Friday, December 6, 2013

Music and Writing

At 103,644 words, my tenth draft of TBW is finished. Reward: my favorite chocolate and Laini Taylor's latest offering, NIGHT OF CAKE AND PUPPETS, await.

But today, I want to discuss finding inspiration in music. There are a lot of people who listen to music while they write. I am not one of those people. However, over the course of writing TBW, I'd occasionally hear a song that would remind me of a character and flood me with insight into who she was, and it was always the same character. She isn't the POV character. In fact, she started out with a minor role, but over the course of many drafts, she's become my favorite of the three main characters.

As I hadn't experienced this musical phenomena while writing any of my other stories, I'd attributed it to the character and let it go at that. Having access to music that drops me into the story has been great for revision.

But then, yesterday, I heard a song and thought, "That's HIM. He doesn't have a name yet, and I'm going to kill him off, but THAT is my character." This character had a minor role in my first draft of Nightingale (so minor that I didn't bother to name him), but now I'm excited to see how his story evolves. :o)

And now I'm curious. Does music play a role in your creative process?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm one picture book idea away from completing PiBoIdMo, and I'm excited to explore my new ideas with Ann Whitford Paul's WRITING PICTURE BOOKS. I've only read the first chapter (which was excellent), but I've been excited to work my way through it since reading this review by Harold Underdown (though maybe not quite as excited as I am for this week's pie and cheesecake).

May your week be delicious!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Picture Book Idea Month

I'm not participating in NaNoWriMo this year, but I did jump on the PiBoIdMo wagon. I just finished a rough draft last month and should should have TBW (a much older manuscript) ready to query this month. I don't need that kind of push in the novel department right now.

I'm having so much fun coming up with picture book ideas that I'm ahead. It doesn't demand anywhere near the time commitment that NaNoWriMo does. If you're interested, you have until November 7th to register. Clicking on the icon will take you where you need to go.

Mostly, I'm revising TBW. But where I live, it's also time to put in a winter garden, and I'd like to do a better job of that this year.

What are you working on this month?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Queries and Loglines

For the last couple of weeks I've been trying to come up with a better query for TBW. I loathe writing queries, especially queries for fantasy. I've lost track of how many queries I've written for this story.

Like many other blogging writers, I subscribe to Miss Snark's First Victim, and I noticed last week that she was holding another logline critique this week. So, I condensed TBW into a couple of sentences and submitted it. If any of you want to advise me, it'll be up for critique tomorrow as Entry #35.

Working on a logline helped me come up with a new (and hopefully better) query. We'll see.

Do you have any tips on writing queries?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

First Draft Finished!

I just finished the first draft I've been working on since August 26th, so YAY! And I wrote the whole draft in a notebook, which is a first for me. Usually I start out in a notebook and transition to the computer after the first chapter or so. The Unusual Nightingale won't look the same when I type it into the computer, especially when I've researched everything that I want to, but now I'll always have a record of those first ideas to draw on.

I'm unreasonably smitten with these characters and their story, but I need to research the time period and geography better, so they're sitting for a bit.

I've been neglecting my other projects for the shiny new idea, so it's past time for me to get serious about revising TBW and its query. And I might have a couple of new PB manuscripts that need revising as well.

In other happy news, my husband is home from working in California for the last five weeks! I'm really hoping that means I'll be able to sleep again. My writing is SO much better when I sleep more than three hours at night. And with that goal in mind, I'm going to bid you all a happy week. :o)

Friday, September 27, 2013


If you loved Shannon Messenger's KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES and have been worried about whether or not the sequel will live up to your expectations, EXILE is even better than the first book. This is not a floppy sort of sequel or even an EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (if you know what I mean) kind of sequel. I love it.

Exile (Keeper of the Lost Cities, #2)

I especially love the friendship that develops between Sophie and Keefe and the alicorn. But for me, the most brilliant part of the novel is the way guilt cripples elves. I can't say more without spoiling.

If you haven't read KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES, it's a series that would appeal to fans of FABLEHAVEN, HARRY POTTER, and PERCY JACKSON, a world within our world. It's fabulous.

And now, if you'd like to win a brand new hardcover copy of EXILE, tell me which character from the first book was your favorite (animals count). Or if you haven't read it, tell me which character most interests you. This contest is open internationally (as long as Book Depository ships to your address), but it closes tomorrow night, 10:00 PM (PDT).

There are a lot of great books coming out next month. Which ones are you most excited about?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

My First Interlibrary Loan

I picked up my first interlibrary loan yesterday. It's a translation of THE ORACLES OF LEO & THE TALE OF THE TRUE EMPEROR, including illustrated poetry from the original, which was written over a thousand years ago. I am totally geeking out.

This is a photo of the cover. (I can't believe my library district put that big sticker on the cover, and I hope it comes off.)

This is a photo of Gratitude (a poem written in Leo's hand and illustrated with a fox). If I were to take a stab at interpretation, I'd say the fox is Basil the Macedonian. Both are characters in the story I'm writing. :o)

This poem is more obscure, almost an assigned role play, but hey, it's a unicorn. Right?

Whether I pull anything from this book or not, I'm enjoying it. I wish I could read the original Greek, though.

Are you reading anything interesting right now?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Adding Straws

Yesterday was my first day of teaching preschool for the year, and I have a ton of boys this year. In my most disproportionate class, the ratio is 12:4. They all seem like nice boys, though, so hopefully we'll get through the year without too many bumps and bruises. I like boys.

And over the last couple of days, my manuscripts have been returned with lots of notes to help me figure out my next revision. I think it's funny that Jen and Q were nearly within 24 hours of sending them back. I'm hoping to read through both of their notes this week.

But before I get started on my revision, I need to send out a batch of picture book submissions. Time runs out on the exclusive I sent within the next week. That's okay, though. I have a list of over 20 children's publishers who look like they'd be a good fit (who are open to unsolicited manuscripts from writers).

As for the writing challenge I've been participating in, so far we're all reaching our goals, and I don't want to be the one who messes that up. My new story is coming right along.

What have you been working on lately? 

Monday, September 2, 2013

My Writing Habit

Happy Labor Day!

Longtime readers of this blog know that the first two months of school and the last two months of school are my busiest times. So, when one of my critique partners said she was setting a daily word count goal to finish the draft she's working on and asked for motivational nudges, I said I should do something similar. We decided to nudge each other. Then she invited her FB friends to join in. So far, there are three of us who made our goals every day last week.

My goal is small and specific. I just started something new, and Q's challenge just happened to coincide with my first day of writing it. When I start something new, I write in a notebook. This may seem archaic, but it works for me. I think differently with a notebook than I do with a computer, so first drafts, picture books, and poems are usually conceived therein. My goal is to write at least two pages per day, Monday through Saturday, and those pages have to be Nightingale pages. It's a goal I can meet, even when my day is filled with teaching and my afternoons and evenings with soccer. It's something I can do while I'm revising TBW or submitting PBs to editors. One of the days last week, I wrote a brand new picture book and still made my writing goal. Most days, I exceeded my goal. Even with all of the interruptions that this time of year brings, I feel like I'm making great progress on Nightingale.

I can do this. (Thanks, Q!)

Monday, August 26, 2013

Starting Anew

I always have mixed feelings about sending my kids off to school at the beginning of the new year. I want them to be excited, but I know too well that life doesn't always work out the way we plan it. That doesn't have to be a bad thing. So, on their first day of school today, I hope the surprises are good ones (or at least something that they already have the problem-solving skills to deal with).

I've already seen two of the three off to school. After I drop off the third, I'm going to start the beginning of a new series. It's something I've been dreaming about and making notes on for years, but I just found the setting last week. The setting is historical, and while I was researching it, a librarian introduced me to Interlibrary Loans (ILL). Through my local library, I can borrow books from libraries all over the world. Specifically, when I was looking up a certain historical figure, I found a book written by him that has been translated into English. This guy lived in the ninth century! That book is currently in Amsterdam, but I can request it and have access to it through my local library. Isn't that awesome?

But it could be months before the books I request arrive, and I already have story that I need to get down. I'm excited (and a bit nervous) to get started.

But I have a third child to get off to school first. :o)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

TBW 9 Finished!

Thank you for your kind words on my last couple of posts. I appreciate your support.

I've been working on the ninth draft of TBW since January--over seven months--which is longer than it took me to write the first draft. Granted, the last five months have been rough for personal reasons. But in revising both this novel and SS, it felt like I hit a point where it was impossible to revise the story into what I wanted it to be. More than that, I wasn't even sure what I wanted the story to be anymore.  Earlier this month, I punched through that.

I remember when I was writing my first draft of SS, I hit a similar wall, and I just had to keep working at it until I found where the story was supposed to go again. Often I have to go back to move forward.

I'm not saying that TBW is perfect now or that I'm ready to send it off to agents, but I am ready to let critique partners read it again. I don't need to fix anything because it isn't broken anymore. And that is a wonderful feeling.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Life Update

It's been a long time.

Thank you for your kind words after Ben's accident. His shoulder is still recovering, and he has one area that still blisters from being burned so badly. But he's still here.

Two of my friends aren't. In April, one of them went into a diabetic coma and didn't come out of it, leaving behind a pregnant wife (who delivered a healthy baby girl the next day) and three children who loved and depended on him. In May, the other committed suicide. I've written posts and not posted them. I have to write my way through stuff like this, and yet some things are not only gut-wrenchingly personal; there's also the possibility that my observations will hurt someone who's already hurting. Family is especially touchy. The neighbor who committed suicide was my sister's brother-in-law, and suicides always make people question whether there was something they could have done to prevent it.

I may revisit what I've written for later posts, but today, I want to share what George Saunders had to say about kindness. It's beautiful.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

An Explanation

I'm starting to get phone calls, e-mails, and FB messages from friends who've been concerned by my absence, and I'm thinking this blog is the best venue for an explanation. Ben was in an accident at work three weeks ago, and life has been hectic. It was scary at first, but he's recovering. Aside from some interesting scars, there shouldn't be any lasting damage, and I am SO grateful for that.

He managed to lift 50 pounds with his left arm in physical therapy today (which is a big deal for someone who couldn't even lift his arm a couple of weeks ago), so the doctor has released him to return to work. 

For those of you who already knew and are just reading this for an update, thank you for your prayers and your help. I have the best family and friends. I really do. 

And that goes for those of you who are just finding out as well. It's not your fault it's taken me this long to say something. If it makes you feel better, you can still pray for him. I'm sure that would make him feel better. :o)  

Seriously, though: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Choosing Happiness Over Money

When I was at BYU, my favorite writing professor and I debated this topic more than once. He believed that most people live unhappy lives, trapped by their circumstances. I would concede that everyone has to deal with unfavorable circumstances, but that (in our country, at least) our happiness or lack thereof is determined by our choices.

I still believe that. Envy, guilt, fear, loneliness, anger, habit . . . there are probably more bad reasons to make a choice than there are good ones, but I don't think it is ever too late to choose compassion and courage, to lift others, to find something you are passionate about and throw yourself into it. I will probably never have a lot of money, but I am happy. When I was younger, I wanted to be a mother, a teacher, and I wanted to be a writer. There were a lot of other things I wanted to be and do, but those three were important. So, I made choices that lead me to a place where they would always be important.

I have this amazing critique partner named Adam Heine. Adam and his wife foster orphans in Thailand. She teaches dance, he while writes novels and is a designer/writer for computer games. They are making a huge difference in the lives of the children they love, and I believe they are happy.

Actually, all of my critique partners are people who have chosen happiness over money. It's one of the things that drew me to them.

I came across this video earlier today, which was the catalyst for this post. It's pretty awesome.

In the comments, if you'd be willing to share a choice you've made that is still making you happy, I'd love that. And if you'd like to share more than one, go for it!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Fairy Tale Variations

Over the course of the last several months, I've been outlining a fairy tale retelling. It had been a long time since I'd read the fairy tale, but I thought it was a little known variation of East of the Sun, West of the Moon. Nope. With a little help from my mother-in-law, I discovered that the tale is actually called The Unusual Nightingale. And while there are quite a few retellings of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, I haven't been able to find one for The Unusual Nightingale.

Yes, this makes me happy.

Why did I make the mistake in the first place? There are a lot of similarities between the two fairy tales. The Unusual Nightingale begins more like Beauty and the Beast, but the ending is more like East of the Sun, West of the Moon. And the story that I've been outlining isn't really any of them. It has bits of a nursery rhyme and an old story that inspired Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, and I'm searching for a historical culture that I can anchor it in. I don't know how much of the fairy tale will be left when I've written and revised it, but it's a good place to begin. How many variations of Cinderella are there?

Do YOU have a favorite fairy tale?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Elizabeth Gilbert's Take on Creative Genius

This TED video isn't new, but it was exactly what I needed this week. If you have a little while, it's worth watching.

I don't talk about inspiration on here often, because I worry that someone who hasn't experienced it will think I'm being weird. When I write poems or picture books, they tend to come all at once; if I don't write the idea as a whole, I can't go back and capture the unfinished part. That doesn't mean that I'll never have a chance to capture that idea again, but if I'm to get it right, I'll have to start over; it won't be the same.

But when you have children and friends, you get interrupted. And I love my husband, but he is more likely to interrupt my work-in-progress than to protect me from interruptions. *waves to husband* And this is okay. It just makes capturing those fleeting ideas more challenging.

Writing a novel is a more forgiving process for me. I can stop in the middle of scene and come back to it, though it's still easier for me to write from the beginning of a scene to the end. I know that not all writers are like this, though. Some leave scenes unfinished so that they'll have something to work on when they come back. And in theory, that's a great idea. It just doesn't work as well for me.

What about you? Do you have something that's hard to finish once it's been interrupted?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Revision: Going from Blah to Hilarious

I'm just going to let you watch the video. This episode of Studio C shows how throwing something unexpected into a story line makes it funny. And let's be honest, we all like funny.

Happy Wednesday!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Next Big Thing

Two of my critique partners (Adam Heine and Krista Van Dolzer) tagged me last fall for The Next Big Thing. It's taken me a while to put it together, but here it is! :o)

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:  (Has anyone else noticed there are eleven?)

What is your working title of your book?   The Binder's Web

Where did the idea come from for the book?    A dream

What genre does your book fall under?     YA fantasy

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? I'm not a movie buff, and I wouldn't actually want to cast my characters. I'd want someone who knew what they were doing to cast them. That said, I put a lot of thought (more than I should have) into choosing the following actors. I didn't just choose them because they looked like a certain character, though that certainly played a part. I've never done this before, and I don't know if I'll do it again, but this exercise did help me see which characteristics were essential.

Casting:                        Actors:                                   Roles I've seen them play:
Princess Caryn:           Jessica Brown Findlay          Lady Sybil Crawley (Downton Abbey)
Thea:                            Amanda Seyfried                   Cosette (Les Miserables)
Brasil:                           Charlie McDonnell                 Not really an actor, but so much like Brasil
Prince Lael:                  Aaron Tveit                            Enjolras (Les Miserables)
First Captain Evan:       Martin Freeman                     Bilbo (The Hobbit)
King Caradoc               Gerard Butler                         The Phantom (The Phantom of the Opera)
Queen Meriele              Robin Wright                          Princess Buttercup (The Princess Bride)
Prince Gwain                James McAvoy                     Max (Penelope)
King Rian:                    Sean Bean                              Boromir (The Lord of the Rings)
Queen Artis                  Catherine O'Hara                   Mom (Home Alone) (Penelope)
Yenifer                          Nicole Kidman                        Where would I start?
Yenifer's assassin       Jamie Campbell Bower           Gellert Grindelwald (Harry Potter)

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Caryn, Princess of Glenwys, needs to enlist the sea serpents and unite the four kingdoms of Serpent Isle against the coming invasion fleet, but her plans go awry when the serpents refuse her and a family ghost reveals its alliance with the enemy.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?  I will query agents with it.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?  About six months

May we see an intro?  No.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? Tamora Pierce's TRICKSTER'S CHOICE, Sarah J. Maas's THRONE OF GLASS, Robin McKinley's Damar books, and Shannon Hale's ENNA BURNING

Who or what inspired you to write this book? It started out as a story inside Star Swans, but it kept growing. The story inspired itself. It came as a dream, and once I started writing it out, it wouldn't settle for being a little piece of a larger story.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest? Hmm. The Drowned Caverns look like the islets in the top picture of Wikipedia's Phang Nga Bay entry. However, the isle itself started out as an old map of Wales that I amputated from Great Britain. It's changed since then, but I kept some names.

Now for the fun part: You're it!

Kristin Gray
Amy Sonnichsen
Jackee Alston
And seriously, if you're reading this and would like to participate, consider yourself tagged. Please leave a link to your answers in my comment section! I want to read them. :o)

Rules of The Next Big Thing:

*Use this format for your post
*Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work in progress)
*Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:

What is your working title of your book?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? May we see an intro?
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged. Be sure to line up your five people in advance.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Little Success, A Little Failure

So on Friday, when I went to the post office to get my mail, I had something exciting in my box.

Yes, that would be my sixth contract with Highlights for Children. :o) Yes, I am totally smiling right now. I actually wrote "Apples" a couple of years ago, but at that point it didn't feel finished. I set it aside. I set a lot of things aside, some big, some small, hoping that at some point I'll figure out how to revise them. I'd picked it up several times since then, but it wasn't until this past November that something clicked. I submitted it and waited.

During the time that I waited, I revised TBW two more times and sent it out to a couple of my critique partners. In my last draft, I moved the beginning (again) and used flashbacks to convey backstory. I cut a lot of old stuff, added a lot of new stuff, and moved large chunks around. I went over and over it to make sure the pieces fit, but it ended up not working for either of my readers. And going back over the beginning with their notes, I agree with them. I need to put the story back in chronological order, but there are quite a few changes that I want to keep from the same draft. Huge changes. Sorting out the first half of the manuscript won't be easy, but hopefully my next draft will be a thing of beauty and coherence. ;o)

Little successes. Little failures. They're all learning experiences, and I'm thankful for the feedback my editors and critique partners give me. They (and experience) are my teachers.

Thank YOU for reading my blog, for your encouragement and discussion. It helps. :o)

Monday, January 7, 2013


William Alexander's GOBLIN SECRETS wasn't what I was expecting. When I read in the description that goblins were the only ones allowed to perform in plays, my brain conjured an oppressive society where humans were subservient to goblins, and while that would have been interesting, it would have made the goblin characters in this story quite impossible. I don't want to say why. Rownie doesn't know what to think of the goblins, so it's probably best if readers go in not knowing what to expect.

Goblin Secrets (Zombay, #1)

In GOBLIN SECRETS, the citizens are forbidden to wear masks or even pretend to be anyone else. The penalty for acting in a play is the removal of the offender's heart, which turns him into a kind of zombie slave. This isn't a zombie story though. It's a story about identity, about a boy looking for his older brother and falling in with the same group that taught his brother to wear masks, about the dangers of not forgiving. It's about heartlessness. It's about the magic of choosing to become someone you weren't before. The story and writing are beautiful. I love the little details, like the older brother teaching Rownie to throw pebbles into the river where their mother's barge went under. "We drop the stones to say hello. It's like leaving a small pile of stones on a grave. The dead speak in stones. Pebbles are the proper way to tell them hello."

And when Rownie finds his brother . . . oh, I cried (Les Mis ugly cried). I don't think that's even a spoiler. You know Rownie will find him; he has to; you just don't know how.

Trust me: you want to read this book.

If you're interested in more Marvelous Middle Grade recommendations, Shannon Messenger has the links!

What are you loving right now?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

I just finished my eighth draft (82, 933 words) of TBW and sent it off to critique partners. One of my goals for 2013 is to query agents with it (when it's ready).

I love beginnings, whether it's the beginning of a year, a month, a week, or a day. In the beginning, anything is possible. Beginnings are messy. When I ran track in high school, my coach usually had me run the first leg of our relays, and pulling out in front from the get-go was exhilarating.

Endings have their own charm, the charm of pulling things together and tidying up. They're easier for me to write. Sometimes I catch myself dragging them out (in story and real life) because I'm not ready for closure, and sometimes I can't wait to cross the finish line.

Are you excited to meet 2013? I am. So far, it's been a great year! ;o)