Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Writing the Breakout Novel -- lesson 1

What I’m reading: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

What I’m working on….read on.

Ok – so I’m not making good on my promise from yesterday to post some great YA. I will, but I got distracted tonight.

I had some alone time – finally – so immediately I thought I should write, but I really need a solid plan, not just the haphazard first draft to guide me. So, I thought I would plot. I looked at my Discovering Story Magic notes and my Writer’s Journey notes, but quickly got stuck.

What to do? What to do?

I finally picked up a book I’ve known for awhile now that I should read, but one which I’ve been avoiding – Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass.

I’ve decided to read the book and go through every exercise in the accompanying Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. I’ll use each exercise as he recommends – going through my current manuscript with it.

I’ve already had one aha moment, and all I’ve read is the intro, part of the first chapter, and exercise one in the workbook.

The first exercise asked who one of my heroes was and what his/her greatest heroic quality was. As usual with me, it took a minute of going through those questions and the rest of them and applying them to my story to hone in on what I think is truly heroic with my heroes.

Now, just so you know, I have lots of heroes, but the first ones that came to mind tonight are Dr. Paul Farmer and Batman.

(I’m pausing while you laugh. Are you done yet?)

If you don’t know who Dr. Paul Farmer is, I suggest you read Mountains Beyond Mountains. And, well, Batman you know.

What’s interesting is that once I narrowed it down, I identified the same quality in both of them as their greatest heroic quality.

Are you on the edge of your seat in anticipation of that quality?

Wait no longer.

They both truly believe they can make a difference and they pursue whatever means necessary to do so.

I’m supposed to figure out a way to demonstrate that quality – even in a small way – in my heroine in the first scene. And I actually think I have that figured out. I really only show it in a small way, but it is distinct.

Woohoo! This already helping so much! I can’t wait for lesson #2!

If you want to learn along with me, go get a copy of Donald Maass’s book and workbook and join in. Maybe we’ll all write a breakout novel.


Monday, May 26, 2008


What I’m Reading: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.

Have you been to the Young Adult section of your local book store lately? I visit mine frequently because I’m privy to a secret.

Wanna know it?

Here it is: Today’s YA section isn’t the YA section of our youth. (My youth was awhile back. I’m climbing the 40 fence. Less than a rung to go.)

Today’s YA books are edgy and creative and likely to appeal as much to adults as to teens.

I have a friend – a fellow book-lover. She runs a book club for girls at my favorite high school. She refuses to select YA books, calling them “mostly lame”. However, she self-admits she hasn’t read many lately, and that’s a shame. Don’t get me wrong – she selects some great books for the girls. But, I think she’s missing even more by refusing to look at the plethora of great writing in the YA section.

Tomorrow or Wednesday I’ll post some new YA that are great – both books I can personally vouch for and ones getting bang up reviews.

In the meantime, how do you feel about YA? Do you have any favorites? If you haven’t read YA in awhile, would you be willing to give it a second chance?


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Summer movie must-sees

What I'm reading: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

I nabbed this blog idea from Mimi.

10 summer movies I’d like to see:

1) The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Saw it. Loved it. Very true to the book. Very dark. And hopeful.

2) Iron Man. I’ve always liked Robert Downey, Jr. I’m excited to his him in this flick. Plus, I love the excitement of comic books turned into movies – when they’re done well.

3) Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I loved all the other Indy movies. I can’t not see this one.

4) The Happening. I’m an M. Night Shamalan fan. I’m a bigger Mark Wahlberg fan.

5) The Incredible Hulk. I didn’t want to see it at first, but Edward Norton is in it. I’m incredibly curious to see how he pulls off Bruce Banner. I’m a Norton fan so I’m rooting for greatness.

6) WALL-E. That cute little robot has already endeared himself to me in just the few previews I’ve seen.

7) Hancock. The ds has already declared this as a must see. He sold the rest of the family by reminding us that Will Smith generally pulls off some very funny, very good movies.

8) Journey to the Center of the Earth. I’m sure it will barely resemble Jules Verne’s classic book, but since I’m a huge fan of his science fiction and read most of it as a teen, I’ll venture out to see Brenden Fraser and this version.

9) The Dark Knight. Batman is my favorite comic book hero. I love a regular guy (a very sexy regular guy) turned justice mercenary. And Christian Bale is just hot.

10) The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Ok, call me campy, but I loved the other ones so I'm hoping this one is good, too.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Organizing Blues

What I’m Reading: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn.

What I’m working on: The house. I can't write until I get it settled a bit more. I have the drill out and I'm putting things up.

Word count yesterday: Right (she says, rolling her eyes and quirking her mouth into a fleeting smirk).

I LOVE being 5 minutes from work. Even when I'm late, I'm not really late. My dogs love the new digs, too. I get up at the same time I used to, but I have time to walk the dogs for 20 minutes -- 40 if the dh doesn't go with us because then I walk each set 20 minutes a piece. (I have 4 furry kids and before you think that's crazy you have to know that if I lived in on a farm in the country, I'd have 4 more, too.)

I can run all sorts of errands and still be home before I used to get home. I love it. I also like having a smaller house. That may sound crazy, too, but more house equals more cleaning and I'm just not that into cleaning.

I do miss my huge kitchen and granite counters, but not enough to want to add my commute back to my life. And technically, this kitchen isn't the smallest one I've ever had. It's organized well, and I have shiney stainless steel appliances and white Shaker style cabinets. Of course, does any kitchen ever have enough storage?

No (said with another rolling of the eyes and a snort).

It is this point that brings me to the organizing blues. I hit IKEA (my new favorite place to shop) and purchased some trendy stainless steel shelves that help me pretend I'm in a Soho loft. I've been installing them and organzing spices and pots and pans on them. I've installed hardware in a closet, too. I've put up a wine rack on the wall, and a new towel rack awaits me. I have some nifty shelves with colorful storage boxes to assemble for the dd. And the list goes on.

Now, let me point out, that when it comes to drilling, I'm the handy one in my house. The dh just clears out (all the way to North Carolina this time -- with 114 graduating seniors from my fav high school).

These wonderful, shiney, new organization aids are great! It's installing them that's kicking my butt. Why? Well. Let's start with this is an old house and the studs are interspersed randomly. The walls are plaster. And the closets aren't exactly standard sizes.......

In my endeavors to organize, I've slashed my finger, dried out the skin of my hands until they are unrecognizable (can anyone say plaster?), and resorted to making up new curse words since I've way overused the F-bomb.

But soon the magnetic message board will be mounted on a kitchen wall, the art will be hung, and the cool, slidey, recycle/trash thingy will be installed in the cabinet under the sink.

My goal is to be done by tomorrow night, but with each project taking about an hour longer than anticipated and requiring unanticipated trips to home improvement hell (yes, that store), I'm not sure I'll make it.

I'll keep you posted. (Say a little prayer that I don't amputate something in the next 24 hours!)


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Check out these blogs

What I’m Reading: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (I'm about 1/2 way) and Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn (1/2 way, too). And because 2 books are not enough (ha!) London Calling by Edward Bloor

What I’m working on: Rewriting Slayer from the beginning – still. And wow – interesting stuff is emerging.

Word count yesterday: 0 (long day)
Word count today: 417

Every once in a while you stumble on a new blog or two that just hit home for you.

I stumbled on a few tonight. I’m adding them to my side bar and will be visiting frequently.

They are:
Reader’s Rants
Finding Wonderland: A Writing YA Weblog

Check ‘em out!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Ramble on....about writing that is

What I’m Reading: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (I'm about 1/2 way) and Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn (1/2 way, too).

What I’m working on: Rewriting Slayer from the beginning – it’s a whole new and better story. I'm still not to the point yet where I'll be able to use some of the old stuff I've already written, but I'm getting closer. Right now, it's all new words and ideas.

Word count today: 158

Last night, my writing group discussed our book club book via online chat. We take turns picking a book and then discuss it from a writer’s perspective. We used to nominate books and vote, but recently we switched to taking turns throwing out a title.

It was my turn for the latest. I selected a YA romance that has seen lots of hype. I didn’t like it as well as I hoped, but I learned a lot. A LOT.

After the discussion last night, I think what I write and the stories I make up in my head are coming of age stories. (Yes, I know: there are lots of kinds of coming of age stories.) I think mine are big-emotional-demarcation-line coming of age. I write about some decision or point or choice that divides the innocence of youth and the fallen-ness of adulthood. (Not that to be an adult you have to be fallen, but it's that crystal clear realization that things do go bump in the night, that sometimes happy endings are just Disney movies, that sometimes bad things happen to good people, that you can't always control everything, that decisions can haunt and almost everyone has regrets.) So, I think that’s what really draws me to books. It's what I like most about really good YA -- YA that's not just a good story, but rather that lingers with me and makes me think.

But then again, when I look at the books in both romance and YA that I really love, there is also some very well done sexual tension there. Always. Karen Marie Moning does it well. So does Brockmann and SEP and Hamilton (until Anita began to sleep with everyone). Twilight has it. Libba Bray’s books have it (and she does it so well that she makes you tingle with just a simple sentence or 2). Alice Hoffman had it in Incantation, and Meg Rosoff had it in How I Live Now.

So, despite the fact that the most recent book club read disappointed me a little, I was able to determine why and pinpoint what I love and don't and knowing that really does help as a writer.

So maybe I'm not a romance writer. But maybe I'm not YA either. I incorporate elements of both for emotionally searing, coming of age stories where the demarcation between youth and adulthood is often a chasm of jagged rock and you have no idea how you actually managed to cross it, but you also know there is no way you can go back.

Ramble, ramble. Write on.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

How do you see your stories?

What I’m Reading: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn (I previously started this but had to set it aside to read an ARC of Madapple, which needed comments by a certain date. I’m glad to be back to Silent in the Grave. I like it a lot.)

What I’m working on: Rewriting Slayer from the beginning – it’s a whole new and better story. I'm still not to the point yet where I'll be able to use some of the old stuff I've already written, but I'm getting closer. Right now, it's all new words and ideas.

Word count today: TBA

A while back I took a voice class. A lot of what I wrote in that class came out in first person. It wasn’t a conscious decision to write in first person. We were given a prompt and 5 or 10 minutes to write without editing – just write.

A majority of my pieces were first person which seemed weird since my stories are in third. At the end of the class, the instructor gave us a final analysis. In mine she suggested that first person might be really powerful for me and that maybe I should try it.

Of course, I blew it off.

But recently I experienced a revelation: When I make up stories in my head, I’m ALWAYS the protagonist. I always see the story through my own eyes – as if it’s happening to me. It’s not like I’m watching a movie and the characters are on screen. I AM the character. How did I not realize I’ve always made up stories where I’m the star? And why have I always converted them to third person instead of first?

This revelation inspired me to begin rewriting my current WIP (which was finished, but so NOT polished) in first person. And that changed the story – ALOT.

In the end, I think this new version will be better. However, it got me to wondering how other writers see the stories in their head.

How do your stories come to you? Do you envision them like a movie scene in your mind? Is it a role where you star? Have you really ever noticed? How does that translate into your writing?

Post your ponderings. I really want to know.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Fun stuff

What I’m Reading: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have To Kill You by Ally Carter.

What I’m working on: Rewriting Slayer from the beginning – it’s a whole new and better story.

Word count today: 446

First things first – I said I’d explain why I was rereading Great Expectations. My favorite high school is hosting summer reading book clubs. I’m leading one discussion – Mr. Pip by Lloyd Jones. Mr. Pip was shorted listed for the Man Booker Prize and won the 2008 ALEX Award.
Go here to read a brief synopsis of the book and see why I thought rereading Great Expectations might be a good idea (especially since it’s a book in the school’s freshman curriculum).

Second thing: I had a great blog topic which I’m saving for tomorrow in lieu of this:

THE TWILIGHT TRAILER!!!!! (click here!)

(Can anyone say fan geek? Seriously, though – check it out!)


Monday, May 5, 2008

My new downtown digs

What I’m Reading: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have To Kill You by Ally Carter.

What I’m working on: Rewriting Slayer from the beginning – it’s a whole new and better story.

Word count today: 538 (Woohoo! I’m back!)

I love living downtown. I live in the heart of Orlando. Seriously. I’m walking distance to city center. Not that I’d walk it…..

Technically, I live about 2 miles from the downtown library. I guess if I lived someplace like New York, I might walk. Or take a subway. But in Orlando – part of the great southern sprawl – I’ll drive.

But still – 2 miles. Very cool.

Even better – I really can walk to the big Barnes and Noble. It’s probably less than a mile. And my dry cleaner is walking distance. And work is ¾ of a mile. And we found the greatest little Italian place. And Starbucks – hehe – there are 3 (yep, 3) within a mile and a half of me.

Pause (I’m doing a happy dance.)

But the best part is that I can finally write. I have time. Not only did I have time to write two pages, but I walked my dogs – twice. And COOKED dinner. Yes, I know. It’s pretty damn amazing.


Saturday, May 3, 2008

Celebrate books!

What I’m Reading: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have To Kill You by Ally Carter.

What I’m working on: Rewriting Slayer from the beginning – it’s a whole new and better story.

Word count today: I plan to get back to writing on Monday.

There are several book celebrations worthy of my noting. Maybe they don’t mean anything to you, but to me, they are significant.

Most of you probably surmise (if you regularly read my blog) that I’m closely associated with a high school. This year, I created a new summer reading initiative – choose a book you want to read. (Novel idea – no pun intended.) The teachers (49 of them) selected books anonomously. We contracted with a local independent book store and had a book fair on campus where we sold all 49 titles plus several others. The school librarian (whom I absolutely adore) sold over $7K in books. (Our school library got 20% of the sales – woohoo!) Kids and teachers organically talked books all week. It was amazing.

I bought 3 books for me, one for the DH, and DD picked out one for herself!

Now my favorite middle school is going to follow in the steps of my favorite high school and have a book fair, too. Their book fair is a week and a half from now. It was fun to help our adorable librarian find great YA and middle grades books to order for it. And I love being able to give our local independent book store more business.

The next notable thing in book land is the impending release (Tuesday) of Host, the new Stephanie Meyer novel. It’s not part of the Bella and Edward saga begun in Twilight (for that conclusion, we have to wait for August), but it’s receiving good reviews (here and here and here).

I was going to be good and wait for it from the library, but Amazon pre-orders are REALLY cheap, so I spent $14+ (because you get an extra 5% off on pre-orders) to purchase my own copy. I’m eagerly awaiting its delivery.

I’m sure it will be well worth the $$. Meyer’s is brilliant – so much so that I kind of hate her (just kidding), but seriously, I have major writer jealousy. I used to tell people that in my next life, I was going to be J.K. Rowling, but not anymore – now I’m going to be Stephanie!

That's all the book news for now. I'm off to tackle another chapter in Great Expectations and to keep sorting my books in my new office. Someday, it will be unpacked!!!