Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cheese is the New Chocolate (and leaving behind being a pantser)

After days and days of holiday gluttony, I have finally stopped snacking on mixed nuts long enough to put my fingers on the keys and finish up the remainder of the outline of my NaNo novel. For the first time in years of writing novels I was a "pantser" this fall as I wrote, just creating outline-enough to get the daily word count down. I GREATLY prefer a road map for where I'm going next. It could *feasibly* be finished by the end of January. A first draft, that is.

Ooh! And on my morning run today I even figured out who the bad guy is going to be (amazing that I could write 185 pages and not quite know who the villain was, haha), AND how and where to write in the scene to introduce him and all his cronies.

It's a Christmas miracle.

For weeks I've had to put my mind to the details of this holiday mania, which is wonderful, but it's nice to start to possess my own brain again. That's kind of how I think of writing, of what a gift it is to me--a place and way I can be just myself, my own thoughts, my own creativity, myself. Without it, I don't know where I'd find that. At a gift-giving time of year, it's one I'm so very grateful for.

Speaking of gifts, I have a child born on Christmas, my oldest, so it's even MORE mania than just the Christmas mania and cooking. We also get to celebrate another birthday on that day. For years I loved it because I'd ask what his favorite meal was so I could fix it on Christmas, and we got macaroni and cheese or refried beans on tortillas. (Way easier than a turkey!) His gift to me this year was his favorite meal, a frozen lasagne. Does Christmas dinner get much easier than that? The other kids were kind of confused when they heard him make his request and I shouted "Yes!" and threw both arms in the air in victory.
His cake was a homemade chocolate cake. Have I mentioned a thousand times how great the recipe is on the can of Hershey's Cocoa? It's the BEST. (Just remember to sift the flour!) But you HAVE to make it with the frosting recipe on the can. It's amazing. It's so amazing that when I ate half a slice, I got an enormous sugar headache--that's what I get for "going off sugar" for eight months. Can I express how troubling that is? I cannot. I am the girl who used to polish off one of those super-syrupy orange sodas at the doctor's office during a gestational diabetes test and say, "Can I get another one of those?" while women all around me were wincing in pain at the tongue-numbing sweetness of it.

I guess I'd better go back to eating muenster cheese as my sugar substitute. I haven't had a grilled muenster cheese sandwich for three days. I might be going through a different kind of withdrawal. I might be getting a "cheese headache."

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Guest Post--DeAnn Huff's New Novel, free first chapter!

I've never had a guest write my blog post, but today I got an email from a writing friend of mine, DeAnn Huff, and she has just released her debut novel. The proceeds from her book are going to a great cause, and I'd feel like a total Grinch if I didn't jump right in and support her. I love the cover of the book, and the premise sounds really exciting. I'll probably download this later today (when I get the Christmas caramels wrapped--the ones from batches 4, 5, and 6. I'm planning to do 12 batches this year. I hope we can get by with that few.)

Welcome, DeAnn, and I hope everyone who reads this and loves to read checks out your book!

Hey Friends,
I'm releasing my first novel as an e-book. Here's the information if you are interested:
Beau’s getting loads of attention lately. Whether he wants it or not. Even if it’s his worst nightmare.
Announcing the release of Master of Emotion, a YA paranormal romance by D. Ogden Huff.
When a reclusive teen with the enhanced ability to read others’ emotions finds more teens with similar powers, he must confront his fears before a budding romance and his twin brother’s life fall into the hands of the devious doctor who created them all.
For a longer summary of the novel and to see the winning book cover, go to the following sites:
All proceeds of this novel (after taxes and tithing) will be donated to a tax deductible charity benefiting my nephew who has a severe, often life-threatening, form of Celiac Disease. See his story at . You can also go into any America First branch (in Utah) to make a Tax Free donation. The account is listed as, "Mark Jeanes Charitable Donations Account".

This is the same novel that was a Quarterfinalist in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards under the previous name of“Walls.”
Here’s another reason to read it—check out my experiment. Movies have soundtracks. Why not novels?
Within the text of the novel, when you find something that looks like this:
“(Listen to the unofficial Master of Emotion Soundtrack – Song Title”from Secondhand Serenade’s “Album Title” album at title-#)”
I invite you to follow the link and listen to one of Secondhand Serenade’s songs that fit the emotion of that moment in the novel. I’ve included a website address or two where you might be able to listen to the full song.
Here’s a short preview of the novel, but if you go to the Smashwords site at you can read 20% of my book.
Chapter 1 – “Sorry.”
It was the same feeling every time. My legs wouldn’t move.
He stood at the end of the crowded middle school hallway, his lifeless eyes boring a hole into me. Eyes of the walking dead. Body of any other pre-teenager. Everyone around us hurried and bustled, completely unaware of him.
He staggered toward me, his head hung low and the hood of his sweatshirt now shrouding his face. Methodically, his feet dragged with every step, as if he forced them on, using perpetual motion to push down the hall. He walked like a pallbearer carries the casket of his dead mother.
I wanted to run, to hide, to get as far away from the school as I could, but my feet had sunk down into the tiles of the hallway as if I wore cement shoes. They wouldn’t even budge. Not even a single crack.
He adjusted the strap of his backpack as we passed. I stood there, unable to move, as the boy’s exposed hand brushed against my bare shoulder. The touch only lasted a millisecond, but it hit me with the force of a collision that ripped through me and doubled me over.
My chest was imploding. Darkness filled my head and my limbs, the pit of my stomach, and choked down my throat.
“Sorry,”he mumbled as passed.
The hallway pushed in on me, squeezing me like a python suffocating its prey, but the world felt distant, like all its inhabitants had turned their back on me. The darkness consumed me, seeped through my skin like thick, cold tar. It filled me with uncontrollable grief and isolation that weighed down my whole frame and soul. I could feel my eyes drying, cracking, from the months of crying the boy had endured. My whole body wanted to escape itself.
I couldn’t live like this. There had to be a way out. I would do anything to make this feeling stop.
I clutched my chest, holding my insides in.
I sat up in bed, panting, my shirt soaked with sweat. The nightmare seemed as real as that evening, six years ago, when my twin brother found me curled up in the corner of an abandoned classroom, still sobbing and wanting to die.
But I was alive. He had found me in time.
Unlike the boy from the hallway, who they found the next morning, sprawled on his bathroom floor with his stomach full of pills from his mother’s medicine cabinet.
Me? I haven’t touched anyone since.
I hope you enjoy the novel!
DeAnn Ogden Huff
Master of Emotion (Book 1) (release date 12/8/11)
Supreme Chancellor of Stupidity (Book 2) (expected release date January, 2012)
Once Upon a Tour (expected release date February, 2012)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

So Exciting--I feel like I ate too much candy

Got some grrrrreat news yesterday (yes, that's my Tony the Tiger impersonation. I have to include it because not only did I get grrrrreat news, I also ate three bowls of Frosted Flakes.) The book I've been slaving over for 2 years, *Big in Japan,* has been selected by a publisher, Jolly Fish Press, for their fall 2012 list!


I started shopping it around in September, and found Jolly Fish shortly thereafter. The minute I read about them, I had a gut feeling this was going to be a great fit. They were my first choice.

Doing a jolly jig over here.

So, about the book. All these months I've been writing it, I've been asking myself this question: is the world really ready for a novel with a love story plot for a sumo wrestler?

I guess we'll see!

Big in Japan is the story of an overweight nobody guy from Texas who goes to Japan and accidentally becomes the first blond sumo wrestler. He has to defeat his biggest enemy and win the Emperor's Cup to get the girl.

I had a ton of fun researching and writing it. I loved finding out all about sumo--a sport we Americans have a tough time imagining as being as amazing as it is. I watched a LOT of youtube videos of sumo matches. The power, people! They are just enormous and strong! It was fun to get to troll through my fun memories of living in Japan and to get to use some of my Japanese language again (although I excised most of it as drafts progressed.) I spent a lot of time outlining it and using the tips I learned as I studied writing guides like Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell, and How to Write a Damn Good Novel, by James Frey. I holed up in my writing lair and did major rewrites while my kids watched waaay too much TV and decimated the blue carpet. Now, I'm so excited! So thrilled! It's so sweet, it almost feels like I just ate too much candy.

(If there is such a thing. I'm not sure.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

National Cotton Candy Day

My good friend Tory pointed out to me that today, in addition to being Pearl Harbor Day and the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the Hawaiian naval base, is also National Cotton Candy Day. I'd call those two "strange bedfellows," indeed, but I submit it might just be possible to solemnly consider the historic events while savoring a sweet, puffy bite of cotton candy.

Last February my husband and I took our first ever trip to Hawaii. On the Sunday that we were there we visited Pearl Harbor and went to see the sunken hulk of the U.S.S. Arizona. The swirly petroleum rainbows on the surface of the water above the ship (due to the enormous stash of sunken fuel still extant in its tanks) and the lichen and the rust and the sheer mass of the thing--it all attested to me of the sad waste it all was.

Both my grandfathers fought in World War II. My paternal grandfather was a member of the Army Air Corps (later called the U.S. Air Force) and was a pilot trainer, arguably the most dangerous job in the service. (Lots of fatal crashes.) He later spent time in Japan and became acquainted with a General Genda (he often spoke of Genda) who was one of the architects of the attack, and whose name I found figuring prominently in the newly completed Pearl Harbor Memorial.

My maternal grandfather served in the U.S. Army (though he was born in England). He was a cook. He was also at the Battle of the Bulge, a bloody German offensive that the Allied forces deflected successfully near the end of the war. has free access to WWII records through today. I found their enlistment records. It is good to think of them as young and brave and willing to defend freedom--my freedom and the freedom of my children to eat cotton candy and to write vapid things on a blog and to write stories and get an education and speak my mind about political matters and to vote and to live my religion and so many other things I can't list.

So, today I'll go over to the dollar store and pick up a bag of spun sugar and appreciate the sacrifice it represents.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Slaying the NaNo Dragon? I think I need Cocoa Puffs

NaNoWriMo, i.e., National Novel Writing Month, i.e., November, ends today. I'm sad to see it go. November has been a great month. I turned 40, on which day I received not one but two vases of flowers. The lilies still smell wonderful.

Which reminds me. On our wedding day, I had lilies in my bouquet. The yellow powdery stuff from the flowers' pollen was getting everywhere, and while we were on our honeymoon, my new husband was putting in his contacts and the yellow powder got on his finger and turned his eye yellow. Very weird.

But I still love the lilies.

One of the scenes from my NaNo novel has Monet's pond of waterlilies in it. The protagonist and her tormentor/love interest nearly drown in that lily-filled pond. She's a champ and pulls him, a nonswimmer, out. It's good fun.

So, did I make it? Did I beat the challenge to write 50,000 words in a month on a brand new novel? Oh, yeah, baby! I made it. Last night, after a week-long dearth, I was able to crank out the final words and land at 50,250~. Bring on the Cocoa Puffs! It's time to celebrate!

No, the novel isn't complete. I think the thing that surprises me as a newly minted fantasy writer (contemporary fantasy. I'm not great at world building and probably never will be) is the sheer number of words it takes to write a fantasy, the descriptions have to be more ... profuse. Not that I've ever struggled with having too little to say. Ha.

Meanwhile, the house is a total WRECK. I had to do ELEVEN loads of laundry. Somehow there is an entire bag of polyester pillow filling strewn in bite-sized tufts all over the back porch. Like snow. Only messier, and I can't simply wait for it to melt so it will go away. The kitchen floor has been attacked by pineapple juice, one of the stickiest substances known to man, second in the Griffith household only to the honey which is liberally slathered all over the kitchen counter beside the vases of lovely lilies. My windowsill above the kitchen sink is tastefully decorated with empties--empty PET bottles from Old Orchard Apple Cherry juice (quite delicious, a must try) waiting to be refilled with fresh water for emergency storage, but who has time to fill a bottle with water and put it in the pantry? Not I, apparently. The NaNo Dragon has had me by the neck. Neckbreaking. I think my friend DeAnn was right. I think the broken neck is going to happen because of all ten thousand toys and books strewn all over the house waiting to trip us.
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I think I'll have to put the final estimated 35K words to finish this book on hold and regain control of the chaos here. Meanwhile, I blow on my knuckles and rub them on my clavicle and say, ha! Beatcha this time, NaNo, at about the same rate you beat me. Let's call it a draw.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Yard Sale Christmas with a Popcorn Observation

This morning my son and I hit the yard sales. That's after I took two of the girls yesterday and the other son. It's amazing weather here this time of year. Perfect for yard sales. I know, I should extend more sympathy to all you all who are toughing it out in the snow and cold. Apologies.

Anyhow, it's the tradition for the past couple of years that I take the kids to buy presents for each other at yard sales. It started in 2008 when everybody went through "austerity measures." Then, because it worked so well, we hung onto it.

There are quite a few things I love about it. One, I get to go to yard sales. I love to see other people's things and talk to new people and find a very fun bargain. Just today I found a classic children's book I'd been salivating over for a while. It was (drumroll, please)... TWENTY-FIVE CENTS. Yeah? Yeah.

Two, taking the kids gives me a chance to have one-on-one chats with them in the car while we drive around town. They're so funny and fun! Most of the time it's a five-on-one situation, so it's a good change. Yard sales are a good excuse. I say yard sale and they say, "Me, me, me!" How often are kids just dying to be the one on the errand?

Three, I like to see them be generous to each other, and yard sales make it possible. I used to take them to the store, and they'd want to get their siblings nice things, and I'd always cringe and apologize and say things they wanted to give were just too expensive. Well, they were. >shrug< At a yard sale, I almost never have to say no. (Early on we established a "no dirty stuffed animals rule" so the nays dissipated.) It's nice to have a time of year when I can take them shopping and say yes. Once my youngest got her brother a bean bag--something he has used almost every day since. They end up getting fancier things than they'd end up giving/receiving from the dollar store.

Four, and most of all, I noticed in 2008 that the duration of time a kid will enjoy a 50-cent toy is roughly the same he/she will enjoy a $50 toy. Why was I bothering spending much at all on Christmas when we could thoroughly enjoy something someone else was done with? It's my contribution to the universe of recycling.

Anyhow, the oldest son and I went out trolling for gifts around the valley before we went to work a charity booth. He had to work setting up the tables and chairs and hauling things for me so I let him go over and buy himself a treat at McDonald's. A few minutes later he reappeared with a huge bag of popcorn and a soda (the nectar of life, according to this child.) I loved his observation:

"Popcorn and a soda is a lot cheaper at McDonald's than it is at the movie theater."

Love that kid. Now, I think I'll go eat some of the rest of his bag of popcorn and see if I can get a few words on the page for my NaNo novel. I'm trying to break that 50K mark, but I'm only at 41K now. When I hit it, I'm going to read my novel--not the one I'm writing, the one that languishes on my nightstand calling to me with its tempting siren song. No, the 50K won't mean my story is done; but I'll take a break at that point and reward myself with a post-NaNo great read.

Here's a picture of turkey. The countdown could be measured in hours now.

Roast turkey. (ThinkStock)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

NaNooo NaNooo (That's Orkian for I'm Breaking My Neck)

My friend DeAnn said she's not doing National Novel Writing Month because she finds the pace "too neck breaking." Well, she's right. It's also housework breaking, homework breaking, meal-preparation breaking, and probably a lot of other things. I am not sure it's truly worth it. It's fun, the creativity and the sense of accomplishment, but I hope I'm not losing sight of other things that could really use...sight.

Meanwhile, my go-to sustenance during this neck breaking is something I found at WalMart called "Strawberry Awake." It's cold cereal, kind of like Frosted Flakes but with slices of delicious freeze-dried strawberries in it. Oh, and the flakes are not corn. They're wheat and rice flakes, so the texture is unexpectedly crisp. LOVE it. It's a WalMart brand, and I don't know if there's a brand name comparable cereal, and I don't really care. This is doing the job for now. Until it runs out and I have to break away from my broken neck and go back to the store.
Great Value Strawberry Awake Cereal, 16.7 oz

The 50,000 words in a month isn't a problem. I can probably type that just in Facebook replies alone. (I'm kind of a junkie lately. It's also contributing to the housework-breaking, I'm sure.) It's getting those 50K into a coherent form, with pacing and characterization and excitement and scenes. I keep having to jump away from the text flying from my fingertips and do research checks online. (I am doing something a little technical and I need to check my facts as I go.) This leads to Facebook checks. And slowed progress.

But I will sally forth! Right now my total, as of November 8 in the morning before typing a word in the document, is .... 16,707. So I guess I'm on my way. But I have to accelerate the pace of word insertion because of being on my way over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house toward the end of the month, during which there can be no progress due to the intense pie-making and pie-eating activities I'll be required to immerse in. And not grudgingly.

Can't wait for pie. So many, many good pies in my near future. It makes everything sweet.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Candy Trickle-Down-Theory (and the Countdown=1)

It's Halloween. What kind of candy blogger would I be if I didn't speak up today?

First off, I'm still trying to avoid sugar ingestion. It's not going very well. I had to make sugar cookies over the weekend (and frosting) for kids' school. While I only ended up eating one (broken) cookie, which was a WIN, I think I probably ate a full cup of dough. Not a win.

And that cherry-vanilla flavored frosting was sooooo tempting.


As for today, I didn't resist the Halloween candy in the ENORMOUS bowl. We live in one of "those" neighborhoods; you know: the kind with street lights, and without mean dogs on the loose or large spiny cactus on the "lawn." Therefore, we get hit pretty hard. In fact, one year, I swear I saw a BUS parked at the end of the road and people piling off it, coming through the houses wearing masks and holding pillowcases. Seriously, folks.

The bowl has to be ready for such contingencies. Therefore, I bought
EIGHT bags of mini-candy bars,
two bags of Sixlets,
two bags of Smarties,
two bags of Dubble Bubble,
the biggest bag of Dum-Dums I'd ever seen,
a bag of Sugar Babies,
a bag of Tootsie Pops,
possibly some other stuff I forgot.

I had a friend mention on Facebook that Halloween is a day where you end up trading candy you DO like for candy you DON'T. But I think I've already established there's no such thing as candy I don't like.

This morning I've been experimenting with the "trickle down" theory of sugar ingestion. In other words, I've chewed about fifteen pieces of Dubble Bubble. Since I spit out the gum as soon as it started to get tough, I told myself I wasn't really "eating" sugar. Yes, I realize this is a form of lying to myself. But, dang, it was good. I love that pink stuff.
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Meanwhile, the gum is helping me concentrate on my writing organization. Only ONE day left until NaNo begins, and even though I can see I was probably delusional thinking I could really do it this year, with all the other responsibilities that are flinging themselves at me, I'm still going to at least give it the old college try. Go, Aggies! Anybody know how the Aggies are doing this year, by the way? I never pay attention. Didn't in college, either. Ha. Good thing I married a guy who cares more about raspberries than sports. He might (if I can cajole him into it) dress up like Clark Kent for trick-or-treating tonight. It's perfect. I'll be my usual--the witch.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Infinitesimal Rhinos and Sixlets the Candy

My 11-yo got braces this week, and I offered him carrot sticks for dinner.

This is an indication of the situational awareness level of his mother.

This is possibly due to the fact I've gone deep into my writing head again. I'm scratching together a whole bunch of outlining and characterization notes for NaNoWriMo.

What is NaNoWriMo? A minuscule rhino? No! It's National Novel Writing Month. November every year brings out the novelist in thousands of writers all over the world. According to Wikipedia, last year over 200,000 participated, but I bet those are the official numbers and many more participated but didn't do the official sign-up on the site.

The goal is to write 50,000 words in a month. If you've ever wanted to write a novel and never made yourself buckle down and just do it, NaNoWriMo could be the motivation you've been looking for.

About five years ago I heard about NaNoWriMo from my friend Colleen. She was participating. I didn't ever go do the real sign-up. I didn't want to be accountable! But I was a closet NaNo and created a novel that month. It was quite grueling. Because it was November, Thanksgiving holidays got in the way, so it had to be packed into a certain number of days (no Sundays. I don't do writing for profit on Sundays.) I ended up cranking out about 2,500 words a day, some days more. It was also quite a rush. In the end, I set it aside and didn't do anything with it for about three months. I was kind of sick of it by then. But I broke it out again after the new year and finished it up, edited it for ten months, and then it became my third novel, Delicious Conversation. Last I heard, it's still in print.
Delicious Conversation

So, now I'm done tinkering with my novel that took two years to write and edit, and I'm ready for something fresh. Something came to me Wednesday night and I think I'm going to NaNo it. (Makes me think of Mork From Ork, Nanoo Nanoo!) Organizers suggest getting as many notes together as possible prior to the November 1 start date. Then crank out the words in one big Blaaaaat!

Should be fun. I love a writing rush! Like a good dose of Excedrin. I bet my braces-mouthed son could use one himself.

No candy news today, except they served Sixlets at the bridal shower I attended today. Only yellow Sixlets. I wish I'd been in charge of sorting them. Then I could have eaten EVERY SINGLE Sixlet of any other color besides yellow. Yeah, baby. Those little spherical doses of heaven are grand.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Blueberry Cake and Failure (which precedes success)

My now-4yo daughter had a birthday this weekend and requested a blueberry cake. Part of me went "ew." There's family folklore around here about the Christmas morning that I labored to create homemade blueberry muffins using a dubious recipe and came up with mounds of bready, fruit-studded, gag-inducing sand that not only the kids hated but that our chickens would not eat.

So, the request of the blueberry cake caught me off guard.

Have you ever noticed that modern blueberries just aren't quite as good as the candy blueberries that come in little powdery purple clumps in Jiffy Muffin Mixes? I love those candy blueberries. My husband, whose mind gravitates toward all things agricultural and genetically altered, complains that modern blueberries have been so bred for size that the sweetness has gone out of them and their texture is (his words) "nasty."

I still like them fine in a McDonald's Fruit & Yogurt Parfait, as I've mentioned before.

Anyhow, it became a challenge, and at the advice of my baking-queen sister-in-law Julie, I bought two(more expensive because it contains a can of REAL wild blueberries) Betty Crocker blueberry muffin mixes and baked them in 9" rounds and then drizzled them with a lemon glaze made out of 1/2 cup lemon juice and 2/3 cup sugar and some water, cooked on the stove until the sugar dissolved. I used a chopstick to poke dozens of holes in the cake for the lemony sweetness to seep down through both layers.

Can I just say? I think I redeemed myself on the blueberry front.
The Best Blueberry Muffin Cake
This isn't my cake but it's the internet image that matches it best. I did two layers...Mmm. I love this cake plate.
Right now I'm getting details together to run a new round of queries on my novel. The topic is out there, I'm aware. It's not something most of us will have read a dozen times in the past. I'm hoping some brilliant agent will see it for the cash cow it is and snap it up.

And like the gaggy blueberry muffins that preceded the triumphant blueberry cake, here's believing the non-triumphant queries I've launched will be followed by a bidding war among publishers for some lucky agent out there!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Writing for Fun and Profit and Jalapeno Corn

It's only October and I'm already starting to formulate goals for the New Year.

This is probably due to the fact that I spent the morning Christmas shopping. Is this jumping the gun or getting a jump on the gun-to-your-head type season that is coming at me like an army with bayonets?

I'm not sure.

Anyhow, I'm thinking about what kind of things I can be doing next year for writing. I have love, love, loved my novel writing experiences. I think it's the most satifying writing I've ever done. However, novel writing is what I'd put in the trickle-down category of earning. It takes a while to earn anything from writing a novel, royalties only come in a lump sum every six months (at least that's how mine come), and it eventually trickles to a drip, which is fine unless you have something new written coming down the pipe and didn't take a couple of years off to be the mommy of the kids. 

That's fine. Most novelists don't quit their day jobs, and I never could (as a stay-at-home mom it would be a colossal mistake. Plus, I kinda like my job. My bosses are pretty hilarious. And good fodder for the novels.)

So, as for the new goals, I think I'm starting to want to try some new formats. I've been writing novels for about 15 years. Before that, I wrote essays and short stories--and a bunch of papers for college (not a format I'd like to revisit.) My good friend Donna Hatch told me recently she had written a couple of novellas she put up on Smashwords and made available for Kindle and Nook. She had a fun time writing them. That sounded fun to me, and like not as much pressure as a full-blown 85,000 word novel to calibrate. And if I get something cute done, nice and frothy, I might do what Donna did and make it available for sale as an e-book. Even if I only make a few bucks, that's a profit, right?

For the past several years I've been writing a book review column for our local newspaper. I love it. I get to inflict on the local populace my taste in books. Ha! Sometimes I go to a doctor's office or a city luncheon and people say, "I've heard your name. Where...?" I tell them I write the column, and that's usually how they knew me. I'm using up all 15 minutes of my fame this way. It's not a bad way, promoting other writers' books. Good times! I haven't written a column lately (too busy writing to read much I'd like to recommend), so I think in the new year my goal will be to step that up, funnel a few more columns their way.

Besides that, I got a new community-involvement-assignment to work on the county's state Centennial celebration and do the write-ups for that. It should be a good variety of challenges, from the news releases to a pamphlet here and there, to website content, to a history of a local landmark. That'll make me stretch.

A friend of mine, Valerie Steimle Bashein Foy, from ANWA (my writers group) keeps posting on our Facebook group whenever she gets a byline in a magazine, newspaper, or e-zine. She's raking in the clips! It's inspiring! I don't know how much she gets paid for each column, but even if it's just a few dollars here and there, it's cool that her writing is valuable enough that she is being paid for it. That makes her a professional writer. I love it. She's quite the inspiration.

I'm not going to quit working on my latest novel (it's going to be the cotton candy fun I love to spin), but I want to branch out and make myself stretch into new projects in the new year. If I can just get through the holidays!
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I can't wait for the holidays. Seriously. When is food a bigger part of our lives than those diet-deadly and delicious six weeks from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day? Ah, I think I can taste the jalapeno corn already. Mmm!

Here's my recipe:

4 bags frozen white corn
1 8-oz cube cream cheese
1 cube butter
1/4 cup milk
3 jalapenos seeded and chopped
garlic salt
season salt

On stovetop in saucepan combine cheese, milk, butter, seasoning and peppers. Stir until creamy and bubbling. Pour over thawed corn. Cook on stovetop stirring occasionally until peppers are tender. Keep warm in crock pot until ready to serve. Makes enough for the whole Thanksgiving gang (but I have to double this because our gang is gigantic.)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tasty Snails vs. Espresso Books (and genre crossing)

My friend Louise introduced me to a VERY DANGEROUS website. It is called Food Gawker, and it seems to troll the internet for cool blogs about food.

Here's a photo that was bubbling at the top of the pic gallery today.

I ask you. Does food get cuter than that? Bless her little macaron-making heart.

So I have been stuck there, clicking over and looking at recipes for chocolate cake (which I'm going to make and enter in the county fair this weekend, good luck to me!) and all kinds of other beautiful, deliciousness.

Meanwhile, I have also been reading a MS for a friend. She is writing out of her genre, and it's amazing how versatile some writers can be. I'm really happy to see the different sides of writers' personalities emerge. Yes, I think the voice for most writers is pretty constant--I can hear her romance side sneaking through in this great YA dystopian story--which I think is what makes readers for the most part not mind when writers cross genre lines. There are some writers I'd read whatever they wrote, no matter the genre (almost. I mean, I do have some limitations on what I won't read.)

I also got a load of something really innovative and interesting today. It's called the Espresso Book Machine. From the writerswrite blog:

"The Wall Street Journal's Jeffrey Trachtenberg discusses the expansion of On Demand Books' Espresso Book Machine, a desk-sized device that quickly prints out black-and-white paperbacks with color covers. Jeffrey says he printed his own book in four minutes."

Click on the link to see the machine.

Huh. How would that be? It might change things. And book publishing would no longer be for the snails. Yummy snails. Mmm!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Thank You for Being a Friend (and the jeans fit)

Spent the day feeling like a crummy writer and hopeless and worthless and all those "-less" adjectives. Thought about hanging up my laptop. Thought about switching hobbies to ... something else. Maybe housework or weed pulling. (Okay. That's a lie.)


I was scrolling through my blog roll and came across Joyce DiPastena's September Blog hop and noticed she was giving away a copy of my book Delicious Conversation as a prize and she had scores of entries of ladies *wishing* to win that book. They said things in their entries like, "Who wouldn't want to read about romance and chocolate." Et cetera.

And someone called Judy was the winner. Congratulations, Judy! I hope you enjoy the story!

And suddenly the clouds parted and a ray of sunshine shone through.

There are the ups and downs of writing and getting published and being a creative person. (Not that I'd necessarily ever describe myself that way.) It's probably pretty universal to get bummed when in the querying process. Rejection--not that great for the old ego, right? Seriously, I feel really lucky and blessed to have friends who happen to support me just when I find myself getting down.

Now, to return the compliment, I'd be ungrateful if I didn't give a little plug for my friend Joyce's writing. She has a style all her own, in that she writes Medieval Romance. She's a scholar, and the research that goes into her books is exhaustive and you can just feel the love she has for the period and the characters pulsating off the pages she writes. She includes a bibliography at the end of each book of the sources she researched for the story, and the romance is sweet but still compelling. Love it.

Joyce, thank you. You brought me back from the bummers.

I think I'll go have a gummy Vitamin D berry to celebrate. (Since I'm STILL curbing the sugar, if you don't count the three pieces of cinnamon coffee cake I downed yesterday at the family get together. Family get togethers are my nemesis. But my skinny jeans fit. No, they don't get tapered at the ankle, I am talking the JEANS that fit when my weight is DOWN. So, yeah. Back to the gummies!) And if the writing success (or lack thereof) isn't something to smile about, the skinny jeans are.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Shame on Me (and fantastic smoothies)

So, I tried to post my last blog to Facebook, but it flagged me. It wouldn't allow me to post because my blog had been determined to be




Therefore, I would like to apologize right now to any readers of this blog if they have been harmed or spammied in any way.
Speaking of Spam, that's good stuff. There's a Hawaiian restaurant in town, Kainoa's, that serves it with rice and barbecue sauce and macaroni salad. They also make the best smoothie EVER. There are 4 or 5 choices of smoothies on the menu, but the one called Kickin' Kaleo is beyond delicious. And possibly sugar free. Okay, not, but I'm telling myself it's fruit.

Meanwhile, I'm querying my fool head off. It's a weird mix of exhilaration and demoralization. Pressing forward.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

E-Publishing! (and a new Pretend Health Food)

It's an e-publishing-palooza here today.

First, I have one of my previously published novels nearly ready to throw onto Amazon for Kindle. Kind of exciting. If anyone out there has an urge to e-publish, but like me thinks oh-my-heck-I-can't-bear-to-go-through-the-ordeal-of-figuring-that-out, whine no more! There's an easy-to-follow method on at the top right of the page: "How to E-Publish."

Yee haw. Check it out.

Also, I have a friend, Anna del C. Dye, who has just made her latest book available as an e-book. Emerine's Nightmare is a children's story--for boys. Boys love fantasy. For years fairies have been girls' territory, but Anna has a fun twist on it, as she said, "to try to fill that void of books for boys in 4th through 7th grades." Emerine is being persecuted by dark fairies. They've killed his parents and now it's his turn.

I think it's great she's writing these books and making them available on e-book format. She's selling it for $3.99 on Amazon and Nook. It's also available as a standard e-book on her website.

As I've spent the week querying agents to go about publishing my stuff the traditional method, I can't help thinking what a great equalizer e-publishing is. It makes for quite the shortcut for us aspiring mainstream novelists. There is a siren song about it I can't help hearing to an extent.

In the meantime, I'm staying the traditional course. To soothe me in my bouts of psychotic email-checking, I've found a new so-called health food: Cherry Craisins.

Forget everything you know about cranberries. This little leathery sweet bite is what every WalMart Fruit Smile wishes it had been born as instead. The Cherry Craisin is a dried cranberry, sure, but it's soaked in cherry juice and turned into fabulous sweet and tangy deliciousness.
Craisins: Cherry Sweetened Dried Cranberries, 6 oz
As Shawn Spencer says on Psych, "Are you a fan of delicious flavor?"

Of course I am, Shawn. And this cherry juice infused craisin is delicious flavor at its pretend healthiest. I think I'll go buy my third bag this week.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Genres and Queries and Yogurt, oh my!

I've got two projects ready to query for agents, and it has made me think about the importance of knowing what genre your book is.

There's a tendency among writers to want to write what we want to write, regardless of the readership. And that's great. It's totally fine.

However, if a writer does have the goal of getting published it's important to have the end-product in mind. For publishers, writing is a commodity, and it needs to be marketable. The very first thing a publisher needs to know to evaluate whether the book will work for them is the GENRE.

What is a genre? It's a type. It basically dictates who the audience of the book will be. Here are some examples of fiction genres, with my general assessment of the audience they target:

Picture Books (books with pictures, aimed at kids)
Chapter Books (longer books for young readers)
Middle Grade Fiction (that means for grade schoolers, the protagonist should be age 11)
Young Adult, a.k.a. YA (teen readers, the protagonists should be age 15-16, very little wiggle room there)
Literary Fiction (novels where the internal conflict of the main characters takes center stage)
Commercial Fiction (novels where external conflict for the main characters is most prevalent)
Mystery (self-explanatory)
Thrillers (like Baldacci)
Suspense (like Hitchcock)
Paranormal (ghosts, etc.)
Dystopian (where the world as we know it is broken, like Fahrenheit 451)
Fantasy (where the world-building is a main part of the story, often a quest or epic battle)
Science Fiction (where futuristic technology plays a major role)
Magical Realism (regular world with a dash of magic)
SteamPunk (not quite sure, but often set in the past with current technology involved; is it like Cowboys and Aliens?)
Historical (set in the past, usually educating the reader about the time period)
Romance (where the end isn't a surprise, but the joy is in the journey of girl getting boy)

There are others, and there are sub-genres of these classes as well; for instance, within Mystery, there is a sub-genre called "Cozy Mystery" where the blood isn't too gory, and you can imagine reading this curled up next to a fire with a cup of tea on a rainy day. There are also "Hard Boiled Detective" mysteries, like the Sam Spade stories of Dashiell Hammett. Or you've got "Procedurals" where the emphasis is on the medical evidence. Doesn't Patricia Cornwall write those? They're a little gritty for me and my cotton candy reading taste.

There are also gradations of Romance. Everything from "Sweet," to "Christian," to "Hot," to "NASCAR." The genres of Romance seem almost limitless. And it's a big market.

Okay, now. This morning I sent my first query to an agent. In my letter I noted the genre of my book. In order to even know which agent to query, I needed to know what genre she agented, and what her interests are. It really narrows things down. It's an important step in getting published.

Yeah, I can see how it feels constricting to some of us who would like to think of ourselves as "genre-bending" writers, but the problem with that is that when a reader picks up a book, he or she has a certain expectation and desire to be entertained in a certain way. For instance, some nights I stand in front of the Red Box thinking, "Do I want a comedy or an action movie?" There's an expectation, and it's part of the contract between the reader and the writer, as William Noble said. The deal is, the reader says, "Tell me a story," and the writer does.

Now, onto more important topics. Sometimes I stand in front of the Red Box and realize it's across the street from McDonalds and all I can think is how much I am craving a Fruit and Yogurt Parfait. I love that crunchy granola they put in the packet to keep it crispy and slide the spoon through the little plastic wrapper to keep them together and ready for me to combine and eat. Sometimes the chunks of strawberries are still frozen. I know, I know, some people are haters about The Golden Arches, but don't dis the Yogurt. That stuff is gooood.

Check out the Deliciousness

Monday, September 12, 2011

When is too much too much? (And a new project!)

When is enough enough?

Well, I think I might have hit that limit the other day when a 12 year old kid came up to me in WalMart, took one look at my shopping cart and said, "Whoa. Talk about unhealthy."

Chuh! If he only knew!

To give him credit, he did catch me on a particularly sugar-ified day. Here's a snapshot of some of the items in my cart:

3 boxes of sugar cereal
1 box ice cream sandwiches
1 quart vanilla ice cream
3 boxes of brownies
Reese's Pieces
Gummy Fruit Slices
2 pounds powdered sugar
1 big bag red licorice Nibs
1 package Oreos
1 package oatmeal cookies
1 big bag Smarties
1 box sugar cones
1 box regular ice cream cones
1 box waffle cones
1 box graham crackers
1 box M&Ms
1 package cream filled wafer cookies (the strawberry, chocolate, vanilla kind)
1 bag green apples (not candy)
1 bag green grapes (not candy)
I love the name of the source of this pic: Snack Overload. What else!?

Possibly some other things. I forgot the jelly beans, and WalMart didn't have any spearmint leaf gummy candies. I had to get them at Walgreen's later. And where are the licorice ropes these days?

Was that kid out of line? I keep going over it in my head. How should I have responded? I'm not sure.

Anyway, I wrote a children's book. Well, I rewrote one. I'd written it a few years ago and sent it to a publisher. I got a really nice rejection letter, saying they weren't publishing children's books. One rejection must have been all I could take at the time because I put it away until now.

But last week I dusted it off, gave it a new sheen and am ready to think about shopping it around again. I read it to my daughter's school class today, and they seemed to like it.

Maybe that's because I bribed them with White Chocolate Popcorn first.

I can't really think of a tie between the giant shopping cart full of candy and the new children's book thing. Maybe enough overthinking is enough.

Oh, I guess I'll justify myself here. I bought my daughter a book for her birthday:
No Bake Gingerbread Houses for Kids

It's a perfect food/craft/kid-fun blend. I HAD to get her the ingredients to make the fun, right? I can't wait.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Dangers of Leaving a Project (and BottleCap Candy)

So, I have this fun little writing project I started about three months ago. I love the concept. I love the main character. I think this is a great book. Er, going to be a great book.

One big problem: I had to take a break from it to finish my other novel.

Now, I am trying to go back to the fun new thing and I've lost the energy in it. I can't get the characters talking to me anymore, and I was a "pantser" not an outliner (someone who writes by the seat of her pants instead of with a definite plan) and I can't get back on track.

Bummer. Super bummer.

Maybe I'm just having an "off-writing" day because I spent three hours trying to do all the paper filing that I have let languish for almost TWO YEARS, piling up in boxes in my closet. Ew. That pile-up was also due to finishing my last manuscript.

I remember reading somewhere that while J.K. Rowling wrote her series, she didn't do housework once. She has a lot to show for that now. Like, a castle, right? Didn't she buy a castle? Good for her. Writers should get to buy castles, too. Not just movie stars and sporty guys. Writers need large libraries. Who deserves or could appreciate a large library room more?

Anyhow, it might look like I took a vow to never do housework around here, but I think it was mostly the giant filing box that got away from me. And maybe some soap scum buildup in the shower.

This rambling is why I need an outline. Some people can be pantsers. I think I'd better not risk it.

The other day I bought new running shoes since I'm turning into a runner, accidentally. And the very first morning I wore my new New Balances, boom. I'm going through a neighborhood under construction and I get a rusty nail up in my shoe. Good thing I got a pair with a lot of cushion in the heel, or I'd be heading into the doc to get a tetanus shot.

It made me think about Bottle Cap candy. Willy Wonka makes it. Why? I'm not really sure why candy that resembles metal litter would be appealing to children. Yes, it comes in cola and orange and cherry flavors--all our favorite sodas--(I'm strategically leaving out root beer). But, why?

I don't really get it.

But it doesn't stop me from eating them if they're sitting there. I'd probably even still eat it if it had been lodged in the tread of my shoe. Candy junkie of junky candy.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Gummies (and What to Ask an Agent)

Aren't gummies the best? It must have all started with Gummy Bears. I remember back in the day at West Side Junior High School when the little store across the street in Dayton had treats we could leave campus and go buy at lunch, if we pooled our money Jamie and I could sometimes afford a bag of the Haribo Gummy Bears from Germany. The only better thing that came out of Germany was Toblerone, and that might have been from Switzerland.

The fact that we were taking German at the time from the wonderful Mrs. Durrant made the Haribo Gummy Bears even more perfect. How could two girls from a tiny village in Idaho have been more cosmopolitan?

Thank you, Haribo.

When I did finally go to Germany about 7 years later, you'd better believe I found myself some Haribo Gummy Bears.

Now they sell them at WalMart, here in my new small town not in Idaho.

They still make me feel so cosmopolitan. So chic. So traveled.
Kids and Grown-Ups Love it So

As do the gummy Vitamin D (raspberry shape) "pills" I take. A spoonful of gummy helps the medicine go down. My doctor mentioned he takes 14000 milligrams at a time of Vitamin D. I don't know if it was an off-hand comment, but I suspect he likes gummies.

So do I.

In the meantime, I'm thinking about getting WAY outside my comfort zone and shopping my MS to an agent. Sometime soon. It will be like letting a cat out of the bag. Once it's out, you can't put it back in. I like the story, and I think everyone in the world will want to read it, and for sure it's going to become a summer Hollywood blockbuster, so I probably might as well get going on it; but it's not exciting to have to venture into the unknown. Well, I guess it's exciting, but not always in a good way.

In my online digging, I came across an excellent post VERY USEFUL FOR ANYONE WHO IS THINKING ABOUT SEEKING REPRESENTATION. It's from literary agent Rachelle Gardner, and she posts about QUESTIONS TO ASK AN AGENT before you sign any contract.

I think I'm going to print this out and keep it by my phone for when (not if) I get "the call."

Sometime I'll blog about the time I got "the call" for my screenplay. Possibly not my most graceful 15 minutes. Dorkarella.

In the meantime, I'll be researching about whether it's possible to overdose on Vitamin D. And doing a little cuisine travel to Deutchland.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Maker of the Treats!

The other night I took my PYRAMID of RICE KRISPIES TReATS to the Scout Court of Honor, and one of the boys said, "Wow, Sister Griffith. Are you the Maker of the Treats?"

Why, yes. Yes, I am. In fact, I'd really like a t-shirt that says this.

I'm still plugging away at my edits. Just a couple dozen pages to go! I can almost smell the cake I'm going to make for myself when I'm done. Mmm. Chocolate. The recipe from the side of the Hershey's Cocoa can, with the frosting recipe from it, too. (That delicious frosting has officially turned me into a Frosting Snob. I can never again appreciate a canned frosting.)

The Cake of My Editing Accomplishment Dreams

Of course, naturally I'll only be eating ONE BITE of this delicious cake, since I'm not eating sugar anymore. Well, not very much sugar, anyhow.

When I was 19 I worked in the Pepperidge Farm Cookie Factory for a summer. Perhaps I've mentioned this before. Well, the point of it was to earn money to spend on a trip to Europe with my roommates. I spent a lot of my time there looking like Lucille Ball in the candy factory, and probably cost the company more money than I made for them. It was a bit of a disaster. However, my sweet Dad put a poster on my wall: "As you work, think 'Eur-ope, Eur-ope, Eur-ope, Yurrr-up!'" It really helped.

Then the trip was the incentive for the cookie work. Now, the cake is the incentive for the writing work.

I work well with incentives.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

My Life Has Shifted--and Pumpkin Cookies

Autumn is in the air. Well, sort of. My gauge still read 109* when I got in the car yesterday, so it's certainly not the autumn chill yet.


And that means autumn schedule. And that means a chance to write!

Can I express even an iota of how exciting that is?

It gets even better. The 3yo qualified for preschool (read: potty trained herself) and gets to go have fun a couple of mornings a week with Ms. K. Very exciting for her--and for me!

A lot can happen in three hours. Seriously. This morning during that kid-free block, I actually finished the hard-copy edit of my book. Yeah! I've been laboring at it for a month, taking bits and chunks at a time. Today my method was edit 5 pages, do one batch of laundry; edit 5 more pages, clean the play room; edit 5 pages, get a pan of pumpkin cookies going for the pack meeting refreshments.

PUMPKIN COOKIES! What says autumn more than the spicy smell of pumpkin cookies baking in your house (even if it's now over 80* in here because the oven's been on for 2 1/2 hours)?

The only downside is we picked this week to get our first puppy ever. A dog. An indoor dog. She's cute--darling, actually--but, didn't we have a prenuptial agreement about this? I've got to dig that thing out. Just 48 hours before I got my first real taste of freedom in almost 14 years, dog. But the kids begged.

It's just more evidence that my kids are turning me into a better person than I ever had any interest in being.

Anyhow, I'd better get back to turning these paper edits into digital info in my Word document. Then maybe I'll stop getting up to taste the pumpkin cookies.

Not My Pumpkin Cookies, but Really Close!

1 box Spice flavor cake mix
1 14.5 oz can pumpkin
1 bag mini chocolate chips

Combine all three ingredients. Drop onto cookie sheets. Bake 325* for 30 minutes.

(Oh, but note: the ones on the dark pan burned a bit on the bottom. I'm only sampling those. I promise.)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

WriteOnCon! Free Writers Conference Today! + a Pepperidge Farm Surprise

This week (Tues-Thurs) there's a free writing conference online. I spent yesterday eating waaay too many goldfish crackers and reading forums and watching vlogs by editors and agents and top authors.

It's been really helpful and inspiring. One class featured advice on great first lines of novels. (Thank you xxx. I'm going now to tweak my first line.) Another was a vlog (video log) by Beth Revis, the NYT Bestselling author of Across the Universe, about failure and success.

The forum with agent Sara Megibow was filled with great advice on how to build a platform. (What's that? It's basically an online presence.) She gave her opinions on the best way to go about that, and how not to be afraid of jumping in.

There was a very touching presentation by author Alan Silberberg about drawing from memory, and how he was able to mine his own emotions and past to create a middle grade comic strip type book, Milo: Sticky Notes & Brain Freeze, with a lot of heart and depth. Loved that.
Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze
It's primarily geared toward authors and aspiring authors who write Young Adult or Middle Grade novels or to those who write or illustrate picture books. However, I have found it useful in dozens of ways so far. Those who write for an adult audience won't be sorry they checked it out.

One of the coolest features of WriteOnCon is the option to put your query up for critique. Any participant can give you feedback, and hundreds of queries will get feedback from agents, editors, and other professionals. Shoooooweeee that's cool.

The organizers really did a spectacular job lining up true professionals and talent. If you haven't already logged onto it, you can still go over there and access all the information.

Did I mention the best part? It's FREE. Yup. Totally free. You can donate if you like, but there's no obligation.

So, how many goldfish crackers did I down during said sessions? Let's just say, I had the BIG CARTON nearby. Last month I stopped by the Pepperidge Farm Cookie Factory (a place I was fortunate to have a summer job during college. Mmmm.) They have a thrift/seconds store, and I got myself quite an array of Pepperidge Farm finery. White chocolate chunks? Yessiree. Mint Milanos? Who can resist those?

The best surprise was the goldfish, though. Now not only do they come in orange and parmesan and rainbow flavor, those little fishies have a brown cousin:


It's like goldfish and choco teddy grahams had a love child.

I love them.

And you'll love WriteOnCon. Don't delay! Check it out NOW!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Kool Aid on the Floor and Crayons in the Dryer--Emotions to Draw From

It's messy work, being a mom. This afternoon I was in the throes of discovering a melted green crayon in the dryer had speckled and streaked and ruined an entire batch of whites when the 8yo and the 6yo entered the laundry room baring gifts of red-soaked dishtowels.

"What's that?"

"She dumped it. We told her not to."

Red Kool-Aid. All over the newly mopped kitchen floor. Thanks, 3yo chica. Making my day, here.

At least they were trying to remedy the situation. I do have pretty darn good kids.

But life does get in the way of writing a lot of the time. My goal was to edit another 20 pages today. I'm doing the hard stuff, cutting from 95,000 words down to 85,000. Whole paragraphs and scenes are getting the ax. It's painful.

Yeah, it's painful enough to see my words, my creation circling the drain--I didn't need destruction swirling around me too.

Then again, it's these moments that give me experience to draw from. One of the things we have to do as writers is to imbue our characters with strong emotions (frustration and despair included.) And even though I hope I never write a story about a haggard mom slogging her way through the drudgery of housework, I can tap these experiences, notice how I feel and put it into words. Then I can transpose these feelings (no matter what source they come from) onto my characters and into their situations.

So, it's not all a loss. Not entirely.

I guess.

Red Kool Aid is my nemesis. (Even though it tastes fabulous. Especially Tropical Punch.)

Click Here for How to Get Red Kool Aid Out of Carpet

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Terrible Secret (and the hidden candy)

The other night at my writers group, it was my turn to give the lesson. We have a short 5-7 minute writing lesson at the beginning of our meetings, before we share for critique. I pulled out a book I bought a while back, Conflict, Action and Suspense by William Noble. It's part of a really great series called "Elements of Writing," published by the good folks over at Writers Digest. I've read several of the other entries in this series, by such authors as Orson Scott Card and Jack Bickham.

The great tip from Mr. Noble was on adding suspense to the novel by giving a character what he called "The Terrible Secret." He asked a class full of writing students whether they had a secret they'd never, ever divulged to anyone. Almost everyone raised a hand. He asked who wanted to write about it. All the hands went down. "Good," he said. "Then you have a secret you want to protect." That helps you know how a character would feel (and how far a character might go) to prevent the secret from becoming known.

Two things happen with a secret (and it must be TERRIBLE. It can't be a quest-related secret. It has to be something AWFUL.) If it is divulged at the beginning of a story, it will set things in motion, and the whole story can evolve due to the letting out of the secret. If the secret is kept, the suspense is higher and the threat of what will happen if the secret is made known will keep things taut. Your story can be about the great lengths a character will go to in order to keep the secret under wraps.

I'd read this before, but not at the beginning of a "plotting time" like I am now with my new story. I have a woman in my story I haven't gotten a great bead on yet, but I LOVE the idea of giving her a terrible secret she will almost do anything to keep. It adds dimension to her character, and it will give the story a lot better conflict.

And we LOVE conflict! Conflict makes the story happen!

So, I'm in conflict with myself, as well. I still LOVE sugar, but I have to think of ways that seem less like baked goods and candy to get it. And the cold cereal thing is making me feel guilty, too. latest way of getting a sugar fix cereal!

I love hot cereal. So much. Beyond expression. I eat cracked wheat to make a 1950s housewife proud. But for a candy fix, I'm talking about the candy version of hot cereal: the kind in the packets, already sweetened with fruit and spices. That stuff is fantastic! There's maple, brown sugar, a version called cinnamon roll (!), another with peaches, one with strawberries. All just candy disguised as oaty goodness!

Apple cinnamon is my favorite. I just buy the WalMart brand, and it's fantastic, probably filled with LOADS of sugar, but I've decided to be in denial about it, and I'm refusing to read the label. I'll let pre-packaged oatmeal keep it's own Terrible Sugar Secret.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Captain America (Dialogue Tension) and Hot Tamales

We went to see Captain America last night. I know, Tuesday night date night--awesome! While I was on my roadtrip, we got behind on movies and had to get back on track with the summer blockbusters.

I loved Captain America. For one thing, it was great to see a superhero that wasn't flawed. He was chosen to become super for his integrity and values, and he remained true to them in courage to the end. It was refreshing after years of anti-heroes.

I love going to the movies for a lot of reasons. One is the popcorn. So salty, so fabulous. My friend Tina told me (possibly it was a comment on this blog!) that popcorn mixed with Hot Tamales candy is fantastic. I can't imagine she's wrong. I bet it's great. Cinnamon, sugar, salt, butter, heat. Yeah!
Are there too many references to hot things in this blog?

Which reminds me, the guy who played Captain America also played the Human Torch in Fantastic Four a few years ago. (Not my favorite film. All they did was stand around and complain they had super powers. Come on!)

As I was listening to the movie's dialogue, I noticed some great things about it. One, no phrase was wasted. Every single line served to reveal character of the speaker. It either explained some kind of background, some values he/she held, or some dream he/she had. Well done, screenwriters!

Another thing it did well was convey tension. Each line had conflict. Every sentence challenged another character's feelings or beliefs or ego. The romantic lines were especially good--no mushiness, all tension and strength.

I know, I know--a show like that shouldn't be a primer for how to do dialogue. We should refer to Woody Allen's older works or something. But this was good stuff, and I'm excited to get back to editing this morning and take a lesson from Captain America.

I think we all could.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Reading Aloud and Raspberry Freezer Jam

I got a nice review on Goodreads this morning. Made my day!

I'm doing a new kind of editing. Well, new to me. I've been on a road trip, as the only driver, and I've had my teenage son read me my draft as we motor along the highways of America. I need to cut about 40 pages (yipes!) to get the draft down to a reasonable length (85,000 words, from what I can tell from research and asking around--that's in the good length zone).

It's working really well. It's very different to read and just listen, and not have the words in front of me. (Instead I am dodging roadkill and triple-trailer semi trucks.) But as he reads I can hear different things that don't sound right, find redundancies, spot boring and wordy places, and passages that are convoluted become painfully obvious.

Every time I've edited in the past I've had a hard copy or at least a computer screen copy in front of me, and I've almost always been the one doing the reading aloud when read-alouds were on the menu of the session. This is a totally different experience, and I have to say it's really valuable.

Isn't my kid a great sport? Yes, he IS! (Plus, to my great delight he's been begging to read the draft and is enjoying it.) Oh, and he made me take out a word he hated. That's good.

My candy of choice this week isn't candy per-se. It's raspberries. As we drove into one of the mountain valleys, we came across a roadside stand (see previous entry). A teenage girl was selling flats of raspberries for $34. I know, it's a pricey habit, but they are pure gold. Especially when I turned them into jam. The recipe called for 3 cups of mashed fruit and 5 1/2 cups of sugar. Am I keeping to my no-sugar resolve? Not so well. But I tell myself that it's fruit so it doesn't count. And it's seriously the best thing in the world. I adore homemade raspberry freezer jam. It only takes about 20 minutes to make a huge five-and-a-half-cups-of-sugar batch and it will make me happy for weeks to come!

These aren't my jars or my recipe, but mine looks just like this!


Monday, July 18, 2011

Cracking a Code -- and White Chocolate Popcorn (recipe!)

Sometimes I come across information that works almost like a Rosetta Stone. It opens things up to understanding the way things work in writing and helps me look at almost every piece of writing with new eyes. The book The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes is one of those things. *(ooh, baby. i just saw it's available on Kindle.)

The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines

At the writers retreat last week I was lucky to get asked to present one of the workshops. My friend Colleen had introduced me to this super useful book a couple of years ago, and I decided it was the thing to share with the women in the pines. She stumbled across it mis-shelved in Bookmans, as thought it were meant for her and only her to find. (Cue mysterious music here.)

The three authors of this book have analyzed and boiled down millennia of literary works. They categorized eight types of heroes and eight types of heroines based on classic and modern literature. Their contention is that all truly memorable heroes/heroines are classifiable into one (or two, if they are layered types) of these archetypes.

When I first picked up the book, I found myself resisting the idea. I thought, I'm not going to use this--I want to create *unique* characters, not stereotypes. HOWEVER, reading on, I realized stereotypes and archetypes are not the same thing. Archetypes have more to do with general personalities, backgrounds that shape their views, and what motivates the heroes in a similar category. Their example (one of them) was that both Captain James T. Kirk of Star Trek and Professor Henry Higgins of My Fair Lady were both the CHIEF archetype. They both made quick, decisive choices, were used to being right and being obeyed, etc. However, if Henry Higgins sat at the helm of the U.S.S. Enterprise, what a different show it would have been.

So archetype does not equal stereotype.

Another aspect of this is that a character can be a CORE archetype (same all the way through the story, like Superman is always the WARRIOR; he doesn't change), or he can be a LAYERED archetype (like Rhett Butler is both the CHIEF and the BAD BOY), or he can be EVOLVING, like my character Buck the sumo wrestler who goes from being the walked-on BEST FRIEND to the WARRIOR who fights for the girl and won't let evil go unpunished.

When I shared the sixteen archetypes with the women, at the end of each explanation, they were able to identify and shout out examples from film and literature (and a few from family and church members they knew, haha) with ease. They're all around. And I think these ladies who wrote it are onto something really useful. The book also includes how different archetypes interact, how the clash/mesh/change when thrown together.

Another friend up there, Donna Hatch, said she uses the Enneagram to help her nail down personality types for her writing, and I can see that being useful as well. But she said she liked this because it takes the hero at that particular moment in time, including his background and what got him to this point--not just the set of personality traits he was born with.

Here's one of the motivational posters my friend Melinda Sanchez came up with and placed around the cabin at the retreat. The theme was "Gone With the Pen," and the ANWA board presented a fun skit using Miss Scarlett (SEDUCTRESS)and Ashley Wilkes (LOST SOUL, I think?) and Miss Melanie (NURTURER) and all the good (archetypical) characters from Gone With the Wind.

And now, back to the snack table. My contribution was this thing my sister brought me when we went to D.C. together a year or two ago. Her neighbor made it. At first I couldn't tell what it was that made it so fantastic, but it's SUPER simple. Now my daughter's teachers request it on the day it's my turn to send the snack. I have to make an extra bag just for them.

4 bags microwave popcorn
4 cubes Almond Bark (or the white Candy-Quick)

Pop popcorn. Pour into large bowl. Melt white chocolate. Drizzle over popcorn and stir. Cool.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Value of a Writers Group--& Fueling Her Mind With Sugar

            I just got back from a fantastic ANWA writers retreat. We stayed in a cabin (with electricity and Internet service!) for three days and ate and laughed and had workshops and wrote. One of the women there completed the first draft of her novel. I got a phenomenal amount of work done on what I’m writing right now, and I really appreciate the women who worked so hard to organize the event. It was, simply, great.

            I’m finding there’s real value in belonging to a writers group. When I began writing novels, I didn’t have anyone to bounce ideas off (besides my dear husband), or to read sections I’d labored over, or to ask questions about the business. It was like going through a tunnel with nothing but the LED of a cell phone to light a few steps.

            Then my publisher recommended I join this group. I’d heard of it, even been invited once before, but I didn’t think I had time. My children were small, and they were demanding. I wanted all my hobby time to be devoted to actual writing, not a meeting—but when he told me I should, I did.

            And it’s been super.

            Now, when I get stuck, I have a sisterhood to turn to. (We’re all LDS women.) I don’t have to corral strangers into listening to passages of my work. I remember one afternoon I bugged my across the street neighbor and asked her to come over and listen to my novel for two or three hours. Bless her heart, she did. Thank goodness, after joining ANWA, I can stop that madness. And keep some of my friends!

           Instead, I have like-minded people who are willing to share that burden. In return I’m happy to help critique others’ writing. It’s been very instructive to see others’ writing process, and I’ve been able to glean much insight from their beautiful words—and their friendship. I'm not muddling through in the dark anymore. Other with more experience hold up their lights for me and help me move forward. Now it's like about TWO HUNDRED and FIFTY little cell phone LED lights going through that same tunnel all at once!

            The retreat was divine. Besides camaraderie, we also shared FOOD—I’m talking, snack table from heaven. There were homemade chocolate chip cookies, cream-filled black licorice, M&Ms, chocolate covered popcorn (my addition), Red Vines, peanuts, some amazing Gorgonzola cheese crackers, lemon cookies drizzled with chocolate, candy bars, more candy bars, and more candy bars.

            I think candy fuels the writer’s mind. Am I wrong?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Characterization (and 600 Otter Pops and counting)

I've been studying up on how to improve characterization in novels. In a book by Dwight Swain (a much loved writing teacher), I found a really great tip.
Creating Characters: How to Build Story People
He said that if you want your character to come to life you need to imbue him/her with emotion, emotion strong enough to be felt by the reader. I'm not great at this--I tend to keep things in the character's head, rather than letting feelings get visceral--so I got excited when he suggested a way to do this. Here's what he said:

Mine your memory banks to a time when you felt an emotion similar to the one your character is feeling. It doesn't have to be the same circumstance, of course, just the same emotion: lust, greed, hatred, fear, humiliation, joy.

Just remember a time when you felt that emotion. Get down into it, relive it in your mind. His example was to think of a time when you were mad enough at someone you wanted to kill them. Once you're back there mentally, pull out your pen and write down all the feelings you have--the gut feelings, the setting of the jaw, the sweating of the palms, the qivering of the knee, the twitching of the eye, raised pulse, rapid breathing throught the nose--all of it. Get it down on paper.

Then you can use the description of that emotion and apply it to the character and situation you're writing about.

I took what he said and made a list of emotional powerhouse moments in my life, and then examined what categories of emotion they fell under (geez, there were quite a larrrrrrge number of moments that fit under the heading "embarrassment." I wonder why.) Then I started writing them out, putting those moments onto paper. It was interesting (and a little awful) to relive them, but now I've got this great database to turn to for future reference.

I'm hoping it will improve my writing, and help the reader to connect better with the characters I'm trying to express in my work.

Meanwhile, the main feeling I have this week is HEAT. It was 121 degrees in my car when I got into it this afternoon, after I burned my little fingers on the door handle. This is why we just finished our SIXTH box of (100 count) Otter Pops of the summer. Mind you, we're only four weeks in. I can see another 10-12 boxes in our future if we're going to survive.

But come on, how bad can an Otter Pop be? They're only 25 calories. They're fruity (and the ones from Costco even have real fruit juice in them) and they refresh, and they're most of all COLD. In this heat, we need it. The whole state is on fire, why not have an Otter Pop to fight back?

I left on an errand the other day and the kids asked, "How many Otter Pops can we have?" I actually heard myself answer, "Only ten."

Little Orphan Orange, Alexander the Grape, Louie Blue Raspberry, Sir Isaac Lime, Strawberry Short Kook, Poncho Punch.

Ahhhhh. I'll have five of each.