Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day

Three things for leap day:

Mark Twain's Jumping (leaping) Frogs,

jumping animals,

and...Pinky Pie, because she was the first bouncy creature I thought of.

Happy Leap Year!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I once read an article from the New York Times a few years ago that told the secrets to the best chocolate chip cookies. Their recipe was truly good (I tried it!), but the biggest tip I took away from it is this:

Put your dough in the fridge for at least 24 hours. The cookies will have more texture and will be tastier.

There is chemistry that supports this tip, but it's my experience that makes me a believer. See, I made cookie dough yesterday. I added walnuts, because I love nuts. And then I forgot to bake them until today.

They turned out so good. The chips are all melty, the tops looked all textured, and they had that perfect mixture of gooey and crunchy that I like the best.

Anyway. This has nothing to do with writing, or with the A to Z blog challenge, which I really need to hash out (monsters? heroines? and how can I post art without a scanner?!?). But it is an Interesting Fact, and Useful, so it is worth noting.

Go make some cookies! Maybe after you listen to this song by one of my favorite Muppets...

Friday, February 24, 2012

Starting Book Three

I just finished edits for Storyteller (my second book), and now I'm looking to start a third book while I finish a few bits and bobs (query letters, other beta reader edits, that sort of thing). And I've got it narrowed down to an idea, but it's quite a bit different from my first two, and I'm not sure if I can pull it off. But that's how I learn if I can pull something off--by doing it! So...back to 500 words a day, every day, until the draft is done? We'll see how it goes...

Any other tips for starting a book? I always feel my first draft goes a bit like this:

That's Dr. Who and William Shakespeare, in case you were wondering. And Shakespeare gets to improvise (write a first draft on the spot!)...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Roald Dahl and E.B. White

When I really started reading books in first or second grade, two authors stood out as my very favorites: E.B. White and Roald Dahl.

I'm rereading Matilda, I just finished outlining James and the Giant Peach as a study on structure, and I'm sure I'll get to Charlotte and Wilbur and all my other friends soon. There's nothing quite like going back to your childhood books and realizing that they're even more brilliant and hilarious and powerful than you remember.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tardy me

I didn't update yesterday because I was out celebrating my sister's birthday! And, no offense to this blog, it was much more fun than writing a post would've been. But if I'd posted something yesterday, it may have been this video:

...which makes me want to learn all kinds of engineering skills just to give my kids a ride. :)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Boy: Girl

I just read this most interesting of posts on Shannon Hale's blog about the boy-to-girl ratios in animated movies during 2011. I've noticed this disparity since I was a child--in fact, by the age of five I'd decided to be a witch because princesses had blond hair, blue eyes, and absolutely no powers beyond cleaning and singing. Bleck.

Anyway. I obviously prefer my storytelling in book form, but here is a clip from an animated feature with lots of awesome female roles and a very large fan base across both genders:

This is actually a fan video. About reading. And ponies. With a weird song about books that was written by Julian Smith and is interesting to check out in its original form...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Little Darth Vader

Today I had to buy cat food and garbage bags.

Last night the kids were up until 10.

These two seemingly-unrelated facts lead us to the third truth of today: this afternoon I went to Petco with a mini Darth Vader and an Ewok. And then to Costco. The people at Petco gave me weird looks, mostly, or studiously ignored the plastic lightsaber waving at them from the cart. "Go faster, Princess!" the four-year-old Vader yelled in his deepest four-year-old voice. "Sure," I said, picking up my speed.

Costco shoppers were nicer. Some tried to talk with the Star Wars characters in my cart. The Ewok (really, the one-year-old was just wearing his normal brown coat) hummed the Imperial March (honest) while Darth Vader decided he was actually Luke dressed as Darth Vader and could therefore purchase healthy foods like orange juice and bananas (four-year-old Darth Vader prefers dark foods, usually chocolate, because he "always makes bad choices"). Anyway, it all reminded me of this:

Which brings me to this:

And, for completeness's sake, this:

 There, pint-sized, overtired little Darth. I hope you dream of stars and lightsabers.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Talking about stuff

Okay, so anyone who knows me at all knows that I like to talk. Not constantly, but when I'm upset or afraid or confused or even really happy I either write about it or say something. Often both. For me it's helpful to work through problems verbally, and I'm lucky enough to be surrounded by loving people who listen and talk back (and an extra yay for my husband! he hears everything).

But here's the rub: I have a hard time when I can't discuss an issue I need to figure out. Writing works as an outlet, but I have to be careful not to let my anger or frustration override characters and story. And blogs...well, they're private-public, and there are plenty of unspoken rules about what you should and shouldn't say.

Anyway. Communication is essential, so long as it isn't manipulative or mean. And some people just love words. I happen to be one of them.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Crazy Friday

Work this morning. World building on a revision this afternoon. Two nieces and one nephew, all under 10, come to play at 1:30. We bribed them to pick up items around the house for a donut each. We got chocolate cake and maple bars and raspberry and cream-filled. And all the books in our library are on shelves again! Best. Donuts. Bought. Ever. that Friday is winding down I want to do something fun. I shall leave you with this video, because I promised my four-year-old something with Star Wars...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Okay, so I swear I'll end this before I sound too much like an ad, but do you know what I downloaded for a free 30-day trial?

Great job, O-Might-Reader-Of-The-Title! As I am certain you guessed, I downloaded Scrivener. And imported my second novel. And broke it down into chapters, sections, and plot scenes within sections.

I like it so far. Versatility, split screen capability, places to import websites and pdf files and pictures and wonderful critiques from my brilliant beta readers? Sign me up!

Except I saved one test for right now. Yes! As I write this post, I will attempt to export my broken-up document back into Word and see if it can be reassembled. Ready? Set? Open Scrivener! Click on Storyteller! Export as .docx to desktop!

Okay, five minutes later and I'm back. Exporting, like everything else, takes a few tricks. (For one, I have to Export it as Custom, or else it takes away all my italics and adds weird pound signs instead of my pretty triple star for page breaks. I also have to go into Content and uncheck anything that doesn't have text to avoid some weird added titles.)

Anyway! I took a Word file into Scrivener, chopped it up, and then put it back together again. It's like magic! Except boring! And more useful to me as a writer, because now I can hop between scenes that feature foreshadowing or similar themes or world building without trying to memorize where everything is in a several-hundred page Word document!

It's sort of  like this. But not really. Because I didn't even describe it very well, and if you were watching me you probably would have been far more attractive than these judges. :)

Friday, February 3, 2012


I'm a very analytical person. If I go into a movie and enjoy it, I still come out with a broken-down list in my head of what I liked about the plot/dialogue/cinematography/etc.--and what was (possibly) a problem. I see problems in lots of art I absolutely love. Gilead, for example, has very little plot until around page 99...but it's one of the best-written books I've ever read, and I absolutely adore every word. The Incredibles is funny and entertaining and some of the best characterization I've ever seen--but I'm a little uncomfortable with the "you have to be born super to be a hero" message (anti-Batman?!? I love Batman!). I know analysis can be overdone, and I'd be scared to have a super-critical analytical person read my books just in case I accidentally put in something offensive. I know it can be annoying. In fact, my husband is a blessedly kind person to put up with my post-movie analysis (you should ask him about X-Men: First Class).

But. I think analysis is important. I think breaking down the ways we think and seeing if there's actually ugliness there--there's value in that. I can like something that has problems, so long as I recognize those problems are there, and if I point out hidden racism/sexism/Batman-ism it won't lurk unnoticed in my mind. Which is good, right?

I bring all of this up partially because of the video I posted last time--I'd never seen it, I put it on my blog, I watched it...and it disturbed me. There's a lot of debate about it now, whether people are being too sensitive, whether Florence should apologize, and I've been considering my position. I'd love to know what other people think, too, if you're awesome enough to leave a comment. To sum up what I think right now: analysis is important, but being mean to artists is bad.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Querying, round two

I'm still in the middle of querying my first book (well, by "middle" I mean "I send out 3 queries a day, except some days, and I'm in the middle-beginning of the alphabet on, so whee?"), but I'm gearing up to query my second. My first book (for those who don't know) is called Swindle Witch and is about a thirteen-year-old girl who gets magic powers and loses her family on the same morning--and has to trust a woman called the Swindle Witch to try and get them back. It's been hard to query because a) it was my first book, and therefore taught me a lot about writing a book...which means it sagged in the middle, and b) I'm not sure if it's middle grade or young adult. The concept is middle grade, I think, but the execution may be more young adult, and that makes it a tough mix. Still, some great agents have read or are reading it, and some have come back with personalized feedback that has really helped me revise. I count myself lucky so far, and I'm pretty happy with the pacing in the middle (now), which is wonderful.

This brings me to book number two. It took me three months to write a first (read: terrible) draft, another three months to write a second draft (much better), and another month-ish to write a third draft (best so far!). I've tentatively titled it Storyteller, and it's about Ashley, a senior in high school who lost her brother the year before. She meets a new boy at school, finds out she's developing powers as a storyteller, and ends up in a bargain with the boy to tell him a story every night in exchange for his protection of her friends and family. It's all complicated and twisted, and her stories keep bringing her closer to her big brother Ryan--and the secrets surrounding his death.

See? It sounds all pretty in my head, but summing up everything is hard. Basically, my second novel is pretty much all I could come up with for a modern spinoff of the Arabian Nights frame story. And it has a clear genre--YA contemporary fantasy--and it's better than my first book, even though I was worried that I was trying to pull off too much (a book about storytelling? with storytelling as the power? with grief and changing characters and world building?!? yikes!).

So...yeah. I'm thinking about queries. And protocol for querying more than one project at once. And beta readers. And revisions. And (somewhere in my head) about third books. In celebration of all this thinking, here is my favorite song off of Florence and the Machine's new album, which I am going to listen to while I submit my three queries for the night...

Edit: I still love this song, but I just watched the video, and...well, I'll leave it here, but I have to say that the symbolism disturbs me. I've never been comfortable with the racial implications of the simplistic "black = evil, white = good," and I try to avoid that sort of thing when I tell stories (although it's easy to fall into, I think). Plus I was hoping for some nice blue eyes with no light in them! Ah, well. I like choirs of boys (poor kids!), and red hair trailing down the sky is awfully pretty...