Friday, October 30, 2009

Quotation Commentary #2 - N. A. Dibble

Nancy Ann Dibble gives a fantastic guideline.  It's important to capture a reader's interest immediately.  Start with a bang - throw them into the story.   If you start by giving a bunch of background information, it can be boring!  Think about it, a reader needs to care about a character to want to read about their past.  And even then, they only want to know the parts of their past that are relevant to the story.

The first chapter should give a reader some sense of what the main character is going to go through for the entire book - it's like a hook to draw the reader in.  (One way to do this, as Dibble suggests, is to start the book in the middle of the story - fill in the background information as it's needed.  That's a great way to give a reader a sense of immediacy.)

I'm not at an editing point with Project Jane yet, and I had no idea that I'd completely ignored one of main factors in Dibble's advice - make a reader want to keep reading... don't start with background information... soooooooo -

Thank goodness for Georgia McBride*! I recently submitted my first two chapters for her review and she was able to see what was missing right away: the conflict!!  Though my prologue enticed her to keep reading, the first chapter was like a different story.  The tension necessary to keep a reader interested was missing.  Have the same problem?  Here's how to fix it - introduce the CONFLICT.  Conflict = tension.

Project Jane begins on the morning of Jane's first day of eleventh grade. I wrote a lot of background information into the first chapter, while she's getting ready.  It's all stuff a reader needs to know - but I didn't give any clues or hints about what was to come for Jane.  BIG mistake!  Why would anyone care that Jane once had a fight with a friend?  Why would anybody want to read about the things she does to get ready for school?  Nobody would!  Unless they have a vested interest in her, which should be the first thing established.

A side note here is this: just because you understand certain writing concepts does not mean that you automatically use them.  You need to check your own work thoroughly when you begin to revise it.  Or ask a friend to read the first chapter to see if they're drawn in and want to read more. 

Would I have seen the error when I began the revision process?  I sure hope so, but who knows?!  In any case, thanks to the clear and concise feedback from Georgia, I've been able to start thinking about fixes for it much earlier.  It's not a mistake I'll make a second time.

I'm sure there are exceptions to this rule - as there are to most.  Maybe your main character has such a thrilling background that writing about it in the first chapter IS what you use to hook a reader.  If that's the case - more power to ya!  (But make sure your character has just as interesting a present as they do their past - otherwise you're writing about the wrong part of their life!)

So, there ya have them... My thoughts on Dibble's quote!

Want to know more about
Nancy Ann Dibble?
(Penname: Ansen Dibell)

* PS Georgia McBride is the founder of the twitter chat #yalitchat.  She holds it every Wednesday night at 9EST.  Join us - it's always fun and very educational!!

♥ me

Thursday, October 29, 2009

John Dos Passos Prize for Literature

For the past few months, I've been looking forward to watching my professor, Robert Bausch, receive this prestigious award.  Today's the day.

And I'm sick.  I can't drive the 3.5 hours to Longwood and clap for him as he receives it.  I'm really upset about this.  But I know it doesn't make a difference in the big picture. 

The big picture is that he's receiving a well deserved prize for the masterpieces he's created up to this point in his life.  I'm so happy for him - and I'm happy for ME.  After all, I get to take a creative writing workshop from this man.  He obviously knows his literary stuff. 

I'm in my second semester with him and can tell you with certainty that there will be a third.

If you're wondering, the John Dos Passos Prize is awarded each year to the best not well-known American author in the midst of their writing career.  The Prize was established by the English Department at Longwood University in 1980 to honor John Dos Passos by appreciating other writers in his name.  (John Dos Passos is regarded as one of the best American writers of the 20th century, yet his works were widely overlooked.)

According to Longwood's website on the matter:
Recipients of the prize are American creative writers who have produced a substantial body of significant publication that displays characteristics of John Dos Passos's writing: an intense and original exploration of specifically American themes, an experimental approach to form, and an interest in a wide range of human experiences.
If you read Bob's novels, I believe you'll quickly understand why he won this award.

As a matter of fact - I would be willing to bet you've seen his work or at least heard of it... Remember a little movie called Bruce Almighty?  (Jim Carey, Jennifer Aniston... Ring a bell yet?)  Well, the idea for the movie came straight from Bausch's novel Almighty Me

My personal favorite of his books is Gypsy Man.  But there are plenty of other fantastic pieces to choose from.  Here's a list on his website.

I can tell you firsthand that he's a kind and funny man who is not afraid to speak his mind.  And I'm the lucky writer who will be back in his class on Tuesday night :)

*Oh and one other kind of cool thing about this... One member of the jury that selected Bob for the award was Luke Whisnant... He was a fiction writing professor of mine during undergrad at East Carolina University.  Such a small world - and I've been so lucky to have learned under such great writers! 

♥ me

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Writer's Block Remedies... Tip #2

TIP #2: Charlie vs. Charles... Make it a TKO

Imagine two people, Charlie and Charles.

Charlie is youthful.  He loves life and everything is a mystery.  Nothing is impossible.  Point in case:  Charlie believes with his whole heart that his toys come to life when nobody else is around.  He spends hour after hour devising new ways to sneak into his room and catch them.  Maybe it doesn't happen, but he doesn't mind.  Nothing, after all, is impossible and he knows that he just has to find a new way to catch them.

Charles is Charlie, decades later.  (Two, five - it doesn't matter how many decades it's been.  The point is that he's grown up.)  Charles no longer goes by Charlie; he is taken more seriously as an adult without the childish nickname.  Charles has a job and responsibilities.  Dignity is important to Charles.  He fears looking like a fool in front of his peers.  He loves life, but knows better than to believe in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy or things like that.  His toys have long since been put away.  He called them out for what they really were - JUST toys.  Nothing special. 

Charlie is still there, but Charles has pretty much hidden him underneath all the maturity.  Sometimes Charlie pops out with a wild, crazy idea.  Charles blushes, thinks about how ridiculous whatever the thought was and shudders at the teasing he'd surely receive if he vocalizes it.  Charlie fades away, each time becoming more and more transparent - he's barely visible at all anymore, so lost he is in Charles's hidden thoughts.

If you haven't been reading this and nodding your head because you also know what it feels like to cringe at some of the crazy, silly thoughts you've had... then I'm not quite sure you're human ;-)  OR you're just really, really lucky!

We (writers) all have two selves.  The Charlie and the CharlesCharles is a major cause of writer's block.  When you're having trouble, when you feel like anything you write is ridiculous and would never work, do this:  take Charles out of the equation.  Tie his hands behind his back.  Duct tape his mouth.  Give him blinders.  And then, extend your hand to Charlie.  Invite him to the forefront of your mind.  Give him free rein - let the ideas be silly and free and fun.  I think you'll be surprised with what you develop. 

Later, of course, let Charles back out.  You need him for real life, obviously.  And he'll be instrumental in the editing process.  But when you're working on that first draft - shut. him. up.

♥ me

Monday, October 26, 2009

Twilight Bashers

"I have long felt that any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has just put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae or banana split." - Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

If you don't like Twilight, that's fine.  Although I absolutely loved the series, I have no problem with you.  Everyone's entitled to their own opinions - even strong ones.

However.  If you're one of those haters who hates Twilight so much that you speak out frequently and vehemently about how much it sucks.  Then yes, I do have a problem with you.  If you're one of those people who, upon hearing someone mention the series, says with superciliousness dripping from your tone, "Oh, please tell me you're not one of those."  (With intent to make Twilight readers feel bad about themselves.)  Then yes, I take serious issue with you.

For the love of God people. Who CARES if you think vampires are stupid? Or if you don't like how Stephanie Meyer writes?  Do you know how many more kids are reading today because of the Twilight series? Why would you ever, ever speak out so forcefully about a series that has created a huge interest in books for a lot of kids who never previously had any desire to read?  Not to mention, you must be little on the inside if you seek whatever power it is you're looking for from putting someone down based on what they enjoy to read.

As a former teacher, I know firsthand that Meyer's series promoted teenage reading.  I saw a LOT of kids reading Twilight - in a school filled with students who hated to read.  I literally had a teenage student, an LD student for that matter who tested at a 5th grade reading level, tell me that she loved Twilight so much that it was the only time she ever chose to read instead of watching TV when she got home.

So, in my opinion, if you go around blogging or facebooking or using any level of communication to make fun of people who read Twilight, you should be ashamed of yourself.  If your hateful words have turned one child away from reading, just one, then you disgust me.

Instead of bashing Meyer's writing ability, you should applaud her for enticing youth away from video games and television and into the literary world.

Now, some people have argued that kids branch out after reading Twilight to reading the classics. I have absolutely no idea if it's true or not.  Also, if you read Twilight and didn't like it and gave it a bad review somewhere, this post is NOT addressed to you.  Unless you went a step further and went out of your way to belittle people who did like it.

As for my love of the novels... Perhaps I'm biased.  I've had a thing for vampires since the good old days of Bunnicula.  (Come on, how could you not love Howliday Inn?  The Celery Stalks at Midnight?)  So, I started young.  I also watched, and loved, Bram Stoker's Dracula in the early/mid-nineties.  Since then, I'll admit it, I've yet to meet a person with longer than average canines that I haven't found attractive.  I don't seek out books about vampires, but I definitely enjoyed Twilight.  I've read all four books more than twice.  And you know what?  I'm sure I'll read each of them more than twice more.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sara's Quotation Commentary #1 - S. Maugham

I am a huge fan of quotes about writing.  Always have been - I suspect it comes with the territory.  I love clever word play, I love insight to the writing process and inspiration to keep at it, I love sarcasm and wit.  So with all of this in mind, I am happy to introduce a new series I will be running here at The Babbling Flow:  "Sara's Quotation Commentary".

Each week (give or take) I will post one of my favorite writing quotes and expand on it.  Take from it what you will.  My hope is that you'll love the quotes for the same reasons I do.  My $.02 are just an added feature you can take or leave.

Without further ado... Let Sara's Quotation Commentary commence! (Gosh, I love alliteration.)

 I thought today's quote would be perfect to kick off the series.  I'm fairly new to the blogosphere section of the writing world (and twitter for that matter).  Like so many other aspiring authors, I have scoured tons of blogs and started participating in oodles of twitter chats.  I want to glean as much information about the best writing styles and techniques possible.

Well.  Let me just say that I am extremely thankful that I am someone who can apply what sounds right for myself and discard the rest.  Because - wowza!  There is a ton of writing advice out there.  As if it's not enough to take in - what you find on one site (or in one conversation or in one book) will most likely be completely contradicted on another. 

For instance, some people prefer to write in the morning.  I've read a lot of advice about how great it is to wake up and write - apparently you can be quite creative before your brain fully wakes up and starts automatically editing your thoughts.  Personally, I think this is genius.  But it doesn't work for me.  I can't wake up early.  I've tried my entire life.  I hate it!  So I write late at night instead - that's when my creative juices are really flowing!

I was an English minor in college.  I was a marketing and communications manager right after college.  After that, I was a government consultant, specializing in communications.  And I've been a teacher.  Now I write full-time.  I've had a long, long relationship with the written word - in many different formats.  So please believe me when I say - you can't please everyone.  Every time you follow one writing rule, you're probably breaking another from somewhere else. 

So here's my advice:  Keep reading.  Keep learning.  Because there are some writing rules (including grammar and punctuation and the likes) that actually are absolute.  But as for the rest of the rules?  I say screw 'em!  Take what works for you and use it.  You won't make the best of what's inside of you if you're uncomfortable creating it by someone else's standards!  (Unless they're your boss or agent's standards... that's a totally different story, of course.)

Want to know more about
Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)?
Click here

♥ me

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Flash Backs in Fiction

Memories.  Every three-dimensional character has them.  But it's not always easy for writers to portray them.  Even in some books that have made it to publication, the flashbacks seem forced and bring a reader outside of the story all together because of the artificial flow in the writing.

It's important to have a smooth ease of transaction between the present time of the story and the memories recalled by the character.  And there's a very, very simple way to do this.  I call it "Object-Action".  Here's how it works:

Give your character an object in the present story.  Make your character perform some sort of action on that object right before slipping into the flashback.  Then, to come out of the flashback, make your character do another (or the same) action to the object.

For example.  In the present scene, your main character is drinking a cup of tea.  She remembers a a romantic moment.  To bring her back to the present, have her take another sip of tea.

Perhaps your character is eating an apple.  She flashes back to a dream she had the night before.  She was an exotic princess.  Bring her back to the present scene with the sound of the crunch as she chews the apple.

Or your character is at work.  Bored and reading a newspaper.  He easily slips into the memory of his glory days as a star football player.  Want to come back to the present?  Have him flip a page and realize he has no idea what he's just read.

Make sense?  Let me know if you have any questions!!

♥ me

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Project Jane Haiku

Don't stop, love.  Read on.
Something magic this way comes.
Ready to have fun?

Ha.  I don't think I've written a haiku since high school.  I forgot how much fun it is to fit messages into a 5-7-5 structure!  The ladies of YA Highway, for this Wednesday's Roadtrip, have created haiku about their current projects.  I thought I'd do the same!

I think we're supposed to create one per work, but as I only have one work in progress right now, I went ahead and wrote a few haiku (yep, haiku plural is still haiku) about Project JaneEven though I did cheat just a little bit on the last one.  Hope you enjoy them anyway!

High school drama fades.
Secret powers develop.
First kiss, true love blooms.

Ancient mysteries
bring life changing decisions
for Jane and Patrick.

Watch out! Evil strikes.
Battle of wits and magic.
Who wins? Agent me (and I'll tell you more)

PS. Haiku make me think of cherry blossoms... The picture is one I took in DC last year.

♥ me

Monday, October 19, 2009

Writer's Block Remedies... Tip #1

Over the weekend, a friend from college e-mailed me.  She heard through the grapevine I was working on a novel and confessed that it had always been her dream too.  She'd been working on a story since August, making time on the weekends to write.  But every few weeks she hit slumps and couldn't think of how to push her characters forward*.  It's been immensely frustrating, and she's considered giving it up with the thought that if she were meant to be a writer, it would be easier.

I had to laugh.  I wasn't trying to be cruel (as I explained to her) but this big rumor that writing comes easily to people who want to write is so false!  I love, love, love to write.  Have loved it my entire life.  But writing both does and does not come easily to me.  If you're a writer, I'm sure you know what I mean.  If you're not - don't worry about it, just stop assuming that it's always easy ;-)

She described the type of writer's block that I like to call "concept constipation".  And I sent her a long, long e-mail outlining all sorts of techniques she could try.  After hitting send, it dawned on me that I suddenly had a lot of great material for the blog!  Plus, in my first post about writer's block, I promised to give out that very same information.

So as not to overload you with one ginormous post, I've decided to create a series of posts about writer's block remedies.  I'll try to post at least one a week.

*I also gave her props for writing something character-driven.

TIP #1:  Word-A-Day

A few months ago I signed up for two word-a-day e-mail services (dictionary.com and wordsmith.org).  I did so because I wanted to enhance my vocabulary - something I think everyone should strive for.  But I realized along the way that, in addition to teaching me, these words sometimes helped kick up new ideas for what I was writing.

For example, one day the word was bilious, which is an adjective used to describe something extremely unpleasant, or ill-natured; irritable.  It was the perfect way to describe one of my 'bad guys'.  So I wrote it in - and then added to what I'd written so that the way it described her was shown, instead of just told.

I created an e-mail folder and saved all the words that I thought might help with what I'm writing.  I suggest that you do it too.  Then, when you hit a block and can't think of where to take your story next, here's what you do: 

Search the folder I've just advised you to create.  Pull three (or more) random words from it and WRITE THEM into the next part of your story. Sure, you may cut everything you write - but at least your creative juices will be flowing again!  I can pretty much guarantee that even if you don't use what you've written, along the way an idea will slam into you and you'll know exactly where you want to go.

Now.  Stop reading blogs and GET BACK TO WORK... (After signing up for word-a-day e-mails, of course.)

♥ me

Weekly Update: 10/11-10/17

I had another fantastic writing week!  I wrote over 12,000 (that's the lowest I ever want the weekly total to be, for sure).

I'm writing the most exciting parts of Project Jane right now!  The bad guys have shown their true colors, the good guys are still sorting things out... And there are about to be a LOT of twists from left field!!

I drafted my first query (letter to an agent, asking for representation).  I think I'm going to enter it in Kody Keplinger's contest.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Today's Word: Adumbration

Similar to foreshadowing, ADUMBRATION gives a reader a sense of things to come.  It's usually vague, and usually causes a sense of foreboding.

The most important part of this word, in my opinion, is that properly placed adumbration piques a reader's interest; it's what keeps them reading - they have a little hint of what may come and they want to know what it is!

Try thinking of it like this... The book is a mirror - as the reader reads it, they see only what's directly in front of them. But adumbration is what cracks the surface (just so slightly) to give them a glimpse of beyond what's displayed...

Here's an attempt I've given in my current work, Project Jane:

"On Monday, it began to rain. We were inundated with a steady downpour lasting for six days. The Bay water levels rose quickly and roads were closed from flooding. By Sunday the sun reappeared, but by then things were different - although looking back, I had no idea just how much had changed.

I didn’t really mind the rain. On the one good hand it meant we didn’t have to go outside for PE. On the other, better hand, it meant that..."
Did I nail it?  I don't know - where you tempted to keep reading?  Did you see it though?  In a seemingly innocent paragraph, I slipped the little hint in (italicized), and then came back to a normal tone as though I'd never given that little glimpse.
One thing to keep in mind is that you don't want to over do it with adumbration.  If you slip too much in, a reader may get annoyed and distracted from the story with their frustration.  KISS: Keep It Subtle, Silly.

♥ me

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Work Sample: Paragraph

Nathan Bransford, a literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd., is having a contest.  You can read all about it here, but basically it's a contest in which writers post a comment on his blog with an opening paragraph for a story that they're working on.  The contest closes this afternoon.

This contest happened with perfect timing for me!  I've had an idea for a while now about a totally different story than the one I'm working on.  Different genre, different tone, different everything!  And I came up with it because the first line sort of popped itself into my head one day... It was present in the back of my mind for a while, and one night before falling asleep, I thought of the first paragraph.  No more than two weeks later - Nathan's contest starts!

So I typed up what I'd been storing in my head, edited it and entered it in the contest.  I took a night off from Project Jane to work on this, and I'm not going to lie - I had a really fantastic time!  Don't get me wrong - I'm having a blast with PJ, but sometimes a little break will do wonders.  I woke up the next morning with full steam for Jane.

Anyway, here it is - here's the paragraph I entered:

         Spencer Irwin had an unfortunate nose. “You think it’s bad from the front,” he’d once overheard someone say, “but from the side, man, it looks like a God damn ski slope.” Laughter ensued. So rang the tune of Spencer’s life. Snubbed by his peers, ignored at work, spurned by women; Spencer knew, without a doubt, his nose was to blame for his adversities. Truth be told, the ski slope comparison was a mild, almost kind, description. His nose began as a ridge protruding unevenly between his brows. It fell past his eyes in a sharp, 30 degree angle and ended right above his thin, always tightly pressed lips. The skin along its bridge puckered into a crooked, ashen wrinkle; one black coarse hair spouted from the center of its fold. When Spencer crinkled his nose in disdain, a somewhat frequent habit, the hair quivered and twisted; it danced to an awkward, inharmonious rhythm. He plucked the hair every week with expensive, stainless steel tweezers. And every week it grew again, a weed determined to flourish in an otherwise rotted garden.

Will it win?  Doubtful!  There are literally thousands of participants - sure to be some great talent.  But it's still fun nonetheless :)

*To give you an idea of how many people have entered - I posted my paragraph last night around 10:30; I was poster #2,134. And today, as of 1:00 pm, the participant number has risen to 2,394. That's a heck of a lot of participants!! So fun :)

♥ me

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Isn't It Ironic, Don't Ya Think?

Um, no.  Not if you're one of the many people who define irony based on Alanis' song.  A lot of the instances she sings about are, in fact, NOT ironic.  Although, I've always believed that singing a song about irony, which actually didn't have much to do with irony, was ironic in itself.

Irony is a term that's frequently misused.  Not that I blame anyone - it can be a confusing term.  Especially because of Alanis' song.  If you weren't an English minor, if you haven't wanted to be a writer for your entire life, if you haven't taken any poetry courses, if you're not in the writing industry - I can see why there would be some misunderstanding.  It took me quite some time to grasp it myself.

Here are the basics.  In writing, there are three main types of irony.  Verbal, Situational, and Dramatic.

Verbal Irony occurs when what is said contrasts directly with what is implied.  The literal words are, in fact, the opposite of what the speaker means.
  • Example:  In response to being asked if she's upset by her just come clean, cheating husband, a woman responds, "No.  I'm happy, can't you tell?"

Situational Irony is a twist that occurs when a character is forced to face something because they specifically tried to avoid that very thing.
  • Example:  After school a teenager knows she's going to be in trouble at home.  She decides to take a walk at a nearby lake, to avoid her mother.  Unbeknownst to the teen, her mother has decided to blow of some steam by going for a walk at the same lake.  In trying to avoid her mother, she's actually forced to face her sooner than she would have if she'd just gone home in the first place.

Dramatic Irony occurs when the audience/reader knows the situation and at least one of the characters doesn't.  This is also called Sophoclean Irony.
  • Example: Think Romeo and Juliet.  There's tons of dramatic irony throughout the entire play.  Of course you can think of the most well-known example, can't you?  The end!  Romeo doesn't know that Juliet is not really dead, but the audience does.  Unfortunate for him.  He drinks poison because he truly believes her to be dead.  She wakes up, finds him dead, and kills herself.  (Perhaps there's some situational irony lurking there as well, huh?)

♥ me

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I Got a Ticking Clock - But It Ain't My Biological One

Some girls feel each and every tick in their internal "it's time to have a baby" clock.

I, on the other hand, feel each and every tick in my internal Author Clock*.

Currently, I consider myself a writer - I'm happy to. But I want that Author title. Opinions, I'm sure, differ on this, but I won't consider myself an author until I'm published... or at least agented!

With all the research I've done and people I've spoken to and communities I've become a part of - I'm no fool. I know that it's a long, long road. I know there will be (possibly a lot of) rejections. That's the way of the industry and I am mentally prepared for it.

But I'm not even there yet. I'm only half way done with my first draft of my first novel. Before I can even begin to send out queries, I have to finish the draft, edit it, rewrite sections, edit it, rewrite sections, edit it... And it's not a fast process. (Well, not if I want to have a well crafted novel anyway.) When I look to the future, when I dream about being successful, I can't help but be struck with fear about how far away it might be.

Again, mentally I am prepared for the long haul, but physically I feel the pull in my gut. Every minute. Every second I'm not writing, editing, building my platform (and I still feel lost about that part of it); every moment I waste sleeping, eating, doing anything other than immersing myself in my work - I FEEL IT**. Little, invisible strings have grown along my skin and they are stretching toward this elusive future. It's a dreadful, exciting, wonderful feeling.

*Okay, okay - so I definitely want to have a baby - but this blog isn't about that!
**I also believe that you should make sure to live your life while writing - you'll never run out of material that way... it's just hard to step away from the ol' desk these days..


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Literary vs Commercial Fiction

This seems to be a hot topic in the fiction writing world these days... Maybe it always has been? Regardless, it's definitely a topic I've researched and thought about for a while now, so I figured I'd go ahead and share the knowledge I've collected.

Is literary fiction the yin to commercial fiction's yang? I think so... But you'll have to decide what you think for yourself!

So, let's start with the differences, which is what most people wonder about... I've made a little graphic to outline (what I think are) the key differences between literary fiction and commercial fiction are*:

HOWEVER, it's important to mention that what a lot of sites and people out there don't focus on is what the two types of fiction SHARE.

I personally think it's important to point out some of the key similarities between literary and commercial fiction.

So there you have it! Please feel free to add your own or disagree - it's an ever changing classification, I'm sure!


*I definitely need to give a lot of credit to my amazing writing instructor, Bob Bausch. The first three of each column I learned directly from him in class...

Weekly Update (10/4/09-10/11/09)

First week of my blog.  First week on twitter.  Wrote more this week than I ever have!  It's been a fantastic writing week.  Point one in favor of blogs/twittering!  (Some people argue that it's just another way for authors to procrastinate.)  There's so much more motivation, for me anyway, when I know peers are watching my progress.

These are my stats from last week:

I wrote a total of 15,657 words.  That's a heck of a lot of writing.  (And I'm only counting words on Project Jane - not the blog, not the poetry, just PJ.)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The F Word

No, not the bad F word you're currently thinking.  I'm talking about the other F word.  The one I've learned to dread saying:
dun dun DUNNNNN.

I love how excited and supportive my friends and family are about my decision to quit my day job and write full time.  Their faith in my writing ability is a constant source of motivation.  But 9 times out of 10, when I'm asked what type of book I'm writing, the blaze of interest in the questioner's eyes fizzles as soon as I mention the fantastic elements of the story.  I can almost hear their thoughts... "Oh, it's one of those books."

Immediately they picture alternative worlds and dragons and wizards and vampires.  (None of which I have a problem with by the way.)  But it's for the people who shudder away from the fantasy genre that I'd like to make this clarification between what they think when they hear the "F" word, and Project Jane.  Hopefully I can dispell some of those (perhaps not so misguided) predispositions.

First of all, Project Jane is not set in an alternative universe.  The characters are all human, with natural human tendenceies, issues, and regrets.  There are no swords or dragons or monsters in Project Jane.  No vampires, no werewolves. 

The story I'm creating is a young-adult (YA) fiction.  There's adventure and romance and a just a teensy bit of history.  The main characters are teenagers.  They have normal teenage trials and tribulations and successes.   They also develop some unusual (magical) abilities.  Enter, consequently, the fantasy classification. 

But the story of Project Jane is not driven by the extraordiary abilities of the characters. The story is driven by the characters themselves; their relationships, their complications, their growth... the decisions that they make and the ways those decisions affect their lives.

I'm proud of it; I'm writing what I'm passionate about.  I love stories that take me out of real life and let me imagine a world other than the one that I know.  So, that said, as to the fantasy?  Well, the whole point is to allow readers to escape from the real world for a minute... To have fun and imagine what life could be like if just a little bit of magic were real... How could anyone not want that?


PS Current word count is: 32,115!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Rose By Any Other Name...

What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
From Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, 1594

Unfortunately, I'm not so sure the same principle applies to books and their titles. I know this is probably awful to admit, but most of the time if a title doesn't appeal to me (regardless of the genre) I'll rarely pick a book up. (Unless a book has been recommended to me, then the title doesn't matter, I'll definitely give it a try.)

I know writers have disparate methods toward choosing titles. Sometimes they complete the work to find something that fits what they've written. Sometimes they think of a title and then write the story strong enough to fit it. And sometimes it's something in between.

In my poetry, and in the short stories I've written, I've used all three of the above mentioned methods. I'm sure most people have. But here's the thing. I can't think of a title for Project Jane. And it is driving me CRAZY!

I should be patient. I have no doubt that something will come to me. But I feel like there's an idea right on the tip of my tongue. And I can't pull it out. It has to be perfect. I've never whittled away at something for this long without figuring out what I want.

It has to be powerful. I'm thinking one word. And it has to be a word that can be followed by two or three more words - one to title each of the rest of the books in the series (since I'm planning for a trilogy or quartet).

I'm frustrated down to my core - but also excited because I KNOW the perfect name is out there. I just have to let it come to me.

Oh well. Back to writing!

PS Current word count is: 29,550!


Monday, October 5, 2009

Twitter... Apparently it's NOT Just A Modern Version of AIM

In fact, it's become a rather large catalyst for prolonging (and increasing the frequency of) my novel writing sessions.  Thanks to my newfound appreciation for Twitter, I am more motivated than I've ever been! 

Here's why:

I didn't understand all the fuss about Twitter when it first became popular.  Everyone started jumping on the bandwagon, and I honestly thought it was ridiculous.  Why go to a site just to see what my friends are up to?  Didn't facebook give you that information and a lot more? 

I think I 'tweeted' (yes, every time I use the word tweet, the chorus of Rockin' Robin immediately imbeds itself in my brain) once, when I gave it a try, back in June '09.  Something along the lines of "working on my novel".  Because it was around the time I came up with my vision of Project Jane and was so excited about it that I was ready to shout it from whatever figurative mountaintop I could find.  That was it.  I couldn't remember (be bothered) to check it afterward.  My account sat there, unused, for those few months. 

Then I started this blog which lead me (through searching for other writer-based blogs) to find INKYGIRL's Writer's Guide to Twitter.  It pretty much rocked my world.  Especially the list for 10 Ways Twitter Can Help Writers.   I quickly realized I had a LOT to learn. 

There are other great articles out there about this as well, just do a Google search and you'll find them.  The ways twitter can enhance my writing ability and opportunities that have stuck out to me so far are these:

Sunday, October 4, 2009


So I am definitely a fan of tattoos. I'll never rock a full sleeve or anything like that, but I think having a few, meaningful symbols, representative of who you are, placed permanently on your being can be a beautiful thing.

In June, I had two done. One on my foot and the other on the inside of my left wrist. The latter is a huge source of inspiration for my writing self. One look at it can, at times, pull me through whatever uninspired slump I'm in back to the keyboard with renewed fervor. The tattoo is an image of an ensō.

Ensō is a Japanese word for circle. It's a zen character referred to as the circle of enlightenment. Through study, I've found that it means different (well, actually similar) things to different people. It can symbolize holistic awareness/clarity, strength, balance, and life (among other things). What touched me at once, upon reading, about the ensō is the way it's used in Zen art.

Zen Buddhist painters strive to create a perfect (sometimes opened sometimes closed) ensō with just one brush stroke. They say that in order to bring a perfect ensō into existence, it's necessary to shut off the mind and simply let the creativity flow through their fingertips. As soon as I discovered this, the ensō became more than just a pretty picture to me. It became my emblem, the very representation of the soul behind who my writer self truly is. The way ensōs are created in Zen art, is exactly how I've always written best. Turning off the errant and disruptive thoughts in my brain and just letting my fingers flow over the keys has always been the saving grace behind what I write.

A simple google search will give you a ton of information about the ensō, but if you're really interested I highly recommend Audre Yoshiko Seo's "Ensō: Zen Circles of Enlightenment".  The forwarad, written by John Daido Loori, is enlightening and beautiful.  The book contains images of ensōs from the seventeenth century all the way to present day (as of 2007 anyway).  You can purchase it on Amazon here.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Writer's Block... Pick Your Poison

Even if you're not a writer, you've heard about writer's block. It's when a writer can't seem to get anything written, even though they want to. Personally, the idiom gives me a pretty funny mental picture of a Dilbert-looking character, sitting at a desk with the very bottom of a laptop sticks out from a large block of foam.

In any case, I've recently discovered that, similar to hepatitis, there are several different kinds of writer's block. And they all suck. Ugh. So just because you know how to avoid, or get over, one of them - it doesn't mean that another block won't show it's ugly little face in a different way. So here are the methods that I know about or have experienced. And later on, I'll post about different techniques to get over them! 

Type A Writer's Block.  I call it "Concept Constipation".  It's the most well known type (I'd say) of writer's block; it's what happens when someone can't think of anything to write.  You know the words are in there somewhere, but they just won't come out no matter how hard you try to force them.  You don't know how to continue (or begin) your story (poem, essay, article, etc) and are stumped. Fortunately, at this point in my life, I have never had this type of writer's block (knock on wood, would ya?). When actually speaking this great language, I'll admit, I sometimes have trouble - especially when holding conversations with people who are boring or that I don't know that well. But when I write, I can always come up with ways to continue what I'm working on.

Then we've got Type B1. "Cyberspaceship Disorder". It's not that you don't have a story and it's not that you're stuck on where to go with it. It's that you can't seem to control yourself from checking out the Internet sites that call to your mouse. For me, that'd be perez, facebook, hotblondeinthekitchen, allrecipes, fark.com, a variety of shopping sites... particularly ones with boots. I can look at and fantasize about boots for about as long and with as much concentration as profootball coaches analyze plays from past games. Even as I type I'm tempted to take a quick glance at what's out there. But with the twelve pairs in my closet, (not including the ones still in storage or boxed under the bed), I know I should pass. Anyway, I digress. I think this particular type may be one of the reasons I write best at night. Because I've gotten my fill of all those little distractions out of the way already for the day. Most of the time.

Next up is what I consider Type B2. I've titled it "Frozen Writer's Syndrome". And it's what I'm struggling with at the moment. It's not that I am stuck, I know exactly what I want to write, where I'm going, and how I'll get there. But I still can't seem to put my fingers on the keys. I don't lack motivation. I just can't type. It almost feels like laziness, but that's DEFINITELY not what it is. Honestly, I think this is my subconscious pushing out to the deep rooted fear that I might fail. It's the old fight or flight dilemma. If I write, I face failure. If I don't write, then nobody will ever say I couldn't make it.  I've been really

Project Jane

The novel I'm working on doesn't have an official title yet. I tried to give it a working title (when I submitted two chapters to a workshop class) but I hated it. So, I'm currently referring to it (to myself) as Project Jane. Aka PJ.

The main character's name is Jane, duh. I'm not sure how much I am supposed to give away, or put out on the World Wide Web, but here's the general idea behind my story:

I'm working on a young adult fiction - the main characters are high school students who live in Annapolis. A few of them develop some exceptional abilities in the face of an ancient evil. So obviously fantasy is one of the genres the piece will fit into. Of course there's also a major romance and adventure, and some fun and twisty teenage angst and drama. I'm hoping this will be the first in a trilogy - or maybe four-book series. I'd really like to be finished with the first draft by late November, but we'll see.

Some current thoughts:
I am really, really passionate about the storylines I've got running so far! I'm pretty much obsessively in love with the few otherworldly elements I've incorporated/planned for.  Don't worry... There are no vampires, or werewolves, or wizards involved (as much as I love those things).

I know the word "fantasy" scares some people - "I'm just really not into those types of books," I've heard more than a few times. But give this book a chance! It's set in real world Annapolis, with real social dilemmas and has a real focus on character relationships and growth.  It's not on a different planet, there are no little blue people running around, and it's not based on weird (cool in my opinion) futuristic scientific technology.  I definitely think that there will be a place for everyone's enjoyment within the pages I write.

(Side note - let me be clear though, I do happen to love, love, love sci-fi and fantasy.  Orson Scott Card, Sara Douglass, Carol Berg, George R.R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss... my list of favorite authors almost all fall in that realm!)

OK, it's 12:30 am as I type these very words, and it's time for me to get back to Jane and her current crazy quandary!  (I've found that writing in the late night hours works best for me.)


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Jump in... Jump out... Introduce yourself... My name is Sara (Sara)

I want to write (write)... I quit my day job (day job)... so now I can (can)

Don't pretend like you read that didn't know EXACTLY how the rhythm was supposed to go. 

Well hello.  Considering this blog is brand spanking new and the only people who will see this post are friends and family - this little introduction is pretty much unneccesary.  However, perhaps in the future I'll have readers who haven't known and loved me my entire life... so this is for them :)

I'm a girl from (and still living in) Northern Virginia.  I've been writing stories and poems since I could hold a pen, but recently I've taken it to a more serious level.  I've had fun and (in my mind) brilliant ideas for novels for years, but this past June (2009) I woke up one morning with a tale burning through my system, just begging to be told. 

I'd never felt anything like it. 

My husband and I (newly weds as of December 2008, thank you very much) were spending the weekend with friends in Annapolis, Maryland.  The story came to me before I'd fully opened my eyes the first morning there.  As soon as N (hubby) woke up, I dragged him (actually made him drag/drive me) to the nearest grocery store, bought a spiral notebook and a pack of pens and wrote through the morning.  I've been working on (what's turned into) my first novel ever since.

It's been a wild journey so far, to say the least.  But I believe in what I'm doing with such passion (and thankfully N does too) that I quit my job as a math teacher and am pursuing this full time.  How lucky am I?  I don't take a single day for granted - I can't believe I've