Sunday, November 30, 2008


Photo by me.

This is a different view of the icy crab apples I posted last Sunday.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Upcoming Holidays

Many of the teens on my list are getting animals this year, in the form of symbolic adoptions from World Wildlife Fund.

Do any of these kids really need more stuff?

Don't they all need a good cause to support?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

In this momentary lull in a day of cooking, I'm thinking of friends and family, remembering past Thanksgivings and counting my blessings.

On Twilight, Vampires and General Creepiness

I have no plans to read any of the Twilight series or see the movie. Vampires are creepy. Here are my random (4:00 AM) thoughts on vampires.

I liked the Sherlock Holmes vampire story.

Zombie is a better Scrabble word than vampire.

The bats in Michigan eat the local vampires (mosquitoes).

Vampire bats don't suck blood. They cut the skin with their teeth, and lick the blood that flows from the cut. Their saliva contains an anticoagulant.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Sarah Miller got me thinking about inertia.

A body at rest tends to stay at rest, and a body in motion tends to stay in motion until they are acted upon by an external force.

This is the story of my writing life!

When writing is moving along, it feeds itself. I get new ideas all the time, even (especially) when I'm supposed to be doing something else. When my revising stalls, a huge force is required to get it going again.

Another Colorful Expression

My dad was a great storyteller who often began with the phrase, "back in the olden days." I just checked. Olden is a real word.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Odds and Ends

The paperwork mountain has become a mountain range. Each time I think I've created a plateau, another peak erupts. Perhaps instead, I should focus on lava cake.

Thanksgiving is in two days. Today, absolutely today, I will buy groceries.

The holiday decor in my living room includes the awards podium from my sons' Tae Kwon Do studio. I offered to give it a ride home after last Saturday's tournament, but by the time we got to the studio, it was closed. For lots of reasonable reasons, the studio will not open again until next week. Maybe we'll have our own Thanksgiving Olympics right here.

I joined facebook, sort of by accident. One day, I'll even put my face on facebook.

My novel? What novel? After reading Barbara O'Conner's blog today, I'm contemplating cutting yet another character.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Photo by me.
I need to think of a new name for this series.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Colorful Expression

Today at a Tae Kwon Do tournament, one of the elder black belts said, "I remember how little your boys were when they started. Now they're big drinks of water."

All A Twitter

The kidlit blogosphere has been buzzing about twittering. This and this were posted yesterday.

The bane of writing contemporary YA is keeping up to date on the technologies teen characters and readers use, and I was dismayed to learn of another new thing.

So I asked Jeremy, "Do you twitter?"

"You can't do that on a tuba," he said.

That seals it. My WIP will not include twittering.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Today’s forecast predicts a high of 29° F. Does that mean the thermometer is half full or half empty?

2008 Writing Goals

Around Thanksgiving, I check my yearly writing goals in hopes that with a big push, I can accomplish a few more before the New Year's Eve deadline. This year, with a gargantuan effort, I may be able to complete one more.

That brings me to a record low of 5 goals accomplished out of 11. (45.45%)

At least I won't have to write a new list for 2009.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Overheard #33

"Controversy is a dead issue."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lost In The Translation?

One of my brother's employees translated the pronunciation of our last name into Kanji.

Isn't it beautiful?

F: 富
L: 瑠
S: 主

Our dad used to say Finkelstein meant sparkling stone.

Conflct: Making It Worse

Tim Bogar invented a good Write Night exercise designed to crank up conflict. We started by compiling a list of twenty characters. We did this as a group with each person suggesting a few general characters. (For example, a milk toast or the most popular girl in high school.) Next, each person chose two or more characters to put in conflict, and wrote the scene. After we read each scene out loud, we brainstormed ideas to make the conflict worse. (Okay, we got a little silly sometimes.) Then we rewrote the scene with heightened conflict.

Try it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Conflict: Hidden or Missing

Recently I've read two books that are similar in concept, but to my mind, only one works. In both books, a young female protagonist is rescued from poverty and abandonment by a wealthy, apparently beneficent woman. At the start of these novels, the protagonists believe this is a huge stroke of luck, they idolize their saviors and are eager to do their bidding.

In the effective novel, the reader quickly realizes the benefactor has some mysterious ulterior motive, even though the protagonist skips along (for a time) thinking everything is peachy. This creepy sensation of hidden secrets makes for gripping writing.

In the ineffective story, Lady Bountiful seems too good to believe. She may eventually turn into the conniving witch the reader hopes for, but the first 40 pages are nothing but sweetness, light and golden auras. I couldn't stomach any more than that.

Perhaps this is a long, dull post to point out that conflict is essential, especially when it bubbles just below the surface.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Photo by me.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Overheard #32

"If I were within the range of normal, you never would have married me."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bad Pigeon

Here’s the latest, coolest discovery in the world of feathered dinosaurs. Epidexipteryx hui was a pigeon-sized dinosaur that lived in what is now Daohugou, Inner Mongolia during the Mid-Late Jurassic (152-168 million years ago). This animal could not fly, but its body was covered with downy feathers. Check out that tail!

The tail is made up of four feathers that extend beyond the end of the tail bones. The feathers are not as sophisticated as the feathers of modern birds, but they do consist of a central shaft and un-branched vanes. The October 23, 2008 issue of the journal Nature has exquisite photographs of the tail feather fossils. I’m sorry I can’t include those pictures or a link on this blog. Scientists speculate the tail may have been used in courtship rituals.

Don’t let this pigeon drive the bus.

The scientific article is:
F. Zhang, Z. Zhou, X. Xu, S. Wang and C. Sulllivan, A Bizarre Jurassic Maniraptoran from China, Nature, 455:1105 (2008).
Also see Live Science.

Overheard #31

"A quarter of a waffle in one bite. What do you suppose the record is?"

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Why I Do This

Today, I drove to Calvin College to speak at the Youth Writing Festival - Middle school edition. I fussed a bit beforehand about the long drive, lousy weather and the work involved in compiling talk.

Okay, I admit it. I had fun. I was reminded why I write novels for teens. I had a terrific group of enthusiastic kids, and their writing skills are AMAZING.

My talk is on How To Write Fight Scenes, always a popular topic with the middle school crowd. The talk begins with general instructions on good writing geared toward fight scenes. I discuss the Fight or Flight reaction. (I'm a former scientist; I can hardly help myself.) After explaining 11 rules for writing fights, I give them time for them to write a fight scene. Then they read their scenes aloud and I make positive (gushing) comments on their writing.

Trust me. It is not difficult to compliment these kids' writing skills.

Here are a few shining moments:

One boy had some behavior issues. He had a hard time listening without speaking out. He announced his writing was horrible and he wouldn't read it out loud. He did read, eventually, a gripping scene from the point of view of a dog with a cruel master.

One boy was only in 4th grade. He was in a gifted and talented program, that allowed him to participate in the festival. He was too shy to volunteer, but teacher who accompanied him asked me if he could read. The boy's well-executed scene employed enough technical language to show me he trained in martial arts. He asked me to autograph his essay.

A girl read a a fast-paced scene involving both a sword fight and a wrestling match. After the session she asked my name, because if my books are ever published, she wants to buy them.

Does it get any better than that?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Books, Videogames and Pacing

Publishers Weekly ran an article by 13-year old Max Leone about what teen boys want to read. Max is both eloquent and perceptive, and I found his article fascinating because I have had similar discussions with my sons. Max gives much quality information in his article, and I am commenting on just one aspect.

Max said he and his cohort like video game-style plots with lots of action and battles. I agree and add this caveat. Last summer when my sons and I happened to be home at lunchtime, we listened to an audio recording of a popular fantasy series. During a long and dull descriptive passage, Sam said, "This is where I would press Start." In other words, this is where Sam would move to an action sequence.

Teens are used to controlling the pacing of their entertainment. When the story gets boring, they expect to be able to jump ahead. If a novel drags, the reader can skip the offending passages or put the book down down and reach for the video game controller.

The bottom line is Keep The Story Moving.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Check Out Jacqui's Room Today

Jacqui Robbin's blog, Jacqui's Room, has a great series, No, Seriously. Just Try It. Today's challenge (Magic Objects) is involves the one object your protagonist always has with them.

My protagonist always has her cell phone with her. Perhaps you think that's mundane, but after all she is a normal teenager. Her cell allows her to communicate with her friends and even fantasize about contacting the guy of her dreams. Her cell also works as a music player, like an iPod. My younger son's phone is supposed to accept music downloads, but we could never make that function work. My protagonist is smarter than we are, certainly more electronically adept.

Anyone who has read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows knows that magical objects often have a dark side. The downside to Lia's cell is the antagonist can also call her. If you don't think that's a problem, you haven't met my antagonist.

While you're visiting Jacqui's Room, also check out the last No, Seriously, Just Try It.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Out the Living Room Window

Deer frequent our backyard, but we don't see a buck very often.

Photos by Z.F. Burton.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Under the Microscope

Click here for some beautiful and fascinating microscopic images. Thanks to the NY Times science page.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

If Only ...

Sam has a sore throat that was developing some scary symptoms, so I took him to the doctor. The doctor had a strep test done, then diagnosed a viral infection. He showed Sam a page of typed instructions, pointed to the top item and said, "Can you do that?"

Sam glanced at the page and said, "I don't smoke." His voice held the indignation of a serious athlete who has been accused of putting toxins in his body, the disdain of an intelligent person who is being treated like an idiot, and the irritation of a sick teen who is being badgered unnecessarily.

If only I could capture that on the page!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Fight Scenes

In merely seven days, I'm giving a talk called How to Write Fight Scenes. I've given this talk a few times before, but it's been a while.

The good news: I found the power point file containing my slides.

The bad news: I could not find the text of my talk or my backup overheads. I always bring transparencies when I give a power point presentation just in case the LCD projector doesn't work, or I can't find the right cords in a room containing 35 other computers, or the red bulb in the LCD projector has burned out so my lovely colorful slides show up as greenish yellow and off-tan. (Can you tell all these things have happened to me before?)

Today I took time off from the paperwork mountain to review my talk, write a new text and update my slides.

This talk is based on what I have picked up while sitting through my sons' Tae Kwon Do classes for the past 12 years.

This is not a political blog, but ...

I feel more optimistic this morning than I have in eight years.

It's time to pull up our socks and get to work.

Today, I feel anything is possible.

I'll admit I dozed off before the election results were assured. A combination of chronic nighttime insomnia, a vigorous afternoon bike ride and a long wait at the boys' Tae Kwon Do class made it impossible for me to stay awake.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Overheard #30

"Annuities are somehow different from perennials."

Election Day

Monday, November 3, 2008

Things I Have Done or Will Do Soon

Have Done:
1. Put away the flower garden for winter (This includes the rose bushes.)
2. Felt melancholy about all "the last times" happening this year
3. Chipped away at the monolith of mother-related paperwork
4. Recreated a set of short sports stories that was lost when I switched from an ancient Macintosh to a new PC with Vista.

Will Do:
1. Work on my How To Write Fight Scenes talk that I will give at the Youth Writing Festival at Calvin College in a couple weeks

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Things I'm Not Doing

1. NaNoWriMo
2. Devising a plan for my next manuscript revision
3. Writing much of anything
4. Settling my mother's accounts quickly
5. Gaining an understanding of my mother's filing system
6. Looking forward to winter


Photo by me.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Last Game

Last night, Sam's high school team played and lost the first playoff game of the season. It was his last game of organized football. He understands that a guy who is 6'2" and 150 lbs will never play on the D-line of the Big Ten and Pac Ten universities where he is applying. Football has been his life since he started playing Junior Pro in 3rd grade.

He came home distraught. I told him, "You played with all your heart and sometimes that is the most important thing." To someone who is nearly 18 and still believes in the realization of dreams, my words must sound hollow. Eventually playing with all your heart isn't the most important thing, it's the only thing.