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!