Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Guides for the Writing Life

"Spit out your story," Brooke Favero, a fellow middle grade writer, commented to me on my blog about three months ago. I bet she has no idea how powerful those words became. As I motored through my draft, her words echoed and echoed and . . . ech (ech) . . . oooed (oooed) in my brain. They swirled and twisted and kept me on track.

Now I'm living in the Land of Revision and the words tornado-ing my brain are these: "Writing well comes in revision." Someone tweeted those words to me not long ago. Revision is the place my characters develop more thoroughly, my plot strengthens in places it is spindly, critique partners advice is weighed and analyzed, and all those notes I made while spitting out my story can now meld themselves into the story itself.

These two short statements guide my writing life. They are my cornerstones as well as the pebbles in my writing world. Amid all the writing advice out there, my brain wove these simple statements into its writing thread. If I'm drafting, I say, "Spit out the story." When I'm revising, I say, "Writing well comes in revision." Do you have simple words that guide your writing life? Would you share them here?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade (Minnesota) Monday: The Tanglewood Terror

The Tanglewood Terror by Kurtis Scaletta is set for release on September 13, 2011. I was supposed to wrangle an advance reading copy, but it got lost in the mail. For real. And Mr. Scaletta was plumb out of ARCs. Also a true story. But I wanted to promote the release of this book anyway. So I am. Because he's from my home state of Minnesota and because I've heard this book is fantastic! Mr. Scaletta is also the author of Mudville and Mamba Point.

This is the blurb describing The Tanglewood Terror  found on Kurtis Scaletta's website.

"The wilderness abounds with monsters that take many forms, some never imagined by storytellers. . . .
When thirteen-year-old Eric Parrish comes across glowing mushrooms in the woods behind his house, he’s sure there’s a scientific explanation. But then they begin to encroach on the town, covering the football field and popping up from beneath the floorboards of his house. It doesn’t take long for Eric to realize something’s seriously wrong. Not that much else has been going right: his parents are fighting, leaving him to babysit his annoying little brother Brian, and he’s had a falling-out with his football team—over a pig.

Then Eric meets Mandy, a runaway girl from the nearby boarding school, who warns Eric that the fungus could portend the town’s doom, leaving it in rubble—just like the village that disappeared in the exact same spot over two hundred years ago. Halloween is approaching, the fungus is spreading, and Eric, Brian, and Mandy set out to solve a very old mystery and save the town of Tanglewood.

Kurtis Scaletta offers a glowingly eerie tale of friendship, family, and the strange—sometimes terrifying—things lurking in the woods behind your house."

Sounds like a fascinating read to me! Grab a copy for yourself (and so will I) on September 13.

Other MMGMers and their reviews:
Please follow the links in my right sidebar  ~~~~~~~>

Happy middle grade reading!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Just...Stuff...And Jury Duty

This afternoon my family and I leave for a long weekend away, so I won't post a free-for-all Friday this week. My computer will be staying home. It asked me, "Can I just rest for these three and a half days. Please?"  I nodded, a bit begrudgingly, and replied, "Only if you promise that next week we'll get lots done." It smiled and said, "Of course."

My manuscript and red pen are journeying with me. Revisions are ever present in my brain these days. Now, if only I could read and revise in the car.....but motion sickness didn't promise to behave like my computer did.

Next Monday I start jury duty. Actually, I call on Friday afternoon, and they will tell me if my jury pool is required to report on Monday morning. If I don't report on Monday, I call each day thereafter to see if my pool is needed. Part of me wants to be on a case (how intriguing!) but part of me doesn't (ummm, laziness??). What's your experience with jury duty? Been called? Required to report? Get on a case?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Revising: Post 1

Revising my manuscript has commenced! Documenting my progress will keep me accountable for making progress, so updating my progress here on my blog will keep me plucking away at that revising.

Definition of revise: to change, amend, and improve (remembering that demands center stage in my brain).

My stats so far: Four chapters revised; 42 more to go. Seventeen pages out of 189 have been changed, amended, and improved.

Revising discoveries I've made: (bullet points required here).
  •  Revising isn't as much fun as writing.
  • Getting stuck and overwhelmed is easy.
  • Conflicting ideas from critique partners make revising even harder.
  • Revising isn't as much fun as writing.
  • When I finish revising a chapter, I desire to print a clean copy but don't.
  • Writing a 'these things need help' list helps.
  • Revising isn't as much fun as writing.
I have so many questions about revising styles and techniques. Any tips are welcomed and will be viewed like a friendly, encouraging hug from a writerly friend. Are you revising? Knowing that encourages me also.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Marvlous Middle Grade (Minnesota) Monday: Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat

Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, written by Lynne Jonell, is the first in a series about a girl named Emmy, her talking rat friend, and an evil nanny named Miss Barmy. This highlight continues my focus on middle grade authors from my home state. Published in 2007, this novel begins Emmy's adventure, Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls continues it, and new to bookstores is Emmy and the Rats in the Bellfry.

The premise: Everyone forgets Emmy, even her parents, although Emmy attempts to be good, as good as she can be. One day, a boy named Joe and a talking rat notice her, and Emmy is astounded. Emmy's creepy nanny, Miss Barmy, however, is plotting Emmy's demise, and Emmy doesn't know why but determines to find answers.

What keeps readers reading: An unlikely cast of characters. Rodents are good, nannies are bad, and professors are both. And parents? When parents forget, they must be saved! But with so many adults forgetting and other adults full of creepiness, Emmy and her friends must figure out who can be trusted. In Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, Lynne Jonell weaves a funny, mysterious, and creepy tale.

Other MMGMers and their choices this week:
Please follow the links in my right sidebar ~~~~~~~~~~~>

Happy middle grade reading!  

Friday, July 15, 2011

Playing Tag and Blog Awards

Blog Tag and Blog Awards. I've never participated before and won't make a habit of it, but these were light-hearted and fun. A few weeks ago, I was tagged by Myrna Foster and several days ago Kate Jarvik Birch gave me a versatile blogger award. So, today I'll play tag and receive my blog award.

First up, Blog Award which involves linking to the award giver (done above) and listing seven random facts about myself. Fun. I love randomness!
  • My dog Teddy and I have walked 188 out of 195 days this year (96.4%). I'm keeping track in 2011 because I knew we walked almost every day and was curious what almost means.
  • No book is my favorite. I just can't pick one.
  • I'm not a bad cook; I just don't like cooking.
  • Friday nights in the fall mean high school football games (my husband coaches). Rain, snow, cold - I'm there. Football is awesome.
  • Expending daily calories on beverages doesn't make sense to me when there's dark chocolate to eat (and I dislike diet versions), so I sip my husband's soda (it drives him nuts - "Why don't you open your own?!!?").
  • I can't stand wearing socks and only do so in the winter out of necessity.
  • In seventh grade, I had braces, super short hair, and HUGE glasses. It wasn't my best year.
Second up, Blog Tag which means I answer these questions which orginated . . . somewhere in the blogosphere.

Are you hot? Only if the air temp is above 85 degrees. If it's below 70, I'm chilly. As far as looks, my husband thinks I am. Other than that, it doesn't really matter, right?

Upload a picture or wallpaper you are using at the moment.

   My kids along the rocky shores of Lake Superior just north of Duluth, MN

When was the last time you ate chicken? Hmmmm. Last week sometime I marinated chicken in lemon pepper sauce, my husband grilled it, and we ate it with fettuccine alfredo pasta and fresh parmesan. Except my daughter ate her pasta with fresh peppers of all colors; she's a vegetarian. I could be too, except for grilled chicken.

Songs you listened to recently: Whatever was on 'Cities 97' while in my car yesterday. I don't listen to music except while driving. Weird, I know.

What were you thinking as you were doing this? Assuming this relates to the music question, I was chatting with my kids. Music is a background thing for me.

Do you have nicknames? A close-knit group of friends calls me Dex because I have the details (or google them if I don't know) on things like addresses, times things begin, phone numbers, costs of things, exact directions, that kind of stuff. And my GPS gets lots of use, even in my own city of Minneapolis. What can I say? I've got the info.

Tag some blogger friends (Only if you want to play). I only tagged a few who I thought might actually do this and who I'd love to know more about. And I award the same folks the versatile blogger award because, let's face it, I'm being lazy.
Akoss at Nye Louwon - My Spirit
Jessie at The Life Story of a Bookworm 

Happy free-for-all Friday! That's what Fridays are deemed here at my blog.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Marinating the Manuscript

Two weeks ago I completed my middle grade historical fiction work-in-progress, and it morphed into a manuscript. Not a finished one, not even close, but the story outline is there, the characters develop and change, the conflict builds and resolves, and most importantly, I GOT TO THE END!

Once my draft was finished, I needed time and distance from my story, figuring this would clarify what needs fixing in it. My manuscript demanded marinating. So that's what I've been doing these two weeks -  marinating my manuscript. Yep. Letting it soak in its for-right-now finished-ness while I soak in summer.

Other than blog posts, I haven't been writing for these few weeks either. After working several months on this manuscript, my brain needed reprieve. My fingers needed to not fly over the keyboard. My creative juices needed time for gathering orangey-ness and grape-ness. And so, I took that time.

Next week, I'll dive into revising. I'm missing my story and characters which signals the orange and grape juices are ripe for revisions and my manuscript marinated long enough. All this brings about an intriguing question  - and I don't think there's a right way or wrong way - but when you reach the end of a manuscript, do you dive right into revising or do you let your manuscript marinate?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade (Minnesota) Monday: Sparrow Road

Sparrow Road, by Sheila O'Connor, continues my middle grade spotlight on authors from my home state. Ms. O'Connor has two adult novels published, but this is her first for middle graders. This novel (published in 2011), which my kids and I read aloud together, has a gentle tone and is beautifully written. It centers on secrets, revealing those secrets, discovering family, and finding forgiveness.

The premise: Raine O'Rourke spent her whole life in Milwaukee, with her mom and her grandfather. But the summer before seventh grade, Raine's mom takes a new job and moves Raine to the country, far from Milwaukee and Raine's grandfather. They move to Sparrow Road, a strange, creepy old mansion and summer home for artists. Raine resists but soon discovers new friendships, someone who has waited years to spend time with her, and secrets that need unraveling.

What keeps readers reading: Mysteries amid mysterious characters. Sheila O'Connor unravels the story of Sparrow Road bit by bit, tantalizing readers with the 'what will happen?' and 'where will this story end up?' She introduces a cast of characters, some of whom are from times past, and reveals them piece by piece, just like the plot, but she does so with an elegance and well-written beauty. Her mix of mystery, secrets, and truth keeps readers engaged from first words to final ones.

Other MMGMers and their reviews:
Follow the links in my right sidebar. They always have great picks. ~~~~~~~> 

Happy middle grade reading!

Friday, July 8, 2011

When Bad is Good

Motion sickness. It hits me hard and horribly. On curvy roads (unless I'm driving). In the movie theater (yes, really). On airplanes (dramamine usually suffices here). In boats (if it's wavy). On amusement park rides (ohhhh, these are the worst). And I'm sure motion sickness will rear it's ugly head for me in places yet unimagined.

Today my husband and kids, along with my brother and two of his three girls, are flipping, skimming, flying, and zooming on rides at Valleyfair (the Minneapolis version of Six Flags). I stayed home. Just the thought of roller coasters, rides that spin madly, or creations that turn me upside down send my stomach astir (and worse if I get on them).

I'm enjoying a quiet day at home. All alone. Twelve hours with nobody here but me and my dog. This happens.....ummmm......never. So although motion sickness is bad, today it is good.

Turn this idea on yourself. Apply the idea of something bad becoming good. And tell me, when is bad good for you?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Fictional characters can be based on real people or animals (of course they can), but often they are not. In fact, most of mine are not. Many characters are created from our own minds and our own minds only. In the manuscript I finished last Thursday (Woohoo! It's now percolating for several weeks before I revise), however, I created a dog who is created from a real dog. Well, actually dogs. Plural. Two of them. Both of them mine. Pets at different times.

The dog in my manuscript looks like this dog of mine, pictured below. Tucker. Tucker was a mixed breed, beautiful but high energy and pretty much a rapscallion. I loved him with my whole heart, but he bit our house sitter and my father-in-law (two separate people) while we were on vacation two summers ago so we had him put to sleep. My dog-loving heart broke.

The dog in my manuscript behaves like this dog of mine, pictured below. Teddy. A Golden Retriever, who is also beautiful but not so high energy, gentle, loved by all, and just a teensy bit of a rapscallion. Teddy joined our family as a puppy, one month after Tucker was put to sleep, and he stitched my broken dog-loving heart back together.

 In fiction's magic, I created a dog for my manuscript who is both of my dogs, rolled into one. Jasper, the dog in my manuscript, has the look of Tucker and the personality of Teddy. While Jasper is not a main character, he frequents the plot, he is a reliable friend, he portrays both of my beloved dogs, and he immortalizes those dogs in story.

Characters move our story. They rotate the plot, progress the conflict, and generate the outcome. How are your characters built? Where do your character ideas come from? How do you create those crazy characters who inhabit your stories?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day

It's the fourth of July all over the world, but in the United States, it's also our Independence Day. I'm taking a holiday this week from Marvelous Middle Grade Monday because I'll be picnicking, reading in the sunshine, and spending time with my husband, kids, in-laws, and dog. Later on, I'll be captivated by fireworks.

With my very unprofessional camera, I snapped this photo last year while ooo-ing and ahh-ing.

Wherever July 4th finds you and whether you're from the USA or not, I hope you have time, freedom, and independence to enjoy what you love today.

Happy Independence Day!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Summer Love

When I was ten years old, I spent hours snipping the word 'summer' from magazines. I found hundreds of different sizes, fonts, and colors. Then I pasted them into a collage, framed the collage, and hung it in my room. It lived on my wall through all my teenage years. Looking at that collage was like looking at a photo of myself.

But all my life, I've lived where winter also resides. The kind of winter where snowbanks pile up and cold breath is something you can see. And all my life I've dreamed of living where winter does not. Someday, I will. I hope.

But for now, when spring green pushes winter gray away, I celebrate. My insides throw parties when lilacs bloom or fruit trees blossom. As summer's heat rises beyond what most humans enjoy, this human sparkles. My writing perks and bubbles. I read outside in direct sunshine and walk my dog during high afternoon's heat. A meal not eaten on the deck is not worth eating. And coffee ice cream holds its glory when it's slightly drippy.

Summer. Sometimes I'm convinced it was created just for me. Is there a time of year you feel extra alive?