool and so interactive, with viewers commenting on each weekly episode. Not to mention the spin off episodes that Lydia’s character put out that added another layer to the experience, like some wonderful special features tidbit you’d get with your double disc blue ray set. You can even follow some of the characters on Twitter. And they even tweet back and forth with each other. Just more and more awesomeness.

By the time I’d stumbled onto this gem, there were already over 90 episodes to watch! Yikes! I was so behind! Needless to say, when I started watching, I couldn’t stop. It killed my productivity for a few days, blazing through them all, cursing my internet server (you know who you are) the few times that my WiFi streaming was too slow to keep up with my viewing demands, but it was worth it.

What surprised me most about LBD, was when the emotional impact escalated and I actually felt myself reacting to what I was viewing. Even tearing up a few times. I hadn’t expected that. The acting was so natural that you’d forget it was happening until they’d smack you upside the head with a great emotional scene. Bravo!

Now, as you all know, this story has an ending, and so too does this fine vlog. Episode 100 is coming up very soon. I would encourage all of you to check out this fantastic show. Start here with the first ten episodes. And for those of you who are already fans and would love another web vlog inspired by a great book, check out the new School of Thrones, only in it’s second episode! Actor Mary Kate Wiles, who plays the darling (and totes adorbes) Lydia in LBD, plays Sansa Stark in this spoof of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. It’s fantastic.

So what about you? Do you watch any fabulous vlogs? Any others out there you know of inspired by great books? I’d love to hear from you.

Using Writing Prompts and a #writemotivation Update

photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. httpwww.flickr.comphotossahlgoodeI’ve had a pretty productive week on the writing front and not all of that frenetic activity was related to my goals. I worked on a submission for a scholarship entry that was based on a writing prompt. I used to hate writing from prompts, maybe because I’m not great at taking direction. Or maybe because I don’t like limits and restrictions on what I can write. Most of my writing ideas have come to me out of the blue and I have to write them down before they evaporate into the creative ether from whence they came. But then this past summer I heard Kate Messner talk at the SCBWI LA Conference about how she gets her ideas for picture books. She said that sure, some of her ideas come to her out of the blue, but why wait for those rare moments? Why not work at generating them? She gave everyone present her secret matrix for brainstorming ideas and then made us try it out. Within five minutes, I actually had some possible picture book ideas – not that I’m ready to write picture books just yet, but that is a goal I have in the future.

Kate said: “Many picture book authors write lots of crappy picture book manuscripts because it stirs the pot of creativity!” Sometimes while you’re working like this, it can facilitate an actual “fall from the sky idea”. Either way, it’s a great thing to do while you’re waiting for inspiration to strike. Kate does this about twice a week to stir up new ideas.

Ever since that talk, I’ve looked at writing prompts in a different light. Speaking of prompts generating ideas, the one I used for the scholarship entry definitely sparked an idea for a new novel. I got so excited about it that I may sketch it out a little more before pursuing my other first draft novel I’ve already started. Which idea will win out? We shall see.

I know I can’t share Kate’s matrix, but I won’t leave you empty-handed. Here are two sites to get you started if you want to give writing prompts a try.

  • The first is from the Poet’s & Writer’s website. They post a prompt each week, one for poetry and one for fiction.
  • The second is from a teacher’s tumblr page simply called Writing Prompts, where he posts his daily writing prompts that he uses in class. He describes his teaching style as “Nerdfighteria takes over The Colbert Report with Ira Glass as a guest.” Wicked awesome. You can even donate books to his classroom library to help support his cause. I’d say it’s a right worthy one.

So what about you? Do you use writing prompts to kick-start ideas? Do you despise them? Share your thoughts.

On to this week’s goal progress:

1. Complete revision of Middle Grade manuscript (Museum Crashers) and prepare for final critiques. I revised four chapters out of eighteen which is right on track with my goal to finish a complete revision by the end of the month.
2. Continue making progress on first draft of new Young Adult manuscript (Pretty Vacant). I didn’t work on this at all last week. Okay, I did make some mental progress, which does count in my book, but next week I want some physical progress down on paper.
3. Follow up on submissions outstanding for Young Adult manuscript (Institutionalized) and pursue any additional avenues that arise. The time limit for an exclusive submission hadn’t quite run out, so I did nothing but wait this past week. Waiting is the worst, isn’t it? Next week is a different story. Action will be required.
4. Exercise at least three times a week. Woohoo! I did make this goal. That explains why I’m so sore. Everywhere.

Hope you’re all making headway on your goals as well. Looks like spring’s making an appearance this week. As the kids have some time off from school, I’m sure I’ll be making at least one trip out to our local zoo in between making time for the writing. Have a great week!

How Being a Drama Queen Can be Beneficial to Writing

dramaqueenIt may surprise some of you, but I was a bit of a drama queen when I was a teenager. What? Mother of all things zen? Oh yes, my daughter comes by it naturally. I was a big door slammer, too. I once slammed my bedroom door so hard, it knocked the center panel of wood right out. Kinda took the steam out of that temper storm.

I did manage to find a creative outlet for my teen hormones-gone-wild; the theatre. One of the few saving graces my little backwater town offered was the delightful community theatre, The Gaslight. Although they had a strong teen theatre program, I actually broke on the scene with one of their adult plays, a summer musical called Sweet Charity. I was the only teen to get a speaking part – very exciting. I played Rosie, the new girl.  It was a small role where I had to play an innocent girl, fresh off the bus in her hemmed up prom dress, the newest addition to the taxi dancers at the sweet charitydance hall where Charity, the lead character, works. As fresh meat, she’s picked right off the line by a smarmy old guy. There was a lot of improv required for that role and the old guy in question was a sweet veteran actor named Gene, who worked at the post office for his day job. He had me blushing many times just by whispering nonsense into my ear. As I recall, “You’re such a ham!” was one of his favorite sweet nothings. I didn’t do so much acting as reacting in those early days. I’m not even going to tell you about the prank he pulled during one of the mid-week pickup rehearsals. Talk about initiating in the new kid! Oy vey! Despite the hectic rehearsal schedules and performances and the embarrassing (yet hilarious) pranks, I was hooked. I was in love with acting.

By the time I went away to college, I still loved theatre, I just wasn’t so in love with the idea of being an actor. I still hung around the acting crowd. I got a job as a stage hand for one of my work study gigs and I even took an acting class at the college level. I’m so glad I did. For one, because I met a fantastic friend in that class. And for another, I learned many things about studying people that I still use in my writing to this day.

We would have to do these acting exercises outside of class and write journal entries about our experiences. Most of these exercises involved many hours of people-watching. Things like, observing how different people walk. An exercise might say something like “Notice that each person walks in a unique way. Describe some of the different gaits you observe. How would you capture that on stage? What does that person’s walk say about them?”

Fascinating, no?

You can surely see how using this exercise could be beneficial when describing a character in a novel.

One of my favorite exercises was about hands. Just hands. How much can we tell about someone by studying their hands? Think about how much we do with our hands, how we talk with our hands, what we do when we don’t know what to do with our hands, etc. So interesting those exercises.

I still enjoy people-watching. You can find many ideas for characters while simply observing your fellow man going about their day. It does take a little effort to put down your cell phone from time to time and actually look around you, but trust me, it’s worth the effort. The other day, while I was sitting in a café, waiting on my order, I noticed this woman standing in line, wearing a very unusual outfit. She had short-cropped brown hair that was full of movement and style. She wore a crazy print shirt with a furry pink vest on top. It looked like a creature from a Dr. Seuss book had been turned into a fur vest. There was baubly jewelry bouncing around her neck and some kind of cross-body purse. Then I noticed her shoes. They didn’t seem to match the outfit. Plain white support shoes? I didn’t get it. Then, the line moved forward and my view of her changed. She had a stilted walk, more like the stumbling shuffle of someone who’s had a stroke. I looked closer at the spiky, sassy hair and realized it was probably a wig. The woman no longer appeared to be a young hipster, but an aging flower child, still showing her individuality as she battles against time and disease. Oh the story ideas that hit me from just that little moment. That brief encounter. That character study, in the flesh.

Take some time to do some people-watching this week. Jot down some of the unique things you see. You might even get some story ideas out of it, if not a little drama.

March Madness Begins with the Return of #writemotivation!

photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. httpwww.flickr.comphotossahlgoodeSorry if you were looking for something sports related, but this is my kind of March madness – authors going crazy with writing goals. Woohoo! Besides, I’ve always enjoyed being a participator more than a spectator when it comes to sports. I did manage to pay attention to my kids’ games much easier than any football/basketball game I was forced er…encouraged to watch – this IS Oklahoma, after all. Football is the American pastime here. (I would say it approaches the reverence of a religious fervor if it wouldn’t cause a holy ruckus. Halleluiah, Amen!) And now that we have a fantastic national basketball team, we’ve embraced that sport with the same frenzy. But I digress…

K.T. Hanna started this wonderful writer’s support group called #writemotivation which is all about sharing your writing goals and cheering on your fellow writers as they pursue their goals. You can learn more about it here. This year, she’s expanding #writemotivation to every month instead of every other month because she knows we falter when she’s not around – as the first few months of this year can testify. (She’s been busy with the task of tending to her very first youngling. What a lucky little girl! And such cute chubby cheeks! You just want to pinch them or gobble her right up.) Ugh! I digress, yet again…

I know I speak for many in the group when I say I am grateful for K.T. and her #writemotivation cookies for helping me stay accountable and keeping my butt in the chair to do what I should be doing…WRITING! Feel free to join in for April – heck, if you’re on Twitter and you need a little encouragement to get through your writing day, pop on over to our hashtag, #writemotivation, and say hi. We’re a friendly group that rarely bites.

On to my goals!

(See? No more digression. It’s working already)

1. Complete revision of Middle Grade manuscript (Museum Crashers) and prepare for final critiques.
2. Continue making progress on first draft of new Young Adult manuscript (Pretty Vacant).
3. Follow up on submissions outstanding for Young Adult manuscript (Institutionalized) and pursue any additional avenues that arise.
4. Exercise at least three times a week.

Okay, who snuck that last one on there? Blech! The rest my goals aren’t that mad and should be attainable as long as I keep my butt in the chair and get the work done. See you at the hashtag for motivational tweets, my fellow writers!

Stay tuned next week for an update on how well I’m keeping up with these goals. And let me know what your goals are this month. Or tell me why I should care more about sports. It will have to be a good argument, but let it rip…

Car Crashes and Traffic Jams – My One Year Anniversary Post

One year ago at the end of February, 2012, I began this little blog, not knowing what would become of it. One year later, it’s still going strong and I’ve met so many wonderful friends because of this little space. I’m grateful to all who stop by and comment and those who just stop and read. You all help make this writing journey less lonely and much more fun. Thanks for all of the encouragement and companionship!  On to the post!

There’s this song by Snow Patrol called “Headlights on Dark Roads” that begins with such an astounding proclamation that it immediately caught my attention the first time I heard it.

“For once I want to be the car crash
Not always just the traffic jam
Hit me hard enough to wake me
And lead me wild to your dark roads”

Having been in a couple of ugly car crashes, I had to wonder what kind of person would choose that? To feel the terror, the violent impact and pain that comes from a split second mistake. To see a monstrous, out of control hunk of metal roaring towards you and to feel utterly powerless. Someone would choose that over a stagnant life where nothing is happening?

Fascinating.

That first stanza grabs you, makes you want to hear more, makes you feel something visceral from the very beginning of the song. It continues with the next verse after the chorus:

“My tongue is lost so I can’t tell you
Please just see it in my eyes
I pull up thorns from our ripped bodies
And let the blood fall in my mouth”

Powerful, no? I think some of the very best song writing is like poetry. For me, Snow Patrol is one great example of many. There is so much passion in their lyric writing. I would also recommend seeing them play live. They are fantastic.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about this song of theirs lately and what it means. All about how one would rather have a life full of passion and pain rather than the alternative of safety and boredom.
Life is pain?
A life worth living has pain?
All kinds of ideas were generated, which is another great sign of art inspiring art. This heavy, deep thinking about car crashes then seemed to leak into my reading selections because the last three books I read all began with violent car crashes and death. Interesting how one part of our life can influence another, whether purposefully or not.
There the similarities in the stories ended. That was something else that fascinated me; how writers could take a similar premise and develop three completely different stories from it. Here’s a bit about each of the three books. I really enjoyed reading all of them.
If I Stay by Gayle Forman

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Wow. This is the smallest of the books, but one of the most emotionally powerful. Gayle Forman made me tear up, fight back, and then submit to an ugly cryfest with this wonderful book. Saying anything else would just spoil it for you. Except that there is now a sequel, Where She Went. Music is a very big part of this book and you can sample each of the songs mentioned in the book from a playlist on the author’s website.

On a day that started like any other…

Mia had everything: a loving family, a gorgeous, adoring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music and full of choices. Then, in an instant, almost all of that is taken from her. Caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia spends one critical day contemplating the one decision she has left—the most important decision she’ll ever make.

Simultaneously tragic and hopeful, this is a romantic, riveting and ultimately uplifting story about memory, music, living, dying, loving. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

You can read an excerpt of the book on her website.

Learn more about Gayle Forman here.

Follow Gayle on Twitter here.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Before I Fall

Have you ever wanted to replay a day where you totally screwed everything up and fix all your mistakes? What if it was your last day? Lauren Oliver was an author I had never read before. She has a new series out, the Delirium Series, but before I committed to something like that, I wanted to read one of her first books and make sure I liked her enough to invest that much reader love. And I do. Emotion and voice and ah! I could go on for days. What a perfect book to start your writing career.

What if you had only one day to live?

What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?

Samantha Kingston has it all: the world’s most crush-worthy boyfriend, three amazing best friends, and first pick of everything at Thomas Jefferson High—from the best table in the cafeteria to the choicest parking spot. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life.

Instead, it turns out to be her last.

Then she gets a second chance. Seven chances, in fact. Reliving her last day during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Lauren Oliver here.

Follow Lauren on Twitter here.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E Pearson

The Adoration of Jenna Fox 1

I came across this title while in search of something new to download onto my Nook. I’d remembered my daughter raving about this book a few years ago, but little else. Something vaguely about a girl recovering from a car accident and trying to regain her memory. Unfortunately she’d checked it out at the library so it had slipped from my mind as soon as it was out of sight. I’m all for reading something new and trying out authors I haven’t read before, so download it I did.

Amazing story and not at all what I thought it would be. I had no idea it would be such a clever and heart felt exploration into what it means to be human. I ripped through this one in record time. And now I find out it’s a series? Oh, yay!

Identity.

Where does it lie? In a face? A voice? A bundled string of events we call a lifetime? Is it in our DNA, bone, flesh, ancestry? How do we define our identity, and is it a once and for all definition?

Who am I? Can anyone ever know for sure just what it takes to be who we are?

We all search for our place in this world and how we fit in, but for Jenna Fox that search reaches dark new dimensions when she wakes from a coma and can’t remember who she is. Worse, she doesn’t remember the people who claim to be her parents. There is something curious about them, about the house they all live in–in fact, curious describes her whole life, as she attempts to unlock the secrets of who she was, and who she has become.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox is about Jenna’s search for identity, a quest as old as history, but as startling as the future. (Plot summary from the author’s website.)

Learn more about Mary E Pearson here.

Follow Mary on Twitter here.

Have you read any fantastic books about car crashes?
Have you been in a car crash? How did it change your life?
Let me hear from you.