Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Sunday, October 30, 2011
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Monday, June 21, 2010
Here are some of the books that grace the surface of my new desk (not in any particular order) - all great books I highly recommend if you love anything to do with books and writing. Some are for enjoyment and inspiration, and others for reference:
The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler
A Gentle Madness by Nicholas Basbanes
Patience & Fortitude by Nicholas Basbanes
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle
The Harper Hall of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
The Riddle by Alison Croggon
Book Finds by Ian Ellis
Word Painting by Rbecca McClanahan
Getting the Words Right by Theodore Rees Cheney
The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures
The Ultimate Visual Dictionary (a must)
The Complete Idiot's Guide to String Theory by George Musser (don't laugh - okay, I'm not a scientist in life, but I have the love of it in my heart. Plus, I'm using string theory in my new book I'm working on!)
There are others - so many others in my basement bookcases. I've brought up a few to help me feel like a real writer - as well as to catch up on some reading. Surround yourself with what you love and one day "what you love" will come knocking at your door.
Anyone care to share a picture of their writing space and books that are upon it?
Friday, May 21, 2010
Fiction writers face many issues that are sometimes hard to resolve on our own, especially if you’ve looked at your story dozens of times and the problems tend to blur away. Being in an effective critique group definitely helps resolve this. Some problems faced by fiction writers include holes in plot, scenes with structural flaws, dialogue that sounds unnatural, character motives that don’t make sense, etc. For the past several years, I’ve been fortunate to be a member of an online critique group specializing in Middle Grade and Young Adult writing. We’ve watched a few members come and go, and a few get published (yay!). It’s fun and rewarding watching a beautiful story written by a member of our group blossom and develop into a piece of art that should be shared with the world.
In this post, you will read a conversation between myself and our group’s amazing moderator, David. David has always gone above and beyond in his critiques, and I’ve learned so much from him. With his keen editorial eye, he dedicated time to help me polish my entire first YA fantasy manuscript. Our whole critique group has been a great help in polishing my second YA fantasy novel. In addition to my online critique group, I also have a few writer-friends I work with in-person. If you're serious about writing, I think it's important to surround yourself with a small community of supportive writers.
Here, David answers some essential questions most writers face:
What motivates you to write? Many of us have full time jobs in other fields, a family, other important responsibilities, and yet we still find time for our “hobby”. So my question is, what motivates you to keep writing, when so many other (and more important) obligations may pull your attention away and at times drain you? For me, I try to work on my writing at least a few times a week, if not daily. There are weeks I don’t have time or energy to work on it at all, but I usually try to work on writing or revisions as much as I can, whenever I can. How do you stay motivated and find the energy to work on your manuscript?
David: I think motivation and the balance of family and creative obsession is a dilemma for most writers. We're all human and we all have obligations and relationships—things that transcend the solitary pursuit of writing. Few of us are blessed to have co-writers (or partners) who fit our sensibilities to the point where it can be a "group" or social exercise. For example: I am obstinate. I would be a nightmare to collaborate with, I suspect.
So, we're basically in the trenches alone. And when we're there we often feel the pull and the guilt of neglecting our loved ones. I think the understanding of our families is very important. I'm lucky in that I try to write during calm periods at work. And when I do have a head of steam where things are just coming along, I ride that wave to whichever shore it takes me. It also helps to have a secluded spot free of distraction. Music can help (the right music can induce the right mood, a soundtrack for our hearts). Artwork placed in our little writer caves might help or even a certain scent. But a peaceful place where we can escape into our little realms of imagination is vital to most. Some people write best at Internet cafes or on the beach. Whatever works! The key is to write even just a tiny bit each day.
Another issue is doubt. Do not THINK too much. The first draft should be from the heart. Don't analyze; just let it fly. This faith (or willful ignorance…) helps to overcome that negative, critical mind: a mind that can easily destroy the joy of putting words to the page. In the end, we need to write for the right reasons… for reasons we can actually control. And there's where the ego can undermine the whole thing.
I've gone through the stages of grief (or growth, I hope) in terms of writing. It took me longer than most to process the basics and to apply them because I'm a stubborn guy. Pride helps buoy us against criticism, but it can also kill the learning process; and outside factors or the need for validation (or the mythical grail of publication) can quickly submerge the actual JOY in writing.
Writing is so solitary that it often breeds insecurity. To really become a writer, one must accept oneself. We must write within and worry only about the story in our hearts—and less about acceptance or perception (a subjective thing, to be sure) by others.
Truly personal writing (as long as it's clear, grounded, and transparent) speaks more powerfully to the reader than the influx of connect-the-plot-dots-derivation-cookbooks that seem to pervade today's writing culture. Write because of a "need"—a need for an answer and the excitement of taking a journey, of experiencing something. Write because we must, not to impress others. All of that is beyond our control. Just try to work and learn the craft well enough that the personal becomes universal because the reader experiences the story.
A great novel transcends language or words. I always say: words are past perceptions; great writers despise words—they seek truth, essence, instead. I think truth is simple. The profound is not something complicated, but something that cannot be denied. And I think every genre has its truths and those truths will resonate for any reader. I hear a lot of bad advice in this area—mostly from agent blogs, sadly. Don't write like this person or that. Be YOU first. SAY something! Not some mishmash imitation of someone else who sold a lot of volumes.
Don't make it external. Then it becomes a chore. Revel in each step, appreciate the stages and the improvement and the process: learn. I think when we get to this point where we just write for the journey we're on the right path.
On the other hand, what we write will bear comparison. Don't worry about that either. Write what you know and love and don't apologize. Instead, trust that whatever we write will come through as unique because of our unique experiences and perspectives. Trust and faith are the key to putting out the pages. And joy. Write with joy.
In our critique group, we have submitted and resubmitted the same chapters over and over again, in many versions, based on our own changes, as well as suggestions made by members of our group. Sometimes suggestions made by one member counteract a suggestion made by another. When this happens, I usually put the chapter and critiques aside for a few days (or weeks) and revisit them when my mind clears. But usually, I try to see which suggestions ring true for the story I want to tell. At times, one works better than another. When problems are pointed out, I sometimes figure out a different way it can be solved, maybe by using a combination of the suggestions made, or my own ideas. Does this ever happen to you? How do you handle it?
David: First - don't address criticism until your first draft is complete. There is no quicker way to kill a novel than to nitpick at too soon a stage. A first draft SHOULD be imperfect. Embrace it. Dive in and be fearless. The revision process will address things from the "head" perspective. Things can always be fixed. Often, if I have difficulty with a scene, I just put in a note and move on. When writing, start with the heart and trust the subconscious over the "editor".
Now, conflicting criticisms can be a result of many things: some of which have nothing to do with the micro, but more to do with something that isn't quite working on another level: whether it be character arc or plot. It is good to put things aside. I collect critiques for later and just file them away. Then I try to revise chapter by chapter instead of tackling the whole mountain. But we should always trust OUR instincts. Another piece of advice is to read the "problem" critiquer's other critiques and the stories they commented on (if you are a part of an online workshop with unknown entities). Do they seem on point? Or is this critiquer a cynical and unconstructive critic? If they are, I advise you set their critique aside—even to the point of ignoring the few tidbits of good advice. Get another eye and trust yourself. Now, if more than one critique points something out, there is usually something to it.
However, the story YOU want to tell can often differ from a critter's expectation. Often, I find the best answers are those that come on their own. I tend to just put a "comment" on what I want to address within the Word document and come back to it when I figure out how to fix it.
Though I do love suggestions. I give them often as a critiquer to try to get into the meat of who the character is. I may be wrong because I don't have the full picture, but I enjoy critiquers who make similar suggestions. If anything, they often spark the imagination and enable us to solve the issue in our own way.
Critiquing Different Genres
Our group is comprised of mostly MG/YA fantasy writers, but we also have members who write historical fiction, picture books and stories for young readers. I enjoy reading different genres, and I’ve attempted to write a picture book and historical fiction. However, I feel that my writing flows best when I’m writing mg/ya fantasy. I often wonder if my suggestions are appropriate when critiquing other genres. I feel that elements of story are the same, no matter what genre you write, so I focus my suggestions on that. What are your thoughts on critiquing different genres?
David: The key elements (building blocks) to a story are consistent genre to genre. But the needs and expectations of readers differ. A well-written novel will appeal to any reader. However, a genre reader can enjoy a genre novel with shortcomings if it meets their primary criteria first. We're all willing to overlook certain elements as long as the story we're reading is in line with our expectations or desires—if it hits that "sweet spot".
I think genres merely have differing priorities. A fantasy differs from SF in terms of focus (excluding exceptions—there are always exceptions). In fantasy, external events symbolize the protagonist's interior emotional turmoil; whereas, SF focuses on how society affects the individual. Simplistic, yes, but due to that direction—fantasy requires a more internal emotional approach. Science fiction requires an outward approach in order to illustrate how science impacts society of that world.
When I critique, I try to read it as a story and eliminate my reflexive expectations. If I'm unfamiliar with the genre, I'll do more of a "reader" critique and point out where my interest peaks and wanes. This is often very useful as the writer can then figure out why. I'll make suggestions and admit where my prejudices as a reader might diminish my enjoyment of a certain sequence—whereas, readers of that genre (say: Romance) would love it. Most importantly, I focus on craft. Good writing makes every word count. Every word has a purpose (and often more than one purpose: setting, characterization, plot advancement). These are universal elements that apply to any work.
In many respects, I feel that non-genre readers often have a vital perspective and can be more beneficial because they can keep us honest. They'll address elements further down the chain of priorities. This can only enhance our writing—and our writing will only increase in appeal; will become more universal as a result. But there are times when genre conventions can intimidate the non-genre reader. It is up to us to exhibit patience and to guide and explain where asked. It's our job as writers to be clear, to transport so that the reader no longer "reads", but experiences.
Moderating Our Group
David, you’re our fearless leader, as a member of our group sometimes states. :) I agree. You have a pleasant way of keeping the balance in our group. Your critiques are very helpful, but you also make sure that our critiques to each other are appropriate and make sense. I know that at times opinions differ and critiquing is really so subjective. How do you decide when to intervene and when to let it go and allow the writer to decide which suggestions to follow through with and which ones to ignore?
David: Most of the time criticism needs to be leveraged with praise. I firmly believe critiquers should also point out a writer's strengths and what "works". This really helps a writer understand who they are and what they do best. There are certain basic building blocks that are essential to any novel.
What I do first is try to read the critiques and look at the intent as well as the tone. Much of the time, the written word is drier than the spoken word. We don't have the benefit of body language and inflection. To me, if the critique has worthwhile criticisms, it's a success. But it's important to temper that criticism, especially in an online forum. If I decide the crit tastes too salty, then I first email the author critiqued and ask how they feel about it. I try to read if they are discouraged or if it affected them adversely. Then, I tell the truth and build the writer up (there's a reason he/she is in the group). I also address the group publicly and on a general basis, showing how a proper critique is employed—advising that we ensure we mention the good as well as the "bad". If necessary, I then contact the critiquer in question. There have been issues in the past where our groups have had to let individuals go. There's a maturity I expect from our participants. Our members have a certain proficiency—and usually that proficiency alone means they have taken and given criticism before. However, every once in a while we find a prospective member who cannot stomach criticism or who critiques in a negative, unconstructive manner (as a rule, if one is insightful enough to point out "obvious, amateurish flaws", one should have the ability to ILLUSTRATE how to fix said issue). At the risk of generalization, these types of sniping critiquers often write for the wrong reasons—they tend to hate advice and desire only praise—while they take a particular interest in demeaning any writers they secretly envy. I can smell it because I've been a part of many groups including OWW. I then know right away that there will be little to glean from them as members. We cut our losses and move on. If a writer isn't kind, constructive and mature enough to function in the group, they are gone. It all goes back to WHY we write.
In truth, we've been fortunate. Our members genuinely enjoy reading each other's work and we find that together we grow and learn. It is an exciting experience. I love hearing that a member has to leave because they are published and they have to focus on their next book—it's why we have the group!
David, thank you for your insightful thoughts about writing and critiquing. I feel fortunate to be in our critique group with you as our moderator. :)
Monday, May 17, 2010
You have such a beautiful, poetic way with words. Does this style of writing come naturally to you or is it something you learned?
Thank you! I definitely operate from an instinctive place. Certainly, there is much to be learned about the craft of writing, but sometimes we need to learn when to let go and quiet the outside critic.
Did you have a favorite book as a child?
I LOVED Anna Bennett’s Little Witch.
What do you like to read now?
I read all sorts of middle grade, young adult literature. I just finished (a fellow colleague’s) book, A Most Improper Magick by Stephanie Burgis. Loved it!
What inspired you to write Tortilla Sun?
So many people, places, and experiences served as inspiration. But perhaps the biggest inspiration for getting started was my youngest daughter Jules who asked me to write her a short story about her favorite bear (who still sleeps in her bed). So I started writing this silly story about a selfless bear. As I wrote, I became addicted. More ideas sprouted and I needed a place to put them all. I began to think about the kinds of books I would love for my daughters to read, ones where they were reflected in the pages. Before I knew it, I started writing Tortilla Sun. The first draft went rather quickly, but oh those revisions were often painful.
Your depiction of Mexican culture is vivid. Are there any elements in your story based on your own life?
I think we all carry certain elements over into our writing. Even though Tortilla Sun is fictional, I drew from memories of my grandmother rolling out tortillas, or the way my mother always makes the sign of the cross on my forehead (still! ) Living in the Land of Enchantment helps too.
Your main character keeps an index file of beautiful, poetic phrases. Is this something you do as well?
I do keep a journal of quotes, phrases, ideas I like, but I lose it a lot and have to start all over. If an idea strikes, I will write it down on whatever is available…like a receipt I find in my car!
What is your goal as a writer? Is there something you would like to accomplish?
I want to contribute to the body of children’s literature in a meaningful way. I want my readers to become lost in story, be elevated in some way, and believe in the power of magic in their own lives.
What is your writing process like? Do you work with an outline?
I never make an outline. But I do spend a lot of time thinking about my characters and getting to know them and the setting before I ever commit to the page.
How was it working with a critique group?
I loved my original critique group (wink wink). I grew as a writer because of them and their support was so invaluable to me. Now I have two writing partners and this suits me well because if I need something looked at right away because my agent or editor is waiting for it, I know I can rely on them without burdening a whole group of people.
How long did it take you to complete your manuscript?
The first draft went pretty quickly, but the revisions took some time. I’d say from draft to agent submission ready (or what I thought was ready) was about eight months.
How much did your story change through the editorial process?
It only got deeper and more layered. I was so fortunate to work with Julie Romeis of Chronicle because we had a shared vision for Tortilla Sun.
How long did it take to find an agent?
This part of the process actually went quickly. Signing with my fab agent almost didn’t happen. After I queried her, she requested the full on an exclusive basis. So I sent her an email with the attached ms letting her know I couldn’t give her exclusivity since it was out with another agent. She basically said thanks, but no thanks. In the meantime, she read the manuscript anyway (thankfully) and offered me representation within a few days.
Can you tell us a little about your journey to publication? What was it like when you first learned you'll be a published author?
It was a long journey with ups and downs, like many other writers. The day I found out Tortilla Sun had sold, I was sitting in the guidance counselor’s office of my oldest daughter’s high school. We were waiting to make some changes to her schedule. The email came through on my phone from Laurie and it said, “Congratulations!” But it didn’t give any detail. What I didn’t realize was she had forwarded me Julie’s thumb’s up email, but I was so over the moon, I didn’t bother to scroll down to read the whole thing! So I kept asking my daughter, “You think that means she sold it?” It was hard to focus on my daughter’s schedule after that.
Do you have a special place you like to work?
I usually work from home in a room with a view of the desert. Sometimes I get distracted by the coyote, quail, or roadrunners coming by. They are beautiful to watch! When do you usually do your writing? Whenever I can, but I do have one set day each week that I devote to my writing without interruption.
What other projects are you currently working on?
I just finished a new manuscript titled Before you Leap about a ten year old girl Named Nema Paz. She wonders where everyone gets their talents. They have to be something someone is born with, which means she should have found hers by now. This story is close to my heart for a couple of reasons. First, I think so many kids, and even adults, aren’t quite sure what their “talents” are and we spend too much time comparing ourselves to other people. Second, I wanted to write a story filled with humor and laced with the human elements I try to bring to all of my writing. And of course, I love the characters: Nema, Oscar, and Chit Chat Malone--a cowboy ghost
Can you give any advice to unpublished authors?
Surround yourself with positive people who will lift your spirits when the road gets tough.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thanks, Loretta for such a fun interview!
Jennifer, thank you for your inspiring words! I wish you all the best and I hope your book is extremely successful!
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Read James Scott Bell's post in the link above to see his great ideas about the use of prologues.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Friday, January 1, 2010
1. Write, write, write
2. Improve on descriptions and vary sentence structures
3. Try out new plot devices - such as writing heart-clenching scenes on index cards to help plot move along (as per article in WD).
4. Ship Voices in the Waves to agents
5. Finish second YA Fantasy
6. Outline third YA Fantasy
7. Polish picture book
8. Make blog more informative
9. Begin blog on teaching with technology (invite my students to comment)
1. Improve photography skills
2. Use art tablet to sketch, draw, experiment...maybe even try book covers.
3. Do some illustrations for my picture book
1. Read two books on voiceover acting
2. Take training class in city
May the new year bring health, happiness and success to all. Here's to dreams coming true...
Friday, November 20, 2009
This year has not been the best year. Too much has happened - too many raw feelings and deep hurt to sort through. But through it all, I'm forever hopeful. Hopeful that once you hit bottom, there's nowhere to go but up. I've improved my relationships with certain extended family members - will not mention names. We've gotton to know each other better through our mutual mourning - I wish it had been through better circumstances. I finally completed revisions on my young adult fantasy novel, Voices in the Waves and have sent it to the editor that had shown interest last year. She actually sent me an email to let me know she has it! We have a new puppy, Neo. Well, he's not new. We've had him since fourth of July weekend, but every day he reminds us how to enjoy life's simple, precious moments. He keeps us busy and entertained. He's just so full of love and enthusiasm, it's hard not to be uplifted just being around him - even when he has accidents in the house and we have to clean it up with our noses pinched. :)
Thursday, June 4, 2009
One of my favorite blogs of a well-known YA author is Shannon Hale's, author of Princess Academy and Goose Girl: http://oinks.squeetus.com/2009/05/born-in-the-bea.html
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Friday, May 22, 2009
Friday, May 15, 2009
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Here's my sketch of him (based on my father ~God rest his soul~ who's dream was to be a violin maker):
My mind is on a picture book series, a YA fatasy, and a historical story all at the same time. I feel divided, and yet refreshed each time I work on one genre, then move on to another. It's probably crazy, but it's like subjects in school. You can move between one subject and another and still be able to focus on it as long as you're giving your attention to one subject at a time. Not to mention my full time teaching job that takes up so much energy.... sigh.
Oh, here is my daughter's blog: http://ctlucy.livejournal.com/ I'm so proud of her!
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Monday, November 3, 2008
My daughter and I are both reading The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. He's a first time novelist and wow, what a great book! My daughter and I are stealing it from each other's rooms and have two different bookmarks in the same book! We're on a race as to who will read further. The story is about four children who are chosen to participate in a dangerous mission. I won't give any information away, in case anyone wants to read it.
My favorite MG/YA writers include Shannon Hale, Cornelia Funke, Brandon Mull, and Angie Sage.