Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Gift Ideas?

Tis’ the season of gift giving, which can be stressful. Finding the time and energy to find, make, or purchase just the right gifts can be tough, though. So, in an attempt to lighten the tension, provide inspiration, and perhaps bring on a smile, I thought I’d share some fun writer gift ideas. Here goes:

This license plate frame is a must have for any author intent on safe driving. www.cafepress.com/+i_brake_for_book_sales_license_plate_frame,396414434

When inspiration hits in the shower (and it does), this waterproof gift might be the answer: http://www.myaquanotes.com/

Is the writer in your life bored with scribbling in the same old journal? Could he or she use some new and different paper? Why not check out POOPOOPAPER™? These natural, recycled and odorless paper products are made from the (ahem) droppings of vegetarian animals such as elephants, cows, horses, moose, pandas, and donkeys. No, I’m not kidding. http://new.poopoopaper.com/

Happy gifting to all and to all who celebrate, a merry Christmas and a happy new year!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Photo by fannfango, Morguefile.com

In the July/August 2012 Writer’s Digest, Celia Johnson wrote about “bolts of inspiration” that have influenced authors. Apparently E.B. White was walking through an orchard, on his way to visit some pigs when he considered a large spider that had woven a web in his house. Bam, Charlotte of Charlotte’s Web was born.

Celia Johnson also wrote about how a sixteen-year-old C.S. Lewis daydreamed about a half-man, half-goat rushing through snowy woods with an umbrella and packages. Mr. Lewis remembered this image twenty-four years later and used this hoofed character in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

I find these anecdotes fascinating. Yet, I’ll admit to being a pinch envious. I don’t think I’ve ever been inspired on my way to visit pigs. And I’m pretty sure I didn’t daydream about half-man goats at sixteen. In fact, I don’t recall ever being jolted by inspiration as if stung by a live wire. Sure, ideas come my way and some intrigue me, but (as of yet) nothing as dramatic as a half-animal toting an umbrella (not to mention packages). And, as much as I adore Charlotte’s Web, I doubt a spider will ever inspire me to do anything but scoot away from it (probably with a squeal). My ideas are more like seeds that require planting, cultivating, and nurturing before there is even the possibility of them growing into anything that might be useful.

How about you? Have you ever experienced the full on kick of inspiration? I’d love to read about it--and be envious of you, too.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What Scares You?

Happy Halloween, everyone! We just got our power back as a Halloween treat after Hurricane Sandy blew through earlier this week (she came as a wicked witch). So, in keeping with the spookiness of All Hallows Eve, I thought I’d toss out a question for you to chew on instead of those candy bars or caramel apples begging for your attention.

Pumpkins by markmiller at Morguefile.com

What frightens you most about starting a new writing project?

Does coming up with an idea feel a bit too much like putting together a Frankenstein monster (from scratch)?

Or, do you worry about surviving that unholy bog that is the middle of a novel or writing project? Working through that can be more challenging than pulling through a sour swamp blanketed in a slimy fog—at night, with no moon.

Or, does an unknown ending hover over your shoulders, baring threatening fangs?

Scaryface by wallyir at Morguefile.com
Perhaps you worry that your characters won’t develop any more charisma than hollow-eyed zombies?

Maybe the voice, or the lack of one, haunts you?

For me, the thought of writing the first draft of a new novel brings on chills and sleepless nights. I’ve been known to wake up screaming at the mere thought of sitting down to write a first draft. Terrifying.

Whatever part of writing frightens you most, be brave and face it with your favorite trick or treat in hand. I recommend chocolate or caramels, but a good book on writing technique, a workshop, or guidance from others in the know can also be helpful. Just remember that writers are courageous and can (usually) conquer the scariest of hurdles. It’s a big part of what we do.

Happy writing and trick-or-treating!
And wishing those coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy warmth and a speedy recovery.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

That Character Did What???

Photo by Blueprint, Morguefile.com
I am well into reading this novel and enjoying it--really enjoying it. The main character happened to be this guy obsessed with being neat and fastidious. Very detail oriented with a hearty dislike of littering and sloppiness of any kind. Then, midway through the novel, the guy tosses aside half of a sandwich, paper wrapper, napkin and all, without any pang of guilt. Not even a passing thought. What? This threw me until a few paragraphs later, when I realized that the tossed sandwich served a distinct purpose—a plot purpose. Mr. Fastidious acted out of character in order to allow something else to happen in the plot. Hmm, kind of a Bozo no-no, wouldn’t you say?

Confession time: The writer in me does, at times, become tempted to have a character do something he or she would never do. Why? To set up an event I need in the plot. But as a reader, this device leaves me cold and disappointed. I want, at the very least, the character to recognize what he’s doing and have a reason for doing it. Otherwise, I stop believing in that character. The magic is gone; the fictional balloon is popped. Bozo puts on a disappointed face and wags his finger (which is never good).

Have you ever stumbled over a character that did something unbelievable in order to serve the plot? Did you throw the book away or shrug this off and read on?

Writers, have you ever been tempted to have a character do something that doesn’t work for his or her personality (and hope no one notices—especially Bozo)?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Three Things and a Personal Note

I love quotes. I stumbled across the following gem from William Faulkner:

“A writer needs three things—experience, observation and imagination—any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.”

Interesting. Experiences have become the seeds for some of my stories, as well as for some scenes. Observations have helped me to find the right details for characters, settings, and plot developments. I consider imagination, though, the most important of the three, at least for my fiction writing.

Do you agree that a writer needs experience, observation, and imagination? Which would you label the most important? If you don’t agree with Mr. Faulkner, what would you list as the three things a writer most needs?


And now for a Personal Note:

As many of you know, I posted about a “curve ball” health issue that has kept me away from the bloggy universe for the last month plus. Since I have not been around as much as I had hoped, and it’s looking like I won’t be blogging regularly any time soon, I’ve decided, after much should I or shouldn’t I? debate to share my circumstances.

An MRI of my shoulder, meant to diagnose what I thought was a torn rotator cuff muscle, revealed that I have lung cancer. A shocker, especially since I have never smoked and I have always been what my friends and family consider a health and fitness nut. Apparently cancer doesn’t care. And, apparently, it can be ironic. Anyway, such a diagnosis demands treatments, surgeries, and all kinds of appointments and paperwork--stuff that has a way of taking over a life, like it or not. Soon enough, though, thanks to the battalion of angels also known as doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals, I will be back to writing and blogging full time with (thank you Mr. Faulkner) plenty of new experiences and observations to draw from. “Soon enough,” though, may mean months. I will do my best to be around as much as possible the way I’m doing my best to finish my latest novel, but this may be sketchy at times.

Everyone has something to deal with; this is my something for now, but I wish you all happy reading and happy writing and I promise to visit whenever possible.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Alligators Overhead

As many of you know, I’ve been laying low the last month or so. However, I am happy to pop back to help celebrate the release of C. Lee McKenzie’s novel, Alligators Overhead. I just started reading this middle grade novel and I can tell you that I’m already pulled in by the mystery of the spooky mansion that appears. What does this mean? How will Pete and his pal figure out what’s going on?


Alligators, witches and a spooky mansion aren't your average neighbors unless you live at the edge of the Ornofree swamp in the backwater town of Hadleyville. The town's bad boy, Pete Riley, may only be twelve, but he's up to his eyeballs in big trouble, and this time he isn't the cause. This time the trouble arrives when a legendary hundred-year-old mansion materializes next door and the Ornofree alligators declare war to save their swamp from bulldozers. Things only get worse when Pete's guardian aunt and several of her close friends vanish while trying to restore order using outdated witchcraft. Now Pete must find the witches and stop the war. He might stand a chance if his one friend, Weasel, sticks with him, but even then, they may not have what it takes.

C. Lee McKenzie is a native Californian who grew up in a lot of different places; then landed in the Santa Cruz Mountains where she lives with her family and miscellaneous pets. She writes most of the time, gardens and hikes and does yoga a lot, and then travels whenever she can. 

She takes on modern issues that today's teens face in their daily lives. Her first young adult novel, Sliding on the Edge, which dealt with cutting and suicide was published in 2009. Her second, titled The Princess of Las Pulgas, dealing with a family who loses everything and must rebuild their lives came out in 2010. Her short stories appear in Stories for Children, The First Time and the soon to be published, Two and Twenty Dark Tales. She just published her first Middle Grade novel, Alligators Overhead, this year.

TWITTER : @cleemckenzie
AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B0042M1KYW 



B & N


There’s nothing like a good novel to fall into on a summer day. Have you read Alligators Overhead yet? 
I’m off to go read some more.

Happy reading and writing!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Curve Ball

Every once in a while, life pitches a curve ball. Two weeks ago, one of these came my way--an unexpected health issue that has taken up all of my time, interrupted my writing and reading life as well as my blogging. *Insert growls and grumbles here.* I apologize for dropping out of the blogging universe with no notice. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be helped. And, double unfortunately, I need to take more time off. I am hoping that I won’t be away for long, and that, instead, my blogging will simply be sporadic until this curve ball passes on by. Time will tell. I miss blogging, writing, and reading, of course, but sometimes stuff happens in our lives, right? Anyway, please know that I will visit your blogs whenever possible and be back soon.

One more thing! I hope you’ll be sure to stop by on August 22nd. I have a very special guest blogger coming by. You won’t want to miss her.

Wishing you lots of wonderful reading and writing and amazing books while I am away--and always!


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Do You Hang Off Cliffs?

At BEA a few weeks ago, R.L. Stein (the ever-so-famous author of the crazy popular Goosebumps books) attributed some of the success of his novels to his use of cliffhangers—those suspenseful situations at the end of a scene or chapter.

Photo by ajenyon
I am a huge fan of cliffhangers at the end of chapters, unless, of course, it’s 2 am, I’ve just reached the end of a chapter where the characters I care about are in some sort of grave danger or about to make a momentous decision, which will be revealed in the next chapter, yet I’ve got to haul my exhausted carcass out of bed at 6 am. In that case, I’m frustrated because I must know what happens next in the novel, yet I anticipate being bleary eyed the next day. I dwell on how much caffeine I will need to come to life after too little snooze time. If you’re an avid reader, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about here. Cliffhangers build suspense, tension, and create an emotional response in readers that often makes them sacrifice sleep in order to find out what happens next in a story.

If you’re a writer, you probably itch to torment your readers in this way. I'm guessing you’d love to make them sacrifice good sense and well being for the sake of turning the pages of your story. But how? Some authors accomplish this by revealing a key piece of information that the reader needs to know at the end of a chapter, or a tease that this piece of information will appear in the next chapter. An author might also reveal some twist or important plot development as a cliffhanger. Or, a writer might push the main character into an ugly and sticky situation to be resolved pages later. I just finished a chapter in which the heroine was facing some serious danger when she passed out—at the end of the chapter. Since I care about this character, I had to know whether she’d be descended upon by the evil or if she’d be saved.

Also, cliffhangers work especially well when each one is bigger than the last. This kind of makes sense given that the novel is building toward a climax, right?

What do you think about cliffhangers? Do you like to hang off cliffs or are you afraid of heights? If you are pro-cliffhanger, do you have a favorite? One that kept you reading against your better judgment?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Interesting (I think) 4th of July Writing Tidbits

Happy almost July 4th everyone! In honor of Independence Day, I thought I’d share some facts that I find interesting about the writing of The Declaration of Independence. Here’s hoping that they might interest all of you writers and readers, too.

Did you know that Thomas Jefferson was one of five men appointed to write The Declaration of Independence? John Adams of Massachusetts and Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, and Robert R. Livingston of New York joined Mr. Jefferson. Doesn’t that sound like a powerful writer’s group?

Thomas Jefferson, however, was asked to write the first draft. I’m guessing he was more of an outliner than a pantser.

This writing project took him less than three weeks. This bit of information, frankly, makes me a little sheepish about my slow writing pace. Upon completing the final draft (after many), Mr. Jefferson showed it to Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, who input their own revisions. The Congress, of course, made more alterations and deletions. The process of revision continued through all of July 3 and into the late morning of July 4. And I’ve read that Mr. Jefferson was not thrilled with the final product. Still, when the Declaration of Independence was finished, church bells rang out in Philadelphia. Don’t we all celebrate once those final revisions are made, for better or for worse?

Fifty years later, Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, as did John Adams. It’s true: Two of the men who crafted The Declaration of Independence died on the same day, and on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the document. Kind of wild, don’t you think?

And now I leave you to your fireworks (for those of you celebrating the birth of the USA) with a few quotes on the value of reading and writing:

“I cannot live without books.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." ~ Benjamin Franklin

“Let us dare to read, think, speak and write.” ~ John Adams

“I read my eyes out and can't read half enough...the more one reads the more one sees we have to read.” ~ John Adams

Can you add any fun, Independence Day writer facts?

Happy fourth of July whether you celebrate Independence Day or not!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Visits and Visitors

Photo by Raywal65 at Morguefile.com 
Happy Wednesday! 

It is a very happy Wednesday for me. I am thrilled to be over at The Writing Nut for the Wednesday Writer’s Workspace. I’d love for you to come on over and check it out, if you have the time.  http://www.thewritingnut.com/

Also, I won’t be around next week (my mom is coming to visit). I’ll be back July 3rd. Just a little bloggy break.

Happy reading and writing, my friends!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Book Mania Anyone?

Last week I attended BEA (BookExpo America). I’d never been to this conference before. In summary: Wow.

First of all, this ginormous convention took place in the mega huge (think multiple airplane hangers) Jacob Javits Center in New York City. And every inch of this place was crammed with publishers, areas for workshops and seminars, signing booths where authors gave away copies of their newly released or soon to be released books (many signed at the publisher booths, as well), and vendors selling food and drink (with prices that required buyers to sell kidneys).

The day began early with the Children’s Book and Author Breakfast, a ticketed event that sold out months ago. Chris Colfer (who plays Kurt Hummel on Glee), the master of ceremonies for the breakfast, woke us up with his wit and sense of humor (while plugging his middle grade novel, The Land of Stories). John Green, Lowis Lowry, and Kadir Nelson also spoke, each amazing, as I’m sure you can imagine. As a bonus, everyone in the audience walked away with copies of the latest books from these authors. Sweet!

A glimpse of a few signing booths.
For the rest of the day, my writer pals and I cruised, perused, and attended workshops and interviews. Moving about was often challenging given the dense crowds and snaking lines of people waiting to have often free books signed. I practically tripped over Chris Colfer as he signed copies of his novel. I spotted Jane Seymour (actress) signing books, and I became lost in what might have been a flash mob around Rachel Ray (celebrity chef and daytime TV show hostess). I also heard R.L. Stein talk about his famous Goosebumps series and middle grade novels. To top all this off, I scored a better seat for the interview with Patti Smith and Neil Young than I’ve ever enjoyed at a concert (and believe me, this was a one interesting conversation).

All this and I walked away with enough books to dislocate at least one shoulder. I hadn’t planned on this, but every time I paused, someone handed me a book. I am not kidding when I tell you that I turned more away than I accepted. In the end, sacrificing a shoulder or two seemed like the right thing to do. 

For more info and a more professional take on the BEA scene as it pertains to the children’s book industry, check out this Publisher’s Weekly article: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/52446-bea-2012-big-books-for-kids-surveying-the-scene.html

Now tell me, have you ever attended BEA, or a mega book conference or event such as this? If not, would you want to check it out (keeping the crowds and chaos in mind)? If you have been to BEA or a like conference, what did you take away from the experience?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Traffic light photo by alvimann at Morguefile.com    
Do you notice symbols when you are reading? Or, for that matter, in the world around you? They can sometimes be easy to overlook, I think. 

Do you incorporate them into your writing? Symbols can add meaning, highlight the underlying theme, or even nudge a reader to make certain connections. I like symbols best when they occur organically and throughout a story, as long as they are not stuffed into the text with a heavy, over-enthusiastic hand. Like mine. When I revise, I often have to delete a symbol or two (or three) that I like too much.

I love coming across symbols while I am reading. Maybe a character has a beloved bicycle that she rides in the beginning of a story. The bicycle ends up at the back of the garage as the story rolls along. This could be a subtle indicator of what is going on in the character’s life. Maybe the bike symbolizes the character being neglected or distracted from what she loves. Maybe the bicycle shows that she’s growing out of a bicycle-riding stage. The bicycle could be just a bike, or it could be a symbol or reflection of what is going on in the character’s life.

Ring photo by lisafanucchi at Morguefile.com
Symbols don’t have to be objects, either. They can be phrases, gestures, or character traits. The trick, for writers, is to be sure that the symbols sprout in a natural way from the story. Whenever I force a symbol into a story, it’s obvious. As in there’s an orangutan sitting at the kitchen table obvious. It’s best to pull symbols from what the story offers.

What are some of your favorite symbols from your reading and writing? I still think about that famous pie from The Help. And, of course, who could forget Frodo’s quest for that symbol of all symbols—the ring?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Plot Versus Character

Somewhere in my travels through the bloggy universe, I read a five star review of a book titled Plot Versus Character: A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction by Jeff Gerke. Since I love books on craft and can’t resist anything with great fiction in the title, I picked up a copy. Of course it ended up on a books to be read shelf, but, since I wasn’t absorbing its information by simply sharing office space with it, I recently read the thing--and I loved it.

Mr. Gerke maintains that there are two types of novelists. Those for whom plot comes naturally and those for whom characters come naturally. Frankly, I don’t think I fit into either category, but whatever. The point is this: the plotter must find “the plot of the main character’s change,” while the character-inspired novelist must build plot by “finding the story within the main character.” Either way, the main character’s layers and inner journey is the spine of the novel.

The book is divided into sections: “Memorable Characters” followed by “Marvelous Plots,” and a final section that discusses the union of plot and characters. Within these sections there are diagrams, examples, suggestions, tricks, and tips. For example, Mr. Gerke recommends that writers read a book on psychology and temperament titled Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey. I am halfway through this fascinating book on personality types and I’ve just about worn out my highlighter. There’s no doubt that the information in this book will help me to develop deep, layered characters with substance.

So, if you’re up for an interesting read on developing multi-layered characters with riveting inner journeys capable of fueling a three act story structure, grab a copy of Plot Versus Character: A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction. It’s worth the read.

Or have you read it? If so, what did you think about it? Have you read Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey?

Have you read any other good books on craft lately?