Thursday, December 9, 2010

Six Random Words


For some holiday fun Michelle started the blog chain off with a creative writing assignment.

In 100 words or less, write a story using the words ride, post, soulless, local, dehydrator, girdle. Your story may take on any form you wish. The only two rules are 1. you can't simply list the 6 words; you must actually craft them into something creative, and 2. you must use ALL six of them.

Okay, I am going to admit right off that I could not stick to the 100 word limit. In fact, I went 88 words over. Whoops. So, here is my little story using all six words and 182 other ones as well.

*********


"Smart car," she harrumphed, all three of her chins wobbling. "I'm gonna need a girdle if you expect me to ride in that sorry excuse for a vehicle."

"Ma'am, this is a mail truck, not a smart car. And when I suggested you take your complaints to the local post office, I wasn't offering to give you a ride."

Only twenty-five more years until retirement, he reminded himself. Of course, between the old ladies and the dogs he'd be a soulless husk by then, but they said the pension was worth it.

She pushed her false teeth out with her tongue, then with a great slurping sound sucked them back into place. "Well, how 'bout you just take me down to the 7-11 for a Big Gulp? This house is nothing but a big ole dehydrator, and if I don't get myself some Dr. Pepper, I'll be turned into beef jerky. You want that on your conscience?"

In answer, he turned away, trudging towards the next house. The trio of nasty little ankle biters began yipping in anticipation.

Only twenty-five more years.

He'd never make it.


***********

Okay, now I challenge you to use these same words to do some creative writing! And also to keep following this chain. Check out the Daily Pie Shannon served up yesterday, and then head on over to Amanda's blog tomorrow to see what she posts!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Books Are...

YEEHAW! That's right I just said YEEHAW! Why? Well,

1. because every so often I like to channel my inner cowgirl.
And 2. because it is my turn to start the blog chain! So, YEEHAW!

Okay, inner cowgirl, that's enough.

So, now for the question. Actually, instead of a question, I'm going with more of a fill-in-the-blank style approach. So, here it is - fill in the blank.

Books are ______________________________.

Yep, that's it. Pretty broad, topic, I know, but sometimes that's the fun of it. And as far as the blank goes that can be one word or a whole ten page essay. Now, I know that I usually tend more to the long-winded ten page essay end of things, but right now I am in the midst of Nanowrimo-ing (which I am technically "losing" because I am wwaaayy behind on word count, but I've been writing almost everyday, and have added almost 50 pages to my WIP, so it kinda feels like a win to me.) and am trying to conserve my wind for that.

So, here is my answer. Short. Sweet. Simple.

Books are EVERYWHERE.

Now, I am not presenting this as some deep universal truth, but rather my own very personal one. And I have pictures to back it up.

**WARNING: Some of these pictures contain very graphic scenes of mess, disorder, and disorganization. Proceed at your own risk***

This is pretty self-explantory. It's my trusty old overloaded Ikea bookshelf. If this bookshelf were a dog, it'd be Old Yeller... well except for the whole (SPOILER ALERT!) dying at the end thing.

And this is my bedside table. Note the pile of books I am currently reading or planning on reading soon on the table. The bag of books under the tab are my latest takings from the library. And the "What To Expect" book, well that was from a few weeks ago when I needed to find out if my daughter's rash was eczema (it was) and I haven't gotten around to putting it back yet.

My husband's bedside table with his soon to be read/currently reading/have no intention of reading but will leave it hear to appease my wife pile of books.

Books piled on the kitchen table. Along with some toys, and the Target toy ad that my son has been obsessed with the last few weeks.

Cookbooks. And cooking magazines. And other assorted clutter that just makes home feel like home.

This side table in the family room is where the books that were read to the kids before bedtime get piled. There is also more assorted clutter on display. Yes, I could've cleaned before taking these pics, but that would've felt like censoring, which I don't believe in. Also, I didn't much feel like cleaning today.

The path of destruction leading to the children's bookshelf.

And a close-up of the bookshelf itself, along with the books behind being used to prop the lamp up a bit. Books are excellent multitaskers.

The bookshelf in my son's room. Yes, we have A LOT of children's books. It is pretty cool, because it gives us a great selection to choose from, and if you've ever read to children every single night, you know that having a good selection if key to retaining one's sanity.

Some more books on the desk in my son's room.

And finally, a stray book that I use for naming characters, sitting on the kitchen counter where I left it the night before.

So pretty much every room and every surface has some kind of book on it. And that's pretty much the way we like it here.

Well, that's it for me. To find out how the rest of the chain fills in the books are blank, head on over to Sandra's blog next and follow along.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Characters Popping Up Everywhere


Our new blog chain question started off with Abby who asked:

Where do your characters come from? And once they've been introduced to you, how do you get to know them?

For me everything starts with character. My characters tell me what the plot will be, where the story will be set, and even what genre I'll be writing in.

I'm not really sure where these characters come from - I just start writing and there they are. And to know them better, I simply keep writing. And as I write even more characters emerge.

I actually struggle with a perpetual character overpopulation problem. Minor characters - like a waitress or a next door neighbor - meant to have one line, get greedy. They're not content with merely bringing more coffee or asking about their missing dog. No, they have to become complicated people with their own thoughts and problems. And they want to talk about these problems, and make the main character care about these problems.

Sometimes I let them. Hey, sometimes it works out and the waitress is suddenly the main character's best friend. Sometimes though, it's just a distraction. A tangent that leads nowhere and means nothing except more words on the page. That's when it's time to kill the next door neighbor. Their missing dog probably gets whacked too. Writing can be a bloody business.

And that's pretty much it from me, but don't forget there is more blog chain goodness out there! You can find Shannon's post from yesterday here, and then go look for Sandra's blog post after that!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Talking With Dead Authors


The blog chain has swung my way once again and this time Michelle H. asked the question.

If you could dine with any author, and I do mean any whether alive or dead (yes, we're going into the realms of time travel - but hey, we have science fiction writers on this chain so we can always ask for them to write up the time machine specs), who would you want to dine with? And if you can ask them for advice on one writing element you feel you might be struggling at, what would it be?

The first thing I knew when I read this question was, of course, I was going with a dead author. There's really no contest here. Call your friends and tell them you had dinner with JK Rowling. They'll be impressed. A little jealous. But tell them you had dinner with Jane Austen... in that case, well in that case they'll probably think you've lost the little bit you have left of your mind. However, if there was some way to prove that you are not insane, then they will be totally and completely amazed. It's not just anyone who can raise the literary dead, and have dinner with them.

As for specifically which dead author I would choose, well, I honestly think several would be more fun. Make it a party, you know? I've already mentioned Austen, so she would definitely be on the invite list. Georgette Heyer, the Bronte sisters, Sylvia Plath, Louisa May Alcott, LM Montgomery, Francis Hodgson Burnett, Betty Smith - and there would be men too. Shakespeare, Salinger, Mark Twain, Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, Lord Byron, and really any other dead author who wants to take break from the grave for a night would be welcome.

Of course, you might have guessed from my picture at the top that I'm defining the term "dine" a little loosely. In fact, my first thought was booze cruise. You know Hemingway would totally be down with that.

And I'm not just thinking liquor because after years in the grave someone would probably prefer a good stiff drink to a fancy french dinner, but also because I want more than writing advice. I want the dirt. I want gossip. And lots of it. It's a weakness, I know, but I just love hearing those behind the scenes stories of feuds, fights, and long-held grudges. And a little author-to-author trash talking would be pretty fun as well.

So, there's my answer. Want to know how the rest of the chain answered? Shannon posted her answer before mine, and Sandra will be next.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Guest Post with K.M. Weiland!

K.M. Weiland, from the blog Wordplay, is here today with an awesome guest post concerning a very awful problem - writer's block. Keep reading to find out six simple ways to overcome it, and don't forget to also check out her CD - Conquering Writer's Block and Summoning Inspiration.

Writer’s Block Busters

Writer’s block is that hairy beast that lurks beneath every writer’s desk, growling ominously, and threatening to steal our joy at any moment of any given day. Right?

Actually, as I discuss in my recently released CD Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration (http://www.kmweiland.com/books_CWBASI.php), writer’s block is only a monster when we let it become one. The surest way to best this beast is to send him packing before he ever gets a toehold in that lair under your desk (you can find lots of prevention techniques on the CD). But what happens on those occasions when he gets the best of us and stakes out his territory right in the middle of our latest manuscript? Following are a handful of surefire writer’s block busters:

1) Just start typing. Writer’s block feeds off our inertia. If our fingers are moving—even if all they’re creating is dreck—we’re one step closer to winning the battle.

2) Grab a book off your shelf, open it to a random page, select a random line, and use that as the next line in your story. You may have to change it later to avoid plagiarism, but for now just focus on getting your creativity jumpstarted.

3) Write yourself a letter. Pretend you’re a bestselling author who knows all the tricks of the trade. Now write this super-writer persona a letter, explaining all the problems that are keeping you from moving forward in your work-in-progress. That, by itself, may be enough to get you thinking logically about your plot holes. If not, switch roles and have Super Writer respond with an encouraging letter of his own.

4) Throw in a plot twist. Kill off a character, introduce a wormhole, reveal a secret identity. Even it makes no sense in the story, just let your hair down and start writing something deliciously unexpected. An object in motion in much more likely to stay in motion—and you may come up with a killer new idea.

5) Take a break. Sometimes writer’s block is just burnout in disguise. Our creative brains are like rubber bands: they can only stretch so far. Instead of obsessing over what you’re not writing, give your imagination permission to go on vacation. You may be surprised with what your subconscious comes up with when you’re not paying attention.

6) Give yourself permission to break the rules. Sometimes our obsession with crossing every T and dotting every I can knot us up into nervous wrecks of perfectionism. Forget all those rules that tell you to show and not tell, to avoid lengthy descriptions, or to forego info dumps. This is the first draft; all that matters is getting those words down on paper. You can perfect them later.

The cures for writer’s block are as multitudinous as the malady itself. Just remember that you don’t have to succumb to this foul-breathed dragon. He’s just a pitiful little lizard next to the awesome fury of your fingers pounding away at a story. Keep writer’s block in perspective, and he’s not likely to bother you!


K.M. Weiland writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in the sandhills of western Nebraska. She enjoys mentoring other authors through her writing tips, editing services, workshops, and her recently released instructional CD Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

My Legacy!?


Shannon started off the blog chain with this question:

Imagine this: when you're gone, readers will remember your writing most for just one of these things: your characters, your plots, your settings, or your style. Which one (only one!) would you prefer over the rest? Why?

Okay, wow.

Right?

I mean any question that begins with "when you're gone" is a pretty big question already. But then even once I've wrap my head around the whole dead and gone thing, I also have to imagine that at some point before I've shuffled off this mortal coil - not only will I be published, but that this book or books will also be remembered as being good for something other than lining the bird cage.

I gotta say this question makes all the self-doubt parts of my brain light up like a pinball machine.

But let's put that aside.

And let's also not think about the fact that no matter how much I love books, (so much so that once again - after I'm gone - if someone did the math they would calculate that I'd probably spent a good quarter of my life inside of them) I am not very good at specifically remembering each individual one. The ones I love - I remember bits and pieces. The ones I really hate - I remember bits and pieces. Most though fall into the middle, and those I pretty much forget completely.

But (not to get all philosophical on you here, I mean really, this is a pretty simple question and I'm here turning it into this whole existential what's gonna be left of me after I die whole big dramatic thing. sorry, i get that way sometimes.) maybe it's more than what's remembered or forgotten. And more than writing a book that's treasured instead of sold at the next garage sale - or in this new digital age - maybe it would just be deleted out of existence (deleted out of existence? that's a bit much, right? I know, bring mortality into the equation and suddenly it's all over-the-top statements and quoting Hamlet. again, I apologize.)?

Maybe it's about what Shannon (who I would not blame if she is right now rolling her eyes and saying a heartfelt "oye" at where I have dragged her truly excellent question.) wrote about in her post about getting lost in books. And getting lost is what I love about reading. For Shannon it was setting - being able to take someone to another place. But for me, I need to get out of my own head. My own head gives me headaches (if you are still reading this post, you might be getting one too.). Books put me in someone else's head. In someone else's life.

And I guess that after all this my answer is actually quite simple (it usually is once you dig past all the nonsense). Characters. I want my characters to be my legacy. Even if they're not really remembered at all, in the moment, when the words - whether on paper or screen - are in front of your eyes, I want my characters to be alive... even after I'm not.

So what about you? Ready to contemplate your own epilogue? What would you have your written legacy be?

And to keep following this blog chain (which if it's true what they say about things you post on the Internet being there forever, this chain will still be here long after we're gone. geez talk about a legacy.) please check out Amanda's blog next.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Genre Jumping



This time on the blog chain Margie started off with a question about genres.

How did you come to write your YA genre (e.g. contemp, fantasy, etc.)? AND (yep, it’s a 2 parter), if you weren’t writing that, what genre would you be interested in exploring?

As I've mentioned before, I've already played around with a few different genres.

My first novel was a contemporary romance. Why? Because I've been devouring romance novels since eighth grade. The biggest influence in writing my contemporary romance was Susan Elizabeth Phillips, a contemporary romance novelist whose books I re-read on a regular basis. Also, at the time I was also reading a lot of chick lit, and elements from those books worked their way in as well. Unfortunately, I think my influences sometimes manifested themselves as imitation - and this ultimately hurt the book. However, I have two other contemporary romances that I began and abandoned in a file folder somewhere. Someday I'd like to hunt them down and give this genre another go.

My second novel was an urban fantasy. And genre wise, it's actually not that big of a change from contemporary romance. Like my contemporary romance this book had romantic entanglements - just no happily ever after. And the setting was the same modern world... except with a few demons thrown in for flavor. My biggest influence here was Buffy The Vampire Slayer. And all things Joss Whedon.

And now, I am working on a young adult urban fantasy. Again, not that far of a jump. Still in an urban fantasy world, just with a younger protagonist. It was really the idea I had for this one that demanded the young adult genre. For me, it wasn't Harry Potter or the Twilight series that brought me back to the YA genre as an adult (I'm actually not a huge fan of either of those series). I actually found my way back to YA in my early twenties, when I was in that section of the library picking out a book for my youngest sister. Turns out, she have any interest in reading the book, but I did. The book was, A Killing Frost by John Marsden - the third in his Tomorrow series. I ended up hunting down the entire series at the library, and then everything else he had written, and after that YA books were regularly rotated into my reading queue.

As for other genres I might write in... well, I don't know. I'm actually pretty happy with these three, but I also wouldn't rule anything else out. Who knows there might be a Western lurking somewhere at the far reaches of my mind... but I doubt it.

What about you? Are you true to one genre, or do you also like to play the field?

And make sure to keep following this chain. Shannon's daily pie post was before mine and Amanda will be up next.

Monday, August 30, 2010

All Joy No Fun


The blog chain has swung it's way back around to me once more. This time Eric started things off with this question:

What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of being a writer? What is your greatest reward from writing?

The most challenging aspect? Singular? As in I can only pick one thing? If this was a multiple choice question instead of essay, I wouldn't even have to look at the options. It doesn't matter if it's listed with

A. lack of confidence
B. rather lonely sometimes
C. finding time
D. motivational issues
E. staying focused
F. ideas needed
G. not getting discouraged

Oh, I could go on and one and on. An multiple choice that goes through the entire alphabet until we get to Y. and Z. Those would be the ultimate multiple choice options of:

Y. None of the above
Z. ALL of the above

And right there. Z. That's me. I'd fill that little scantron circle in so hard that the lead on my number two pencil would snap.

The most challenging aspect of being a writer for me, is well, being a writer.

Okay, yes, that sounds a little - or maybe a LOT - negative. But it isn't, not really. Because challenges aren't always bad. Nothing about writing comes easy, but maybe that's part of the reason why I keep doing it.

I think my attitude towards writing is best summed up by a recent article from New York Magainze. It was entitled: ALL FUN, NO JOY. The article isn't actually about writing, but rather about parenting. The subtitle is: Why Parents Hate Parenting. Still, I could easily change the headline to: Why Writers Hate Writing.

The article discusses the studies that have been done showing that couples without children are happier than those with children. There is a lot of talk in the article about the nature of parenting, the inherent difficulties, etc. However, what I really found compelling was when it questioned what happiness really is. Data for these studies was gathered by asking parents on a moment by moment basis throughout their day if they were at that exact moment happy.

Now I think almost anyone can imagine the reaction to being asked if they are happy while in the midst of - changing a diaper, or handling a tantrum, or telling a child for the 5 thousandth time to please pet the dog gently, or one of the other endless not super fun tasks of parenting. I can only imagine the harried parents being interviewed screeching back, "AM I HAPPY!?!?! AM I HAPPY!??!"

And yet despite this apparent lack of happiness, people say if they could do it again - they'd still have that one - or even multiple - children. The author of the article argues that maybe happiness is more than something we feel on a moment by moment basis. That perhaps there is a deeper happiness that comes from having having a purpose and being rewarded by working towards something - whether that something be raising a happy healthy person, or writing a brilliant book. In this odd way the challenges that make us miserable in the moment may actually make us happier in the end.

So, to sum things up. Writing, being a writer, that is my greatest challenge. And it is also my greatest reward.

What about you? Is writing a challenge? A reward? Or something else?

And to keep up with this chain you can find Shannon's entry before mine and Amanda's tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What's Up?


Cole came up with the question for out latest round on the blog chain and it is:

Are you querying? Gearing up to go on submission? Writing? Revising? I'd love to hear what's new with you. And if you'd like to share a snippit of your WIP, even better!


Oh, you mean besides watching Mad Men, Friday Night Lights, Burn Notice and... *ahem* - perhaps just once in a while if it happens to be on and I happen to be near the television - an episode or two of Wipeout?

Oh wait, that's right - there is more to summer than watching TV, cursing the endlessly hot and humid weather, and attending weddings.

So what have I been doing writing-wise?

Well, I've been querying. Last year at about this same time I started querying my urban fantasy, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. After getting some revision notes from an agent, I revised. Then I got even more revision notes and I revised again. Suddenly, it was May. Revisions were done, but I wasn't quite ready to jump back into that query pool yet.

However, in the last month something changed - maybe it was Wipeout that inspired - or should I say motivated - me?




Okay, I am not proud of that clip. In fact, watching it fills me with shame and guilty guilty guilty giggles.

So anyway, I am querying. But I have also been writing, because when you are querying you are supposed to start working on something new. And because I have had this idea - for a YA urban fantasy where a girl goes missing and after a year is found again but she has no memory of who she is or what happened to her - rolling around in my head for a long time now, and I needed to finally get it down on paper. Mostly though I have been writing because after a while I get sick of hitting the refresh button my email inbox.

I am tentatively titling my WIP Immortally Wounded. I'm just shy of the 10K mark so it's still pretty early, but here is a little snippet from the little that I have written so far.

****

The mom insisted on calling my memory loss amnesia. As if I were a character in a freaking soap opera. She thought I just needed the right trigger to snap me out of it.

It started with a picture quiz. I correctly identified the Gerber baby, but couldn’t place my own baby picture.

It got worse from there.

Ronald McDonald – yes. The clown from my fourth birthday party – no.

I easily named every character from Friends. My own best friend – “Such a nice girl,” the mom told me as if this telling detail might jog my memory – no recognition at all.

In the animal kingdom category I got Kermit the Frog, Lassie, and Dumbo all correct. But Here Kitty Kitty, the rather cumbersome name that I apparently gave my own dear cat at the age of five, didn’t come close to my guess of Snowball.

This game officially ended when I incorrectly identified a woman with iron gray curls and a closed lipped smile as Queen Elizabeth. Turns out that one was my Nana.

I was trying. Can I say that in my defense? The mom is a really nice lady. And she was trying to be really upbeat, chirpy even, but with every wrong answer on the picture quiz she’d deflate just a little bit. She tried to cover it. She’d pat my hand and tell me it was okay. She was always touching me – patting, rubbing, squeezing my hand, arm, or leg. And that’s when she wasn’t hugging me. That was okay too though. She was a good hugger. As soon as her arms wrapped around me there was that sensation like everything was going to be okay. This was the one thing that we had most in common – we both really wanted everything to be okay.

****

And that's it from me. Make sure to check out Shannon's post from yesterday and tomorrow you can find out what Amanda is up to.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Revision Me This

After a bit of time away, I am back for another round on the blog chain. Today's question is brought to us by Sarah who asked:

How do you handle revisions? Do you revise as you're writing, or do you wait until you've gone through beta readers and crit partners to revise? How soon after you finish do you begin your revisions?

Revisions. I have a love/hate relationship with revisions.

When I am writing the first draft I think back longingly to the joy of revisions. There are words on the page. Not always the best chosen words. Not always the correctly spelled words. But there are words and those words form sentences. Yes, several of them are egregious run-on sentences. It's a problem - I'm working on it. But there are sentences and they form paragraphs, which piled together make chapters, and those chapters - one stacked precariously on top of the next - form a story. Sort of. You know, once all those loose ends are tucked in, bad dialogue is deleted, and a few stray characters - whose names I forgotten and randomly started calling them something else - are rounded up and given one consistent moniker.

The thing is that there is something on the page to work with. Even if that something stinks like a diaper pail in July it is at least not a blank page staring at you daring you to write something that won't several months later be determined to stink like a diaper pail in July.

Of course, several drafts into revisions - when I've actually lost count of how many times I've actually revised the darn thing and start saving it as "BTDATDBS_REVISION#_SHOOT ME JUST SHOOT ME NOW"... well then I have moved onto the hate side of the relationship. No, not hate. It's more like the way I feel towards my three year old son at the end of a particularly whiny and difficult day. I love him, of course, I love him absolutely, but at that exact moment I am really sick of his face.

So how do I handle revisions? Well, I do not revise as I write. No, I prefer to handle my first drafts like a mad General marching through the wilderness on a moonless night. There are no flashlights. There aren't even any of those flaming sticks that they used to carry around on Lost all the time. And sure, I am most likely headed straight off a cliff, but I am determined to keep moving forward, because if I look back... well, if I look back and evaluate - or God help me, critique - then I might decide this march isn't worth marching at all.

The one sort of revision-ey thing I do while writing the first draft is occasionally make notes to myself about something earlier on in the manuscript that needs to be changed, due to something later on in the MS that went not exactly as I'd originally planned. These notes I'll usually tackle immediately after I finish the first draft. Technically I still consider these new additions as not really revisions, but as a finished touch to the first draft.

Then I let it sit. Usually a couple weeks. And during that time I'll read. Or I'll start brainstorming ideas for what I want to write next. Mostly though I'll start imagining that my first draft is better than I remember it being. Specifically I'll remember those few days when the writing was really flowing and everything seemed to be clicking. "Yeah," I think, "this book is gonna be good." And I start itching to do those revisions, which, of course, begins with reading my masterpiece.

Imagine then, if you will, my comically crestfallen face as I begin reading that word document holding my precious manuscript and realize that I might have a bit more work ahead of me than I had first realized.

This is the hardest part.

It's kind of like doing dishes after Thanksgiving dinner. Because I cook like I write. There is no cleaning as I go along. No, I simply pile the dirty pans and stirring spoons into the sink. And when the sink is full, they go on the counter next to the sink. Then by the time we've eaten and the leftovers have been put away - there are literally dishes everywhere. And I just don't even know where to begin.

Eventually though I just start somewhere. Maybe run spell check just to get rid of the errors so obvious even that annoyingly helpful Word paperclip can see them. Then I might print it out so I can see it on paper. This can sometimes backfire when major changes are necessary and I cross out large chunks, then using a series of brackets, asterisks, and long winding arrows, point to what should be moved into its place. Overall though, this method lets me see problems that I might not have spotted otherwise. As I enter these handwritten changes, I usually make even more changes still.

Then it's time for beta readers. My husband gets stuck with this job, because he lives with me and there is nowhere for him to run. But I usually round up a few other people as well. And since people have an annoying habit of reading at different rates of speed, the revisions don't all come in one batch, but slowly return to me one by one by one. This means that I usually end up doing revisions every time new feedback rolls in.

And then if it's ready, I start to query. But revisions don't stop and I never write the words - or even let myself think them - FINAL DRAFT. If a way to improve is pointed out in an agent's notes, or if I simply have an epiphany in the shower on how to improve something - then I'll go back and revise one more time. Even when I think that I cannot go back again, I always find that I do have that one more time in me.

So what about you? What's your revision process?

And if you want to read about revision methods a little less scattered than my own - check out the other blogs on this chain. Shannon came before me and you can find Amanda covering this topic tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Where the Wild Ideas Are


Today's chain question comes from Shaun whose book, The Deathday Letter, you can (and should) buy right now just by clicking this link. Just think of it. That little purchasing high after clicking the buy button. And then the pleasure of knowing something will soon arrive in your mailbox that isn't a bill or an annoying advertisement for something you don't want. And on top of all that - you also get an awesome book. Win, win, win.

Okay, and now on to the question.

From where do you get your inspiration for stories? Give me the oddest, coolest, things that have inspired you.

Usually I start with a character as my jumping off point. My first novel had a heroine who was a telemarketer - a position I know personally and painfully well after a three month stint the summer before my freshman year of college.

My urban fantasy started with the idea of a main character who stole people's identities, and when she steals the wrong person's (or creature in this case - that's where the whole fantasy part comes in) identity, and people believe she actually is that person... well wackiness ensues. I think I was partially inspired by those great Citibank commercials about identity theft.



In the end that character changed while I was writing and I dropped the whole identity theft angle altogether, which is how it often happens for me. I'll start at one place, and end up in a completely different one once the story gets going and takes over things.

What about you - where do your ideas come from?

And for more blog chain goodness check out Shannon before me and Amanda directly after!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Motivation


I'm last in line this time on the blog chain, which is actually a pretty great place to be, because I get to read all the excellent responses of all the amazing writers who came before (with Shannon over at daily pie directly before me - definitely check it out.). Amanda brought us our latest question, and from what I have read it seems to be a question that is incredibly relevant to every writer's life:

What do you do to keep yourself motivated when you feel like you're not making any progress in your writing career?

Sitting down and stringing a story together word by painstaking word is not backbreaking labor, but it is hard. There are so many distractions and so many other things that are so much easier to do - like surfing the Internet, or reading a book, or watching TV, or picking your nose. I can - and have - burned away hours where I meant to be writing, but first I need to check out that shoe sale online or have a little Gmail chat and then - oops - the kids are crying, nap time is over, and the window has closed.

Honestly, for me, motivation boils down to two things.

One is habit. I always find it easier to sit down to write when I get into a daily routine. And I always find it more difficult after any extended break - whether that be weeks or days - to get back into it.

Two is how I make myself get back into it after those extended breaks. And how I do that is... well, it's the same way that I make myself climb onto the elliptical and sweat through thirty minutes of either the "cardio" or "fatburn" program three times a week. Or the same way that I make myself walk on by the Little Debbie and Krispy Kreme displays in the grocery store.

Okay, yes, just like sometimes I can't find the motivation to write, I also sometimes can't find the motivation to exercise or to resist the lure of mass-produced baked goods. But most of the time I do, and that's because I remind myself that denial of what I want in the now, will lead to greater rewards in the later. And whether that reward is being able to fit into my jeans or having a writing career - it all comes down to listening to that internal drill instructor.

You know what? I just realized there is a third part to staying motivated. I find that motivation goes hand in hand with inspiration. Now this doesn't mean I only write when the writing fairy comes and sprinkles her magical idea dust over me. No, that writing fairy is a fickle little witch. No, the inspiration I'm talking about is when you read something that reaches all the way inside of you and just kind of shakes you fully awake. It takes you inside and out of yourself all in the same moment.

I've recently come across two poems that gave me this feeling, and although they are both a bit long I want to post them both here. Maybe they''ll give you a little shake too.

The first poem was written by a man who was permanently paralyzed at age 12 by a bicycle accident. He has also written a memoir, "One More Theory About Happiness" which you can read an excerpt of here.

User's Guide To Physical Debilitation

From 'My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge'

Should the painful condition of irreversible paralysis
last longer than forever or at least until
your death by bowling ball or illegal lawn dart
or the culture of death, which really has it out
for whoever has seen better days
but still enjoys bruising marathons of bird watching,
you, or your beleaguered caregiver
stirring dark witch's brews of resentment
inside what had been her happy life,
should turn to page seven where you can learn,
assuming higher cognitive functions
were not pureed by your selfish misfortune,
how to leave the house for the first time in two years.
An important first step,
with apologies for the thoughtlessly thoughtless metaphor.
When not an outright impossibility
or form of neurological science fiction,
sexual congress will either be with
tourists in the kingdom of your tragedy,
performing an act of sadistic charity;
with the curious, for whom you will be beguilingly blank canvas;
or with someone blindly feeling their way
through an extended power outage
caused by summer storms you once thought romantic.
Page twelve instructs you how best
to be inspiring to Magnus next door
as he throws old Volkswagens into orbit
above Alberta. And to Betty
in her dark charm confiding a misery,
whatever it is, that to her seems equivalent to yours.
The curl of her hair that her finger knows
better and beyond what you will,
even in the hypothesis of heaven
when you sleep. This guide is intended
to prepare you for falling down
and declaring detente with gravity,
else you reach the inevitable end
of scaring small children by your presence alone.
Someone once said of crushing
helplessness: it is a good idea to avoid that.
We agree with that wisdom
but gleaming motorcycles are hard
to turn down or safely stop
at speeds which melt aluminum. Of special note
are sections regarding faith
healing, self-loathing, abstract hobbies
like theoretical spelunking and extreme atrophy,
and what to say to loved ones
who won't stop shrieking
at Christmas dinner. New to this edition
is an index of important terms
such as catheter, pain, blackout,
pathological deltoid obsession, escort service,
magnetic resonance imaging,
loss of friends due to superstitious fear,
and, of course, amputation
above the knee due to pernicious gangrene.
It is our hope that this guide
will be a valuable resource
during this long stretch of boredom and dread
and that it may be of some help,
however small, to cope with your new life
and the gradual, bittersweet loss
of every God damned thing you ever loved.



David Rakoff's "Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace"

from This American Life #389: Frenemies. (I actually heard this before reading it, and hearing it read aloud was amazing - totally worth downloading the program on ITunes just to have a listen.)


Nathan, at one of the outlying tables,

his feet tangled up in the disk jockey's cables,

surveyed the room as unseen as a ghost

while he mulled over what he might say for his toast.

That the couple had asked him for this benediction

seemed at odds with them parking him here by the kitchen.

That he turned up at all was still a surprise,

and not just to him, it was there in the eyes

of the guests who had seen the mirage and drew near

and then covered their shock with a "Nathan, you're here.."

and then, silence, they had nothing to say beyond that.

A few of the braver souls lingered to chat.

They all knew...

It was neither a secret nor mystery

that he and the couple had quite an odd history.

Their bonds were a tangle of friendship and sex.

Josh, his best pal once, and Patty, his ex.

For awhile he could barely go out in the city

without being a punchline or object of pity.

"Poor Nathan" had virtually become his new name.

And so he showed up, just to show he was game,

though, his invite was late, a forgotten addendum.

For Nate, there could be no more clear referendum

that he need but endure through this evening and then

He would likely not see Josh and Patty again.

Josh's sister was speaking, a princess in peach.

Nathan dug in his pocket to study his speech.

He'd pored over bartlets for couplets to filch,

he'd stayed up until three, still came up with zilch,

except for instructions he'd underscored twice,

just two words in length and those words were: "Be Nice"

Too often, he thought, our emotions betray us

and reason departs once we're up on the dais.

He'd witnessed uncomfortable moments where others had lost their way quickly,

where sisters and brothers had gotten too prickly,

and peppered their babbling

with stories of benders,or lesbian dabbling,

or spot-on impressions of mothers-in-law,

which, True, Nathan thought, always garnered guffaws

but the price seemed too high, with the laughs seldom cloaking

hostility masquerading as joking.

No, he'd swallow his rage and he'd bank all his fire,

he knew that in his case, the bar was set higher.

Folks were just waiting for him to erupt.

They'd be hungry for blood even though they had supped.

They'd want tears or some other unsightly reaction

and Nathan would not give them that satisfaction.

Though Patty, a harlot, and Josh was a lout,

At least Nathan knew what he'd not talk about.

"I won't wish them divorce, that they wither and sicken

or tonight that they choke on their salmon or chicken.

I won't mention that time when the cottage lost power

in that storm on the cape and they left for an hour.

And they thought it was just the cleverest ruse

to pretend it took that long to reset the fuse.

Or that time Josh advised me with so much insistence

that I should grant Patty a little more distance.

That the worst I could do was to hamper and crowd her

that if Patty felt stifled, she'd just take a powder.

That a plant needs its space just as much as its water.

and that I shouldn't give Patty that ring that I bought her.

Which, in retrospect only elicits a 'Gosh,

I hardly deserved a friend like you, Josh'.

No, I won't spill those beans or make myself foolish

to satisfy appetites venal and ghoulish.

I will not be the blot on this hellish affair."

And with that, Nathan pushed out and rose from his chair.

and just by the tapping of knife against crystal,

all eyes turned his way, like he'd fired off a pistol.

"Mmmhmm, Joshua, Patricia, dear family and friends,

A few words, if you will, before everything ends.

You've promised to honor, to love and obey.

We've quaffed our champagne and been cleansed by sorbet,

all in endorsement of your ‘hers and his-dom’.

So now let me add my two cents worth of wisdom.

I was racking my brain sitting here at this table,

until I remembered this suitable fable

that gets at a truth, though it may well distort us,

so herewith the tale of the scorpion and tortoise:

The scorpion was hamstrung, his tail all aquiver;

just how would he manage to get across the river?

“The water’s so deep,” he observed with a sigh,

which pricked at the ears of the tortoise nearby.

“Well why don’t you swim?” asked the slow-moving fellow,

“unless you’re afraid. I mean, what are you, yellow?”

“It isn’t a matter of fear or of whim,”

said the scorpion,

“but that i don’t know how to swim.”

“Ah, forgive me. I didn’t mean to be glib when

i said that. I figured you were an amphibian.”

“No offense taken,” the scorpion replied,

“but how about you help me to reach the far side?

You swim like a dream, and you have what I lack.

Let’s say you take me across on your back?”

“I’m really not sure that’s the best thing to do,”

said the tortoise, “now that i see that it’s you.

You’ve a less than ideal reputation preceding:

there’s talk of your victims all poisoned and bleeding.

You’re the scorpion — and how can I say this — but, well,

I just don’t feel safe with you riding my shell.”

The scorpion replied, “What would killing you prove?

We’d both drown, so tell me: how would that behoove

me to basically die at my very own hand

when all I desire is to be on dry land?”

The tortoise considered the scorpion’s defense.

When he gave it some thought, it made perfect sense.

The niggling voice in his mind he ignored,

and he swam to the bank and called out: “Climb aboard!”

But just a few moments from when they set sail,

the scorpion lashed out with his venomous tail.

The tortoise too late understood that he’d blundered

when he felt his flesh stabbed and his carapace sundered.

As he fought for his life, he said, “tell me why

you have done this! For now we will surely both die!”

“I don’t know!” cried the scorpion. “You never should trust

a creature like me because poison I must!

I’d claim some remorse or at least some compunction,

but I just can’t help it; my form is my function.

You thought I’d behave like my cousin, the crab,

but unlike him, it is but my nature to stab.”

The tortoise expired with one final quiver.

And then both of them sank, swallowed up by the river.

The tortoise was wrong to ignore all his doubts —

because in the end, friends, our natures will out.

So: what can we learn from their watery ends?

Is there some lesson on how to be friends?

I think what it means is that central to living

a life that is good is a life that’s forgiving.

We’re creatures of contact, regardless of whether

we kiss or we wound. Still, we must come together.

Though it may spell destruction, we still ask for more —

since it beats staying dry but so lonely on shore.

So we make ourselves open while knowing full well

it’s essentially saying, “please, come pierce my shell.”


Sorry about wonky formatting - anytime I try to copy and paste into blogger it is a complete mess.

And to end this very long post - a question - How do you stay motivated?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Authorial Influences


Christine provided the question for our latest round of the blog chain and here it is:

“Which author or authors have most influenced your writing and how?”

I've been thinking about how to answer this question for several days now, and to be honest I was having some trouble with it. Instead of having the names of authors, and titles of different books floating around inside my skull there was this:

It seems no one can help me now / I'm in too deep there's no way out/ This time I have really led myself astray/

Runaway train never going back/ Wrong way on a one way track/ Seems like I should be getting somewhere/Somehow I'm neither here nor there

If you were a teenager in the 90's then surely you must at this point be - if not singing, then at least humming along - to Soul Asylum's hit song "Runaway Train". To say that I loved this song (actually the whole cassette - yes, I was slow to jump on the whole CD bandwagon - was in constant rotation along with Stone Temple Pilots and 4 Non Blondes) would be a misstating the case entirely. To say that this song expressed all of my teen angst in a sing-alongable format would be much more accurate and to the point.

Of course, having just turned 31, my teen angst years are pretty far behind me and it's been well over a decade since I've even seen that Soul Asylum cassette. However, a few weeks back I was listening to one of those "the best of the 80's, 90s, and today" radio stations and guess what song they started playing?

Thank goodness my children are not yet old enough to understand that their mother is a terribly painfully horribly embarrassing person, because I sang along with that song and every word came right back to me from where ever they had been hiding out in some far recesses of my brain for all of these years.

I know, I know - what does this have to do with books? Or the question? Or anything at all?

I'm getting there.

You see, ever since I became seriously addicted to books (which was somewhere during first grade, I think) I also became a big fan of the library. At least once a week I was at the library, returning one giant stack of books in exchange for another. And because of how fast I went through books, and because the books were returned instead of placed on a bookshelf in my house as a physical reminder, and because I just have a sort of crappy memory - well, I often forget the name of the book, or forget the name of the author, or forget the character's names, or forget the minor plot details, or forget the major plot details.

Usually I recall something though - my brain isn't entirely made of mush - and some essential detail would stick with me.

Like the book where the girl joined a band and she had this tense relationship with the main guy in the group and he made her shave her head and then she destroyed his toy train while on stage and while out of context those details make absolutely no sense at all, I remember really loving this book.

I have tons of half-remembered books like this. And then there are all the series books - Sweet Valley High, Babysitter's Club, RL Stine. Or the authors like Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume where I ripped through every book they had written. And then I got older and tore through every Mary Higgins Clark, Judith Krantz, and Sidney Sheldon on my Grandma's shelves. Then there was the required reading in high school and college and all the books I've read as an adult.

If you took all those books together it would kind of be like that picture at the top of this post. Layers of rock, all smooshed together so tightly that they all blend together. And I am constantly reading (Still mostly thanks to the public library system. Love you libraries!) and adding more layers. It's easiest for me to remember the books that make up those top layers, but the ones forming those bedrock layers are still important because even though they may be mostly forgotten, who knows when some small detail might come at me out of nowhere - just like a runaway train.

And now that I've brought this train full circle, I think it's time to hand things off to the rest of the blog chain. So make sure to check out Laura's post from yesterday and then tomorrow find out what authors have influenced Shaun.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Creating Mini-Me


Our blog chain topic for today started with Sandra who asked:

Have you ever created a character different from yourself in some significant way, such as (but not limited to) different gender, race, ethnic group, religion, or sexual orientation? If so, what, if any, research did you do to portray these differences? Was this character a main character, secondary character, or walk-on? Did these differences have an impact on the story?

I am towards the end of the chain this time around, and WOW there have been some really good responses from some of my fellow chain bloggers (you can easily read them all by starting with the link to Sandra's blog above and then just following the links straight through from one to the next). Mostly I am impressed by how fearless so many writers are in tackling characters who are completely difference from themselves - difference sex, nationality, race - they have done it all. In fact, one of the two themes that's been repeated is: be brave. The other main idea that I picked up on, was to also be true to the characters in your head by listening to them and letting them be whoever or whatever they are.

Yeah, I know, it kind of sounds like the same advice your mom gave you in junior high, and you were all like, "Yeah, okay whatever, Mom. Now buy me the same shoes that everyone else wears so I don't look like a freak." Of course, I usually didn't get the shoes. And even when I did get the shoes, I didn't have the equally essential fifty dollar sweatshirt from The Limited (Yes, I specifically remember this item of clothing. Actually, it was a whole line of sweatshirts, that if I recall correctly, had a sort of Graffiti-esque type writing across the front done in a Golden Girls color palate. Seriously, what pre-teen girl wouldn't want that sweatshirt? It would have looked totally rocking with my red glasses. Alas, as one of five kids that was a bit out of our budget, but my older sister had a friend who was an only childhood and she owned a whole pile of them. We thought she was the luckiest person on the planet - not counting my older sister's other friend who was also an only child and her mother packed her the BEST lunches ever. Like slices of cheesecake for dessert kind of lunches. Meanwhile we got the generic version of Oreos.) to complete the outfit so it didn't look quite right anyway.

Long tangent. I know. Except it's not a tangent. Really, I swear, I'm not using my blog for public therapy sessions. Okay, maybe I am a little bit - but that doesn't change the fact that I also actually have a point here, and I am getting to it right now.

POINT: The characters I write don't necessarily look like me, act like me, or live like me - but at their core they are created from my experiences and in some essential way reflect my point of view and the way I see the world.

In other words they are underdogs, screw-ups, and dreamers. They might not always win, but they put up a good fight. And yes, sometimes they have terrible fashion sense.

What about you - when you write do you like to create mini-me's or do you try to break the mold?

Make sure to check out the post before mine from Shannon - one of our new blog chain members. And tomorrow Amanda will be finishing up this topic!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Who Do I Write For?


It is blog chain time once more, and Michelle has given us a question from the business side of writing, asking:

Do you write for the market or for yourself? Why? Are there times you do both? Or times when you've written something specifically because it was "hot" at the moment? If so, how did it turn out?

And my answer is, "Uh-uh, huh, of course, I don't never always do that."

Now why am I answering with all the straightforwardness of a politician trying to skirt the latest scandal? I guess because I feel like this is one of those questions where if you say, "Yes, I write for the market" then you look like you are completely lacking in artistic integrity and are writing some pale sad insipid poorly disguised carbon copy of Davinci Code, Harry Potter, Twilight, or some other bestseller.

On the other hand, if you write for yourself than you paint the picture of the tortured artist, sitting in a coffeehouse (NOT Starbucks, a serious artist would never be seen anywhere so unoriginal), wearing all black and scribbling their novel (written entirely in free verse) into a notebook.

Okay, so neither of these are flattering portraits. Also, none of the writers I know fit into either one of these molds. Therefore - there must be some other in between option, where we are aware of the markets, but also aware of who we are as writers.

I like to think of it in driving terms (and maybe this analogy is occurring to me because I was in a car for 13 hours on Monday driving back to Tennessee after an Easter trip to visit my family in Buffalo. This was on top of the overnight trip last Wednesday that took 11 hours.). The book we're writing and the books we want to write are the road before us. Meanwhile the side-view mirrors let us keep track of the other drivers on the road and what they are up to.

This isn't some sleepy little country road we're driving down either, but a California style freeway with several lanes of traffic. The drivers in those either lanes are other writers. And yes, the sparkly black Hummer stretch limo with Stephanie Meyers hanging out of the moon roof and "woooing" (not a diss, if I was her, I'd be "woooing" too) does draw our attention maybe a moment longer than it should. Still, the majority of our attention is centered on that road before us, while peppered in are those glances at the side-view mirrors, just to keep track of who else is on the road with us, and maybe to see if we need to change direction or move into a different lane.

I would add two screaming children in the backseat into this analogy, but I don't really have anything for them to represent - except a horrifically accurate portrait of my actual life.

So which do you choose: writing for the market, yourself, or some combination of the two?

And to keep following this chain you can find Rebecca before me and Amanda directly after!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Let's Talk about Talking


As promised (or threatened, depending on how you want to look at it) in my last post, today it is my turn to start off the latest round in our blog chain. And the topic I've chosen is dialogue. Or for the Alex Trebec's out there, I'll put it in the form of a question:

What is dialogue?

Okay, that's kind of a big question - let's get more specific here.

Do you enjoy writing dialogue? Do you use a lot of dialogue in your writing (for our purposes "a lot" will be defined as more than a smidge and yet not so much that the quotes key on your computer is completely worn out.)? Do you have example(s) of dialogue you especially enjoyed from something you've read? Do you have example(s) of dialogue from your own writing? What about these examples makes them special?

Please remember to use an opening and closing paragraph and to keep your answer within the confines of the space of one blue book. Ha, ha - no just kidding about that - I'm not trying to write a final exam question here... although you will be graded and it may or may not end up on your permanent record.

Okay, lots of questions here - so lets get started.

Do you enjoy writing dialogue?

Short answer: yes. Long answer: Why yes, I certainly do.

To be honest, dialogue is probably my favorite part of writing (and actually reading too.), and because of this - to also answer the next question - I tend to use quite a bit of dialogue in my own writing. For me, dialogue is not only a great way to convey information and exposition, but it can also reveal so much about your characters.

For my examples I pulled several books from my shelves to get a good sampling of what really works for me.

First, in a totally cheater move, I am using an example from the book, "99 FILM SCENES FOR ACTORS".

STEWARDESS: And what would you like to drink?
SALLY: Do you have any Bloody Mary mix?
STEWARDESS: Yes. (she starts to pour.)
SALLY: No wait. Here's what I want. Regular tomato juice, filled about three quarters, and add a splash of Bloody Mary mix, just a splash, and a little piece of lime, but on the side.
HARRY: The University of Chicago, right?
Sally turns, see Harry, then turns back around.
SALLY: Yes.


This snippet of a scene from "When Harry Met Sally" (you knew that without me telling you, right? I mean their names are right there in the scene.) is so great, because using humor it immediately tells us so much about the type of person Sally is. In fact, this type of micro-ordering that Sally does is so indicative of her personality that it reminds Harry of who she is, even after not having seen her for years.

My next example is from the book "A Girl Named Zippy" by Haven Kimmel. This is actually a memoir, but the dialogue is just so wonderful that I couldn't resist including it.

"Daddy, do you think Edythe knows I ain't really a Christian?"

"Don't say ain't. I don't know. She sees you in church three times a week, doesn't she?"

"Yessir."

Well, I'm guessing that she thinks of herself as a Christian because she's there, so she probably thinks you are because you're there. See what I mean?"

"Even though it ain't true?"

"Don't say ain't. Most people don't care if it's true or not, as long as you're sitting there with your money in your hand for the offering."

"Well, she for sure knows you're not a Christian because you don't even go and pretend."

He racheted a minute, grunted, stopped, and studied. "Oh, Edythe always hated me, even when she and your mom were so thick. And I never liked her, either. She used to call our house and pretend she was going to commit suicide if your mother didn't run over there every evening. One night she called and said she drank a whole bottle of iodine. I knew she didn't, but I called an ambulance and told them that she had, that she would deny it with her dying breath, and that they needed to just go ahead and pump her stomach, and they did."

"You did not!"

"I did. And she never forgave me, either, nasty old bat."

I stood looking at Edythe's yard. PeeDink wouldn't stay out of it, and every day she went hunting him with her rake. I couldn't even imagine how sweet my life would be if someone would just come along and haul that old woman on down the line.

Dad was looking at me. "Are you going to talk to me all day?"

"I might."

"Well, don't. I'm about to lose my temper and start cussing, so go find something to do."

"Okay, then. See ya, Daddy."

"Take care, Zip."



Just typing this scene out made me extra aware of how much information we get from this dialogue. First we see the dynamic between Zippy and her father. His repeated reminder to not say "ain't". Her answering him with the one word "Yessir." And even the way he ends their conversation.

We also get the story about Zippy's father and Edythe, which shows us that as patient as he is with his daughter, he can be less charitable towards other people. There's also some telling details about how his attitude towards religion.

Finally, what I like best is that I just believe this conversation really happened - perhaps it wasn't exactly word for word like this - but I thinks she captured the tone and content of a conversation with her father in a realistic way.

Okay, final example is from a book that I read fairly recently: John Green's "Looking For Alaska". The following excerpt is when the narrator first meets the title character of Alaska.

He knocked once, loudly. Through the door, a voice screamed, "Oh my God come in you short little man because I have the best story."

We walked in. I turned to close the door behind me, and the Colonel shook his head and said, "After seven, you have to leave the door open if you're in a girl's room," but I barely heard him because the hottest girl in all of human history was standing before me in cutoff jeans and a peach tank top. And she was talking over the Colonel, talking loud and fast.

"So first day of summer, I'm in grand old Vine Station with this boy named Justin and we're at his house watching TV on the couch - and mind you, I'm already dating Jake - actually I'm still dating him, miraculously enough, but Justin is a friend of mine from when I was a kid and so we're watching TV and literally chatting about the SATs or something, and Justin puts his arm around me and I think, Oh that's nice, we've been friends for so long and this is totally comfortable, and we're just chatting and then I'm like in the middle of a sentence about analogies or something and like a hawk he reaches down and he honks my boob. HONK. A much-too-firm, two- to three-second HONK. And the first thing I thought was Okay, how do I extricate this claw from my boob before it leaves permanent marks? And the second thing I thought was God, I can't wait to tell Takumi and Colonel."


I love the breathless quality of this excerpt. Before it starts we are told that Alaska is talking "loud and fast" and then the dialogue totally sells this - especially since three quarters of the above paragraph is one long rambling sentence. We also get the sense that Alaska is smart - she casually uses the word "extricate", but she also isn't immune to the typical teenager language of, "I'm like". With both the big words and the teenager slang there is also restraint though - every other word isn't straight from the dictionary, nor are the likes sprinkled in too liberally.

And now for the final part of the question - a sample from my own writing. You know how I said above that I use a lot of dialogue in my writing? Well, that's true, but I still had a difficult time finding an excerpt that made any kind of sense out of context. So, in a somewhat cheatery decision, I am using a scene from a screenplay that I wrote a few years back called, "Home Runnings."

As you might have already guessed from the title it's about a baseball team, and the following scene is the one where the ragtag team comes together - not at try-outs though, but instead, since McKenzie, the new coach, is a one-hit wonder pop star, she is instead holding auditions with the help of her son, Eddie.

INT. O'MALLEY'S BAR - CONTINUOUS

BECKY, 12, a tall, athletic looking girl stands on a "T"
that has been taped to the stage. Her arms are folded.


BECKY
So this is it? The big rebellion?

MCKENZIE
You trying out or not?

Becky stares at them hard.

BECKY
Yeah, I'm trying out.

EDDIE
Name?

BECKY
Becky Thurston.

MCKENZIE
Have you been on a baseball team
before?

BECKY
No, but I've been on the basketball,
lacrosse, field hockey, soccer, and
track teams.

McKenzie and Eddie are impressed.

MCKENZIE
That's great--

BECKY
--I was kicked off all of them for
some "violent, non-sportsman like
behavior" crap.

Eddie's eyes grow round.

EDDIE
In track?

Becky shrugs.

BECKY
You get in my lane, I knock you over.
Simple.

Eddie looks concerned. McKenzie looks down at her pad and
then back up. Now Casey, from the library, is on the "T".

EDDIE
Okay, Casey, do you know what position
you might be interested in playing?
Casey stares at the floor and shrugs.


MCKENZIE
What strengths do you think you might
bring to the team?

Now on the "T" is Kevin, from the arcade.

KEVIN
Sometimes I pretend that I'm really
fast like a cheetah and I can run
Superman fast, like lightning.

He starts to zoom around in a circle in front of the table.

KEVIN (CONT'D)
I'm fast, huh? Can you see me? Can
ya, huh?

Eddie and McKenzie's shoulders sag.

MCKENZIE
Um, Katherine, I see on your, er
resume that you've been a Cheerleader
since you were three, can you tell
me why you now want to switch to
baseball?

KATHERINE, 12, a poised, preppy girl now stands on the "T".

KATHERINE
They chose Stacey, horrible awful
back-stabbing Stacey Engvalls as
head cheerleader this year. She was
my best friend and she turned them
all on me!

McKenzie and Eddie exchange looks of dismay. Joe and Joey,
the two boys from detention stand before them.

JOE
Hey, I'm Joe and this is Joey.

Joey nods.

JOE (CONT'D)
Don't worry, we have the same name
but we're not related or anything.

He laughs at his own lame joke and Joey joins in.

CUT TO:

Becky as she swings an imaginary bat. She watches the
imaginary ball then points to an imaginary out fielder.

BECKY
You catch that ball buddy and it'll
be the last thing you do.

CUT TO:

Casey shakes as she swings an imaginary bat, still looking
at her feet.

CUT TO:

Kevin as he does a monkey imitation.

KEVIN

If I was really a monkey I could
pitch with my feet too. Wanna see?

CUT TO:

Katherine shakes with anger, as tears also form.

KATHERINE
I don't understand it, they loved me
but now they love Stacey... and
they treat me like dirt... how can
they do this to me? I was Little
Miss Lewiston last year!

CUT TO:

Joe and Joey.

JOE
I think we'd be really good at
stealing bases... heh. Get it Joey?

Eddie and McKenzie look thoroughly tired out by this process.

MCKENZIE
Congratulations you made the team.

Becky stares at them hard then points at Eddie and McKenzie.

BECKY
We're gonna kill 'em you guys. I'm
telling you, we're gonna kill.

Casey stares down at the ground and nods her head.

Kevin whoops like a monkey some more.

Joe and Joey look at each other and then charge towards one
another banging their heads together.

Katherine dries her eyes.

KATHERINE
I want to be the team captain.


Since this is the longest blog post in the history of the world ever, I'm not going to tell you what this scene accomplishes, but rather ask you what information you were able to draw from it. And then I'm going to tell you to keep following this blog chain, and to do that you need to head over to Amanda's blog next.