Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tiebreaker

Hmmm...

It appears I have a three way tie going for naming my mysterious bird...something I never considered. (Leave it to you guys to throw me for a loop).

I considered cheating and just voting for my favorite to break the tie, but I decided that would defeat the whole purpose. After all, I wanted your feedback, not mine.  Which means you guys are going to have to help me break the tie.

So I've created another poll widget with the 3 finalists  and I'm hoping you'll take a second to vote for your favorite (and again, feel free to tell your friends, family, and total strangers to cast their votes). Sorry if your first choice didn't make it...sometimes that happens in a democracy.  And in case you can't remember the details of the bird's description, I'm pasting them below.

Thanks for taking the time to vote. Can't wait to see which name wins!


Description
This is a species of bird that's part swan, part peacock, part crane and has silvery feathers and black eyes (wish I had a picture to show you but sadly it only exists in my brain). It only lays one egg in its entire lifetime, and it lays it on the first full moon of the fifth year of its life. But instead of laying it in a nest like other birds, it lays it in the ocean and lets the tide carry the egg away. The babies then hatch as orphans, having to survive on their own from birth and never knowing who their real parents are. They're also extremely beautiful and extremely rare and are famous for the mournful cry they make every time there's a full moon. I'll be using them as a metaphor for my main character, so it's really important for the name to be just right.



Monday, September 28, 2009

Comfort Foods

My husband has a cold (poor baby) and, wonderful wife that I am (don't you love how modest I am?), I went to the store to pick up all his favorite "sick" foods.  Which meant I stocked up on Cup-o-Noodles, Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup, apple juice, and crackers. And for dinner he wanted an egg salad sandwich. Isn't it funny what things we crave when we're sick?

I know for me, I crave tuna fish sandwiches (cut into triangles) and Cheetos, because that's what my mom always used to make for me when I had a cold. And if I have the flu I want Pepsi and Saltines to settle my stomach.

And yet I've also found the opposite can happen. I can't eat cherry or lemon lifesavers because they taste too much like cough drops. And hot tea tastes like medicine.  I always drank it when I had a sore throat and now when I drink it I feel like I must be sick.  And don't even get me started on apple juice. *shudders*

Which makes me wonder: if my mom had made me liver and onions when I was sick, would I crave that? (I don't know why she would make that...I don't really know why anyone would make that...but I'm just saying.) Conversely, if I always drank hot chocolate when I had a sore throat, would that taste like medicine?

And I think the answer is yes.

There's a reason why they call these foods "comfort foods," and it's not because they are actually more comforting than others. It's because of when and how we eat them. They're the kind of foods made in warm kitchens on cold days to be enjoyed with the whole family by a big roaring fire.  Or they're something simple and gentle, brought to you in bed on a tray along with your favorite movie and an extra blanket to snuggle with. And it's those things that really bring the comfort: the love, the warmth, the memories.

So as I go downstairs to make my husband a cup of hot tea (he, unlike me, craves it when he's sick) I'll throw this last question into the void. What are your favorite sick/comfort foods and why?

I look forward to reading your comments, and hope you'll take the time to share...

Saturday, September 26, 2009

So you wanna be a writer...

I'm starting to notice that most people in this world have either a) written a book, b) started writing a book, or c) are thinking about writing a book. And sadly I'm one of them. But sometimes I wish I wasn't. Why?

Because ninety percent of them are completely ridiculous.

For example, last night at a concert I got stuck talking to the very buzzed guy sitting next to me (long, rather uninteresting story involving saving seats while my husband visited with some of his friends who had chosen to brave the pit). And while he spent a large portion of the time hitting on me (despite my very obvious wedding ring), he spent the rest of the time talking about...you guessed it...his book.  Which was this horrible sounding nonfiction endeavor about...well, best I could tell...nothing. His goal was apparently to inspire 18-30 year olds to care. He just didn't seem to know what he wanted them to care about.

And as I sat there listening to him blather on (whilst scooting further away in my chair so he would stop "accidentally" brushing against my leg)  I found myself worrying, "Is this what I sound like when I talk about my book?"

I hope not.

I mean, I'm not buzzed, bald, and hitting on a married person--so that's already a few points in my favor.  Plus my book has--you know--a plot. And I'd like to think that I'm a better writer than the average drunk guy. But it's really hard to say. Because everyone and their brother wants to be a writer, thinks they can write, and thinks they have the next bestseller stored away in their brain.  And odds are they don't. So how do I know that I'm any different?

And the answer is, I don't.

But there's one way to find out.

I have to try. I have to write. I have to believe in myself and polish my draft and put myself out there.  I have to be an "unpublished" writer in order to become a "published" writer. And if that means having people look at me like I'd just told them I want to be a fairy princess when I say I'm trying to be a writer, so be it.

I'm not an annoying buzzed person at a concert and I think I have a pretty darn good story to tell. So I'm going to tell it. And we'll just have to wait and see what happens...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Indecision

Writing is all about making decisions, which is bad for me because I'm a very indecisive person. So I've decided....to enlist your help.

I've been obsessing over a particular creature's name for months now, and have finally realized I need more input. So that's where you come in. Below you'll see a poll I've created with my favorite options. Please vote and let me know which name you like best.

But before you can decide, you probably need a little more info.

What you're helping me name is a species of bird that's part swan, part peacock, part crane and has silvery feathers and black eyes (wish I had a picture to show you but sadly it only exists in my brain). It only lays one egg in its entire lifetime, and it lays it on the first full moon of the fifth year of its life. But instead of laying it in a nest like other birds, it lays it in the ocean and lets the tide carry the egg away. The babies then hatch as orphans, having to survive on their own from birth and never knowing who their real parents are. They're also extremely beautiful and extremely rare and are famous for the mournful cry they make every time there's a full moon. I'll be using them as a metaphor for my main character, so it's really important for the name to be just right.

So please take a second to vote. Have your friends vote. Have your family vote. Shoot, have total strangers vote--I don't mind. I just need input people.

Can't wait to see your answers!




Thursday, September 24, 2009

Roots and Origins

The English language is filled with sayings and cliches that most of us use on a regular basis. But have you ever wondered where those sayings came from?

Well, I have. In fact, I've recently spent quite a lot of time googling that very thing (part of the research for my book) and I've learned some weird and crazy things.

(Warning: I've tried to verify as much as I can, but this is still coming from the internet so it's possibly unreliable. I wouldn't quote me on this without looking into it further.)

"Frog in your throat"- Has nothing to do with the croaky quality your voice gets when you experience this particular phenomenon, but rather is a reference to a medieval medical practice where a live frog's head was placed in the patient's mouth. Apparently they believed the frog would inhale the infection and draw it away from the patient. (To which I have to say, "Ew," and I'm glad they don't do that anymore.)

"In the limelight"- Limelight was an amazingly bright white light that used an intense oxygen-hydrogen flame through a lime cylinder. At first it was used in lighthouses, but later the theater began using the limelight like a spotlight to direct the audience's attention to a certain actor, generally the star of the show.

"Go Berserk"- Viking warriors were extremely ferocious in battle (possibly due to a pre-battle ritual of consuming hallucinogenic mushrooms) and they generally fought wearing bearskins. The Old Norse pronunciation of bear skin was "berserkr," which eventually came to be associated with the crazy, ruthless fighting style of the Vikings.

"Hack"- In Victorian England the Hackney cart or "hack" was a carriage for hire. It was considered a low occupation, and eventually the word "hack" became associated with anyone who plies their trade strictly for cash.

"Long in the Tooth" - As horses age their gums recede, giving the impression that their teeth are longer. Thus an old, worn-out horse was "long in the tooth." Related to this is the saying "Never look a gift horse in the mouth," meaning it would be rude to check the teeth (and thus the quality) of a horse given for free.

"Daylight Robbery" or "Tax the Daylight" - This really was an actual tax, instituted in England by William III and was a tax on glass, specifically windows. Naturally the tax was despised, viewed as taking the very daylight and air from their lives, and many windows were bricked up either in protest or because the owner couldn't afford to pay. (I've actually seen the bricked up windows in the South Bank of London, where they were preserved for their history).

I could go on and on, but I think that's enough for now. If you enjoyed this let me know...there's plenty more where that came from.

Have a good day everyone!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Torn

Still in the month of no editing and I'm faced with a dilemma. I've been very good since my relapse on the 15th--nothing but new scenes. But last night I finally figured out what was wrong with one of the key scenes in my draft.

It was one of those, "Ah Ha!" moments that always seem to happen at 2 am and leave me laying there wondering if I'll be able to remember it or if I should drag myself out of bed to scribble it down (one of the primary reasons I sleep with a note pad on my nightstand). And long afterward I was still awake wondering, "why didn't I think of that earlier?" The solution seems so obvious now.

But here's the problem.

In order to implement these brilliant, inspired changes (and they really are good) I will have to edit the scene, which I vowed not to do until I finish my rough draft.  So it seems like I should just make thorough notes and revisit it later, right?

Except these are major, fundamental changes that ripple through multiple scenes, some of which I haven't written yet. So it feels impossible to move forward and write those new scenes without knowing how the earlier scene really plays out.

So I'm torn. What do I do? Have I found a good enough excuse to break my no editing rule? Or is my brain so desperate to return to editing that I've attached undue importance to these changes to try to rationalize my bad behavior?

It's hard to say. And I don't really know what I'm going to do.

But it's time to start writing now, so I guess I'll find out soon enough...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Pumpkin and Spice and Everything Nice

The signs of Fall are everywhere now. The pumpkin patch is setting up across the street. The Disney Store is filled with Halloween costumes. And while I still feel the familiar flutter in my stomach at these constant reminders of how quickly time is slipping away...I did find one bright spot on the horizon.

The Pumpkin Spice Latte is back.

Suddenly I remember why I love this time of year.

All my favorite places will soon be tempting me with pumpkin flavored delights. Pumpkin Pie ice cream. Pumpkin Smash smoothies. Pumpkin muffins. Pumpkin cupcakes. And, of course, good old fashioned pumpkin pie.

And while none of this is good for the diet (*sighs*), it's definitely good for the heart. Because it reminded me that I love Fall. I love watching the leaves change (even though Southern California sadly doesn't get the bright colors of New England). I love dusting off my jackets and boots and wearing something besides shorts and T-Shirts. I love watching the days get shorter and colder. And most of all, I love that everywhere you go smells like cinnamon and nutmeg and ginger. It's like the season wraps you up in a big, spicy blanket and tells you everything is going to be okay.

So I'm not panicking anymore about how little time I have left in the year, or how quickly the days are flying by. Because there's plenty of good things to look forward to--even after I turn 28. :)

Anyone else in the mood for pumpkin pie now?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Victory!

I've already admitted to my obsession with Twitter, but now I have a reason to love it even more--if that were possible!

Thanks to this wonderful, amazing website I received a compliment--yes, you heard me right--a real, personal compliment from one of my favorite writers.

How did this miraculous event happen?

Well, this might not make a whole lot of sense if you don't use Twitter (which you seriously need to start doing) but essentially, if you like someone on Twitter you can choose to "follow" them--very much the same way you can follow this blog if you want to (though some of you seem to be afraid to click that little follow button!). So naturally I follow any of my favorite writers who use Twitter, which means I can see anything they tweet on my homepage (are you with me so far?).

But just because I'm following them doesn't mean they'll follow me (after all, they're big, famous writers and I'm well...me). So I try to @reply them occasionally to see if they'll notice me (an @reply is basically Twitter's version of email. It sends your tweet to a separate place in the person's account that they can choose to read or not. Make sense?). I don't do it very often because I don't want to be annoying, but sometimes it gets them to start following me (I now have 4 of my favorite writers following me because of this). And by following me, they're now getting all of my tweets.

So when Michael Buckley (he writes the Sisters Grimm books I recommended a few weeks ago) tweeted that his new book N.E.R.D.S. (National Espionage Rescue and Defense Society) had been released, I took the opportunity to @reply him that I had just finished reading it and loved it.  Within a few hours he was following me, and I was happy dancing around the room.

But I figured that was the full extent of it (that's all I've gotten from the other authors who follow me). So you can imagine my surprise when the next day I found an @reply from him on my homepage, complimenting me on how funny my tweets are. I won't quote his tweet directly, because he said something about peeing his pants and told me not to tell anyone (you guys can keep that secret right?) but I've read it so many times I totally have it memorized.  And it makes me smile every time.

Now, I know, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't mean a whole lot. It's not like he said he likes my book or my writing, and it's certainly not like he offered to help me find an agent or a publishing deal. Nor do I expect him to ever @reply me again. But still...

A New York Times Best Selling Author told me he thinks I'm funny!

That has to mean something.

If nothing else, it sure motivates me to keep going. Because if I can earn a compliment for the silly things I tweet about...surely I can do the same with a book I've poured my heart and soul into.

So whenever I start to feel blocked, or frustrated, or tired of spending all my free time working on this book, I'm going to reread that tweet and remind myself that someone likes what I have to say. It's a teeny, tiny, insignificant first step. But it's still a step in the right direction.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Writing Buddy

Writing can be kind of a lonely process (there's a reason why writers are often thought of as recluses). So it's been nice that one of my cats has become my little writing buddy, keeping me company during the long hours I spend locked in my bedroom with nothing but my laptop, my music, and the voices in my head.

This is Theo (AKA: The Gremlin):



Cute, isn't he? Well, that's because he's asleep in this picture.

If I'm honest, he's usually my least favorite out of my five cats. (*pauses so you can get the crazy cat lady jokes out of your system*)

The reason for this is his mouth.

He was screaming at the top of his lungs in the cage at the animal shelter when we rescued him (one of the primary reasons why I suggested to my husband that we consider a different kitten...but he was unfortunately already in love with the little gray poof ball). And he hasn't stopped yelling since.

He wakes me every morning by crying in my face. He screams when he wants his breakfast. He screams when he wants treats. He screams when he wants dinner. He cries when I'm cooking something in the kitchen that smells good (I dread making tuna). He yells when I'm in the shower and he can't get to me. He cries when he wants up on the bathroom counter (stupid cat is also afraid to jump...I swear he's defective). And then there are the times when he cries for no reason... Those are especially fun.

We've tried scolding him. We've tried punishing him (squirting him with water is pretty entertaining). We tried locking him out of the room. Nothing helps. In fact, all we've done is create a maneuver we call the "yell and run" where all we see is a streak of gray accompanied by the doppler shift of his scream. There's just no shutting him up.

So he has always ranked very low on the totem pole of my affection. Until I started writing my draft...

Because while the other cats prefer to sleep downstairs on the couch so they can look out the window (and cover my cream colored couch with their black and gray fur, *sighs*), Theo has decided he'd rather sleep on the bed next to me while I write. And I love him for it.

I never see him more content than when he's curled up in a rumpled gray ball on my laptop case as I pound out my story. He doesn't cry. He barely moves.  Occasionally he even purrs and nuzzles his whiskered little face against my side. And he stays there with me all day, keeping me company and giving me a little furry body to stroke when I need a break. It makes a huge difference, and I've found that on days he doesn't come join me I miss him. Sometimes I even call for him.

So I guess that's another good thing that's come from writing this book. I finally found a use for Theo--something I didn't think was possible.  And now I don't fantasize about giving him away. Well...at least not all the time. I still get pretty tempted when it's food time...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Riddle Me This...

Okay, I've noticed that none of you are commenting on my posts, so today's blog is an attempt to coax you out of your little shells and show you that it's not scary. :)

Now, you all should know by now that I'm a word nerd (I think I've sufficiently pounded that point into the ground), but you may not realize that I have another, related obsession: Riddles.

I started collecting them when I was working on my previous book (now, sadly, cast aside for my current project) where riddles played an important role in the plot. But now I have all these fun riddles sitting around not being used, and that's just not fair to them. So I thought I'd share them with you.

But here's the catch.

I'm not going to give you the answers unless you ask for them. (*evil laugh*)

So if you want to know you'll just have to comment on my blog. You can make guesses, you can ask for the solutions, or you can live your life never having these riddles solved (if you can handle that kind of suspense). The choice is up to you. Enjoy!

Riddle #1
What force and strength cannot get through
I, with a gentle touch can do
And many in the street would stand
Were I not a friend at hand.
What am I?

Riddle #2
I am the beginning of eternity
The end of time and space
The beginning of every end
And the end of every place
What am I?

Riddle #3
My first is in ocean but never in sea
My second is in wasp but never in bee
My third is in glider and also in flight
My whole is a creature that comes out at night
What am I?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Progress Report

So, given that today is the midway point in my month of no editing, I thought I would use today's post to report on my progress. And I'll be honest...it's not going well.

It started out great. For the first week I wrote only new scenes, and closed several of the major gaps in my manuscript (I'm writing out of order, so my current draft has more holes than swiss cheese). But like a runner who took off too fast from the starting line, I soon found myself fading. I tried to rally. I worked on some scenes for later in the series (oh yes, my book is book one of a series--did I not mention?), which, while not adding to my current draft, does help me to see how the seeds I'm planting now are going to pay off later.

But then...disaster.

After being blocked for a couple of days I returned to my draft and started editing...figuring that was better than doing nothing. And for the last three days straight, I've done nothing but edit. (Feel free to yell at me. I promised you could.)

The problem is, certain scenes are really hard to write. Some scenes are so clear in my head that it's almost like they wrote themselves and all I did was transcribe them. And certain characters are so much fun to write that I could spend hours coming up with new scenes just so I could hang out with them longer. But then there's the other scenes. The scenes with the villains, who I hate spending time with. Or the sad scenes, where bad things happen to my characters. Or the scenes where something important has to be explained, but I can't think of a way to do it besides having the characters talk about it (boring!). Those are the scenes that make me want to beat my head against a wall or throw my laptop out the window. And those are really the only scenes I have left to write.

But I know what I have to do. I have to power through it. It's what I had to do with my portraits (back when I actually had time to draw). I would always avoid the hair--there's so many shadows and details...it takes forever. But sooner or later I had to draw it--otherwise I had a lovely portrait of a bald person.

It's the same thing with my book. Those scenes may be frustrating, and take a lot more time and effort to produce. But I can't finish my book without them. And this story is worth finishing. More than that--I owe it to my characters to finish. They were kind enough to share their story with me, the least I can do is finish telling it.

So I'm regrouping. I still have fifteen days left in this month and I'm determined to use them properly. No more editing. No more avoiding the hard stuff. I'm digging in my heals and drawing that hair (er--writing those scenes...I think I'm mixing up my metaphors). Starting right now.

And...go!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Time Flies

At the grocery store today I was stunned to see that all the summer items had been moved to the clearance isle, replaced with Halloween Candy. Halloween Candy. As in: that-holiday-that-comes-at-the-end-of-October-and-launches-the-Holiday-season. And my panicked thought was, "I'm not ready for this."

Now, part of that had to do with the fact that Halloween candy is one of my biggest weaknesses (second only to Easter candy) and as I'm trying to be good about my calories right now, I was none too happy to have a whole isle of delicious treats tempting me. (And yes...I bought some...I have no willpower when it comes to candy corn pumpkins). But diet guilt aside, what's really bothering me is, where has this year gone?

Yes, I know it's only mid-September and that stores put holiday stock out earlier every year in an effort to make us buy more of it. But still...how did it already become mid-September? How can there only be three-and-a-half months left before it's 2010. And seriously...how is it almost 2010? How can the whole y2k-milennium thing have been ten years ago. Am I the only one that feels this way?

Billy Crystal's character in City Slickers said, "Your twenties are a blur." Well, now I understand what he means. Now that I'm less than two months away from hitting 28, now that I'm six years out of college (six years! How did that happen?) and married five years and eleven years out of High School (eleven years--that's madness!) I get why he called it a blur. Because it feels like one. I had no concept of how much time was slipping by...but boy is it slipping.

Which leads me to my problem. My goal was to start submitting my book to agents by the end of the year and then hopefully be published before I turn 30. But that's not very far away! Where has the time gone? And what do I do now?

Well, I guess there's only one thing I can do: get cracking. No more slacking off. Time to finish this silly draft and see if I can reach that goal after all. And no more wasting time. Because time definitely flies...whether you're using it wisely or not.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Ella's Daring Journey

It was December 22,2007 (yes, I still remember the date...this was a traumatic day for me) and my husband and I were on our annual Vegas vacation. Naturally Ella was with us (she goes everywhere I go) and I left her on the bed in the morning when we left to go shopping--something I'd done hundreds of times before without any problem. But that day something went horribly, horribly wrong.

I noticed it as soon as I walked in the room: there was no blue elephant on the bed. Trying to be rational, I asked my husband if he had put Ella somewhere--perhaps back in the suitcase or in the closet--but he hadn't. So I made a quick walk around the room to see if she was on the floor somewhere.

She was gone.

I knew right away what must have happened. The maid's must not have noticed her this time and gathered her with the sheets. So I tried to stay calm and have my husband call housekeeping to find out where the sheets went after that. But it was not good news. Apparently they send their laundry to an off site facility where it is washed, folded and shipped back. When he explained that something important was wrapped up in those sheets and asked if they had some place where things like that would be sorted the answer was simply "no." Which meant Ella was gone forever.

I'd like to say I took the news with dignity and grace. But the truth was...I lost it. In my defense, at that time my doctor had me taking hormones, which made made my mood a lot more unstable. But I couldn't believe she was gone--just like that--and in such an unexpected way. In all the years I'd had her, I'd never considered anything like that happening. Sure, I knew she may eventually wear out, and of course if there were a flood or a fire I knew she'd be destroyed. But to have her whisked away from me so suddenly--from such a silly mistake...it was more than I was prepared to handle.

My poor husband--it's a really good thing he loves me. He didn't know what to do--and I don't blame him. His wife was curled up in a little ball on the bed crying (I can honestly remember wailing, "Now I'll never sleep again") and begging him to call the front desk and get the address for the laundry facility so we could drive there and try to sort through the sheets and find her (no really...I seriously wanted to do that). He tried to calm me down--telling me we'll scour ebay for another one and promising it'll be okay...but I was inconsolable. So he could do nothing but rub my back and hope I would eventually calm down.

At some point we heard the maids in the hallway and I begged him to go talk to them and see if there was any chance they might still be able to find her. But they could only confirm what the front desk had already told us. Ella was gone. I needed to accept it. But that was easier said than done.

I was still crying a few minutes later when there was a knock on the door. I figured it was hotel security coming to complain about my loud sobbing so I didn't really pay much attention when my husband answered. So you can imagine my absolute shock when he came back over to the bed after a minute and handed me a familiar bright blue elephant.

To this day I don't know where she was. I can only assume the sheets must not have been collected and the maids--bless their hearts--had decided to check and found her. It doesn't matter. What mattered was I had her back.

I learned three very important things that day. One: I was even more attached to that silly blue elephant than I realized. Two: I really needed to get off those stupid hormones and get ahold of myself. And, most importantly, three: I was never leaving Ella unprotected in a hotel room again. From now on Ella lives in the safe when we're not there, and I don't care if you think that's ridiculous. The safe is where you're supposed to keep your valuables, right? Well...what could be more valuable than Ella?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ella

Things didn't really go as planned at the hospital today, and there was a point when we were thinking of staying the night even though we hadn't packed an overnight bag. And while my husband immediately started listing off conventional concerns like toothbrushes and clean underwear, my mind went to something far more essential (and far more embarrassing): Ella. What would I do without my Ella?

For those of you who don't know, Ella is a bright blue stuffed elephant wearing a hawaiian shirt that I cannot sleep without. I've had her since I was four, and yes, I realize that being blue...the toy makers probably intended for her to be a boy. But she's my Ella--how did I come up with such an inspired, original name?-- and I say she's a girl. So there. And yes, I know it's ridiculous (and more than a little pathetic) that I still sleep with her. And I realize that being 27--and married--I should be able to sleep without my silly toy. But I can't. Believe me...I've tried.

In fact, I tried to give Ella up for good, and it didn't go so well. On the day of my wedding I intentionally left Ella out of my suitcase, figuring my new husband would be none to happy to spend the Honeymoon with me and a stuffed elephant. And I thought I was okay with the decision. But then my mom came to pick me up. She was trying to help me figure out if I'd forgotten to pack anything: toothbrush? hairbrush? sunscreen? shampoo? And I was nodding along, making a mental checklist. And then she turned to me and said, "Oh, what about Ella?"

Just the sound of the name made me break down in tears in the middle of my living room. I tried to explain that I was leaving her behind, growing up, becoming an adult--all that jazz. But the speech kind of lost it's impact as I sobbed through the whole thing. So when I was done my mom sighed, grabbed Ella from the bedroom and told me to stop being ridiculous and just take her. And so help me, I did.

Fortunately my husband is a very understanding man, and he has never complained about having to share the bed with Ella. And it's a good thing, because I really don't think I could sleep without her. I wouldn't know what to do with my arms. Where do I put them if they aren't hugging Ella? And what do I lean my face against? How do people do it? (No really, how do you do it? Isn't it weird?)

So I got very lucky that we ended up being able to go home tonight, and I'm thinking I might bring her with me if we have to go back the the hospital again. I'm not sure what would have happened if we'd had to stay...but I'm glad I didn't have to find out.

And, in case you were wondering what she looks like, here she is:


Isn't she precious?
Okay...maybe I'm a little biased. But I think she's adorable.
And tomorrow I'll tell you about the time I thought I lost her. It was not a good day.

Friday, September 11, 2009

What's in a name?

Naming characters is one of the hardest things I have to do as a writer, because not only do I have to like the name, but it also has to fit the personality of the character. Plus, I'm indecisive...and in case you haven't noticed, there's only about a zillion names out there to choose from.

So how do I do it?

Well...it's not really an exact science. I pick my names for a reason, and it's usually because the name says something to me about the character. Which means I spend quite a lot of time looking up meanings in Baby Name Books (and yes, the person always asks me if I'm pregnant when I buy those books...I hate that). If that doesn't help, I scour other languages (no really...I do). Dictionary.com has a language translator, and I've been known to spend hours taking adjectives and translating them into different languages to see if there's anything that sounds like a name. If that still doesn't help I'll turn to other literary works for characters that remind me of mine and see if I want to steal any part of their name. And if all else fails...I simply make something up. It's a very time consuming, annoying process (especially considering how many characters I've had to name) and I hate it. But it's important, so I do it.

Now, did you notice what I don't do?

I don't name my characters after my friends or family (sorry guys). And if I happen to use your name, or any variation thereof, I can assure you it has nothing to do with you. Why? Well...because it would open this huge, messy can of worms I'd rather not deal with. Because if I name a character after you, you're probably going to assume I've also based that character off of you (another thing I don't do, by the way), and then you're not going to be too happy with me when I let bad things happen to that character (and believe me, I show my characters no mercy). So it's just so much easier to keep your name out of it. There's only one character in my book that's been named and based off anything real, and he's a big fluffy cat named Marty. Everything else comes entirely from my imagination.

So why do I bring this up?

Well...because I'm finally getting close to finishing up my rough draft, which means in the next few months I might be letting some of you read it, and I don't want there to be any confusion. If you don't see your name in there (which most of you won't) please don't be offended. It's not because I don't like you or your name. It's because I just don't do that. And if you do see a tiny part of your name, or the name of your brother/sister/pet or even your imaginary friend, it's just a coincidence. It's not a compliment. It's not an insult. It simply is what it is: a name that fit the character. Please don't read anything more into it than that.

In fact, I'll make you a deal. I won't name any of my characters after you, and in return, you don't have to name any of your children after me. How does that sound?

Sounds fair to me. :)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Value of 1000 Words

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and you know what? I've always hated that saying. Because it implies that words are a lesser thing. Replaceable. Unnecessary even. And as a Word Nerd I take exception to that.

"But Shannon," you argue, "Doesn't a picture convey information with a single image that would take thousands and thousands of words to explain? Isn't that why it's such a famous saying?"

To which I say...not necessarily. For example, here's a lovely photo from my last vacation:

Sure, you can think it's a pretty picture, and if you've been to Edinburgh you might even recognize this as one of the cliffs near Hollyroodhouse Palace at the end of the Royal Mile. But that's about it. You would have no way of knowing that we stumbled upon this cliff completely by accident and were surprised to see a number of tourists tromping up the side of it. And you would have no idea that we decided to copy them, and soon found ourselves trudging through the slick grass with the cold northern wind biting against the backs of our necks and the scent of heather tickling our noses. Because no picture can describe scents and sensations. Sure, it can give you something pretty to look at. But it can't tell you the story behind it. For that, you need words. Lots of beautiful, descriptive words.

"But Shannon," you argue again. "That's not fair. If you'd chosen a different picture--perhaps one of you climbing the cliff, or maybe one of you at the top--I would have known the story. You stacked your argument unfairly."

To which I say, fine, let's try it your way. Here's one of me at the top:



And yes, you're right, you can tell I climbed to the top from this picture, and my heavy coat and the fact that my hands are in my pockets does suggest the chilly breeze nipping all around me. My slightly disheveled appearance even hints at the grueling climb (though you can't smell the heather...but maybe you don't care about that). But you're still missing most of the story. Because no single picture can tell you that I was sick with a cold that day, but was so captivated by the idea of tromping through the Scottish wild that I drug my husband up that cliff. Just like no picture is going to tell you that he fought me tooth and nail the first half of the journey and then got so caught up in it that when the trail ended and only a few brave people were climbing the impossibly steep rocks to continue on, he was suddenly arguing with me to keep going. Nor is it going to tell you that we went a little higher, but eventually realized we just didn't have the right shoes for the climb (and I was starting to need another dose of cold medicine) so we turned around, at which point we took this photo. And then we made the long, and slightly dangerous climb down, where we both slipped on the rocky path several times and barely made it back without falling. Sorry people, the only way you're going to know that story is if I tell you. And to do that, I have to use words.

So what's my point? Am I trying to convince you that pictures and photos are useless and unnecessary? Certainly not. I just wanted to point out that without words, most pictures fall fairly flat on their faces. And that's the reason why I take exception to that old cliche. It leads people to believe that pictures are more important than words, when really they both need each other. You could never get the whole story from a picture. But pictures still serve their purpose. Thanks to those pictures, I didn't have to waste time describing the green hills, the gray sky, the dark rocks, or the slightly frumpy green and white striped shirt I was wearing. Plus being able to see just how high the cliff really is certainly heightened the stakes of the story. So the words and the pictures needed each other. It's a symbiotic relationship, if you will.

So is a picture worth a thousand words? Probably. But don't throw away your dictionaries yet. If you want the whole story, you better plan on telling it. With words. Wonderful, amazing words.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Arachnophobia

I'll admit it: I hate spiders. Actually, hate really isn't a strong enough word, but neither is detest, abhor, loathe, or any of the other suggestions in my thesaurus. There isn't a strong enough word to encapsulate my fear and revulsion of those disgusting eight legged creepy crawlers. So I'll just have to go with hate.

Now, I know I'm not the only person on this planet to hate spiders (and certainly not the only girl). But it goes deeper than that. Spiders literally paralyze me with fear--even dead ones. I can't move, I can't think, I can barely breathe. And if I have to get near them...well...there's hysterical crying involved. And don't even bother with the whole, "You're a million times bigger than them," and "They're not going to hurt you," speeches. Doesn't matter. I never claimed this was a rational fear. It's completely irrational. So using logic or reason does nothing for me--nothing!

So how have I managed to survive with this kind of crippling phobia? Honestly, it's not easy. When I lived with my parents it was simpler: my parents killed the spiders. I didn't care if it was the middle of the night and I was a full grown teenager--they were waking up and killing the spider while I cowered in the corner and tried not to cry. But then I moved away to college and lived on my own for three years...

I'm not kidding when I say that the first time I found a spider in my apartment I seriously considered calling my manager to come kill it. The only thing that stopped me was that my manager was a six foot five three hundred pound guy with a fairly short temper, and upsetting him was even scarier than the eight legged vermin. So I found a way to do it on my own. It involved an entire can of bugspray, two pairs of rubber gloves, thick boots, a broom, and an umbrella (it was up on the ceiling), plus tons of screaming and crying and deep breathing but I finally killed that little sucker (and almost clogged my toilet when I flushed it cause I'd used so many tissues to pick up the carcass). I wish I could say it got easier after that, but it didn't. Actually, it got worse. So when I got married I made it very clear to my husband that he was taking on the responsibility of designated spider killer (I was tempted to put it in the vows). And he's been faithfully killing them ever since.

Except sometimes he's not home. The last time this happened it was a spider on the ceiling (why is it always the ceiling--why?) of our staircase, which was especially bad because I spotted it when I was upstairs and all the poison and umbrellas and rubber gloves were downstairs and there was no way I was walking underneath that thing (have you seen how fast they can repel down?). I tried calling my husband and begging him to take his lunch break early...but he refused (I still haven't entirely forgiven him) so I was on my own. After staring at it for who knows how long it finally moved over enough for me to run sobbing down the stairs to collect my spider killing supplies and wage battle with the beast. But I was shaking and crying the whole time, and a little traumatized for the rest of the day.

So imagine my dismay when right before bed last night I spotted a bright red beastie on my ceiling (seriously, WHY the ceiling?). My husband claims the look of horror on my face nearly gave him a heart attack. And he wasn't happy that he had to go get a ladder and take care of the problem after midnight after a long day. Nor was he happy that he then had to do a spider search of the rest of the bedroom, especially the bed and sheets (I'm convinced they travel in pairs and you just never see the other one). And he really wasn't happy when I still didn't feel safe and tried to talk him into looking again. What can I say? I know I'm being ridiculous--that doesn't mean I can stop.

My only defense is that I'm not afraid of much else. Snakes, rats, mice, lizards--they don't bother me at all. Maybe that isn't enough to make up for the debilitating phobia of spiders, but it still came in pretty handy when my husband found a garden snake under our trash bin outside and turned as white as a sheet. (And don't even get me started on the time there was a opossum in our garage. Honestly, who's afraid of a opossum?). Everyone's afraid of something. Even superman had a weakness. Spiders just happen to be my form of kryptonite. They haven't killed me yet...but darned if they don't keep trying.

In fact...all this spider talk is making me itchy. I think I need another search of the bedroom now, just to be safe.

"Oh honey....."

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Twitterpated

So...in case you can't already tell...I'm totally and completely addicted to Twitter. I'll admit, when I first heard about it I rolled my eyes and thought, "Now why would anyone want to do that?" But I was a fool--a fool I tell you!

It is seriously one of the greatest discoveries of my life (oh all right, of the last few months, at least). Who knew how many cool people were tweeters? All my favorite bands, tons of cool celebrities, most of my favorite writers--I can follow them all. I've found out about concert ticket presales and book signings. I even won a signed cover flat from one of my favorite authors in a twitter contest--how awesome is that? Plus it's a good way to keep in touch with my friends (or the cool ones who have twitter accounts at least...hint hint). With how crazy my schedule is right now I don't have a lot of time for phone calls or emails. But I can drop a quick tweet and if you're following me you'll know what I'm doing. It's kind of like free text messaging, only so much better.

Now, I know for all you non twitterphiles it all sounds silly and confusing. (I've seen your weird stares when I start talking about tweets and mentions and DM's and Re-Tweets.) But it's actually really easy once you play around with it a little and it's so much fun. Be careful though--it's insanely addictive. I've gotten a couple people started and they're almost as obsessed as I am now (you know who you are). So don't start unless you don't mind having an insatiable need to check your twitter page multiple times a day. And if you decide to join the dark side and create an account, be sure to follow me so I can follow you. I'm @packratx (that will make a lot more sense once you've created your account) and I tweet all the time.

Anyway, that's it for now. It's late and it's been a tough week so this is my first short blog entry (don't get used to it, I'll be back to my rambling self tomorrow).

Hope to see you in the Twitterverse!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Not Just For Kids

If you took the time to wade through my "Road to Writing" series, you saw my brief section on the wonder that is Children's Literature. But I feel so strongly on this subject that I wanted to dedicate an entire post to it to really pound the point home. Kids books are not just for kids. Sure, if you're a book snob and only like to read thick intellectual volumes you probably won't enjoy them. But if you're not a boring stuffed shirt and still aren't reading them I beg you to give them a chance.

To be clear, there's all different levels of Children's literature (since kids read at different levels) and not all levels are as adult appropriate. Personally, I still enjoy a good picture book or early Early Readers chapter book...but I'm weird. For the rest of you, you want to pick from the Young Adult books, which are generally split into two categories: Middle Grade (9-12) and Teen (12 and up). But don't let those age ranges shy you away from Middle Grade. Middle Grade is my favorite. And I guarantee, if you give them a chance you'll never feel like the books are beneath you.

So let's talk books.

Actually, first, I should probably offer one disclaimer. I do read fantasy. I know some of you might not like fairytales or magic, and that's totally your call. But I love it. I love Disney (have you seen my house?), I love fairytales, and magic doesn't bother me in the least (so long as it's not creepy). So most of the books I'm about to recommend have some element of fantasy to them. Please don't be offended.

Okay, now let's talk books.

The first YA book I bought and read was Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine. I love all her books (well, Ever is a little strange) but I don't think any can top Ella. It's a re-telling of Cinderella, where this time she's a strong willed girl suffering from a horrible fairy's curse that forces her to obey every command she's given, even if the command is to chop off her own head. It somehow manages to keep all the best parts of the original story and yet give it so much more. And please don't judge it against the silly movie with Anne Hathaway released a few years ago. The book is so much better than that. In fact, it's the book that made me want to write for young adults, and I still get jealous of her writing every time I read it.

If you like Ella, then I would also recommend anything by Shannon Hale (she has my name and my dream job...grrr). Like Gail Carson Levine, she takes old fairytales and retells them in a more modern way, transforming the females into much stronger, more multi-faceted characters. But she tends to pick the more obscure fairytales for her books. My favorite is Princess Academy, which also won a Newberry Honor (and totally deserved it), but any of her Books of Bayern are amazing. And Book of a Thousand Days is stunning (I have my signed copy proudly on display in my bedroom).

For those of you looking for something a little less girly, you have to try Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. It's all about greek gods creating Half-Bloods and causing chaos in our world, so if you don't like Greek mythology it's probably not for you. But they're seriously some of the funniest books I've ever read. I'm not one to laugh out loud while reading, but these books have me cracking up, and every few months I find myself desperate to read through the series again. And if you want something funny that doesn't have any magic or mythology, Rick Riordan also started The 39 Clues series. They're short books, but they're hilarious, and you get to follow the Cahill family on a quest to solve thirty nine clues that will lead to the greatest treasure in the world. They series isn't finished yet, (the books come out every three months by different authors) but they're worth the wait. I even got Miles hooked on them, and he hates to read.

Obviously I could go on and on about this, but I'll try to control myself and keep the next ones brief (please don't let that make you think these books are any less wonderful than the others). Michael Buckley's The Sister's Grimm series is fantastic (especially if you like fairytale reinventions) as is Lemony Snickett's A Series of Unfortunate Events. Trenton Lee Stewart has a couple of excellent books about child geniuses called The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey. And Dean Lorey's Nightmare Academy series is perfectly described as "Monsters Inc. meets Harry Potter meets Men In Black." Good Stuff.

But there's two more books I have to take a moment to mention, and then I promise I'll stop. Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games and its sequel Catching Fire. Now, I warn you, these are not fun and fluffy like the others I've mentioned, nor are they particularly easy to read. But they are some of the most incredible books I've found in a long time. They're set in a post-apocalyptic world where the average citizen is at the mercy of a corrupt government that lets them starve and slave their lives away and kills (or worse) anyone who even thinks about rebelling. And as punishment for a previous rebellion, every year 24 children (ages 12-18) are forced to compete in a nightmare Reality-TV Show called 'The Hunger Games"where they must kill or be killed while every citizen is forced to watch. So you can see why these are not light reading. If I'm honest, they're quite haunting. And while they won't make you cry (they didn't for me, anyway...though one scene came close) they certainly make you think, and once you pick them up they're almost impossible to put down. If you think you can handle following Katniss' struggle to retain her humanity and still survive the games, I highly, highly recommend them. But they're not for the faint of heart.

Okay, I guess that's enough for now, even though I've left out so many great books. In fact, I think I may just have to turn this into a series and periodically bombard you all with book recommendations. You don't have to take me up on them...but you're missing out if you don't. (Oh, and if any of you read any of them I'd love to know what you think).

Happy reading everyone!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Screenplays vs Books: What's the difference?

Since I already alluded to it in my post yesterday I thought I might as well end your suspense (I'm sure you've been holding your breath this whole time) and make today's blog about the difference between a book and a screenplay. Thus, I now present...

Screenplays vs. Books: What's the difference?

There's a reason why it's so rare for an author write the script for the movie adaption of their own novel, and it's not just Hollywood politics (though that does play a role). Screenplays and books are two completely different animals, and generally what makes one good will make the other deplorable, so it takes a very diverse writer to be able to pull off both.

The difference lies in the very essence of what they are. A book is an end product. It's written for the consumer, designed to pull them in and not let them escape until they've gobbled up every word, hopefully multiple times. A screenplay, on the other hand, is a means to an end. It's never going to be read by anyone other than industry professionals (or the occasional film geek who knows how to google) and it's not written to be. It even has its own format and its own shorthand, which the Average Joe wouldn't understand. Basically it's an instruction manual for how to make the film. The film is then presented to the masses, and the screenplay gets shoved in an archive somewhere and never thought of again.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not implying that screenplays are a lesser entity. I've read some amazing screenplays in my life (none of which were mine) and there's definitely an art to writing them. And believe me, I've studied that art...a lot. And honestly, I hated it. Because a good screenplay needs to be several things, and none of them fit with the way I think as a writer.

For one thing, it needs to be concise...and in case you haven't noticed, I can be kind of long winded. The average screenplay is around 120 pages, all of which have huge margins and tons of spacing, so every word is precious and must be chosen carefully. Dialogue is also essential and prose (any sort of description) is limited to an absolute bare minimum.

On top of that, a screenplay is written for specific targets: directors and actors. Now, most of you probably haven't met any directors, but I have and I can tell you they all have one thing in common: everything is all about their vision. Honestly, that's the way it should be, because you have to have vision to make a good film. But that makes it hard for the writer, because if you want to write something that will appeal to a director, you have to make an effort to leave your own vision out of it. Sure, you're still the writer, and you still get to leave your mark on things. But instead of writing every detail of the fantastic car chase between Freddie (in a minivan) and Vance (on a Vespa) through the streets of San Diego, your script should read something like this:

Freddy jumps in his minivan and speeds away. Vance hijacks a vespa and follows. Dramatic chase through the Gaslamp Quarter ensues.

And the reason for that is because, one: you don't have the room for that kind of description, and two: the director will want to come up with it himself. And it's the same thing with actors. You may want to put acting directions before each line of dialogue so everyone will know exactly how the character says it in your head. But an actor wants to come up with their own take on the character. So they don't want you telling them that they should say a line angrily or sadly or quietly. They want to decide that themselves. And none of this is a bad thing. Films are a "collaborative effort," so of course the screenplay should leave some room for interpretation. But I'm a bit of a control freak, and if I write a line of dialogue or a car chase I want to be the one to describe it. So it drove me crazy having to leave it up to someone else.

Finally, screenplays are extremely external--extremely visual. After all, the words are the blueprints for a movie, and movies are, by definition, a visual art. So if you want to show that a character is depressed, you have to do it visually. Sure, part of that comes from the actor's performance. But it also comes from the clothes you put the character in. The way their house looks. Maybe even the weather (ever notice how it's always raining when something bad happens in a movie?). Because you can't just have a character say, "I'm depressed" (well, you can, but it's not exactly good writing). And you also can't go into the character's head and let the audience hear their thoughts (unless you use a narrator, which is considered another no no). You have to find a better way to convey it. But that isn't the way I think. I love getting inside the character's heads, really exploring their deepest thoughts and feelings. And I couldn't do that in a screenplay. And it really stunted my writing.

So after four years of trying to find a happy medium, I finally accepted the truth: I'm not a great screenwriter. I'm an okay screenwriter. Sometimes I'm even a good screenwriter. And I was probably good enough to find work in Hollywood (after all, there certainly is enough horribly written stuff out there). But if I was going to put my ideas, my art--if you will--out there for all to see, I didn't want to to just be okay. I wanted it to be great...or at least the best I could do. And that meant writing books. So that's what I write.

And someday, if my book becomes a tremendous success and Hollywood wants to turn it into one of their summer blockbusters (hey, if you're gonna dream, dream big, right?) I want no part of the screenplay. Sure, I want to make sure they don't transform my characters into teenage prostitutes from another planet (you think I'm joking, but it can happen). But I'm not a screenwriter, and I don't want to be. Mind you, I'm not exactly losing sleep over this kind of decision (especially since I haven't even finished my rough draft yet). But it's always good to be prepared, right?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Goal Oriented

Since February of this year I have started every month with the exact same goal:

"This month I will finally finish my rough draft. I will. I will. I will."

And yet, despite my best efforts the month breezes by and at the end I still have an incomplete draft.

So given that today is the first day of a new month and, thanks to some unexpected (and rather unpleasant circumstances) I haven't touched my rough draft for the last four days, I'm finding myself contemplating the realistic nature of this goal. Am I setting myself up for failure by putting impossible deadlines on myself? Or am I doing something wrong with my approach to writing and dragging out the 'rough draft' process?

Honestly, I think it's a little of both.

Considering how time consuming writing is (and how much I have left to go) it probably is unrealistic to expect myself to finish the draft in thirty or thirty one days. It would most likely be much more realistic to say, "before my birthday" or, "by the end of the year." But I want so badly to be done that I fool myself into thinking I can do it faster than that. And so I set unrealistic goals and live in constant disappointment.

But I am also guilty of breaking several of the cardinal rules of writing, and I am sure that's what is really slowing me down. For one thing, I'm not working from an outline. I know where my story begins and I know where it ends and I know most of the major plot points along the way, but I never took the time to map it out scene by scene. This wasn't a lazy decision. Back when I took writing classes I found that when I worked from an outline it sucked the life out of the story, because everything was so preplanned and organized. Still, working without an outline means I often write scenes only to find I won't need them as soon as they're done. I've also changed several minor plot lines along the way which probably would have been corrected in the outline process. But I still think my draft will be better if I stick to this method (my scripts always were) so I'm going to hold to it. And I don't think this is my real problem anyway.

Really, the bigger sin I'm committing is editing. Every writing textbook/article/blog commands, "DO NOT EDIT UNTIL YOU WRITE THE ENTIRE DRAFT!" But I just can't help myself. I'm a perfectionist by nature, and I just can't leave a scene knowing I haven't gotten it quite right (because, let's face it, you never get it right on the first try). So I go back and edit. And then I edit some more. And then I let it sit for a few days and edit it again--all the while telling myself, "Stop it!" But I can't stop. I think I might have a sickness.

So in light of this, the big question is: am I going to change my goal for the month of September? And the answer is yes. I officially have a new goal.

Wait for it...

Okay: "I will only write new scenes. I will not edit. I won't! I won't! I won't!"

I'm hoping that by putting this in writing and launching it into the blogosphere I'll have a stronger motivation to stick to it. In fact, as an added incentive, I intend to blog about my progress at the end of the month, and you can all yell at me if I've broken my resolution. So there.

And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, if I stick to this goal this will turn out to be the month that I finish my rough draft. That would certainly be amazing...and more than a little ironic. But if not, I have a strong feeling I'll still have made more progress than I would have if I let myself edit. We'll have to wait and see.

Let the experiment begin...