Saturday, June 30, 2012

Morocco & "The Scorpions of Zahir" - June Theme - by Christine Brodien-Jones

Every September "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" was the back-to-school essay our teachers always asked us write.  Invariably I expanded on the same theme: my visit to the New Jersey seashore, where my parents rented a house every July, and sometimes our trips to relatives in Illinois, where the fireflies loomed large in my memory. 

I still love writing about faraway places based on my travels and I've always gathered ideas while traveling.

My upcoming fantasy/adventure book "The Scorpions of Zahir" (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, July 10, 2012) started with a journey.  In the summer of '98 I traveled with my husband Peter and our two teenage sons to Morocco.  We didn't encounter giant scorpions, attacking desert warrior tribes or planets hurtling toward earth, but the experience was seared deep into my memory: the heat and dust, the exotic colors and smells, the frenetic pace of Marrakech.  Most haunting of all was the Sahara, where we traveled by camel and camped overnight in the desert.  As our journey progressed, I became intrigued by the idea of how the desert changes you.

The Moroccan Sahara, July 1998
So I created an "alternate family" - the Pyms - who make a similar journey to Morocco.  Zagora Pym, eleven years old, has one burning desire: to go to the Sahara and find the half-buried desert city of Zahir.  When her father, Dr. Pym, receives a mysterious letter from a friend who's been missing ten years and claims to be in the desert near Zahir, Zagora gets her chance.  She sets off with her dad and older brother Duncan, who's nerdy, squeamish and obsessed with astronomy - and who definitely doesn't want to spend his summer vacation in Morocco. 

I sent the Pyms on the same route that my family took in Morocco, beginning with the night train from Tangiers to Marrakech - a mysterious, frenetic city - where we spent a few days, then rented a car and drove over the High Atlas (the highest mountain range in Northern Africa), stopping at a cafe in the Tizi n' Tiki Pass where we met Mohammed, a Moroccan boy who invited us to his family's house.  We continued south, into the Draa Valley, ending up in a dusty town called Agdz, where we dined with Mohammed's family.  The following day we drove to the edge of the Sahara, to Mhamid, barely more than a desert oasis, where we bartered for camels and started our trek into the desert.

Derek & Ian with Abdul, Mohammed & friend - Agdz, Morocco 1998
Zagora is a combination of my favorite childhood heroines - Pippi Longstocking, Meg Murry, Jo March - and she grows braver and more determined the farther she goes into the desert.  The desert changes not only her, but also Duncan and the two Moroccan kids, Mina and Razziq, whom they meet along the way.

I write fantasy for middle-graders because that was the age when I was most excited about books.  Reading was like a journey to the desert, filled with danger, mystery and adventure.  That's why I hope my books will spark the imaginations of young readers, transporting them from the everyday world to far-flung magical realms and unexpected places.

Find out more about "The Scorpions of Zahir" and view the book trailer at

Friday, June 29, 2012

Vacations and Home by Jen Cervantes June Theme

Sometimes vacations help you find your way home...
A few years ago, (I refer to this period as my pre-writing life), I thought it would be a magnificent experience to live in another country for a month with my three girls. So off we went to San Miguel de Allende. We spent our days at a language institute learning Spanish and our nights strolling down cobblestone streets, and soaking in the culture and life of this vibrant colonial town. This magical place is filled with riches, old stone buildings, extraordinary homes hidden behind mysterious gates, and a haunting flavor that is hard to describe. Fast forward many years (to my writerly life) and a whole book has been built around this place. Here is a paragraph from the first page of my latest work.
“The town sits on the edge of a river whose sparkling purple and green stones are so bright beneath the water they look like they’ve been dipped in melted crayon. On the other side of town is an arroyo whittled away by rain, wind, and time, so wide it looks as if the earth is yawning. Some people say they can even hear mysterious sighs coming from the steep gully once all the water is gone.
In town, there are narrow crooked alleys that often lead to dark places and dead ends. But the brightly painted houses practically smile at passersby and are stacked so close together you could lean out your window and touch your neighbor’s house without having to stretch. The cobblestone streets are uneven and make you feel a little off balance unless you’re from here and in that case you’d have strong ankles and walk with a lean.”
My first book TORTILLA SUN was certainly inspired by my time in Santa Fe (another month-long visit). Is there a pattern here? So it is no surprise then that setting plays such an instrumental role in all my writing—it is the “thing” I need to know first—before character or plot. It is what inspires me.
I am getting ready to venture off to Rome and the Amalfi Coast in a couple of days (wish it was for a month); I have NO DOUBT another story will find me while I am there it will find me in the patterned shadows alongside the Vatican, in the mysticism of Mt. Vesuvius, in the ashes of Pompeii, and in the distant echoes of the Colosseum. There is a story already there in Italy, waiting to be brought to life.
I have been blessed to have experienced some amazing places in my lifetime and to share them with those I love most. It is in these places that I have found my way home, to a life of writing, a life I might not otherwise have ever discovered.

 And for that I am so very grateful!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Summer Vacation

When I was younger summer vacation meant freedom. It was a wonderful time of non-stop play with little or no structure... I loved it. Forts were built. Fish were caught. Pages and pages of silly drawings were made. Wars were planned. Wars were fought. Snakes died. Things were set on fire. Things got wet.
Whenever I miss this kind of summer freedom I usually take an hour or two to go do something creative (without a future project in mind or a specific goal.) Usually, I just pick up my sketchbook and draw whatever pops into my mind. In fact writing about this makes me miss summer. I’m off to find my sketchbook... Then maybe I’ll build a fort, make a fire, and perhaps start a war...
Michael Townsend

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

My Summer Vacation: June Theme

By L.A. Jones

Last year, I was fortunate enough to be offered a free holiday to Barbados by a friend. The person she was supposed to be going with was unable to go, so I was in luck. The trouble was, I had a fairly large edit for my debut novel to tackle and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to finish it in time. I was going out of my mind trying to fix plot holes that just didn’t seem to want to be fixed. I would sit at the computer and try and write, yet no words flowed. On top of everything, I was going through a real ‘my writing sucks’ phase.

 But I would have been crazy to turn down a free holiday with one of my closest girlfriends, right? So despite my stresses, I packed up my things and jumped on a plane. Turns out, some time away from reality was just what I needed. I spent a few days relaxing in the sun by the pool. Then, I got down to work. I’d brought one of those ‘screen shades’ for my laptop and an extra battery so I was able to write outdoors. By the time the holiday ended, I had finished my edits and had managed to enjoy some scuba diving, local shopping, and days out exploring the island.

This summer, I’m concentrating on writing my third middlegrade novel. I won’t be going anywhere exotic, but I’ve realised that when I’m stuck for inspiration, all it takes is a bit of escapism to get me back on track. There’s a park at the end of my road which is a great place to go and spend an hour or two to get my writing juices flowing again. Listening to the birds in the tree’s, and feeling the breeze in my hair is sometimes just as inspirational as any tropical island.

Oh, and I almost forgot! Here’s a sneak preview of my Nightmare Factory sequel cover: Rise of the Shadowmares (out November 4th!)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Go. Live. Write: One Writer's Grand Adventure by Dia Calhoun, June Theme

If you want to have a Grand Adventure, travel alone and leave your camera behind. 
I have just returned from a three week trip to Italy—fifteen days of it spent traveling alone. When first planning the trip, I had planned to travel most of the time with an acquaintance. She bagged out ten days before the trip—yes, you read that right. Fortunately, I had sensed the way the wind was blowing, and had made extensive backup plans to travel alone.

Yes, I was nervous about traveling alone in a foreign country. But all my life I had dreamed of seeing Italy, I was not going to let fear stop me. As it turned out, traveling alone was the best thing that could have happened to me.

I came alive. I woke up.

In Florence, the museum that hosts Michelangelo’s great David doesn’t allow photography, preferring you to buy their inferior photos in the gift shop. I have to thank them, because putting away the camera started something amazing. Because I needed some way to express my powerful feelings on seeing this masterpiece, I stayed at the David for two hours writing streams of poetry. After that, I continued writing poetry for the rest of the trip.

Countless times in my life, I have tried keeping a journal—aren’t writers supposed to do that? But I always failed. Friends urged me to keep a journal on my Italy trip. Although I tried, I was too overwhelmed, busy, and exhausted to write in any coherent linear fashion about what was happening. Then I met the David and discovered that journaling in poetry—in images and bursts and metaphors—worked wonderfully for me.

I returned with fifteen rough poems to develop, two new ideas for books, and ideas for revising a book in progress. Italy cracked me open like an egg. I don’t think this would have happened if I had been travelling with someone.

So here are three truths I learned:
1. A journey is not measured by the number of miles traveled or by the number of masterpieces seen, but by its impact on your heart.
2. The intended destination is only the point of departure for the real journey.
3. No Grand Adventure ever ends in the heart.

Go. Live. Write.

Moonlight shining on the Duomo in Siena
View from my room at Alma Dolmus Hotel

Friday, June 22, 2012

Miles Traveled (June Theme by Holly Schindler)

This summer, the journey I’m taking doesn’t really have to do much with packed bags and playing Punch Buggy in a backseat.  Instead, this summer, I’ve been doing some genealogical research, tracing the miles my ancestors traveled.

It’s been fascinating, actually—I’m amazed at how much you can learn about a life simply by solidifying two or three major dates (usually birth, marriage, and death, or, as one genealogist recently phrased it as we chatted, “hatched, matched, and dispatched”). 

I’m especially intrigued by the women; right now, I’m trying desperately to trace my matriarchal line, straight through my grandmothers.  I’ve made it back to my great, great, great, great grandmother, who was born in the late 1700s.  This is where the trail gets foggy (I’ve yet to figure out her mother’s name).  I do know, though, that this is the ancestor who officially brought my family to the Midwest; I’ve discovered that while my roots are thick here in Missouri (I’ve got a line, through my maternal grandfather, that runs six-generations deep in Southwest Missouri), I’ve also got equally thick roots in Tennessee, thanks to that four-times great grandmother (I’m pretty sure I’m related to the entire county of Putnam). 

I wish I could get all those women on the family tree in a room, wish I could listen to them tell their own stories.  I’d love to hear just how they felt, what they went through in-between being hatched and dispatched.  I’d love to get the truth: love to hear all about those miles they physically traveled in their own lives. 

But the more I dig, the more blanks my what-if brain wants to fill in.  And it seems that those are miles, too—miles you travel in your own mind, thanks to your imagination…


...I've been shouting this across the web, and just couldn't resist sharing it here, too...I recently signed a two-book deal with HarperCollins for my YA work!  Here's the 411:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Star Trek Summer

It doesn't really have anything to do with summer, except that it comes out this summer. Next week, in fact! I'm very happy to announce the publication of my first Star Trek novel--Starfleet Academy: The Assassination Game!

I've been a Trek fan for as long as I can remember, and I've been dreaming of writing an official Star Trek novel almost as long. I finally got my opportunity with Simon Spotlight's young adult series set in the world of the 2009 Star Trek reboot film. Mine is the fourth book in the series. Here's the jacket blurb:

The rules are simple: Draw a target. Track him down and “kill” him with a spork. Take your victim’s target for your own. Oh, and make sure the player with your name doesn’t get to you first. No safe zones. No time-outs. The game ends when only one player remains.

James T. Kirk is playing for fun. Leonard “Bones” McCoy is playing to get closer to a girl. But when a series of terrorist attacks rock the usually placid Starfleet Academy campus, it becomes clear that somebody is playing the game for real. Is it one of the visiting Varkolak, on Earth to attend an intergalactic medical conference? Or could it be a member of a super-secret society at the Academy dedicated to taking care of threats to the Federation, no matter what rules they have to break to do it?

Starfleet Academy: The Assassination Game officially hits shelves on Tuesday, June 26, 2012!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

June Theme: Summer Camp for Grown-Ups (Sarah Dooley)

The second weekend of June is something special in West Virginia. First of all, the weather is completely unpredictable -- you can stroll through a drizzle, duck out of the downpour, bask in the sun, and unpack your sweater all in the space of a couple of hours. At Cedar Lakes Conference Center in Ripley, West Virginia, the second weekend of June means West Virginia Writers Conference. I haven't attended many writing conferences. I tend to be a little shy, and the thought of trying to share a crowded classroom or assembly hall with a bunch of strangers, all of them certain to be better writers than me, has always made me too nervous to ever actually send in a registration form. But West Virginia Writers Conference -- known by most of us, a bit reverently, as, simply, "Conference," -- is a different experience altogether. It helps that I started attending as a teenager, so being at the conference center reminds me fondly of sharing a bunk with my sisters, staying up late around the bonfire, and gathering up enough nerve to enter a writing contest for the very first time. What helps more, though, when it comes to attending Conference, is that we West Virginia Writers take care of each other. We stay in touch year round, and when we gather in the Assembly Hall, or on the patio behind the Lodge, on the second Friday in June, we don't feel as though we're among strangers. Even Conference first-timers tend to pick up on the feeling that we're among friends. It's a safe place to share stories, sing songs, recite poetry, and be together. We spend the weekend comparing notes: "What class are you going to next?" and "So how's your novel coming? Last I heard, you were three quarters in ..." We spend the weekend learning from writers who have been where we are now, who are coming from paths we haven't walked, or who are going directions we've never considered. We spend the weekend inspiring one other, challenging and supporting one another, and at the end of the weekend, I am recharged, refreshed, ready to write, revise, submit ... and maybe even give other writing conferences a try. The second weekend in June brings to West Virginia the oddest, most invigorating mix of education and family reunion, with maybe just a touch of church. Oh, and also? There are s'mores.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Writing Summer by Bob Krech

When I think about the summer that is just about upon us I immediately think about the fact that I should have more time to write and to read. There are plenty of books I am looking forward to getting into. I remember the summer when I turned thirteen. I tried to read everything Ray Bradbury wrote that summer and I actually had the time to do it! This summer I won't be reading anyone's collected works, but I already have a healthy stack of books on the night table waiting. I just started reading The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, a book I had never had the time to get to before. That lead to reading about the author, Muriel Spark, and Edinburgh back in the thirties and then watching the movie. One thing leads to another, and hooray!, there is time in summer to follow the trail.

I am also looking forward to some travel. There are always new writing ideas, characters, settings, and bits of trivia out there waiting to be discovered and then used somewhere in a story. Our family will be back vacationing in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina for two weeks in late July. In reading up on the area, I recently ran across a blurb in a real estate newsletter from down there that mentioned a 13 foot alligator that had to be rounded up because he was hanging out in a local park and "worrying" the children. The last straw came when he interrupted a soccer game and ate the ball. After a two-day effort he was corralled and put down. This is what they found inside of him: a soccer ball, two baseballs, a tennis ball, a beer can, 36 fishing lures, 1/2 pound of lead sinkers, 45 pounds of rocks, and a 7 foot alligator! My son swears four of the fishing lures are prized Rapalas he lost down there in the Spring.

Another nice thing about summer is having time to reconnect with our kids. Both are in college and it is very informative to hear what is on their minds and what they find interesting these days. I've been treated to lots of things on the web, particularly on youtube, that I would have never stumbled upon on my own. I've been promised a trip to the movies for Father's Day by my daughter and we'll get to run a 5K together later this month. Just finding out what movies she thought were viable possibilities for us (Dark Shadows, The Dictator, and The Avengers) and why helps keep me informed about young adults that I write about and for. Even better for story material are the neighborhood social dramas that have reignited now that the girls are back in town from college. I can't comment on those here, but they are alive and well and hold much potential for writing.

I love the time and opportunity that summer affords us for all of these wonderful things. It really makes life and writing so much better. Have a great summer!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Endless Summer (June theme: Summer Vacation)

Ahh, summer vacation. As a college professor, it was always my time to dig deep and really write. Classes at my university end about a month before the schools let out, so when my kids were in school I always had a luxurious—but finite—amount of time to get a lot done. Knowing my time was limited, I would sit down and churn out the pages.

But by the end of the summer, I was usually antsy and ready to get back to work.

The twist this summer is that I resigned my teaching position as of a month ago. My kids have (mostly) grown up and moved out, so what stretches ahead of me is an unlimited summer break. I’m losing track of the day of the week. Along with Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess Grantham on Downton Abbey, I might ask, “What is a weekend?”
With the other new emeriti

And I’m worried that in a few months, I’ll be antsy and ready to get back to work, but there won’t be work to get back to.

Or is it that I used to get antsy in August because classes were looming, syllabi were due, book orders were to be checked, and classrooms to be changed, and I was caught up in the excitement? And now that none of that will happen, will I be settled into my new routine and will hardly notice that just down the street, the first-year students are lining up, that someone else will be teaching the classes I created (okay, I admit to a bit of possessiveness here), that the office I possessed for twenty-eight years will be filled with nice new furniture and a new professor?

With—almost—unlimited time at my disposal, will I continue to write at the rate I used to during the summer months, when I knew my time was limited? Will I write better? Worse?

I wish I knew. I’ll be posting about this on my own blog, so check in after mid-August if you’re interested!

Monday, June 11, 2012

After the Marathon (June Theme from Jody Feldman)

I do not run marathons. I could not even pretend to. But I know someone who does. Runs them, that is; not pretends to. Through the years I’ve heard about her training and preparation. I enjoy the mile-by-mile accounts of her races. And when she talks about the exhilaration, the exhaustion, the letdown, and the renewal, I understand.

For me, novel writing is eerily similar.

The training never stops. And there's always event preparation – those engrossing, distracting, enraging, energizing, and exciting weeks of brainstorming plot, discovering characters and setting, imagining how it all might come together.

But right now, I’ve just come through the race where ...
  • I start out at a good pace. Nice, steady, full of energy.
  • At about Mile 7, the finish line looks so far away.
  • Mile 13.1. Are you kidding me? I’m only half there.
  • But then comes Mile 20. I am off to the races. I trade in my 1,000-word-a-day pace for double, triple even septuple that.
  • Then when the finish line is in sight, when I’m challenged with the revision rounds, when I reread certain lines or scenes (Me? I really wrote that?), I charge ahead, break through the tape, hit “Send” and I collapse.

This most recent collapse truly was physical as much as mental. I did a little dance, sat on the comfiest part of the couch, lolled my head back, and pretty much couldn’t move for an hour or two. When I did, it was for food-type reinforcements. The only marathon residue I didn’t experience, gratefully, were the blisters and sore muscles. And yet I’m sure if I tried a could create a metaphor for those.

The wonderful thing about finishing a book at this time of the year, it truly feels like vacation. It’s that season. I should frolic (how does one do that exactly?). I should splash in water. I should drive along country roads, spitting watermelon seeds out the window.

This summer, I will do all those things and more (except for the spitting). I just won’t do them for a full three months like I did when I was a kid. But I may enjoy it more.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Summer Vacation -- Please End! By Platte F. Clark

Summer is an interesting time to be a writer at my house.

Let me sum it up this way: seven kids, all home from school, no door on my office, and a middle-aged writer desperately seeking bubbles of quiet to work in. I bought a pair of noise canceling headphones to see if they’d do the trick. Not bad, but they remind me of the earplugs I used to wear in the army. Sure, I wasn’t taking any physical damage from the explosions going off around me, but I still heard them (especially the 155 mm Howitzer, or my current equivalent—the six year-old). It also doesn’t help protect me from the visual shock of say, my elven-year old coming in with a live chicken she "found" or the shirtless casualties arriving from the permanent marker fight.

Personally, I’d love to take a vacation. My first book is off to the publisher and I just finished my next. But last November I became one of those quit my nice paying job to write full-time writers. That means I can’t afford to rest. Literally, I sleep on a mattress stuffed with rejected query letters. I had to go all Cortez and burn the ships once we found the New World (okay, I know the historicity of this is in question, but just go with me.) Vacation? There is no vacation. There’s write, sell, or die (in this case “death” being equivalent to going back to a corporate job). Seriously, I’ve gotten used to working in stretch band-based clothing. There’s no going back now.

 So my “vacation” has morphed into an office in the city. I was graciously offered a space by a producer friend of mine, and it’s an interesting hub of creative energy (there are several film / production companies there, an animation studio, and some kind of yoga meditation class that involves hanging from the ceiling. I know this pushes the bounds of credulity, so here’s a picture of my friend hanging from said yoga bands (photo credit Todd Collins Photography):

And its not like I live in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or New York or something—I live in Utah. People just don’t hang from stuff around here, unless it’s from a gallows for cattle rustling (I now offer my sincere apologies to all my Utah-based friends.)

So the last time I was at my office-away-from-my-office, two trapeze artists walked past my door. And it’s STILL less shocking than my own house. So here’s to summer vacation: may it burn quickly away so I can go back to the peaceful and relaxing business of writing all day.

Friday, June 8, 2012

June Theme: Summer Vacation – Time to Discover Your Passions by John Claude Bemis

When I was in college, one of my good friends was getting her degree in journalism.  I remember her feeling a bit lackluster about it.  It was just a degree because she didn’t know a better degree to get.  Then her last semester of her senior year, she took a course on photojournalism.  Suddenly she discovered she loved photography.  Now I had seen the photos she snapped of all of us hanging out in the dorms, and they were nothing special.  But when she became passionate about photojournalism, she developed this amazing eye for composition, for capturing people, for moving those who saw her photos.  Now she’s a war photographer in Afghanistan and has won the White House Photographer of the Year award four different times. 

You never know when you’re going to discover something you’re passionate about.  Richard Adams didn’t begin writing his first novel Watership Down until he was nearly 50.  Grandma Moses was in her seventies when she took up painting. 

The things we do purely for ourselves, the things that bring us deep satisfaction and joy, the things we discover we want to do even if nobody makes us, those are our passions. 

I’ve always loved playing music.  When my mom bought me a guitar when I was 12, she didn’t have to remind me to practice.  I wanted to play that guitar!  About ten years ago, I decided to learn banjo so I borrowed one from a friend.  I discovered I didn’t really love practicing it.  I don’t know why.  There was something that didn’t grab me.  I gave it up and haven’t looked back.  What it comes down to is: it wasn’t something I was passionate about.  There are plenty of other instruments and interests I feel drawn to do.

Writing was a passion I was surprised to discover.  I wrote as a kid, but I wasn’t passionate about it.  I was a rabid reader and have always devoured books.  When I was out of college and teaching elementary school, I decided to try to write some stories in the afternoons and evenings.  This was something purely for fun.  I had no ambition of getting published.   I found myself eager to get back to my stories.  I’d write every day for hours because I felt a deep joy inside by the sheer act of creating stories.  Still do.

We need to find opportunities to discover our passions.  That can come from trying something new and interesting like taking a cooking class, picking up a new instrument, buying some paint and a canvas one Saturday afternoon, joining a sports team.  It should be something we want to do and not something someone is making us do.  Do you think Mozart or Jerry Lee Lewis’s parents had to force them to go practice piano?  Not a chance.  Think they were musicians just to make a buck (or a gulden in the case of Mozart)?  No way.

Kids and adults need free time to explore new interests.  Make this summer vacation a time to discover and develop your passions.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Confession: June Theme (Naomi Kinsman)

I have a confession to make. I used to think that setting didn’t matter. When I was a kid, reading, and I came across a section of beautiful description, I’d just skip over it. I wanted to get to the “good stuff,” by which I meant the action, mystery and intrigue. Little did I realize that woven into the fabric of the stories I loved most, setting played an integral part. I might have gone so far to tell you, “My favorite story is that mystery where the oceanliner sinks and the kids find themselves adrift on a life raft, and then they find treasure when they land on the deserted island. It’s exciting and there isn’t a lot of blah, blah, blah description.” Ironic, because all the things that happen in that story are particularly, directly related to setting.

It gets worse. When I started writing, I discovered my passion for writing fantasy. So, I set off to write fantasies in which a lot happened without a lot of blah, blah, blah description. I probably don’t have to tell you that my fantasies fell flat for many years until I learned not to turn my nose up at setting. I’ll probably never be one to include flowing passages of description in my books, but I’ve learned that specifics bring writing to life. I’ve learned it in my own writing, and I’ve learned it in teaching young people to write.

Take this for example: You have a character who is angry. If you’ve not clearly created a setting, you might find this character stomping around and waving his fists. But if he’s in a very quiet library, he can knock over a stack of books and the person he’s angry with can be mortified when the entire library of readers turns to stare. Or, put the angry character at an amusement park, and let her shove her way up to the front of the roller coaster line, upsetting popcorn and soda as she goes. Setting matters. It affects mood and tone, and gives your characters a world where they can act and react. The more specific the setting, the more clearly your reader can feel the moment, and the more unique a piece of writing feels.

It took me forever to get to this month’s theme, didn’t it? So, why am I writing about setting in relation to travel and my writing? The biggest reason is that my series, From Sadie’s Sketchbook, didn’t come to life until I took a trip to northern Minnesota and walked around in the forest with bears. Until then, I’d vaguely set my story in a small town outside Yellowstone National park. I’d been to Yellowstone, but not to the town I imagined in the story, and I couldn’t feel the setting inside me when I wrote the scenes. After I spent a weekend crashing through bushes, seeing bears up close and personal, picking ticks off my skin, and falling asleep to the sound of crickets in a small research cabin, I could slip inside Sadie’s skin. I knew how the woods would smell and feel. I shared Sadie’s emotional reaction to both seeing bears in person, and also observing hunters talk about bears as though they were nuisances or rats. Tapping into my own experience allowed me to add mood, humor, and specific detail into my story. I think the stories wouldn’t have come alive without my experience.

Since it’s just now summer, and we all are hopefully kicking our heels up and jetting off on little trips or bigger ones, I’d like to offer a challenge. Society of Young Inklings, which is a company dedicated to inspiring young writers, has an ongoing writing challenge called Caught on Camera. The basic idea is that writers create a character out of an ordinary object, say a soup can. Then, over the summer, writers take their character with them on trips and snap pictures of them in interesting locations, telling either individual stories about the character in each of these places, or carrying out a larger story in episodes that spans from place to place. The pictures and stories can be submitted to, where they will be published online. 

We welcome submissions by kids of any age (yep, even adults who are young at heart!) This challenge is a fun way to stretch your creativity and think specifically about setting and how it affects your own writing. When you wriggle your character down into the sand, and then lay down to take your picture, you can’t help but notice the gritty texture of the sand between your fingers, the salty, fishy smell of the ocean, and the beautiful smooth green rock that you would have walked right by. It’s a fabulous family project, a wonderful challenge to pass on to young writers, and an excellent way to challenge yourself to let loose and play a little. And we can all use a little more play in our lives, right? Here’s to a summer filled with creativity, laughter, and writing.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

June Theme: The Mountains in My Life by Trudi Trueit

Whenever I get the chance to travel, to get some time away from all that is routine and familiar, I go to the place where I am most inspired. I go to the mountains.

Someone looks a bit nervous so close to the edge!
It doesn't make sense that I should love the mountains as much as I do. I’m not really an outdoorsy girl. I hike a little, but I'm not an avid climber, spelunker, zip-liner, bungee-jumper, or skier. I hate bugs. And camping. And heights. Being dangled from a wire high above the ground also holds little appeal, which may have to do with the fact that once, I was trapped on a chairlift on Idaho’s Schweitzer Mountain at sunset (Help! Can anybody down there hear me?). Oh, and on more than one occasion, I have experienced the thrill of ‘nature’ closer than I would have preferred. I give you Exhibit A, from last summer's mountain adventure   .  .  .

The brown blob on the left is, indeed, a bear. Fortunately, 'golfer' was not on the breakfast menu the day I snapped this photo.
Mt. Rainier, Washington State
I have no illusions about the grand peaks I am drawn to. I am enriched by their serenity, but not fooled by it. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, in the shadow of Mount Rainier where blue Volcano Evacuation Route signs dot the highways and school children have regular volcano evacuation drills. I am well aware that beneath gushing waterfalls and sun-dappled ferns the giant sleeps.

In the spring of 1980, the most destructive volcanic explosion in the continental U.S. occurred just a few hundred miles from my home. Mt. St. Helens erupted. I was a teenager at the time. Never before, and never since (thank God), have I seen nature unleash such raw, savage power.

Mt. St. Helens in the 1970's, before the big blast

Mt St. Helens, May 18, 1980
The sheer force and extreme heat of the blast (temps. reached more than 600 degrees F) vaporized everything in its path. The once picture-postcard landscape was buried by massive lahars, or mudflows. Miles and miles of tall pines and firs were flattened like matchsticks. Thousands of animals were killed. Fifty-seven people lost their lives.

This was once a lush forest of 100-foot trees on Mt. St. Helens
Nothing could have survived the hot waves of gas, ash, and rock, we thought. But we were wrong. Pocket mice, gophers, and other burrowing animals did make it. Within days, the first birds began returning to the blast zone—wrens and meadowlarks (one of my favorites). Nature was mending. Creating. Enduring. Just as she has done for millions of years.

More than 20 years later, I was able to share the heartbreak and the hope of Mt. St. Helens with a new generation in my book, VOLCANOES.

So, after all I have experienced, what is it about these dangerous beauties that attracts me?

Maybe I am drawn to them because I, too, am a mess of contradictions. Sometimes peaceful, sometimes fierce. Sometimes fearful, sometimes courageous. But always, surviving. Resiliency. I suppose that's what mountains teach me. Resiliency of the heart, mind, and spirit. Mountains test me. And up there, almost touching the clouds, I face my fears and learn to overcome them.

My husband, Bill, took this photo of a curious doe on Hurricane Ridge in the  Olympic Mountains
This summer we’ll be traveling to visit Whistler, B.C and Canada’s Coast Mountains. I am scared of the glass-floor gondola, terrified of the heights, and nervous about the bears.

And I can’t wait to get there.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

June Theme: VACATION AS INSPIRATION by Irene Latham

  I have said before that one of the reasons I love being a writer is that it gives me an excuse to travel.

For DON'T FEED THE BOY, I have visited zoos as far away from me and as renowned as San Diego Zoo, and I have spent a good deal of time enjoying my home zoo, The Birmingham Zoo, which is also completely awesome and certainly achieves its mission of "inspiring passion for the natural world."

During my research, I learned that the very first zoo I went to was the London  Zoo, where I saw my first live elephant (pictured). And of course, an elephant plays heavily in the story of DON'T FEED THE BOY!

 We also visited an aviary. And who arrived in my story, but the Bird Girl! She comes every day to the zoo to escape her chaotic home life and draw birds.

Coincidence? Maybe. But I like to think those vacations are buried in my subconscious, just waiting for my writer-self to come along and reveal them. (I'm the girl in the pink skirt hanging onto the fence sort of like my brothers, but without the wild abandon.)

Another example: Here's a picture of me and my two older brothers at a crocodile farm in Thailand. (See how Vanna White-ish I'm holding that python's tail?)

In DON'T FEED THE BOY, there's Big Snake Day where guests help keepers measure Pete the reticulated python. Oh, and there's a snake escape!

One more not-necessarily-coincidence: I learned in letters my mother wrote home to her mother while we were living overseas, that my favorite zoo animal was the giraffe.

Guess what main character Whit's favorite animal is?

Yep. Giraffe! (I didn't read the letters until after I wrote the book.)

So, yes, being a writer is a great excuse to travel after the idea. But travel can also provide the source of ideas.

Wishing all of you inspirational travel this summer!

Friday, June 1, 2012

June Theme: Summer Travel

Except for short trips to the coast or the mountains, I'm usually at home during the summer. Living where I do-- --close to Seattle--summer is the best time of the year to stay put! My husband plants a big garden, we take our toy fox terrier for long walks, I write and read, and we entertain visiting family and friends.

Me in Copenhagen with Hans Christian Andersen
 I did, however, visit Norway in May. My daughter lives in Oslo and we try to go visit her once or twice a year. This year we were there in time for the May 17th (Constitution Day) celebrations. (Kind of the Norwegian equivalent to the 4th of July.)  We also made a side trip to Copenhagen, which was lots of fun.
With daughter Emily overlooking Copenhagen
May 17th Constitution Day crowd at the palace in Oslo

Now that I'm home again, I'm hard at work on a first draft of what will be the eleventh book in Joan Holub's and my Goddess Girls series. The ninth book, our very first Goddess Girls Super Special (The Girl Games) pubs July 10.

Let the games begin! The Goddess Girls get their chance to host the Girl Games! Told in alternating points of view, this superspecial is packed with Olympic spirit!  
--Suzanne Williams