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.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Front Page Article! And Candy I Don't Like

Sooooo. I write a column, book reviews, from time to time for our local paper. It's fun, and the editor is a good friend, and there's no pressure. She just lets me write whatever, whenever. About four or five columns a year, mostly YA books. That kind of thing.

Well, I submitted my article and review of Wes Hargis's interview for the Yankovic illustration job, and she liked it. A lot. Enough to slap it on the front page of the Sunday paper.

I know, I know. It's a small time paper, but it's the only one for miles around, and hey. I'm glad for Wes. I hope it makes a hundred people go pick up copies of his book.

Just kind of a cool thing. I mean, how often does a book review columnist get a front page slot? Feeling groovy. This calls for another handful of Wheat Thins. (Boo. I miss candy.) My cousin Lisa posted on Facebook the following: "I bought the kind of 'candy I don't like' to fill up my candy dishes around the house so I wouldn't eat them. Then I found out there was no such thing." Amen, sister.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Vicious Cycle of Shopping and Editing

            I’ve been substituting one compulsive behavior for another. Now, instead of candy I’m shopping online. Not buying, unfortunately, because that much shopping is just NOT in the budget, but browsing. And browsing online is fun. Very fun.
            The world is at my fingertips. I can shop for expensive chandeliers and cheap vinyl toilet seat covers and bounce house castles and rocket fuel (been there, done that) all from the convenience of my lounge chair.

            Last week it was swimsuits. It’s so much less demoralizing to shop for swimwear when they’re only visible on strangers who have flawless, retouched skin and bodies. In fact, it makes swim shopping fun. And I found a place that has a guarantee even if I wear the thing and decide it makes my arms look wonky. Yes! It’s painless.

            Of course online shopping does tend to make me want to buy things. When I was loading up my pretend shopping cart full of Target merchandise I probably won’t buy (leaving my hopes up high), it dawned on me: the reason I was shopping was to avoid editing. BUT, the reason I was editing was so I could eventually have a little more spare change so I CAN shop. Ultimately, I guess I want to sell my latest piece of novelized cotton candy, and if I do, it would help me get from filling the shopping cart to actually getting to the checkout.

            Duh. Well, at least that motivated me to get back to work. With that realization I moved forward and rewrote a whole problem chapter and got a new chapter-to-fix-a-plot-hole started.

            Whatever it takes.

            My sister in law is making an English trifle tonight for our multi-family culture night. It will have orange and raspberries. Dang. I think I’ll eat just one bite. Maybe two. I do love a good trifle. She had a deep insight: lots of English food seems to be soft and squishy and mushed together. Trifles, puddings, etc. They do eat an awful lot of puddings. Fine by me. I love a good bread pudding. Mm. With vanilla cream sauce. Squish that!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

And the Winner Is...

A hearty congratulations to Crystal Dotson of West Virginia!

She has won a copy of my book Delicious Conversation for her correct answer in the 3rd Annual Summer Treasure Hunt--Dig for Clues and Win contest.

The book has been mailed and is on its way to her house as we speak.

There are lots more prizes throughout the rest of the month, so be sure to check out the link above and enter and win!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Weird Al Yankovic Illustrator, Wes Hargis Interview (Yes Way)

I suddenly feel super duper cool by association. Why? Because this week I lucked out and got to interview a local cartoonist, Wes Hargis, who happens to be the illustrator of "Weird" Al Yankovic's first book for children.

Yes, that Weird Al. Seriously! The Saga Begins! I'm Fat! All the great songs! And now a children's book. I picked it up at the local copy shop where Hargis had copies for sale. Cool, I thought. I like Weird Al, and what a lark that a guy from my po-dunk (nobody get hurt feelings. You have to admit anywhere that's more than 2 hours from the nearest airport is po-dunk.) town has brushed greatness.

He's done more than brush it. He's illustrated it. Probably with colored pencil is what it looks like. And it's great stuff!

So, I asked Wes (can I call you Wes?) to tell me about the book (though I've read it to my kids more than a dozen times. They love it.)

JG: Tell me about the book.

WH: "It's basically about Billy, a highly enthusiastic kid who can't wait for show and tell so he can tell the class about all the things he's been thinking about for his future career. He high-jacks the class. He's going to get everything off his chest that he wants to say, regardless of how much it annoys his teacher, Mrs. Krupp, the other main character."

JG: What was the process like?

WH: There was a long process to get the relationship right between Billy and Mrs. Krupp. There were a lot of different incarnations of Mrs. Krupp. It took a while to get where we finally landed, which was modeling her after Aunt Bea from "The Andy Griffith Show." It took several months to figure out how Billy was going to look. Initially he was a bit goofier, with big eyes and goofy teeth. He had to be crazy but not too crazy. Mrs. Krupp had to be warm, but still show a little bit of frustration.

JG: What was it like to work with Al Yankovic? Or did you actually get to work with him. I hear sometimes there is very little interaction between the author and the illustrator.

WH: Right. Usually once the author's work is handed off and fine-tuned, it's up to the editors and the illustrator at that point. I had the option to work with the author, but I didn't. I had the benefit of looking at the text before knowing who the author was. I, like a lot of people in my age group, love this guy. They wanted me to take a look at it from my perspective. I just loved it. You can't look at this text without thinking as an illustrator how you'd juggle it. Things like Twinkies Au Gratin and Toast on a Stick, I tried to include them all. There was so much funny stuff in there, I couldn't get them all.

JG: Did you meet him? Publicity tours, etc.?

WH: Just once. We exchanged a few emails, but he's so down to earth. He has a daughter. The emails were all just family chit chat.  That's one thing the people at Harper Collins were amazed about. He was so down to earth and mellow. Not at all what you'd expect from a world phenomenon.

A lot of people ask me what it's like to work on a celebrity book, but this isn't your average celebrity book. Al is first and foremost a writer. His parody song lyrics are so tight. This is a book by a talented writer who happens to be doing his first children's book.

He did a concert in Phoenix, where we met him for the first time. It's said you can take someone of any age to one of his concerts. He has the most amazing fans they're so devoted to him. There's this story about him I heard a long time ago. He was offered a lot of money many years ago to do a beer commercial. He turned it down because he worried about how that might effect some of his younger fans.

He lets people feel comfortable with that nerdy part of yourself. Now our culture has moved in a direction where nerds are cool. Al is the world's most renowned nerd. Someone like me who was a little nerdy from the get-go can feel good about it.

JG: What was tough about the project?

WH: It was my first time drawing children. Primarily I'm a cartoonist for Wick newspapers. This was new, drawing Billy, plus a whole cafeteria full of children's faces, and keeping track of them all. That was a challenge.

JG: Are there any "real" people in your illustrations?
WH: My two boys pop in and out of some of the characters, especially Billy. Oh, and my brother is the basketball player with the stinky armpit. His number was 34, just like the illustration. He was, and still is, a great ball player.

JG: Is this your first children's book?

WH: I did a book called Jackson and Bud's Bumpy Ride. It was a really good experience for me. It's a story about a guy, Horatio Jackson, who took a car across the U.S. in the early 1900s on a $50 bet. There was a PBS special on it. It's a cool story. I'm not a particularly accurate illustrator, so they took a risk choosing me, someone more of a cartoony artist. It was a great way to learn and get ready for some other projects.

JG: What do you think it is that makes this book click?

WH: Al's magic. There's this really sweet moment where Billy starts telling Mrs. Krupp about his grandfather. Then there's a page where Billy is sitting on his grandfather's lap, and he becomes more than just this funny kid, and turns into a kid we can really sympathize with. It's a sweet moment when Billy gives Mrs. Krupp a picture. Al accomplishes this transition so gracefully. It's the magic.

JG: What's up next?

WH: I have a project in the works for another children's book. I'll still keep my cartooning job to pay the light bill between illustrating projects. I draw for papers in Las Vegas and Tucson. I love doing that.

JG: Thanks a bunch for talking with me! I've never actually visited with an illustrator before. It's the great unknown to me.

Seriously, folks. I ask you. How cool is that? Now run out and get yourself a copy of this fun book! Your kids will really enjoy it!

And to finish with candy, I must say, there's a cherry pie sitting in my kitchen waiting to be eaten. Or et, as the book I just finished reading would say (a Zane Grey.) I can't stop thinking about what Twinkies au gratin must taste like. How fantastic could that be? Cheese and sugar go surprisingly well together. Cannolis, anyone?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Summer Treasure Hunt--Giveaway!

Hey! I'm so excited to be a part of the 3rd Annual Summer Treasure Hunt: Dig for Clues and Win! There is a prize to WIN every single day in the month of June. My day is TOMORROW, and a lucky reader/player can win a copy of my most recent book, Delicious Conversation, mailed directly to his or her mailbox (within the U.S.). Cool, right? Plus there are a lot of other neato prizes, books, iPod covers, cool stuff. The authoress organizing the event is a friend of mine, Joyce DiPastena, a fine writer and a lovely person.

Here's a link to her blog with all the rules and stuff. I hope everyone will play and blog hop and WIN. And any of you newbies to my blog, please feel free to follow and to comment and stuff. I always feel validated and special and stuff when I get new followers and nice comments. Mean comments, well, I probably don't need a lot of those.

Meanwhile, I'm still not eating sugar, but I am chewing gum. A LOT of gum. I bought a zillion pieces of sugar free Extra Dessert Delights Key Lime Pie. It's so much like candy I hardly notice I'm off sugar.
Extra Dessert Delights Sugarfree Gum Key Lime Pie Flavored Gum Ten 15 Stick , 10 Pack
Guilty admission: cold cereal is getting too much of a free pass in this time of Lentish denial. I think I ate half a bag of Malt-O-Meal Blueberry Frosted Mini-Spooners (the knock-off of Mini-Wheats) yesterday. That's a lot of spun wheat, I tell you. But that blueberry flavored frosting on top of each wheaty bite was so yummy. I had to force myself to resist today. Maybe the kids will eat the rest of the bag at breakfast tomorrow and my temptation will have passed.

Now, where's my green gum?