Saturday, December 25, 2010

Lucky Christmas Me

So it's nearly the end of the year and I'm thinking about possibly doing one of those end of the year-end "best of" post thingies, alternately thinking about stuff from 2010 - "Oh, that was brilliant" and "Frick, I can't remember what the hell that was."

But it's also Christmas Eve, and I'm in Hawaii visiting my parents.  And today I went to my favorite place in the world, ate my favorite cookies in the world, helped my mother make terrible cinnamon buns (for serious, the things were like lead paperweights covered in brown sugar), and had a delicious meal with my two beloved parents, who both gave me great advice and a few laughs.

OH, and did I mention that my favorite place in the world is a beach called Bellows here on Oahu where at the age of nine I learned to bodysurf?

(Insert unbelievably gorgeous shot of Bellows here.  No really, it's just spectacular.  You'll have to just take my word for it for now.)

Yes, about 1pm Hawaii time today I was lounging in 75 degree water of a color that falls somewhere between Paul Newman's eyes (when he was alive - duh) and the world's largest emerald I saw in Istanbul when I was seven.

I like to enter slowly, allowing the waves to wet me as I go, waiting for a swell that's just so so I can race up to it as it crests, then turn and leap forward, one stroke, two, then angling down and forward, dolphin-like (well, I hope so anyway) as the swell pitches me forward and the roar fills my ears and the white foam bubbles up and over and consumes me.

Today the waves were tiny, and the dozen people on the glowing golden beach with me were bobbing and waiting and not catching anything.  The sand there's like powder, sprinkled in spots with broken up bits of blue plastic something-or-others that the waves have beat on until they're almost beautiful and almost belong.  My mom has these bright pink beach towels that I borrow to sit on and dry myself off with.  They clash with my hair, but Bellows is the sort of place where you can't be bothered to care about things like that.  You don't care that the Christmas cookies have added an extra pound or two to your waist or that you haven't gotten very far on your latest writing project, or that your ancient cat is probably dreaming about killing you back in LA, or about anything, really, except the clear water fanning out over the smoothed beach like a caressing hand that withdraws just soon enough.

So it didn't matter that the waves were less than optimal, or that a large black cloud loomed over the mountains signalling it was all temporary.  In the water I lounged on my back and poked my toes with their silly purple nail polish up into the air.  I eyed the waves for any sort of surfing prospect and felt the full weight of the tropical sun on my right shoulder and cheekbone. (Thank Neptune for SPF.)

A woman in a baseball cap walked her daughter into the water behind me and encouraged her to try to catch a wave, holding her hands out, talking about when to jump, when to wait.  My father had done the same for me, umpteen gajillion years ago.  So I got fancy and caught a wave so I could zoom past them.  "See?" said the Mom.  Even redheaded, freckle-faced girls whose ancestors stole horses in the mists of Ireland can ride the waves at Bellows.

All of which is to say that instead of naming things that were the best this year, all I can think about tonight is how lucky I am to be here on Christmas, with the people I love, with a chance to be in a place that makes my soul burn bright.

Aloha and Merry Christmas, everyone.  I hope you're spending this time in whatever place and with whatever people do the same for you.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Writing - The Information Drip

To get myself going on a major rewrite, I tried to write a scene that wasn't at the beginning.  I wanted to plunge in at an interesting point and get to know the love interest right away rather than waiting.

But a problem emerged - how much information should I give out on the protag's backstory and current mission?  Part of what I'm trying to achieve is a bit of mystery at the beginning.  Who is this girl and what is she really up to?  I want to create a question in the reader's mind, then slowly answer it.

So in writing this scene near but not at the beginning, I let a bit of info trickle out, hoping to intrigue and begin answering, but not to reveal all.

It didn't work very well.  Sure, I was raising questions, but there were mostly of the WTF? variety.  Not the "oooh, cool, now I want to know more" type I was going for.

So I have to go back and start at the beginning.  This way I can better control the information.  (By information I mean character backstory, the protag's current state of mind, who's who and what's what, and what her goal is.)  I'll know what's been told and what hasn't and hopefully why.

And there's always rewriting if I make a mess of it this time too.  Thank you, universe, for rewriting.  This initial writing stuff is fricking hard!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Da Governor - of Hawaii

Hawaii is a small state, and my parents have lived there many years.  So they know a lot of people. 

So it's not boasting really when I say that we're friends with Hawaii's new governor, Neil Abercrombie.  The state may technically have a million residents, but in reality it's like a small town.  So Neil's friends with a lot of people.  But I went to the official site for Hawaii's state government today and saw his smiling face and just had to post - hurray!

This isn't a political blog, so I'm not going to go into details as to why Neil was definitely the best choice for governor in the recent election. (Although I will say that, unlike the other candidates, he's pro marriage equality, which warms my heart.)  But I happen to know Neil a little as a person, and so I think I'm entitled to a brief Huzzah! to celebrate his recent inauguration.

He's a good man.  One summer, when my mother, her then boyfriend, and I were between houses and unable to find something quickly that fit our limited budget, Neil and his wife Nancy offered to let us stay in their home for a few months. It was a typically generous move. 

The place wasn't huge, but we fit in just fine.  It was, however, a trifle eccentric.  The floors were uneven enough to give you an "I'm at sea" sensation as you crossed the living room, and on certain summer nights, the termites would swarm, letting you know they'd found themselves a home.  Termite swarms are not uncommmmon in Hawaii, so that's no reflection on Neil.  At another of our residences we were treated occasionally to cockroach swarms, so it could've been worse.  Termites are manini compared to that. 

Then there was the time that the phone rang.  I picked it up and said in my fourteen-year-old girl voice: "Hello?" 

A man on the other end said, "Neil??"

Well, no.  Sorry to disappoint.  He's letting us live in his home until we find our feet.  He's a man of integrity and compassion.  I'll be sure to let him know you called.

So congratulations, Neil, on your governorship.  And congrats too, to Hawaii, for making a fine choice.  Huzzah!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Getting Back in the Writing Groove damned hard.  I took a semi-writing-vacation for most of November thanks to a two-week trip to Italy followed by a bad cold followed by Thanksgiving.  I'm not one of those people who can write when their sinuses are on fire.

So I'm out of practice.  And before me lies a vast rewrite that should be fun.  Instead it's, well, it's tough.  I'm changing POV.  I'm changing plot.  I'm making up new characters...

I've got an outline, halleluya.  And I know my main character very well.  These things help. But many factors lie like massive walls and mud pits in an obstacle course before me.

The only way forward is to... write.  Isn't it always the way?  Write write write until you get your groove back.  Write scenes that intrigue you rather than starting at the beginning if you like.  Write character sketches and character interviews and rework your outline and then just fricking write some damned prose, for crying out loud.

Don't procrastinate by writing blog posts.


Sunday, December 05, 2010

Goodbye, Zenyatta

Clouds threatened rain all afternoon, but they didn't dare let loose until the Queen of Horse Racing, Zenyatta, said goodbye to Hollywood Park and to her life as a race horse today. Tomorrow she flies off to Kentucky to begin her next phase, as a mother.

Hollywood Park is a strange place these days.  Once the site of huge crowds and visits from movie stars, it's now ninety percent empty, melancholy, and downtrodden.  Birds still fly over the infield pond, and the track announcer still lends urgency as the horses pound down the stretch at forty miles per hour.  But even on a big day like today, the stands were over half empty.  I visited the enormous, echoing ladies' room and found myself utterly alone amongst the broken soap dispensers and peeling paint.

What a contrast then to see Zenyatta striding into the paddock to say goodbye to the thousands gathered there today.  She is larger than most other horses by an order of magnitude, but graceful as a gazelle, with endless, delicate legs that move with an athlete's ease, and a shiny, dappled bay coat that glows with health.  She is the picture of strength and spirit, calm, yet vibrant with energy.  She is the greatest mare in horse racing history, one of the greatest race horses of all time.  She's magnificent, an LA lady, a dancer, an inspiration, a friend.  And she's here to say goodbye.

Airplanes roar toward LAX a few hundred feet overhead as her beloved groom, Mario Espinoza, guides her around the paddock.  The fans, ten deep in some places, ignore the growling engines and the call for the sixth race as she circles past them, stopping to pose, to eye them, to lift her head, then to lower it against Mario's arm and side, as if to say, "We are here, together," and "Let's play."

Three times around the paddock then, as fans, some with signs that say "Thank You" and children climb the rails between her and them to chant, "Zen-yat-ta."  A woman in a wheelchair stares at her, weeping silently.

Even here she emanates a power that makes you believe her record is 19-1.  As she walks from the paddock and out onto the track, the giant video screen behind her plays her great victory and one of the most exciting races ever seen - the Breeder's Cup Classic 2009.  As Mario circles her and the crowd roars, her virtual image hits the top of the stretch, weaving between her competitors with sylph-like grace, moves to the outside and takes off.  Her long legs reach out further than any other horse on record, eating the ground, swallowing the distance between herself and the leaders.  The announcer's voice rises to a disbelieving crescendo as she shoots forward, past the best male horses of her time, past those who thought she was overrated, past all doubt, to cross the finish line.

The crowd erupts in applause.  Watching that race, even today when I know that she wins, I worry for her. I think "there's no way she's going to make it... come on, girl!  Please."  And when she wins, I feel vindicated, relieved, almost tearful.  Why am I so invested in her, why do her victories, her prancing pre-race steps, her proud stance after the race - why do they touch me?  I want to race that way myself, past my self-doubt, to strive, to put it all out there, to invest every last ounce, and to win.  Just once.  If she can do it 19 out of 20 times, maybe I can too.

I'm taking pictures, and climbing onto seats, and listening to the crowd sigh with disappointment as they show her last race, a great race, the Breeders Cup Classic 2010, where she came in second by a nose after perhaps the greatest stretch run in history.  The connection between her and the crowd is something I get at a primal level.  We don't often get close to such perfection, such grace, strength, and spirit.  If we get close enough, maybe some of it will rub off on us.

Her jockey, Mike Smith, leads her one last time around the track, and I have to turn away and disconnect.  I have to be done saying goodbye now.  I can't take any more.  My friend Mike and I watch the next few races and talk about our lives, and Zenyatta.

The lights come on as the sun heads west, and suddenly the old track is beautiful.  Clouds part to show off rosy sunset hues, and twilight birds wing over the green and grassy infield.  A filly named Cocktails at Seven parading before the ninth throws her rider, dodges a steward on horseback, and gallops the wrong way around the track, free for a few moments.  She is scratched from the race, but we make a note - the girl's got heart and nice moves.  Maybe we'll see more of her next year.

As we leave the empty track now, the rain finally begins to fall.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bellissima Italia

I just got back from Italy.

Lucky me!

I didn't advertise it in advance since they say not to announce to the internet at large when you venture away from home, for fear enterprising robbers will break into your apartment and steal your cats.

Can't be having that. 

I'll post some pics once I get myself together and report in more detail, but some highlights include:
  • Bernini statues at the Galleria Borghese. Oh! That Apollo and Daphne statue just gives me chills.
  • Comparing gelato at Giolitti and San Crispino. For me, it's a fabulous tie.
  • Literal layers of history at San Clemente, where you can see a medieval church above a 4th century church above an ancient Roman street and house.
  • Meeting old friends with their adorable new baby in Rome. Walking behind the baby was like being in a celebrity entourage. That golden haired cherub really turned heads.
  • Walking the strangely modern-seeming streets of old Pompeii.
  • Men who appreciate a tall redhead, at least when she's walking by.
  • Wine w/dinner, then some more wine with dinner.
  • Ridiculously fresh, tasty fruits and vegetables
  • Carbonara, prosciutto, bolognese, amatriciana, you name it!
  • Positano. We splurged on an amazing hotel room with a great view that was 100% worth it. I could totally live there.
  • Friendly Italian cats and dogs.
  • Italian tile and pottery. I don't need to be rich, but this gorgeous stuff makes me wish I could afford it.
  • Bonding with old friend and travel co-conspirator, Wendy.

Friday, October 22, 2010

YA Writers! Enter the "Dear Lucky Agent" Contest

Here's a contest you shouldn't pass up if you're writing a young adult novel and are looking for help from a pro.  The Guide to Literary Agents Blog is having one of its fabulous contests called "Dear Lucky Agent" where you submit the first 15 - 200 words of your YA novel and get the chance to win:

1) A critique of the first 10 pages of your work, by your agent judge (the fabulous Tamar Rydzinksi of Laura Dail Literary Agency). 2) A free one-year subscription to

Check out all the juicy details here.

Work Work Work

Sorry that it's been awhile since I've posted.  The infrequency will likely continue for a month or so because:

1. The day job is fricking BUSY.  Which is good, don't get me wrong.  We have four pilots picked up and the networks want most of them yesterday, so we're deep into finding directors, actors, line producers, blah blah blah.  It's fascinating to watch people match themselves up to work on a big creative endeavor like a TV pilot.  Chemistry is almost as important as talent, seems to me, given how closely these folks have to work together.

2.  I'm writing out a plan for a major rewrite.  It's not quite the same thing as doing the actual rewrite, it's more like a map of it.

Okay, I guess that's really the first step of a rewrite, is the map.  Some people don't map things out at all and they just plunge in, but I'm a planner.  I need to know where I'm going.  It gives the character's concrete goals and attitudes, so that once I start the actual writing, it flows much faster and I'm less likely to get stuck.  If you get stuck a lot, I recommend a writing or rewriting map.  Or even if you rewrite a lot - a map can save you some of that time. 

Of course, making the map is taking longer than I'd hoped because of #1, above.

3. I'm going to Italy soon.  I'm not going to say exactly when because I keep seeing news pieces on people who were robbed because they broadcast online that they were out of town.  And the cool part isn't when, it's that I'M GOING TO ITALY!!  We'll spend a big chunk of time in Rome, then down to explore Sorrento, Naples, Pompeii, then a few days on the Amalfi Coast.  Perhaps we'll toss in a day trip to Capri in there.  We'll see how the weather goes and what the boat schedules are. 

Mostly I just want to eat the food there.  Bringing the stretchy jeans, baby.

I've got my route from airport to hotel all mapped out, day tours of the Vatican and Underground Rome planned (I have a thing for catacombs, laybrinths, tunnels, and the like.)  I've printed out articles praising various trattorias, osterias, and gelaterias.  I've purchased a lined anorak to combat both cold and wet, and I have the comfy rainproof walking boots I purchased in Prague.  Planning's part of the fun.

On, and don't forget the Italian refresher.  I bought lessons on cd for Italian 2 (I took a year of Italian in college and got pretty fluent while living in Bologna for a semester).  It's weird to wrap my lips around the language again, a kinetic exercise that brings memories of friendly bakers, bus riders, waiters, and passersby flooding back.  I haven't been to Rome since college, and then it was only for one day.  One day in Rome??  What was I thinking?

I'll post some photos when I return. 

Oh, and 4.  I'm trying to have some semblance of a life.  You know, that whole social/working out/going out/having fun thing.  Am in particular looking forward to the Gourd Mutiliation Festival, wherein pumpkins are carved and prizes awarded.

Also, Zenyatta is running in the Breeder's Cup Classic November 6.  Set your Tivos!

I'll try to post again before I leave, but meanwhile you can find me on twitter and facebook.

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Zenyatta, Horse Racing Legend

I went to Hollywood Park yesterday to see Zenyatta run.  She's the six year old mare who's taken the racing world by storm after winning an unbelievable 19 out of 19 races.

Above is one my own photos of her just before she ran a breath-taking race, gave us all heart attacks, then won the Lady's Secret Stakes 2010.  Now that she's won it three times, they plan to name the race after her.  She's a huge, elegant, cocky creature, full of personality and uncanny athletic ability.

If you've never heard of her or watched one of her races online, do yourself a favor and watch her run in the video below.  This is the Breeder's Classic from last year, where she beats all the best horses in the country in her usual edge-of-your-seat fashion.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Which idea?

How do you decide which idea you're going to spend months (possibly years) writing?  Novels take a lot of time and effort, well they do for me, given the day job, need for sleep, soul-saving time w/friends, occasional trips to see family or go to Europe, and so on.  And there are so many books in my head that could be written, half-formed premises, ghostly characters, rip-snorting scenes, even the occasional musical number.

I won't know for sure that I'll write the book based on an idea untill I outline it and make sure it works.  But what makes me get to the outlining stage?

1. A protagonist I want to spend time with.  She must be likeable but flawed, with a sense of humor and a sense of purpose.  She's strong, usually a leader of some kind. 

I did this exercise in a writing workshop I took where you do this:
      a. Write down three people (real or fictional) who are heroes to you.
      b.  Now write down three qualities in each person that attracts you to them.
      c.  Those nine qualities are issues you will confront in your life and/or qualities you possess or will work
           on possessing.

Me, I wrote down:
Nelson Mandela - wisdom, leadership, integrity
Robin Hood - compassion for less fortunate, derring-do, willing to risk life to fight injustice
Queen Elizabeth Tudor - ability to overcome misogyny, leadership, cleverness.
(I started off with Cleopatra in this slot but scratched her out - then realized she has the same three qualities as Elizabeth Tudor, so it works out the same.  Plus Cleopatra didn't have to be the "Virgin" Queen.  Bonus points for that!)

And it turns out I like to read about these types of characters and to write about them too.  I get impatient with characters that are slow, humorless, sheep-like, and entitled.  I can bear it if they're clumsy or not amazingly wise as long as they have some of the other qualities in spades. 

2. A plot that provides enough conflict to sustain a novel.  Conflict keeps people turning the pages.  It's the essence of a story.  There have to be big obstacles standing in the way of my protagonist's desires, and the stakes must be big.  I don't have to know the ending or the middle, but I get a feeling in my gut that there's lots of juicy stuff to work with here.

3. An idea or hook that's semi-commercial or better yet, really commercial.  I'm not a writer of literary novels.  I read and write commercial stuff.  I get bored with anything else - sorry!  The writing still has to be wonderful, of course.  But no dreary plot-less disquisitions on the meaninglessness of life for me, thanks.  If I spend ages writing a book, I'd like at least a chance at getting it published some day.

4. A theme or topic that digs just a little deeper.  Okay, so I want it to be commercial and a fun read.  But I also want my story to have some sort of meaning or deal with an issue that could be meaningful to someone other than myself.  It's not enough to have it be "true love conquers all" or something like that.  There must be an issue that folks struggle with that isn't easy.  It may not be front and center, but it lurks in the background.

5. A tone or atmosphere.  Getting this straight in my head can be the clincher.  If I get the tone down pat in my brain, then I feel like I just might know how to write this.  Is it melancholy?  (Not my stuff, usually.)  Creepy? (possible...) Action-packed with a sly sense of humor? (Hopefully!)

If it was a TV series, how would it be shot?  Bright and sunny, with lots of colors?  Or chiaroscuro?  Glamorous?  Or dusty and a bit faded around the edges?  I need to sort of see it in my head.  Then I'm ready to roll.

How do you decide which idea to write?

Friday, September 03, 2010

Five (no, Three!) Sisters

Yes, this is a post about another dream, but it's really about how writer's brains are split between the creative side and the editorial side.

This is what happened in my brain as I slept last night...

Dreaming Brain (DB): Once upon a time there were five sisters.

Editorial Brain (EB): Whoa, FIVE sisters? That's too many. What are you going to do with all of them? Maybe make it three sisters. Are you sure you want to go with third person omniscient POV? If you truly wish to write a fairy tale that POV can work, but it is the most distant and difficult for readers to identify with. Keep that in mind as you write and consider switching to first person. While we're at it -- "once upon a time"? Didn't that become a bit of a cliche about a hundred years ago? And get rid of that passive verb.

DB: They were all strong and beautiful.

EB: Another passive verb, honey. You really can't have two in a row like that. It's boring. And if you make all the sisters beautiful aren't you perpetuating the idea that female protagonists all have to be gorgeous? Why not make one not-so-beautiful? Or handicapped? Or dyslexic or bipolar?

DB: And they always got their way.

EB: You're implying a theme here. I assume you're going to show how always getting your own way isn't a good thing. Will they get their comeuppance at the end? Or perhaps one of them doesn't get her way and she ends up flourishing? Or perhaps she gets her way and ends up unhappy anyway? Either way, don't be didactic.

I can't remember much after that, but you get the idea. Writing involves so many different parts of your brain, it can be difficult to know which part to listen to.

I generally try to give the Dreaming Brain or creative side free rein while brainstorming and writing the first draft. Sometimes the Editorial Brain steps in, regardless, and I go back and rewrite before I continue on. But if you listen too much to the EB at the start, you'll never finish. And if you don't listen to it later on, you'll have a cliched mess filled with passive verbs.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

In Which My Subconscious Gets Materialistic

Last night I dreamt I got an offer for $134k for my book.  Ah, Dreamland, you mock me so! 

I won't go into too much detail, because there's nothing quite so boring as the ins and outs of other people's dreams.  But it was all very fragmented and a bit uncertain until I made a video to celebrate.  Two of my friends and I danced around randomly and sang The Money Song from Monty Python.  Here's the original - the song starts about 1:30 in...

First, the song makes me realize how much romance the Euro has taken out of travel in Europe. The lure of the lira indeed!

Second, I can't help wondering what the hell my subconscious is up to. Isn't it supposed to connect me to my deeper self? To find me the answers that elude my conscious mind? Is that answer really: "It's accountancy that makes the world go round"?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

SCBWI Insanity

I'm back at work after four incredible days at the International SCBWI LA conference, in lovely downtown Century City at the Hyatt Regency. (If you go I highly recommend having martini under the awning at sunset outside. East Coasters kept looking around in awe, saying, "It's so NICE!")

It was nice. And chock full o'info/advice/inspiration. And exhausting. At the end of each day a nice glass of wine with new SCBWI friends was required in order to recover.

Here are some of the highlights for me:

1. Arthur A. Levine's class in getting Emotions on the Page.
Arthur has his own imprint and is the US publisher of Harry Potter. He's also an editing genius. I took his class in emotion in writing, and sat in awe, watching him pick apart the student's prose - gently, always with humor and sensitivity, but with a laser-like precision that demanded you think long and hard about every word you put on the page. Plus he would occasionally break into song, mime the actions he was talking about, or do a disco move. I can't recreate his brilliant suggestions here, but remember:

  • The details you pick out should convey emotion. Your reader should know what the main emotion of the scene is.
  • That emotion and those details should be very specific.
  • Avoid generic phrases like "an exhausted sigh." Think about what a sign is, how it sounds, what it feels like, and convey that with vivid word choices.
  • Details should be appropriate to the POV character. As in, if your protagonist is an eleven year old and you're writing in first person, all the details should be something an eleven year old would notice and say. More specifically, they should be details YOUR eleven year old would notice.
And so much more!

2. Meeting online friends at last! 

3. Getting inspired by great writer/speakers like Marion Dane Bauer and Jon Scieszka. Marion (winner of the Golden Kite for Picture Book text) had us all crying, while Jon had everyone cracking up.  We really ran the emotional gamut every single day of the conference.

4. Reciting poetry with Ashley Bryan and all of the other 1100 attendeees.

And so much more.  I'm worn out, but very happy.  My brain is so full, I've just got to get to writing to exorcise it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Typealyze Your Blog or Writing

If you have a blog online, there's a cool analyzer here called the Typelyzer that will tell you the "personality type" of your blog.

I ran my blog through this (it took about two seconds) and it came up with this:

ESFP - The Performers
The entertaining and friendly type. They are especially attuned to pleasure and beauty and like to fill their surroundings with soft fabrics, bright colors and sweet smells. They live in the present moment and don´t like to plan ahead - they are always in risk of exhausting themselves.

The enjoy work that makes them able to help other people in a concrete and visible way. They tend to avoid conflicts and rarely initiate confrontation - qualities that can make it hard for them in management positions.

I found this very interesting because it is NOT my personality type, but it is the type of blog I'm trying to achieve - all entertainment, soft fabrics and sweet smells.

My actualy personality type based on Myers-Briggs is INFP. Both types are Feeling and Perceiving, but the blog is more extroverted and fact-based. Makes sense!

Monday, July 26, 2010

SCBWI Conference Time!

Wow, I used this same post title a year ago. That crazy, fabulous, learning-intensive time is upon us again. The big ol' SCBWI LA conference starts this Friday, spread out over four exhausting, exhilarating days in lovely, lonely Century City, aka Los Angeles.

This year I'm doubly excited because my critique partner, sexy, smart-ass, slinky-prose writing Elisa Nader is coming into town for it. It'll be a whirlwind of seminars, schmoozing, and snacking.

How's that for some alliteration, folks?

We're taking famed writer/publisher Arthur Levine's workshop on putting emotion into your writing. Arthur's a legend in the world of writing for children. Check out his list. I know I have much still to learn when it comes to writing and this is an extraordinary opportunity. Thanks, SCBWI!

I'll try to take photos and blog a bit about it, but the final word comes down from the official SCBWI conference blog here. Check it out for all the juiciest dish and greatest insights.

Happy conferencing, fellow attendees!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Procedural

Yes, I'm busy. Haven't posted, blah blah blah.

But not too busy to read this hilarious, spot-on the beagle's nose post by writer Josh Friedman (yeah, the dude who made that great TV show The Sarah Connor Chronicles, RIP) to help you understand the jabberwocky land of television. His blog is called I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing and if you don't recognize the Star Wars reference, do not go to Comic Con or they will eat you alive.

Read it here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

"Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope." - F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Five Things to Try When the Dryer in Your Building Won't Start

...when it’s filled with wet jeans and you’ve given it your last three quarters and the damn quarter tray is stuck half in/half out:

1. Try to hammer the quarter tray back out while chanting, “Piece of shit, piece of shit, piece of shit."

2. Tilt it, as you would a recalcitrant pinball machine. If a gentle nudge doesn’t work, lift one side of the dryer up high, using your legs and not your back to avoid injury. Then drop it hard, secretly hoping it breaks and the building owner will have to buy a new one.

3. Paint a blue dot on your forehead using Tide with bleach alternative.  Raise your right hand and solemnly swear that you’ll switch to an environmentally friendly laundry soap if the thing will just fricking start.

4. Sit on top of it, then hop on your ass, as it were, pounding the dusty white surface with your butt.

5. After you've successfully dislodged the quarter tray, ask your neighbor for more quarters, trying not to think about how you keyed their car when they blocked your parking space that one time.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Anatomy of a Rejection

Agent Jennifer Laughran of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency has a fascinating post on her blog about various stages of querying and the percentages of queries to requests to offers. See it here.

You might find the percentages discouraging but I don't, actually. If you get a personalized rejection, by Jennifer's accounting, you're in the top 15% of submitters. Not too shabby!

Yes, to only 1% of people who send her a full does she make an offer to rep them. But still - if she kind of likes something, but rejects it, there's a decent chance that another agent might like it even more.

The key, as always with subbing to agents or editors: Do. Your. Research. Check it out: 20% of the folks who sub to Jennifer get deleted without a look because they didn't follow guidelines. And it ain't hard to follow guidelines, people. If you can't follow simple guidelines in submitting your manuscript, how on earth are you going to survive when an editor gives you notes to change your manuscript? How can your judgement be trusted? Research, folks. After all the time and effort you put into your manuscript, a few minutes of agent research is more than worthwhile.

Been rejected and need some soothing? Check out her post On Rejection here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Read Your Own Book Aloud

...before you show it to agents or publishers.

I heartily recommend this method for catching typos, awkward wording, poor grammar, word repetition, voice adjustment (that is, the "voice" of your manuscript), finding inconsistencies, and much much more.

When I do it sometimes I get all dramatic and pretend I'm auditioning to read my own audiobook. But that takes longer than reading in a monotoned rush, so I usually fall back into that. Either way, it works wonders.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Today's Cuteness

I watched this whole, long thing with a giant grin plastered on my face. My cheeks hurt now, but it was worth it. Maybe it's nostalgia. My Aunt Barbara had shelties when I was a kid.

Writers, Be a Pro When You Get Notes

I got a bunch of great notes from my critique partner on my manuscript, and I'm now implementing them at speed. Most of them. No reader's notes are going to jibe 100% with your thoughts, but if you can get someone like Elisa, where it's pretty damned close to 90%, jump on that person, tie them down and force them to be your critique partner.

No, not literally, you weirdos.

Even with someone as sensitive and smart and in sync as Elisa, I find getting notes can be tough. I had lunch with my friend Ruth the other day, and she helps people write screenplays for a living. She too had the same question - why is it so hard sometimes for the writer to get notes? She gives notes all the time and sees the struggles that ensue.

Ego is the easiest answer. And that's part of it. After spending months writing something, to have someone else come along, read it once, and point out a problem means either that you're an idiot or that they are wrong. Which answer would your ego prefer? And sometimes the note-giver isn't right. But a LOT of the time they are (I'm talking about trusted note-givers here, not your grandma or butcher - DON'T give your book or script to them and expect anything useful to come out of it.) So you feel like an idiot.

But you're not, because writing is hard. It's harder than giving notes. Solving the problems is ten times tougher than pointing it out. So you're not an idiot. But your note-giver is still probably right.

And that's the other reason getting notes can be tough emotionally, because writing can be tough emotionally. Hell, it's tough all over. I find that I get so enmeshed in tying up one thread, I'll forget another. Or (and this happens CONSTANTLY in my writing) I assume I've made something perfectly clear when in fact it's as murky as the Gulf of Mexico. (Don't get started on the oil spill. Just... grrrr!) I resist telling people flat out what's going on. I want them to infer it. And sometimes that works. Sometimes, especially in a book, you just need to fricking spell it out. You don't have actors saying your words to help add emotion or a great director shooting your scenes to imply something with a camera angle or spot of light.

Writers can get too close to the material and lose perspective. You may know your book better than your note-giver. You may know these characters like you know yourself. But just as a good friend can sometimes point out a pattern in your own behavior that you never recognized, a good note-giver can do the same for your manuscript.

So be a pro. Take the notes with a smile even if your heart trembles with pain and rage. Then put the manuscript down, and take a walk, hug your dog, or have a nice glass of Toasted Head chardonnay while watching True Blood. Then go back and realize how the note will help you make your book better and go for it.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Rewriting on Vacation

...can happen. It helps to have a father who is also a writer. And a mother who gets it. And a laptop. And a book you're very motivated to finish.

But I won't be done by the end of the vacay, alas. Perhaps by mid-June. Then - watch out world!

Hope you all had a marvelous Memorial Day.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Time Out

Sorry I haven't been blogging much the last few weeks. Life is busy! And now I'm going on vacation. I'll have ye old laptop with me, since I'm getting close to done on the rewrite of my novel. So I might be posting.

But then again I might not. Sometimes you need to shut down the electronic connection to the outside world and curl up and rest. I won't be resting completely, since the rewrite continues, and I simply must visit my fave beach in the world. But it will be restful. I hope!

Have a splendid Memorial Day weekend. Hope it brings you closer to your writerly dreams.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mind Map-o-Rama

After reading Chuck Wendig's hilarious and helpful post on how he uses mind mapping to find out who the characters in his book are, I stumbled onto yet another fabulous use of mind mapping at Visual Thesaurus. Check it!

I'm a visual person, so seeing things mapped out like this is helpful and also sends my mind off into new corners. Connections I didn't understand before seem obvious, and words become like planets, each with their own rings or moons or asteroids orbiting.

You can download free mind mapping software from Free Mind here.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Almost Just For a Moment

Back from a trip to Napa to say - see those words in the title of this post? If you find them in your manuscript - cut them!

I use "just" a lot and "almost" a ton, and "for a moment" to make things feel transitory. Truth is - things feel transitory enough without "for a moment" most of the time. And something is stronger without "just" or "almost" in front of it.

Don't hedge. Don't be redundant. Cut these words. Use the Search function if you must to track them down and delete!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Flabby Middles

I've been busy rewriting, and it's going slower than I thought, and round about page 150 I started thinking - FLABBY!

It was very frustrating, because I couldn't figure out why everything on the page just laid there. I know, that's what words do on a page, right? But it shouldn't feel like that's what they're doing. They should zoom along and sweep you away and race along, and other speedy turns of phrase.

So I went through the whole book and as I did, wrote down an outline of what happens. I was looking for stuff to cut, but I was also trying to figure out why the middle felt so floppy, flacid, full of hot gas.

Thank goodness my brain seems to work these things out on its own because I think I finally got it. I found a few scenes and lots of words to cut, but I also realized that my main character spends a large section of the middle just reacting to stuff. In the beginning and end of the book she is very driven and motivated, but in the middle? Not so much.

Not good! Protagonists must have goals - external and internal, sometimes mistaken goals, sometimes glorious goals, but goals goals goals!

I think I figured it out - the goal she needs to have in the middle. I'm still inserting it in, working it around, giving it a massage, so we'll see. But don't forget the goal, guys. Once your protag starts sitting around going "oh hey, that's cool," and "wow, I learned a lot today," it's time to reset their priorities and make them a tad more driven. A LOT more driven.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Inspiration from Meg Cabot

I just saw writer Meg Cabot speak at the LA Times Festival of Books. I love her more than ever now!

Meg is a terrific public speaker - funny, smart, self deprecating, and best of all, inspirational. Today she talked about where she gets her ideas, making us all laugh with stories of how an abandoned dog named Jack Bauer showed up on her porch. It turned out he was owned by an evil man who looked like a vampire... hence the idea for her new book Insatiable - about an evil man who IS a vampire, and the woman who takes him down.

Meg's all about girl power, whether it's in her novels for tweens, teens, or adults. She kept telling us we could make our dreams come true, if we just persist. For me, as a writer, it was particularly wonderful (in a weird way) to hear her say that she'd gotten thousands of rejections over the course of years before she landed her agent. 25 books, a few movies, and millions of dollars later, she still remembers how hard those years of rejection were. BUT - persistence paid off.

She wants us all to believe in ourselves. She, after a difficult childhood with an alcoholic father, managed to do it, so we can too.

I so want to read her books now. This whole book tour thing is most enlightening. Once you get to like the author personally, you really want to keep her around by having her books in your hand and in your head. Genius!

If you get a chance to see Meg speak, I highly recommend it. Meanwhile - keep believing in yourself, keep working hard, and your dreams can come true.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Setting as Character

Saw the first two eps TREME on HBO last night, and it's an excellent lesson in how a setting can become the main character in a piece. In this case, the city of New Orleans, three months after Katrina.

The first shots of the show are all close ups - a man's lips near a saxaphone reed, feathers, a kid's face, shoes dancing... then we widen to see men in a darkened room discussing the first "second line" to take place after the storm. (Turns out the "second line" is a type of parade.) Pretty soon, men in suits are warming up their trumpets and banging on drums, a man climbs to the roof of a car to dance, sipping on a cold drink as he does so... and in that sea of faces, in the beat of the music, we feel the heartbeat of New Orleans.

Note the technique - start with colorful details, then pull back for a larger picture. This can really work in writing a novel too. They key is to pick out details that really evoke the uniqueness of your setting. Be as specific as possible.

My only caveat is - don't rely solely on the depth and richness of the setting to carry your piece. In TREME, we also get a lot of humor and depth of character in the people we meet. We're so busy getting to know these people and this fascinating place that we don't mind the slowness of the early plotting. If it's anything like THE WIRE (same writer/producers) the plot will pick up soon, and we'll know the characters and setting so well, that we will be utterly invested in the outcome.

I'm already researching cool bars in New Orleans, food, and visiting the sites of musicians featured on the show. A great setting can be a gift to your readers, as long as it's appropriate for your writerly intentions.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Rewriting Woes

Been trying to do some rewriting while I've been sick with a cold these past five days, and it ain't easy.

The toughest part, aside from the cold, is remembering all the different facets of the work that need to be rewritten. For example, I need to cut a lot out of my first draft to get the word count down to a reasonable number. I also need to sharpen the narrator's voice, make the boy in it hot and fun, liven up the dialogue, make sure the plot makes sense, make my villain more three dimensional, and rework several supporting characters. That's just what I can think of off the top of my head and doesn't include proofreading, grammar check, and just generally trying to make the writing sing.

I had a thought about something the mentor character should say to the heroine near the end of the book - but I'm not there on the rewrite yet! Nonetheless, I got out of bed (that's where I had my thought) and turned on my computer and stuck a paragraph in near the end that did what I wanted. It's not perfect. It'll need to be rewritten, but at least it's there. Meanwhile, chapter 8 needs me to cut it down more.

So much rewriting to do! Novels are long, baby. They're complex and involve so many dang words. I'm trying to be systematic about it, but my brain keeps jumping to some seemingly unrelated thing that also needs fixing.

This'll take a little while. But I can feel the thing getting better. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Home sick = no writing

So frustrating to have all this time at home thanks to a head cold and yet not have the energy to write a word. Well, except in this blog, apparently.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Me. With all my original teeth.

And now, a brief pause to reflect on the inexorable passage of time... Dad just sent this to me today, via family friend Tommy Davis. I think I'm about seven here, at my friend Beth Davis's birthday. I'd like to say this was when we went to Istanbul to stay with the Davis family, but I can't be sure that's true.

I don't think I've worn yellow since then. It's really not half bad.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Dad's New Book

Dad sent me a copy of the latest book he edited - Nuremberg and Beyond. It's a memoir by his good friend and fellow teacher Siegfried Ramler. I knew Sieg as a history teacher at my high school, Punahou. But before that he was an Austrian kid living in London during the Blitz who later became a key translator during the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

I just got the book, so I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but one glance shows me that it has the usual gorgeousness of any project worked on by designer Mac Simpson, my father's frequent collaborator. The pictures have gotten me very interested in reading about the Nuremberg trials. I'm a sucker for history, especially when it's this kind of insider view.

And I have no doubt it's been edited marvelously. That goes without saying...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fresh Eyes! Get your fresh eyes right here!

Now that the first draft of the book is done, I'm forcing myself to take a little hiatus from it. That way, when I return, it will be (fingers crossed) with fresh eyes. "Fresh eyes," are the best way to enter a rewrite. If you can obtain them, do it at any cost. But they are tougher to find than a mango on the tundra. so there's no guarantee I'll get these fresh eyes after taking a couple of weeks off from my manuscript. But it's worth a try.

Meanwhile, I'm contemplating a rewrite of my existing TV spec pilot. A spec pilot, TV novices, is a script for the first ep of a TV show that exists only in your head. It's entirely original. I wrote one such a couple of years ago and recently got some good notes on it. I hope to bring "fresh eyes" to it now.

"Fresh eyes" are sounding more and more like some sort of succulent fruit. Maybe it was my mango simile. But I keep thinking of tossing fresh eyes into my mouth and popping them between my teeth like cherry tomatoes.

Yes, tomatoes are fruit. And yes, that was gross. Fruit brings out my inner horror writer.

I tweeted this - but going from writing a novel to writing a TV script is like moving out of your luxurious RV into a stripped down sports car. I'm not feeling quite as zoomy as I should about it yet, but I'm working on it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What a Night

I finish the last chapter of my current novel today. Well, I finished the first draft. I sent it off to my crit partner in a rush, wanting nothing more than to be rid of it.

Now I'll just stop thinking about it for a week or so and concentrate on rewriting a TV pilot. Then I'll go back the book with (I hope) fresh eyes and rewrite and cut and renew and curse the gods once more.

Then I watched an episode of The Pacific. The heroism and carnage on display was stunning. The suffering and bravery of these young men (on both sides of the conflict) made me cry. I'm a bit of a cryer when it comes to things like this, but The Pacific would make a stone cry.

Then came a segment on 60 Minutes about Haitian orphans that made me want to pack my bags and fly there immediately to wrap my arms around some poor kid who lost his parents.

Then came the Reptiles episode of Life on the Discovery Channel, an intensely gorgeous, intimate look at nature in all its magnificence and horror. Imagine 10 Komodo dragons stalking and then feasting on a hapless, poisoned water buffalo. Imagine a frog's tongue shooting out to impossible lengths, grabbing a mantis by the head, and pulling the hapless insect right back into the frog's mouth. All in crystal clear close up.

Then healthcare reform passed. It's stunted and imperfect, but it's a start. A big start.

It was an emotional night in the Berry household.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Weekly Roundup

The ceiling got sanded, primed,and painted and appears fully recovered from its adventures during the days of rainstorms and blocked gutters. Next up - framing and hanging newly acquired photos from a Polish online gallery, posters from Prague, and perhaps more.

Eeking through the final chapter of my manuscript. Perhaps I am resisting finishing the damn thing for some reason or other. My conscious mind wants this done, for crying out loud. After that - rest and rewrite.

My friend Rod and his wife had a baby boy! Very exciting and happy news.

Bewared (new verb) the Ides of March.

Making plans to perhaps go to Rome, Naples, and Amalfi this fall with fab travel buddy Wendy. Wish I could start eating there now. I love Italy. Perhaps some of the language will return again to me when we go. Perche no?

Worked portions of my butt off at the day job early this week. No sign of let up in the TV insanity. Learning how writers can help themselves (or not) in how they relate to the studio and network while their series is in production.

Saw "The Ghost Writer" (excellent thriller. That jerk Polanski is annoyingly talented) and "Hot Tub Time Machine" (silly and not for everyone, but I enjoyed the raunchy dumbness and the 80's flashback.)

On TV, "Pacific" premiere was excellent, but the latest ep of "The Good Wife" was even better. Seriously, "Good Wife" is the best thing on TV right now. Making plans to have folks over to watch David Simon's new HBO series "Treme" after it premieres. I had a clan of loyal Simon fans over to watch seasons 4 and 5 of "The Wire" when that was on, so we're all very excited about this new series. Also THRILLED that HBO will do a series based on George R.R. Martin's high fantasy series "Game of Thrones." Cannot wait for that.

Pondering joining Script Frenzy, the April contest where people try to write 100 pages of a new script in 30 days. Doesn't quite coincide with my plans to 1) finish 1st draft of novel. 2) rewrite existing TV script. 3) Rewrite novel. Guess I can have my own script frenzy thereafter.

Or maybe just a plain ol' frenzy. I'll see what I can do.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Wrote 5 Pages Tonight

Five pages in to the final chapter now. Maybe another ten pages, then the first draft is DONE.

I said, done.

Then a week or so off, then back to rewrite. Must sharpen characterization, get rid of adverbs, tighten, cut, and generally make better.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Make Your Wheel Squeaky

So if you're wondering why I haven't been blogging much (miss me?), just look at the mess the rains made in my first floor apartment.

Yes, I'm on the first floor of a two-story building. You'd think rain wouldn't be a problem for me. But I've had issues with leaks before. The gutters fill with mud over the years when my landlady-from-hell doesn't clean them, then the water runs in a sheet down the side of the building and seeps in between floors, peeing through bubbles in the paint onto my floor.

I warned my apartment manager it was happening again two weeks before the ceiling collapsed. A man came out looked at it, seemed to doubt it was the gutters, said he didn't have his tall ladder, but that he'd come back and deal with it.

He never dealt with it. Flash forward to - ceiling collapse. I was out of town in Newport Beach at the time, but my delightful cat caretaker called me, horrified at what the cats had done now.

Well, it was the rain, but it's fun to blame the cats. I imagine them in goggles weilding tiny blocks of plastic explosives. But I digress.

It took me over three hours to clean it up and the 6 by 8 hole in my ceiling was a horrific eyesore, full of spider webs and moths. Not to mention the overwhelming odor of dirty water, one of the few smells that truely grosses me out. (I'm not a person who grosses out easily - I can smash a huge, flying cockroach without blinking. But I have a horror of drains and the things that dwell in them. The dank, mildewy smell of dirty water evokes that more than anything.)

This happened on a Friday night. Did my landlord fix things up on Monday? No. Tuesday? No. All this time, I kept one eye on the weather and saw rain in the forecast, which meant not only more water drizzling down into my apartment, but the possibility of more ceiling collapsing.

So, I got squeaky.

This is not in my nature. I hate bothering people. I don't like to be a nag. I figure folks are decent and will do what they say they'll do. I should give them the benefit of the doubt.

But when people fail to do their job over and over, and you are the victim, it's time to be the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. I hated harassing my apartment manager, but I managed to get the phone number of the repair guy, got him to come over, and he fixed the gutters Wednesday, then dry walled up my ceiling on Thursday.

Rains hit like crazy on Saturday, but I was safe and dry.

Since this is a writing blog, I'll relate this back to writing and say - be persistent when you're trying to get published. Don't be a nag, like I had to be here, but don't let yourself give up. Keep squeaking along, sending your query letter out to agents. Keep pitching it at conferences (once it's fabulous and polished), and then persist in writing something new. Persist in believing in yourself, in learning your craft, in making your manuscript better. Don't let yourself by the lazy landlord. And don't let go of the dream of being published.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Today's Word Is...


A good Irish word that trips off the tongue and can describe anything from spirited playfulness to malicious interference. My friend Maritza loves to shout "Shenanigans!" whenever someone's up to something devious.

And it's apt for my life right now. One way or the other.

Friday, February 26, 2010

In Which a NYT Bestseller Agrees with Me

Best selling YA author Maggie Stiefvater (Shiver, Lament) writes about Plot Bunnies in her blog here.

Plot Bunnies are the ideas that hop along while you're in the middle of your novel and beguile you away, like fluffy sirens, from the your current work-in-progress.

Beware the Bunnies of Plot! Note my earlier post about staying on target. It's easy to follow these seemingly innocent creatures in their waistcoats muttering about how they're late for a very important date. But then you fall down a rabbit hole. You just might never get back to your work-in-progress. Now that you're in the middle of the darn thing, it doesn't look quite as soft and sweet and adorable as the Plot Bunny. It doesn't tempt you with all its promise of being the Best Idea Ever any more. Now, it's work.

Well, you have to do the work if it's ever gonna grow up and be a Real Novel.

So, write down your Plot Bunnies, then put them away. They'll stay in your drawer, grousing slightly but quiescent. Once you're done with your WIP, then you can pull them out, dust them off, and follow one off your next adventure.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Chapter of Confusion

I think I just finished the second to last chapter of my current novel. Well, the first draft of it anyway.

Problem is, the damned chapter is 17 manuscript pages (double-spaced) long. I think that's too long for a YA novel.

Initially I ended the chapter at a suspenseful spot that made it 13 pages long. Not too bad. Then I wrote another four pages and came to a spot and thought "THIS should end the chapter!"

Now what the heck do I do?

Well, first thing is to write the next chapter and finish the first draft. When in doubt, finish the damned thing first, then worry about the details. When in doubt, leave it for the rewrite. All answers will be revealed (or fudged) then.

The real question is - how do you know when to end a chapter?

First, know your genre. In YA, the chapters don't tend to be very long. In literary novels they tend to be longer.

Second, to keep your readers interested, try to end the chapter at a moment that begs a question. Sometimes it's an obvious question: will the protagonist survive that ten-story fall into a damp dishrag? Sometimes it's subtle: Will your heroine be able to put aside the pain of her breakup? They key is to create some sort of suspense that will compell the reader to keep reading.

Third, OR, end the chapter when you've reached a point in the story that is very final. This is the case with my latest dilemma. At 17 pages, this chapter is long, but it now ends in a supremely logical place, at the end of a long bit of climactic action that resolves a ton of issues. The only remaining chapter will be the denouement, tying up a few loose ends, lending some emotional weight to the events we just saw, and so on. I wouldn't recommend doing this too often with chapter endings - it won't drive your reader forward as much as my second point, above. But near the end of a book, it makes a lot of sense and gives your reader a feeling of satisfaction and finality.

So I think I answered my own question. Damn the length of the chapter. Just end it when it's supposed to end. Heck, I'll probably cut a ton of stuff during the rewrite anyway.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Something I Hope to Need One Day

YA/MG author Lisa Schroeder (Chasing Brooklyn) has an excellent post on her blog called Timeline and Checklist for YA and MG Book Release that will (I hope) be very useful to me one day.

LOOK at all the stuff authors should do to support their books! DREAM of doing it for your own book one day! That's what I'm doing.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Stay on Target

Great advice from Doyce Testerman on his blog here about how not to get distracted from your goal when writing.

Or when in a relationship, baking cake, or giving someone a parking ticket.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Egypt Geek Moment

So they finally did a thorough check up not only of Tutankamun, but of 10 of his relatives. Egyptologists and DNA experts did the whole schmegeggy - and what they found is fricking fascinating.

So as an Egypt geek, I'm taking a moment on this blog about writing to say - told ya!

1. For years conspiracy theorists have thrown around the idea that Tut was murdered. I get why - his reign happened during a turbulent time in Egyptian history. His predecessor, Akhenaten, tried to convert the whole country to monotheism. He had a thing for the god Aten, and for making himself the only conduit to that god. It was a brilliant but short-lived power play to undercut the other cults and their powerful priests. After Akhenaten's death, Tut restored Egypt to its traditional polytheistic roots, much to the happiness of the powerful priests of Amun-Ra.

But the evidence now shows for certain that Tut was not murdered. He died of a combination of factors, including malaria in his brain, a genetic disorder that weakened his bones (and gave him a club foot, which explains the canes found in his tomb!) and complications from a broken leg.

I have to say that I knew the evidence for murder was always weak - a fantasy dreamed up by folks who liked a good tale better than facts.

2. Egyptologists were never sure whether Tut was the son of Akhanaten or Akh's dad Amenhotep III. DNA tells us for sure - Tut was the son of Akhenaten and a woman who was Akh's sister or half sister. In fact, two generations of inbreeding probably contributed to Tut's genetic illnesses.

This is big news for Egyptologists, people! At last we know who begat who! Okay, I'll calm down.

3. Most interesting to me, neither Tut, nor Akh, nor Tut's mom, in fact none of the mummies studied showed signs of Marfan's syndrome or gynecomastia.

Why is that important? Because for years Egyptologists have scratched their heads over the strange depictions of Akhenaten and his relatives. Check out Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and some of their daughters in this typical example:

Note the pendulous bellies, the warped skulls, the emphasis on wrinkles in the faces of the adults, the general feminization of all the bodies. This is a huge departure in the depiction of a pharoah. Before and after this time, Egyptian art was remarkably consistent in idealizing pharoahs. For example, check out this statue of Akhenaten's father, Amenhotep III:

Check out those shoulders and compare them with his son's! It's jock vs. geek, big time.

For hundreds of years, Egyptologists have wondered why this drastic change in style took place. So different was it that some thought that Akhenaten must've had some sort of physical deformity or condition that he (for some reason) insisted on not only depicting on himself, but on his entire family. Marfan's syndrome and gynecomastia fit that bill.

Personally, I always thought the change in style was an attempt to break from the past and put Akhenaten's stamp on everything. The feminization of all the human bodies could be a way to depict the family's fertility.

And now we know that no one in the family had any physical reason to be depicted this way. The Amarna style was very likely a deliberate choice by the pharoah to make a break with the style of the past.

Exciting times in Egyptolgy! Okay, back to writing.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Rewrite (just a bit) as you go

Most advice for first drafts is - just spill it out of your gut, don't rewrite, don't look back, just go go go as if the devil herself were after you.

I do this. Well, mostly.

What really happens when I sit down to write is this:
  1. Computer on
  2. Scroll down to spot in WIP (work in progress) where I first started writing yesterday.
  3. Go over what I wrote yesterday, editing slightly as I go.
  4. Come to the blank part of the page and pick up where I left off.

So I'm doing minor rewrites every time I sit down to write.

Confession: sometimes I do major rewrites. Like this weekend. I had, well, not an epiphany exactly, but a sort of "aha!" about a minor thread/theme/thingie in my novel. I could see how much better things would work if I incorporated it, but that would involve going back to earlier scenes and changing them to fit my aha! moment.

No, I didn't make a note of the aha! and keep moving forward, as some would suggest. I fricking went back to those earlier scenes and made the necessary changes to fit the aha! I made all the changes in about an hour, so it didn't hold me up hugely, and it relieved my mind to know that the aha! was now where it should be. Then I finished the chapter.

I think the key to rewriting while you're still finishing your first draft is moderation. If you spend more than 20 percent (yes, I picked that number out of the air) of your time rewriting your first draft then this may not be for you. You might need to be one of those forward motion maniacs who allows nothing and no one to get in the way of their first draft. You folks tend to be the all-or-nothing types, the ones with a switch that's off or on, but never in between.

Me, I'm betweeny. I'm good at moderation. I'm almost too good at it. My patience is, yes, almost too well developed. How? Well, mostly in my personal life, so I won't go into it here. But it is possible to be too tolerant, to allow too much time or give too much leeway to things/people/yourself. Every now and then, kicking your own butt, telling someone to leap off a cliff, or yelling at your landlady for not fixing the @#$ing stove after it's been on the fritz for a year is a good thing.

So if you can handle moderation, then a bit of rewriting as you go can work for you. If I'd waited, even with notes I might not have quite grokked the rewrite the way I did yesterday.

Side daydreamy thought: how different would my book be if I'd written it at slightly different times on different days over the past year? How much does nature the day's work depend on the time/place/mood in which its written?

For Wireheads and Dialogue Fiends

A very interesting discussion going on over at Chuck Wendig's blog TerribleMinds about dialogue. The latest post uses a scene from my fave TV show The Wire as a starting point. Opinions on it differ, and it's great to see writers pondering the ins and outs of dialogue.

Chuck's earlier post on dialogue is an excellent clarification of what a lot of writers sort of "know" about dialogue murkily waaay back in their subconscious. They know when they read or hear great dialogue, but they haven't put their fingers on why it's so great. Chuck pretty much nails it down in this post.

And because I love The Wire, I can't wait for next week's Wire University.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Just Don't

People ask me how I do it - how do I have a full time job and write stuff on the side?

Well, I just do it. I make the time, I fricking sit down when I'm tired and want to watch "The Good Wife" and I type stuff until I can't see straight.

And then sometimes I don't.

The truth is that it's really really really hard. Yes, that's three "reallys." So you have to want it really x 4 bad. And some days I don't want it bad enough.

Like last night. Work is heinously busy. In the long run, this is a good thing, and I'm grateful for my job and it's interesting and I learn things and... I could go on, but why? But all day I multi-task. From 9am - 7 or 8pm, I'm doing three to eight things at once. It's a tad insane.

So when I got home last night, my brain just shut off. I tried to do some yoga, and I kept bumping into stuff. Probably because I was doing laundry, fending off cats, and solving work problems in my head at the same time. Multi tasking again.

So after the fourth whack, bruising some bony spot on my body, I decided to just sit the hell down and do one thing at a time. And since I needed to do laundry, eat, and shower more than I needed to write, I did those things. I didn't write a word.

I got all frustrated about it at first. I raged about how there isn't enough time to do everything I need to do (like, uh, clean my apartment. Just ignore the dust hippos in the corners, thanks.) I'm really impatient with myself sometimes. I want to just finish this fricking book and be published and HURRY UP AND MAKE MY DREAMS COME TRUE!

Generally I'm a patient, non-angry type. Then it burbles up. Whatareyagonnado? I'm human. After a bit I calmed down, did laundry, showered, and ate, in sequence, not all at once, and felt at least slightly sane. And went to bed.

Earning money, eating, sleeping, these things do have to come first. And if you can't do them AND write, then give yourself a break and write tomorrow. Yeah yeah, you're supposed to write every single day to stay in practice, and Butt In Chair = A Real Writer, and all that crap. But it's not worth losing your sanity over. Sometimes you just have to sit still and do one thing at a time. Eventually you'll find the time to write.

For me, this three-day weekend is a huge blessing. I'll have time to chill, write, and see friends. All are necessary to feel halfway okay in life. But it doesn't have to happen all at once every day. One thing at a time.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Reading Scripts

I'm reading a lot of scripts these days - for work and to learn for myself. We're staffing writers on three new series (can you say busy?) and so everyone's reading their sample scripts and debating who's best at what and so on.

Right now I'm reading a sample TV script for a detective show that has very high ratings. And the script is really good, written by a young, new writer. But it's hard to get through because it's so damned familiar. I'd much rather read something original that the writer made up themselves. Yes, that is much harder than writing a sample of an existing series. And yes, a sample of an existing series tells us the writer can imitate a series' "voice" (a very important trait in a TV writer). Lots of contests and workshops require you to write an existing show as well, so this sample is quite good for those purposes.

But it's so much more fun to read something new and different, and not to know exactly where the story will go or what the characters will do. You can't really surprise your reader if you write an existing show. And you can't really show off your own voice and writing chops in the same way as if you wrote something original. Even at the baby writer level, execs want to staff someone with a bit of a vision, a strong voice, and the sophistication to write their own pilot. It's a lot to ask, but it's also one of the most competitive jobs in the world.

So, when in doubt, write an original pilot spec script for TV. Your reader will thank you.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Leaking Pages

I'm only managing about two pages a day. It's frustrating. My day job has gotten so busy that my brain is pretty fried by the time I face my manuscript.

On the other hand, two pages a day is ten pages a week, which is about a chapter in YA. Should be about two or three chapters left in this story, so that means the first draft should be done by the end of the month, right?

Assuming nothing else happens to interfere!

And it's a rainy weekend ahead, so maybe I'll get ahead of that schedule soon.

Juggle juggle juggle.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Goal Time

Since I started setting goals, I've met lots of them!

I haven't met them all because certain goals require the universe to go along with you. But the success I've had with the goals I have met just makes me all the more determined to keep setting them.

So, without further ado, this year's writing goals:

Finish YA novel #2 and submit to agents. (Hopefully by early March! Fingers crossed.)
Get a book agent for YA novel(s).
Make at least half the books I read YA novels.
Rewrite spec TV pilot.
Read at least two TV spec scripts a week.
Write a second, more commercial TV pilot.
Outline and begin YA novel #3.
Network more with fellow writers, online and at retreats/conferences/classes.
Read at least two more books on craft of writing.
Continue to get critiques from Elisa and to critique her work.

I may think of more, but that seems like plenty for now. Whew. I better get to writing.

Sex in YA

Fantastic post by writer Gayle Forman on her blog here about characters in YA novels having sex.

It beautifully lays out many of the thoughts I've had myself about characters in teen novels having sex. Yes, I think girls should wait until they care about and trust their partners, that they should be educated about sex, that they shouldn't be pressured, etc. I'm all for waiting as long as possible, really giving it some thought before you plunge and so on.

But having sex doesn't necessarily mean you're a slut, or a mean girl, or horribly damaged. The consequences of having sex can be huge (hello! pregnancy, STD's) but they don't have to be. Too much tiptoeing around nice, normal, fabulous sex makes it seem forbidden or horrific or dangerous. Nonsense. Many teens have sex eventually with their partners and they have no bad consequences and plenty of good ones.

Seems to me that depicting sex in a positive, normal light is just as important (if not more!) than showing the bad things that can happen. Teens will relate to the characters who eventually sleep together, the way real teens do. And perhaps the modeling of caring, careful sexual relations between teens will help young people navigate their way to adulthood in a way that works for them.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

You Better Learn

Freelance Penmonkey Chuck Wendig has a genius post on his blog here, called "Writers Don't Do That." It lists a lot of the things people who think they're writers claim that writers don't do.

His answer - you better fricking learn. And he's right.

Best of the Best Screenplay Nominees

So the Oscar nominations are out today. This is a blog about writing, so I'll concentrate on the nominees for Best Screenplay, both Original and Adapted.

However, as a quick aside, I'll opine that this new rule of allowing ten nominees for Best Picture is a shameless attempt at ratings for the telecast. However, it has allowed in a few nominees that might never otherwise have made it and that probably deserve it - like District 9. Genre movies are usually dissed by the Academy, but not this year! Also, I hope Kathryn Bigelow wins for Best Director on The Hurt Locker.

But on to screenplays! Here are the nominees:

Best screenplay (original)
The Hurt Locker, written by Mark Boal
Inglourious Basterds, written by Quentin Tarantino
The Messenger, written by Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman
A Serious Man, written by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Up, screenplay by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter; story by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy

Best screenplay (adapted)
District 9, written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
An Education, screenplay by Nick Hornby
In the Loop, screenplay by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche
Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire, screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher
Up in the Air, screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner

One thing you'll notice - there's not a bad apple in the barrel. Avatar, nominated by both the Golden Globes and the WGA (!) did not get nominated by the Academy for Best Original. Thank goodness. That movie was a visual feast, but the writing was simply terrible.

I haven't seen all the nominees, so I'll have to skip talking in detail until I do, but I'll make fearless predictions now and wait to be proved wrong.

For Best Original - I think Quentin Tarantino's best writing days are behind him, that Joel and Ethan Coen (A Serious Man) are brilliant but not very well liked in Hollywood, and that The Messenger is too obscure to win. The contest then comes down to two fabulous nominees: Up and The Hurt Locker. I think this is The Hurt Locker's year, so I'll pick it, but I'd be delighted if Up won.

For Best Adapted: An Education and In the Loop suffer from being smaller movies that are a bit too obscure for the Academy. District 9 is sci fi and will ultimately be punished for that. Which leaves Precious (I refuse to type out that entire title again, it's just silly) and Up in the Air. I liked Up in the Air, but it's not the be-all end-all that some reviewers have led us to believe. However, I think it will win. Precious is a close second, but it's been over-hyped even more than Up in the Air and may suffer for that. I also think its pretentious too-long title is reason enough to vote against it. Part of writing is knowing when to stop.

So I'm stopping now.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

ALA Winners Announced

...and I haven't read any of them. I don't tend to buy hardback books any more. I have too many sitting my shelves, waiting to be read. But I'm intrigued by Libba Bray's nutty sounding Going Bovine, have gotten a ton of recommendations to read When You Reach Me, and am mesmerized by the illustrated lion in The Lion and the Mouse.

You can see the complete list here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Prep for Writing Action

I'm getting ready to write the big final action scene in my novel, and one of the things I do to prep for it is sketch out a map of the area in which the action takes place.

That's the map for my action scene, above. You can't see much detail, (I snapped it with my camera phone) but it'll give you the idea. I like to know the layout of buildings, terrain, and the location of characters in the scene before I write it, and a map is the easiest way. You can see I've got a road, a parking lot, and a bunch of buildings drawn very poorly here. But who cares if I can't draw a proper rectangle? As long as I know where the warehouse is in relation to the landing strip, I'm good.

Part of this comes from my training as a Game Master (or GM or DM) when I play Dungeons and Dragons or other roleplaying games. Whenever the players encounter a monster and a big battle ensues, I usually sketch out the terrain for them, including buildings, roads, position of the monster, and anything else that their characters would be aware of. That way they can decide where to move. If they want to have cover, they can point to the corner of a building and say "I hide behind that corner." Then we all know whether or not they'll get burned when dragon breathes fire.

So first thing I do for an action scene in a novel is to sketch out the area - in pencil. (More on why later.) Then I decide which characters will be in this scene - protagonist and her allies, antogonist and his allies, any innocent bystanders, etc. Then I decide where to place them on the map before the battle begins. Looking at it from the bird's eye POV helps me figure out who needs to go where and do what in order to achieve their goal.

In this case, the protag and her allies are trying to rescue someone, so I marked where that person is on the map, figured out what obstacles lie between him and them, and then imagined it like a movie, listing (yes, that's my awful handwriting in the picture above making a list) the events as they progress in the scene while I look at the map.

Usually that first list of events doesn't quite cut it. This one sure didn't. so I flipped this page over and made another list, then another. I insert other actions, subtract others, and sometimes even revise the map to make the scene work better. (Hence the use of pencil.)

Once I have a map and a series of events in decent shape (not visually decent, obviously, since that's not possible for me, but decent story-wise) then I feel I can start writing the scene. Keep in mind, this map and the list of events are a sort of outline. As I go in and actually write the scene, I often realize I need to make changes and do. don't get too invested in the map and list of events. They are tools, not a mandate.

More on the things that make for a good action scene in the next post.

Happiness Diary

I've been trying to write down the things that make me happy - just jot them down in my calendar thingie. It's a way to help augment your happiness, supposedly. So far the list looks something like:

Research ideas for spec pilot.
Watch puppies on livecam on internet. (Check them out here. So soothing and fun.)
Discuss how to make scene for pilot-in-progress better.
Reread scene that seems to work well in novel-in-progress.
Run in the rain.
Laugh my butt off with friends.
Logging off after writing four pages that aren't half bad.

So - writing in all its various phases seems to be a large part of the moments that make me happy. Good to know.

Yet it's still so fricking hard to write at times. But turns out to be worth it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haiti - Donation Recommendation

There are many ways to help the people in Haiti, devastated by yesterday's enormous earthquake. Please consider donating to Doctors Without Borders. Reports are that every hospital in Haiti has been destroyed. The offices of Doctors Without Borders itself has been horribly damaged, and they may have lost people. The need for medical help there is urgent. You can go here to donate directly online.

Imagine a world where we didn't have to spend on war. Where all that money could go to people who need it in times like this.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Today's happy discovery is a blog called Curious Pages, described as "recommended inappropriate books for children."

It's a complete delight, and a reminder that we can be a bit too protective of kids when it comes to their reading material.

No, I'm not in favor of siccing books filled with violence and sex on young kids. But I'm often amazed at how parents won't let their eight year old watch, say "Snow White" because it has a scary scene near the beginning. Books that mention Tommy has two dads get taken out of libraries, and YA books that feature gay characters or realistic depictions of sex, abuse, drug use, or neglect are also banned.

Yes, parents must use discretion in what they throw at their young children. But don't be scared of a depiction of loss, in say, Bambi. Stop worrying that your seven year old will be converted to Christianity if they read the wonder Chronicles of Narnia. And let your teen read what he or she wants. Once they are teenagers, kids reach for what they need to read, and they can handle just about anything.

Meanwhile, revel in "Boners" by a young Dr. Suess, or "The Dead Bird" by Margaret Wise Brown and Remy Charlip. Inappropriate? Or juuuust right?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Stick with the Old

A new idea is threatening to keep me from finishing my novel. Gah!

It never fails. I can see the very faint light at the end of my first draft tunnel. Then a new idea (for a screenplay) invades and occupies my brain.

It was looking like Iraq inside my head. I didn't want to keep writing my book. I wanted to brainstorm the new thingie.

Beware this tendancy, writer babies! It's something your writer-brain does to keep you from finishing things. The old stuff pales and you think, meh, no one else will ever love it, and now that I think about it, it's kind of dumb... and oh! Shiny pretty new idea over here will solve all my problems.

It's like buying new make up when you've got three half-used blushes in the drawer and five different lipsticks that are all the same color.

Stick with the old! Finish that last pinky brown lipstick before you buy a new one. Scribble down your thoughts on the new idea real quick so you don't forget it, then Finish Your Novel.