Wednesday, April 20, 2011

R is for Resign...and Revise

So my friend Bruce told me that all my writerly stuff on my blog for the A to Z blogfest was sterile. Thank God someone finally said something. I have been feeling this way for the past 14 letters. So glad I am not the only one who has noticed my plunge into the land of Suck. 

Done with A to Z blogfest. Sorry. Blogfest fail.

I am not a joiner sadly. And as per usual, I can't stick with anything that limits my ability to publicly humiliate myself. Also, this blogging is sucking major time out of my WIP revision schedule. Bottom line: I have not been able to procrastinate adequately on my WIP and I blame blogging. 

Let's give it up for me getting past F.

Speaking of humiliation, it is time to get back to that action. I will try to come up with something good for Exercise in Humiliation Friday. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I will tell you five things about my week so far and you can guess which one of these did not happen:

1. A homeless woman asked me how many blocks were 15 M-I-L-E-S (she spelled it out) and then got mad at me when I gave her my el card and told her it would take her too long to walk to the shelter she was trying to get to (I saw the sheet--truly 15.8 miles away). 
2. I have eaten no white foods with the exception of cauliflower this week because I purchased a book on Amazon that promises a good body and a 15 minute orgasm if I refrain from white food consumption.
3. I got a kettlebell so I could have Michelle Obama arms and threw my back out after the second rep.
4. I wrote one revised chapter of my WIP and then sent it to Carrie because I am the NEEDIEST CP EVER and I am totally waiting for her to send me a letter breaking up with me.
5. I read a manuscript submission this week about a sexy gargoyle and have been looking longingly at tall buildings all week.

So which one of these didn't happen????  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

P is for Passive

I live in a passive house. My husband and I alternate ignoring the kids in hopes that the other one will step up and do something about them. Only when it gets really bad ("Mom, Biji set Butter's hair on fire") will one of us finally intervene and take action.

Okay...not really....I am actually a very direct, action-oriented person. Letting something stew is totally not in my nature.

And yet, my first drafts are wrought with the passive voice. My editor friend highlighted every "was" in my book and the finished product looked alarmingly like a cheetah with a million yellow spots.

First let me say that not every "was" is a passive one and although some editors may hate all uses of "was," in my opinion, there are times when it's the easiest way to get the job done. Sometimes spending too much time trying to take out every "was" leads to flow problems.

Example 1:
I was late.

Example 2:
I glanced at my watch. 9:15. The meeting started at 9:00. Crap. I shouldn't have shaved. Why does my flat iron always take so long to heat up? I am going to get one of those coffee makers you can set the night before.

Yes, the second example has more gusto but really, if the sequence you're writing about has more to do with what goes on at the meeting and less to do with lateness, Example 1 can work just fine. And sometimes those shaving/flat iron/coffee maker details can get in the way of things. (I swear I am not trying to avoid descriptive language).

Nevertheless, I still struggle with real passive voice (was + transitive verbs) in everything I write. And I constantly have to go back to undo things. Here is an example of passive voice and how to fix it:  

I was parked behind an ambulance waiting for my two kids to get out of school. I was pretty sure it wasn't a good sign that the lights of the ambulance were on and the back door was open.

I squeezed my car into the spot behind the ambulance with the flashing lights and the wide open back door. Umm...not exactly what a mother wants to see when picking her kids up from school.

Bottom line: Your voice comes through when you take out the passive voice. Write your first draft with some passive voice if you must (I do) but then pull it out of the second draft. That's when things will start getting interesting...

Monday, April 18, 2011

O is for...O....MG

You've probably heard that OMG is now in the Oxford English Dictionary. So is a definition for "muffin top." I am not sure how I feel about this. I have a good deal of interest in feminist linguistics and don't love the idea of muffin top (which is used almost exclusively to describe an affliction of girls and our troubling fashions) being an OED authorized part of our vocabulary.

But that's a debate for a different time. Today's discussion is about the status of my WIP RADIO STATIONS ARE FOR LOSERS.  Here's what I've done in the past six weeks on this:

1. Written one very short chapter. (accomplished in 2 hours)
2. Asked everyone and their sister if they think its really an MG novel and then disregarded them in order to continue stressing about it on my own. (still in progress)

There are a boatload of blog posts dedicated to this YA/MG distinction. I particularly like this one by Ani Louise. Yes, it should be fairly simple. After all, my characters are in high school.  And yet, I still have concerns about this not quite being YA.

First, my MC is 14 and at the beginning of her freshman year.
Second, the stakes aren't high in the way they are for GESTAPO.  (Yes, they don't get much higher than a girl dying and her boyfriend being implicated in it but there is also just a feeling in how my G characters interact that is A LOT older than RSAFL).
Third, it's a "first" love story.

Unfortunately, I have equal concerns over whether this fits in the MG area (not the least of which is my MC gives her love interest a chest hickey).

To be completely honest, I suspect all of this is just a way of procrastinating over revisions. I have lots of revisions to make and I need to just write the thing and figure it out least that's what I keep trying to tell myself.

Until I find someone new to ask if they think I'm writing MG or YA....

What are your favorite things to stress about to avoid writing/revising/getting something done?


Thursday, April 14, 2011

L is for Libraries...

And of course, for fictional characters, L is for Harry Potter's Luna Lovegood who is flaky, lovey, and obviously knows EVERYTHING.

I am obsessed with libraries. Until 3 days ago, I would say that my #1 favorite place to write was the Teen Section of our library. This provided not only a great place to check out all the new YA books, but also a great place to do research on teens. And teens hang at our local library for social reasons, not for reading/studying which makes it WAY better.

I always appreciated libraries but I had no idea all they could do until I had children. The programs for kids at my library are amazing: summer reading programs, donuts with dad, story times, game night, lego-building, theatrical performances, etc. For writers, the library serves as a meeting place for the local writers group, the SCBWI crit group, and lots of book discussions, etc. I feel very blessed to live in a community with such an amazing place.

I check out between 25-50 books per week for our family at the library. Sometimes people look at me like I am nuts but all the books do get read; there are 4 very different readers in my house. And the books for my 3yo get re-read several times each week. Friday afternoons in my house are Awesome because everyone is reading. Truly. It's almost zombie freaky how quiet it is.

Supporting libraries is a decision many communities are faced with at election time. I feel lucky that I live in a community where the majority of people voted in favor of a referendum to provide the libraries with more money. Not that I am excited by an increase in property taxes, but the yearly $90 from my property taxes that go to the library is completely worth it for how much we use it.

If you haven't been lately, go to your local library and ask the librarians (who usually rule) what is going on for writers. I bet you uncover more there than you even knew existed.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

K is for Knucklehead

For those following the fictional character thread of this blogfest: K is for Katniss Katniss Katniss. 

And speaking of the HUNGER GAMES, I read it over the summer. And loved it, which I wasn't expecting. Dystopia is not really my bag. I like my worlds to be a bit less depressing. That being said, I could not put HG down. 

When I finished it, I told Julio (my husband) about it. Dystopia is completely his bag. Every XBox360 game he has is seeped in this theme. And yet, when I described HUNGER GAMES to him, his reaction was this: 

J: "Yeah, I'm not going to read that, I've already seen the movie."
Me: "The movie hasn't come out yet."
J: "Yes, it has, it's called Tekken." 

Then, he proceeds to download the trailer on YouTube for me.  

Me: "You are such a knucklehead. Sometimes, I can't figure out how we managed to find each other."

Please back me up in pointing out how dissimilar these two things are. For the love of all literary integrity, please.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

H is for Heathers...

There are so many great fictional H characters: Harry, Hermoine, Helen. But when it comes to influences in my YA life, I can’t deny the Heathers. I saw this movie so many times in high school, I actually could recite whole scenes verbatim. My HS radio station even did a radio play version (with a lot of editing, obviously) where I got to be Veronica and it was one of the most fun things I ever did on the radio. 

Basic plot: Bad boy Slater moves into town, starts dating Winona Ryder, and the two of them end up killing a couple of popular people (accidentally, sort of). It’s not Natural Born Killers crazy, more a dark comedy about the cost of popularity. This movie did mean girls before anyone was talking about them. It did Columbine before anyone could even consider something like that happening. It turned issues like date rape and bulimia into a punch line but still managed to get the message across about how every teenager is seeking love and acceptance.

Added bonuses: croquet (“I get to be red”), paté (“Great paté but I gotta motor if I’m gonna get to this funeral on time”), and Hot Probs the radio program (total inspiration for my WIP RADIO STATIONS ARE FOR LOSERS).

Favorite Heathers quotes:

“This is Ohio. If you don’t have a brewski in your hand, you might as well be wearing a dress.”

Veronica: No, my life’s not perfect…I don’t really like my friends.
JD: Yeah…I don’t really like your friends either.

“It’s one thing to want someone out of your life, but it’s another thing to serve them a wake-up cup full of Liquid Draino”

“Our love is God, let’s go get a slushie.”

“My teenage angst bullshit has a body count.”

Friday, April 8, 2011

G is for Gooney Bird Greene

My G character is near and dear to my heart because it is so perfect for beginning readers. I have gone through these books with 2 of my 3 kids and they still absolutely delight me. I even turned my daughter's teacher onto Gooney Bird and she spent the school year reading all of them to her class.

For future writers (and readers):

Lois Lowry's Gooney Bird Greene introduces the elements of a story, poetry, fable, and expanding vocabulary to elementary kids. And she does it in such an Awesome way that kids fall in love with the books without being too aware they are learning at the same time.

For kids who just love great characters:

Gooney Bird is fabulous. She wears crazy outfits, tells great (absolutely true) stories, and is completely worshipped by her classmates for her oddity.  My 8yo also loves that Gooney Bird eats sushi for lunch. She is an absolutely beautifully written character that manages to seamlessly offset all the tween "I can't believe you're wearing THAT." My daughter has gone to school several times in what she calls a "Gooney Bird" outfit.

Favorite Gooney Bird stories:

"How Gooney Bird Came From China on a Flying Carpet"

"Why Gooney Bird Was Late For School Because She Was Directing a Symphony Orchestra"

"Beloved Catman Is Consumed By A Cow"

Thursday, April 7, 2011

F is for Francie Nolan

A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith---perhaps one of the greatest YA/adult crossover books ever written, ranking right up there with THE BOOK THIEF in its universal appeal.  It's the story of a young girl, daughter of an alcoholic father and an uneducated but incredibly determined mother, growing up in the Depression in immigrant New York.

So many Awesome things about Francie and I've probably read 500 books since I last read this one but here's what I remember STILL about the story (forgive my bad memory if I don't get this all exactly right)--

1. Francie doesn't drink her coffee. Her family is incredibly poor and they shouldn't waste anything but her mom gives her the opportunity to opt out of coffee. It's a tiny ounce of freedom in what would seemingly be a stifling environment. And it is all the more important because it comes from her mother. It is like the man who tends wounded feet in the concentration camp in Primo Levi's IF THIS IS A MAN. He trades his skills for rations of bread. It is a tiny freedom for the prisoners to decide if feet or food are more worth it, and the smallness of it makes an even greater impact.

2. Francie treats numbers and math like a narrative about a family. My sister read the math passage to my daughter when she was 5yo and complaining how she didn't numbers. Sometimes, we go back to it to remind her that numbers can be friendly and warm if you look at them from Francie's perspective. 

3. Francie was smart. She read every day from Shakespeare and the Bible. Her mom said she would only get somewhere if she was smart and could read smart books. Shakespeare and the Bible!  So Awesome. And even more Awesome that no one understood her when she started talking about people "begatting" children. I love how much Francie cherished the written word and it was truly a game changer for her in her life. I frequently feel this way when I see my kids reading. What would we do without books?

Favorite Francie quotes:

"Oh, magic hour when a child first knows it can read printed words!"

"Well, a person can only cry so long. Then he has to do something else with his time."

"Books became her friends, and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she was tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone, she could read a biography."   

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E is for Excuses, Excuses

My 3yo Butter hurt his leg and can't walk. I have to carry him around. He is like a sparrow with a broken wing. Very sad. And exhausting. 

I am forgoing E day...I will be back for F day tomorrow.

In the meantime, this is made me smile...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

D is for Darcy

I met my husband Julio when I was 23. I tell everyone I fell in love with him after hearing his laugh over the phone. My boss at the time was interviewing him and I was the go-between in setting up the interview (yes, some would read that as I was a secretary and they would be right; picture me as Jane Fonda in 9-5).

Julio wasn't looking to fall in love. He told me he wanted to date casually.

I thought about this for about a minute and then I said, "No, I don't think so. If you aren't my Mr. Darcy, you need to get out of the way because he is looking for me and I don't want to be tied down to some casual dater when he shows up."

The next day, Julio decided to become my Mr. Darcy. I don't say this lightly. I am much more high maintenance than Elizabeth. (I know, you're shocked). And I have four parents, not just two although none of them are a Mrs. Bennett, thank the Lord. Still my Julio has the integrity, loyalty, and strength of character of Mr. Darcy. And there is no doubt in my mind that he would lay down in traffic for any member of our family. *Swoon*

Believe it or not, I hadn't read any Jane Austen until I lived in London as a 21 year old. I had taken tons of English classes in college but somehow, the Romantics sort of passed me by. (In the meantime, I managed to read EVERY play that Shakespeare wrote). But I happened to be in London when the BBC first released their epic Pride & Prejudice soap opera. I call it a soap opera because each part was aired once a week and we students got together and watched it with the voracity of the people who have American Idol parties these days. After the series was over, I read all of Jane Austen.

Here's why I love is his change that really drives the plot of P&P. Elizabeth, not so much. Darcy is the character that we all grow to love. He is the character whose evolution is the most riveting.

Plus, you know...the casting didn't suck either.

Monday, April 4, 2011

C is for Curious George!

I would like to take a moment to honor the brilliance of H.A. Rey. First, the premise of a curious monkey is Awesome and the device of using the man with the yellow hat to constantly save George from the shenanigans he gets himself into is completely brilliant.  Not to mention the ability to seamlessly throw George into a plethora of trouble in a mere thirty pages.  

To illustrate, let's take CURIOUS GEORGE GETS A MEDAL:

George starts off receiving a letter. He decides to write his own letter but makes a mess with the ink. In trying to clean up, he adds too many bubbles and ultimately, floods the room. He needs a pump to get the water out of the room. He decides to borrow the farmer's pump. He gets distracted by the animals and lets all the pigs out. He steals a cow but the farmer almost catches him so he hides on a clothesline. He jumps on a truck and ends up at a museum where he destroys the dinosaur exhibit. The museum curator is mad but luckily, the man with the yellow hat shows up and it turns out the curator wants George to be the first monkey to evacuate a rocket. 
George does it and earns a medal.  

All of this happens in one short book. It's completely brilliant. And I don't think I need to tell you how frequently I envision (or sadly experience) a Curious George scenario playing itself in my house with three small children.

Part of me wonders if I could pull off a YA book like this. The MG genre seems to have capitalized on the Curious George formula quite well.  Look at Percy Jackson.  Percy's quests are basically just a variation of George's curiosity. Ditto Mysterious Benedict Society.

But YA...hmmm...can you name any YA books that use the Curious George formula?  

Saturday, April 2, 2011

B is for Buffy...Obv!

So in continuing my fictional characters Secret Life A-Z Blogfest, I can't help but turn to Joss Whedon's Buffy for my B.

I am of the school of thought that all roads lead to YA (okay, if I must, I will also include MG but only for Carrie's benefit).  There are few things that I can't make YA related.  I believe I mentioned my ability to turn a Langston Hughes civil rights story into a YA novel, yes?  Tip of the iceberg, my friends.

My YA passion started early but certainly rose to epic proportions when Buffy the Vampire Slayer became my weekly obsession.  (Not lying, I had just delivered my first baby and made everyone but my husband leave the hospital room so I could watch Buffy).

Buffy is a whole plate of Awesome with Awesomesauce on the side.  If you haven't watched the seven seasons of fun, I am sad for you and encourage you to immediately remedy this problem.

And if that's not enough, you need to grab Joss Whedon's Buffy Season 8 Graphic Novel series.  Holy cow!

There is another B who is involved with vampires who will NEVER live up to the Awesome of Buffy.  So she will have to remain in the wings, curling into herself, and lamenting how unworthy she is of vampire love while Buffy kicks A$% all over the screen (or pages of graphic novel) asserting herself as the perfect balance of vulnerability and awesome female strength.

Notable Buffy quotes:

"So are you going to kill me or are we just making small talk?"

"Come on, we fight monsters, this is what we do. They show up, they scare us, I beat them up, and they go away."

And my favorite...

"If the apocalypse comes, beep me."