Friday, September 30, 2011


There is an American college football game tonight, and so my husband needs the computer.  That is all.

He loves football far more than me, I'm afraid--give me a good water polo game any day!  At least this image looks sort of watery...

Thursday, September 29, 2011


I officially joined Goodreads last night, and I've already checked out some of their recommendations.  I haven't entered very many books on my shelf yet--just a couple hundred so far--and it will take me hours to log in the books I own (I don't even know if I can remember everything I've borrowed), but I figure if I update it every time I finish a book, I can keep track of books better from here on out.  I'm not sure if I'm sold on the different versions that pop up for every popular book or the strict one-two-three-four-five star system, and I'll have to take some notes on books I enter in the future, but for now maybe I can start sorting through what I've read in the past and what I want to read in the future.  I'm a fast reader, and some year I'd like to read a book a day--maybe when the kids are older!--or finish all those Influential Books You Have To Read For Cultural Capital (oh, Russian classics, I'll get to you sometime), but for now I'll settle for recording what I read.  So I can buy more of the authors I like, and not forget who I want to buy later! Also, I can always tell my husband where to look for presents...

I'd still prefer a notebook, worn and floppy, but my baby stole my pen and scribbled all over the last one, so online might be a better choice for now...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Well, I've still got three more essays to grade, and a lesson plan to make, so here are a few of the ads we'll be analyzing over the next few lectures.  Enjoy!

Cats can claw through rubber gloves, I'm pretty sure...


I like Legos

Cookie Monster!  He is my favorite of the Muppets, just as the Got Milk is my favorite advertising campaign...whee! Analyze away!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Well, I'm down to my last two days of grading.  IF I finish another essay today.  So in the interest of finishing that essay--and of submitting a few more queries--this is a brief blog post.  Whew!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Query, round three (ish)

I send query letters to agents in small batches, usually batches of four or five.  I haven't sent out many letters hence far, and I haven't sent out any that require a synopsis, or summary of the entire plot.  Each time, I've revised my letter, and each time I've felt unsatisfied with what I've come up with.

Until now.

So here is my query, for the brave or the curious.  It's supposed to make an agent want to read on, sort of like the back of a book cover plus a business letter, and it is jolly difficult to write.  But I'm posting it, for good or ill:

Dear Blog Readers,

Tricia wakes at dawn on her thirteenth birthday—and discovers her parents and little sister have been taken by a monster now creeping toward her room. Tricia barely manages to run out the front door.  Suddenly she finds that she’s glowing.  Weirder still, she can see the supernatural creatures who hide from human sight.  They say she has magic.  They’re drawn to her gift, yet none will help her save her “ordinary” family. 

But Tricia’s mom loves embarrassing her microbiology students with slides of rotting body parts. Tricia’s dad hums so tunelessly that “Happy Birthday” can sound like Nirvana. Tricia’s little sister drags her to the pet store every Saturday to sneak the guinea pigs carrots and apple peels.

People like that can’t be replaced, even with magic.  And Tricia remembers a week before her birthday she’d dreamed of Lillian, a stranger who smelled of oranges and fire and spoke as if she knew the future.  Lillian claimed to have magic, and warned monsters would come for Tricia when her own magic awoke.

Turns out that dream told impossible truths.  So Tricia searches for Lillian, who’s as real as the fingerprint blisters she left on Tricia’s wrist. But Lillian’s known as the Swindle Witch for a reason. Tricia’s trust may be woefully misplaced—and a mistake against the monster could cost Tricia her childhood laughter, her taste for chocolate, or the people she loves the most.

Swindle Witch is a 76,000-word YA contemporary fantasy. I have a Master’s degree in English from the University of Utah, and I’m the recipient of several writing awards, including a 1999 Scholastic Art and Writing Gold Award in the fantasy category.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you!


Brenda McKenna

p.s. Here is a music video I've attached, except it doesn't come with the real queries.  Because that would be weird.  And my three-year-old calls it a "mean song" and doesn't like me listening to it...although I do, when he's not around!

Saturday, September 24, 2011


I love pizza with mushrooms, and pepperoni, and olives, and tasty, tasty cheese.  And that is what I am about to eat.  But I thought I'd pop by my blog and post this plug for my friend who is a super-good romance writer and entered the Mills and Boon New Voices contest: go to this link and read her first chapter and write comments.  I've read the whole thing, and I relished the story and characters, even though I'm not a regular romance reader.  I'm all across the board with what I like--so maybe I just haven't given romance enough of a chance!

This is the first image that comes up under 'romance' on Google.  Very sunset-y.  And water!  I approve.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My sister is coming over!

I shall make this brief: three-year-olds + Halloween costumes = indecision.  Also, awesomeness.  The list so far includes a T-Rex, a dragon, a boxer, Darth Vader, and a Stormtrooper.  It is not even September yet.  I bet the list will grow.

Oh, and for tonight my son says I should be Luke Skywalker, my husband should be Obi-Wan Kenobi, and our baby should be R2D2.  I'd rather be Dorrie the little witch, although I'll have to piece together my own outfit...but it will be totally worth it to live out my five-year-old playtime!

Where could I find a hat like that?!? Maybe I'll have to learn how to sew a lot better than I do now...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I'm starting to understand myself better as a writer on book two.  I know I need lots of drafts, and so far they're listed below...

Discovery Draft: this is the first draft, where I write a chunk of words every day and refuse to edit and see what comes out.  It is basically an outline, except, since I dislike huge outlines and I like writing fiction, it is long.  When I finish it, I can call it my first draft, but don't be fooled.  It is a fancy way for me to discover things.  Which leads me to...

Plot Draft: this is the second draft, where I take all the characters and ideas from the first draft that are worthwhile, think about them, and then write another draft that is more interesting, has more tension, and reaches a (hopefully) satisfying conclusion.  This one looks more like a book, and I can call it my second draft.  Which leads to...

Detail Draft: I've been thinking about things like character and world building and setting all along, but this is the draft where I focus in on each scene, each character arc, each magical element.  I mark up my hard copy with different colors for each, taking copious notes and rewriting in the margins.  Once I'm done, I type, read aloud, and type.  This is where the book gets polished--and it technically takes at least two rewrites, one to add all the details, another where I reread each chapter aloud to catch other things I miss.

I may need more than that, because right now I'm technically on the Plot Draft of book two, which means I'm not sure how the Detail Draft will go.  My first novel floundered a bit more than this (for example, I took six months off from writing the winter after I had my firstborn) due to me developing good habits (and adjusting to the shock of having kids).  Still, so far with this book my Discovery Draft took from May to August (3.5 months or so), and my Plot Draft has gone from August to now (but it's only halfway done, although all the way planned), so drafts get done and books get closer to being readable (and hooray for my brave beta readers who read early drafts...they are truly courageous!).  Whew!  And now, for a honey badger break...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

And the grading begins...

I got my first essays today.  They're literacy narrative, which can be about any change that made a person view the world in a new way--which means they'll be creative and (hopefully) interesting.  It also means that I'll be waking up early every morning to comment and sum up my ideas.  I used to give up my writing time, but I'm too hooked on writing now, so I make new time before the boys get up: it takes around a half hour a paper for this one, since I try to be thorough.  That's my long-winded way of saying that it's Tuesday...although maybe, if I'm lucky, it'll be like the Tuesdays in my son's picture book and I'll get flying powers or something.  That won't help me grade, but at least it'd be wonderful fun!

It's sort of blurry, but I like this guy's expression--and the frog waving out the window is my favorite of all the frogs.  He has such a great attitude!  I bet he doesn't have papers to grade...but I wouldn't want to be a frog, so we're even.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Holly Black

I don't usually update on Saturday, but I just finished Holly Black's Red Glove, and I loved it.  I enjoyed her first series and her short stories, but the Curse Worker series excels at elegant world building, and the way she manages to make each book fairly self-contained--but set up sequels--is something I truly admire.  Anyway.  Holly Black helped me through a three-year-old's stomach flu, and all the Cars and Sesame Street-watching that entails.  And that's something worth saying!

I want to read this now!  But I shall be patient.  Look at me being patient...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Personality types! I want to use my blogging time for fiction again.  Crazy, I know.  But I thought I'd leave a link to a personality test, just because a colleague at school mentioned them today and I decided to take one.  I'm always INFJ, no matter which test I take.  I kind of know what that means, although I should probably read up on it more...when I'm not obsessed with my fiction.

Here is my obligatory visual.  I tried to find an image that fit the post, but I got lazy.  And everyone likes looking for ninjas.  Everyone.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Daft drafts

I'm on draft 2 of novel 2, and I hit a rough patch yesterday.  One of my scenes didn't come together the way I wanted--it didn't sound mysterious enough, didn't flow, and I was feeling a bit discouraged.  So far I haven't let anyone else read what I've written, but I gave in and asked my husband to read draft 2.

Yay for husbands.

I watch him read, and seeing him smile, or shiver, or get that little line between his eyes that appears when he's thinking--it's helpful.  And when he wants to read more, and says it's a good book...well, it makes me want to write more.  It makes one bad day not seem so bad.  And I can always smooth things more in the next draft anyway!

I love my boys!  Oh, and thanks to Gavin and Mandy for the photo booth at their wedding--without them, I wouldn't have this picture!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Stay young, go dancing

I'm listening to a song about dancing, which is one skill I don't have.  Luckily when your main partners are under the age of four (or nonjudgmental, in the case of my husband), you can stump around or spin in a circle and feel all right.  I think writing can help you stay young, too--again, lucky for me--as writing is what inspired me to do a triathlon, and learn how to bake different types of bread, and research leopard seals.  Maybe someday writing will force me to learn how to dance just a little bit better...if that's possible (in high school, I tried out for a musical, and I was the only one who couldn't follow the choreographer.  He'd say go left, and I'd go forward.  My friends were nice about it, although I knew I'd never be destined for show biz...).

Anyway, once I finally shape my novels into the glittering things they are in my head, I will try to do something celebratory.  Like read a new book.  Or dance.  Who knows?

I thought about posting the Death Cab for Cutie song, but this is a cool story, and nicer press than leopard seals generally get.  So leopard seals it is!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Real angry birds

Today was an angry-bird themed day.  Oh, we made brownies, and I wrote and did laundry, and we played games like "run through the sprinkler" and "wow look at all those crumbs on the baby who just ate a brownie," but mostly we acted like angry birds.

This clip is the reason why:

I love the live musicians!  I wish I could play the trumpet...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Story of a first-time triathlete

I woke up around 6:30 a.m., pulled my hair back into a tight ponytail, ate Zoom for breakfast, put a little air in the front tire of my bike, and gathered my minimal equipment (goggles and a towel for the swim; running shoes,socks, shorts, and a shirt; and a bike and helmet for biking).  We loaded up around seven a.m., rolled our bikes to the transition area, got our numbers and digital ankle timer-thingies, and gathered around the pool.

Everyone lined up according to swim time for the 400 meter, and I kept moving up through the line until I reached about tenth from the front.  I should have tried this pool, though--it was outdoor, for one thing, and a 50-meter length rather than the 25-meter length I practice in.  Long story short, I had a bit of trouble slipping into my effortless freestyle mindset, and needed to do a few moments of sidestroke when I got too nervous.  I still managed the swim all right--the main thing, for me, was making certain I could finish, so when I finished the swim I walked over to the bike rack, changed, and jogged off with my yellow-flower Trek bike.

The nine-mile bike ride started on a mile-long hill, and since I started toward the front of the swim, I got passed by lots of good athletes.  Many waved while they passed, or said encouraging things like "Keep going!" and "You can do it!"  I wasn't too concerned about time at this point, and I'd wave back.  I saw my husband and two sons on the way up my second loop of Fun Mile Hill, and that made me happy.  My goal on the biking section was to stay on the bike the entire time.  I did, so yay.

My transition for the run was apparently super fast, ninth overall in the triathlon.  I guess being quick at changing clothes translates into good transition times--who knew?  Anyway, I started the run at a jog, then walked when I got out of the parking lot.  I didn't push myself too hard here: I'm not a runner, and anyway, there was this steep Death Hill (worse than the bike hill) that even gazelle-fast runners walked (well, the ones in the middle with me), so I didn't feel too bad.  I did run down the hill, and the second lap of the run I managed to jog most of it, because I didn't have to conserve much more energy.  I crossed the finish line to the cheers of my husband and my son, 1 hour and 36 minutes after I'd started.  I got a medal, and bagel piece, and orange, and Gatorade.  I'm not even that sore!  And I'll probably do it again.  Heaven help me, it hurt, and it was hard, and I think I liked it.

Hmm.  Kind of like writing novels, except I'm better at writing.

But if I do it again, I must remember three things: practice the swim course at the actual pool, put water in a bottle at the transition area, and mount water on your bike.

Water is necessary for life.  And for crazy mom-writer-teachers who try out triathlons.

This is some of the course, heading back to the transition area.  I would've got you a picture of The Hill, but there's not one readily available, and I'm too lazy to look.  Even though I'm not all that sore.  But I am thirsty, so I shall go seek out some of that delicious water I mentioned a few sentences ago...

Friday, September 9, 2011

Triathlon tomorrow

Well, the triathlon starts bright and early tomorrow.  It's the first organized race I've done since high school swim team, and although I'm not concerned about much more than finishing (and having as much fun as there is to be had when running up steep hills is involved), I am a little nervous.  So I'm going to travel back to last weekend, where all I had to do was sit back and listen to stories!  At least on this blog.

Kevin Kling's younger here than he was when I saw him, but he is still a wonderful and hilarious storyteller.  I wanted to find the story about marathons he told at the festival--but I can settle for thunder and lightning instead.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

I sort of want to write fiction right now, so... is a song from Death Cab for Cutie's new album, which I just bought and I haven't finished listening to yet.  So I don't have all my opinions sorted out--right now it just seems...happier, and more electronic.  But I know I like this single.  Plus, shiny lights!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mini Meals

I took baby to the dietician yesterday.  She gave us lots of the advice we heard with three-year-old--put butter on everything! or cheese! find high fat foods! power pack the formula with three scoops to five ounces!--but she also gave us a super-useful sheet on mealtimes.  Basically she said all meals and snacks should be at the table, and there should be three meals and two snacks a day.

We eat meals at the table, but not snacks, so we went to the store this morning.  We bought pudding and Nilla Wafers, spreadable cheese and Ritz and bologna, baby yogurt and cantaloupe.  Today our eating looked something like this: cold cereal for breakfast, Ritz and cheese and bologna for snack, oatmeal and grapes and raisins for lunch, pudding and Nilla Wafers for snack, and cantaloupe and chicken pot pie for dinner.  Lots of wiping the table.  Lots of tasty food.  Very happy boys.

And now I'm off to practice my triathlon, which is this Saturday.  I'd better watch the intake of these delicious fatty snacks, though.  I don't need to grow--and I want to finish!

Look!  Oatmeal! With raisins!  And it's not decorating a baby's face...and hair...and hands and feet and armpits...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A good day

Today I read what I wrote yesterday, and it was creepy and intriguing.

Today a student said "I didn't know vampires were a metaphor for sex!"

Today I hugged a baby.

Today a three-year-old kissed my cheek and whispered, "I'm the real Harry Potter."

Today I reorganized my query and made it MUCH stronger based off the advice of my brilliant romance-writing critique partner.

Today I posted a video of fireworks made out of candy.

I don't know what will happen tomorrow.

But I like today.

Monday, September 5, 2011


I spent as much time at the storytelling festival as I could--from 1:30 to 10ish on Friday, and from 4:30 to 11ish on Saturday.

I loved every minute.

I took notes, because I am nerdy that way, and I learned there aren't a lot of differences between oral storytellers and writers--although oral storytellers can make magic with their voices (Susan Klein's smooth, rich words, Mitch Capel's masterful dialects) and gestures (Antonio Rocha's miming!) and music (Willy Claflin and his guitar, and singing, and kazoo...).  But storytellers, like writers, use alliteration, timing, repetition, rhyme, carefully-crafted tension, humor, characterization...I don't feel left out of the storytelling, even if I'd probably quiver myself off any given stage, because storytellers like what I like.  The most memorable stories--well, there were so many excellent stories, but the taxidermy story by Kevin Kling had me laughing so hard my sides hurt, and I loved the poetry of Susan Klein's Beauty and the Beast folktale, and Charlie Chin's work with a fan made his stories on marriage even more hilarious.  Donald Davis's tale about cookies and sweets and Mitch Capel's Bear and the Weasel and "The Ghost With the One Black Eye" were favorites with my three-year-old, who acted them out all weekend.  I loved the atmosphere, the people, and the beautiful canyon location.  Bringing two children was a mistake--there was the moment when the three-year-old knelt by the microphone box eying the buttons, and the space of time when the baby wanted to eat delicious sticks and got a bit angry when I had the effrontery to stop him--but as they get older, they'll get longer attention spans, and then all will be perfect.

And the stories I'm writing fit the storytelling pattern.  I wouldn't want to read them in front of an audience--not yet, anyway--but I will use my notes to preform them at home and perfect their rhythms.

Right.  We'll see how that goes.

This is Donald Davis.  He is funny.  And if I could do this in a story (have bowties and clawed hands and that awesome facial expressiveness), my books would be automatically brilliant-er and filled with life and joy!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Storytelling Festival

So I'll spend tomorrow and Saturday at the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival, listening to wonderful tales and taking notes on the differences between written and oral stories.  I've never gone before, even though I should have, so I'm super excited!  Also, it will be useful for my drafting purposes.  Here's a video from last year advocating the festival...I couldn't find any good videos of a storyteller in action, although I must admit I didn't try very hard.  To sum up: yay, weekend!  Yay storytelling!  Yay reading!