Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Thinking About Graphs

Today is the birthday of Rene Descartes. People usually remember him for saying, "Je pense donc je suis." (I think therefore I am.) For me, his most important accomplishment was identifying the relationship between geometry and algebra, thus laying the foundation for analytical geometry. Cartesian coordinates are named after him, although he did not carry his mathematical research far enough to plot a line.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Contest Announcement

Moonrat is celebrating the 500,000th hit on her blog with a contest for a 20 page critique. Click here for details.

Revision Quote from Laurie Halse Anderson

"Revision means throwing out the boring crap and making what’s left sound natural."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Saturday, March 27, 2010


The other night we watched The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie. As Hercule Poirot gathered clues and investigated suspects, my husband said, “This would be a lot simpler with DNA evidence.” It got me thinking about how contemporary novels have changed.

Remember when:
  • Mystery novels were built around clocks and train schedules instead of cheek swabs and blood tests
  • Spy stories involved confrontations with the Soviet Block
  • It was impossible to reach a character by telephone
  • Pirates marked the spot with an X not global coordinates
  • The guilty worried about destroying incriminating negatives rather than deleting files
  • Questions of paternity could support an entire plot

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Little Shop of Horrors

This is what Sunday’s bud looks like a few days later. I particularly like the purple tentacles writhing up the green bumpy part. Won’t somebody please put it in a fantasy or sci-fi novel?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Write Night Exercise: Letter Writing

This Write Night exercise was inspired by Elegy for the Personal Letter by Allison Joseph. Here’s the exercise for those who could not attend.

Write two letters from one character in your novel to another character in your novel. The second letter should be written by a different character than the first. Remember voice!

The second letter may be a response to the first, but it doesn’t have to be.

The two letters should convey opposite emotions. Choose a pair of emotions from list and write one letter to depict each. (The order doesn’t matter.) If I omitted your favorite pair of emotions, feel free to write about those.


One letter should tell the truth. The other should be a lie.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


signs of spring

And I spotted two red-winged blackbirds and a field full of robins.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Catch a Sunbeam in a Cobweb

It’s been a while since I posted a weird picture. Remember this one?

Is anybody writing spooky stuff? Perhaps your hero will journey through the underworld today.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Dreaded Synopsis

For the past week or so, I’ve been struggling with the synopsis for TAoCBS. My attempts fell into the common pitfall of Way Too Much Detail. This morning a new approach succeeded.

1. Figure out the shape of your novel.
Is it a linear progression in which A causes B causes C? Does it have a branching tree shape, where one event sets several things in motion? Does it resemble a capillary bed with diverging and converging plot elements? Does it look like a funnel in which several seemingly disparate events coalesce at the climax?

2. Draw your novel.
Make brief notations about plot events and connect them with arrows. I like to use jagged-lined arrows for high-conflict. Remember the shape of your novel as your draw.

3. Decide which plotlines are essential for the synopsis.
It may not be possible to include every subplot in a one-page description.

4. Write the synopsis based on your diagram.
Think brief. Think essential.

5. Edit and cut.

Monday, March 15, 2010

On Doing Homework

Sam: I’m going to look over my math homework and see if I can cull the herd – take out the weak ones.


Jeremy: I have to go fishing for answers. I think I have it, then I realize it got away.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Fun

Click over to Jumping the Candlestick, an awesome blog by Debbie Diesen, and enter to win your own autographed copy of The Barefooted, Bad-Tempered Baby Brigade.

100 Scope Notes by Travis Jonker features Book Spine Poem Gallery today. Books are stacked so their titles create poetry. It’s hilarious. I’m going to peruse my bookshelves to see if I can create a poem of my own.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Trust Your Process

I’m always interested in how other people write. A highly successful mystery writer said he wrote five pages a day, five days a week. Another prolific writer explained his second draft was to fix little things while he mentally prepared himself to make major revisions.

Usually, when I’m writing a first draft, I review and revise the previous day’s work before I add to it. This nets about two pages of new writing each day. For my current WIP, I changed my process. I’m charging ahead with the story and not looking back – yet.

What’s your process?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

SCBWI-Michigan Spring Conference

Yesterday I received the brochure for the SCBWI-Michigan spring conference. You can see the speaker lineup here. I’m sure the brochure will be on the website soon.

It looks like an action-packed conference. Here are some links about the speakers.

Author and Illustrator Websites:

Jay Asher
Donna Gephart
Dave Coverly
James Tobin

Agent Information:

Beth Fleisher
Agent Spotlight on Literary Rambles by Casey McCormick

Editor Information:

Ruta Rimas
Market My Words by Shelli (srjohannes)
Terry Pierce: Children’s Author
Day By Day Writer by Samantha Clark

Lisa Yoskowitz
Day By Day Writer by Samantha Clark
Jacket Flap

Monday, March 8, 2010

Social Studies Credits

Me: Stop arguing.
Jeremy: If you can't petition the government, it's a dictatorship.


Me: Your world history class went through WWI?
Sam: Probably the Napoleonic wars. That class is for seniors, so no one really knows what happens at the end of the year.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


the waning moon

To tell if the moon is waning or waxing, look for the flat side. If the shape resembles a b, with the flat side on the left, it is a “baby” or waxing moon. If the flat side is on the right, so the shape resembles a d it is a “dying” or waning moon.

I learned this scientific fact from Highlights for Children Magazine.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Yesterday I found myself sitting in front of the computer, not typing, but massaging my temples. I was stalled at a dead stop. Not even the turn signal was blinking. On the screen, my protagonist was wishing he could go home. I realized I’d hit a plothole.

Plotholes occur when there is a breach of logic. The story has become inconsistent with the character’s personality or journey. The events don't make sense within the world of the novel.

I went for a walk, and after about a mile, I found a solution. I spent the walk home figuring out how to implement the idea. I was lucky, this time.

Sometimes it’s possible to steer around a plothole. Other times they can be patched. Occasionally it’s necessary to build a detour or even take another road. The trick is not to get stuck in them.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Swirly Brown and Gray

Lori is right in one for this mystery photo. It’s a close-up of a wasps’ nest, although I don’t know what kind of wasp. This enlargement was marginally beyond the capacity of my camera, and I apologize for the grainy pixels.

The other guesses were great. Perhaps I’ll use some of your suggestions for future mystery photos.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Revisions and Platitudes

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
I’ve heard writers say, “Revise it again, and it will be that much better.” But not every revision improves a manuscript. (I recently took a tight but slight novel and turned it into a seething morass.) Why do some revisions fail?

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
The concept behind the revision may not be big enough or completely thought out.

Look before you leap.
The new changes may adversely affect other aspects of the manuscript.

Rules are rules.
What works for one manuscript may not work for another.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Rejection letters tend to offer vague advice. Any comment beyond a form rejection is an act of supreme generosity from an extremely busy person, but the advice may not be specific enough to implement.

Time heals all wounds.
Eventually, the right solution will present itself – I hope.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Who Needs a Megalomaniac?

Epic works require a supremely evil character who can persist through multiple novels, but megalomaniacs work best when viewed through a filter.

In The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Sauron is so evil that he is beyond the ken of the hobbits. Pippin interacts with him once through the Palantir and is almost destroyed by the experience. The Hobbits’ daily struggles involve Sauron’s minions.

Similarly, in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, Harry faces Lord Voldemort only a few times in the seven book series. Instead, Harry battles a man possessed by Lord Voldemort, a memory of Tom Riddle and multiple Death Eaters. The Big Bad Guy is mostly off stage.

The Sharpe’s Rifles series by Bernard Cornwell, tells of the struggles of a common English soldier in the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon Bonaparte was certainly a megalomaniac, but the protagonist never comes in contact with him. Sharpe spends much of each book in mortal combat with French soldiers, but they aren’t really the antagonists. His true foes are incompetent officers, backbiting English soldiers, and the hardships of war.

Protagonists with their necessary limitations and weaknesses cannot be pitted directly against an omnipotent antagonist. The most interesting conflicts occur between the little people.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Mystery Photo

I bet TimInMich will get this one right away.
I'll post the answer on Friday (3-5-10).