Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sitting At the Grown-Up Table

So, I got thinking about the grown-up table on Thanksgiving Day. Don't ask me why I'm thinking about Thanksgiving in the middle of the summer. I love the summer. I wish it could be perpetual summer with kids never growing up and changing, school never stealing the hours of life away, and the most perfect day always involving a popsicle. But I walked past the china cabinet in my living room, and I thought about Thanksgiving. Remember the grown-up table? You know, the one with the soft white table cloth you weren't allowed to touch and the giant goblets of some yummy drink you weren't allowed to have and the gold-leafed china were weren't allowed to eat on? My lovely grandparents let me sit at the grown-up table so long as I behaved myself, but I went to other Thanksgiving dinners where I was relegated to the kids' table. The paper tablecloth gave me a paper cut and the turkey tasted like the paper plate. I think I ate some of the plate once the gravy soggied it up for me.

And I realized today that life is full of kids' tables and grown-ups' tables. Most of us are striving for the grown-up table in some area of our life. Either we want what we don't yet have or something else looks better. Sometimes though, the grown-up table actually is better and we just have to give ourselves permission to sit there. I think working toward a goal is something like that. It's worth the effort so we don't have to taste paper with our turkey. But once we reach that grown-up table, it's even more satisfying if we invite others to join us.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Blog Tour for "Protected" by Cindy Hogan


Today, I am doing something new. My blog is one of the stops for Cindy M. Hogan's Protected blog tour. Protected was released on March 24th and is the second in a planned trilogy. Watched, the first book in the series, is about fifteen-year-old Christy Hadden, who witnesses the brutal murder of a senator's aide and finds herself watched not only by the killers, but by the FBI. She used to hate who she was, but now, she must become someone else to save her own life and the life of her friends.

Here is the cover and the blurb for Protected:

She has the guy. The terrorists have been taken care of and she has a shot at becoming popular.
Life is great!
Until they find her.
Now she must run and leave behind everything she knows,
including herself.


I've asked Cindy to answer a few questions about writing and about her novels. I'm so glad she had the time to fit me in between the book signings and the writing of her third book in the series (which she plans to finish by the end of next week!)

When did you begin writing fiction and what do you love about writing? I only started writing about 5 years ago.I love being transported to another world and finding ways to make that world interesting and captivating as well as realistic.

What inspired you to write the Watched series? I had this awesome dream. It was so vivid and real that I told my family about it and how it would make the most awesome movie. I decided to write the idea down and that was it. I just couldn't stop. The characters came alive and I had to write their story.

Watched and Protected are full of suspense, intrigue, and conspiracy. What type of research did you do as you wrote your novels and did you learn anything that surprised you? I traveled to both Washington DC and different parts of Florida and talked to people while there. My husband is a police officer and my neighbor is an FBI agent, so I had ready access to all my questions. Lucky me.

That is convenient! I have family living near Washington DC, so I enjoyed reading a story in that setting. What is the biggest thing you think you've learned throughout your publication process? I've learned that the work is not all done once you are published. In fact, there might be more work after. Yes, I'm sure of it. There is definitely more work after publication.

As a writer aspiring for publication, that is really helpful for me to know! What advice would you give to young writers who want to write a novel?Read a lot, write a lot and go to writers' conferences. Make sure you get into a good critique group with people who want you to succeed and help you succeed.

Thanks for answering my questions, Cindy.

And here is her bio:


Cindy M. Hogan graduated with a secondary education teaching degree and enjoys spending time with unpredictable teenagers. More than anything she loves the time she has with her own teenage daughters and wishes she could freeze them at this fun age. If she's not reading or writing, you'll find her snuggled up with the love of her life watching a great movie or planning their next party. She loves to bake, garden and be outdoors doing a myriad of activities.


colleenstakeonfood.blogspot.com 
I love to bake too! I'm baking a fresh batch of homemade cookies today in Cindy's honor. I'd share some with all my readers, but we'll have to pretend. As we all munch on our white chocolate cranberry cookies and chase them down with milk, check out Cindy's contest for the cover model of her third book.

Click here to view the previous stop of the Protected blog tour and follow this tour tomorrow with Julie Daines. If you enjoy fast-paced plots full of suspense, twists, and intriguing characters, click here to buy Protected.

Best of luck to you, Cindy!


Friday, April 13, 2012

30 Days, 30 Stories and Geeking Out About Books and NYC

The Utah Children's Writers Blog is running a different short story, poem, or novel excerpt every day in April. Not all of the contributing authors live in Utah, but some have come to Utah to participate in a wonderful writing conference called Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers. My day for the "30 Stories" project is tomorrow, April 14th. If you haven't already, head on over to the blog for some fun reading. One of my favorites is "Walking Cemetery", a ghost story with a surpise ending.

Now, on a different subject... I've spent the week on the East Coast with my family, during which Mr R and I took a whirlwind trip to New York City. Finally. For those of you who have read my post about my adventures with vacation euphoria, you may be wondering what sort of mischief or danger I got myself into this time. Considering this was my first visit to the home of my two most favorite things--publishing and Broadway theater--I could have seriously lost my head. To my dear Mr R's relief, I did not attempt anything too crazy. I didn't bid $1900 for Nick Jonas' green bow tie at the end of "How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" like some people. (Although the money did go to a good cause). I didn't throw up on the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. We did find a signed copy of Beatrix Potter's "The Tailor of Gloucester" at a used and rare books store (because I really do "geek out" about books that much). We visited Scholastic Publishing, ate in Little Italy, and found all the designer stores at which I cannot shop. I cannot bring myself to pay $425 for a keychain, no matter how much I like the designer and his logo. But I had a great time in NYC and I hope to go back very soon.

What is the most outrageous price you have paid for something and why? We paid $28 for a bowl of oatmeal because...ummm...it was a fancy hotel and breakfast is the most important meal of the day? Mr R liked his fancy oatmeal, but my maple ginger pancakes were AMAZING!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lucky Sevens

I've been tagged in a game of Lucky 7 for writers with WIPs (that's writer-speak for "works-in-progress"). The following is an excerpt from Painting Totora, my YA Peruvian steampunk which I wrote during NaNoWriMo. (Wow. I looked over the previous sentences and realized they probably make no sense to my non-writer friends. Sorry, guys. I love you all--and thanks for being readers!)

The idea behind Lucky 7 is to go to page 77, line 7 of your work in progress, and post the next seven lines. This exercise was interesting for me since I've only begun to revise this novel and I had no idea what I would find on page 77. Here you go:


"You are right, Elio," Yana says. "And I suppose this place is as good as any." She steps into the cell and Cloe follows. Cloe will follow anyone who pays her a bit of attention--never mind that Yana's a soul shifter. Cloe's about as dim as day-old fire stones. "The guards trust that nothing will get past the gears on these doors, so they prefer to avoid the smell and stay out of here as much as possible."

"I would've preferred to avoid the smell," I growl.

Elio shushes me. He's right. I shouldn't provoke her.


süßer duft ("sweet smell"): an art exhibition
at La Maison Rouge by Gregor Schneider

If you have a work in progress and haven't been tagged in Lucky 7, consider yourself tagged! Post your seven lines on your blog and leave me a comment here so I can head on over and read it.

Thanks to inluvwithwords for the tag. Visit her blog to see what she's working on!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Chocolate Indulgence

The following recipe originated with Mr. R's beloved grandma whom my children refer to as "Cookie Grandma".  I must give her the credit. I'm posting this recipe in recognition of the most difficult rejection I received to date--the rejection that hurt the most, but proved the most helpful.

This rejection was no form letter. Although form letters tend to tick me off, at least they are somewhat ambiguous and you know hundreds of other people received the same wording. At least form letters aren't personal. The letter I'm commemorating with Chocolate Indulgence was very personal. It detailed everything that made my writing bad for two, single-spaced pages. It knocked me over and ground my self-confidence into powder. The editor who wrote it wasn't trying to destroy me--only to push me. Once I set the letter aside for a week and nursed my wounded pride, I realized she had some very valid points. The letter that hurt the most prompted me to take the manuscript to a workshop and ultimately led me to rewrite the entire manuscript from scratch. Without this painful rejection letter, I would have continued to revise by pushing words and phrases around like a kid with a dumptruck and a pile of dirt.

My rewritten manuscript might someday be published, but perhaps it won't. Regardless of what happens, the most painful rejection forced me to grow into a better writer.

No, I can't tell you who the editor is...but here's some chocolate for her.

Chocolate Indulgence Cookies
image from http://www.lovefromtheoven.com/

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups turbinado sugar
2 organic, cage-free eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups unbleached white flour
2/3 cup cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp coarse salt
2 cups dark chocolate chips or chunks

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, beat butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla until fluffy. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Add dry mixture to the butter mixture and mix well. Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop cookie dough onto an ungreased, light-colored baking sheet (dark sheets absorb more heat and tend to burn the cookies before baking is complete) using a rounded teaspoon of dough for each cookie.

Bake for 8-10 minutes. Enjoy!

*Note: For more yummy goodness, try these cookies with natural vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of chocolate syrup!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Writers and Their Insecurities

Writers tend to be an insecure group--at least, that is the notion that seems to circulate among writerly conversations. Why is that? Well, I have a few theories I use to examine my own self-confidence and, sometimes, lack thereof.

1. Writing is a solitary activity and being alone can do things to a person. Don't get me wrong. I like my alone time. The one time of the day when I truly feel relaxed is when everyone in my family is home and asleep except me. Everyone is safe, but it's quiet. No one is knocking at the door or calling on the phone and no one needs dinner. I do much of my writing after everyone is asleep. However, for a writer who is "pre-agented" and has no editor awaiting their revisions (ha), writing alone can sometimes create the illusion that the writer is actually alone, misunderstood, and unsupported. Even agented and published writers battle with insecurity as some of my writer friends can attest. Non-writer friends and family may offer their own thoughtful cheerleading, but the writer still feels insecure. Networking at conferences, participating in critique groups, and following writers' blogs are great ways of dispelling these insecurities. Connecting with other writers who are at different stages of their writing journey and discovering that others have felt the same way is both educational and soul-soothing.

2. Writers are usually too close to their own work to objectively see its flaws. On the wings of creative euphoria, writers live in their characters' heads in a world they create. They enjoy the experience so much that they envision every sight, sound, and smell with their characters. They believe they've just written their world in a way that everyone else who reads it will experience the same thing. The mind plays tricks. I've had whirlwind writing sessions in which the words flowed and the story came to life in front of me on my laptop, but a little time and distance reveals that much of what I imagined was not conveyed on the page. It is easy for insecurity to rear its head when writers ask others to read their work and then discover that what they thought was vibrant and touching was, in fact...not.

3. Writers must deal with rejection and criticism. One of the most effective ways of becoming a better writer is subjecting one's hard work to criticism and rejection. Even the most beloved published works were rejected and criticized by someone. Some were rejected and criticized by many. This is a fact of being a writer, but it explains the insecurities.



So what is the insecure writer to do?


After that, getting out in nature, playing the piano, and singing work for me. Then, a good critique group meeting or a writing workshop and chocolate. What do you do about writer insecurity?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Campaign Tags

This platform-building campaign is a fun whirlwind of reading blogs and getting to know fellow writers. I'm enjoying the process and have been tagged many times. Thanks, everyone! To avoid creating a ponderous post that busy blog followers wouldn't want to wade through (my goodness, I wasn't trying for all that alliteration...yikes), I have selected a few questions from each person who tagged me. If you haven't checked out their blogs already, here they are: Regina (whose awesome questions I answered in my previous post), Gina, Theresa, C.M. Brown, Traci, and Marcy. I hope I didn't miss anyone!

1. When did you last cry in front of somebody (who is not your partner)?
Musical rehearsal last Saturday. One scene in particular makes me cry every time without even trying.

2. Would you rather switch back to black and white TV with only five channels, or no internet?
Oh please, the black and white TV. I rarely watch TV while I'm working on a novel anyway, but I need the internet to research and to keep from getting lost when I drive!

3. What was your worst date ever?
It involved "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and an unfortunate launching of hard candy at my head.

4. Would you rather live in a crowded city or small town?
I'd rather live as I do...in a small town close enough to frequent a big city. I need my symphony, shopping, professional ballet company, and independent bookstore with a multitude of book launches.

5. A friend takes you to an abandoned castle that has been hidden for centuries. She heard a rumor that great treasure was hidden in the sixth tower. Would you venture inside or turn it over to the authorities to investigate? What would you find?
Oh, I'd most definitely venture inside. I have a bad habit of doing ill-advised things when I'm in a foreign place. And I would find a time machine so I could go back and meet Jane Austen and return when I want to actually own my own property.

6. Have you ever written in a character in a story patterned after a real person ~ out of spite, because that person ticked you off?
No, but I've written characters who have traits of people I know. Knowing someone with a particular mannerism, habit, way of thinking is the best research.

7. What would be your dream job?
Full-time author, of course. And also...a dolphin trainer or the shopping liason for Royal Caribbean Cruise Line.

8. What is your favorite song and do you sing it loudly to yourself?
Favorite song(s) involve Disney movies and Broadway shows and I most definitely sing them loud.

9. Do you have a favorite piece of furniture?
The piano...I think you can count that as furniture.

10. Career or hobby novelist?
Career

11. What helps you focus on your writing?
I focus by setting a goal with a deadline as well as spending a few minutes every day with my children before sitting down to write.

12. Do you work on more than one project at once?
I usually have to set aside one project to devote a chunk of time to another. I can go back and forth but I have to stay in one project long enough to feel like I've made significant progress before switching focus. Otherwise, the voice in the novel suffers.

13. Fiction, non-fiction, or both?
Fiction. The non-fiction I read as a child was painful and boring. I haven't been able to think outside that box enough as a writer to believe I can tackle non-fiction in a creative and interesting way. I see other writers' non-fiction work for children and I'm impressed at how well they engage kids with facts. Meanwhile, I love creating new people, new worlds, new rules with fiction.

14. What was your favorite book or book series as a child?
The Chronicles of Narnia

15. Chocolate or vanilla or caramel?
CHOCOLATE! Although chocolate with caramel is equally divine.

16. What was your most beloved toy as a young child?
I had a small stuffed Snoopy dressed in jeans and a red T-shirt that said "The gang's all here". I still have it in a box of keepsakes. It's a bit nasty in places where Snoopy's white fabric is yellowed with age and (most likely) my spit.

It seems everyone in the platform-building campaign has been tagged, but feel free to tell me your favorite literary character and favorite flavor of ice cream in the comments.

Friday, February 17, 2012

I've Been Tagged

I've been tagged by some of my fellow platform-building campaigners. Hello to all my new followers!  And here are the questions I've been asked:

1. What is your favourite writing place?
I love to write in the rocking chair by the windows that face the fields and mountains behind our house.

2-What is the best thing about writing?
The best thing is creating characters completely different from myself, feeling the desires and emotions of their internal and external conflicts, and feeling the heartache and triumph of their journeys.

3-What is your favourite quote?
"Whomever said happiness brings sunshine never danced in the rain." I don't know who said it, but it was on a plaque in one of my dance studios.

4-Where do you get inspiration from?
I get my biggest "aha" moments from watching documentaries of all kinds--exploration, other cultures, nature, and (in the case of the manuscript I'm querying) ocean life.


5-If you could be a historical figure, who would you be and why?
This is a tough question, so I'm going to say the first name that popped into my head. Sacagawea. Because she rocked.

6-Name your  top three favourite authors.

C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, and J.K. Rowling

7-If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
The floating reed islands on Lake Titicaca in Peru...also, Ireland 


8-Besides reading and writing, name two other hobbies.

Musical theater performance and snowboarding

9. Name your top three websites.
http://www.kidlit.com/, http://www.querytracker.com/, and Facebook

10. What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Learn the market and finish your novel. You need to write to be a writer. Set aside time to write every day and write something you would love to read.


11- What special power would you choose to have?
I regularly wish for the power to wiggle my nose like Samantha in the TV show "Bewitched". That witch can do anything with a little nose twitch from changing her outfit in a flash, to fixing a gourmet dinner, to turning an unwanted guest into a braying donkey.

And now...drum roll please. I'm tagging the following bloggers and my questions are listed below.


Shelly Brown
Kate Coursey
Donna Martin
Amanda
David Powers King
Gwen of Run Gwen, Run! Write Gwen, Write!
Kate at The Scribbling Sea Serpent
1. What's the most helpful thing someone has told you in the last week?
2. If you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?
3. What is your favorite thing about writing?
4. When do you do your best writing?
5. What do you like to read?
6. What is something unusual that you've done?
7. How do you get names for your characters?
8. List the top three websites you use.
9. Besides reading and writing, name two other hobbies you have.
10. Where in the world would you like to go?
11. Name two novels you think everyone should read.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Stretching Those Critiquing Muscles

I've been reading the archives of a blog by the anonymous, Authoress. At her widely popular blog, Miss Snark's First Victim, Authoress cultivates a positive and helpful community for writers. Somehow, I arrived late on the scene to this blog, but I absolutely love it. I enjoy reading the monthly Secret Agent Contests in which writers may submit the first 250 words of their completed manuscript for critique by other writers and by one anonymous agent whose identity is revealed at the end of the contest.

The benefit to those who would offer their helpful, non-snarky, critiques in one of these contests is an increased ability to quickly see what works and what doesn't in those opening paragraphs. Do I care about the character? Do I know what they want? Am I firmly grounded in the story? Do I get a sense of the conflict--both internal and external? It's like drinking through the firehose of critique groups. Reading the critiques posted by others in the writing community also provides an interesting perspective.

This month, I decided to jump right in and enter my middle grade fantasy in the contest and my number was drawn. Head on over with the link and see how the contest goes. It's fun to make predictions about which manuscripts are most likely to be requested by the agent. There are some really good ones in this round.

How does reading other writers' work with the purpose of giving an honest and helpful critque help your own writing?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Platform Building

Just a quick post to plug a great opportunity for aspiring and published authors, bloggers, and anyone involved in the publishing industry who want to build their online platform. Rachel Harrie is running the first of two platform-building campaigns for the year. Click on the link to read more about it and to sign up. The deadline for entry on this campaign is February 15th. Thanks, Rachel, for doing such a great service for the writing community!

Monday, February 13, 2012

False Peaks

Mountain climbing can be tricky business. I'm not an expert hiker but I do enjoy an occasional climbing adventure. A few years ago, I embarked on an impromptu excursion that has been added to my ever-growing collection of "learning experiences". After an arduous and painful entanglement in scrub brush and a strenuous climb to what I thought was the top of the mountain behind my uncle's home, I discovered the frustration of false peaks--sub-peaks that appear to the inexperienced climber to be the object of their climb when, upon closer examination, are only a mirage.


Creating a publishable manuscript can be like that. Finding an agent for your manuscript can be like that. Many times, like inexperienced hikers, a new author reaches a point at which they believe they're about to reach the end of their climb. An agent requests a partial or a full manuscript, an agent offers representation, an editor is reading their manuscript. Often, these steps result in a book contract, but sometimes they are only a false peak.

The key to success is not turning around and going back down the mountain. Don't do it! The top of the mountain still exists, despite the false peak. You just have to keep going to reach it. Study the market, go to conferences, participate in workshops, distance yourself from the manuscript and write something else. Sometimes, the false peaks are there so we can prove to ourselves that we can reach the markers along the way, climb over them, and see the actual top of the mountain in our reach.

So, to all you writers out there (and all you non-writers who have other goals in your sights), adjust your approach and find a better trail if necessary, but never stop climbing!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Defining the Busy Writer

I did not make New Year's Resolutions...I made and defined goals. For me, the difference between the two is desired results. I could have made a resolution to blog here, say, three times a week, with the desire to ramp up my internet presence. (Which I obviously did NOT do since this blog has been uncharacteristically quiet and my internet presence is really more of an absence). At this time in my writing career, such a resolution would have simply taken away from the time I must carefully guard for the sole purpose of preparing my manuscript for submission. Just after the holidays, I began receiving feedback from my critique partners and beta readers on my middle grade fantasy. I'd been anxiously awaiting their notes so I could dive into another round of revisions and I knew I'd need to set aside a significant amount of time to do them. And the best critiques are usually the hardest ones to apply to a manuscript--requiring a significant amount of thought, brainstorming ways to fix a plot element that isn't working, re-writing, re-evaluating sub-plots, dissecting characters and their motivations, etc. These are the revisions I've been pounding out on my laptop over the last three weeks.

Instead of a resolution, I set a goal. Get THE SEAKEEPER ready to begin another round of queries and send it out. I can't control whether any given agent will be interested in taking me on as a client. I can't control whether I get a book contract this year. But I can control the effort I put into making the manuscript as good as I can possibly make it. I can control my revisions, my association with talented critique partners, my study of the children's publishing industry, my reading of useful writing blogs and involvement in writing communities that mentor authors. I can control which agents I choose to query based on a careful study of their submission guidelines, their interests, and what they currently represent. So those are my goals.

No resolution to get published. Just a goal to do everything in my power to pursue that end with this manuscript and then move onto the next one.

And maybe clean the house and do some laundry. Maybe.

What about you? How do you go about your goals?