June 29, 2011

Establishing a Writing Routine: What Works for Me

My writing routine has evolved. Mostly, it centers around my kids' nap time. It also depends on what I'm working on. First drafts can be written between breaths. Whenever I get a free moment, I can sit down (butt-in-chair or BIC) and pull a couple hundred words from my muse. (Where'd you think I pulled them from?)

That doesn't work for revision, though.

Something about rewriting a scene drains me. You may recall, I'm writing by hand because, well, it works for me. The content is better (setting, conflict, voice) but it's EXHAUSTING! When my kids (finally) go to bed, I go back to my room, pull out my notebook, and pick up where I left off the day before.

Thirty minutes later, I'm resting my head on my arm with my eyes closed, trying to recover. It's physically draining.

I'm lucky to get more than four pages written.

Now, typing those pages up on the computer takes no time. It's not nearly as demanding, mentally. I usually type up the week's handwritten pages on Saturday. It comes out to about 1800 words a week.

For those of you who haven't done the math yet, that's 300 words a day. (I take off Sundays.)

Really? That's pathetic.

It's okay. You can say it. I used to write five times that. But the thing is: I'm going to save myself a whole draft. So I like to double that number. :)

Another thing I need: silence. Some people like to work with music. I've done that, and it works really well for me if I have music or dancing in the scene. Otherwise, I find it builds the world in my mind without it being on the page. (I'm not sure if that makes sense.)

But the kids have to be asleep and I can't write in the same room as my husband if he's listening to something on the computer. Sometimes I get really lucky and he'll take the kids to the park or the pool. That's prime writing time, right there. Pure quiet.

I love it.

June 27, 2011

AbsolutelyEvil: the voice that says: You Can't

As I get closer to finishing this draft of Roses and Mirrors, I start to hear that voice. You know the one. The voice that says, "You're going to fail." It's AbsolutelyEvil.

AbsolutelyEvil is picking at the back of my brain right now, telling me that there are so many mistakes in this draft. AE says I'll never catch all of them in the next pass.

Maybe I should freak out and stop what I'm doing RIGHT NOW and go back and make all the changes I can think of. Because I might forget to make those changes if I don't do it RIGHT NOW.

I'm leaving myself little notes while I write (AE says I'm not going to see them when the time comes to make those changes.) and I try not to worry about it until I'm ready to do the next draft, but (excuse my whining) it's hard. It's difficult to put something imperfect on the paper and move on.

But I must.

And AE can just deal with it.

June 26, 2011

Fairy Tales Gone Wrong: Riker's Fractured Fairy Tale

by Ivy Thorn

The last post I made on this blog, someone asked me for an example of something that can go wrong in a fairy tale if you don't follow my three rules. (Why is it always three?)

Well, I'm not the only one who gets trapped in fairy tales. Every now and then, I'll meet someone like me, someone who's been captured by one of those obnoxious pixies. I got sucked into the Twelve Dancing Princesses once, where I met this guy named Riker. I got his permission to tell you about one of his adventures. I think I mentioned him once. Riker survived The Clever Little Tailor.

Riker's a pretty awesome guy. Like me, he enjoys messing with people. I warned him about that. It can get you into trouble. He knew exactly what I meant.We were dancing at the time, so we had some time to talk.

"I had a little too much fun with that fairy tale," he said.

I stepped on his toe, but didn't apologize. He was used to it by that point. "What do you mean?"

He flashed a wicked grin. “I broke into the cheese shop.”

“You what? Why?”

“The tailor was supposed to trick the giant by squeezing some cheese. Says he’s squeezing moisture out of a rock.” He spun me around, slow enough that I didn't trip.

“So you stole all the cheese? That’s crazy.”

“Crazy delicious.” He grinned and patted his stomach. “But then the tailor had to scramble for a new plan. In the meantime, the giant tore up the entire village. Not pretty, when the whole community uses outhouses.”

I wrinkled my nose. “Tell me you’re kidding.”

“I’m kidding.” He dipped me really low, totally hamming it up. “But not really.”

When he pulled me back up, I tried giving him a look that said, “Oh, please.” but on the inside, I was cracking up. I just had this mental image of busted outhouses, all because this guy stole some cheese.

There you go. That's what can happen. So please, if you ever wake up in a fairy tale, follow the rules!

June 25, 2011

Writing Progress

I have about three scenes left in Roses and Mirrors! I'm really excited to be so close to The End.

The story still needs another draft and I'm going to try reading the manuscript out loud because it's supposed to be incredibly helpful. I'm hoping to query Roses and Mirrors by July 12. I can't wait!

(Yes, I look forward to querying. Rejections don't bring me down like they used to. I realize that must seem strange. Oh, well.)

June 24, 2011

June 23, 2011

Grandma's Garden

My grandma is an amazing gardener. She lives in central Florida and grows just about anything. She's a big inspiration for me with my gardening. We went to visit my grandparents not too long ago and I took a bunch of pictures.
Container gardening at it's finest. Grandma will use anything as a
planter: old bathtubs, barrels, water drums, you name it. 
I love this little pond they made. There are some fish and
the little pile of rocks in the back sometimes has water trickling out from it.

More containers. Tomatoes and herbs, mostly.
These are in Grandma's little greenhouse.

Please take as many kumquats as you want!
Grandma makes really good kumquat preserves.

She has a Three Sisters Garden of her own.
(Hers is so much better than mine.)

June 20, 2011

Freezer Cooking: Surprisingly Delicious (Yet Convenient)

Our family can't eat a whole lasagna. We can't even eat half of it. So, every time I make it, I put together two smaller lasagnas (in two 9x9 pans) instead of one larger (9x13) pan. I don't cook the noodles ahead of time, I just put a little extra liquid in the sauce. I freeze one pan and cook the other. When we want lasagna again, I pull the frozen pan out in the morning, let it thaw, then bake it at dinnertime. Simple. Easy. And I think it tastes better than the fresh one.

Then I found out I'm not the only person who does this. I mean, there are some people that go all-out. I found this website called FreezerDinner.com run by a homemaker in Utah. She does freezer cooking all the time and has some great recipes on her blog.

I gave some of them a try.

The Chicken Manicotti Recipe was something new and kid-friendly!

Chicken Marengo is a new family favorite. It's like an Italian stew on rice.

So on the nights when dinner is just "throw something in the oven", I get to write!

It's my latest thing. 

June 17, 2011

Writers: Rejection is a Good Thing

I'm closing in on the end of my fairy tale book. This draft, at least. I'm just itching to get it out into the world. With every book I write, it's hard not to think: "This could be the one."

"The one", of course, is the book that lands me an agent and a publisher and a check. I'd continue to write, even if I knew I'd never write "the one", but it's nice to have validation, you know? Besides, my stories need to be read. They need to be shared.


So I'm getting closer to finishing this book. This is Ivy's book. (She deserves it. She's been a great character and so entertaining. For me, at least.) And I've already built my agent list. A list of several agents that I think would be a good match for my book, my future books, my career, and me.

And I can't help but think about rejection. It's part of the biz. You query for the "yes", but you have to prepare for the "no" (and the "no thanks" and the "sorry" and the "this is a subjective business" and "I'm going to have to pass" and "this isn't quite right for me").

But rejection is good. Rejection means you're trying. I think of my rejection letters as battle scars, badges of honor. Every query I've sent is a little ping that I sent out into the world. And every rejection was a response. Not the response I was looking for, but it was a response.

And with every response I get, the closer I get to the one that's going to make me jump up and down, run and scream like a kid playing freeze tag, and then collapse on the floor with a smile on my face.

Because I may not be very good at math, but I know a bit about statistics. I was a psychology major and we're all about statistics.

Daryl Sedore did a guest post on the blog Write to Done on Why Rejection Letters Are Great and I completely agree. They're great.

He writes:
Years ago I worked as a door to door salesperson doing cold calls. We’d go knocking on doors all over the neighbourhood and eventually get in. Sometimes it took ten minutes, sometimes an hour. Once in a while it took all day. I learned quickly that it was just a matter of knocking on doors before I got in. What I mean is, the more doors I covered, the faster I got in a house to do a presentation and possibly make a sale. So I ran. That’s right, I ran from door to door. It kept me energized and fired up so when I finally got in, I was ready to present and sell. I outsold my team month after month. The rest of the salespeople got depressed when a door slammed in their face. Not me, I loved it, because I was one closer to the door that would welcome me in.

And he makes a great point later in the post:

[...]You miss out on 100% of all literary agents that you don’t query.
Of course, the quality of your book is what really counts. You can't just query 300 agents for the same book and expect the law of averages to work for you.

But still.

I'm writing the best book I can. And I can't wait for it to get rejected. Because that means it's that much closer to becoming "the one".

June 14, 2011

Fairy Tale Survival 101

by Ivy Thorn

Fairy Tales are so predictable. But they're not. You think you know what happens next. You think you know all the patterns and archetypes. But the thing about fairy tales is: you never know when some fairy is going to change things up because he's bored. Or you might change the story without meaning to. There's no rule that says Snow White has to take a bite from a poisoned apple. You can pick all the apples in kingdom, but that's not going to stop the queen from going after Snow White.

Believe me. I've tried.

I had a friend who got stuck in The Clever Little Tailor. And things went horribly wrong because he broke into the town's cheese shop. But that's another post.

The point is: anything you change can come back and bite you.

So the first rule of fairy tale survival is: Don't touch a thing. I don't care if it's pretty or sparkly or if it looks delicious. It's probably cursed anyway and you don't want it.

The second rule completely contradicts the first one. You have to change something. If you're being trapped in a fairy tale, it's most likely because a fairy is bored and wants to watch something entertaining. So you have to change something or the fairy will change things for you. And believe me, you don't want that.

So start small. Start by talking to characters. Get them to think about their situation differently. You want the character to make the big changes, not you. For example, one of my better ideas was when I jumped into Snow White this latest time. (Yes, I get trapped in the same tale more than once occasionally.) I told the queen she'd be better off leaving Snow White alive. Of course, she didn't listen to me. Until I suggested that she make Snow White ugly. Not dead, just ugly.

My third and best tip for surviving a fairy tale is to make friends. I know it sounds cheesy, but it works. You'll get past all those witches and enchantresses trying to test you. Friends are allies and can help you be in more than one place at the same time. One of the best friends you can make? The kitchen staff. Everything revolves around food, just like in our world, and if you can make friends with the cook, you've got a leg up on all the big parties, balls, royal dinners, family suppers, even that basket of poisoned apples...

So there you go. You're ready for a fairy invasion. If you ever wake up in front of a castle, you know what to do.

June 11, 2011

My Three Sisters Garden

 I'm growing some veggies and a few flowers in my yard. I like growing things. I love the smell of the dirt and how thirsty plants suck up all the water on a hot day. Baby green leaves shooting up out of the ground are just so beautiful. And the really great thing about growing vegetables is: you get to eat them!

So this spring, I planted a garden. Not just any garden. I planted a Three Sisters Garden. This is a Native American tradition, I think. Basically, you plant corn, then some pole beans and squash. The beans put nitrogen into the soil, the corn gives the beans something to climb, and the squash provides ground cover, which keeps out the weeds.

Marigolds keep the bugs away.

 I planted the corn first to give it a head start, then planted the beans and squash.

The newspaper isn't pretty, but it cuts down on weeds.

Baby squash plants. Took about 2 weeks to get this big from seed.

So yes, the writer lives outside the words in her brain. :) I don't spend much time outside, but I try to get out every couple of days to water and weed my little garden.

June 10, 2011

Writers Write. And Garden. And Chase Kids Around. And...

I'm a writer. It's what I do. It's what I love. Writing is my escape from life.

But sometimes, writing is hard work. I'm okay with hard work, but all work and no play makes Emily a spiteful wench.

Not pretty.

So I need other outlets. Believe it or not, I have a life outside of my writing (and kids). So I'm thinking about sharing my other interests on this blog. I garden. I think I might post some pictures from my adventures through my yard. I also run (when I'm not sick or injured), read, and of course: raise my kids.

So how 'bout it? You interested in seeing what my life is like? It could be scary. To be honest, I'm not sure if I'm brave enough. Maybe that's why I'm procrastinating...

June 7, 2011

Writers Feeding Writers, Like a Vamp in a Blood Bank

Jonathan Maberry was one of the keynote speakers at Pennwriters this year. His speech was absolutely inspired.

He spoke about how he got his start as a writer. He'd heard that writing is a solitary life, that writers are reclusive and jealous of other writers. So he worked alone.

Then he went to his first conference. Not only were the other writers friendly, they lifted each other up. There wasn't any jealousy. These were people who enjoyed their work, who shared their ideas, and who worked to help others succeed.

The thing about writers is that we benefit by helping our "competition". With most businesses, you buy from either company A or company B. If you buy from company A, then B has lost you as a customer, and vice versa.

Not so with writers.

If a reader picks up book A and reads it and loves it, then that reader will continue to look for books written by that author. In the meantime, the reader is looking for another fix. They're looking for another book to read that will entertain them and move them like book A did. And so they pick up book B. If they love it, they now have two authors from whom they buy books. And the cycle continues.

The goal of writers is to create a readership. To write our best so that readers come back for more. Not just for our benefit, but for the benefit of the industry.

And so our community, the community of writers, is not a competitive one. We feed each other. As Mr. Maberry put it: a writer walking into a conference is like a vampire walking into a blood bank.

And that's why he doesn't put other writers down. If author A slams author B on his blog, Jonathan Maberry said he'll go buy author B's book. There's no room in this industry for negativity or malice.

For me, writing is a joy. I'd like to spread that joy to as many people as I can.

June 4, 2011

RePost: Show vs. Tell: What I Learned at Pennwriters

YA author Maria V. Snyder gave a great seminar on Show vs. Tell. I asked if I could post her handout and she said yes! So, here it is:

A common writing mistake is to tell the reader the events of a story or tell the reader how a character is feeling. Journalism is an acceptable method of telling, of presenting the facts, but fiction creates the illusion of being there in the story, seeing events happen without the writer telling you.

For example:

Valek was angry. (Telling)

"Valek took a gray rock off his desk and hurled it toward me. Stunned, I froze as the stone whizzed past and exploded on the wall behind me." (Showing)

[This year at Pennwriters, I also learned to avoid showing AND telling. You wouldn't want to say Valek was angry and then hurl the rock.]

 There are five techniques a fiction writer can use to avoid telling the reader:

 1.Using Point of View (POV)

2.Using dialogue

3.Using all the senses

4.Using picture nouns and action verbs

5.Writing in scenes


POV is the character who is relating the story. The readers see your fictional world through this character's eyes. Usually the POV character is the main protagonist, but not always (The Sherlock Holmes mysteries are told from Dr. Watson's viewpoint).

There are many different POVs:

1. First person - The POV character tells the story as "I." Strong reader identification with POV character. Readers discover story events as character does. Remember - POV character must be present at all main story events. Example:

 "I averted my eyes from the flickering light as they led me down the main corridor of the dungeon. Thick, rancid air puffed in my face. My bare feet shuffled through puddles of unidentifiable muck."

 --POISON STUDY, Maria V. Snyder

 2. Second person - The POV character is referred to as "You." Demands reader identification, technically challenging. Example:

"You avert your eyes from the flickering light as you are led down the main corridor of the dungeon. Thick, rancid air puffs in your face. Your bare feet shuffle through puddles of unidentifiable muck."

 3. Limited third person - A single POV character is referred to as "he" or "she." Allows writer to get out of the POV character's head and tell the story. Provides some distance from POV character while still fostering strong identification.

Example: "Yelena averted her eyes from the flickering light as she was led down the main corridor of the dungeon. Thick, rancid air puffed in her face. Her bare feet shuffled through puddles of unidentifiable muck."

 4. Multiple third person - Multiple POV characters, each referred to as "he" or "she." Flexibility in covering spatial and temporal events. Less reader confusion when one POV character is used per chapter. Same writing style as limited third, but the writer is not restricted to one character's thoughts and actions.

 5. Omniscient - No single character, jumps from POV to POV, with authorial comment. Freedom to make major points without too much reader identification with primary characters. Example:

"Sam had a very sharp sense of clothes style - quite as sharp as a "mod" of the 1960's; and he spent most of his wages on keeping in fashion. And he showed another mark of this new class in his struggle to command the language.

 By 1870 Sam Weller's famous inability to pronounce v except as w, the centuries-old mark of the common Londoner, was as much despised by the "snobs" as by the bourgeois novelists who continued for some time, and quite inaccurately, to put it into the dialogue of their cockney characters."

--The French Lieutenant's Woman, by John Fowles


  Dialogue is fast paced, it's easy and entertaining to read, it advances the plot and shows characterization, and it involves the reader. We all like to eavesdrop on conversations (if you're a writer it's practically a job requirement!). Dialogue is also a great way to "show" what is happening in your story.


Valek poisoned Yelena's drink with Butterfly's Dust. (Telling)

 "While we're waiting, I though maybe you could use a drink." Valek handed me a tall pewter goblet filled with an amber liquid. Raising his own goblet, he made a toast. "To Yelena, our newest food taster. May you last longer that your predecessor."
 My goblet stopped short of my lips. 

"Relax," he said, "it's a standard toast."

I took a long swig. For a moment, I thought my stomach was going to rebel. This was the first time I drank something other than water.

"What does it taste like?" Valek asked.

"Peaches sweetened with honey."

"Good. Take another sip. This time roll the liquid around your tongue."

I complied and was surprised by the faint citrus flavor. "Orange?"

"That's right. Now gargle it."

"Gargle?" I asked. He nodded. Feeling foolish, I gargled the rest of my drink and almost spat it out. "Rotten oranges!"

He laughed. "Correct." He opened my folder and picked up his pen. "You just had your first lesson in food tasting. Your drink was laced with a poison called Butterfly's Dust. The only way to detect Butterfly's Dust in a liquid is to gargle it. That rotten orange flavor you tasted was the poison." (Showing)

--POISON STUDY, Maria V. Snyder


Don't just use visual imagery for description. In addition to colors, sizes, and shapes, use smells, sounds, tastes, and textures. Smells can be very effective in provoking a response in your reader. Example:

"I selected four squares. They were each about the size of my thumbnail. If I hadn't been told they were a dessert, I probably would have guessed they were pieces of brown candle wax. My fingernail left an impression on the top, and my fingertips felt slightly greasy after handling them.

I bit into the hard cube, expecting it to turn to powder between my teeth. Thinking wax, I anticipated tasting wax. Instead of crumbling, the dessert melted and coated my tongue was a cascade of flavor. Sweet, bitter, nutty and fruity tastes followed each other. Just when I though I could say it was one of them, I would taste them all again."

--POISON STUDY, Maria V. Snyder


 Use specific, concrete nouns instead of vague ones like happiness, kindness, arrogance, and courage. Instead show characters being happy, kind, arrogant, and courageous. Also use the most vivid, active verbs, and avoid the passive or linking verbs. Limit modifiers. Examples:

  • There was a robot working behind the counter. (Telling)  
  • A glittering, magnificent, and spectacular robot was working behind the vast, shiny, smooth counter. (Modifier overload! and passive voice)
  • An X-14 Postal Robot sorted envelopes behind the customer service desk. (Showing)

Passive Voice: The car was speeding down the road.
Active Voice: The car raced down the road.
Passive: The report was read by Karen.
Active: Karen read the report.

Passive: The crash was witnessed by a pedestrian.
Active: A pedestrian witnessed the crash.


For any story length, scenes are the building blocks of the story. The word "scene" is a theater term. It describes action that occurs in a single place or setting. It can be as short as a paragraph or as long as a chapter. Focus defines a scene not length. Each scene in a novel has a specific focus or reason that the author chooses to show the reader what's going on at that time.

Here are some reasons to use the scene:

  • to give information to further the plot of story
  • to show conflict between characters by using dialogue and action
  • to show a particular character by focusing on how he/she deals with a situation
  • to create suspense.

 The beginning of a scene should hook the reader and make him/her want to keep reading. The ending should create some type of suspense - emotional or physical so the reader will want to continue reading.

 There are seven ways to begin a scene:

  • In media res (beginning in the middle) -- start with action or at a point in the protagonist's life where there is change or conflict
  • Dialogue -- starting with dialogue is another form of in media res, but this method starts in the middle of a conversation. This is an interesting and fast-paced way to open a scene. Dialogue also shows characterization, background information, and plot conflict all without the reader noticing the technique.
  • The Jump Cut -- starting with an action or dialogue that has nothing to do with prior scene. This creates suspense as the reader has to read on to find out what happened after the last scene ended.
  • The "Big Promise" Opening -- start the scene by making a big promise to the reader about what the scene will entail. Example: "When I stepped onto the commuter train that afternoon, I had no idea that it would be my last train ride."
  • Setting -- only begin with setting if it is a crucial part of the story. By starting with setting, the reader knows this aspect of the story is very important.
  • Time -- Begin the scene with the time of day. Waking up in the morning is a popular place to start -- although this can be weak if nothing significant happens. Avoid the waking to the screaming alarm clock and pounding door cliches.
  • Character Description -- opening a scene with a description of a character. Not a dry list of physical features, but rather a sense of the character's personality, focusing on some trait that will influence the plot.
Ms. Snyder left us with some writing exercises that should help with show vs. tell. I thought it might be fun to leave our answers in the comments section.

Using all the senses, describe one of the following three scenarios:
A. Waiting in line for the Drop of Death rollercoaster
B. Riding on the Drop of Death rollercoaster
C. Getting off the Drop of Death rollercoaster after having ridden it.

Correct these three sentences to show rather than tell (can expand into a paragraph):
A. The hotel was crowded.

B. Doug was handsome.

C. He wore a suit and thought he looked good.

D. Mary hated working for Frannie.

E. The little boy was afraid of the dark.

F. Kari was angry at Tom.

A special thanks to Maria V. Snyder for giving a great seminar, a thorough handout, and for letting us share it!
She has a lot of great sources for writers in her Publishing Labyrinth, but I think this post is long enough! :)
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