Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Book Thief, a review

A book tricked me into reading it.

If I had known it was about war and Nazi Germany, I never would have.

Somehow, probably the same way I thought The Hunger Games was about more vampires (and avoided it for years),  I got the idea that The Book Thief was a middle grade fantasy (and checked it out from the online library). By the time I realized my mistake, it was too late.

I was hooked. And I'm glad.

Normally, I shy away from sad books and movies. I prefer to be happy. Ironic, considering that the title of my own WIP is Second Death, and it's pretty dark. Sometimes I ask myself what I'm doing, writing something like that, even after I worked through to the answer: I'm channeling my inner Poe and writing the book that wants to be written. But there's a difference between dark and creepy and downright sad and depressing.

And yet, The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak manages to bring happiness into the sadness, kind of like life. Even a very hard life. The hardest kind of life.

I love the imagery. Papa's eyes were "like soft silver, melting." Wow.

I love the themes, especially the one of books and writing. Once we let them go out into the world, there's no telling where our words will land.

The narrator is perfect. Zusak paints a warm and resonant portrayal of Death.

Everything about this book is amazing, poignant, inspiring, touching, painful, exquisite, and beautiful...heart-wrenching and heartwarming all at once. In short, this is masterful storytelling and wordsmithing at its very best.

You should read it. You'll be glad you did, too.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ally Condie Is Awesome!

I found the following posts on Ally Condie's blog, in which she answered questions about her writing process. My favorite tidbit is that she writes "several hours a day during the week and a full day on Saturdays" ...and she has stuck to that routine for years. Isn't she awesome? Yep, she is.

Not to mention that she said, "The other advice I give is that, if this is truly important to you, DO NOT GIVE UP." And she put it in all caps. That's my motto, never give up. I have to repeat it to myself a lot, and reinforcement is good.

Oh, and in another post Ally mentioned getting inspiration from Michael Phelps. I've been thinking lately how inspiring all the Olympians are (I love Gabby)...and if we want to succeed as writers, we have to be willing to train and work as hard as they do.

So here are Ally's posts: 

And in case you're wondering, I'm very close to completing that rough draft for my critique group's Tuesday deadline. Yay! Rough, yes. But also complete. And that is so exciting.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Writing to a Deadline

Our critique group agreed to set a deadline for finishing (and handing over to one another) our rough drafts. That has been the single best motivator! —thanks, Erin, for suggesting it. Left to my own devices, I kept making excuses and procrastinating. I believed whatever I told myself.

Me: "I'll do it tomorrow."
Me: "Okay."

With a deadline in place, things started looking up in a big way. First, I finally finished my outline. Then, I started writing again. Writing, as in brand new material, not revising Ch. 1 for the gazillionth time. It's been kind of scary, but exciting, too. I'm learning how I work best. I'm figuring out my own individual process. If I start to stall, I think of Emalee and Erin with stern expressions, telling me that I must turn in the manuscript no matter what on August 21. I can't disappoint them.

So far, I'm about halfway done and it's halfway decent, but the clock is rapidly ticking down. That means I'm going to have to crank out some pretty drecky stuff in the last two weeks. My internal, compulsive editor will have to be bound and gagged on Monday...with the promise of being turned loose on August 22.

Wish me luck....

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Okay, so I was looking through my previous posts and saw that exactly one year ago today, I started "dipping my characters' toes into the beginning of the dreaded middle." Ha! That's funny. A couple of weeks ago, I finally SHOVED THEM IN and forced them (and myself) to start swimming. Turns out that's exactly what we all needed.

Isn't it amazing what a difference a year makes? I'm learning! :)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My Plotting Odyssey

I've been attending conferences and workshops, reading books and blogs, and participating in critique groups for years. My biggest stumbling block was always plotting/outlining. I kept trying to write by the seat of my pants and it wasn't working, but I couldn't seem to wrap my mind around plotting. So I didn't fit in either of the "two types of writers" categories.

When people drew that triangle diagram thing, I was like, "huh"? And then they'd put dots on it and talk about plot lines and other airy-fairy stuff and I'd wonder how in the heck they got all that from a dotted triangle. Cuz ya know, I wasn't seeing it. And I thought there must be something wrong with me. I was plot challenged.

So I'd go back to the pantsing thing, but I never knew what was supposed to happen next. I'd make myself come up with something—anything—and it usually turned out stupid. All my ideas fell flat. I got discouraged and kept revising the beginning until my critique group partners started going cross-eyed from having to read the same material over and over again.

It seemed like other writers just fell off a stump and knew what to do. And then there was me, and I couldn't seem to find the right stump or fall the right way or who knows what. I almost gave up, but my motto is "never give up," so I had to find a way to keep going. In the end, I very sternly told myself that I was a smart woman and I could figure this out. For months, I studied every plotting method I could find: the Plot Whisperer; Larry Brooks' Story Engineering; Dan Wells' system; Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet; Dave Wolverton's Million Dollar Outlines course material; and a whole bunch more. I even did the exercises. Oh, and I analyzed movies and drove my family nuts with comments about this being the "all is lost" moment and that being the "inciting incident" and so on.

And eventually, the great mysterious process began to crack open and little bits of light shone through. Then at one of our critique group meetings a couple of months ago, Erin suggested that we challenge ourselves to finish our rough drafts by the end of July. And all three of us agreed. It was perfect timing, really, but also kind of scary. I wasn't sure I'd be able to make good on the deal. But I pressed forward.

I wrote a query letter with a brief plot summary. That was hard. Very hard. And so worth the effort. From there, I moved on to padding the existing (shabby) outline/synopsis and compiling all of my scattered notes. Then I did the character sketches. I started making headway. I went to Storymakers, and Karen Hoover's "Prewriting" workshop helped things click into place even more. I loved the idea of prewriting as opposed to outlining. Also, Amber Argyle gave me good advice and generous doses of praise and encouragement in the Publication Primer...and beyond. Somehow she knew I needed that extra kick in the pants.

I came home inspired and pumped up and ready to get back to some serious plotting. And an amazing thing happened. The more I thought about the story, the more I was able to fill in the blanks. I'd concentrate on specific questions or problems and the answers came if I let things percolate in my brain for awhile. I always wanted to write the story that wanted to be written, not some arbitrary series of events that I assigned to the appropriate slots in an outline. After a couple of weeks, there were only a few blanks left. I decided to go ahead and start writing. I'm almost done with the first "new" chapter, and things are coming together in awesome ways.

Yay, I can do this! And so can you.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review: Outlining Your Novel

Plotting and outlining are my biggest stumbling blocks as a writer. Over the past year, I put forth extra effort to study and learn as much as possible about this process, to see if I could finally break through that wall. So many workshops and books are only helpful in a vague, abstract sort of way that doesn't quite nail down the logistics. Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success by K.M. Weiland is different; it provides solid, concrete steps to further writers along the path to a finished draft.

First, I read all the way through the book only completing a few of the suggested activities while bookmarking and highlighting key points. Now I am going back a second time to do every single exercise. Amazingly, I'm finding that I've already done a lot of this stuff, but my notes were scattered all over the place on various notepads and loose papers and whatnot. The compiling exercise alone has proven invaluable. There were so many ideas I forgot I had, and as I organized everything, new ideas and answers came to mind.

A huge part of my frustration and resistance with outlining was the forced, calculated aspect of making stuff up to fit a predetermined pattern. I wanted my story to grow organically. But pantsing definitely was not working. I needed structure. Weiland's approach brings pantsing and outlining together without sacrificing creativity. Several possible formats are discussed along with many useful tips and suggestions.

I also appreciated the insightful author interviews, though they again reinforced the irksome reality that different methods work for different people. That's what makes this subject so difficult to teach. My favorite question to ask published authors at conferences is, "What's your plotting process?" I've gotten a different answer every time. In the end, it's a matter of figuring out what methods and combinations work best for each of us individually. And this book provides a solid foundation on which to build.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

LDS Storymakers Conference


I w
ent to this conference for the first time last year and loved it. This is the best value around, in every respect: the price, the presenters, the editors/agents, the master classes, the bootcamps...oh, and the FOOD. They fed us really well, including decadent desserts.

Find out more here:

There's also an awesome "Show Your Love" contest going on in the month of February, and all you have to do to enter is do what I'm doing now: blog about it. Click here for info:

Hope to see you there! :)