Voice 101

I had this plan in my head to try and blog Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  I didn't follow the plan very diligently during the weeks leading up to Christmas because I figured, oh well - it's the holidays - people won't be reading blogs too much anyway.

But here it is, the week after Christmas, and a Wednesday, and try as I might, I've got nothin'.  There isn't a single topic rattling around in my head begging to be typed onto this computer screen.

I could sit here and bring up writing again, acting as though I completely know what I'm talking about, and offer advice to people out there in my same position, new authors, working on their craft, forging their way into new and unchartered territory.  But do I really know what I'm talking about?  I'm not sure yet.  Who knows if I do.  I know I love to write.  I know it's enjoyable and frustrating, time consuming and a wonderful distraction, delicious, yet it can leave a terrible taste in your mouth when you've hit a writing block and feel like your brain is stuck on permanent "duh" mode.  But other than that, I can't really claim to know that much, from a technical standpoint.  Yet even as I sit here and say that I don't know much, I already know that in a short time I'll probably pass on some more advice (when I finally think of something to share), hoping there's someone out there who didn't already know it.

So today, and possibly for the next few Wednesdays, since my kids are out of school and I'm taking every opportunity to read like crazy before the school routine resumes and my brain turns to back to mush, my topic isn't going to be about writing - it's going to be about reading - more specifically, voices that leave a lasting impression on the reader.  

I recently finished reading a book that, to be honest, I probably wouldn't recommend to half of the people I know.  Not because it was bad writing (in fact, I thought it was great), but the author wrote in first person, from a male's point of view - so it pretty much said everything the protagonist was thinking, in full detail.  And though I'd never write anything like that, it had me sucked in - feeling sorry for the main character, anxious to hear what happened next, anticipating just how everything was going to come together (or not) in the end.  

I wondered if I will do my readers the same justice - if what I have to say will be entertaining, even during the "down" moments of the plot. Which brings me to today's topic - the voice - from a reader's POV.  I'd love to hear what has sucked you in, my readers - the kind of characters you get into - those that make you forget about time and the dirty dishes sitting in the sink and the laundry piling up next to the washing machine.  

You can name a specific book, describe a protagonist or antagonist's character traits, if you prefer to read from a male or female's point of view.  Anything goes.  I'm going to call this Voice 101.  Share whatever you enjoy or appreciate about your favorite books - what makes you devote a part of your day to the joy of reading.  And thanks in advance for my first lesson!


A resolute New Year's resolution

writing-1.jpg picture by munchi5gal

2010 is only a few days away.  As I finish packing away the last of the Christmas decorations and organize piles of new gifts our family has accumulated over the past few days, I'm trying to put my finger on just what exactly this year's resolution is going to be.

For me, the same few things come to mind each December as the year draws to a close. I need to start working out again.  It wouldn't hurt to lose a few pounds.  Maybe I should resolve to be more organized.  Or maybe I need to practice letting things slide once in a while and occasionally just go with the flow.   Do more activities with the kids.  Plan more outings with Lovemuffin, things we can do as just the two of us.

The only thing I know for sure as I look into the future, is that I want the next step in this whole writing process to begin.  I'm anxious, anticipating the results from editing, wishing I knew someone else - a non-partial person who could sit back and sift through my work with unbiased eyes and tell me that I'm either 1) truly ready to start querying or 2) still need to fine tune a few things - at this point either one  would be fine with me, because it would mean progress, a push in the right direction.

But I don't have that - someone I can sit down with and talk to, or ask questions.  (Not locally anyway.)  I'm on my own here - learning from what I can find in books and online, learning by reading work of other authors - deciding for myself what I do and don't like in their writing, then comparing it to my own voice and my own work, respectively.  

I'm pretty close to the timeline I set a couple of months ago and this is right where I wanted to be.  So I'm thinking the best resolution for 2010 would be to continue moving forward.  To push myself, keep the goals I've assigned to this project, set dates (not set in concrete, but dates nonetheless) to keep me going in the right direction.  

These next few months might possibly keep or take away my sanity.  But I'm going to be resolute - I'm not going to give up, no matter how discouraged I get.  Because it's just like Dorrie (my favorite character in Finding Nemo) says - "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...what do we do? We swim!"  And I'm going to do just that.  I'm going to swim along (even if it's upstream and difficult or frustrating at times), and push myself until I get to the next step, then the next one, and so on.  I resolve to push forward and give this my all - to take a break when I get tired, ask for support when I need it, and ultimately, in a few months, (hopefully) have something new to report regarding "I'll Love You Until". 

In the meantime, I plan to continue working on two new ideas that have been in my head (which is what writers are supposed to do, from what I understand - move on to the next project, while waiting on the process of the previous one).  

So there you go.  My resolution for 2010.  What's yours?

S'more questions, anyone?

DSC_0487.jpg picture by munchi5gal

The Christmas letter is finished!  Yay!  And I've mailed out about half of them.  Still way behind compared to usual, but oh well. 

I wanted to try something different this year, so I asked a friend of ours, (who I will refer to as "K" from here on) to come up with some questions of her own to ask us.  I was thinking along the lines of a magazine article interview -- and told her to think in that category when coming up with different topics for our family to talk about. 

Little did I know how much fun our little "interview" would be!  K and her boyfriend/our friend snuck into the backyard when the girls weren't paying attention and went out of their way to set up a cozy atmosphere for our "interview", complete with Christmas music, a bonfire, & smores fixins to help get us in the holiday spirit.  (Which, according to my middle kid, was "awesome"!) 

K even had an agenda written down, with a hula-hoop contest to break the ice a little bit before we got started (the hula hoop lit up and everything).  My youngest went about 3o seconds before one of the dogs got in the way (very dramatic reaction to that, let me tell you), my middle daughter went almost two minutes.  My oldest didn't go close to as long as the middle one, which was nice, because someone different won something for a change.  Lovemuffin and I -- well, we gave up pretty quickly (Lovemuffin's didn't rotate even three times I don't think!  ha!). 

After the hula hoop contest Lovemuffin got out his cell phone and we sat down, bellies stuffed full of smores and bodies toasty from the cardio of the hula hoop contest (and crackling fire pit, of course).   Lovemuffin asked the questions K had come up with, recording our responses the whole time on his phone so I could go back later and share the "exact" reactions.  

A few minutes after we concluded our "interview" I headed into the office and listened to the recording.  Some parts were more entertaining or funny than others, but I had to pick out the most interesting quotes only,  because when doing an interview-type letter, a lot of empty space is used up each time there's a hard return.  (Which I did often to show someone else was talking... so that's why magazines have a few columns on a page... to cram more words in! Duh!)

Was this year's Christmas letter the *best* one ever, in my opinion?  I'm thinking probably not. That's kind of what happens when I don't come up with my idea six months ahead of time (which I will do in 2010 - mark my words!)  I'm hoping what I chose to share will at least give a little insight into the kids' personalities, and show everyone how we interact as a family.  And at this point, that's good enough for me.   

The only thing that sucked a bit was the fact that I was sooooo intent on getting the letters out immediately, I didn't really think my beginning all the way through.  So about 20 people have a boring opening talking about what year it is, and then the rest of the recipients' letters  are more "interview" styled in the beginning.  Oh well.  You win some, you lose some.  Well I wouldn't say I lost anything exactly,  maybe "learn" would be a better word.  I learned a couple of things with this year's Christmas letter.

First, sitting down with the family and having smores on a school night (something I normally wouldn't do) didn't kill us.  The girls still went to bed on time, there wasn't a huge mess, and that evening is something they'll probably remember for a long time.

Second, planning ahead is still my very best friend.  Not having an idea way ahead of time just adds stress to my life that I truly don't need!  More proof to Lovemuffin that I just can't handle anything spur of the moment!

And third, friends are a wonderful commodity -- especially the ones who go above and beyond to do those little, unnecessary things that'll put a smile on your face.  I have a few friends that I love to do little unexpected things for, and it made me remember that we can't always assume our friends know how much they mean to us --  showing our appreciation with words or kind gestures once in a while should be automatic (and that rule could go for family as well).

Well enough sappiness.  I'm off to print out as many letters as possible before I run out of ink (I'm guessing I'll get about four done, if I'm lucky).

Oh - I forgot to mention, I did list a few websites and my email in the letter as well, so if I connect with anyone new via the Internet, that will just be a bonus=)

Christmas letters are so boring. Or are they?

Dear so and so... This year our family did this, this, this and - oh yes, we did some of this, too...  Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

Sound familiar?  That was a pretty accurate example of my annual Christmas letter there for a few years.  It worked out great at first, since Lovemuffin and I welcomed a child into the family three years in a row.  (Gotta mention the new rugrat, and inform everyone about how the older rugrat/s are reacting to the new one, right?) 

After a while though, my letters began to sound a bit boring.  I imagined people were opening up their letters and saying “Oh no – it’s two pages long – again!  Blah blah blah…Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!”  and stuffing the letters back into the envelopes (A habit Lovemuffin has – and may I say that I don’t get it?  Why would you read a letter or card and stuff it right back into where it just came from?) or chucking them onto the counter with the bulk mail, or worse yet, dropping their letter directly into the trash. *Gasp*  So a few years ago I decided it was time to spark things up a little. 

One year I shared a play-by-play example of a typical chaotic morning at our house.  It looked like a screenplay, with each person's name next to their lines and everything. (Verrrry time consuming.)  Another year I re-wrote “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” by summarizing my family’s activities in rhyme.  And last year my letter came in the form of a multiple-choice quiz, with pretty obvious questions and a few quirky false answers thrown in the mix. (One question asked which member of the family had just gotten braces, and I threw our dachshund's name in as one of the possible answers.  Not sure if anyone else found that funny, but I sure did.)

I can’t believe it's time to write my tenth Christmas letter this year….and this year, well… I still haven't decided what to do yet. (Panic is setting in, people!)  We take our family photos today and the letters must go out this weekend (for my sanity), which means that I am running out of time, and fast!

For those of you who haven't done a Christmas letter before, I'd like to suggest you do one this year (it doesn't have to be long - in fact, I think mine are a little too long half the time).  Maybe it's the reader in me talking (or, er - typing), but I actually wish I would receive more letters - especially from friends and family who don't live nearby. 

I thought I'd share a Christmas letter ideas link to help get you started, and a few more ideas are below.

1)  Think numbers.  I found this idea on a blog, and if you're number oriented, it's a great idea.  Instead of summarizing the past twelve months by explaining what you've done, break it down by numbers.  For example - 

This year we traveled 5,600 miles, lost 12 teeth (some baby, some permanent), played 15 football games, gave 53 groundings, lost 42 pair of socks, ect.  (You can also do a matching version, by having the readers match the numbers to the facts.)

2)  Where's Waldo?  Do your own version of Where's Waldo - take a picture of your family (or individual family members) and add a lot of other pictures of people and objects to the page.  Then photocopy the entire assortment and have your readers try to find you, either all on their own, or by giving hints.

3)  Re-invent a Christmas song.  This is kind of like re-writing "Twas the Night Before Christmas".  (Make sure to inform your readers in which tune the letter should be read!)

4)   Movie Madness.  Compare family members or specific incidents to movies.  You can either make it a trivia sort of game where the readers have to choose which things go together, or do it in a more conversational way and tell a story.

5)  Mail a game.  There are many games you can create, depending on the amount of time you have to spend.  Memory would be one of the easiest (copy 2 pictures of each family member onto a regular sheet of paper and send instructions telling them to cut the pictures out), and a Monopoly kind of game (using your child's school, place/s of employment, favorite restaurants or parks as the properties, ect.) would be more time-consuming.

6)  Write a letter.  A good, old-fashioned letter never hurt anyone.  In fact, they're quite popular, and are the easiest thing to do if you haven't done anything like this before.  Here are a few simple rules to go by-

* Use the spell check feature on your computer. Your readers will thank you.

* Make sure not to brag.  There's "We had a wonderful year..." and there's "Our year was the better than everyone else's...".  Try not to do the second one.

*Date your letter.  You can do it the classic way and have the date at the top, or incorporate it into the body of the letter.  Either way, it's important - because some people do save them, and it would be nice to know in which order they were received.

*Don't go too crazy with your font choice.  It would be a crime to go to so much work and then have it so difficult for people to read that people don't want to finish it, or have to get out a magnifying glass in order to see the words.

*Have fun!  Involve your family - quote them, ask questions, incorporate pictures or drawings.  The more personal the letter, the better.

*Sign it.  This last one is my favorite.  Typing your name is easier, but taking a few more minutes to sign each one will make the letter seem all the more personal.

Each year I print out four extra copies as I'm stuffing envelopes - one for me, and three for my daughters' scrapbooks. We pull out the old letters and read through them at least once during the holiday season, laughing and tearing up (okay, I'm the only one who gets a bit emotional) about things we'd long forgotten about.  And even though I stress myself out trying to figure out new ideas, it's well worth it - because the letters will be a neat, personalized summary of our lives, long after the girls and grown up and moved out of the house.  

One last tip - and this is my personal preference - make sure to share your email address, website or blog on your letter.  I've never been contacted that way (and I send out around 75 letters), but I'm one of those people who will literally run to the computer to check out a blog I didn't know a friend had, or add a new email address to my contact list. Let the internet help keep you connected!   

So what are you waiting for?  Go write a letter already!   And oops - I almost forgot - Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year! 




Hey! They stole my line!

Have you ever felt as though someone stole an idea from you, even though you'd never said a word about it?  My fellow mothers out there know exactly what I'm talking about - we've all been caught saying "Hey - that's what I was going to name MY baby!"  or "Wow, I like that name, I think I'll use that!"  *hangs head in shame for the second one*

I’ve been working on a new WiP for a little over a week now, and maybe I’ve been under a rock the past few months or something (I'm willing to admit I probably have been), but when I came up with the name Collin as a character in my new WiP, I was pretty darn proud of myself.  I didn’t know any Collins personally. I wasn’t able to recall hearing the name Collin at all in recent years, and I spent days researching names online until I’d found the *perfect* one for my character.  I was happy as a clam, sitting at my computer for hours on end, writing “Colling this” and “Collin that”, in an inspired writing frenzy.

Then Lovemuffin and I watched The Ugly Truth.  And what is the main male character’s name in The Ugly Truth?  (Those of you who’ve seen it, please feel free to say it with me…)  Collin!  Suddenly I was seeing and hearing Collin all over the place  - especially in TV shows and magazines.  Oh, and Made of Honor?  I've seen it at least five times.  Can you guess what Kevin McKidd's character's name is?  Colin!  (So I had heard the name, even though I didn't realize it.)  I was like WHAT?  Who do these people think they are?  They stole my name!  

 It didn’t help that a week before I’d realized Collin was the new “Andrew” (or whatever the popular name is at the moment – like I said, I’ve been under a rock I guess, so I have no clue what “the” popular name is at the moment) almost an entire scene I’d thought up (and was quite proud of) was played out right in front of my eyes on  a TV show.  And about a month and a half ago I was watching a rather popular movie – a love story mind you, written by a very famous author (which had been adapted into a movie), when halfway through the movie I realized the main male character’s name was the same as one of my mine in I’ll Love You Until!

I pondered over that last dilemma for over a week, worried it would look as though I’d copied that particular story.  But do you know what I finally decided?   After much contemplation I said to myself, “Oh well!  This movie may be a few years old, but I’d never read the book, I just barely watched the movie – no one ever told me the plot – and I’m NOT changing my character’s name!”   Good for me, right? 

One reason the same story lines and names appear quite often, in my opinion, is the fact that we are constantly inundated with media, especially those of us who frequent the internet. We can go youtube, twitter, myspace, facebook, and so on and so forth, in a matter of seconds.  Videos, stories, comics, interviews and pretty much anything we can think of are constantly flashing before of our eyes.  TV shows are debuting and being cancelled faster than I can say “Hey, I think I’m starting to get into this show.”, and movies are accessible more than ever before, thanks to redbox, Netflix, itunes and other convenient services.  And so, with all of those ideas and stories appearing before our eyes and soaking into our subconscious, how can we not be influenced by it all? That has to be how Collin got into my head.  (The other two issues though, they must have just happened to be coincidences.)  

The whole situation got me thinking, so here are my questions for this week -  How many other writers have dealt with this same issue?  What was your reaction when you saw a key scene in your writing show up on a weekly sitcom, for example, or when a particular setting you’d thought as original ended up being already written by someone else?  Did you revise, and change it?  Or stand firm with your decision?  

I’d love to hear your thoughts!



Christmas Gift Ideas for Writers

AsaspiringwriterFrostywassomovedbyh.jpg An aspiring writer Frosty was so moved by his little friend's gift that he didn't have the heart to point out that his arms would never be able to reach image by jcdarezzo 

Not sure what to get the writer/s in your life this Christmas?  Have no fear - I've compiled a list of items any writer would love, to make your shopping easier!  (Fellow writers - feel free to add ideas I may have forgotten in the comments!)

 1)  Bookstore gift cards.  Writers love to read.  We don’t always have the time to do so, but most of us have a list of books we’d love to curl up with, if given the chance.  Being given a gift card to a bookstore is the equivalent to handing cash to a kid in a candy store, in my opinion -  because the possibilities are endless.  Not only can we buy books we’ve been wanting to read, we can also purchase other author's work for “research”, along with “how to” books, journals, planners, calendars, bookmarks, and much more – and best of all, gift cards work online as well!

2)  Laptop skins or covers.  Most people enjoy making a statement by personalizing their possessions, and a skin or cover can do just that and protect it at the same time!  Etsy has some wonderfully handmade items for laptops.  Check out skins here and covers (not only for laptops but also ipods, kindles and more) here.

3)   Journal/Notebooks.  Regardless of how many writers out there still use paper and how many have converted to computers, notebooks are still the most convenient way of jotting down spur of the moment thoughts and ideas.  Check out two neat journals here and here

4)  Subscriptions to magazines.  I've learned from experience that you can't find literary magazines at the local grocery store or supermarket.  Quite frustrating.  But you can find a list of them here.

5)  Voice recorder.  Compact and easy to use, a recorder can be a lifesaver, especially if the writer you know spends a lot of time in the car.  Cassette recorders start at about $20, while digital recorders start at approximately $40.  They're available at most office supply stores or places like Best Buy.

 6)  CDs or itunes gift cards.  Music is inspirational, and it can also help drown out noisy distractions.  I’m always looking for more songs to add to my ipod – and can actually point out certain pieces I’ve written and tell you the exact songs I had playing when they came to me!  And now that I think about it, music is also a great tool when trying to relax before another writing spell!

7)  A massage.  A shoulder/lower back massaging device (one that could be used in a chair would be ideal) or gift certificate to a favorite massage therapist would be appreciated, I'm sure!  After a while of sitting in the same position and hovering over a keyboard or notebook, our bodies tend to get a bit cranky.

8)  Caffeine.  I realize I’m a little biased here, because as you all know I cannot live without my coffee, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.  Coffee or tea (depending on what your particular writer drinks) is always a great idea.  Gift cards to the local coffee shops is one way to go (as they usually serve tea there as well) or purchasing a few bags of coffee beans or boxes of tea is another nice touch. Another idea is a coffee or tea club – Gevalia has one of my favorites.

9)  Mugs/teacups.  Now that I’ve brought up the caffeine, it’s the perfect time to mention the mug!  If you know of a particular thing (a specific color or theme) that your writer likes, a coffee mug or teacup is the perfect gift!  You can google "mugs for writers" or check out two sites  here and here.

10)  Fuzzies.  This might work more for a woman than a man, but I wanted to mention it anyway.  I love writing or editing with something fuzzy. A blanket or some warm fuzzy socks or slippers help keep me comfy when I'm in the writing zone.

11) Office Supplies.  Ink! Paper! Paper! Ink!  As you’re reading this post, thousands upon thousands of printers are spitting out pages, all over the world. (Okay the count is probably much higher than that – but I am not mathematically inclined, thank you very much.)  I can’t even begin to add up what I’ve paid for ink in just the past six months alone.  A gift card to an office supply store or box of white paper and/or toner would definitely be a welcome gift in any writer’s home or office.

Still not sure what to get the writer in your life?  CafĂ© Press has a variety of great writer’s gifts. 

Just for kicks - Starbursts Should be Outlawed

Stores aren't the only  busy places this time of year as people shop until they drop - it's also a pretty productive season for movie theaters.  I thought I'd share a blog posted originally posted on my website back in March of this year, just for kicks.  Enjoy.

starbursts.jpg starburst image by dancerkj1351

Starbursts Should be Outlawed - Pet Peeve #3
Originally posted on March 30, 2009

This has been a major annoyance of mine for some time now, but when Lovemuffin & I went to the coast for his birthday a couple of weeks ago I vowed I would post this on my blog. (I just finally got around to it.)

It has come to my attention recently (thanks, honey!) that it is not “normal” to be annoyed constantly by loud noises, constant movement, or repetitive phrases.  I can honestly say that I thought I was one of many who got extremely annoyed & distracted after a time of hearing someone say “you know” after each & every sentence - or who fights with all of her might not to give a sly elbow-jab after her husband has been wiggling around for over ten minutes during the sermon - or who wants to just turn around in the theater and stare down the person who won’t stop poppin’ the popcorn and is crunching away with their mouths open during the most crucial scenes. 

I really, truly thought that I was normal. Come to find out, according to Lovemuffin, those things don’t bother most people. And I cannot, for the life of me, understand why. (Well in Lovemuffin’s case, it’s because he’s been on construction equipment for over 15 years already...he's practically deaf already.) Which leads me to pet peeve #3...

Eating starbursts during a movie.

What in the world possessed the movie theater franchise to think that starbursts during movies was a good thing?  I mean, they could have a few wrapper-less pieces in a little baggie (like gummy bears) or something...but instead, they sell these big, hard to open bags that make lots of noise (notice no one is ever in the mood for their candy until it’s a suspenseful part?) and they fill them with tons of air so that they can make as much noise as possible as they’re being opened.

It’s the most important line of the movie - you’re all into it -  it could be just you and the big screen you’re so sucked in...“You can’t handle the--” **crinkle crinkle crinkly crinkly crinkle**  “What? What did he say?????  Whaaaaat????”

UGH it drives me nuts. And one, right after the other, right after the other gets eaten...I seriously think they cram like 20 into those bags.  After the first two crinkly crinkles, forget the movie, all I can do is sit there and shoot daggers with my eyes at the person doing it, wondering if they really truly DON’T HEAR how loud they are. And they never seem to notice.  (I won’t even go there about popcorn...and the fact that most people think that closing their mouths while eating popcorn is an impossibility. It’s not! And I can prove it!)

So do me a favor, my readers - the next time you are at a movie, think of me and my oversensitive ears.  Don’t get starbursts. Or if you do, stick them in your purse, or under your jacket and open them there. Heck - you can even do it while you’re walking to your seat! And I bet you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is for YOU to hear the best parts of the movie too!