Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Book Giveaway

I'm going to do a book giveaway.

On Friday, I'll have details ...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

In Memoriam & "Return of a Soldier"

 The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots -- Thomas Jefferson

American Cemetery in Manila
I had my first view of a military cemetery, when I was about 12 or 13. My father was stationed on Sangley Point in the Philippines, and we visited the American Cemetery in Manila.
This was an eye-opening experience for me because of the sheer number of graves. Seeing all those grave markers made it real to me. That each one of those marked a life given up in defense of this country's freedom ... my freedom.

My next experience was a few years later, when I spent the summer I was 16 in Hawaii with some family friends. Dean (the dad) was stationed on Pearl Harbor and during that summer we visited the Arizona Memorial.

Arizona Memorial - List of Killed

Once again I was struck by the number of names on the list. It's easy to sit in a classroom and read the statistical information about the number of men who died there. But this wasn't a list of statistics. This was a list of real people who had families and dreams. I would never again consider the "statistics" of battles as something just of numbers.

Punch Bowl Cemetery - Honolulu
We also visited the Punch Bowl Cemetery in Honolulu. It was poignant for me as I looked at the new graves. Unlike the cemetery in Manila or the Arizona, these were recently killed young people. Young men who had died in Vietnam. Young men not many years older than me. Young men who may not have agreed with what our government was doing but answered when our nation called--and paid the ultimate price.

I come from a long line of people who have served this country. Two of my great grandfathers fought in the Civil War (they lost, but I believe the country gained). Following are pictures of my family members who have or are now serving our country.
My maternal grandfather. He served in the U.S. Cavalry.
My Uncle Ned survived not only the attack on Pearl Harbor but the battle of Iwo Jima.
My uncle Jim and my dad (who served 25 years).
My brother David in his Naval Academy uniform.
Me with my Signal Corps Scarf. (my husband Ed served in the Air Force in Vietnam)
My brother-in-law Maynard who was Career Navy and served in Desert Storm. My sister Darcy didn't have a picture of herself in uniform, but she also served.
My nephew Evan who recently returned from Afghanistan.

Bert, one of my fellow moderators at the Leaky Lounge wrote the following a few years ago:

A Simple Request

A few days ago, I caught a brief reference in the news to the return of a handful of Marines from Iraq, met by a small but vocal group of protesters. The incident brought back more than a few memories. I feel compelled to speak to my academic colleagues.

Sooner, perhaps, than we are ready, we may be faced with an issue Academia has not really faced in a generation, large numbers of young veterans enrolling in our classes, beginning new lives and new careers.

Having stood where they shall stand, I hope I can help you to understand what they shall face and how they will behave.

They shall face, as I did, professors who will inform them on the first day of class that they may as well drop out now because anyone too stupid to avoid military service is, obviously, too stupid to pass the course work. Many will respond by scoring 100% every test you give them, getting their A's not because you "give" them A's but because they "take" those A's by brute intellectual force, driving themselves with a self discipline few who have never served in a combat zone can imagine. These young people have worked fifty-and sixty-hour days in unbearable heat for months on end, performing exacting but mind numbing tasks upon which, literally, the lives of other people depend. They shall not be overwhelmed by your reading lists. Like all veterans, they know that the rest of their life is a gift.

They shall be called, as I was called, names like fascist, rapist, and baby killer--by both faculty and students alike, often in class and to their face. But they have had worse things thrown at them. They've been trained to stand their ground under fire. More importantly, they know the truth; they know that they built clinics and schools and gave first aid to children shot, burned, cut, and blown up by an enemy who indiscriminately destroys anyone who appears to be friendly to Americans—even small children. It is easy to sit here in America watching CBS or CNN, believing you "know" what all those young people are doing. I am often amused to see professors who regularly rant about the unreality of TV falling into the very foolishness they condemn.

They shall be used as pawns in games of political propaganda by professors trying to make political statements. But these young veterans have, unfortunately, been used on occasion by foolish and inept officers who see their own military "exploits" not as something contributing to national security, but as some kind of political currency to be traded later for votes. These young vets know an "A-hole" when they see one. They know how to protect themselves.

Be warned. Often they will be smarter than you—no, not better educated or more well read—but wiser, faster. Many of them are going to graduate with honors—magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa—and then they are coming after you, coming to take your job, where they know that someday they can make a difference in how this nation treats its young veterans.

I don't care how you feel about them; they don't care either. My simple request is that you treat them fairly. Give them the chance they have earned and the grades they deserve. Don't make them fight a second war against intolerance and bigotry here in their own country.

As for me, I will embrace them as comrades.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Are You Talking to Me?

With all the problems poor Blogger's been having lately, it's really messing with my head. Yesterday, my widget said I had 169 Followers. But then when I was going back and forth trying to visit the blogs of people who commented my blog (and replying to them), suddenly it said 170.

Cool. I love even numbers.

But then the next time I was on the page, it was back down to 169.


So did I offend someone?

Then it bounced up to 170 and down again to 169.

Okay, so was last night just the precursor to not being able to see a lot of peoples' Follower list at all today? Or was someone telling me something?

So, are you talking to me?

Were you the one who unfollowed me? Or was I just tired last night? Feel free to follow if you're not already. I'd love to know if the dang thing can go beyond 169 and stay there. =D

ETA: My friend Becky Taylor is having a giveaway. You might want to check it out here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Letting Go

I've learned so much about writing over the past year and even since the beginning of 2011 after joining a couple of critique groups and attending two conferences. I've been trying to consider the comments made in the critiques and as a result I decided to take one suggestion (made by two different readers) and rewrite my ms to follow a slightly different plot line and see how it goes. I finished Part 1 (there are 3 parts) this weekend.

This happens to be WIP #1 for me (I have two others partially done). I hear a lot about how your first book is always a piece of trash and you should just write it and get it out of your system and move on. As a stupid newbie, I'm not sure I agree. Here's what I'm thinking.

1. I love the story. Even if it's never good enough to publish, I will get it formatted and have it printed so I have a copy of it. Because of this I want it to be the very best little story it can be.

2. This manuscript is the one I'm practicing on. It's completely finished, and the plot is solid (as others have confirmed for me). I look at this book kind of like I did when I taught myself how to read crochet instructions. My grandmother had taught me how to do a simple granny stitch, and I'd made several afghans over the years. But I didn't know how to read a pattern. I purchased a book, a thing of crochet string, and a hook of the correct size. I went to work and when I'd finish a certain technique, I'd unravel what I'd done and start on the next project. I did this until I could read just about any pattern. The string had been used to many times it had become discolored and I threw it away. But the experience was incredibly useful.

I'm on edit/rewrite 9 of my ms because I keep learning new techniques and writing pitfalls to watch out for. I don't feel like I'm wasting my time, and from the feedback I've received it's getting better (so hopefully I haven't taken the heart out of it by all my editing).

3. Once I'm finished with this one, I will (I hope) be better trained as I approach completing those other works.

I'm very much the personality type to start something and finish it. I love being able to say I completed a task--and this task I love. I hope I'm not like the old Harry/Hermione shippers--delusional--and hanging on when I should just set this project aside and let go.

What about you? Do you ever wonder if you've hung on too long? How do you decide it's okay to keep going or cut the apron strings?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Book Reviews - Should You or Shouldn't You?

There's been an interesting discussion going on among members of a writing group I recently joined about whether or not we should review books. It was an interesting discussion.

Then today author Roni Loren talked about it on her blog. You can find today's post here. I think she raised some very good points and reached some of the same conclusions I have.

What about you? Do you review books and tell it all, even if you hated it?

Friday, May 20, 2011


Author/agent Mandy Hubbard wrote an interesting post earlier this months on trends in publishing. She specifically talks about young adult and middle grade, touching on picture books.

You might like to check it out here.

The professionals can work up their charts, but who knows when a book will come out that captures the public's imagination *coughstephaniemeyercough*? That kind of response is hard to anticipate.

There probably not much point in trying to write something to meet trends because it takes so long to get something out in book form anything trending now could be dead by the time yours comes out.

Besides, is just meeting a trend why you write? What's your motivation?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Review - I Am Not a Serial Killer Series

Last weekend, I finished the third book in Dan Wells' series. The books are I Am Not a Serial Killer, Mr. Monster, and I Don’t Want to Kill You. I wanted to stew on them for a few days before writing about the series as a whole.

I heard about the first book in the series when I was listening to an episode of Writing Excuses (hosted by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler). Brandon commented on how well Dan had done making a normally unsympathetic main character (he’s a sociopath who dreams and has fantasies of torturing and killing people) into someone you love and worry about, someone you’re cheering for, cringing for, having dang nightmares for!

The first book wasn’t high on my list of reading priorities because I don’t really read horror anymore. When I was a child, I loved to be scared to death. LOVED it. Used to make my mother nuts because I’d end up on her side of my parents’ bed. I guess I knew my father wouldn’t have any patience with my self-induced nightmares. I gave horror up when, as a young widow, I was scared to go down the dark hallway to one of my crying children. Single parenthood and Stephen King were not a good fit.

Back on topic, I continued to hear rave reviews about Dan’s book, so I decided to download the audiobook. You can see my review of I Am Not a Serial Killer here.

Mindy over at LDS Women's Book Review warned me that she found Mr. Monster the hardest of
the three books. Because of my response to the first book, hearing this from Mindy really made me nervous. But it makes sense this middle book in the trilogy would be dark (dark for an already dark series? Hmmm).

John Cleaver, our hero, after his success in the first book, is losing control of his dark side, his Mr. Monster. The rules he'd so carefully put in place to save him (and society) from his inner demon had to be loosened in order to be the victor in the first book. But once rules have been broken, they're much harder to put back together again.

Whereas I took a break and read another tome between the first two books, I jumped right into the last one. It's longer, and John has to deal with more issues (like Mr. Monster isn't enough, right?). Girls at school are killing themselves, and a serial killer is loose in Clayton County again ... and John has some responsibility for it. But he's also better in control of his monster, and he's making progress socially.

I'm not going to say too much about what actually happens, but there are some really horrible things and some really wonderful things that happen to our John. The journey he makes in this book, the growth and self discovery, are profound. And exquisite for me, the reader.

Perhaps some of what struck a cord with me in this seris is John's dealing with his mental illness. I have many friends and family members who struggle with mental illness. I've lived through a suicide and several attempted suicides of people very close to me. I've felt the consequences of loving someone with a devastating mental illness. People can have one and struggle through the challenges and carve a decent life for themselves. They can love and grow and be active participants in their families and society.

At the end of this last book, I cried. I cried for the poignant discovery John made about himself. He suffered some terrible losses, yet the very pain he experienced brought hope. For others trying to find their way through life's challenges, John Wayne Cleaver is an inspiration. Real life readers may not be able to go out and hunt supernatural demons, but sometimes hunting--and dominating--their own demons is enough.

I highly recommend this series.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Storymaker Conference - Report 5: Writing Action

Go ahead. Describe what's happening in this pic.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I took two classes from Traci Abramson at Storymaker. She's an entertaining writer and instructor.

Writing Action
The POV should be from the people who have the most to win or lose.
  • Visualize your novel like a movie. Don't write about the character -- BE the character. Doesn't this sound just like that Show, Don't Tell thingy?
  • Use visual words.
  • When there's action, there will be more white space on the page.
  • If your pacing is too fast, you'll lose your reader.
  • If your pacing is too slow, your reader will get bored.
  • Be concise in your writing because sometimes less is more. If five words will do, don't write thirty. Some good examples of concise writing can be found in poetry, song lyrics, and newspaper articles.
  • Your sentence structure is important with action. All right, your sentence structure is important in all writing unless you want to sound like Yoda. Watch your paragraph format and see if your sentences are in the right order.
  • If you want to write action, read the books of writers who do it well.
  • If you're not sure if the action scene is working, act out the movement. Watch yourself in the mirror.
Do you have any particular techniques for spicing things up in an action scene?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Storymaker Conference - Report 4: Keeping Your Readers Up Past Their Bedtimes

I took two classes from Traci Abramson at Storymaker. I'd taken a class from her at the UVU Book Academy, too. She's got some very interesting real life experience, having worked for the CIA, which she does a good job bringing into her writing. I'm currently reading one of her books to my hubby, and he keeps dreaming about it.

Keep Your Readers Up
She helped define the difference between mystery (begins with a question) and suspense (begins with a threat). While both will have an element of suspense in them, both are meant to let both the reader and the character be scared.

Regarding the hook, I loved the way Traci phrased it. Say what you mean and then get out of the way. This made me think of my Show, Don't Tell class and the need to not tell the reader what they should be experiencing but letting them do that for themselves.

She quoted Alfred Hitchcock who said "emotion is an essential ingredient of suspense". It's important for the reader to make an emotional connection with the main character. I can vouch for this because there's a very popular writer out there who's put out a lot of books, but I haven't connected emotionally to the writer's main characters in a very long time. As a result, I haven't picked up a new book in several years.

It's important to make your reader curious. Like Hansel and Gretel, we need to leave breadcrumbs--not infodumps. Be careful about your scenes; every scene should move the story forward. Be realistic with your clues but don't be too obvious. This makes me think of Jo Rowling, who does a wonderful job with her clues and red herrings in the Harry Potter books. You really need to pay attention when you're reading because she has so many things hidden in plain sight.

You have to raise the stakes for your characters. I heard this over and over again in the conference. You have to be mean to your characters ... and then be meaner. Make it hard on them. Danger and time pressure add to the suspense. But be realistic, plausible. Don't give the reader a "Yeah, right" moment.

Use action words and sentence structure to move the story along at a quicker pace. Don't let description slow the action down. I've read books where the writer did that. O_o Totally kills that feverish, forward motion.

Do you have guidelines for breaking chapters to keep your readers reading?

Storymaker Conference - Report 3: Show, Don't Tell

This post was eaten when Blogger had indigestion. It was restored minus its comments
and with distorted labels. When I edited it to correct the labels, it posted it as of today.
It was actually published on March 11th.

One very valuable class I attended was taught by Annette Lyon on Show, Don't Tell. I'd heard good things about Annette's class from other conference attendees, and I was glad it was offered twice, so I didn't have to decide between two good things. Annette used a lot of exercises and visuals, which helped me a lot.

Telling has the writer interpreting events, feelings, etc. for the reader, whereas showing allows readers to experience the scenes for themselves. We need to trust that the readers will 'get it' without us spelling it out for them.

Point of view (POV) is the filter the story is being shown through, and if we're using multiple POVs we need to consider how differently the various people might look at a scene and interpret it. Annette showed a picture and had everyone describe the scene by showing and then had two people come up and read what they'd written. It was fascinating to see what had drawn the attention of the writers. I hadn't noticed the room's interior because I'd focused on what was outside the window.

This exercise made me think of the way Rowling handled the Harry Potter series. The books are written in third person but a very tight third person. With a handful of exceptions, everything we see is through the Harry filter. If he didn't hear or see it, neither did we.

POV can be a very effective way to show, but we need to make sure the POV doesn't intrude. And we have to be careful not to head hop.

Some words that signal you're telling (this was a real eye opener for me):
  • realized
  • listened
  • watched
  • noticed
  • thought
  • felt
  • saw
Show thoughts and emotions powerfully and avoid words with multiple meanings. Be specific. Don't just say it was a car; say what kind of car it was, color, etc.

Have you found any ways that help you spot when you're telling?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blogger Ate My Post ... And Burped It Back.

Well. What do you know? My Thursday post about the Show, Don't Tell class at Storymaker is gone. I got an error message about missing posts that Blogger was trying to fix.

Still no post.


It was Peeves. I know it.

And now the post is back. Go Blogger!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Storymaker Conference Report Part 2 - Pacing

I attended a class by Josi Kilpack on pacing. Some of the elements might seem obvious, but other points she brought up were less so ... to me. Obviously, pacing depends upon genre. We expect certain kinds of stories to pace faster than others. You need to consider who you're writing to, when deciding how to pace your tale.

I remember years ago (back when I read Stephen King), and my late husband brought home the book Salem's Lot. This book does an incredible job with its pacing and has the ability to scare the crap out of you by establishing normal and then breaking it. The way my husband described the book was that King drew you slowly into the story and then grabbed you by the throat and dragged you the rest of the way through it.

There are a variety of techniques for packing your story. Punctuation does a lot for it. Longer, more expository paragraphs will slow the pace down. Shorter sentences and paragraphs will speed it up. Dialoge tends to speed things up, while too many tags or beats can slow it down.

Something that came up in the discussion was the use of prologues. Evidently studies indicate readers don't read them, so they're discouraged. Makes sense. We shouldn't write things people skip. On my WIP #1, after receiving some critiques suggesting I'd started the story in the wrong place (there was an inciting event that everyone--including me--missed), I pulled a scene from Part 2 and stuck it in the beginning and called it a prologue.

And got blasted for having a prologue. However, what I'd done wasn't really a prologue ... it was a flashforward. Duh. If I wanted to I could leave it there and just call it chapter 1 and on chapter 2 add "three months earlier". That's not what I'm going to do, but it's nice to know that it was a technique I could use if I thought the story would work better.

Bottom line is that flashbacks and flash forwards are pacing techniques, since they slow the pace down.

How do you handle pacing? Do you have any types that you particularly like to use?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Publishing Business

I read a really interesting article by Kristine Kathryn Rusch about the publishing business, agents, and writer contracts that might be of interest. To me it screams 'buyer beware' to every writer hoping to be published (and those writers who already are).

Even in regards to the article itself, since the writer is selling something. But she poses many questions writers should be asking themselves as they prepare to sign contracts, both with their advocate (agent) and with a publishing company.

Click here to read the article.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Storymaker Conference - Report 1: How to Scare People

I came back last evening after an incredible three days. I got to meet some wonderful people and learn skads about writing. I attended bootcamp where four writers met with a published author (though one of the bootcampers was published). Our drill sargeant was Melanie Jacobson, author of the The List, and we spent six hours together reading and critiquing 15 pages from each of our WIPS. Learned SO much.

In this blog I'm going to report on the class that Dan Wells taught on how to scare people. Dan is the author of I Am Not a Serial Killer, Mr. Monster (which tied with Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings for the Whitney Awards Novel of the Year last night), and I Don't Want to Kill You.

His class was titled "There's a Bomb Under the Table: How to Write Thrills, Chills, and Suspense".  He broke down the process of how to scare people (in 5 easy steps). Dan only had 50 minutes, and he used movies to make his point, some of which he showed excerpts of. I don't write horror, but I do have suspense in my books, so it's important for me to understand how to make it work for my readers.

Establish normal and then break it.
He had a couple of examples for this one. One was a scene with Drew Barrymore in Scream where she gets a phone call that starts out seeming very normal ... until she realizes the caller is watching her from somewhere. Suddenly the norm is broken and it's a shock. Dan showed a clip of the George C. Scott movie The Changeling.

The familiar becomes unfamiliar.
He reviewed that dock scene from the movie Jaws, where the two guys throw out the Sunday roast as bait for the shark and one is very nearly killed. Personally, that was one of the scariest scenes in the movie for me. Dan said that the story is so well set up because everything acts normally ... until the floating dock turns around and heads back toward the man in the water. Freak out!

Delay the other shoe.
He showed the clip from Jaws where Brody is stressing because he knows there's a shark out there but the mayor won't close the beaches. We're given several scenes where people are doing just what people do at the beach (normal) but Brody's also seeing potential dangers everywhere. As viewers we're waiting for the other shoe to drop. We keep thinking, 'this time it'll happen' but it doesn't. And when it does ...

Pushing fear buttons.
Dan's example for this one was from Silence of the Lambs. It's almost to the end of the film, when Jodi Foster has gone into the building where the kidnap victim is trapped. One of the brilliant techniques in this scene is how the viewer is shown things people are scared of. We have the character's obvious fear--let's be real here; if it scares an armed FBI agent it's going to scare me--then we have a room full of scary, creepy things (closed doors, bathtubs full of icky stuff, a screaming victim, etc. and then the lights go out and the viewer then gets to watch the murderer watch the character without her knowing it. *shivers*

Show the monster when the time is right.
Unfortunately we ran out of time on this one and didn't get to see the last video clip. From my personal experience, I would suggest in this one to make sure the monster isn't ridiculous. I remember watching a movie on TV with gargoyles. They did a decent job creeping me out in the beginning ... until I actually saw the monsters (gargoyles). They were so ridiculous I laughed. Not good.

If you're interested, I'm providing the link to the first of a five-part training Dan did on Story Structure at LTUE in 2010. Very informative.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Storymaker and Bootcamp

I'm off to bootcamp this afternoon. I'm sure this one will be a little different from the one I survived a bazillion years ago. At that long ago bootcamp we had to qualify with the M-16, use gas masks, identify foxholes, and get through obstacle courses ... to say nothing of learning to march to cadence and salute (and who to salute). It was exhausting, and I ended up with an injured knee and rehab, but I made it through.

I don't think today's bootcamp is going to be any easier. I've already discovered that having your work critiqued is a lot like going through physical therapy. It hurts like hell, but in the end you're better for it. Today I'm paying for the privilege

The full Storymaker conference starts on Thursday. I'm really excited.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

And the Winner Is ....

Brandi STreeval! You win the copy of Cinders. Congratulations!

Please send me your email address. I will forward it to Michelle, and she'll get in touch with you.

Monday, May 2, 2011

"Cinders" by Michelle Davidson Argyle -- My First Giveaway ... Kinda

I had the good fortune on April 19th to check out Robin Week's "Selfless Self-Interest" post where she and author Michelle David Argyle were doing a blog posting swap that included a chance to win a copy of Michelle's novella Cinders.


Of course, I was interested in the book right away. I went ahead and did the requirements for my name to be entered in the drawing, though I'm not usually someone who wins prizes*. (Proof positive is the 14 times my name has NOT been drawn for the trip to Hawaii at work--don't worry. It's a timeshare donated to the city by the family of the man the city is named for. So, you might understand why I assumed I wouldn't win the free book, either.)


I won! And I found out I won only hours after I downloaded the book to my Nook


But someone else is going to benefit from my hastiness because Michelle still has my copy of the book to award ... and she's agreed to do it here.

So here's how it's gonna work.

All you have to do is comment on this post by 6:00 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time (because that's the time zone I live in) on Wednesday, May 4th. I will then take the list of names to my office where my unsuspecting office clerk will be forced given the opportunity to draw someone's name from a hat (or probably a bowl, since I don't wear hats).

I'm not quite as sophisticated as some people online but I figure if you can have people draw straws to determine the winner in a tie for a city council seat, we can draw names out of a hat ... bowl.

Please note that Michelle has another book coming out on September 15, 2011-- MONARCH.

* I think I'm going to have to quit claiming that I don't win prizes, since I've won 3 books now on blog contests. I just hope that this sudden run of good luck carries over to being published. *crosses fingers*

Oh. My. Heck. I'm definitely going to have to change what I'm claiming about never winning. If you read the comments in my Blogging Challenge Z post, you can see I won something else. Woot!

I'm a winner!
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