April 18, 2014

Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else. – Gloria Steinem

All great masters are chiefly distinguished by the power of adding a second, a third, and perhaps a fourth step in a continuous line. Many a man had taken the first step. With every additional step you enhance immensely the value of your first. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Take a deep breath, count to ten, and tackle each task one step at a time.- Linda Shalaway



April 2, 2014

Tonight a fox came to the door. Trotting quickly, quietly, and moving like a stealth robot, the fox  appeared at the sliding door to our deck, raised a paw and tapped the glass. Then he scampered off.



Animals come into our lives like omens.  As pets they choose our homes, arriving to teach us something about love, compassion, and play. The wild ones startle us with their presence. They may guide us. Some give us answers. Others show up to remind us of something or someone. Animals act as symbols in our lives.

An animal totem in our writing acts no differently, and they can play an important role in our work. As a writer, it can be difficult to choose an animal to wander through your words. Asking these questions might help.

Is the animal the right symbol for the story? If it’s a pet, does it define or change a character in some way? How can an animal move the story forward?  A person’s reaction to an animal is a terrific way to show, instead of tell something about the character. For example, how would the main character react to a fox pawing at the door? Scream? Want to pet it? Shoot it? Each angle makes for a very different character.

Use an animal in your story to give it more depth.


mother daughter workshops

March 13, 2014

I teach a number of workshops with my writing partner and middle grade author extraordinaire, Lindsay Eland. Our favorite is the mother daughter class.

For two hours, Lindsay and I lead middle school girls and their moms through an adventure of writing and artistic expression. It’s a blast.

First, we introduce ourselves by creating opening pages in a journal. Then partners swap journals with each other and make a page for the other person. Moms generally paste pictures, phrases, and words like “beautiful, strong, and spirited” on their daughter’s pages. The girls post their own descriptions, often offering insight to their mom’s lives. In our last class, one girl cut out a picture of a yawning lion and said, “My mom is strong like a lion, but she yawns a lot.” I can relate.

The class continues with lots of laughter, animated conversation and personal convictions, ending far too soon. At the end, we ask the girls to share books that they’d like their moms to read and vice-versa. It’s an empowering exercise: one that I think more parents should try.

If you have kids, ask them what they think you ought to read. It might surprise you. I guarantee they’ll be excited that you asked and elated if you actually read them.


Puzzles and Organization

March 2, 2014

Each holiday season, mid-winter break, and sometimes during the summer, my family sets up a puzzle. We all have different styles piecing it together. My oldest daughter does none of it, so there’s that. My son doesn’t do much, but when he does, it’s small and specific. My youngest chooses sections by color, steadfast and determined. And of course, my husband dives in like a vulture to fill the last few holes. Watching them lurk around the board, finding their style reminds me of the way writers choose to organize their work.

For me, my thought process for a manuscript is similar to the way I organize a puzzle. I start by looking at the big picture, gathering ideas and plotting my method. Deciding where to start is most definitely the most difficult. Edge pieces? An obvious easy section? Develop one particular character? Outline the plot? There are many options, but usually, I go with organization as a good starting spot.  At some point, frustration sinks in, and I move location on the puzzle and in my book. Sometimes I pause to re-organize, look at what I’ve accomplished, and plot a new plan of attack. I celebrate finding the lost piece, both on the board and in the writing. I walk away. I come back. I walk away. I come back.

The writing, of course, requires much editing— an extra step in the process. But when I’m in the final stretch; when the puzzle is almost complete and the manuscript is almost ready to pitch, an odd, unsettled flow of emotions roar through me. I’m scared and sad to be at the end, yet thrilled at the same time. I sit with my feelings and then move forward.

And just like that, the final piece is snapped into place and the final word typed on the screen. Voila! I sit back, smile, and take some time—then I begin again.



February 20, 2014

Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey! - Barbara Hoffman

Celebrate your victories! Be verbal about it. Haters will say you’re bragging, but those who love you will celebrate with you.  - Steve Maraboli

The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.  - Oprah Winfrey

Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand. - Mark Twain



New Adult

February 13, 2014

Last fall the publishing industry pumped its latest marketing move by highlighting a new genre of books: New Adult. The category extends young adult reads and takes high school students to college and beyond. New Adult fiction is designed for readers 18-25, and the content focuses on issues that particular age group faces: college, new jobs, relationships, breaking away from family life, and living on one’s own.

Although new, the genre has pushed books to the top of the bestseller lists, creating industry buzz. Critics call the genre a slap in the face to young adult and adult fiction, as well as a staged marketing move by the publishing industry. I disagree. Besides offering more to the bookworms of the world, breaking down genres can help organize and focus a reader. Offering a variety of books can only be a good think, in my opinion. Hopefully, new adult books will help catapult the publishing industry.

Who knows, maybe I’ll find a new niche for myself.


An Invitation

February 5, 2014

When I  teach my English comp class, I ask my students to create an invitation for an event of their choosing. It must include a time, a location, the purpose for the party, and who will be attending. Invitations have included aliens, families, foreign dignitaries, and birthday bashes in Bermuda. It’s always a fun start to a semester, but the reason I do it is to help them remember the five elements to writing. An essay or a first chapter must include the five w’s: who, what, where, when and why.

Who? At a minimum the main character must be introduced, or if writing an essay, the reader needs to know who’s involved.

Where? Setting is crucial.

When? Is it a current story or historical? Maybe it’s dystopian. If writing an essay, dates can be critical.

What/Why? These two questions are the crux of the essay and the piece of fiction. What does the main character want or need and why is it so important to them? If writing an essay the reader must know what’s at stake.

Editing can be made  easier by thinking of an invitation to remember the needed elements.

Do you have your 5 w’s in your own work?


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