Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Overheard #76

"There will be no running and no throwing of objects."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Looking Ahead

I'm squinting out at a busy week.

The SCBWI-Michigan conference begins on Friday, and I need to gather up odds and ends like driving instructions, a packed suitcase and snacks. The pitch session requires a printed copy of a manuscript. I'll also prepare a table of contents with brief notes about each chapter and page numbers. That way I can easily find whatever it is I'm supposed to be looking for in the printed copy.

I'm channeling my inner pachyderm for the first page session. Sometimes that forum gets brutal, because each panelist has a limited amount of time to say something meaningful about every manuscript. It's all meant to improve the manuscript, not crush the writer.

Jeremy takes his driving test on Wednesday.

A tuba audition will be added to the usual potpourri of music lessons, band rehearsals, homework and Tae Kwon Do.

At least I'm ready for next Sunday's nature post. Last night a raccoon came onto our deck and begged to be photographed. He even walked to the part of the deck that is lit by the outside light. Who knew my blog was so popular with wildlife?

Sunday, September 27, 2009



If you've been wondering how much wood ...

This woodchuck is quite shy and doesn't like to pose for the camera.
Photos by me.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Oh, Now I Get It

So tell me, when you finally figure out what ails a writing project, do you:

1. bang your head against the monitor and grumble, "Why didn't I think of this sooner?"
2. put on your thinking cap and say, "Well of course that's the problem, but how do I implement the solution in my manuscript?
3. pull up your socks and get to work.
4. dance around the house shouting, "YES!"

This isn't a real poll, because all the steps are probably necessary.

I'm at step 1 and hoping to move to step 2 before the weekend is over.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Every time I read a book by Laurie Halse Anderson, I learn something important about writing. I recently finished Wintergirls, and it has me thinking about character obsession.

In Wintergirls, Lia’s obsession with weight loss almost results in her death, so I’m going to rate that a 10 on the obsession scale. She thinks constantly about food and counting calories. Her behavior (getting people to think she’s eating and gaining more than she actually is) mimics the mental obsession.

In some books, at least at the beginning, the protagonist’s life is Brownian motion. The main character is buffeted by whims of fate and doesn’t act to change that. I’d rate that a 1 on my obsession scale. The example that jumps to mind is Prom, also by Laurie Halse Anderson. When the novel starts, Ashley likes her boyfriend, her family and friends, but isn’t concerned about much else.

Wintergirls taught me to look at character growth in terms of obsession. I’m going to spend the next few days analyzing the protagonist in TAoCBS, ranking his mental and behavioral obsessions and calculating how they change.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Overheard #75

"Pokémon taught me to read."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Literary Rambles

Today, I'm over at Literary Rambles. Casey McCormick used my entry for Research Tip Tuesday. Thanks, Casey.

Monday, September 21, 2009


60-70 million years before Tyrannosaurus rex dominated the dinosaur world, a smaller version of the famous and fearsome predator lived and hunted in what is now China. The newly discovered fossil resembles T. rex but is 1/100th the size (8 feet long and 175 pounds). Scientists named the dinosaur, Raptorex, the king of thieves. Raptorex shares many characteristics with its gigantic evolutionary cousin, such as huge jaws, well developed brain and olfactory center, powerful hind legs and tiny arms. These traits therefore developed before massive size.

The skeleton is nearly complete. Isn’t it beautiful?

Dr. Paul Serano discusses Raptorex and shares his ideas about the purpose of those tiny arms in this video.

Science Express
New York Times
The Guardian
Not Exactly Rocket Science blog

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Magic and Gadgets

Recently, I’ve been on a spy kick. The Spy Goddess Series by Michael P. Spradlin involves elements of both fantasy and espionage, and it got me thinking about similarities between the two genres.

Fantasy and spy novels often involve an unlikely hero or heroine fighting Overwhelming Forces of Evil, and the hero or heroine gets help from magic or gadgets. Early in the novel, the protagonist has to learn how to use magic or get access to the gadgets. Things look good for a while, until the Overwhelming Forces of Evil use even better magic or gadgets. In the end, evil is conquered by the protagonist’s ingenuity rather than the magic or the gadgets.

How’s that for a simplistic genre analysis?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Writing Exercise: Sins and Virtues

Last night, I brought the exercise to Write Night, and it didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. So, to make amends, I’m posting the new and improved version.

Step 1: Brainstorm words and phrases that apply to your current project. Consider setting, period, clothing, slang, food, entertainment, smells, tastes, textures, sounds and sights. Use anything that is characteristic of your Work In Progress. For a terrific example, see Angela Ackerman’s blog, The Bookshelf Muse

Write the words and phrases on small slips of paper.

Step 2: Write the Seven Deadly Sins* or the Seven Heavenly Virtues** on other slips of paper***. Last night, we wrote two scenes, one for Sins and one for Virtues.

Step 3: Each participant draws one of the Sins or Virtues and three of the phrases and writes a scene about the Sin or Virtue (without mentioning it) and using the three phrases.

Step 4: Participants read the scenes aloud and the others guess the Sin or Virtue.

*As a refresher, the Sins are Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Greed, Gluttony and Lust.

** The Virtues are Humility, Kindness, Patience, Diligence, Charity, Temperance and Chastity.

***Why the Sins and Virtues? No good reason. I was inspired by a humorous essay Sam wrote last year about how owning a car would help him indulge in the Seven Deadly Sins.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Overheard #74

"Champions need worthy opponents."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Weekly Goals

1. Improve the parents in TAoCBS. Last night while reading, I realized the dad needs to show some weakness, indecision and regret. This morning while doing sit-ups, it occurred to me that the mom doesn’t get angry enough. If these problems don’t consume all of my writing time for the week, then …

2. Start a new revision of CBL with an eye to increasing the protagonist’s plausibility. In the mean time, maintain …

3. Parental involvement in 3 music lessons, 2 band practices (1 involves tuba transport), 1 choir parent meeting, 2 trips to Ann Arbor, and 1 trip to the Tae Kwon Do studio. Return 11 pairs of band pants that I washed after Friday’s football game and mail Sam his Black Belt which he accidentally left here. Which brings me to a partridge in a pear tree …

4. Photograph something other than an insect for my Sunday nature picture. I seem to be in a bug rut, and I hope to find a different subject this week. The wetland by Pet Smart often hosts water birds. Perhaps I’ll take a detour after dropping off the band pants …

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

by Carrie Ryan

Delacorte Press, 2009

I read few post-apocalyptic novels because they all:
1. are so bleak
2. involve a society consisting of two groups of people, those damaged by the apocalypse, and those who mysteriously escaped
3. depict the normal society as secretive, controlling and unconcerned with individual needs
4. portray the protagonist as a rebel against the controlling society.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth fits all these criteria, and yet the beautiful writing and compelling characters drew me into its bizarre world. I loved the way the protagonist got what she wanted before the end of the book, but didn’t appreciate it. Such a human reaction!

You can see the trailer here, and lots of other blogs must have described the plot, so I’ll provide a one-sentence summary. Zombies meet A Canticle for Leibowitz.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Overheard #73

"Promising premise; ponderous presentation."

Monday, September 7, 2009

Photographing the Loch Ness Monster

Yesterday while canoeing along the marshy edge of the lake, I spied a 2-foot long snapping turtle. At first, I thought it was a submerged log, but logs rarely paddle with webbed feet. I tried to photograph the turtle, but I had no lenses or filters, so the pictures show sunlight reflected on rippling water.

Sometimes revisions are like that. The monster is disguised as an innocuous floating log. Then it slithers away, while the writer attempts to turn the canoe and take out the camera at the same time. The writer tries several angles and approaches, but all she captures is glare.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Photos by me.
Yesterday was a good day for dragonflies.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

If I'd Written the Scene ...

If I’d written the scene where the parents drop their son off at college, I would have included a few details to show the newness of it all, like without knowing the last four numbers of his social security number, the boy couldn’t unlock his room. I would have included a section where the two roommates meet and work together to arrange so-much-furniture in such-a-small-space, to foreshadow a peaceable co-existence. In the written version, the boys’ possessions could have provided clues to their personalities.

I would have drawn the parents, eager to help and loath to say goodbye, taking him out to buy books and an Ethernet cable, and then being frustrated when only one professor bothered to notify the bookstore about required texts. I would have had to decide if that was enough of a setback for one chapter or whether to include the bit about the Ethernet cable not working. Perhaps future plot twists would have determined which frustration to describe.

If I’d written the moment of goodbye, the mother would have hugged her son and been inwardly surprised to notice that her head rested on his chest, even though she saw him every day and knew he was tall. And of course, at the end of the hug, the boy would get suddenly busy, looking around for his flip flops. If I’d written that scene, the mother would have understood right away why the need to find flip flops was so urgent.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Today these size-13s pitter-patter off to college.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Overheard #72

"Use your galaxy."