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Posts tagged ‘fiction’

NaNoWriMo 2014 Word Tracking Spreadsheets and Tools

I found these NaNoWriMo word tracking spreadsheets design by Svenja Gosen.

NaNoWriMo Tracking Spreadsheets

Scroll down in the post, and you will see four options you can download in Excel format.  I’ll be using the Steampunk theme this year.  I like these because they are actually word tracking files for the entire year. After NaNoWriMo is over, you can keep tracking your progress for the remainder of the year.

Here is a great roundup by Tracy Lucas of writing meters you can use on your website for NaNoWriMo or any writing goal:

Free Writing Meters

I’m creating my word tracking desktop calendar for this year and will post it as soon as it’s finished. Happy writing!

Prepping for NaNoWriMo 2014

A lot has happened since I started this blog back in 2011.  It was just about this time of year, and it was this post (Prepping for NaNoWriMo 2011) that launched it all. It seems that every 2-3 years is the magic number for me because I’m gearing up for a third NaNoWriMo this year.

Let me catch you up on my writing life before and after NaNo 2011. I “won” NaNoWriMo in 2009 with 51,000+ words and promptly threw the virtual manuscript in a virtual drawer.  Then in 2011, I tried again with a historical fiction novel.  I still love that novel’s concept, but it was a slog to make it to 8,589 words that year. Needless to say, the novel was abandoned and lies like Frankenstein hoping one day to be shocked back to life. In 2013, I began reworking the 2009 NaNo project–this time with first-person narration. Let’s call this project, Project A. The new point of view really worked for me, and I pitched the first page at a writers’ conference page reading session.  What happened?  The agent was enthusiastic about my writing and asked for 50 pages at our private pitch session the next day.  She also asked about any other projects I had in the works. I pitched another idea off the top of my head. Let’s call that Project B. The agent gave me her card and asked for 50 pages of Project B, also.

Here is the problem… the hide-my-face-in-the-sand problem that I am almost too embarrassed to admit.  Although Project A was going well, prior to pitching I had only rewritten approximately 25 pages of the book.  Project B was an idea… in my head!  No words on paper, no character names. Nothing more than an idea. But I pitched it anyway.  Don’t ask for what you can’t handle.

If I’m being perfectly honest, I couldn’t handle the pressure.  What was I thinking? I came home from the conference and frantically worked to rewrite 50 pages of Project A while frantically working to create 50 pages of Project B and an entire synopsis for this book.  What happened?  I never sent either to the agent.  Chalk it up to putting the cart before the horse and a hard lesson learned. I still have the agent’s card sitting in my office as a reminder to NEVER PITCH A PROJECT THAT ISN’T FINISHED.

There it is–my dirty little secret I’ve been stewing about for quite some time.  Meanwhile, fiction writing went on hold (yet again) as I took on even more writing projects for work, and I took on even more volunteer opportunities at my boys’ school. I did have one more foray into the fiction world in the fall of 2013. After the impromptu pitch, Project B, although it wasn’t close to finished, took flight in my head.  I wrote almost 100 pages, polished up the first 10 pages, and submitted them to a writing contest last fall.  Although I didn’t win the contest, I did have some very helpful comments back from the judges. I was pleased with the new experience (submitting to a contest) and lots of great advice from the judging responses. Another notch carved in my fiction writing bedpost.

Then out of the blue in April, I got an email from one the contest organizers. I will quote the email correspondences below because although they may not seem like much to most people, these are the emails that keep me going when I think about throwing in the fiction towel.

Email #1:

“Hello Sara,

Below is a message I wanted to pass along from one of your contest judges.”
The Message from the contest judge:

“I judged this submission, and would love to talk to the author about his or her work a little more. It’s a story that stuck with me. If he/she is open to that, can you pass on my information and have the writer email me?” [NOTE: She says his or her because the contest is blind judged so she didn’t know anything about me except the name of my manuscript.]
Am I open to that? Heck yeah! I did a little research and discovered that the judge is a published author whose name I actually knew. So, I emailed her. She was really nice and very encouraging.  Here’s a snippet of her note:

Author’s Note:

“I mostly just wanted to say that I looked for your manuscript on the winners’ list and hoped you’d place in the contest. Contests are so subjective and I know I felt crushed after a few, so I just wanted to tell you that your voice and writing were strong and that I like to think I know a little something about the biz. Is your manuscript complete? And have you started querying it? I wish you the best with it and any other writing you do! :)”

 

Let’s put this in perspective. I am fully aware that agents ask for sample pages more frequently at writers’ conferences than they do from the unsolicited slush pile.  Even though I was dancing a jig when the agent asked for pages from two projects, I know that this isn’t an uncommon occurrence.  I am also aware that nice words and compliments from one judge do not get a manuscript finished, let alone published.  (No, it’s still not finished!) HOWEVER, it’s the little things that keep you going when you are new to fiction writing.  So, these little things are what keep me going. Thus the reason that I am using NaNoWriMo 2014 as an excuse to take the plunge back into fiction. During the hiatus, the characters and stories haven’t stopped pestering me, I just did a better job of keeping them locked in my brain.  November is the time to let them out again and FINALLY FINISH A DARN BOOK.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk: Your elusive creative genius

For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, TED talks are delivered at a global set of conferences owned by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading”.  TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design.  Past presenters include Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, and Bill Gates, to name a few.

I love this talk on nurturing creativity delivered by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love in 2009.  Enjoy and happy writing with your elusive creative genius.

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Debut Novels on my list for May/June

It’s that time again.  Time for my list of top five debut novels coming out in May/June.  This month we have a diverse group of books ranging from historical fiction, to fantasy, to a cross-cultural story of immigration and displacement, and finally, a genre-bending graphic novel.  Hopefully you’ll discover something new to add to your reading list this month.  Happy reading and happy writing!

Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton Disclafani

A lush, sexy, evocative debut novel of family secrets and girls’-school rituals, set in the 1930s South.  It is 1930, the midst of the Great Depression. After her mysterious role in a family tragedy, passionate, strong-willed Thea Atwell, age fifteen, has been cast out of her Florida home, exiled to an equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes. High in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with its complex social strata ordered by money, beauty, and girls’ friendships, the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a far remove from the free-roaming, dreamlike childhood Thea shared with her twin brother on their family’s citrus farm—a world now partially shattered. As Thea grapples with her responsibility for the events of the past year that led her here, she finds herself enmeshed in a new order, one that will change her sense of what is possible for herself, her family, her country.

Weaving provocatively between home and school, the narrative powerfully unfurls the true story behind Thea’s expulsion from her family, but it isn’t long before the mystery of her past is rivaled by the question of how it will shape her future. Part scandalous love story, part heartbreaking family drama, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is an immersive, transporting page-turner—a vivid, propulsive novel about sex, love, family, money, class, home, and horses, all set against the ominous threat of the Depression—and the major debut of an important new writer.

Named a most anticipated book for Summer 2013 by The Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly

The Blood of Heaven

The Blood of Heaven by Kent Wascom

One of the most powerful and impressive debuts Grove/Atlantic has ever published, The Blood of Heaven is an epic novel about the American frontier in the early days of the nineteenth century. Its twenty-six-year-old author, Kent Wascom, was awarded the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival Prize for fiction, and this first novel shows the kind of talent rarely seen in any novelist, no matter their age.

The Blood of Heaven is the story of Angel Woolsack, a preacher’s son, who flees the hardscrabble life of his itinerant father, falls in with a charismatic highwayman, then settles with his adopted brothers on the rough frontier of West Florida, where American settlers are carving their place out of lands held by the Spaniards and the French. The novel moves from the bordellos of Natchez, where Angel meets his love Red Kate to the Mississippi River plantations, where the brutal system of slave labor is creating fantastic wealth along with terrible suffering, and finally to the back rooms of New Orleans among schemers, dreamers, and would-be revolutionaries plotting to break away from the young United States and create a new country under the leadership of the renegade founding father Aaron Burr.

The Blood of Heaven is a remarkable portrait of a young man seizing his place in a violent new world, a moving love story, and a vivid tale of ambition and political machinations that brilliantly captures the energy and wildness of a young America where anything was possible. It is a startling debut.

The Oathbreaker's Shadow

The Oathbreaker’s Shadow by Amy McCulloch

In the world of fifteen-year-old Raim, you tie a knot for every promise you make. Break that promise and the knot will burst into flames, scarring your skin and forever marking you as an oathbreaker. Raim has worn a simple knot around his wrist for as long as he can remember. No one seems to know where it came from or which promise it symbolizes, and Raim barely thinks about it at all–especially not since he became the most promising young fighter ever to train for the elite Yun guard. But on the day that he binds his life to that of his best friend (and the future king), Khareh, the rope ignites and sears a dark mark into his skin. Scarred now as an oathbreaker, Raim has two options: run or be killed. He chooses to run, taking refuge in the vast desert among a colony of exiled oathbreakers. Will he be able to learn the skills he needs to clear his name? And even if he can, how can he keep a promise he never knew he made in the first place?

We Need New Names

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

Darling is only 10 years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo’s belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad.

But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America’s famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few. NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut calls to mind the great storytellers of displacement and arrival who have come before her–from Zadie Smith to Monica Ali to J.M. Coetzee–while she tells a vivid, raw story all her own.

NewSchool

New School by Dash Shaw (Note: This is not a debut novel.  Shaw wrote Bottomless Belly Button and BodyWorld.  Just a June release that I’m excited to read.)

In Dash Shaw’s new, full-color original graphic novel, a boy goes to seek his brother on a theme-park island.

In this brand new graphic novel from the acclaimed author of Bottomless Belly Button and BodyWorld, Dash Shaw dramatizes the story of a boy moving to an exotic country and his infatuation with an unfamiliar culture that quickly shifts to disillusionment. A sense of “being different” grows to alienation, until he angrily blames this once-enchanting land for his feelings of isolation. All of this is told through the fantastical eyes of young Danny, a boy growing up in the ’90s fed on dramatic adventure stories like Jurassic Park and X-Men. Danny’s older brother, Luke, travels to a remote island to teach English to the employees of ClockWorld, an ambitious new amusement park that recreates historical events. When Luke doesn’t return after two years, Danny travels to ClockWorld to convince Luke to return to America. But Luke has made a new life, new family, and even a new personality for himself on ClockWorld, rendering him almost unrecognizable to his own brother. Danny comes of age as he explores the island, ClockWorld, and fights to bring his brother home. New School is unlike anything in the history of the comics medium: at once funny and deadly serious, easily readable while wildly artistic, personal and political, familiar and completely new. Full-color illustrations throughout

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Graze vs. Devour – What’s Your Writing Style?

Grazing

Over at Writer Unboxed, Carleen Brice wrote a post today about grazing.  Here is an excerpt:

I too am back at work full-time and find that I don’t have large blocks of time (when I’m not exhausted) to write or exercise or garden or read. However, I am figuring out I do have many small bits of time that I can use. As I written here before I lost weight over a year ago and in my efforts to keep it off, I am packing my lunch and grazing on it over a few hours rather than eating it all at once. It’s working.

I usually bus in and get off a few stops early so I can get in a 10-minute walk before work. Then I take a 10- or 20-minute walk (or yoga break) at lunch and a 10- or 20-minute walk on the way home and voila! Exercise is done.

Just this week, I started doing the same with writing. I’ve always been someone who thought I needed several hours at once to get any writing done, but now I’m finding that I can apply the same grazing philosophy (10 or 20 minutes in the morning and at lunch, etc.) and I can slowly but surely get some work done.

After reading this, I was jealous and frustrated.  In my head, I’m not a grazer.  I long for those large blocks of time during which I can delve into a project and really concentrate.  But I rarely get them, and then I find myself having produced nothing because my number one writer’s excuse is, “I don’t have time to write. I need languorous afternoons filled with undisturbed time.”  My husband is always telling me, “You are rarely going to have hours to yourself to write.  Why not use those 20 minutes here and there to work?”

There have never been truer words.  Next year, my youngest goes to first grade.  In theory, I will have seven hours every weekday while both kids are in school.  In reality, these hours will be filled with meetings, other work related tasks, errands, and life. In an effort to be prepared and hit the ground running in August, I’ve been analyzing my calendar.  It appears that dear husband is right. I will rarely have large blocks of time.

Efficiency experts tell you it’s about working smarter, not harder.  Working smarter for me means having a grasp on which tasks are grazing tasks and which tasks require devouring.  Here’s what I’ve found:

Grazing Tasks—For which I tap into my inner sheep and chomp away little by little

  • If I’m halfway through a scene and I’m loving it, (For a first draft “loving” is a relative term.  It might mean that I have one or two lines I think are decent and the action is moving in the right direction.) I can usually graze through the middle section.  I know the characters, I know the voice, I know the plan for the scene.  I can write the remainder in small chunks of 15 minutes here and 20 minutes there.
  • If I’m writing non-fiction, I can graze through the middle of a short article.  Openings and conclusions are too brain-intensive to be grazing tasks.
  • Outlining, research, planning are all grazing tasks.
  • Editing is a great grazing task.  Especially line editing for punctuation, grammar and spelling.  Word-by-word editing also fits the bill.  It’s exhausting to spend extended periods of time re-working sentence after sentence for stronger verbs and more precise description.  I usually take a few sentences for the road and mull them over while driving or exercising.

Devouring TasksFor which I tap into my inner wolf and sit down to devour a full carcass at once

  • Beginnings and endings.  Whether it is the beginning of an entire novel, the first sentence of a new scene or the opening paragraph of an article, openings and closings require more dedicated brain power. I find that I often have to ramble my way into an opening.  The first 3-4 paragraphs of new work (fiction or non-fiction) are usually thick and muddled (and end up in the outtakes file) but serve as a bridge to get me to the “true” opening.
  • Action scenes.  Drafting an action scene requires undivided attention for me.  I’m a wordy writer and an even wordier drafter.  Skimming the fat to produce a tight action scene is challenging for me.  For this reason, these scenes need devouring time – no grazing allowed.
  • Fleshing out a scene which stems from one great line.  I often have lines (particularly of dialogue) and images that come to me at inopportune times.  Doing dishes is a prime time for this.  I jot them in my notebook, transfer them to my “Must Have Lines” page in Microsoft OneNote, and let them simmer.  These lines are usually something around which I can build a scene.  But then I get performance anxiety.  I love the line or the dialogue exchange.  I don’t want to write a crappy scene that doesn’t do justice to the dishwashing gem.  This is when I need long blocks of time to dig and devour the scene instead of grazing through filler.

I will still always dream of a cabin in the woods with an endless supply of coffee, firewood and peaceful time to write.  But I’m a mom, a wife, and a writernot a hermit. The list above certainly isn’t going to solve the not-enough-hours-in-the-day dilemma, but it might help me use those hours more effectively.  And who knows, maybe I’m really a sheep in wolf’s clothing and can successfully graze my way through a manuscript after all.

What about you?  Are you a successful grazer?  What tasks work the best for you as grazing tasks?  Or do you need space to devour your writing?

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Writing and Memorial Day

Memorial Day Flags

Memorial Day for many means a day off of work or school, backyard barbeques with friends and summer just around the corner.  It is all of those things, but this annual federal holiday means so much more, too.

Memorial Day is a day of remembering.  A day to remember the men and women who died while serving in the US Armed Forces. It was formerly known as Decoration Day, which originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service.

Yesterday, while driving past a cemetery packed with people placing flags into the ground near headstones, I explained to my two boys (aged 8 and 5) the meaning of Memorial Day.  We talked about their relatives and friends (some distant and some immediate) who served or serve in the armed forces. We talked about war—and the shades of grey which color our government’s decisions regarding our freedom and our country’s role in the world.

As my little guys processed this complicated information, I was reminded of a conversation with my oldest.  His elementary school annually participates in the One School One Book program. The book for 2012 was Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.  This book is beautifully written and deals with complicated subjects like divorce, alcoholism and war.  It was a mature book for my first grader to process, but it provided excellent fodder for family conversations about our world.

In the book, the main character, Opal, befriends the town’s librarian who shares great stories about her past, including a tale about her great-grandfather, whose family members died while he fought for the South in the Civil War. Grief-stricken after his return from battle, he decided he wanted to live the remainder of his life filled with sweetness. Thus, he invented Littmus Lozenge candies that tasted like a combination of root beer and strawberry with a secret ingredient mixed in—sorrow—which makes anyone who tastes it taste sorrow.

I will never forget my seven-year old staring up at me with big eyes and saying, “That’s how I feel, Mommy.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“When you explained war to us. And when you were talking about the hard decisions that the President has to make. I felt like I was eating those lozenges.  I tasted sorrow when you talked about that.”

Wow!  From the mouths of babes, right?  This, my friends, is the power of literature.  It is why I read and why I write.

Saturday’s post contained a quote by English playwright and screenwriter, Alan Bennett.

The best moments in reading are when you come across something—a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things—which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is.  Set down by someone else. A person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.

This was the case for my son.  Across miles and pages, Kate DiCamillo had taken his hand.  Yesterday as he sat with his face pushed against the car window watching those people adorn the cemetery with flags, he was sucking on one of those Littmus Lozenges again.  He didn’t say anything, just nodded and listened.  But I could tell that Memorial Day was a palpable concept for him. Thanks to Kate DiCamillo, my son could taste the sweet and the sorrow.  Thanks to great writing, he could put words to his complicated emotions.

So while I’m cranking out my own words this morning and then enjoying some laughs at our neighborhood cookout, I’ll be sucking on one of those lozenges too.  And I’ll have Kate DiCamillo and thousands of other writers to thank for helping me find the words to describe life’s complicated emotions.  Happy Memorial Day to you.  I hope you taste the sweet and the sorrow.

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Writing a novel is like driving a car at night…

el doctorow

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The Best Moments (as a Reader and a Writer)

This happens to me all the time. It gives meaning to reading, writing and life…

The Best Moments

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Tequila Mockingbird and Other Great Gifts for Writers

One of my most popular posts ever was 20 Best Gifts for Writers.  Everyone is looking for the perfect gift for that special someone, and when that someone is a writer, it can be even more difficult to buy a gift.  Writers can be loners, neurotic and talk to themselves – and that’s on a good day.  So what do you get for the person who has everything they need and more friends than they know what to do with (Friends that talk to you inside your head count. Right?)

In the coming weeks I’ll post a mid-year Gift Guide for Writers update.  Meanwhile, summer is almost upon us.  That means long hours spent lingering over a cocktails and vacations filled with visits to friends and family.  If one of those lucky friends or family members happen to be a writer, consider this gift.

Tequila Mockingbird

Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist, written by Tim Federle, is the perfect gift for any writer (or reader) on your list.  It contains recipes for drinks such as Vermouth the Bell Tolls; Gin Eyre; and Bridget Jones’ Daiquiri.  And what female child of the ’80s didn’t beg their parents to buy them Judy Blume’s tome to pre-teen melodrama, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret. Now that I’m a grown woman and can buy a copy of that book my parents wouldn’t let me read—and enjoy an adult beverage while I’m reading it—I can’t think of a better drink to accompany Blume’s book than Are You There God? It’s Me Margarita.

The book is filled with recipes, helpful tips and some forays into literary history too.  Wrap this one up with a cocktail shaker and a drink of choice and you have the perfect host/hostess gift for a book nerd or a writer.  Those are basically the same thing, aren’t they?

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Crawling out from under my rock…

It’s always tough to come back after a hiatus without some sort of apology.  So I’ll just get it out of the way.

I’M SORRY FOR MY ABSENCE.  Very sorry!

Between writing non-fiction, consulting, mothering, PTAing and managing a household, life got the best of me.  This isn’t an excuse and it isn’t a woe-is-me-look-how-busy-I-am plea.  I know we’re all busy.  The truth is:

if-it-is-important-to-you

The bottom line is I’ve been finding excuses.  But this blog is important to me for several reasons:

  1. I’ve made some wonderful virtual connections because of posts written here.
  2. I’ve discovered the joys of interacting with readers and writers through blogging.
  3. I’ve discovered my fiction writing voice because of this blog.

These are all important, but number three is HUGE.  Scour the internet and you’ll find hundreds of articles on voice. Articles from Writer’s Digest, from writer Nathan Bransford (I love his blog and my boys love his Jacob Wonderbar books), from Chuck Wendig, and even an entire book about it here.

Voice is an elusive concept for writers.  It is still an elusive concept for me.  But after so many years of honing a non-fiction “voice,” I was struggling with finding my fiction voice.  Consequently, I was struggling with fiction writing in general.  But thanks to this blog, I’ve come one step closer to unlocking that fiction voice.  I’ll be posting about this discovery, my experiences at the Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference this April, and lots more things in future posts.

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear how things are in your neck of the writing woods.  Are you working on any new projects?

Happy Writing!

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