Sunday, May 30, 2010

*Sheepish smile*

I'm sorry I haven't been very good at updating/commenting all week...There was this trip to NYC in which I did not end up at BEA like I was supposed to, but did have an amazing, inspiring visit to the Met (love that place)...
...and I have a new niece...:)
...and my rose garden is in crazy bloom...

Oops, didn't mean to yell. I'm just ultra-excited because I finally got to that scene near the climax that I've been thinking about for months and dying to finally type out.
Here's how it begins:

I hear a shrill cry above me as I drag my feet to Henri's in the morning; three vultures circle in the sky overhead, their ragged wings catching the weak breeze and keeping them afloat just over my head. I can see no dead animal on the roadway, but their black eyes are focused on me.

Shivering, I run ahead. Vultures are eerily wise at times: they can feel a death before it happens.

I wish Louis was with me.

He must have seen his share of vultures over the battlefield, and he would laugh them away. I try to do what he would do, but my laughter is shaky. I do not breathe easy until they fly away, past the church spire and the abbey, and I can see them no longer.
It gets more exciting after that, but every other section seemed to be teeming with spoilers, so...
The best part is, I love writing finales. So all I have to do is squeeze a few more hours into every day, and I'll have this WIP finished in no time flat. I think it's time to bribe my sisters into babysitting... (If you're reading this, girls, just think fresh strawberries dipped in chocolate. I have some at my house.......mmmm......)

Have a good Memorial Day, everyone! (I'm sure I will; it's my birthday, and I'm going to talk somebody into making me cheesecake. :)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Art, virtue, and raising a family in the arts: some thoughts

(This is our work desk, where Mark, Lucy and I enjoy countless hours of being creative together.)

As an education major in college, I'm no stranger to the horror stories of schools losing their finding for arts programs, music programs, anything creative in general... And they are horrible stories. It is more than a shame that so many adults in the world judge these areas as unimportant. Perhaps it is because the artists are out creating art and the money managers and politicians in the world don't value arts as highly as they value math, debate club, etc. I suppose there is a small possibility that children don't show enough enthusiasm for the arts to convince the managers and politicians otherwise.
So I'm just going to interject here: The arts are crucial to a human's development--as a human. Yes, math is extremely important to our success in life. Geography is essential to understanding one's place in the world (literally and metaphorically speaking). A firm grasp on spelling and grammar is going to be incredibly helpful. (Trust me, I would never belittle grammar. ;)
However... seeking mastery in an art may be the best opportunity for developing virtue you will ever find. I suppose the word "virtue" can sound boring or didactic to some of you--but isn't it the simplest way to define those things which make us good humans? I guess we're all tired of hearing "patience is a virtue"...but it is. It is an active virtue: you have to work at it, rather then let it happen.
You writers and other artists will immediately be able to see the truth in that statement. From the writing point of view, to succeed in writing a book, you need to first learn patience with yourself. You will not be perfect immediately. Acknowledging your own imperfections is, I believe, the first step to becoming a successful artist--along with simultaneously recognizing your gifts. Then, you work. And work. And work. And work. You learn empathy as you delve into your character's life. Then you once again take a step back into humility and allow others to critique your work. Then you revisit patience as you submit to agents and editors.
That's the condensed version. But it is easy to see that the virtues you gain in becoming a good artist are the same virtues you need to grow into a good human being.
And people say the arts aren't important in kids' lives.
(Here's where my mom would say, "Gag me with a spoon!")
When it comes down to it, I think the arts should be emphasized to children even more than to adults, for a very important reason: children have a huge advantage over us when it comes to learning, even greater than how quickly their brains can take things in. They aren't afraid to do so. If you are conscious of raising your children in the arts, they can learn that you will always support them in their endeavors. If you are careful to recognize each small success and be realistic about failures (because believe me, they can tell when they've failed) and still be encouraging, they will trust you and feel affirmed as they "play" with drawing, painting, writing, acting, singing, etc.
("Play" is a key word, because it is important that kids have fun with, well, everything, or they'll probably give up on it. They need opportunities to develop a passion.)
To bring this back to my original topic, while I think anyone who tries to remove arts programs from schools should be slapped, I think the problem is deeper and more basic than that. Parents need to be committed to introducing art into their children's lives.
And the easiest way to do that? Commit yourselves to art. Set an example to your children, let them see your struggles and enjoyments. Draw with them, write with them, sing with them. Ask them questions about the creative choices they make, and talk to them about your own creative process.
Who knows? In a few years, they may be the Shakespeares and Vermeers and Bernhardts of the world...or they may be the money managers and politicians--but if they are artists as well, imagine what they could accomplish.
I can't think of a better gift you can give your children--or the world.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Links and plans!

So, first of all: contest over at my review blog! Glass slipper bookmark, friends...provided by the lovely Kay Cassidy as part of her *Official Cinderella Society Blog Tour*! Check out my new random poll while you're there, too. :)

Next, have to share links to a couple posts that really resonated with me:
Molly at Writer Mama Dreamer wrote about talent...quite skillfully, I think. You should read what she has to say about it!
And Paula at Write Now shared some inspiring considerations of her time at the New England SCBWI conference this past weekend. Ditto on the reading it!

Finally, I'm super excited because I have a fun adventure planned for the summer that I hope to be sharing with you. I'm calling it: "My-super-fun-adventurous-tour-of-New-England-writer-homes!" (I'm still thinking of a shorter name--any ideas?) My kid sister-turned-English Major is home for the summer, and we're going to be traipsing around the colonies, seeking inspiration, encouragement and random facts about some of New England's literary greats. Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Edith Wharton, Harriet Beecher Stowe...throw in Noah Webster just because I love the dictionary...ah. We're going to start with Connecticut and Massachusetts and go from there, and I hope you'll come along for the virtual recap!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Random Cup of Inspiration and a Few Dashes of Fun

Every once in a while, I just get such a kick out of the quotes on my iGoogle page, I just have to share, here you go. Come on, all writers love quotes, right? Happy Sunday--and enjoy the completely random pictures...Lucy got hold of our camera and went crazy! 

The reason a lot of people do not recognize opportunity is because it usually goes around wearing overalls looking like hard work.
Thomas Edison
Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.
Dr. Suess

Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.
Oscar Wilde

A stiff apology is a second insult... The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt. 
G. K. Chesterton
Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable.
Mark Twain

If we discover a desire within us that nothing in this world can satisfy, also we should begin to wonder if perhaps we were created for another world.
C. S. Lewis


'I wish life was not so short,' he thought. 'Languages take such a time, and so do all the things one wants to know about.'
  J. R. R. Tolkien
Silly things do cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way.
Jane Austen
Minds, like bodies, will often fall into a pimpled, ill-conditioned state from mere excess of comfort.
Charles Dickens

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Acting Lesson #2: There's more to what you say than what you say

As an actor, when you say a line, you have to think of about a million things at the same time. Just like real life.
As an author, it really helps to keep this in mind as you write dialogue... Maybe it's just me, but I often find jumping into my character's thoughts and emotions from a section of dialogue challenging--but thinking of it in terms of acting helps me enormously.
First of all, what do you want?
If you don't want something, you wouldn't say anything. Do you want to hurt the other? Do you want to affirm them? Do you want to defy them? The more active verb (that's why they call it acting) you can find for what you want, the better.
Romeo and Juliet, by Sir Frank Dicksee
What's your plan for getting what you want?
This involves rejected responses. You may know exactly what you want, but your mind may take a while coming around to the best line to get it. Who knows? Before Juliet came up with "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" to get _____ (I'll let you insert your own ideas for what she wanted), she may have tossed some other lines about, like, "What the heck are you doing here, you wonderful but completely foolish hottie?" or "Omygosh is there something in my teeth?" and discarded them as completely ineffective.
Besides what you say, what do you mean? And how else are you expressing that?
Remember back to your freshman year of highschool when the popular brat told you she loved your shirt...and you instantly knew she thought you were the scum of the earth, totally unsophisticated, and should probably go hide in a closet now? How did you get that message, that subtext? Was it the tone of voice, the roll of the eyes, the smirk in the corner of her mouth? I've found that recalling and including these details in fiction can take a conversation from boring to emotional in the mere typing of a few words.

This probably seems obvious to most of you, but it was an incredible revelation in my early days of writing.
So here's an excercise: take a page of your dialogue, and for each line you typed, think of two other things your character might have said, and why they chose not to. Then think of what the subtext of their message is, and one or two actions that can convey this. I think you'll impress yourselves.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Some thoughts on motherhood from the pen of J. M. Barrie and some thoughts on J. M. Barrie from my keyboard...

I've recently realized that J. M. Barrie was a genius. I liked Peter Pan when I read it as a nine-year-old, but for whatever reason, I never revisited it until last week, when I took the audiobook, read by Jim Dale, out from the library. (Incidentally, Jim Dale is also a genius.) Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. What an understanding the man had of children, of mothers, of men and women, of girls and boys... what an outrageous sense of humor yet what heart-wrenching poignancy... and what sentences! To a writer, his sentences and word choice and mastery of the English language is all but intoxicating.

But enough from me. The passage speaks for itself...

'I know such lots of stories.'

Those were her precise words, so there can be no denying that it was she who first tempted him.

He came back, and there was a greedy look in his eyes now which ought to have alarmed her, but did not.

'Oh, the stories I could tell to the boys!' she cried, and then Peter gripped her and began to draw her toward the window.

'Let me go!' she ordered him.

'Wendy, do come with me and tell the other boys.'

Of course she was very pleased to be asked, but she said, 'Oh dear, I can't. Think of mummy! Besides, I can't fly!'

'I'll teach you.'

'Oh, how lovely to fly.'

'I'll teach you to jump on the wind's back, and then away we go.'

'Oo!' she exclaimed rapturously.

'Wendy, Wendy, when you are sleeping in your silly bed you might be flying about with me saying funny things to the stars.'


'And, Wendy, there are mermaids.'

'Mermaids! With tails?'

'Such long tails.'

'Oh,' cried Wendy, 'to see a mermaid!'

He had become frightfully cunning. 'Wendy,' he said, 'how we should all respect you.'

She was wriggling her body in distress. It was quite as if she were trying to remain on the nursery floor.

But he had no pity for her.

'Wendy,' he said, the sly one, 'you could tuck us in at night.'


'None of us has ever been tucked in at night.'

'Oo,' and her arms went out to him.

'And you could darn our clothes, and make pockets for us. None of us has any pockets.'

How could she resist....

And while mothering is on our minds, do please click over to my book review blog to read some more brilliant thoughts on the topic; I'm hosting a Mother's Day Weekend feature with the lovely writer-mamas Rosanne Parry, Lindsay Eland and Lindsay Leavitt. They very generously agreed to write guest posts—all of which are print-out-and-hang-on-the-fridge-to-keep-you-inspired worthy. :) I'll be posting one a day, and I'd be very grateful if you'd stop over to leave a comment to thank them for sharing their inspiration!

P.S. The image is from Trina Schart Hyman's illustrations of Peter Pan, the loveliest edition I have seen!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

I'm "it"!

Plain Jane tagged me a couple days ago. :) You probably all know what this is about by now: 5 questions, 5 answers for each. I'm always up for a good game of tag, so I'll play along.

Where were you five years ago?

1. Studying for my finals at Franciscan University of Steubenville. There was this one heck of an oral exam for my Honors Class...totally killed it, but nearly killed myself studying first.

2. Probably on the phone with Mark. We were recently engaged and kept Verizon Wireless in business.

3. Pretending that I was a writer. (That is, telling people, "I hope to write children's books someday." And, um, never forcing myself to get past page 10.)

4. Addicted to Iron Chef...actually, I'm still kind of addicted.

5. Waiting for my first Goddaughter to be born. She kept us on our toes.

Where would you like to be five years from now?

1. In a old (or old-looking) house somewhere close to our families.

2. Homeschooling my two oldest with a couple more little ones toddling about.

3. Published.

4. Putting on plays with our daughters and their friends.

5. Wait, did I say published?

What is on your to-do list today?

1. Oh, you don't even want to know how long it is...but... Finish revised outline of WIP so I can seriously buckle down to finishing it..

2. Housework (that accounts for about 15 entries on the list).

3. Critique a full ms for critique group friend.

4. Play fairies with Lucy.

5. Surprise Mark by planning some sort of date for tomorrow. (Luckily, he is way busier than me today, so I'm pretty sure he won't read this!)

What five snacks do you enjoy?

1. Salt and Vinegar chips.

2. Olives.

3. Red peppers and dip.

4. Sour Skittles (Actually, sour anything).

5. Caramel rice cakes. (Is that weird? I actually could care less that they're "good" for me.)

What would you do if you were a Billionaire?

1. Give away all but a couple million.

2. Ok, this one's complicated, but do something really amazing for orphans and make it possible for potential adoptive parents without the finances to adopt them. I guess being a reader and writer you can't help but think about orphans a whole lot.

3. Pay off my college debt.

4. Design and build our dream house. It would have many secret rooms, paneled walls, and numerous closets.

5. Travel with the whole family to Europe, New Zealand, Puerto Rico....and a lot of other places...

Ok, since this has been around a bit...I don't know who on earth has been tagged and who hasn't. I could tag my alien friends, but they're not so good at English yet. So, how about this:
If I follow your blog and you really really really want to be tagged, let me know.
Wow, I'm way more competetive than this in real life!

(NOTE on 5/7: Molly Hall, per her request, has just been tagged. Go see her very inspirational blog! :)

A Page a Day

I had the privelege of meeting Linda Sue Park two years ago; between talking about babies, her new book, and how her children wheedled her into competing on Jeopardy, she imparted some of the best writing advice I've ever received: set yourself small goals and meet them.
She heard Katherine Paterson say that she writes two pages a day for all of her novels and decided to adopt the practice. (You can read more about it on her website.) Does it work? Well, they both have Newbery Medals. I'm not gonna argue with that.
I adapted this practice to meet my family's needs and set the goal of one page a day, but the principle holds. Most days I manage to write at least one page, sometimes two, (very) occasionally ten... but unfortunately I have a bad tendency to allow discouragement, unfolded laundry, and organizing of random files on my computer to get in the way about once a week. So, to discipline myself, I'm taking part in Swimmer's Page-a-day challenge which starts tomorrow. I'll keep you posted on how it goes!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A light sprinkling of awards

First, while we're on the topic of awards, I'd like to congratulate my mother-in-law, Nancy Langdale Hough, for placing as a finalist in the Tassy Walden Award for New Voices in Children's Literature! (They haven't updated the site yet, but you can read about how cool the award is. And sneak a look at a picture of me from the award ceremony last year. ;) Her MG novel, Wayfarers, is brilliant, beautiful, and well-deserving of the honor. Congratulations, Mama! (If you want to congratulate her yourself, stop over to our family critique group blog...)

Here's Zoe saying, "Hooray, Nana!"

Next, thank you to two bloggers who have presented me with blog awards...

Karen gave me this Sweet Blogger Award a whiiiiiiile back, but I'm so bad at getting to these things.
I'm passing it on to three sweet bloggers who always make my days cheerier with their posts and comments:
Molly at Writer Mama Dreamer
Myrna at Night Writer
and Kiki Hamilton.

And Priya gave me the Prolific Blogger Award.... I'm having a really hard time deciding who to give this one to, because it seems to have made the rounds....
Samuel Park gets it for being frequently inspirational...
and... I have to give it to Niki just because I enjoyed her A to Z posts so much. (Even though I now want to spend a few months in New Zealand.) (Even though I think she already has it!)
But I'm afraid I'm going to continue my rule-breaking streak and stop there. And the pass-it-on rule just became optional for both of I always say about these rules: they're more actual guidelines. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Why everyone should have a two-year-old before facing rejection...

1) She'll force you to get your head out from under your pillow, because, after all, a toilet-training toddler is not something you can ignore for more than about 3 seconds.

2) She'll pelt you with hugs and kisses and loud renditions of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" until you can't help smiling.

3) Upon hearing that "Mama is sad because some people didn't like Mama's writing," she'll say, "Oh. Some people is stupid." Where else do you get that kind of loyalty?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

And you thought people hated your writing...

Did any of you read The Book Examiner's 50 Best Author vs. Author Put-downs of All Time?

I just have to include a few here, because I found them oddly encouraging. They point to one important fact: you can't please everyone.

Case in point, here's what Mark Twain had to say about Jane Austen (my favorite author of all time, incidentally--though ironically Mark Twain is up there, too...):
"I haven't any right to criticize books, and I don't do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice,' I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone."

And then we have William Faulkner's take on Twain:
"A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven sure fire literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy."

And Ernest Hemingway on Faulkner:
"Have you ever heard of anyone who drank while he worked? You're thinking of Faulkner. He does sometimes -- and I can tell right in the middle of a page when he's had his first one."

How about Vladimir Nabokov on Hemingway:
"As to Hemingway, I read him for the first time in the early 'forties, something about bells, balls and bulls, and loathed it."

How can this handful of meanness be inspiring? Because it reminds me that before worrying about what other people think, I need to write a book that I am satisfied with. If you don't like your own work, consider it important--if you are not confident that you have written something good, beautiful and true--you cannot expect it to please anyone else. But if you do have that inner surety, harsh critiques, rejection, bad reviews, etc. will all fall into perspective.

I know, marketability is important. But a good story is more important.
An understanding of readership is essential. But a believable, lovable character is quintessential.
Finding an editor may be your aim, but your first aim should be finding your voice, finding your character, finding yourself.

I'll leave you with one last reassurance: you're not likely to ever receive a critique this nasty, a la George Bernard Shaw...

"With the exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare when I measure my mind against his. The intensity of my impatience with him occasionally reaches such a pitch, that it would positively be a relief to me to dig him up and throw stones at him, knowing as I do how incapable he and his worshippers are of understanding any less obvious form of indignity."

Hmmm.... Luckily Shakespeare wasn't thinking about what nasty critics might say when he wrote King Lear. And I doubt that Jane Austen worried herself much over future put-downs while she created one of the most beloved characters of literary history.
I guess if someone wants to dig us up hundreds of years after we die just to mock us to our skeletons, we'll at least be in good company.