Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top Eleven Discoveries of 2011

For my last post of the year I'd like to share some amazing and wonderful things I discovered in past twelve months. Some of them have been around a long time, but I hadn't picked up on how awesome they are.

These aren't in any kind of order, except maybe in the order I thought of them while writing this post.

1. Musubes

I'd seen these nifty seaweed-wrapped rice things, but I didn't learn how to make them until a few months ago. Now I make a batch every week and send them in the school lunches. Did you know that seaweed rocks when it comes to vitamin A?

2. Avatar: The Last Airbender

This is the best television cartoon series. Ever. We didn't notice it before because we don't watch television, but some time last year we started watching episodes on the internet. What I like most about this series is the excellent writing. I also like the concept of non-contact martial arts. Bending is like kung-fu at a distance, so kids can play-fight by doing cool moves but never get anywhere near each other.

3. South Wind

Who would have guessed that when I moved to Laie, Hawaii, I would find myself starting an Irish folk band? We've been playing together since January, and having a grand old time. Our next performance will be Sunday, February 5th at the Laie Temple Visitors Center.

4. Incarceron

My daughter brought this book home from the library and insisted that I read it. It has an astounding, multi-layered setting, lots of action and adventure, and an intriguing plot. I enjoyed the sequel too.

5. Afro-Blue

We're big Vocal Point fans at our house. I proudly claim attendance at the VERY FIRST Vocal Point concert ever in the fall of 1991, and I didn't miss a single concert until I graduated from BYU four years later. So we watched them in the Sing Off, and discovered Afro-Blue, another collegiate acapella group, this one from Howard University in Washington DC. Vocal Point is fun to watch, but if you want to hear some sweet jazz, I recommend Afro-Blue.

6. Megamind

I ignored this one when it came out in the theater, probably because I'd recently been tortured by Madagascar in the lobby at the dentist's office and didn't want any more punishment. But Dreamworks has at least one hit for every miss, and Megamind was a hit. Metafiction at its best.

7. Faculty Townhouses

In April we moved into an apartment complex entirely inhabited by employees of Brigham Young University Hawaii. This is the first place we've lived in which I feel like I actually fit in with the neighbors. Our family of five children is only average-sized. Walk from one end of the complex to the other at any hour of the day and you'll hear someone practicing music. There's a constant troupe of small children going from house to house to play with their friends. Sometimes we have a house full of little friends, sometimes the place is empty because they're all out at the playground. I love living here!

8. BYU Hawaii Farm Sale

The school owns a lot of farmland, and they let people farm on it. And they sell the produce at really good prices, every Thursday from 12 to 3. So each week I go and buy local grown papayas, apple bananas, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Yum.

9. Kahuku Grill

For our anniversary, Russel and I went with some friends to the Kahuku Grill. I ordered the famous coconut macadamia shrimp. It was good. We'll be going back.

10. Wailele Falls

Earlier this year, my family went on a hike up into the mountains behind the PCC. There's a trail that winds along a narrow valley, crossing a stream about fifteen times, until it finally reaches a waterfall with a pool below it. It was the best hike ever. We'll be going back for more of that too.

11. May Day

Here in Laie, the elementary school puts on a big show to celebrate May Day. It was huge! Grandparents flew in from the mainland and other islands. High school kids stayed home from school to go and watch their younger siblings. They held it in a big outdoor theater at the PCC and each grade did a dance performance. I could not believe how good the choreography was! I was especially proud because my son Colin got to be in the May Day Court as a conch shell blower.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Holidays in Hawaii

Celebrating Christmas in Hawaii holds some unexpected differences.

First of all, windward coast humidity plus hard candy = goo. Candy canes melt in their wrappers. Butterscotch disks? Starlight mints? Try chewy.

The humidity problem extends to baked goods. This year, in honor of the film adaptation of "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," we designed a gingerbread clock tower. I baked the walls nice and crisp, but they went soft and the top tumbled off within twenty-four hours.

That was fine with the kids. They ate it anyways.

One of our family traditions is to dress up like shepherds on Christmas eve, eat stew and home-made bread, then read the Christmas story out of the Bible. This year, it was just too warm to wear robes and bath towels tied onto our heads. By the end of the dinner, most of the shepherds had shed their costumes.

It was still a beautiful Christmas day. We walked to church in sunny, warm weather, then home again to a simple Christmas dinner. Once the sun went down, all the houses shone with Christmas lights. The palm leaves rustled outside the windows while we sang carols, then had our pie and cocoa and went to bed.

Mele Kalikimaka, everyone!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Writer's Club Wednesday: Inspiration

Today at writer's club we'll be talking about where ideas come from, how to get more of them, and how to tell when you've got a really good one. We'll also discuss the importance of WRITING IDEAS DOWN before they slip away from our minds.

Where were you when you got the first idea for the story you're working on now?

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Million Books for Christmas

We gave my son a Kindle for Christmas. I asked my husband how many public domain books were out there that he could now access for free. "About a million," he said. "Most of them you've never heard of and wouldn't want to read."

My son did find something he wanted to read right away. The New American Oxford Dictionary. It comes with the Kindle.

"Mom, it has word origins!" He was so excited. He read me entries while I cooked Christmas dinner.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Writers Club Wednesday: First Lines

Okay, I know it isn't Wednesday anymore. I'm behind schedule. I've been baking and wrapping and harping.

But I still want to tell you about our lesson from this week.

My daughter led a discussion about first lines. She brought several of her favorite books, read the first lines, and then gave us her thoughts on what a first line ought to do.

All great first lines set the tone for the book by their voice. But a first line should also make promises. The promises come in many ways. A first line can promise an intriguing setting. It can deliver immediate tension. It can pose a question. Whatever the first line promises, it has to be something that draws the reader into the book. The most important promise a first line can make is, "I promise you want to read this."

One of my daughter's favorite first lines is from Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn:

Ash fell from the sky.

I've always loved: Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

What's your favorite first line?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Writers Club Wednesday: Killing your Characters

Every Wednesday I meet with the Laie Young Writers Club for a short discussion on the art of writing, and then readings by club members. This week our lesson will be on killing characters. Yes, it's fun, but it must be done carefully.

So why do we kill characters in stories? Well, death happens, and exploring the powerful emotions that surround this most final of all events is one of the great themes of storytelling throughout human history. Stories, as a road map for life, also give us a road map to navigate our grief at the death of a loved one, and eventually our own meeting with the infinite beyond.

And, on a more practical level, threatening the life of a character is one of the tried and true ways of raising tension and keeping readers turning pages.

So, how to do it right? First of all, don't expect your readers to care if you kill off a character before the reader has time to get to know and love that character. If you kill or threaten to kill someone in the first few pages of a story, you can't get anywhere near the emotional reaction you would have if you saved that sort of thing for the end.

A tangent to this -- if your readers know a character is going to die during the story, they may have a hard time forming an emotional attachment to them.

Second, make sure dead characters stay dead, UNLESS you build it into the rules of your fictional world and prepare the reader for it. Killing someone only to bring them back later can make the reader feel cheated. You want death to have all of its emotional power, so don't weaken it by making it less than permanent.

Third, the death of a character only has as much emotional impact for the reader as it has for the other characters. If some unfortunate member of the adventuring party dies and the other characters have an, "Oh well, too bad, let's keep hiking. Do you suppose there's a pub in the next village?" sort of attitude, then the reader won't care either. Maybe that's what you want, but if it isn't, make sure the other characters show some shock and grief.

Anyone have some other pointers on character death for us? Leave a comment and we'll share it at club meeting.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Made the Cast

Opportunity comes not only to the talented and deserving, but to the willing who show up and give it a try.

When my husband called me this morning and told me we'd both been assigned roles in our school's production of "The Sound of Music," I was almost as giddy as the day I got my first acceptance letter for a story publication in a magazine. Thinking back on that long-ago day, if I hadn't submitted that story, how would my life be different now? Would I even think of myself as a writer?

And now my husband has a supporting role in a musical, and I'll be on stage in the chorus (playing his wife). I have absolutely no theater experience, but I've always wanted to try it. Now I get a chance. It will probably change my life. I hope it is the beginning of much more to come. Maybe someday I'll think of myself as a theater person too.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Miphods Eat Mushrooms

When I signed up for art class in high school, I'd already taken a year of it in Junior High. My teacher took a look at my work and said, "You already know everything I'm going to teach in this class. How would you like to make an animated film instead?" She showed me an old dark room that used to be for the photography class, loaned me the school's old Super 8 camera, and gave me the run of the supply cupboard.

I was in heaven.

This is the first film I made, an experimental piece based on characters I created for a seventh grade science assignment in which we had to invent animals and give them appropriate Latin names. The small green star of the show is classified as a mycophage olepod, or "small footed mushroom eater."

And no, he does not die at the end, poisoned by mushrooms! He's taking a nap after a long and adventurous morning.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Evolution of Style

I found a book I wrote long ago, back in the days when two spaces came after every period. And before I learned how to punctuate dialog. And when I still put an adverb with every dialog tag. So now I'm bringing it up to date. It's a lot of work, but I enjoy it, like spending time with an old friend I haven't seen in a long while.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Seeing in Detail

In our last SCBWI-Hawaii newsletter, Sue Cowing recommended a daily writing exercise--put down six details you noticed that day. I love that idea! I notice at least six details every time I walk down the street. There's so many things to notice here in Laie. Crossing campus on my way back from the Thursday farm sale, where I buy my supply of local grown papayas, tomatoes, and cucumbers, I picked out these six gems:

A college student with a high, flat-top haircut and heavy horn-rimmed glasses buzzed by on a white moped.

Day-glo pink streamers fluttered at the end of a construction stake stuck in the middle of a muddy drainage pool.

A drab brown sea-bird with boomerang-shaped wings skimmed the water.

A cream-colored blossom lay face-down on the sidewalk under a plumeria tree, petals swirled in a spiral to rise to the sharp point of its stem.

One single burst of scarlet bloomed among the dark leaves of a bush by the sidewalk, as if someone had put the flower there by mistake.

A young woman with pale eyelashes knelt on the grass beside a bowl of soapy water, scrubbing a window screen with a plastic brush. She didn't smile back at me, her face preoccupied. Moving out soon, cleaning the apartment, final exams, graduation, my world about to change--I read it all in a single glance.

I love concrete details! There's nothing to put a whole picture in the reader's head like a single, good, solid detail. Capture some small thing in perfect imagery, and suddenly the imagination fills in all the rest. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but the mind's eye can produce amazing pictures with only the stimulation of a single sentence.