Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Happy Surprises Caronavirus Style

 Many of us have been through the excitement of having a new book released this past spring and summer. And many of us have paired that excitement with the disappointment of having to cancel in person launch events and book promotion activities. We did it all online instead and it was fine. A bit underwhelming, but we survived. 

So, it was a special treat to have an outdoor socially-distanced book signing...two in fact...that friends and family members were excited to attend. Reading aloud from WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY, in a park picnic grove, with everyone spaced apart on picnic tables and folding chairs, or standing, was special. 

Books are meant to be shared with an audience of appreciative potential readers. The park setting hearkened back to days of old when story tellers gathered around the campfire and regaled those in attendance with their folktales, yarns, and stories meant to be passed on.

Instead of a campfire, nature provided the heat. But there was enthusiasm, appreciation, and gratitude for such a small thing to make the day a happy surprise. A family with two children who hadn't been formally invited, stayed to listen. People applauded, pleasantries and kind words were exchanged, treats handed out and books signed. It was a welcome relief to be outside sharing my story for others to pass on.   

Have a book coming out this fall? Don't despair, go to the nearest picnic grove and read to those assembled. It's why we write in the first place, isn't it?

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

But If You Happen to Run Across the Cartoon, Would You Please Let Me Know?

 by Jody Feldman

What started as a memory and an unsuccessful Internet search resulted in an unplanned action on my part, something I’d never done before. Sort of surprised myself; was definitely surprised.

A new thematic thread in my work-in-progress brought thoughts of an editorial cartoon that’s stuck with me for decades. As memory serves, the first panel shows a father and his angelic child. In the next panel(s), the father literally opens the child’s head and fills it with the worst kind of prejudice. Finally, the child’s head is back together, but the angelic countenance has turned demon-like. Very powerful stuff.

I wanted to post that cartoon near my computer as writing inspiration.
No problem, I thought. I’ll find it online. The man who created it has won a Pulitzer Prize, has written an Oscar-winning short film, and is one of the most prolific and celebrated satirists in the country. In the kidlit world, he is best known for, among other books, The Man in the Ceiling and, especially, for illustrating The Phantom Tollbooth.

Piece of cake, right? I’ll Google Jules Feiffer + editorial + (other specific words} and voila! It will appear.

After hours of searching, however, I could not find that one cartoon. As a woman on a mission, though, I changed tactics. I emailed Jules Feiffer. The man is 91 years old, I thought. He can’t be bothered with someone like me, asking him to remember an old editorial cartoon.

But just four hours and six minutes later, there, in my inbox, was a reply; not an automated reply, not from some assistant, no. It was from Jules Feiffer, himself. Jules Feiffer!

After the first rush of giddiness, it dawned on me. Is this how the kiddos feel when we, as authors, answer them? A sense of surprise and awe and joy?


But here, in my house, on my couch, with dinner on the stove, I’m just your average person. Why would my correspondence make difference to a young reader who, for whatever reason, decided to contact me? In their eyes though, just maybe, I’m to them what Jules Feiffer was to me that day.

Given the volume of his work, it’s not surprising that he was only able to steer me in a couple directions to find that cartoon. “Sorry that I can’t help you further,” he wrote, “but, no fear, considering the Trump autocracy, I will, no doubt, touch on the theme again in my online monthly cartoon for Tablet.”

And so, I have no cartoon next to my computer to remind me of that theme for my WIP, but I have an email. And a full-body smile whenever I look at it.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

A Writing Surprise -- by Jane Kelley

Can writers ever be surprised by their own work? After all, every word that lands on the page comes from our minds. Unless you type with your eyes closed, or choose not to correct the computer's auto-correct. 

And yet, I long to be surprised by an image, an insight, or a rebellious character. Sometimes, on my best days, I am. When I'm not grinding prose out to reach an arbitrary word count. Or falling into old hackneyed habits. Or sticking to that outline no matter what goddammit. 

Surprises can be blocked. But can that magic be encouraged? Maybe. If I try not to work so hard. If I feel confident enough to loosen the reins a little bit and look around. If I have kept a corner of myself wild. I haven't spread poison on the lawn just to keep it perfect. 

Then, into that yard I know all too well, might come a bird. 

Be quiet when it arrives. Be careful reaching for your camera. Just see what the owl does, not what you want it to do. 

Listen. The owl is very silent. Nearby the wrens are frantically warning. Stay away from our nest. (I hadn't even known there were babies in that old bird house!) The owl did. The owl also knew it was time for little ones to fly off into the world, even though that meant leaving the safety of the nest. 

This wasn't a happy surprise for the wrens or for the owl. It flew away hungry, though I did my best not to get too close. 

But what a happy surprise for this writer. That something unexpected, and not completely out of the realm of possibility, could come into the yard. 

Shhh. Can you hear the baby turkeys peeping to let their mother know they are here?

Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Breakout Outline

This writing exercise – one I use in my classes -- is adapted from one of my favorite writing books, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass (2004). Sooner or later, every writer needs to use an outline to help weave together various literary components. This is especially true if there is a large cast of characters or a multi-layered plotline. Agents often request outlines before seeing the full manuscript. Publishers will require them if an option novel is proposed. Also, given that this month's theme is motivation, an outline keeps us moving forward when productivity is down. It keeps our head in the game, even when our hearts aren't.

There is no magic number for how many pages an outline needs to be effective. As with everything else grounded in the creative, it depends upon your purpose. Many long-winded outlines can be just as useless as those not long enough. I like this outline template by Maass because it sharpens the focus of the narrative. Also, it works very well during the revision process, when you outline your draft to help add texture, sharpen the causal chain, and  highlight  the character’s outer and inner conflict.

Plot fundamentals. Write down the following.

1. Where is your novel set? Who is your main character, and what is his primary conflict or goal?

2. What does your protagonist’s most want and why?

3. What is your protagonist’s second plot layer?  What is your protagonist’s third plot layer?

5. What is the first subplot? What is the second subplot?

7. Who is the most important secondary (supporting) character, what is his primary conflict, and what does he most want?

8. Who is the novel’s antagonist, what is his primary conflict or goal, and what does he most want?

The Middle. Write down the following.
1. What are the five biggest steps toward the solution of the central conflict? In other words, what are the five turning points or events, including the story’s climax, that take place in the narrative?

2. What are the five most important steps toward, or away from, what your protagonist most wants? These steps are consequences of choices that the protagonist makes. This step helps identify the causal chain that creates the plot’s spine.

3. What are the three most important steps (each) toward, or away from, the resolution of your first and second subplot?

4. What are the three most important steps (each) toward, or away from, the resolution of the plot layers?

5. What are the three most important steps toward, and away from, the resolution of each main conflict facing your secondary characters and your antagonist?

Key Highlights. Write down the following.
1. Two moments of strong inner conflict.

2. Three larger-than-life actions.

3. Two moments frozen in time. (For example, Juliet laments over Romeo, as Romeo listens below. Their first kiss erases all the wrongs of the past and ignores all future conflicts. Another example: Eliot says good-bye to ET, and ET responds with a gesture, saying: I’ll be right here.)

4. Two measures of change.

Check out his book for the complete discussion on his outlining process!

--Bobbi Miller

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Motivation Musings

By Charlotte Bennardo

The theme is 'motivation'. As in, how can I motivate myself to write this post- because what can I say that is fresh, unique? I never need motivation to draft a novel, read a book, spend time with friends or family, or go wonderful places.  What I need motivation for is to clean the cat litter box, watch another food show, or close up my pool.

But maybe you need a little? In a situation that you need a little push to get started? Here are five motivational quotes to inspire you:

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. -- Henry Ford

Nothing is impossible, the word itself says “I’m possible”! -- Audrey Hepburn

I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination. -- Jimmy Dean

Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve. -- Napoleon Hill

You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have. -- Maya Angelou

Adopt one or create your own, just keep motivated! 

Photo by Alex Fu from Pexels

Waning Productivity

It's the Dog Days of Summer!
When it's pleasant outside in Alabama instead of scorchingly hot, I like to write before I do much else. But these days, dog walking comes first, lest I become a midday puddle on the pavement.

I'm looking forward to crisper weather when I can brew a pot of coffee first thing and sit down at my desk to write. These days, I'm often sapped before I can type out the first word of the day.

But she's a cute excuse for not being productive, isn't she? 

Ginger Rue is the author of the Aleca Zamm series from Aladdin and the Tig Ripley series from Sleeping Bear.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Motivation (Holly Schindler)

Here's the most freeing lesson I've learned about writing:

You really don't have to just push through it.

I used to think you did. I used to treat hard parts in writing like running. I used to tell myself I had to just keep moving, even though everything was hurting, because at some point, I was bound to get a second wind.

Seriously. You don't have to do that.

In writing, if it's painful, something is probably going wrong.

So stop. Instead of just plowing ahead, sentence after sentence, ask yourself what you want to do. Which direction your heart is calling you. Is it to a specific scene that probably isn't going to come for another fifty pages? Skip ahead! Write it! Are you thinking about a past chapter? Something just doesn't seem right with it? Play a game with it--turn it inside out. Brainstorm new possibilities!

Here's another one: Are you thinking of another idea? One that seems far more fun than this current project? Take a day to play with it! (Also: I've heard other authors say they sometimes work in one day a week for fun projects that have nothing to do with the current WIP--a day for poetry or a picture book or a short story, etc.)

Maybe your heart's calling you toward some new promo idea. Do it!

Are you sick of your surroundings? Take a page from me and Gus's book and head outside!

The thing is, a book is a really long project. It takes months. Working on the same thing over and over and over and over gets...


And when it's tedious for you, it's guaranteed to be tedious for your readers.

It can be hard to get motivated when you're midway or so through such a big project. Don't hunker down. Don't just push through it. Mix it up!

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Road Trip of Your Dreams: Smack Dab in the Imagination by Dia Calhoun

COVID-19 may have us parked at home this summer, but that's no reason not to crank up your imagination and set out on the road trip of your dreams. Where do you want to go? Italy? Sure, you could Google walk the duomo in Siena, but why choose a destination you could actually physically visit? Why not choose a destination--or the entire journey--you can ONLY visit in your imagination?

I wanted to go to Huntsville, Alabama. You heard me right. I planned to visit the Butterfly House in the famous Botanical Gardens  with a friend--until, you guessed it--COVID-19. Since I can't do that, this summer I am takinga road trip as a butterfly. I'm going to choose a fifty mile route and see a little piece of the world with new eyes.  I can't take any luggage. No coffee. What will the rest stops be like? What will be wondrous to me as a butterfly that I'd pass right by as a lumbering human?

Stay tuned.

Wouldn't this be fun to do with your kids?