Archive for ‘Writing’

June 2, 2015

The power of cutting words

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Last week a fellow author showed us a writing exercise he recently participated in. As preparation for an upcoming workshop, he condensed the entire opening chapter of his work-in-progress to 150 words.

The chapter was already powerful. The 150-word version was dynamite.

I’m going to try it. Here on the blog. Because I can, and because I love the idea of practicing where I can get good feedback.

While I finish the rewrite of my own current work-in-progress, I’m creating space under my ‘bits of my writing’ page for these exercises.  The exercises will show up as posts first and then as links on that page.

Just for fun, they’ll be moments in the life of Lily, the heroine from my first two books. I don’t know if the exercises will make much sense, or if they’ll ever grow into anything more than exercises. To be honest, I don’t expect them to.

I do, however, plan on having a lot of fun. 🙂

June 2, 2015

MISSING: A 150-word exercise with Lily and Orval

Orval’s grandmother isn’t here.

Sunset looms. Red reflects in a long dagger, pinning a note to her empty clothes—pinning her clothes to the bed—pinning our hopes to emptiness.

Silence.

The crimson sky deepens, flushing across the abandoned city.

Orval breathes with white-knuckled fists, teeth grinding, every muscle tightened.

“Did you do this?” he asks.

Dismay rocks me. I stumble, reaching for his hand. He jerks away.

My heart weeps blood for the loss of Orval’s trust. “My love—”

He yanks the dagger out of the bed. The red-tinted note flutters into my fingers.

Orval’s voice pounds me like an avalanche. He waves the blade under my nose. “Read it.”

I am a trembling leaf, dead already, waiting for snowfall to bury me in the cold ground. My quivering voice rushes.

“Come north. They have returned.”

My sweetheart blinks and sways.  “North,” he whispers, “Where death lives.”

 

 

 

 

July 29, 2014

Jacob Holo’s Dragons

Jacob Holo's The Dragons of Jupiter...see his Amazon sales page!

Jacob Holo’s The Dragons of Jupiter…see his Amazon sales page!

About a year ago, I read Jacob Holo’s The Dragons of Jupiter and was more than pleasantly surprised. This is by far one of the best sci-fi books I’ve read in a long time. I’ve been meaning to get back to my blog to review this, and it hasn’t happened, and hasn’t happened…and tonight, that’s going to change.

The battle scenes in The Dragons of Jupiter are very, very well done, although maybe a little bit graphic for my taste. I loved how innovative Holo was with his weaponry, though, and that made it really hard to put down even the most descriptive scenes.

I loved the body makeup the dragons wear when they’re not on duty.

I love how they work as a team.

I love the interactions between the team members, between brothers Ryu and Kaneda, between everyone and the Matriarch.  I tried to pick apart the character development and couldn’t do it. It was just that seamless, and I’ll be studying this book in the future, trying to see how Holo managed to weave his character development into the story so well that I didn’t even notice it was happening.

What a way to make readers care about the story!

Holo has a couple of great web sites, too. Read more about The Dragons of Jupiter at dragonsofjupiter.com (I am now a proud follower), or visit holowriting.com for information on Jacob Holo’s other books and writing activities. He has a lot going on.

Also, his book covers are terrific. See a sneak peak for the book cover of Humanity Machine at holowriting.com. I am looking forward to reading that one, both because of the book cover and because, if Holo always writes like he did in The Dragons of Jupiter, I’ll never be able to set his books asides for things like doing laundry and dishes.

 

April 14, 2014

An interview with author Krista Wayment

 

I met author Krista Wayment just about a year ago, but until recently I never had a chance to read any of her work. I finally read her first book, Trusted, this past weekend and loved it. (Who doesn’t love dragons? And adventure?) She hopes to release the second book next fall.

When Krista threw a virtual launch party, I knew I wanted to interview her for this blog. It’s been a while since I’ve done any guest author interviews or book reviews. I forgot how enjoyable this can be.

Here are the fun things I learned about this great new author:

When did you first learn that you loved dragons?

I can’t remember clearly. I think from a very young age I loved dragons. I remember watching this movie about a man who was transported to a fantasy world and changed into a dragon. He used science to defeat an evil wizard. Perhaps that planted the seed in me. I’ve always loved stories about princess, and knights, and magic. I watch The Last Unicorn movie probably a hundred times as a kid. The Never Ending Story as well.
What inspires you to write?
I get inspiration from pretty much everywhere. But the main thing that drives me to write is that telling stories is part of who I am. I feel incomplete and empty when I am not writing. Reading is probably the biggest source of inspiration for me. I read great stories and then must go out and craft my own.
How do you balance family and friends with writing? Other hobbies? Other jobs? etc.
I’m not sure yet. I’m still working on that. The biggest thing is that I have to make writing a priority. I also work part time and am a stay at home mom. With all my responsibilities I often have to sacrifice one or another in order that the others get done. I just try and make sure that my writing does not get sacrificed too often.
I also try to find ways that I can multitask. If I’m up late with a toddler that is having trouble sleeping I open my laptop and start writing. It’s not always my best work and often needs a lot of revision–but getting something on the page is the place to start.
Best coping mechanism for writer’s block?
Reading. Since reading opens up my imagination and inspires me it is really good at banishing writers block. Reworking my outline helps too. Usually when I am stuck it is because I’m not sure where I am going. So I make a more detailed outline or rework the one I have.
Taking showers, doing the dishes and going for a walk or drive helps too. Doing something that allows my subconscious mind wander and work through the issues I’m facing is a really good thing. Often the inspiration will strike while I am doing something ordinary and then I am off writing again.
Are you a planner? Or a discovery writer? Or a little bit of both? How does writing work for you?
As far as plot goes–I’m a planner. I do a chapter by chapter outline before I write a single word. This helps me keep focused on where I am going. Also, if I know what is coming next I can be thinking and planning the scene while attending to my other responsibilities.
I do discover little details about my characters and my world along the way. But on the whole I plan things out.
If you were a flower…what would you be, and why?
I actually took a quiz once and it told me I am a Snapdragon. I thought it was a very appropriate choice 🙂
Do you listen to music as you write? If so, what kind?
I don’t. Music distracts me. I usually have silence or disorganized noise, like people talking or a toddler playing. 
However, sometimes when I free write I do listen to music, it’s always instrumental and often movie soundtracks. John Williams is one of my favorite composers.
What do you see for yourself when you look ten years down the road
I hope to have ten more books written and published 🙂 I know I’ll still be writing and still be enjoying my family. Beyond that I have learned that you can plan and hope all you want–but life has a way of throwing you curve balls so you have to learn to roll with it.
Who do you write for?
I write for myself because it is part of who I am. It is my release, my creative outlet. I hope too, that one day my books will inspire someone to love reading or writing.
I hated reading as a child. My mother, bless her heart, stuck with it and taught me how. It wasn’t until I picked up The Boxcar Children that I fell in love with reading. I have devoured books ever since. There are several books and authors that have inspired me and I hope one day to inspire others.
What has been the most rewarding part of writing so far? Why?
Finishing. Finishing a book, not just a draft but being really done. Self publishing was a lot of work, and will continue to be work. But being able to say that I wrote a book and that it is out there feels very rewarding to me.
February 24, 2014

What magic looks like: Nine imagery questions for fantasy writers

What does magic look like?

What does magic look like?

My little sister and I used to play I Dream of Jeannie. I have fond memories of her lifting her folded arms, nodding her head and blinking and then explaining whatever magic she had just performed.

It was beyond fun. It was a practice in imagination for us both, an exercise in feeling powerful.

Which, I think, is one of the reasons writing fantasy appeals to me. Writing about using magic brings the same powerful feeling that playing magic did when I was a child. I still love to think about what magic looks like.

Writers are faced with a different type of challenge, though. They can’t just tell their playmates about their pretend magic and expect them to accept it. They have to explain it, describe it, use imagery to plant the picture of what magic looks like into their reader’s brains.

Is imagery what convinces readers that the magic is real, at least in the setting of a book? If so, maybe it’s what helps the magic feel real enough to keep fantasy readers turning pages. And buying books.

My advice to myself, and to other fantasy authors: Know what your magic looks like. Know the rules for its use, know how often it’s used and what the consequences for using it are, but most importantly, know how to describe it to your readers.

When I write, I often make lists to follow that help me cover all my bases. Here’s a list of the type of questions I use when I’m trying to create the imagery of a particular piece of magic:

  1. Does the magic have a color? If so, what is it? Bright blue? Mud green? Are there different kinds of colors for different kinds of magic?
  2. How luminescent is it? Does it glow? Or hide in the shadows, barely noticeable to an untrained mind?
  3. How quickly does it move, and what verbs can I use to address that? Does it zing across space, or slither along the edges of a wall, or meander, or cozy up to something?
  4. How loud is it? Is it a breath, a whisper, a choke? A shout, a clash, a thunder? How do the ears of my characters feel when magic is going on around them?
  5. Does magic have a tangible feeling? If a character touched it, would they burn? Or freeze? Would the magic grate against their skin, or slide, or bounce, or caress? And again, are there different feelings for different types of magic?
  6. What types of scents does the magic carry? Something acrid? Smoky or fresh? Bitter or sour or sweet?
  7. As a character detects a scent of magic, do they taste it as well? And if so, what expressions will cross that character’s face?
  8. How does the magic interact with the world around it?
  9. How do characters feel emotionally during a magic episode? And how do they show how they feel? Does the magic cause fear, and if so, do the characters run or fight or try to shield themselves? How fast do their hearts beat?

I’m sure there are a host of other questions fantasy writers can ask themselves as they write magic scenes. These are just a few, and realistically, they apply to all sorts of action sequences.

In my mind, they apply to magic in particular, because who really sees and hears and smells magic in the real world? No matter how many video games we play, or how many television shows we watch, some things still take a little brain power.

Imagining and writing about magic requires a level of creative thinking that can evoke the strong emotions (the kind that sells books).

That’s what really makes writing about magic powerful.

February 15, 2014

We write because we love to write

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

There’s an interesting post over at Author’s Promoter about why writers write, including a pie chart showing the writing reasons of a hundred different published authors.

Among the top purposes writers listed for writing was they had to…they felt they couldn’t survive without it (that answer was second only to writing to express themselves), and I wondered how many authors I know feel the same way.

It also gave me cause for reflection. Over the years, the reasons why I write have changed.

  • Twenty years ago, I wrote to entertain myself.
  • Fifteen years ago, I wrote with the hope I would someday entertain others, and someday maybe even make some money off my writing…not a bad dream. 🙂 
  • Ten years ago, I wrote to educate myself, to educate others and to share with others the delight I felt in the world around me. This came mostly in the form of freelance articles rather than book-authoring, though.
  • Five years ago, I wrote because it was my profession. (Freelance journalism, again, but I had found some success.)
  • During the past three years, I’ve written primarily because writing relaxed me and supported me across some rough waters.  Words flocked around me like friends, drawing me out of myself and into the wider world.

The reasons I write  now are kind of a combination of everything. I still write to entertain myself. I still write to educate myself (though not as much as I once did), and I again write to share my joy in daily life. I still write books, and I still occasionally write articles.

I write because the ideas in my head won’t leave me alone until I’ve at least scribbled them down in a notebook somewhere. And I write because my family enjoys me better when I’ve written something.

Interestingly, only three percent of the authors interviewed said they wrote as their profession. Only two percent wrote to entertain, and only two percent wrote for exposure and fame.

Which leads me to believe that most writers are like me.

We write because we love to write.

Is this true? Please let me know why you write.

 

 

 

February 4, 2014

Kindles, blogging and changes

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Oh, how I have loved my Kindle. It’s been a companion for me for almost three years now, filling the gaps in my time while I sat in waiting rooms, the car, and, most often, here at home.

Imagine my distress when it didn’t power on last week.

Thankfully, it was just a low battery (I think). I’ve been careful to keep it charged since then, but it did bring to mind the fact that everything changes.

Even this blog.

If I remember right, I started blogging here in the spring of 2011, and I promptly took a really long break while my family moved and settled into our new home. I tried blogging again in late 2012 and followed through with some serious blogging until about April of last year. Then I took another long break, blogging only here and there for the past several months. All this after writing a blog about North Dakota for two years, and then setting that one aside for good…

BottledWorder has an excellent post about this sort of thing. To answer her questions–yes, I have taken several breaks from writing–and yes, I always miss it.  I always come back to it.

It does, however, sometime seem necessary for me to take a step back and re-evaluate what I’m doing, especially whether it’s fitting in with my overall life. I enjoy too many things too much to keep them all on the back shelf while I’m writing. This past year, my writing hiatus led to the idea of a no-deadline kind of lifestyle.

I’m now ready to report on that experiment. Except, I don’t really know what to say.

I don’t miss the stress of deadlines, especially the ones I place on myself.

I do miss the happy-busy-writing feel that blogging gives me. It’s a quick fix when I can’t get to my other works-in-progress.

I don’t miss writing by an editorial calendar (mostly because I tend to pack it too full of things I can never really get to, which means I have to keep revising my plan).

I do miss the surprising twists blog posts sometimes seem to take.

I don’t miss the moments when I’m scrambling for a picture I deem blog-worthy enough to attend my writing.

I do miss regular interaction with all my blogging friends. I’m sorry to say that if I’m not blogging, I’m not online enough to read other blogs, either. I’ve missed it, and it’s made me realize just how important other bloggers are to me.

So I guess the bottom line is this: I want to blog more. Again.

No promises on how much or when, but since I’m a work in progress, I guess this blog has to change with me.

I suppose that’s really part of the fun of it, anyway. 🙂

 

 

 

January 15, 2014

Experiments in Creative Writing

Best-selling writing elicits emotions strong enough to move a reader to action. Could this apply to blogs?

Discovery writing + a good writing friend = happiness

A few years ago, a friend and I began collaborating on what we hoped would be a book-length project built around letters that two characters write to each other.

The idea was sparked when a mutual friend introduced both of us to Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, by Patricia Wrede and Carolyn Stevermer.  We loved it.

We also really loved the idea of writing back and forth as fictional characters. There are some definite advantages to collaborating on a work like this:

  • If you’re looking for inspiration, the other characters’ letter usually provides some.  Many return letters begin by simply reacting to what the first character wrote, but by the end of the letter, ideas seem to flow.
  • There’s a built-in support network here. Because we get so excited about what we’re working on, this friend and I talk by telephone, text and e-mail  several times each week. We convey our initial reactions to the letters, and this usually leads to long happy conversations about writing in general. It’s an easy way to avoid the isolation writer’s sometimes feel.
  • Because we have so many discussions about writing as an art, we both come away with ideas for making our own writing better. It’s slowly getting easier to see what’s necessary to a plot line and what can be left out. I appreciate that.

We do have some simple rules for ourselves. The most important one is that we can never, ever give away our future plot lines to each other. That’s hard when we’re talking about the letters, but also fun because we both love surprising each other.

The other rule is to discover-write this piece–no outlining allowed, at least for the first draft. We allow ourselves to do some character sketching and have some plot ideas in mind, and that’s it. The idea here is that we’re doing this for fun, and we don’t want it to feel like work.

Although it may take several revisions to really get it into shape, the project rolls ahead almost without effort. I’m excited to see where it goes.

My second experiment, to journal what I get done every day instead of setting goals, has mixed results. The winter holidays derailed me, but as life normalized, I found that focusing on the process rather than on a finished product is quite a bit of fun.  And I really love fun.

November 20, 2013

When writer’s block is a physical thing

frozen grass

Sometimes writer’s block can be a physical thing.

As I write this, I’m thinking back across the past twelve years of my life and the events that have both shaped and interrupted my writing.

There were new babies, changes in jobs, health challenges, visits from friends and family from out of state, summertime gardens and winter sledding excursions. Once there was an almost-debilitating legal battle with someone I had considered a friend, and two other times, my family and I moved across the country.

While these life changes have generally resulted in a more mellow me, there’s no denying this fact: a difficult new mental landscape can keep writers from their works-in-progress, at least until they learn new routines that allow them time to sit and write. Also, life changes don’t impact just the mental and emotional state of writers. They can have profound impacts on how and when the laundry and dishes get washed, when the bills get paid and even what kind of transportation writers use.

I’ve been lucky lately. I’ve actually made it to my desk every day this week, and each time, I make a little progress on my writing projects.

Not a lot. A little…some days, a very little…but the joy of writing is still joy, and I cherish those fifteen-minute segments. They’re often the highlight of the day.

Writing is always in my plans, and I hope as I navigate the current set of changes, I’ll find a way to move my beloved hobby further up the list of my priorities.

For the past few hours as I’ve contemplated my writing, I’ve had an image in my mind of tall grass poking out of the snow. I used to see this quite a bit in North Dakota winters, and the beauty of it always amazed me–especially on bright sunny mornings, when ice crystals clung to the grasses. Those were dazzling mornings of gold and diamonds.

I’m not saying that my writing is gold and diamonds–although, of course, I hope it is. I just appreciate knowing it’s still there, even though sometimes it has to winter over. It pokes its head up now and then, enjoys the sunlight and makes me smile.

 

September 30, 2013

Favorite scents to write to

My office scent-dispenser

My office scent-dispenser

I often see posts from other writers about songs that inspire them, but what about scents? Is there a favorite scent that sparks the imagination more than others?

Personally, I think I work quite well to the scent of clean. In my home, this seems to be a mix of citrus scents, light floral scents and an occasional very light whiff of bleach. I’m sure this is because I’m less distracted when my home is clean. However, I’m starting to wonder if there’s more to it than that.

Years ago, someone told me people think more clearly when they smell peppermint. If I remember right, it had something to do with helping oxygen cross the blood-brain barrier. I wondered about it for a long time, particularly after the school my daughters were attending started passing out peppermint gum for children to chew during testing situations.

More recently, I read about an experiment in Belgium where the scent of chocolate was studied as a way to aid marketing. The outcome was intriguing: sales in romance books or books related to foods rose 40 percent, while sales in other genres saw an increase of 22 percent.

From the article:

Researchers observed every fifth customer who came into the store, for a total of 201 customers. They observed “purchase-related” customer behaviors like looking at several books closely, reading the summaries of books, hanging out in the store, talking with staff and asking questions.

And:

Overall, the researchers found that patrons were twice as likely to look at multiple books closely and read what they were about when the scent was in the air. They were nearly three times as likely to interact with personnel and ask questions after browsing the whole store.

I have two thoughts on the matter:

  1. Someone should invent chocolate-scented paper and/or chocolate-scented e-book readers.
  2. I stay at my desk and get more work done when my Scentsy-type candle warmer is on…could this be because I keep mint chocolate scented wax in there?

Hmmm. Food for thought…please pardon the pun.

Just for fun, I raided the drawer where I keep all my scented wax cubes to see what I use most. Here’s the verdict:

Mint chocolate still comes in first.

Scents with lavender are a close second, and then scents with cinnamon and/or vanilla. I also really, really like scents that remind me of the woods. I use white pine, spruce and Christmas-y scents, although not so much in my office—those are mostly used in other areas of my home.

I’m reminded of a friend who goes to the library to write, partly because with three children, it’s the only time she has to herself. When I think about it, I always remember the smell of old books. I think I could write to that, too.

I’m also reminded of a horrible incident where, unbeknownst to me, half a can of tomato juice spilled on a neglected stack of papers behind my office door in North Dakota. During this time, I was working twelve hour days covering the state legislative session for a local paper. Because I was so busy keeping up with the daily deadlines, I didn’t have time to look for the source of the smell until the weekend. By then, I couldn’t concentrate any more.

It was truly awful.

So now I have to ask: do other writers have favorite scents they write to? Or scents that make them unable to write at all?

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