Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Looking Back at 2008 - The Year of Writing

A self indulgent look back...

January - I had a car accident (his fault, not mine!). My first YA novel began to take shape. My faithful friends and fellow Wire groupies gathered to watch at my house as the best television series ever wound to a fabulous finish. "There Will Be Blood" shook me up, and I took a friend to Disneyland. I began another year of gaming with a group of like minded geeks. Yes, I game. So sue me for having an imagination.

February - my novel's plot got clearer. I planned my trip to Europe with my friend Wendy. Our pick - Prague and Budapest in October. The flu laid me low, and I finally got the car fixed. I passed the time with a couple of very nice gentlemen.

March - more writing! Took a screenwriting class from my fabulous friend Pilar, applying the ideas generated there to my novel. I really got under the skin of my main character. My critique group gave great feedback. I underwent extensive dental hell, but it all ended up costing less than I thought. Phew! The schmoozing reached unprecedented levels at various writing and media-folks gatherings.

April brought the beginning of my 12-week YA novel writing class. I refined my plot drastically, rewrote chapter one three times, and finally started to feel good about it. I endured a root canal and rewarded myself with wine tastings, good company, and watching friends perform in front of appreciative audiences.

For May, my calendar has "WRITE!" written in nearly every day of the month. And I did. I churned out pages and got great feedback from my class, which gave me incentive to keep going. May 8, I scribbled: "rewriting like a maniac" in my worst handwriting. Along the way I had a few rum drinks at the Tonga Hut.

June brought the final chapters of my novel, which I managed to churn out in spite of five fabulous days spent in Hawaii not writing. I reconnected with some of my closest friends and acted like I was 16 all over again.

In July I finished my writing class and the first draft of my novel. Hurray! I fell for "The Dark Knight," and attended the SCBWI (Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators) conference in Los Angeles, where there was much schmoozing, attending of lectures, and writing.

In August I stepped back from my manuscript for a few weeks, supposedly to give myself perspective. But mostly I was lazy and hated my writing and figured I was doomed. My lovely mother came to visit and the latest dentist appointment revealed that I now have fabulously healthy teeth. I spoke on a panel at work about working as a creative exec assistant in Hollywood.

September brought me back to my book, and I rewrote and tightened and honed and felt the love again. I put together a website with help from a fabulous friend. Okay - so I have nothing to sell yet, but what the hey! My friend Diane visited and completed a triathlon - yay! I played poker at work, and started sending out queries. My bathroom flooded, and I hit a few Tiki bars because life is short.

From here on, I can't really discuss the query/agenting process, but let's just say so far so good. In October I ventured to Prague and Budapest with Wendy at marveled at how those countries are recovering from Communism. The men in Prague? Gorgeous! A Polish man told me that Hungarians are more passionate. Duly noted. I made notes in case I need to use those locations in a novel.

In November I rewrote a spec TV pilot I'd begun last year, and it actually got a lot better. Hey! Maybe I am learning something along the way. There was much feasting on turkey with loved ones, holding of newborn babies, and listening to live music.

December - I finished the rewrite on the TV pilot, and the beginnings of a new novel begin to appear in my brain. I start to jot stuff down - and signed up for another class, to begin in January.

So yes, I wrote more in 2008 than I ever have before, and I had my share of heartbreak, frustration and fun along the way. And I plan to write even more in 2009. The more I write, the more likely it is that something concrete will come of it, right?

I hope your 2008 was even more productive, satisfying, and delightful. Here's to a creative, adventurous, fearless 2009!

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Racoons - All Grown Up!





The little bandits aren't so little anymore!

Back in May I posted photos of five baby raccoons and their mother here, ignoring the advice of friends and family scared for my safety to venture outside to take those shots. The masked critters did not swarm me, but instead crunched in perfect concert on the dry cat food I'd left out for Miss Kitty.

Now it appears Mom has gone elsewhere, and the babies are now grown - but still together, like a furry Brady Bunch trapped in a variety show after the sitcom has died. They're bigger, they're badder, and they still all crunch in concert.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It's Hard to Type When You're Cold

And there's no heat in your apartment, so the cats have draped themselves over your lap and arms, and the laptop is your only source of warmth.

I'm just saying.

Monday, December 15, 2008

How Do I F*%&ing Start This Thing?

Is there a proper way to begin a novel?

Can you just sit down and write the thing? Some people claim to do this. They sit down with no outline, no character sketches, no idea of where there story is going, and they just write until its done. A few revisions, and - voila!

I'd hate them if I didn't think they were lying.

They may not have a laboriously worked out an outline, a calendar of events, and collected photos torn from magazines that remind them of the characters in their heads, but they fricking have more than a vague idea! It's been percolating in their brains for weeks/months/years, and by gum, they do so have an idea of where it's headed!

And the real, evil, fabulous truth? Most of them do LOTS of revising.

Don't get me wrong. Unless you're Aaron Sorkin, all writers do lots of revising. But those who do not outline/blah blah blah do LOTS of revising. (And Aaron Sorkin perpetrated Studio 60 on us, so maybe he should look into this revision thing.)

So I advocate starting with a plan of some kind. You may not have all 8 acts or follow the Joseph Campbell hero's journey, or whatever. But figure out who wants what and where they end up with it first. It'll save you grief later.

That said, I wrote the first three pages of a novel over the weekend without a completely worked out outline. It was fun! But I have been working on the character, my world's mythology, and have a vague outline of the story in my head. I just skipped ahead a bit to remind myself of the fun to come so I can finish outlining with a lighter heart.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How to Write the First Book in a Series

Want to write the first book in a fantasy series that will sell and keep the readers hooked? Tune in tomorrow for the live internet chat with several writers who have done it. Check out Fangs, Fur, and Fey's podcast/livecast here. Successful fantasy series writers like Jenna Black and Rachel Vincent will share their secrets.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Writers are strange; humans are strange

Great post by the author of YA novel Graceline, Kristin Cashore over at her blog This is My Secret, all about her writing process and the insanity that goes with it.

If you're a writer, check it out. You'll realize you're not alone in worrying, obsessing, procrastinating, and thinking your writing sucks. There's comfort in knowing you're not alone.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Vampires: Target Women

As Twilight-mania continues to dominate the world of YA fiction and mainstream movies, I continue to struggle with the amazing appeal of these storeis.

Don't get me wrong - I'm all for vampires and fantasy stories and hot romantic this-and-that. But the girl in Twilight is just so passive, so uninteresting, so unable to think and act for herself that she bugs the heck out of me. The male lead is described over and over again as "perfect," until I felt all "she doth protest too much"-y.

But who cares what I think? Teens sure don't. They're sucking down the books and swooning at the movie. Heck, a lot of middle-aged women are swooning too, and probably breaking their hips when they fall.

To help us understand this phenomenon comes the hilariously gifted video reporter Sarah Haskins from Target: Women at Current. Check out her funny and slightly disturbing investigation below:


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Don't Write the Sequel Until They Pay You

Here's some good fundamental advice I got from a published author. I was wondering how best to spend my writing time now.

Should I plunge into an outline for the sequel to the book I just finished? Or should I launch into something totally new. The argument for the sequel, in my head, went something like: well, once they buy the first one, I want to be ready to go with the second!

This, of course, assumes someone will actually buy the first one. Blah blah blah, assume makes an ass out of, well, me, mostly.

So don't plot or plan or write your sequel until someone buys the first book. Yes, I do have a strong idea of where the story should go. I figured that out before I wrote the first book. But it could very well be a big fat waste of time if I spent more time on that storyline if no one else likes it the way I do.

So I'm doing research and making up stuff for another book, and I'm in that happy stage where the world is jampacked with possibilities and I can do whatever I want with anyone and everything in the world. Structure and limitations come later.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I'm thankful for...

My wonderful, supportive family and friends.

My health.

My job.

That I've got the time, energy, and wherewithal to write.

Writers like Harper Lee, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Dave Simon, and George R.R. Martin.

That fragrant pumpkin cupcake with cream cheese frosting I just ate.

The warm, friendly waves at Bellows Beach.

The Advil I just took to counteract the sugar headache from the pumpkin cupcake.

Dictionaries, thesauri, Google, wikipedia, my DSL connection.

Whoever designed my favorite underwear.

How a newborn baby feels when you hold him.

Ink on paper.

Dreams. Hope. Excitement. Laughing till I squeak.

A fat yellow full moon hovering over the Hollywood Hills.

My cat Lucy asleep with her legs in the air.

The smell of orange blossoms.

Plumbing that works.

My other cat Max insisting on lying on top of me.

Charlotte's Web, the Chronicles of Narnia, Half Magic, and all the other books I loved as a child.

Emily Dickinson, John Ford, Van Gogh, Nefertiti's sculptor, the Cave at Chauvet.

Having a wonderful place to go on Thanksgiving filled with people I love and the smell of turkey and pie.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Just Keep Writing, Just Keep Writing...


There's a character is Finding Nemo named Dory who is terribly upbeat and goofy, and one the little mantras she sings is "just keep swimming, just keep swimming..."

I've been feeling a bit low and sorry for myself and disappointed in some stuff. Some of the waiting is over, and I didn't hear what I wanted to hear.

So, after some wallowing, I go back to the mantra - Just Keep Writing. Thank goodness I have supportive friends, some of them fellow writers, some of them not, who tell me that I'm not insane, not to give up, and to get off my ass and keep writing.

So I'm brainstorming some new ideas and having a blast. Nothing like creating a whole new world to make you feel empowered, at least in your own imagination.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Put It Out There

Why is it so hard for me to show people my writing? That's what I want to do for a living (eventually, fingers crossed, if I'm lucky), right?

But some part of me magically wants to make that living writing cool stuff that no one will ever see. Because then no one can ever judge me and find me lacking, silly, or pointless.

Conversely, I find it super frustrating to write continuously in a vacuum, with no reward coming from all the effort.

Jeez, I'm a pain in the ass. I feel like kicking my own butt all over the planet.

But these are the contradictory feelings that I'm always battling - I suck. No I'm great. Why does no one realize how fabulous I am and pay me for it? Why would anyone pay me to do anything?

I suppose there's a middle way, and the truth lies somewhere in there. In the meantime, I'm going to keep pushing back the fear and darkness and try to put it out there, let people see my stuff, and see what happens. It's terrifying, man! But life is short, and other cliches. Just because you broke your leg last time you jumped doesn't mean this one will go badly. Just triple check your parachute.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why Does this Feel Appropriate?


From The Onion:

Cancer June 22 - July 22
While it's true that the universe works in mysterious ways, it's becoming pretty clear what it has against you.

The Hardest Part

Remember that Tom Petty song, The Waiting? The lyrics say it all: "You take it on faith/You take it to the heart/The waiting is the hardest part."

I can't be specific about what I'm waiting for. It's just not politic. But waiting is part of what you have to do as a writer, and it just fricking sucks. So much about being a writer sucks! It's really hard, man. Don't do it unless you can't help yourself.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Write or Die

Found a cool widget/website at Write or Die/Dr. Wicked that will help you get words on the page.

Check it out here - put in your word count and the time you allocate for yourself to achieve that goal, click, and start to write. The widget will keep track of your time, word count, and even help you paste what you wrote to the clipboard to save it.

I'm not participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year, but this would be very handy for any NaNo-ers out there trying to meet their word count goals every day.

Or consider this NaNoWriMo calculator to help you stay on track:







1667

Monday, November 10, 2008

Photos

I finally downloaded my photos of Prague and Budapest. You can see them all at my Flickr site, here.



That's me in front of the John Lennon wall in Prague. Back in the communist days, students started graffiti-ing a tribute to Lennon on a wall in the Castle district of Prague. Despite crackdowns and white washing by both communist and the current regimes, new graffiti continues to appear. I added: "All You Need is Love."



Here I am overlooking Budapest. I'm in a very cool series of towers and walkways in the Buda section of town, overlooking the Danube and Pest on the eastern shore.

Travel is such a privilege. I'm so grateful that I get to galavant all over creation, taking photos and soaking it all in. It's wonderful to be surprised, and every new place I go surprises me in some way, beyond anything the guidebooks could ever tell me. It keeps me humble, widens my viewpoint, and makes me appreciate coming home. If you can get away to another country - go! The flights are hell, the lack of sleep is daunting, and you get sick of looking at a map every time you want to go somewhere. But in return you get to see the world from a different perspective, like a shaft of sunlight hitting the world at an angle you've never seen before. It's revelatory. And it's damned fun.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Jet Lag = Early Voting

Thanks to jet lag, I awoke at 6am today. So what the hell - I got up, got ready for work, and walked to my polling place at Gardner Elementary School in Hollywood. I'm not a morning person, so I've always voted after work. But today, with an historic, exciting election in the offing, plus jet lag from my trip to Europe, I broke with precedent and actually GOT IN LINE to vote.

I've never had to wait more than two minutes to vote. But today, with a possible victory for a Hawaiian-born black man, I had to wait a whole 30 minutes. It was worth every second.

I love voting on Election Day. I'm all for early voting, absentee voting, or voting by telepathy if that were possible. Anything that makes voting easy and available to all is fabulous. But for myself I love doing it on the official day, stepping up to that rickety little voting "booth" (really more of plastic mini-cubicle at my polling place) and using that short squat inky pen-thingie to mark my choices. Folks around me in the other wobbly cubicles were taking their time marking up their ballots.

I trucked through - click click click, and looked up, blinking. Was I really done? I made way for the next voter and handed my ballot to the wild-haired elderly Russian-American man waiting for me next to the crouched machine that ate it up and belched somehow to show him all was well. He handed me my "I Voted" sticker and a felt a swell of silly pride - in myself, and justified pride - in my country, where power changes hands peacefully at the command of the people.

Voting rocks. It's like telling, for a brief moment, the story of our country, the narrative of your state, the tale of your city.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Empty shoes - Budapest



Another great shot by Wendy. This time we're in Budapest, and the shoes are a memorial to the victims of the Nazis who were executed as they stood along the river Danube. They were forced to take off their shoes before they were shot and fell into the river.

Who were the people who once stood in these shoes? As a writer, my head spins with the possible stories that lead the people to this spot and this horrible fate. How many fascinating stories will never be lived or told because people weren't allowed to live their lives in peace.

Me at the Lennon Wall - Prague



Taken by my lovely travel companion, Wendy. This is a wall in Prague where, during the days of communism, young people would graffiti images of John Lennon. He inspired them. The tradition continues to this day, even though the government routinely white washes the wall. It only provides more room for new folks (like me) to add their own tributes to Lennon.

Interesting how popular art like this can be so moving, so inspirational. I not only had to add my phrase, I wanted immediately to listen to Lennon's music and start lobbying for peace.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Prague and Budapest

Checking in very quickly from Budapest thanks to the internet! I'll post pics once I get back, but here are my quick impressions:

Prague: Sumptuous and hard.

Budapest: Grand and melancholy.

More details to come.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Free Expert Advice

Interested in a longerm career as a novelist? Check out a free 268-page book by big time agent Donald Maas called The Career Novelist: A Literary Agent Offers Strategies for Success, which you'll find at Writer Unboxed.

It takes awhile to load, but it's chock full of real life advice from a top agent who knows what he's talking about.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Research

Did you know, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Bulgaria let go of 14,000 employees in its secret police? At the same time, it stopped paying all the wrestlers, boxers, and weight lifters it had on the payroll. Yeah, they paid hundreds of athletes so they could dominate certain sports in the Olympics. But after the Iron Curtain fell, all those jobs went away.

What happens when thousands of secret police and hundreds of major league athletes are suddenly unemployed?

Crime. Beware unemployed young men with training in weaponry, strong arming, and criminal contacts. The Bulgarian wrestlers were soon tops in the Europe's largest car theft ring, moving stolen vehicles from countries like Germany to the Balkans and Easter Europe. Former members of the secret police used their extensive networking contacts to form multi-national organized crime syndicates that moved arms, drugs, cigarettes, and women for sale all over the world.

This is the sort of thing I'm learning as I research my next book. I love research. It gives you all kinds of ideas, sets you off on flights of fancy, solidifies the backgrounds of your characters, sends you away in different directions than you ever dreamed. It's this whole discovery phase where you start to figure out what your book is REALLY about.

So will the facts about the Bulgarian secret police, wrestlers, weight lifters, and boxers end up in my book? You know, I think they might, in an oblique way. A shadowy character is actually Bulgarian, and I just might've figured out some crucial elements of her background, thanks to this research.

But before I decide for sure - more research!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Welcome Home

Saw this on Andrew Sullivan's blog, then followed it the source. The soldier you see here called it: "My dogs greeting me after 14 months in Iraq." Andrew Sullivan called it a "mental health break," and I agree.



My dog, Missy, looked a lot like these dogs. We had to give her to my cousins when we moved back to Hawaii, but she always remembered us whenever we came to visit.

And thoughts and prayers go out to all our men and women serving in Iraq. Here's hoping you all come home soon, and that all are greeted with this kind of enthusiasm.

Time + New Knowledge = Perspective

Now that I've been working in TV development for over a year, I'm finally getting a feel for how this whole cock-eyed business works. And since I work specifically in developing for cable networks, I'm beginning to understand just how specific the networks' needs are. Each network has its own brand that they feel they must maintain at all costs.

All this is now so helpful when I take a look at the TV pilot scripts I have written myself. I went back last week and took a look at something I'd written two years ago - eons ago. It was nice to see that it wasn't half bad, but with my new perspective, I realized that it wasn't quite right for any of the networks. The writing wasn't half bad, and the idea had some merit, but it sat fat in the middle of the road, just being itself, not making a big statement one way or the other.

So now I'm tilting it more strongly in the direction I think it needs to go to appeal to a network. I've got two networks in mind in particular. I don't expect them to ever buy it or make it - don't get me wrong. But at least now I've got a goal in mind that will sharpen and focus the script. And that should make it a better writing sample.

So my unsolicited advice to would-be TV writers out there - when you write your spec pilot script, aim it square at one network or the other. That way, when someone reads it, they'll think - wow, I can really SEE this on ABC, or HBO, or TNT. You don't need to know the identities of all the networks, but if you pick one and go for it, it may help you write a script that actually feels like a real TV show.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Who Does She Think She Is?

Female artists have it tough. Don't believe me? Check out the trailer for the movie Who Does She Think She Is? (Feel free to skip the intro and go right to the trailer.)

Looks like something every female artist should show to the men in their lives, so maybe then they'll start to get it.

Monday, October 06, 2008

NaNoWriMo is Almost Upon Us

Thinking about writing a novel? Consider NaNoWriMo, that's National Novel Writing Month, which comes now every November. This is a completely free, voluntary movement to get people to write that novel that's been stuck in their heads.

The goal is to write 50,000 words (which would actually be a very short novel) the month of November, and to get support from fellow NaNo participants. You can find them by signing up at the NaNo site. Here you will find forums full of advice and hilarity. You can also sign up to join "write ins" in you area, and attend your local launch party, where you'll meet fellow NaNo-ers as you eat and drink.

I'm trying to decide whether to participate this year or not. I'm rewriting a script at the moment, but should probably get going on the next novel too. A writer's work is never done! And NaNoWriMo can be a powerful motivating force as you struggle with your writerly demons.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Website is Up!

It's a bit early for me to have a website. I don't have anything published (yet) and thus don't have much to promote (yet).

But logic hasn't stopped me. Common sense be damned. My website is up! Check out ninaberry.com.

Woo hoo! You can link to the blog from there, see some of my fave links, learn about me me me (because websites are all about narcissism), and eventually you'll be able to buy my books there. Maintaining it isn't all that expensive, and this way it'll be ready, willing, and able to do its thing once I'm officially an author. I'll get an official, spiffy author photo to go on the home page as publishing dates near, and there'll be more about the book as well.

Note how fricking positive I am. I'm trying to note it myself because I can't quite believe it. Is it arrogance, faith, or delusion? I can't wait to find out.

HUGE thanks to Elisa, the fabulous designer, and to Meg, the technical genius behind it all. If anyone out there needs a designer or a website techie, I'd jump at the chance to recommend these talented women.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Personality Indicator = Fun

I found the Gregorc Personality Indicator test online, and you should give it a whirl if you want insight into how you and others think, and why you don't understand the way other people work.

You'll have to print it out and do it by hand, but first go here.

Follow the instructions and map out your graph. Thinking styles are broken down into four types: Concrete Sequential, Concrete Random, Abstract Sequential, and Abstract Random. You will have a score of some type in each category, but will probably lean strongly toward one or more types of thinking.

Then go here and see what it all means.

What I like about this test is that it doesn't just label you as one thing. I fell into all four categories with varying degrees of intensity. Here are my scores. Then I'll show you what they mean.

(CS) Concrete Sequential: 4
(AS) Abstract Sequential: 24
(AR) Abstract Random: 56
(CR) Concrete Random: 28

So I scored strongest in Abstract Random, then got almost equal scores in in Concrete Random and Abstract Sequential, then scored really low in Concrete Sequential.

Which means - don't expect me to solve your math problems!

And here, in order of what I'm strongest in first, is a synopsis of each type.

Abstract Randoms prefer:
Cooperative work, Assignments with room for interpretation, Balance of social activities and work, Noncompetitive atmosphere, Personalized learning, Are given personal attention and emotional support.

Concrete Randoms prefer:
Trial and error approach, Hands-on experiences, Brainstorming and open-ended activities, Produce real, but creative, products, Original and unique approaches to problem solving, Self-directed learning.

Abstract Sequentials prefer:
Lecture and reading, Follow traditional procedures, Work alone, Research, Logical explanations, Are respected for intellectual ability.

Concrete Sequentials prefer:
Order and quiet, Exact directions, Guided Practice, Know the accepted way of doing something, Can apply ideas in a practical, hands-on way, Are given approval for specific work done.

Learning style summaries
Concrete-Sequential - Organized, stable, productive, perfectionist
Abstract-Sequential - Precise, conceptual, visionary, opinionated
Concrete-Random - Curious, hands-on, impulsive, impatient
Abstract-Random - Spontaneous, adaptable, social, perceptive

AR fits me very well, I think. I love cooperative games (don't much care for super competitive ones), adapt well, and all that. But I am capable of being logical, working alone, and following traditional procedures, and having a big fat opinion in AS fashion too. And so on. I do tend to lack organization in my work, which makes sense given my low CS score, although I CAN do it if I try. It just requires more effort and isn't a high priority for me.

This sort of thing can give you insight into how you work, your strengths and weaknesses, both as a person and as a writer. I know that I need to work a little harder on my organization (as I survey the sea of paper near my desk) and on actually finishing projects.

Give it a whirl and get your loved ones to do it too so that when they get all Random (or overly Sequential) during an argument, you don't go ballistic.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Check out the new look!

Notice anything... different around here lately?

Yeah, I've updated my photo and the look of the blog so that they tie in with my long range plans.

You see, eventually I'll be a published author with a website. At least, that's the promise I made to myself, and I'm proceeding as if my desires are actually going to happen in the real world. I guess I have a lot of faith, a lot of hubris, or both!

So the changes you see are part of those plans. Eventually the look of the blog will tie in with other elements of my plan.

Gah! Can you believe I'm getting all official and stuff? But about a year ago I made a deal with myself that I'd start acting like a professional until it became a reality. So this is one of many steps. Most of the steps involve actual writing, but you also need to market yourself, reach out to possible readers, all that good stuff.

Act like a professional and take the necessary steps toward becoming one. That's part of my current philosophy of making your dreams come true. Meanwhile, enjoy the new look. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Crutch

In reading my book out loud to myself, I figured out that I have certain go-to phrases and ideas that I lean on whenever I've run out of ideas.

It's really annoying to discover that you do this, but I've heard from other writers that I'm not the only one. (Thank goodness!) One writer told me that she always has her characters smiling.

"Thanks!" I smiled at him, trying not show my feelings.

That sort of thing, but over and over again.

Why does this happen? Personally, I get tired of writing the word "said." In writing dialogue, it's best to use "said" when you attribute a line to the speaker, rather than obscure things like "Oh, I would never," she averred. "Said" is more unobtrusive, often invisible to the reader, so it allows your dialogue to shine. But I get sick of it. So I insert action and motion into the dialogue, trying to add layers of meaning.

How do I do this?

By having people lift their eyebrows. Voila, my crutch. In reading my book again, I found my characters lifting their fricking eyebrows at each other left, right, and center, upside down and sideways. I had a veritable army of Spocks on my hands, indicating their attention and fascination and skepticism, and anything else I could think of, with their eyebrows. Lazy of me. Shiftless, slothful, and positively torpid of me.

The problem with the crutch is once you realize you have one, then you have to go in and change it every time you use it. Ugh. What the hell else is character going to do during an intense conversation other than lift their eyebrows?

Hello, "said."

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Things She Learned About Telling Stories

Writer Elizabeth Bear has a great post on her blog about the Things I Have Learned About Telling Stories.

She tackles dream sequences, killer POVs, killing off protagonists, and so on. She knows whereof she speaks, so harken, ye writers. Take note.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Another Photo Appears on Schmap!

The online travel site Schmap must be hard up for photos of York, because they selected another of my shots of that city in UK to illustrate its online guide.

You can see my photo and the overall guide here.

It's not the most exciting photo in the world, but hey - it's another appearance on the web for me, a person not exactly renowned for her photography prowess. The shot is of a portrait of a man named John Foote (I forget the artist's name, alas) in the York Gallery. My travel buddy Wendy and I spend half a rainy day there quite happily viewing various pieces of art. As it happens, Wendy knows a man named John Foote through her work, so she asked me to take this photo. And another moment of internet "fame" occurs for me...

Yeah, right.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Reading (out loud) is Fundamental

I'm onto the final stages of rewriting, which is exciting, daunting, and, well, tedious.

I'm reading the whole frakking book out loud to myself. And it's taking forever.

(Ever heard that joke?

"How's life?"

"Taking forever.")

I had a whole three day weekend to do this and I'm only about a third of the way through. Okay, so laziness and a deep desire to take naps interfered somewhat. But also, your dang voice gets tired after awhile. And the cats look at you funny. And the neighbors can hear you as they pass your front door.

However, I deeply recommend this as something to do as you get ready to submit your manuscript. I've caught all sorts of typos, missing words, bad punctuation, stilted sentences, dialogue in need of work, ideas that need clarifying, and so on.

And you can practice your otherwise terrible acting skills and facility with accents. I've got the Cockney bodyguard down cold but am having trouble with the smooth more upper class British hero. But it's kind of fun to try. Most importantly, I'm making my book look as polished and professional as possible before anyone claps eyes on it.

Oy. More reading out loud ahead tonight. Wish me luch with the Corsican mobster!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Speaking of rewriting...

Fellow writer/rewriter Elisa pointed out this genius post on YA writer Libba Bray's blog: Writing a Novel, a Love Story.

Read it and you will begin to understand the complex nature of the writer's relationship to their work.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The fricking rewrite continues

Life has been so busy lately, that the rewriting is going very slowly. Rewriting is a very hard thing to organize. There's a million ways to go about it.

Sol Stein compares it to triage and suggests you deal with the bits in most dire need of change first. So that means, sort of, in order:

Filling plot holes and problems
Fleshing out characters
Making sure it all just makes sense, for crying out loud.
THEN
Futz with the wording, phrases, sentence structure.
THEN
Read it out loud. Check dialogue again.
THEN
Proof for grammar.

That's the ideal way for me. But do I stick to my plan? What do you think? I score high as a Random thinker. (I can't find a link to this personality assessment thing that tells you what sort of thinker you are, but it's actually pretty useful. You answer questions and get various scores. Then you plot out the scores on an x/y axis as Random or Linear, then as Concrete or Abstract. I score high in the Concrete Random and Abstract Random quadrants, very low in Concrete Linear, but decently as Abstract Linear.)

So I'm all over the map when I rewrite. Just yesterday I forged ahead with my first big pass (up to Chapter 8!) to fill plot holes and fix up the characters. Then I paused, printed up Chapter 1, and went over the hard copy to fix the wording, phrases, and dialogue. Books are large creatures, like whales. So maybe you can rewrite large portions of its tail while at the same time polishing and sprucing up its head.

Well, that whale metaphor is strange and unweildy. But I'm all about the strange when the mood strikes, so tough.

So how do you rewrite? I'm both organized and messy. I can hold contradictory thoughts in my head at once AND act them out too. Talk about strange and unweildy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Panel Panel

I was part of a panel today consisting of assistants to creative execs. The point was to share info on what we do and how we got where we are, because a lot of assistants want to move into the creative arenas and eventually become creative execs themselves.

By creative execs, I mean the executives in Hollywood who oversee development in film and television and current TV execs. These are the people who mold the scripts that become the films and TV shows you watch.

So the five of us assistants sat in directors chairs in front of about 70 people, talking about what do, what our bosses do, and how we got our jobs. Currents of freezing air whooshed out of the air conditioner. I fought off goosebumps and smiled and told folks that they need to be discreet and be nice to get these jobs, as well as to really work their contacts. I was the only one on the panel without agency experience, so even as I felt a little like an outsider, I think the audience latched onto me as an example they could follow. Afterwards, folks wanted to chat, and the organizers gave us flowers! Who knew answering phones and reading scripts could make people think I was an expert at something?

Friday, August 08, 2008

SCBWI Conference Highlight #1



I'm not a writer of picture books, but when writer/illustrator Yuyi Morales accepted her Golden Kite Award for best picture book illustration, I and 900 others attending the luncheon got teary eyed. Her speech was intensely creative, hilarious, and touching, and I wish I could remember exactly how she managed that.

She talked about trying to find inspiration for her speech, and then, in vivid poetic language, descibed how she went hiking in the hills and found it there. She told us the Peruvian story of Night which, along with her own mother, inspired her to write and illustrate her award winning book. (It's stunning to behold, this book, by the way, all blues, purples, and blacks, but somehow emanates a joyful warmth that we all could see in Yuyi herself.) She spoke of her husband and her son, and then she showed a power point presentation illustrating the thrill she felt at finding out she got the award that literally brought the crowd to their feet in a standing ovation.

Here is a woman who was once a very poor immigrant, with no friends in this country, who has used her creative energy to make a magnificent life for herself, a life where she touches the hearts of children and inspires other writers. Amazing what art can do.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Wisdom from Horst

At the SCBWI conference, prolific and best-selling author Margaret Peterson Haddix (of The Shadow Children and Missing series) talked about trying to stay in touch with your inner teen and told us a funny story about learning to ski.

Her wise old German ski instructor told her: "You will go in the direction you are looking."

And she realized how true this was for so many other parts of life, not just for skiing. Horst was right! So try to look in the direction you most WANT to go. See if it works.

(I heard another great quote during Sarah Pennypacker's acceptance speech at the Golden Kite Awards - something from my favorite author EB White saying that whenever he writes, he realizes how much he just loves human beings. Now I want to find the quote, because I completely recognize what he's talking about. The best writers write from a love for humanity. Just my humble opinion. But at least Sarah Pennypacker and EB White agree with me!)

Monday, August 04, 2008

Conference-0-rama

I took Friday off work and attended three out of four days of the big SCBWI conference here in LA. (SCBWI = Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, an international organization I belong to.) I went last year for the first time, and it was fantastic.

This year was also wonderful, although a bit less useful to me overall than last year. I think I'm sort of getting then hang of this stuff, and am no longer quite a newbie! Weirdness.

I'll report in more detail as my brains de-scramble, but if you are at all interested in writing for kids and have the time and money, I urge you to attend one of these conferences. They are valuable for their huge infusion of inspiration (I cried during two, count em, TWO speeches) and practical knowledge. For me, the best parts were meeting some nice fellow writers and getting to know more about a couple of interesting agents that did workshops there. Attending the conference automatically gives you more of an "in" with agents and editors who teach there. It's no guarantee they'll take you on, but it sure can't hurt!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Looking for Subtext? Make it Musical

I was watching the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Once More With Feeling" (That's ep 7 of season 6) last night, and it got me to thinking about how Joss Whedon uses the songs to show things the characters are thinking and feeling that they would never otherwise express to each other.

Of course, this is a longtime tradition in American musical films, and Joss is brilliantly following in illustrious footsteps here. But how does this apply to my (or your) writing? Well, bear with me. I'm going to weird places here.

The conceit in this episode is that the characters are all keeping secrets from each other. Then a demon arrives in town with the power to force people to sing and dance in musical numbers that reveal these secrets. So Buffy sings to the vampires as she stakes them, confessing that her heart's just not in it. Spike tries to get make Buffy leave, but is musically forced to confess that he loves her but knows she's using him.

When it come to dialogue, the best has both text (the actual words you're reading) and subtext, which is what's underneath the words. The classic example is a couple bickering in a romantic comedy. Sure, the text has them fighting. But the subtext is that they are wildly attracted to each other.

So how do you find the subtext? It's not always as obvious as that romantic comedy example. Even in scenes where the text is most important, I like to have a bit of subtext to add layers. There's a scene right at the top of my novel where the heroine converses briefly with her family. The text here is vital, conveying backstory and exposition. But one of these people is the villain, and I want to foreshadow that without giving it away. I also want to convey the villain's attitude toward the world and the heroine, to hint at the personality traits that make him/her a villain.

How the hell do I do that without mustache twirling or outright stating it? And just what is this villain's attitude toward these things? I need to do more character work on him/her and nail it down.

So Buffy the Musical inspired me. Here were characters singing their real attitudes and feelings. So I imagined a musical number in this problematic scene in my novel where the villain sings, revealing who s/he is and what his/her agenda might be. None of this will ever appear in print. I'm no lyricist or musician. But I did picture him/her, suddenly alone at the top of a staircase, looking down on the folks s/he considers to be ants, singing narcissistically about plans to take over the world, and the weird mixture of love and hate s/he feels for the heroine. The mood and tone of my imaginary music, the posture of the singer, how I'd shoot the number, all these things clue me in on what's going on with the villain and the subtext of the conversation.

Now I just have to somehow incorporate what I've learned into the dialogue in the scene. Still not easy, but at least I have a handle on what it is I'm trying to convey.

So what type of musical number would your problematic scene become if you suddenly made it a musical? Is it a rocking number with guitars and a heavy baseline? Or do scantily clad dancing girls appear as your hero dons a straw hat and tap dances? Just another crazy way to get inside your characters and scenes and figure out what the hell you're doing.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Private Snapshots

I was rereading Stein on Writing by Sol Stein, a terrific book on writing, and came upon a chapter I hadn't noticed before. In it Stein talks about a technique that can add a whole new layer of depth to your writing.

He recommends thinking about a snapshot from your life that you would not be comfortable showing anyone, something you would NOT carry in your wallet. Then think about how adding that snapshot to your story might help. What he's getting at (I think) is that writers must not be afraid to show readers things that are far too intimate to discuss or show people in real life. The best writing illuminates these dark corners of our secret lives in some way.

Oy. So that means I/we/writers are supposed to confess our most secret personal snapshots in our writing? Scary stuff. But Stein uses an example that isn't all that freaky. He's not trying to find out your sexual kinks. He talks about a woman writer whose book about a female cop wasn't really resonating with him. He asked her about her own personal snapshot. This writer was herself a cop, who had to be a tough cookie in her job. The shapshot she didn't want to show people was the moment where she tenderly kissed her daughter good night every night. So after talking to Stein, she added a scene just like that to her novel, adding a depth to the cop character that hadn't existed before.

I'm not sure my private snapshots would suit my lead character, but it's an interesting idea. I think I unconsciously sort of stole what I thought might be a (now deceased) friend's private snapshot, morphed it a bit, and used it as my own character's biggest fear. But right now I'm trying to flesh out my villain, who desperately needs depth. Maybe I can come up with a snapshot for him.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Wanna Write? Take a class.

I just have to rave for a second about the online writing class I just finished taking. It was a class specifically for YA writers offered by MediaBistro and taught by the fabulous Kristen Kemp.

Over 12 weeks I completely revised my outline, finished my 200 page first draft, and came away with a strong idea of what I should do in a rewrite. Keep in mind that I had about 200 pages of rough scenes written and a first version of an outline going in, so I started ahead of some of the other writers who came in with just an idea. (In other words, I kind of cheated.)

The key to the success of the class for me came from my own self-motivation, the wonderful instructor, and the feeling of camradarie and support from my fellow students. To be honest, I knew most of the info offered in the handouts because I tend to buy too many books on writing that are full of this kind of advice. However, for newbies, the handouts and suggestions for reading will be very important.

However, what I did NOT know was what worked and did not work in my own writing. Kristen encouraged us to submit as many pages as we could each week and gave amazing, insightful, respectful notes that made a huge difference. In particular she suggested I start my story later on and to start with an action scene. My protagonist is sort of an action heroine, so it made sense. But I resisted this at first because I was stuck with a vision of how I thought the book should start. I rewrote my first chapter twice before taking her advice and hitting the jackpot. Well, I least I think I did. We'll see. Beyond that, Kristen had great notes throughout, reading dozens of pages from me and other students every week. She understood my characters sometimes more than I did and pushed me to stay true to them. I now have a total girl crush on her.

Part of the class involves you reading other students work and giving them your thoughts. This made for a buttload of work because everyone was so motivated and turned out huge chunks of prose. I was reading hundreds of pages of their writing every week. But I think you can learn a lot from reading other's writing - both what works and what does not. And the other students were diong just as much as I, and many of their comments were terrifically helpful.

Getting notes from 10 - 12 people every week can be a bit overwhelming, though. And not every note is going to resonate with you. You can't please everyone! This can be a problem if you're a real people pleaser or if you get easily discouraged. In a good way, the class can toughen you, both in getting constructive criticism and in recognizing criticism that isn't helpful. Take what works for you. Think about the rest, give it a good hard think and examine your own motives, then move on if you're sure it doesn't work for you.

Don't take it personally! This is the hardest thing of all when you're in the midst of a first draft. The writing feels like your baby. But it isn't. It isn't you. It's words on paper, which almost always can be made better. Listen, nod, throw out what doesn't work, and move on.

So if you're stuck or, like me, you thrive on structure and work well to deadlines, think about a class.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How Not to Start a Story

Great post by genre writer JA Konrath on his blog today on How NOT to start a story.

My favorite is starting with weather. Yeah, don't do that, for crying out loud.

I'd add - Don't start (or ever write) with a scene where your character is looking in the mirror, describes themselves physically, or speaks to themselves.

Don't start with a dream.

You'd be shocked how many writers violate these basic rules. Sometimes they do get published. Sometimes the books are actually good and succeed in spite of beginning with a mistake. Konrath says not to begin with a description of character, but I vividly remember the first sentence of Gone With the Wind: "Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful..." which goes on to describe how fascinating she is with her green eyes and inky lashes. GWTW is a terrific book and (I think) the top selling novel of all time. But notice that even if Margaret Mitchell starts with a character description, she goes against expectations by telling us the main character is NOT beautiful.

How do you start? There's no one answer, but I recommend starting with your protagonist in action. That doesn't mean he or she has to be gunning down bad guys in the first sentence. They could be picking up their handicapped kid from therapy or confronting their girlfriend about her cheating, fleeing an abusive husband, or... gunning down baddies. Action shows us who that person is in an entertaining way. Action will force you to show us who this person is, rather than tell.

UPDATE: I apologize to JA Konrath, whom I referred to mistakenly as "her" when I wrote this post. Konrath is in fact a man, so I've edited this post to reflect that.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Dr. Horrible Rules the World


Teaser from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog on Vimeo.

I saw Joss Whedon's scripted musical internet series Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog last night, and it's a must see for anyone who enjoys laughter, music, or frozen yogurt.

Joss has outdone himself on a low budget with this hilarious series starring Neil Patrick Harris as the eponymous (always wanted to use that word in a blog posting) Dr. Horrible, a villain struggling to qualify for entry into the Evil League of Evil. We can't help but root for Harris's feeble attempts at villainy even as he weakly flirts (and wonderfully sings!) with his cute crush Penny at the Laudromat, played with girl-geek awesomeness by Buffy alum Felicia Day. His arch-nemesis, the narcissistic superhero Captain Hammer (toothesome and shameless Nathan Fillion of fabulous Firefly and Serenity fame) clashes with him mortally (and with music!) when Captain Hammer wins Penny's heart.

Joss wrote the series during the writer's strike, since it was forbidden at that time for WGA types like him to write film or television scripts. You can see his letter explaining all here.

The first of three episodes will start airing at the Dr. Horrible website July 15, with the other two airing in subsequent weeks. After a brief stint airing thus for free, they will vanish and eventually be available for download somewhere at some kind of fee.

How did I get to see all three eps a few days before they officially air? My feeble Hollywood contacts got me into what constituted a cast and crew screening last night at the marble edifice where CAA now lurks. Joss himself was there. He's my writer-hero, and I was too frozen with shyness and admiration to approach him.

I sat way up high in the spiffy Ray Kurtzman screening room as everyone else circulated and smooched and reminisced about shooting the series. Joss and Nathan Fillion hugged, and kept hugging, and then started grabbing each other's asses as the room got quiet, then broke into laughter.

Joss spoke briefly beforehand, thanking everyone, and confessed he'd been nurturing this story for years because he saw himself as ineffectual and geeky (Geeky in the best way, yes. Ineffectual? Anything but, oh storytelling man!) and invited us all afterwards to join him at X-bar across the street.

Now of course, I wish I'd gone and introduced myself and told him how much his work has meant to me. But I was too shy and alone and felt all geeky and ineffectual. See why I love Joss? Did you know Joss did an uncredited rewrite on Iron Man? The dude is brilliant, but all his work has heart. And for all its laughs and clever lyrics, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog has a heart as well, albeit a broken one. Watch it and you'll see.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Why Desks Are Important

Have you ever tried writing for hours using your laptop while holding it on your lap in 90 degree weather?

Today's tip for writers is for laptop users: on hot days, write at your desk and point a fan at your laptop's undercarriage. And at your own undercarriage while you're at it.

While writing this weekend with my MacBook on my lap, I got a condition known as "hot lap" where the heat of the laptop transfers itself to your thighs. But you get so involved in your writing, you don't really notice it until suddenly it feels as if your legs are being barbecued. The removal of the laptop at this point doesn't really help. Cold compresses and colder drinks become necessary.

So on hot days, use that desk you spent money on and write there. Or stock up on ice. Or both!

On the plus side, the first draft of my novel is almost done. Ack! Then, the rewriting will begin with a vengeance.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Nina's Wild Kingdom


As you can see, the raccoons are back. With a vengeance. I thought Rocky and Raquel, a handsome, infrequently glimpsed couple had found greener pastures. But no. Apparently Raquel's had five (count 'em!) babies and Rocky's run off, leaving me as provider.



Yes, that's the area outside my back kitchen door. And that's Momma Raquel with Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Gummo eating the cat food I leave out for the feral cat, Miss Kitty, who is the mother of one of my cats. (No, I didn't name her Miss Kitty, my former neighbor did. He was and probably still is a very nice man who helped me trap and spay her so she won't have any more kittens.)

I glanced out my back door and saw Raquel. She saw me, and instead of running, she picked up the blue plastic bowl I use for Miss Kitty's food in her pointy little teeth and stood up on her hind legs as if to say, "Where's the food, Lady?"

I know I shouldn't have fetched it. But the babies are so cute! So I scooped up some cat food and put it in the bowl as she backed up. I went back inside, and she picked up the bowl, running off with it, but scattering the food everywhere. So she and the babies (kits, cubs, bandits?) scuttled over and began crunching all very noisily in concert.


My elderly cat, Max, went to the screen door to observe. Raquel lunged for him, whapping the screen and hissing. Max did not flinch. Insiders refer to Max as "The Cat of Peace." And sure enough, after a few moments Raquel calmed down and resumed crunching as Max gazed over them.

Don't worry, I won't get near them or try to tame them. I'm not a complete idiot. But I do have a fondness for fuzzy animals. I like seeing nature rearing her gorgeous head in the middle of the city. We think we have this world under our thumb, but it keeps slipping away and stealing our cat food when we're not looking.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Paradise Indeed


I just got back from my first trip of the year to Hawaii, where I saw my family and a whole slew of friends. How lucky am I?
My last full day there I spent sipping fruity rum drinks and playing volleyball in the pool with about ten of my oldest and dearest friends under an achingly blue sky dotted with puffy cotton clouds, across the street from a white-sand beach. Every now and then I thought, "Wow, this is really my life right here, right now. Woo hoo!"

My Photo - Published

Well, it's official. Schmap.com has selected my photo of the Micklegate in York, England to use on its website. You can see my photo (right side of the screen) here. Hee hee! I'm foolishly very tickled.

If you click on the actual photo on this page, you'll be directed to my photostream at Flickr, which is kind of weird, but what the hell. It's just photos of York and Hawaii and my friends singing terrible karaoke, after all.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Musical Inspiration

I finally made a playlist of songs to get in the writing mood for my current project. I've been hearing about this technique from other writers for awhile now. Find music that puts you in mind of your project and play, rinse, repeat until the project is done.

So far it sort of works. I used songs I already own, downloaded them onto my laptop, then onto a cd for my car and my Ipod for when I got out running. My protagonist is female, so there are a lot of songs by and about women that are vaguely linked to her in my mind. I also keep in mind the setting, the vibe, the overall theme and plot, and any song that lends itself to them in my mind gets thrown on there.

Here are a few of the songs:

Hollywood Bitch by Stone Temple Pilots
I Fought the Law as performed by The Clash
Can't Change Me by Chris Cornell
Don't Wanna Know by The Donnas
The Long Way Round by The Dixie Chicks
Bad Reputation by Joan Jett

I recommend making your own playlist if you've got access to ITunes and a need for inspiration.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Random Cool Thing This Week

I got an email today asking permission to maybe use one of my photos in a free guide to the city of York. How cool is that? The guides are from Schmap. I've already bookmarked them to use for my own travel reference in the future.

The photo is below. I'll find out soon if it actually gets picked to be in the guide. It's of the Mickelgate in York, England, one of the medieval entrances to the city. They used to put heads on the spikes of this gate to warn all who entered to behave themselves. That's my travel pal, Wendy, grinning under the streetlight. We had a great time!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

(Singing) Rewriiiiiiiite!

So I'm taking this fabulous online course to help me with my novel writing. It provides incentive with deadlines, a supportive chat weekly, and feedback from a published author and your fellow students. It's one of the courses from MediaBistro, and I recommend them highly.

But it's work, man. My teacher gave me feedback that made complete sense and will make my book a lot better. BUT - it involved a lot of rewriting. It STILL involves a lot of rewriting. I feel like I'm going to be rewriting and then writing and rewriting some more until osteoporosis overtakes me, and I can't type from the arthritis.

The good news is that the course is aimed at helping you to actually finish your book. And the rewrite I'm doing is streamlining my novel, making it shorter, sleeker, and (hopefully) better. So that should mean less overall writing to do, right?

Most of my energy is focused on churning out the pages right now, so I won't be posting quite as often. But I'll check back in soon!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Grocery List

I found an old hand-written grocery list on a post-it in my purse the other day. A quick glance at my terrible hand writing made it look like this:

Blue sky homes
lemur
2 purr to mates
Pansy
Mint
grim pippin
cayrrrr
humms
piles
Nuts

I actually had a recipe in mind when I wrote all these things down. If you're really intrepid and have nothing else to do in your busy life, maybe you can figure out what it was.

Personally, I'd really like a blue sky home. And possibly a lemur. If you find one at the store, let me know.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Photos by Tanja


This has nothing to do with writing, but I love these photos! Maybe I'll write a story about a photographer who works at a wolf sanctuary. Oh wait! That'd be Tanja Askani's life!

I wish I could read German. If you can, take a look at her site.

And she's got a book out called Kinship with the Wolf I may have to buy.


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Blazy

So I've been lazy about my blog this week. Blog+lazy = Blazy.

That new word actually sounds much cooler than the definition I've given it. BLAZY! Like you're on fire, either metaphorically, literally - or both, gosh darn it!

Instead of writing poetry I've been reading the writing of folks in my new critique group (great stuff, guys!) and in this online class I'm taking while working on my own novel. Oh, and working at my day job too. Oh yeah, that!

It takes a lot of energy to beat back the demons of self doubt. The teacher in my online class assessed my idea as fun, and said it should be campy.

Hmm. That's not what I had in mind. I want humor, sure. And it's heightened. But campy? No. Tonally I'm going more for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. No, not fantasy and horror, but that tough mix of real life difficulties (yeah, people die!), having special power/knowledge, and adolescent angst. A mix of humor, adventure, blah blah blah.

So now what? Have I been utterly deluded all this time, after all the work I've done? Do I take this one statement by someone who hasn't read my stuff yet and run off and hide?

Well, I was tempted. It's amazing how fragile this whole conception I have of being a writer is. Especially when I haven't been published yet. But today I'll online chat with my teacher and probably get more constructive thoughts and all that will go away, and I'll feel invigorated again.

Must. Keep. Moving. Forward. Despite the quicksand and crocodiles in my brain swamp trying to drag me under.

If you want to kill time when you should be writing, check out your very silly horoscope at The Onion.

Mine today is:

Cancer June 22 - July 22
Balancing work and family is never easy, but with looming deadlines and daily staff meetings—well, it's just—what the hell do you expect from us, Margaret?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Language and Poetry

After reading this very interesting article in the NY Times today about language (did you know most languages do not have different terms for the colors blue and green? Yet another reason to fall in love with English.) I then found out that in Hungarian word endings need to "rhyme" with vowels in the word they are attached to.

I love this idea! I love playing with language, learning where words come from and how they secretly relate to other words and ideas. What a marvelous idea, to make it a priority to harmonize the sounds in words as you speak them.

Apparently, the Hungarian rules of "vowel harmony" are quite complex. Hungary has a rich tradition of poetry and literature, and some argue that the language's flexibility (you can put words in just about any order) leads to creative and experimental thinking. This may also account for the extraordinary number of prominent Hungarian scientists - the language they work in allows for a huge range of options. Could this lead to a more open mind?

But the language is also completely different from nearly every other Western tongue; it's vaguely related only to Finnish. Russian and Sinhala (spoken in Sri Lanka) have more in common with English than Hungarian. The complexity and flexibility of the language make it resistent to translation, which keeps its literary heritage a secret from the rest of the world.

They also have two words for the number 2. Which is rather poetic in an of itself.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Wanna be a Movie or TV Writer?

Read this.

It's Chad Gervich's latest post on his Writers Digest blog Script Notes. In it, Chad answers some basic questions sent in by a ninth grade aspiring screenwriter. He goes into great detail about pay scale, where writers write, how to break in, what sort of experience you need and don't need. For anyone who knows very little about the business and is interested in breaking in, it's chock a block with valuable info.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Insult Poem

Snip!
There goes a piece of history
Clip!
Another bit of truth

Whack!
You've pruned away what happened
Smack!
While I wasted all my youth

Delete!
We never were in love
Erase!
You never held me close

Cut!
I just misunderstood you
Bleed!
Sorry to impose

****

I wrote this prompted by Robert Lee Brewer's blog from yesterday. In case you haven't been paying attention, this is Poetry Month, and I'm doggedly spewing out evil bits of poetry in honor of that. The idea is to write an insult poem. I'm not sure mine qualifies. It's more angry than insulting. I started off just accusing the unnamed object of the poem of being a liar, of altering history. But I found that dull and pedantic. So I tried to insult without outright accusation. Not that I'm claiming this poem is at all subtle, mind you.

It's interesting to try and be angry. I'm always trying to forgive and be nice. It's rather fun to have an excuse to wallow in ugly emotions for a little while. All in the interests of "art." *cough*

Monday, April 14, 2008

Always a Sky

a hot diamond sky
ironed down the palm leaves
fired up the roof

stood like a lion on my limbs
breath scalding my face
Fur smeared with sun

I lay as if forever
would always be this blue

*****

It's Poetry Month! I didn't follow a prompt today. Just wrote how this hot weekend in Los Angeles made me feel.

Heat = no poetry

It was over 90 degrees in Los Angeles this weeked. Temperature records wilted.

So I used that as an excuse to be lazy and not write any poetry over the weekend, in spite of this being Poetry Month.

Oy. Work is nutty, but I still hope to churn something dreadful out today and keep some sort of momentum coming. Don't say I didn't warn you!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Poem - Object

Today's poetry prompt from Robert Lee Brewer's blog is to write a poem about an object you find fascinating or you think is overlooked.

The Egyptian Ring

I kept passing
the ring
on the way to my cabin.

On the top deck
I sat
and watched Nile birds swoop

Below, I passed the shop
the ring
had a Nile blue sapphire

The river banks passed
Blue sky
Fishermen cast their nets

It didn't sparkle much
square cut
bound in two golden bands

Tut's funeral mask embedded
lapis lazuli
no sapphires, but carnelian and gold

Frivolous jewelry,
unecessary ornamentation
Too expensive anyway.

A call home to a friend
broken hearted
while I lounged on the Nile

I bought the ring
it fit.

My poem picked

So I've been terribly lax the last couple of days about this Poem-a-day thing I promised to do for Poetry Month. Work has been crazy busy, and then my brain shuts down. And I think some of my poetry reflects that!

However, my chocolate chip poem was selected as one that stood out by Robert Lee Brewer, who blogs about poetry at the Writers Digets site. Click here and scroll down to see my poem "published" online.

Okay, so there are like twelve poems picked for that day. But hundreds were submitted. I'm ridiculously happy, especially since I don't consider myself a poet. Goes to show - if you're gonna rip anyone off, rip off the best, since I borrowed the form from Wallace Stevens's 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Poem - About a Painting

Today's poetry prompt is to write a poem about one of two paintings. They are:

Piazza d'Italia by Di Chirico

The Little Deer by Frida Kahlo


Deer by the Water

A flight of arrows
prickle from my hide
an antlered porcupine
spotted with blood.
But I keep flying
by the water
buried deep in trees
Cool hooves hover
branches do not tremble
as I pass.
The river runs too
in the distance.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Ramble Poem

So I wrote a poem, tried to post it, and there was a glitch, and it was lost forever.

Is this a sign?

Today's poetry assignment is to write a poem from the rambling thoughts in your brain. Rigorous editing is suggested.

How is it
that as poetry month progresses
my poetry
gets worse?

My Diet Coke
Tastes like coffee.
My butt
feels like it's been sitting here forever
even though the day
has just begun.

The headset over my right ear
causes a build up of moisture
in the ear canal
leading to a fog upon the brain.

Will I ever finish this novel?
Will I ever finish this script?
Will I ever matter?
Will lunchtime ever get here?
Blame the
brain fog.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Guest Poem

My father, Paul Berry, wrote the poem below in honor of Poetry Month.

Consumer

Across the freeway
at dusk,
the wind flies a
lone,
plastic
bag,

a lost consumer soul,
afloat

full of nothing,
dodging traffic.

longing for
anything,

to fill
the bag

Poem - Day's Activities

Today's poetry assignment is to write a poem based on your day's activities. A mere list probably won't work, but you never know!

Max climbs the mountain that is me
places his two front paws on my sleeping shoulder
stand grand as a stag stamping hooves on a hillside
and wails
(Much too early on a Sunday)
to be fed.

Rumpled resistent
out to the kitchen
to scoop out a glop of wet
Then back to bed
thank you very much
Soft
warm
quiet
dark
the peaceful sleep of a single woman
with no children.

Phone calls
drama
the drama of others
but inside
I am warm
and dark
and peaceful

now that the damn wailing is done.

I told you the poems would often suck. It's Sunday. Just deal.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Poem - Worry

Today's poetry prompt from Robert Lee Brewster's blog is to write a poem about worry. Something that worries you.

I am tempted to write again about the dentist, since that is what has dominated my life of late, and worry about my teeth dates back to an accident I had as a child that set me on a collision course with many endodontists. But I think I've worried that subject (oh do forgive me, I could not resist that pun) enough. I'll manage something else.

At the Office

Did I send her an email
letting her know that Sandy Applebaum called?
No scribbles on my call log
Not with that name.
She's not on the phone sheet.
But I swear
She called.
Like, around 3?
Fuck, it's 5 now.
Check my Sent mail and pray.

Dear god of executive assistants
watch over my emails
and make one of them replete
with Sandy Applebaum
noting time of call
and number.

Rows of emails
rows and rows and rows
sent and sent
Is this how I'm spending my day?
How many hours have
I spent
sending emails
about phone calls
phone calls returning other phone calls --
phone calls that weren't even for me.

My parents spent so much money
on college.
Blame
red weight
I can't climb over it
the underside of a moving cliff
moving down, gasping
a fish thrown onto the carpet
by a careless child.

Oh wait.
There's the email.
sent at 3:07pm
RE: Sandy Applebaum.

Twirl the office chair three times
Look out the window
Remember the sun.

And do check out this Sunday's Opus comic strip, which, as it happens, is all about anxiety.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Poem - Gratitude

Today's poetry prompt is to write a poem about something you're grateful for, or a tribute poem to someone or something. See Robert Lee Brewster's blog with the poetry prompts here.

I had a root canal this morning (well, technically I had three root canals because the tooth has three roots), so expect terrible free verse. Here we go, with apologies to Wallace Stevens (one of my favorite poets):

Seven ways to be grateful for chocolate chips
I
Among the cooling cookies
the chocolate chips sit liquid hot.
semi-sweet bombs ready to explode
on your tongue.
II
After the dentist's drill,
A chocolate chip sits melting
Alone in the corner of my mouth.
III
The mouse nibbles at the corner
of a yellow plastic bag
of chocolate chips
shoved in the back of the cupboard.
Rodent ecstacy.
IV
She rode past the suburbs
in the back seat of a minivan
Once, fear pierced her
as her mother glanced in the rearview mirror
and saw the shadow of chocolate chips
smeared across her lips.
V
I was of three minds
Like three kids
Fighting over a chocolate chip cookie
VI
The chocolate chip rolled across the floor
A small part of the mess.
VII
It was evening all afternoon
It was foggy.
And the fog would never lift.
A chocolate chip cookie sat waiting
in the tupperware.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Poem - Haiku

YAY! Today's poem prompt is to write a haiku.

Robert Lee Brewer's blog entry today is a wealth of info on the haiku, a poetic form I thought I knew. I don't want to steal from him, but here's the gist:

1. Haikus are 17 sounds long, not 17 syllables. Entire poem is three lines long.
2. The 5-7-5 syllable line scheme is not a hard and fast rule. Just make the first and third lines shorter than the middle.
3. Haikus do not have titles.
4. Haikus include a word to indicate a season. So "petal" might indicate spring.
5. Haikus describe nature, with an emphasis on description, not metaphor. No rhyming.

Well! It's a bit more complicated than I thought. My high school pal Chris's famous haiku comes to mind:

Little cockaroach.
Bam bam bam bam bam bam bam
I missed you each time.

There's no word to indicate a season, but in Hawaii, where Chris and I both grew up, there are no seasons. Cockroach is not spelled cockaroach and thus should be two syllables, not three. But in Hawaii, the word is pronounced cock-a-roach by locals. And maybe "missed" is two sounds, not one... miss-d.

But this haiku is genius. Let's be honest. It's hilarious and turns beautifully on that last line, as the best haikus do.

But enough stalling! To work! Prepare all month for hastily written poems...

Rain plops on green hills
Sunshine slants across wet leaves
Cars ignore rainbow

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Poem - The Dentist

From Robert Lee Brewer's blog, here's the prompt for today's poem:

Put yourself in someone (or something) else's skin and write a poem about the experience. Who (or what) ever you become, please make that the title of the poem. If you're Buddy Holly, your poem should be called "Buddy Holly." If you're the Bates Motel, your poem should be called "Bates Motel." And so on.

I have to go to the dentist later this afternoon and get some major drilling done. Wish me luck! My dentist is a nice woman, but I nonetheless hate dentists generally. What better skin to step into?

The Dentist

When I glance up from the drill
I see the iris of his eye
contracting.

As blue as the scrubs
my hygenists wear
but with a pinpoint
a black hole.

a falling into darkness
a window to nowhere
a shrill whine
the scent of burning tooth

I squint despite the protective eyewear
as dust from the molar
coats his tongue.

the back of a throat is also black
unknowable
Up into the brain
Down into the heart

But the tooth lies beneath my fingertips.
I've made it white

National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month, and Writers Digest blogger Robert Lee Brewster challenges us to write a poem a day this month in his Poetic Asides blog. He gives a specific challenge and then asks you to answer it in a poem.

Oh-kay.

Well, I already missed yesterday, and I don't have time to backtrack, but I'm going to try to post a poem a day from now on for this whole month here on this blog.

Warning: my poems will probably suck.

And they will likely be short.

But I've been wanting to flex my metaphorical muscles and remember the joy of poetry. What better way than to make it a chore?

Sigh.

Fellow SCBWI member and children's author Gregory K. is doing the same on his blog. Today's poem, about a hippo, is not only charming and funny - it rhymes! Expect haikus and, er, free verse from yours truly. I'll be back later to day with the prompt and my poem in response.

If you wish to participate, Robert Lee Brewster encourages everyone to post their poem in the comments on his blog. Go for it!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

How TV Development Works

I'm listening in on a call about a pitch for a TV series as I type this. This is about the seventh call/mtg about this pitch that has happened so far, and the last mtg that will take place before the pitch goes to the network.

How does this work? TV is complicated. Let me explain.

First, you have the writer. The writer is hired by the studio (in TV land that means generally ABC/Disney, Warner Bros., Fox, NBC Universal, CBS/Paramount, Sony/Columbia and a few other places) and sent to work with some producers. The producers will be experts on developing scripts for television that have an overall deal at the studio. Often these producers are former studio or network execs, writers, or agents.

So the writer goes off and comes up with a general "take" on the idea he's working on.
(To back up a little, she can either come up with this idea herself, pitch it to the studio, and they agree. Or the studio takes an idea to the writer - often an idea based on a book that a network has expressed an interest in, or an arena (a noir cop show, blended family dramedy) the network likes.)

The writer discusses her take on the idea with the producers. They give notes.

The writer reworks the idea, discusses with producers, and gets more notes.

The writer reworks the idea, discusses with the producers, and hopefully by now it's ready to go to the studio exec.

The writer and producers discuss the idea with the creative studio execs. (These are the development execs you may have heard of). But now you may have up to six people listening to the writer and giving their opinion. The studio execs give notes.

The writer reworks the idea again, talks to the producers about how they've reworked it, and may have to rework again just for the producers. Then writer and producers come back to the studio with the idea, incorporating those notes, or explaining why the notes were not incorporated.

The studio gives more notes.

I am not kidding.

The weird thing is, often the idea does get better and more focused and fleshed out through this process. I swear. Good writers take feedback and make it work for them, one way or another.

The same thing happens again. And probably again. And perhaps again.

Finally, the writer, producers, and studio go over it all once again, prepping the pitch, organizing everything, so that it's ready to go to the network.

Enter the network. For newbies, the network is NBC, ABC, TNT, HBO - the channel that you watch. Thanks to vertical integration, the network is now often owned by the same corporation as the studio, but the executives are different than the studio execs, regardless.

The writer, producers, and studio execs go to the network execs and pitch the idea. At this point, the writer is talking to up to ten other people in the room, trying to convince them their take on this idea is the right one. The network gives notes. At this point the writer either reworks the idea or goes to outline.

You get the idea. Being a television writer requires infinite patience and a talent for pleasing others while keeping your integrity. It's very difficult. And it helps explain why many TV shows feel like many other TV shows. The more cooks you have throwing ingredients into the soup, the more watered down the taste becomes. It takes a writer of great talent and adaptability to survive this process with not only something that will succeed on the air, but that will actually be good.

That said, I've seen writers steered away from disastrous ideas by talented execs. I've seen mediocre ideas shaped into wonderful ones. And I've seen execs give no notes at all when they encounter an idea they think is perfect. And nobody knows their network "identity" better than the network execs. They are the only ones who know what audience they'd like to attract.

But it's minefield.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Exercise #7 - How to Make Buttons

Miranda July excels at getting inside the minds of children, and she embodies that in this absurd short video called "How to Make Buttons."

Watch the video, then come up with a short humorous poem, flash fiction piece, or humorous essay on how to make something, some sort of object we see every day.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sea World vs. Hollywood

I work and live in Hollywood. The other day Eddie Izzard jogged past me down Hollywood Boulevard. Glamorous types hike with their even more glamorous dogs at a site near my house where Errol Flynn used to live. Silent movie stars built my apartment building. I work on a major studio lot where George Clooney and Brad Pitt can be seen regularly. Famous writers, former studio heads, and pushy producers come into my offices every day for meetings. It's so omnipresent that it's old hat. I forget that some folks might think these things are interesting until I mention it casually to someone not in the industry and see their eyes light up.

So what charmed me this weekend? Hanging with my friend's twin boys at Sea World.

Yes folks, it's the anti-glamour of captive marine mammals, hot sun, and five year old boys who each must have their own ice cream bar shaped like Shamu.

I have mixed feelings about places like Sea World. The seal/sea lion exhibit was awfully small for the eight animals they had cooped up in there. I was relieved to hear during the dolphin show that the dolphins had been born there, but the enormous pilot whales could barely turn around in the pool they kept them in, pre-show. I silently prayed that when they are not performing, they have a much larger world to swim in.

But those twin boys were shivering with delight as they watched the whales splash the audience with their enormous tails. At one point, one of the boys, exhausted from all the excitement, came over and draped himself over me, the way my elderly cat does when he wants to cuddle, and nearly fell asleep.

I'm sure I don't really need to expand on the sweet charm of such a moment. It blows seeing Eddie Izzard in a bright blue jogging suit out of the water. No offense, Eddie.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Single Chicks Rule

As a happy woman who happens to be single at the moment, I really appreciated an email sent to me recently by a friend entitled "The Fairy Tale." Single or attached, check it out. It's so true.

THE WORLD 'S SHORTEST FAIRY TALE

Once upon a time, a guy asked a girl "Will you marry me?" The girl said: "NO!" And the girl lived happily ever-after and went shopping, dancing, camping, drank martinis, always had a clean house, never had to cook, did whatever the hell she wanted, never argued, didn't get fat, traveled more, had many lovers, didn't save money, and had all the hot water to herself. She went to the theater, never watched sports, never wore friggin' lacy lingerie that went up her ass, had high self esteem, never cried or yelled, felt and looked fabulous in sweat pants and was pleasant all the time.

The End