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?