Monday, December 31, 2012

Harp Update

This is how it all looked at the beginning of the semester.
I keep thinking that I'm going to post instructions for how to build these harps, but then something happens. The first time, my husband got a job in Hawaii in the middle of a harp-building project, so I had to box up all the pieces in Nevada, send them half-way across the Pacific in a container, and then put them together six months later after they'd adjusted to the new humidity level. Needless to say, the blogging suffered.

This time, I was unexpectedly asked to teach two college classes when I thought I'd be taking a semester off, and this only a short while after I'd cut out all the pieces. I like having money, so I said yes to the teaching and let the harp pieces sit in the garage. When I had the chance on a weekend I'd steal a few hours to make some progress on the project. Forget setting up photos and then coming up with something witty to say about them on my blog.
We stained most of the pieces over Thanksgiving weekend.
But after having attempted to document this process on my blog several times, I think I've collected enough photos and notes that I can do a decent harp building page. I'll add it to my list of things to do in 2013.
Over Christmas break we finished the staining and I fitted the box.
Happy New Year, everyone!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Harp in Progress

I spent the morning cutting out harp pieces.

This is me working on the design for the two brace pieces that go on the pillar.

I designed my harps to be easy to build. The only four power tools I use are a band saw, circular saw, drill press, and electric drill/screwdriver. Furthermore, I'm not a purist. I use screws to hold the box together. I also keep things simple by cutting the pillar and arch as a single piece, cut from one-inch plywood.

This plywood is bendy, which makes it very cooperative for fastening to the ends of the soundbox, but not so good at holding up under 1000 pounds of string tension. So I add brace pieces to either side of the curved pillar.

More photos to come as the project progresses.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mr. Spock's Tips for Writers

Last week, while over at a friend's house, I noticed the intriguing title, I Am Spock, on the spine of a book. Of course I'd heard of Leonard Nimoy's previous book, I Am Not Spock. Sure enough, this book was another Nimoy memoir, published twenty years after the first one. I wondered what had made him change his mind.

I asked to borrow the book, and as I read it I learned that Nimoy now considers his previous title something of a mistake. He was only trying to be clever, not denounce his role as one of the best-loved science-fiction characters of all time. Nimoy cares deeply about the character of Mr. Spock, and has fiercely defended him against script writers and directors that just didn't understand the half-Vulcan, half-human Starfleet officer.

Which brings up two invaluable things I learned about storytelling as I read this book.

First of all, the audience will not always understand what you're trying to do. The title, I Am Not Spock, for instance. Fans were furious. It haunted Leonard Nimoy for years. In fact, he almost lost the chance to direct Star Trek IV because the producer erroneously thought Nimoy had written a whole book about how much he hated Spock. That's not what the book was about at all. Few had bothered to read it, apparently. They'd only looked at the title and jumped to a conclusion.

What to do? Beware ambiguity. When misunderstood, move on to your next project.

Sub-point: Being misunderstood can be agonizing, but it won't necessarily ruin your career.

Now for Mr. Spock's second tip for writers. This one is about character. It took a  few episodes of the original Star Trek series for Leonard Nimoy to get a firm grasp on who Spock was, on what made him tick. But once he knew, he was ready to defend his concept of Spock. Time after time, a script-writer would come along who wanted to have Spock lose his temper, or be violent, or let down his Vulcan dignity in some other way, and Nimoy would have to go in and say, "I can't play this scene." He got some writers mad at him, especially since most of them had two other scripts to finish yesterday and they didn't want to re-write some scene for this pointy-eared alien. But because Nimoy insisted, and because Mr. Spock was so true to his character on the show, the fans responded. They loved him. They believed in him.

Know your characters. Then be willing to fight for them. Don't let anything compromise the integrity of their personality. If they wouldn't do something, it doesn't belong in the story. Rewrite!

Subpoint: Audiences love a character with a powerful internal conflict. But don't make the character constantly swing between one side and the other. That makes the character seem wishy-washy. Mr. Spock succeeds as a character because he almost always goes with his Vulcan side, though there are enough glimpses of the human side to let the audience know what a pressure-cooker is going on inside.

Thanks for the tips, Mr. Spock.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Technology and Fiction

I recently read a contemporary romance novel, Someone Else's Fairytale by E.M. Tippets, in which the college-aged characters were constantly video-chatting on their lap-top computers. If that book had been written ten years ago, it would have been science fiction.

It used to be that I could tell a book had been written in some previous decade by the technology alone. Now I can almost pinpoint the year. When reading World War Z, I could tell it was written before social media became a massive phenomenon. If there were zombies anywhere on the planet, my Facebook friends would totally have told me about it. World War Z Publication date? 2006. I thought so.

The world is changing so fast that if you write a piece of contemporary fiction, by the time it hits the shelves it's historical. Maybe this is a good thing. As author David Farland has pointed out, the biggest best-selling novels are stories that transport the reader to another time and place. Now it's nearly impossible not to transport your reader away from here and now. Even authors who write about now can't capture now fast enough. They're writing about then already. If you want to read about now, you have to go blog trawling.

Fortunately for me, I've never wanted to write about here and now.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Writers Club Wednesday: The Objective Correlative

“The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an "objective correlative"; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.”
    --T.S. Eliot

Translation: when it comes to emotion, SHOW DON'T TELL.

We've all heard that, but HOW IS IT DONE?

When does tell become show?

George was nervous. (definitely telling)

George's heart pounded. (Sort of showing, but still mostly telling. I'm telling you his heart pounded. Why is that different from telling you he was nervous? It's even more ambiguous. Is he scared or excited?)

"Relax. This won't hurt a bit." The dentist held the drill poised over George's face. The drill motor whirred. George stared at the yellow-brown stain on the ceiling and wished he had paid for better dental insurance.

Now I don't need to tell you that George is nervous or that his heart is pounding. I've put you in his head and you're seeing things through his current emotional filter. He's noticing the drill in front of his nose, the sound of the motor, the stained ceiling. How does he feel? Mommy, get me out of this chair!

This is the objective correlative. You've got to choose what your characters notice based on how the characters are feeling at the time, then relate those things to the reader. Paint an emotional picture with objects, situations, and events. Give your reader the facts, and let the emotion come out on its own.

Here's your writing exercise. Get your notebook and write down four emotional states, spacing them out on the page. Then walk into another room in your house. Any room you like. Describe that room through each of your four emotional filters.

Happy writing!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Writing Exercise: Telephone Poem

At our last Laie Young Writers Club meeting, we did an exercise I learned from Tim Wynne-Jones at this year's Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop.

1. Write your phone number in a column down the left-hand side of the paper.
2. Write a poem. Each line has the same number of words as the telephone number. A zero is a wild card, you pick the number of words.

Here's my example (slightly altered so you don't know my phone number)

Waves leave lines in the sand
Delicate ridges
At the farthest reach of the water.
Rainbow foam
Sparkles and fades
Along traces
Like ridges
Of distant mountains
Etched momentarily
On the sandy canvas smoothed by the sea.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

What I Learned at WIFYR

Sorry I've been absent the last two weeks. I've been off island, in Utah, at the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop. In a lot of ways, it was my best experience at the workshop that I've ever had. Here's the four most important things I learned this year:

1. Online Social Networking: It's not about you.

Elissa Cruz, one of the founders of the blog, From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors, gave a great lecture about building your online platform. The main thing I took away from it was that if you are online only to promote yourself, everyone will go away. It is not about you. Instead, think of yourself as part of a team where everyone can win if we help each other. Find the good stuff and share it.

2. Embrace the Delete Key

This one comes from Cynthia Leitich Smith. Apparently she's been known to write the first draft of a novel, then DELETE THE WHOLE THING. Now this sounds insane, until I remember that the less I've revised a piece, the better response I get from my test readers. So next time maybe instead of revising, I'll re-draft and see what happens.

3. Give Stories Time

I took a morning workshop class led by author Tim Wynne-Jones. One of the most valuable things I learned from him was to give stories time. Sometimes you have to leave a story in the drawer for years before you figure out what it needs, and then one day it comes to you. So that's when you pull it out, finish it up, and send it off.

4. Do Sound Checks Before Any Vocal Performance

With the agony still fresh in my mind, I'm not going to say anything more about this one.

But I do want to say a big THANK-YOU to all the authors, the editors, and the agent who so generously gave of their time and shared their knowledge with us at WIFYR. Best. Workshop. Ever.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Last Hukilau

There was a man who was the fisherman for the village. He wasn’t a fisherman like we think of today. Everyone in the village fished. The fisherman was THE BOSS. He had a huge net, yards and yards of panels twelve feet across. When it came time to fish, the fisherman would pile the net in canoes and take the men out to lay it all around the bay. Then he would go climb a tree and watch for the schools of fish to come in. 

A new e-mail popped up on my screen. Subject: Hukilau. I clicked on it.

Hey, lovelies!
Tomorrow, at 9:00 AM, there is going to be a hukilau at-you guessed it-Hukilau Beach. We're going to fish, and then I think cook the fish. And people have promised that we'll get at least one :)
So come!
Love y'all

The next morning I asked my children at breakfast, “Does anyone want to go to the hukilau?”

“NO!” they said. It was the first day of summer vacation, and they didn’t want to have to leave the house. At least not so early in the morning. We were going to a pot luck picnic at a different beach later in the day, and that would take them away from their computers long enough. I decided not to push it.

I went by myself.

When he saw the fish, he’d call for the villagers to come. Everyone ran down to the beach, men, women, and children.

There were other people on the sidewalk, moving toward the beach; a plump elderly couple in tourist clothes and sunhats, an athletic young woman with a blond pony tail, a red-haired man, his bare back nearly sunburned. A pick-up truck with its back end full of Polynesian kids passed me and turned into the beach parking lot.

The dirt-paved parking lot was packed with cars. A black tarp canopy, strung on aluminum poles, snapped in the wind. I hiked over the dunes and through round-leaved plants with purple flowers to reach the edge of the water. A cool wind blew spray off the ocean, mingled with spatters of rain from the gray clouds in the sky. People stood around a green rowboat, big Polynesians in t-shirts and swim trunks, stylish Japanese tourists in sun hats with shiny black cameras, children in blond curls chasing in and out of the water. Some of the men loaded fishnets made of thin nylon thread into the boat, making the boat look like it was filled with green mist.

When everything was ready, the men pushed the boat into the water. Swimmers with snorkels and fins followed, dark heads bobbing in the waves, as the man in the boat rowed out into the bay. With each pull of his oars, another length of net dropped into the water. After the net came a rope strung with long, brown leaves. The boat circled around and came back to land down the beach, where another group of people stood waiting to pull in the nets.
They would take up the ropes with leaves, lau, and pull on them, huki. Hence hukilau. Pull the leaves. The men would be out in the water, watching the net, to make sure it didn’t snag on any coral or rock.

Everyone on the beach grabbed the wet, sandy rope. People from all over the world; the woman with the blond pony-tail I’d seen on the way to the beach, next to a little Polynesian boy in a green tank-top, next to an old man with mutton-chop whiskers, next to a skinny Asian woman in a white blouse and pink shorts, next to me. We pulled, then stopped on signal for the swimmers to lift the net over the coral, then pulled again.

“Did you bring your kids?” asked one of my neighbors, the one who had sent me the e-mail.

“They didn’t want to come.”

“They only do this ever ten years. You’d think they’d want to see it.”

So the people pulled, and soon the nets would come up, flopping with fish. There would be more fish, and more, until the nets were full to bursting.

We walked the rope down the beach, pulling and winding it at the end, until the nets began to come up. Yards and yards of empty nets. I watched for the fish, wondering if we’d caught any at all. Something dark in one of the nets made my heart move a little faster, but it was only a bit of seaweed.

Slowly, panel by panel, the nets came out of the water. People lined up on either side of the nylon mesh, keeping it low to the sand, easing it along whenever the swimmers gave the signal. Out of the white surf came one small white shape. One lone fish, struggling in the net until his fins bled pink.

More and more net came up from the water, until the last panel broke from the waves. A scattering of fish twisted and shimmered as the divers stretched the net out on the sand. Children gathered close, everyone crouched around the net, working with their fingers to free the fish.

“They all babies,” said a Polynesian woman with a black-eyed toddler on her hip. She laughed. “Put them back in the water!"

When the catch was on the beach at last, everyone lined up. The children took their shirts and held them out at the bottom to make a basket. Each child got 3-4 fish, and adults would get ten or more. They would eat them raw, boil them, bake them, and dry the rest.

 A woman walked around with a mesh bag, collecting the fish. Children pinching silver fish about the size of an iphone ran to the water and rinsed them off, then put them in the bag. When all the fish had been collected, it wasn't enough to fill a three-gallon bucket.

"Can't schedule a hukilau, can you?" I asked one of the fishermen. "You have to wait until the fish come in."

He laughed. "This time of year the fish are still tiny. Every summer UH releases more fish out here, they have an orange tag on them, when you catch them you see it, it's really neat. But those are all gone by now. We didn't catch much today, but everyone had fun, yah?"

Special thanks to Uncle Joe Ah Quin for sharing his memories of the hukilau in old Laie Bay with the BYU Hawaii Women's Organization in October 2011. The historical details in this post were summarized from his words.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Come Thou Fount

On Saturday, my son Daniel and I had our musical duo debut at his end-of-year violin recital. He's only been playing for one year, so I'm singing the praises of the Suzuki Method for enabling my son to quickly pick up this tune that I usually do with my Irish band, South Wind.

We've got a few kinks to work out. First of all, Daniel started playing the instant I had my harp on my lap, before I was really ready, so the camera didn't catch the first few notes and my music stand isn't quite where I'd like it to be. Second, I made the mistake of putting my hair up with a chopstick. Every time I turn my head to look at the sheet music, my hair is being yanked as my chopstick catches on the top of the harp.

I made it through in spite of it all, and Daniel did a wonderful job. A big thank-you to Daniel's teacher, Amy Gold, for all she does to promote music learning in our community, and also to Dr. Suzuki! Arigato Gozaimasu!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Writers Club Wednesday: Anti-Heroes

Yesterday we had our first LIVE author visit from Steven L. Kent, journalist and author of a military sci-fi series, who shared some of his thoughts on anti-heroes. We talked about the advantages and disadvantages of making the bad guy the main character. Often, in a story, the villain is more interesting than the hero. So why not make him or her the protagonist? Some stories have done it and been successful, but most people like to identify themselves with a character who makes good choices rather than bad ones. Still, writing with anti-heroes can be a lot of fun.

For more on anti-heroes, let me direct you to the writing excuses podcast on the subject:
And I know I'm a day late on this, sorry Sue, but I'm still excited about the launch of the second book of the Mindjack trilogy, Closed Hearts. So in spite of play practice, creative writing homework, end-of-school-year music recitals, teenagers with last-minute Shakespeare projects, and all that jazz, here it is:

Announcing the release of Closed Hearts, the sequel to Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn.
Book Two of the Mindjack Trilogy
When you control minds, only your heart can be used against you.
Eight months ago, Kira Moore revealed to the mindreading world that mindjackers like herself were hidden in their midst. Now she wonders if telling the truth was the right choice after all. As wild rumors spread, a powerful anti-jacker politician capitalizes on mindreaders’ fears and strips jackers of their rights. While some jackers flee to Jackertown—a slum rife with jackworkers who trade mind control favors for cash—Kira and her family hide from the readers who fear her and jackers who hate her. But when a jacker Clan member makes Kira’s boyfriend Raf collapse in her arms, Kira is forced to save the people she loves by facing the thing she fears most: FBI agent Kestrel and his experimental torture chamber for jackers. Now available! $2.99 Ebook at Amazon (and Amazon UK) and Barnes and Noble Request a Kindlegraph Paper copies available at Amazon or get signed copies from the author
Susan Kaye Quinn is the author of the bestselling YA novel Open Minds,  Book One of the Mindjack Trilogy, available on AmazonBarnes and Noble, and iTunes. Susan's business card says "Author and Rocket Scientist," but she mostly plays on TwitterFacebook, and Pinterest.

Mind GamesOpen MindsClosed HeartsIn His EyesLife, Liberty, and PursuitFull Speed Ahead

Monday, May 21, 2012

Can't Wait for WIFYR!

My daughter said to me today, "I can't believe I'm finally going to Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers! I've been wanting to go for five years now!"

Five years? Has it really been that long since the first time I went?

I guess so. My first experience at WIFYR was attending Brandon Sanderson's class in 2008. He told us that in five years we could be supporting our families as a writer.

I decided that I could do better. In in five years, I wanted to be the one teaching the class.

It's been five years. I'm a bit behind on some of my goals.

But although this process has taken longer than I expected, I know this year's WIFYR will give me renewed enthusiasm to forge onward, and lots of shiny new writing tools for my toolbox.

Can't wait for June!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Writers Club Wednesday: Fan Fiction

One of our club members began e-mailing us episodes of an Avengers fan fic this past week, much to everyone's delight. It got me thinking about the benefits and uses of writing in someone else's imaginary universe.

When you write fan fiction, the world and the characters are already there. No need to spend a lot of time developing back-story, building scenery, hammering out a magic system or inventing new technology, anything like that. You can focus on other aspects of the writing process, like pacing, dialog, and character interactions. Get right to the high-level stuff.

And fan fiction is fun! It is fun to write, and your friends will probably have fun reading it since they know and love the characters you're working with.

You may have so much fun writing fan fiction that you never get around to doing your own stuff.

Don't do that.

You can't publish fan fiction. It's illegal, unless you get hired by the owners of the intellectual property to write it. Some people make good money writing novelizations of popular movies, but they've been asked to do it, or else they asked permission to do it by submitting a book proposal and having it approved. If you really want to know more about the process, I know some authors you can talk to.

For most people, writing fan fiction as a career is not an option. I wouldn't even post fan fiction on the internet as a hobby. Some intellectual property owners are cool with it, but others are not. And besides, you don't want to be known as a writer of fan fiction.

You want people to write fan fiction about the characters and worlds YOU create.

Writing fan fiction is GREAT practice. In fact, most artists begin by copying other artists that they admire. The goal is to keep writing and reading and writing and reading until you develop your own style, something unique, something that others will admire and want to emulate.

Today, the fan. Tomorrow, the challenger.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


In Hawaii, we import 80% of our food. It comes in every day on planes and boats. They say we have only a week's supply of food on the island at any given time. Scary. Apples cost $3 a pound since they have to come over on a boat. Milk has to come by plane. $5 a gallon. Even bananas are more expensive here. Go figure!

A few of us have banded together to fight back. We're the Faculty Townhouses Tomato Co-op.

Last Wednesday, my secret mission was to pick up the tomatoes from the local farmer who GROWS HIS OWN. Right here on the island. What a concept! I donned my trench coat, hat, and dark sunglasses, and slipped into my sporty spy-car. Okay, its only a mini-van. Twelve years old. With a dented side door. Perfect cover.

I drove through miles of trackless jungle:

Up into the hills until I reached the pick-up location:

I crept into the creepy old warehouse:

Tomatoes everywhere! But which ones were meant for me?

There they are! The box on the counter, just like my top-secret mission instructions had said. I left the check and took the goods back to my get-away car.

Safe at home again, I divided up the tomatoes into shares, then delivered them to the other members of the co-op. Mission accomplished.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Writers Club Wednesday: Author Heather Dixon

We had a delightful skype visit today with Heather Dixon, author of Entwined, which made the ALA's Best Fiction for Young Adults list and was in the top ten for romance in 2011.

Heather talked about writing romance, especially about the importance of keeping the romantic relationship in suspense. She also shared some of her writing process with us, which includes ripping out and rewriting entire portions of her books. As a storyboard artist, she says she's used to this sort of thing.

To get to know more about Heather, read her charming and hilarious blog, Story Monster, where you'll see her storyboarding skills in action.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Superstars Writing Seminar 2012

I used to think that if I wrote the most amazing, brilliant book ever, I wouldn't have to do anything but send out a handful of query letters and my authorial success would be assured.

Then I went to the Superstars Writing Seminar.

For three days, some of the most successful writers in science fiction and fantasy told us how they got where they are. They busted common myths about publishing, walked us through a standard writing contract, discussed taxes and copyright issues, told us how to stand out in the slushpile, and so much more, all with an attitude of sharing their knowledge and giving us the best chance of joining them as professional, full-time authors.

I think there were about 60 participants, so each of us had plenty of opportunity speak to the presenters on a one-on-one basis, either between sessions or at meals. I made lots of new writing friends, recruited more authors to skype with the Laie Young Writers club, and found out about writing contests, publishing opportunities, and information resources that I never knew about.

Here are few of the gems I gleaned:

1. Think like a small business owner. You have a creative, artistic writer side who produces the good stuff. You also need to cultivate an entrepreneurial marketing side to sell that stuff.

2. New authors are practically invisible. You must find a way to be seen.

3. An offer is only an offer. Don't get giddy and jump on the first offer to be represented by an agent or be published by a big publishing house. Protect yourself and your intellectual property. Never trade what you want in the long run for what you want now. Be willing to walk away if it isn't a good deal.

4. Most important, write a lot of stuff, put it out on the market, and keep it all out there until something sells.

How am I different after going to this seminar?

I went to this seminar feeling uncertain, not knowing what to do next as a writer. I came home determined to hit the ground running, to rework some old projects and get them back on the market, to start submitting all the short fiction languishing on my hard-drive, and to order a set of business cards. But most important, I've realized that as an author I'm always on stage as my number-one PR person. When my friends ask me, "how's the writing going?" I'm never, ever going to say, "Eh, going nowhere slow." Instead, I'm going to tell them about my latest, most exciting story ever. Because what really sells books? Word of mouth! The recommendations of friends! And that begins with the people I know and every new friend I meet.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Ran off to Vegas

No midweek post this week! I'm in Vegas at the Superstars Writing Seminar.

Promise I'll make up for it on Saturday when I reveal all the top secret, insider, publishing know-how I gleaned over the last several days.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Hooray for WIFYR

I went to Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers for the first time in 2008. When I arrived, I had no idea what I was doing. When I left, I was on the road. I still had a long way to go, but I knew how to get there. All the presenters were so nice, and smart, and helpful. I was so impressed.

So impressed, in fact, that the next year I brought a conference buddy. WIFYR was too good not to share. And the year after that, I brought another friend of mine who wanted to get into illustrating.

This year I'm really excited to be bringing the best conference buddy of all. My very own daughter. And I'm trying to talk my sister into signing up too.

I can't say enough about this workshop. The people who go there, both the attendees and the presenters, are amazing. I learn so much every time I go.

I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Writer's Club Wednesday: Writing Goals

My earliest writing goal, back in elementary school, was an enthusiastic, "Me too! Me too! I want to write books too!" All I wanted was to create one of those shiny, colorful, plastic-covered rectangular things in the library of my very own.

As a young adult I became more ambitious. I wanted to be the first Mormon author to win the Newbery Award. And I wanted to do it with my first book. As a young mother, I'd open up the Scholastic Book Club newsletter that my children brought home from school and imagine one of my titles on the page. I'd go into a book shop and find the place on the young reader's shelf where I'd be.

Around the time I finished my first manuscript five years ago, my goals became more focused. Now I had to find an agent, find a publisher. There were a lot of smaller goals on the way to my bigger ones. I had to learn to write a query letter. I wanted partial manuscript requests, then full manuscript requests, then an offer of representation, and then a manuscript sale. I watched some of my writing friends go all the way through this process and thought, "Me too! Me too!"

And then the whole world changed.

The e-book apocalypse hit the publishing industry last year. Sure, people are still breaking into traditional publishing, but as hard as it was before, it is harder than ever now.

I've begun to rethink my life.

At the center still lies my desire to write the kind of books I loved to read as a child. But as to what the fate of those stories will be, I'm waiting for the details of a new vision to emerge. In the meantime, my writing goals have gone from broad and ambitious to small and concrete:

1. Draft for at least one hour every day
2. Submit something at least once a week
3. Keep reading, keep learning, keep trying

So what are your writing goals?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

OPEN MINDS GIVEAWAY - One Day Left to Enter!

Some time early last fall my husband said to me, "You left a file open on the computer, so I started reading it. And I couldn't stop. What was that?"

"That was Open Minds by my friend Sue Quinn. Yeah, it's good."

"It's really good!"

It certainly is. At the time I was critiquing one of the later drafts, and it was by far the best unpublished manuscript I'd ever read. And now that it's published, you can read it too! In fact, Sue is giving away five free copies right now, so visit her blog, to enter the giveaway. All she asks is that when you're done reading, you pass the book along to a friend.

Don't wait! The giveaway ends Sunday at midnight!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Writer's Club Wednesday: When to be Original

No one likes to see the same old same old, especially when it comes to entertainment. We're all searching for something new and exciting. And when we create stories, we want them to be fresh and original.

But on the other hand, you don't want to be so way out there that no one can connect with your story.

This really smart professor guy named Joseph Campbell studied myths and legends all over the world and discovered that a lot of great stories have pretty much the same plot. He wrote about it in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (click to read the Wikipedia article). Modern storytellers, like George Lucas paid attention, and have made a lot of money creating their own versions of this basic myth. It works because it taps into universal human experience. It feels right.

We'll talk about what exactly this most epic plot is in another lesson.

So if George Lucas used the same storytelling elements that have been used since cavemen swapped tales over the campfire, how come Star Wars seemed like something we'd never seen before?

It was all in the setting. And the light sabers. Yeah, those are cool.

The constant pattern of human life, of all life in fact, is that we are all born, we grow, we live, and then we die. The same story over and over. What makes each life unique is the time and place in which we are born, the people we associate with, the minor details of our life events.

So one way to make your story seem different from every other story, even if you choose to tell a story that's been told a million times, is to have that story play out in a new setting. A setting you invent, or one you research, or one you've lived in yourself.

It's not good to mess with basic plot structure, especially for the beginning writer. Learn as much as you can about the kinds of stories that work and master those forms before you try and get inventive. But you can always, always put your stories in settings that are fresh and original.

Most writers start out imitating their favorite kinds of stories, and then eventually move into their own. Don't worry too much about being original. There's no one else like you in the whole world, and if you write what's truly inside you, your story will be something wonderful that no one has ever seen before.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Your Shopping Cart Has Been Confiscated and Destroyed

I left my Costco shopping cart unattended for just a minute while I ran back down the aisle to get something. When I turned around, two guys in uniforms were standing there, giving my cart suspicious looks.

Did they think some terrorist might have left a bomb in it?

Once when I was working at Los Alamos National Lab we had to evacuate the library because some scientist accidentally left his briefcase behind. What happened to the briefcase? It was taken away by security and blown to smithereens.

At the airport I always keep my carry-on luggage under tight control. I can't let my socks, my digital camera, and the four novels I've brought with me to read on the plane suffer the same fate as that poor scientist's research.

But I didn't know I had to worry about my shopping cart.

As I hurried back to my shopping cart with a jar of salsa in my hand, the one of the uniformed guys glanced up at me and said, "Oh, it's hers." He gave me a nod and the two of them went on their way, pushing their own shopping cart.

Somebody tell me when I started living in dystopia.

I saw them again at the check-out line and got a better look at their uniforms. They were only two firemen picking up groceries, not the Costco bomb squad. Still, I wonder if we'll ever get to the point where unattended shopping carts will be confiscated and destroyed.

I'll put it on my list of novels to write.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Writers Club Wednesday: Girls vs. Boys

Today we'll be having our very first author via skype lesson at the Laie Young Writers Club. Our special guest is Susan Kaye Quinn, author of Life, Liberty and Pursuit, Open Minds, and the amazing blog Inkspells. We'll be talking about the differences between male and female point of view in fiction. For a little appetizer, here's a blog post by Sue on the subject:

See you at writers club!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

I Have Only Just Begun to Write

And now for the latest breaking news in the thrilling saga known as my writing career!

I'm sending out query letters on my most recently finished manuscript.

I'm drafting a new manuscript. I hit 1200 words an hour today. And I'm completely obsessed. Why am I writing this blog post instead of drafting my new manuscript? Must write... must write...

Last week I spent way too much on plane tickets to the mainland so I could go to the Superstars Writing Seminar and the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop. Maybe I should have opted for the kayak like google maps suggests.

I signed on to twitter for the very first time. And then after tweeting for a couple of weeks I realized I'd misspelled my name. It's fixed now.

I signed up for a creative writing course at BYU-Hawaii on writing post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction. Very excited.

Next week my teen writers club will have our first author visit by skype, featuring one of my favorite science fiction authors, Susan Kaye Quinn.

In a few short months I'll reach the five-year anniversary of my very first query letter. Shortly thereafter, I'll reach the five-year anniversary of my very first query rejection. That was back in the day when most literary agents sent rejections. Ah, the nostalgia!

I have come to terms with the fact that I am not going to be an instant success. I'm not sure why it took me five years to figure this out, but now that I'm here it is a good place to be.

And most of all, as ever, I feel like I have only just begun to write.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Writer's Club Wednesday: It's Gonna Take Some Time

Imagine this:

A musician shows up for an orchestra audition. First, the conductor asks a few questions:

"How long have you been playing?"

"Not long, but I've listened to lots of orchestra concerts, so I know what good music should sound like."

"Who do you study with?"

"Oh, I figured I could teach myself."

"What have you performed?"

"I only know one song. But it's a great tune. Do you want to hear it?"

So why do so many people think they can sit down, write one book, and publish it? Worst of all, why do people get discouraged and quit when their first manuscript isn't snapped up and made into a bestseller?

It's gonna take some time. It's going to take effort. And it might even take some *gasp* money. We're talking about gaining an education here. If you know anyone who gives violin lessons for free, please get me in touch.

I've always loved to sing. In high school I was in my top choir, so I thought when I got to college it would be the same. After my audition the conductor looked at me and said, "Do you realize how competitive this choir is?"

I really had no idea.

"Come back in a few years when your voice has matured."

My voice didn't really mature until I was twenty-five years old. One day some gear inside my body clicked into place, and the director of my church choir had to tell me to tone it down so I wouldn't drown everyone else out. I've seen this same thing happen to some of my writer friends. They write book after book, each one good in its own way, but not anything that people would run out to buy. And then some gear in their brain clicks into place and the next thing they write is something amazing. Something which does get snapped up and turned into a bestseller, or climbs the charts on

It doesn't happen overnight.

So prepare yourself. Study, read, and write, write, write. And don't give up if you're not an instant success. Someday, you might be the person who writes my favorite book.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Bag of Spuds

This is South Wind's rendition of "The Bag of Spuds" and "The Rakes of Mallow" from our performance at the Kahuku Library last Tuesday night. I'm the one hiding behind the music stand.


This next one is the ethereal Scottish tune, "Arran Boat Song."

And thanks to my daughter and her friend Carina for providing the vocals on "Minstrel Boy."

We had a small crowd, but at least they laughed at our jokes. Anyway I hope it was the jokes, and not our playing. We're an amateur, get-together-once-a-week sort of Irish band, but we love what we do and I hope you can hear that in our music. Happy St. Patrick's day!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Writer's Club Wednesday: Fiction and the Brain

You have got to read this article from the New York Times:

Your Brain on Fiction by Annie Murphy Paul

Why do we love books with strong metaphorical language, with deep emotions, with action, and with complex human relationships? Because your brain centers light up like a Christmas tree when you read them. If you read about a smell, your olfactory center responds. If you read about someone clinging to a ledge by their fingernails, about to plummet to the crashing waves below, your heart rate goes up, your auditory center starts buzzing, and your motor center revs up. As far as your brain can tell, YOU are the one clinging to the ledge. Pretty neat, eh?

This means writers get to practice mind control. Hee hee.

Reading novels not only stimulates the brain, it helps us become more compassionate, more aware of the thoughts and intentions of other human beings, and more emotionally resilient. The more complex the social life of the characters, the more fascinating and instructive it is to our minds.

Keep writing, everyone! You're working to make the brain a better place.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


Seventy years ago, Japanese forces attacked American battleships at Pearl Harbor, initiating a conflict that ended only when America delivered the horrifying retribution of two atom bombs.

One year ago, American battleships raced across the pacific to bring aid to tsunami victims in Japan.

Yesterday morning I took my children to the USS Arizona Memorial. It was absolutely stunning what destruction a few minutes of modern warfare can bring. All of those horrible giant war machines scared me, theirs or ours it didn't matter. Amazing giant hunks of metal meant to kill you. As my children and I walked through the museum displays I learned that during World War II, every person in Hawaii was issued a gas mask and had to carry it everywhere. The children carried them to school every day for three years. It made me wonder what we'll have to do next time.

And then last night I took my daughter to a Bless4 concert. Bless4 is a Japanese pop group, four siblings who lived in the United States for several years while their dad went to college at my very own alma mater, Brigham Young University, before the family moved back to Okinawa. The group was so good, super-fun to watch. And near the end of their program, they showed us this video:

The most beautiful thing in the film, for me, was to see those American battleships coming not to hurt, but to heal.

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.

God bless America, God bless Japan!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Writer's Club Wednesday: Character Definition

When I first began to write stories, back in elementary school, I would always make up character sketches. I would jot down how old the characters were, how they looked, what their basic personality was. Favorite color, favorite flavor of ice cream, favorite animal, what their parents did, if they had any pets, siblings, or hobbies. It was part of the fun of creating the story.

As I got older I didn't like to do that anymore. It was too confining. A character is more than a list of traits! A character is a living, breathing, organic thing! Instead of creating character sketches, I would get to know my characters as I wrote. I would let them walk onto the stage and then I'd watch them to see what they'd do rather than starting out by making all the choices for them.

That method created a few really wonderful characters, ones that surprised and delighted me, but most of the characters that sprung up that way were living, breathing, organic balls of mush. They had no definition. I have one book I wrote, in first person, that I still haven't decided what the main character's hair and eye color ought to be. I spent a whole book with him, and I don't know if he's ever had any pets. It just never came up. But maybe it should have, and it would have if I'd known from the start.

So now I want to find a way to blend these two methods of character development. I love the crisp, sharp detail I get from knowing a list of traits, but I also want the characters to feel natural and to be able to change and adapt to the story.

How do you create your characters?

And don't forget! Today is PI day at writer's club. Bring pie. And all readings must include either the word pie or pi. See you there!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

What I Learned from Hugo

Last night my family watched the award-winning film "Hugo." I've always loved the pioneering cinematic work of Georges Méliès, and I was delighted to discover it hidden under a mystery in Brian Selznick's book, which the film "Hugo" was based on. The film was beautifully done, and I loved the theme that the title character Hugo stated so well, that the world has no spare parts, we all have a place if only we can find it.

But I took a different lesson from the film this time. Don't value yourself based on your art, for you never know when it will get melted down and made into shoe heels.

In the story, a bitter Méliès had to watch the fickle public disown him. He eventually had to sell his movies to a plastic factory in order to buy a toy booth so he could make some kind of living. That was tragic! When I read it in the book it made me cry. I used to make films too, with my little super-8 camera, and I couldn't bear the thought of them being melted down and lost forever.

While I understand why Méliès became so bitter, he might have sold more toys if he hadn't been perpetually scowling behind that counter.

I don't ever want to get bitter. I want to find a more stable place to stand. I don't want every reaction to my writing, whether it be from an agent, an author I respect, or the kid next door, either throw me into euphoria or despair. Because I can't do my best work in either state. I have to approach my art from a position of confidence that comes from inside.

And then, maybe, I can find my place in the world.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Fakin' O' the Green

I'm trying to write an Irish ballad.

The guitarist in our Irish band introduced us to a lovely tune last summer, "If Ever You Were Mine." My daughter wanted to sing it at our upcoming St. Patty's Day performance at the Kahuku Library. Only one problem, we didn't have the lyrics. Three cheers for the internet! I went online and was surprised to learn that "If Ever You Were Mine" is NOT a traditional Irish ballad. It's a modern composition.

Could have fooled me.

Since there are no traditional Irish lyrics for this non-traditional song I decided to write some myself. I have just as much right to do it as anyone else, right?


I wrote some words, and they were nice, but they just didn't sound Irish! Of course not. I've never even been to Ireland. So I googled and read dozens of Irish ballads, hoping to soak up the style. And I noticed something.

Irish ballads are packed with crystal clear, concrete detail.

That must be why I love them so much. They transport me to another world. "Near Bainbridge town in the County Down one morning in July, Down the boreen green came a sweet colleen and she smiled as she passed me by. Oh she looked so sweet from her two white feet, to the sheen of her nut brown hair..." The song names specific places, gives visual images, uses Irish-sounding vocabulary. Irish ballads give us a glimpse of an entire way of life. That's hard to fake. I don't even know the names of any towns in Ireland, except for the ones I've heard of in songs.

My husband told me to use google maps. But that's a poor substitute for actually being there. So I decided to write some Irish-style lyrics for "If Ever You Were Mine," but set in Hawaii:

Oh I lost my surfboard near Haleiwa town
On a bright and windy day
And it was the final round
Of the Surfing Triple Crown
Oh surfboard, come back, if ever you were mine!

I don't know, I think the last line needs some work.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

New Blog Rules

1. Post twice a week
2. Be myself
3. Share what I learn, what I think, and what makes me smile
4. Do not attempt to blog and cook at the same time

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Writer's Club Wednesday: Emotions

Two years ago at the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop I heard a fascinating theory. My teacher, Dave Wolverton, told us that people read fiction for emotional exercise.

I'd never thought about it before, but it made perfect sense. I'd always been taught that people read fiction for escape. Because life is boring, or miserable, or both, and we need a break now and then. But I always wondered why people would want to escape to a place where you have to hike across an orc-infested wasteland to chuck an evil ring into a volcano before it bends your soul to its demonic will. Not my idea of a vacation.

Readers don't want a vacation. They want a work-out. And as writers, we'll succeed if we build the perfect emotional obstacle course.

I think the key to doing this is to make the most of the emotional potential in your story. When something happens, how does the character feel? Is your character sad? Can you tweak things in the story to make your character even sadder? Is your character excited? What would make it more of a thrill? We're going for emotional exercise here, so we want to amplify real life.

But don't go overboard. I know that if I sense emotional manipulation by the author, I unplug my feelings from the story. Another problem comes when a character's emotional reactions don't feel honest. If I can't believe a character is having an emotion, I won't have it either.

And, as we've discussed before, the best way to convey character emotions in a story is not necessarily to describe the feeling, but to show the reader what that emotion makes the character do.

See you at writer's club!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Over the Rainbow

Visit my guest post on Mormon Mommy Writers to read about a chat with the PianoGuys. And be sure and watch this video which they filmed while they were here on Oahu!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Redecorating the Blog

I started the day by composing query letters. Oh joy. And then I got down the list to an agent who wants a detailed outline. Er. I haven't written one of those since draft 5. Not only is it outdated, it's all full of revision notes and snarky asides. Major clean-up job needed.

I'll tackle that tomorrow. For today, there's nothing like a little redecorating to help me unfrazzle. How do you like my new banner? It features one of my favorite kites. The day I took this picture, my daughter won a t-shirt for flying it in a kite festival. And I had a lot of fun using a RGB to hex converter so I could match the color of the  post backgrounds to the color of the sky in the photo.

Okay, enough fun. Time to get back to work!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Ham Produce & Seafood Inc

Punctuation is important.

I have to start taking the camera with me when I drive to town. I want to get a photograph of this one truck I see sometimes. On the side it says, "Ham Produce & Seafood Inc." It makes me wonder what the heck ham produce is. Or seafood inc, for that matter.

My daughter came up with another example of punctuation power earlier today. She was so proud of herself that she ran downstairs with a whiteboard and marker to show us:

No more than that.

No, more than that.

One little comma. A world of difference.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Pre-Flight Safety Checklist

My Dad's a pilot. He knows there are a few things you can't afford to go wrong at 10,000 feet, so he has a pre-flight safety checklist. Doesn't matter how many times you've checked before, you gotta do it again before you take off. Same thing with my manuscript. It doesn't seem to matter how many drafts I've done, there are a few things I have to check before I submit.

1. Chapter Breaks
Are the chapters numbered consistently? When I begin each chapter, do I have the same amount of space at the top of the page? And most importantly, did I end each chapter with a good hook?

2. Punctuation Dialog 
Yes, I know the rules. Tags get commas. Beats get periods. No good telling that to my wild horses of creativity as they gallop through a first draft. Instead, I check every line of dialog just before I submit. This is a good thing. It gives me a chance to make sure all the dialog snaps and sparkles.

3. Word Abuse
I've got some words I like to use too much, so I have to go back through my manuscript and look around for them. Like, back, look, and around... about half the time these are filler words that don't mean anything. They bog down the prose. Out they go.

4. Grammatical Tics
It's/its, try and/try to, there's/there are, and putting an s on the end of words like toward and anyway. I'm blind to these things when I read through, so I have to use the "search and destroy" feature on my word processor. I love that thing!

5. Final Read
I have to read the whole manuscript one last time. Just so I know exactly what I'm sending out.

Safety check complete! Time to taxi down the runway.

What's the last thing you do before you submit?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

How to Make Cheese

This morning I unscrewed the cap on the milk jug and took a whiff. A certain sour tang told me it was past its prime. You know what that means.


I'm serious.

I learned this trick back when, as a young mother with a husband in graduate school, I signed up faithfully each year for the WIC program. I always appreciated the cheese, juice, and breakfast cereal, but they practically drowned us in milk. My children simply didn't enjoy drinking it. Though I tried to keep up, there was often a jug at the back of the fridge that went a little bit off before we opened it.

So I decided to make it into cheese.

It's totally easy. People used to do this in their own homes for centuries, before they invented Walmart and Costco and things like that.

1. Pour a gallon of milk into a big pot. Add a teaspoon of salt (the salt is optional).

2. Heat the pot on the stove until the milk is not quite boiling.

3. Take the pot off the heat and add a quarter cup of vinegar (you can use rennet if you know where to find it. I sure don't).

4. Stir the pot until the curds separate from the whey.

5. Pour the contents of the pot through a sieve lined with either cheese cloth or a flour sack towel.

6. Put the curds, still wrapped in the cloth and sitting in the sieve, in a larger bowl. Put the bowl in the refrigerator and let the curds drain for a few hours.

Now you have a nice lump of crumbly cheese that makes a great substitute for Ricotta. I'm using it for lasagna tonight.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Okay, So I Lied

I promised myself that I'd be ready to submit after draft 10, but I should have known better. In draft 6 I extracted a 20,000-word subplot. It takes some time to recover from that kind of major surgery.

But I did achieve something in draft 10. I got the story right where I wanted it.

This is my favorite, favorite part of writing a book. All the tears, pain, and frustration are behind me, and there's nothing left to do but polish the prose. Shine every sentence. So I'm sharpening up my blue pencil and reading each word aloud.

No, I am not stalling. Yes, I will submit soon.

But first, I get to spend some quality time with my manuscript.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Writers Club Wednesday: Pitches

Today at our Laie Young Writers meeting, we'll be talking about pitches. This will be the first in a series that covers two vital weapons in an author's arsenal, the pitch and the synopsis.

A pitch is a few short paragraphs that are meant to leave an agent or editor dying to read your book. The pitch doesn't contain the whole plot, but should take the most fascinating elements of your book and put them on display for all to see. It's like a shop window, meant to lure prospective buyers inside. You'll use a pitch to interest an agent, and then if that agent represents you, she will probably use that pitch to hook an editor, and the editor will need that pitch to convince the editorial department to take a chance on your book. So a good pitch can go a long way.

But how to write one?

It isn't easy. A good pitch is like poetry. Every word counts. And how can you boil down an entire novel to less than half a page? But this is what makes the pitch such a great writing tool. It forces you to decide what's most important about your story. In fact, I like to write my pitch before I begin drafting a new book. It keeps me on track as I go.

According to Elana Johnson's excellent guide, From the Query to the Call, a pitch needs four things:

1. Hook
2. Set-up
3. Conflict
4. Consequence

This afternoon we'll take a look at a successful pitch, analyze it, and then try writing our own.

From the Query to the Call is free for download from Elana Johnson's website. Those of you who are serious about publishing should definitely read it for yourselves.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Where Are You People?

I co-mentor a teen writing club with one of my neighbors. One phenomena associated with this venture is the excessive amount of e-mail all these verbose teenagers pack into my inbox. Sometimes they have six or seven e-mail conversations going at once.

But today, there weren't any e-mail messages. None at all. Very strange.

It worried my daughter, so she wrote this poem:

Where are you people?

This morning I got up early
And checked my email, because
I knew that I would surely
Have fifteen messages

But to my shock
To my surprise
I'd an empty inbox
Where are you guys?

Ok, I thought
No need for alarm
They've probably not
Come to any harm

But I checked again
At a quarter to ten

And to my shock
And to my surprise
I'd an empty inbox
Where are you guys?

My face went pale
My heart filled with dread
If they're not sending emails
They must be DEAD!

Ever since the day
We started this
Not a single hour
Have I missed
Without getting an email
Or two or three
But now there's nothing
Where can you be?

It's four forty-eight
And getting late
And I'm getting worried
Oh cruel, cruel fate!

Could I be the last living
Writer's club member?
Of the dying fire
Am I the last ember?

Are you all dead
Are you all gone?
Where are you my friends?
What's changed? What's gone wrong?

Did your characters come alive
Like we joked they would?
Did they kill you all
Did they poison your food? (because that would rhyme with would... ish)

I just checked my email
And to my surprise
I've an empty inbox

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Between Drafts

When I write, I write hard. So what to do with all that energy when I finish a revision and need to wait for the dust to settle in my brain? I put the passion into a project! Or two... or maybe three.
This time I'm going to:
1. Clean the living room carpet (by hand)

Isn't it lovely?
2. Clear ground for a little vegetable garden in the back yard (also by hand)

Almost done!
 3. Read a lot of books:
-A Million Suns by Beth Revis
-The Rex Zero series by Tim Wynne-Jones
-Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge
-Revision by David Michael Kaplan
-Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson
-From the Query to the Call (again) by Elana Johnson

4. Write a few random scenes from other books I'm thinking about, plus a chapter of a group story I'm writing with my daughter's teen writing club
5. Outline my next book
6. Work on my query letter
7. Sew the patches on my new Cub Scout Committee Chair uniform. Did you know that Robert Baden-Powell was a British spy? So awesome.

Proudly wearing the Aloha Council patch
8. Arrange a harp duet with my daughter (she's already written her part) so we can perform it together in March.

There, by then I should have forgotten everything about my last draft and be ready to read it with an objective eye.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

More Discoveries

I recently posted about my top eleven discoveries of last year. Now I'd like to add a few things I've discovered since January 1st. If this keeps up, it's going to be a big year for discoveries.

Bread Flour

I love to bake bread, but in the past I've always used all-purpose flour. Why buy a sack of flour that's only for baking bread? Here's why - when I use bread flour, the bread isn't crumbly. It can hold up in a school lunchbox all morning. So now, since I've started baking with bread flour, the kids all want my home-made bread for their lunches.

The Piano Guys

I didn't even know electric cellos existed! These Piano Guys have made a lot of music videos, and they're perfectly addicting. And whatever video editing software they use--I want it.


In this case, M&N stands for Maltomeal and Nutella. Take a regular, boring old bowl of Maltomeal and add a tablespoon of Nutella. Amazing creamy, nutty, chocolate goodness. You want some now. Breakfast will never be the same.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Story for English

"I have to write a short story for English," my son told me. "But I can't think of anything. I don't do stories."

This would not have been a problem for me when I was in high school. I had a notebook full of short stories that no one had asked me to write. I could have taken my pick and turned one in.

It was a problem for me to figure out how to help. How do you get a story out of someone who doesn't like to think them up?

"Lets start with a setting," I said. "Where do you want your story to take place?"

Blank look.

"In a house? On the beach? In a car? On a school bus?"

Slight raise of one eyebrow.

"On the moon? In a banana tree?"

"A banana tree," my son said. "We could have two ants talking to each other."

It wasn't working.

"So maybe you could take a story you already know and change the characters," I suggested. "Like The Three Little Pigs, or Goldilocks."

"Mom, I can't do that!" he said. "I have to make it up myself."

Later, at the dinner table, I noticed how my son kept us all laughing with one clever joke after another. "You should write a funny short story," I told him. "You're good at funny."

"But I don't know what to write about!"

I reached deep in my mind, trying to find the essence of story. Where does a story come from? A story is a person in a place with a problem, right? I decided to try it. "A story needs a main character. Who do you want it to be?"

"I don't know."

"Boy or girl?"


"How old?"

"I don't know!"

"Older, younger, or the same age as you?"


"Good. Now where does he live?"


"City or country?" my husband asked.


"Good," I said. "Now, what does he want?"

"Candy!" my younger son giggled.

"Okay, candy," said my high school student with the writing assignment.

"And what is keeping him from getting what he wants?" I asked.

My son grinned. His eyes gleamed. The gears had begun to turn. "His mom."

In the next few minutes, a hilarious story took shape. My son got up from the table and went to the computer to get it down. And so a story is born.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Draft 9 R.I.P.

It was back to work today, which meant the start of draft 10, which is really and truly my final draft I mean it.

This time I'm working on one chapter at a time, getting everything just the way I want it, and printing it out before moving on to the next chapter. The previous draft goes into this box, bit by bit.

And then what am I going to do? I'm going to read my book on my son's new Kindle! Because that way it will look like a real book to my brain (which by then will have already read several other real books on the Kindle). My senses can tell the difference between a computer print-out of a manuscript in a 3-ring binder and a paperback-bound book. But I'm going to completely fool myself this time.

Maybe then I'll be able to see the book for what it is.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Writers Club Wednesday: Revising

Today we'll be talking about what to do when your story stinks. You could shove it in a drawer and forget about it, but chances are, there is something in that story that makes it worth saving. In fact, I once heard Brandon Sanderson say that any manuscript can be made publishable. The question is -- how much work is it going to take to get it there?

Our lesson will be a brief overview of the revising process, including rereading, redrafting, revising, and line editing. Also a word of caution - yes, revising can make your story WORSE. So always proceed gently and with caution. Continue to trust your imagination, trust your heart, and trust your ear. If you do that, you can make your story as awesome as you dreamed it would be before you wrote the first word.