Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Breathe It In..

Pool water.


Fresh baked bread.

Pine trees.

Ocean breeze.

What links all these?


And with each one, it brings to mind something specific, a memory. Scientists say our sense of smell is the strongest of the five. A particular scent can produce a memory so vivid that we can temporarily lose our sense of time and be brought back to the moment associated with that scent.

Pool water reminds me of summer, swimming like a dolphin, playing with my kids.

Cilantro makes me think of guacamole dip, chips, and an iced cold Corona, sitting on my patio on a summer day.

Fresh baked bread brings me back to my childhood, when my mom would make it from scratch and set it on the kitchen hearth to rise.

Pine trees mean Christmas, and trudging through the cold with my boys and husband, trying to find that perfect tree before our toes froze.

Ocean breezes whip up memories of my teen years, when I lived near the Long Island Sound. My friends and I would hang out at the beach, swimming, having bonfires, throwing parties and 'parking' (making out).

Whether you're a writer, reader, student of life or all three, enjoy that olfactory organ and breathe it all in.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Classic Problem...

I know kids don't like the classics- Romeo and Juliet, Silas Marner, A Long Day's Journey Into Night, The Crucible, etc.

Tough- they need to be taught. I'm dismayed that my son's summer reading packet required only one book and a modern one at that. I believe kids need to be exposed to many classics, so why not have 2 lists; one classic, one modern, and choose a title from both lists?

They won't like it.

Truthfully, I didn't when I was a high school freshman/sophmore/junior/senior. But I didn't like geometry either and I still had to take that. Over the years I've used literary knowledge much more than geometry...

Sometimes what we don't like is best for us. (How many kids liked asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts when they were young? Yeah, maybe 2.)

Classics and modern literature are forever linked. I've read many YA and adult books that refer to classics. If kids aren't exposed to Shakespeare and Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte, they'll have to ask someone, who is this person? why is he/she famous?  before they can understand the context in the modern novel.

I was watching Psycho with Anthony Perkins, the old black and white version (the best). My youngest sat down to watch with me and says, "That's not scary!" Because he's grown up in a time when excessive gore is readily laid out by the media for his eyes, he's not completely 'invested' in the story with his brain. Previous generations saw Pyscho and were afraid to take a shower without locking the door. We were pulled into the story because we had to imagine the knife slicing into that poor girl, the blood circling the drain confirmation of our worst fear. Our minds were much more visceral than showing tons of fake blood and bad makeup jobs.

There is value from classics- whether it's a book, a movie, a muscle car, a tuxedo, a song. Let's not throw out the old in favor of the trendy because today's trendy is tomorrow's classic.


Monday, September 7, 2015

Happy Labor Day!

Because the Federal government declared this a holiday from labor, I am being a good citizen and observing the law.

I wish you all a day of rest (since tomorrow is the start of no-more-vacation/summer). If you have to work, I wish you a day of nice people, easy tasks, and tomorrow off! Sitting poolside,


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Wonder of Little Things

I love the smell of the ocean; it brings back childhood memories of growing up close enough to smell a briny wind off the Long Island Sound. Studies have shown that smell evokes the strongest memories. I wish someone could bottle that scent for me.

This is a rock that was in a lava flow at one time; you can see the lava still stuck onto it. I was weeding my pool gardens and saw it. Maybe it's billions of years old- before the Christian era, before the start of civilization in the Middle East, maybe even before life...

This is lamb's ear. When you touch it, it feels as soft as (I guess) a lamb's ear. I wish you could run your fingertips over it, it would amaze and delight you.

Is there anything better than the crunchy, earthy taste of cucumbers grown in your garden? Maybe some companion tomatoes. Ah, the taste of summer...

There are few things that delight my ears more than my children's laughter. When I hear my son and his friend laughing and horsing around in the pool, I feel a joy that goes beyond a favorite song, even a Christmas carol.

Take time to get away from your desk, your job, your chores. your stress, and appreciate

the wonder of little things....


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Refresh, Remind, Revisit...

Yep, the blog post is late.


Life happens.

But that doesn't mean I'm going to completely blow it off. The post I planned will come out next week. In the meantime, something is better than nothing. This may seem like "Yeah, I know all this already" but just read through and double check your writing--or maybe this checklist applies to other areas of your life, like a memo for work, a presentation at a school board meeting...

Think about it.

15 Things Not to Learn the Hard Way…

1   No cutesy pictures, embellished envelopes, gifts, or gimmicks.
These are the signs of an amateur, someone who is desperate and hasn’t done his homework. If you’re a writer, it gives the impression that your work can’t stand on its merits. Unless they’re interested in the artwork, you probably won’t get a response. And packages coming from people the editors don’t know?  After 9/11 policies changed and rare is the editor or agent that will accept packages.

.        How did you get from Point A to Point B?
Don’t leave gaps in action or movement so that readers are confused. If there is a complicated action or fight sequence, act it out to be sure you’ve covered all the moves. Don’t leave your character sitting on the floor when a sentence previous she was lying on the bed. Be sure your character is using the correct hand, foot, etc. too! When using flashbacks or other ‘time-changing’ devices, make sure they didn’t have a transporter malfunction and ended up somewhere they couldn’t be.

     Have you got the time?
Do we know what time of day or year it is? Keep track of characters moving through years, days, and hours. If you have to, make a timeline. Use senses rather than clocks; bells ringing at noon, rush hour, dinner time, falling leaves, half moons, etc. to give readers a sense of time. If you have a big time gap, there has to be an explanation, like Meyer’s empty pages with just the month on them for Bella’s almost comatose state.

       I’ve heard that before!
Do a global word search in your ms to make sure you don’t have word ‘favorites;’ like just, simply, oh, really, yeah, well, etc. Use them sparingly, eliminating all but a few, and those should be well spaced. If you find you need a word, check your thesaurus for a substitution. And be careful of clich├ęs!

     He said, she said, I said, we said.
You don’t always need a dialogue tag. Identify speaker by actions; I picked my nose. “Look, it’s green!” identifies the speaker; I glared at my sister. “What are you staring at?” Also, substitute other words in place of said; yell, cried, whispered, and the like because they are more descriptive. Yell is different from said. Careful about adverbs though, they are currently out of favor, but sometimes one is necessary; cried softly or cried loudly? Caution- don’t go crazy that every tag has to be different. Sometimes said is just fine.

     Did not you see?
Know your (not you’re!) contractions! Know the difference between accept and except, affect and effect, know that irregardless is not word! Relearn how to make a possessive! It’s means it is, its means possessive, but it’s not always that simple! Poor grammar leaves a poor impression and getting published is hard enough. You should have both Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style and either the AP or Chicago Stylebook. Ignore the squiggly lines in your document at your peril (but realize that word processing programs aren't always right!).

     See things from my point of view.
Stick to one point of view if you have one main character. With more than one character, First Person narrative can be alternated, but generally (as in kids' books) not in the same chapter. First person means “I,” so the character speaking can’t know what another person is thinking unless they are told, can deduce it from actions, or can make an educated guess. Third person omniscient means “They,” and the narrator can be ‘all seeing’ and know what everyone’s thinking. Mixing the two usually doesn’t work, and just confuses the reader.

 To be, or not to have been
See how awkward this version of Hamlet sounds? Don’t mix tenses, especially in the same sentence. Picture books are generally all one tense. There are ways to mix, but make sure you know how to do it, and if it fits with your voice and style. And keep in mind parallel construction- a list or series of words that all must be consistent; I like running, shopping, skydiving and sleeping, not I like running, to shop, doing skydiving and sleeping.

    Get thee to a critique group.
Hey, it’s a free critique! And more than one! Many successful writers have writer friends or a critique group that look over their work and point out inconsistencies, errors, lapses in timing, pace, dialogue, etc. If they can make time, so can you. One night a week either out of the house or online. The NJ-SCBWI or other writing organization can help match you up, you can Google for online groups, or start your own. Remember that it’s best if you have members in a similar genre because between all of you, you know what to look for.

Sticks and Stones will break your bones.
Whether it’s people in your critique group or a paid critique from an editor or agent, there’s going to be criticisms that hurt. It’s NOT personal. It’s just one person’s opinion. You are free to ignore it. Don’t make the mistake, like a recent author, to lash out, because you’ll be known more for being unprofessional and petty than you will be for your work. Suck it up. Put it aside for a few days, maybe even a few weeks. Then look at it with fresh eyes. Choose the suggestions that you think are best for your vision of the book, but don’t be afraid to try the more radical ones. If you won’t even consider the advice, don’t waste everyone’s time and energy. Successful authors make revisions-why shouldn’t you?

 One more time; let’s review this.
You know you’re going to have to review, revise, and review again. And each time you do, there are mistakes you’ve somehow missed, or even added in. The best praise you can get as an author is from an editor or agent telling you “I love this ms, it’s so polished.” Always send a sterling copy. Even if you have to revise it a hundred times. Read your ms out loud, have friends read it aloud to see if the dialogue is smooth and understandable. If they stumble or seem unsure, you need to revise.

 It’s the same old, same old.
Break the patterns; whether it’s dialogue-tag-dialogue, or starting every sentence with a subject, or ending every chapter with a question, when you consistently repeat a pattern, your ms stagnates. It’s so predictable that your readers will lose interest. Review to see that you’ve varied sentence structure; start out with a verb rather than a noun. Or even an adjective or adverb. Stretch your writing skills and style.

The zzzzzzzzzzzzzz factor.
The passive voice can be the kiss of death by boredom for your novel. Helping verbs are rarely needed, so eliminate them when you can. Action is what people want, not a recitation of past events, so ‘have, had, had been’ can be cut. With just a little reworking, an action verb will add zest to the pace. And avoid the info dump; it’s passive. When you can, introduce bits and pieces of information and backstory in an active way through action verbs and dialogue.

 How old is that?
Don’t let your passions for music, people, fashions, and even words date your ms. Unless you’re writing in the time period when this favored thing was popular, editors, agents and readers can guess your age. And ‘comebacks’ rarely last long, so if you have a person in your novel who is a famous singer, make up a fictitious persona. Some things, called classics, are timeless, like well known hymns, musical pieces by the greats like Bach, Take Me Out to the Ballgame, etc. Historical people like Cleopatra and Ben Franklin everyone knows, but in five years, which may be how long it takes you to get published, will most people remember Lindsay Lohan? TV programs and movies are even harder to use in YA and MG, so avoid if possible. Slang and technology evolves even faster, so keep that in mind when writing.

 Just give it up.

Unless you’re a super hero, writing takes time. It’s not just about writing, either; it’s about reading what’s out there, revising, attending critique groups, critiquing others, going to conferences and classes, submitting your ms, and buying more paper from Staples. There is not enough time to do it all, so choose your priorities. Give up the daily coffee with the neighbor and visit only once a week, learn to live with a little more dust, give the family lessons in microwaving leftovers. If you truly want to be a successful writer, you need time to work and some things are just not worth your time.

Get the pic? 


Monday, August 17, 2015

Renovation or Revision?

Whether you say renovation or revision, it's the same thing- ripping something apart, rebuilding it, and finessing it.

In previous weeks, we had our family room completely gutted- down to the studs (gee, this happened with several novels I wrote...). The structure was good, but was poorly insulated, making the room always feel cold. (The novels were lacking in substance too...). We had new insulation put in, then sheetrock. (Kind of like adding new scenes or characters, building my down-to-the-bare-bones novels back up again.)

Then came the spackling. Filling in holes, sanding out rough spots, so that the story, er, walls and ceiling, were smooth.

Paint, or adding color, interest, and ambiance came next. Ceiling was painted white to reflect light, walls were done in a soft beige with a hint of blush. Welcoming and warm, cozy- the way I like my books. The stark white crown molding and window trims added a little drama. (My novels needed more drama, or less drama, depending on who was critiquing or buying).

Finally, the carpet was shampooed- getting rid of any lingering dust or dirt (akin to cleaning up any last mistakes or problems when I read the manuscript yet. again.)

Now, all that was left to do was showcase the room- decorate, new curtains, new pics (those aren't ready yet), and ditch any junk or clutter. (Equal to a synopsis and query letter to 'showcase' the novel for my agent or any editor she would present it to.)

After three weeks, the family room was again livable space (the pool bar roof, kitchen steps and banister replaced too). My novels, after their 'renovation' (revision if you prefer), were now presentable and I'm proud of all of it.

But damn, what a lot of work. Worth it, yes, but nothing good ever comes easy.

There are other projects- pool deck to finish painting, touch-ups on scuffed walls, revising mg historical novel, etc. Always have something to do, it seems.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sometimes, you go with the flow...

I had no idea what to write for this blog post. There are enough authors out there putting up links and advice for writers. I don't have any cute cat pics (I'm currently very annoyed with them.)  I don't own a dog. No one wants to hear me defend my fave team, the New England Patriots (can someone say NFL corruption and show me real proof?). I'm revising some  projects I've already told you about. So....

What is it about the males in my house and dishwashers?

They don't put all the forks together, or the spoons, or the knives. That means I have to spend time and sort them.

They put 2, 3 things on top of each other. That means most of them don't come clean and they have to be put back into the dishwasher or I have to wash them by hand.

They don't turn on the machine even when it's clearly full. That means I have to put them on and in the meantime, they pile up the dishes in the sink.

They don't empty it because they don't. That means that dishes pile up in the sink because heaven forbid someone wash a dish by hand.

They cram glasses next to heavier cups and plates so that sometimes they break. That means I have to pick the glass out of the bottom and buy new ones.

I'm seriously thinking of going to paper plates.

But I know I'll be taking out 3x more garbage.

What should I do? Let me know. In the meantime, I'm going out for ice cream.