Tuesday, June 30, 2015

You Know You're a Writer When Part 2

1. Every social media account you open feels like ripping out another piece of your soul. In other words, you're Voldemort creating horcruxes.


2. Writer's block is the devil.


3. And you secretly know it's an excuse but you will never admit it.

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4. You believe this is one of the most romantic gestures of all time.

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5. And you want to just live in Belle's library. So bad.


6. These are the villains in your life,


7. You will do this before you die,


8. Let's face it. You relate to Princess Belle on so many levels.



9. You have a special writing place.


10. And sometimes you improvise.

Kayak with a typewriter and a coffee cup on it.

11. You proofread EVERYTHING you write on social media because you've already shared something like this on your wall. And you can't be a hypocrite.


12. This is also true,


13. This is your favorite smell,


14. You are a psychic. Well, whenever you watch TV.


15. Which is why when you find a show that surprises you this happens,


16. You can't help but read rejections this way. At least once. Or ten times.


17. You've handled a rejection by pretending to be okay. We all have to be rejected, right?tumblr_mc1m7iOY5P1r1guvio1_r1_500

18. But when no one's looking . . . HowToHandleRejection-79161


19. Your characters have minds of their own.


20. When you actually like what you've just written, you think something must be wrong with you.


21. While reading you want grab the two love interests like barbies and make them kiss already!


22. While writing you are maniacally laughing because you won't let them be together until the end of the third or tenth book.


23. Replace squirrel with bookstore and this is your life,


24. This is your internal response when people say they've boughten your book but haven't read it yet.

25. This is your reaction when someone asks you what your book is about, 


26. This is your state of being after you've written 10,000 words,


27. This is your reaction when someone says 10,000 words isn't really that many,


28. And you can't help your reaction when someone asks you why it's taking you so long to finish your novel,


Or have your work published,


29. Which is why this thought enters your mind daily,


30. Except you've already given bits of your soul away



Monday, June 29, 2015

A Kick in the Pants

Sometimes when it comes to writing, you need to give yourself a kick in the pants. Sometimes, if you're really lucky, someone hands you a great big steel-toed boot to do it with.

I'm really lucky!

I've been sitting here thinking about my book for months, but haven't dared to even look at it- too busy, too tired, too overwhelmed even by the thought of it. Last week I was looking up a program for my son at the library and I happened to see a free writing workshop on the events calendar. And it happened to be on a Saturday my hubby had off. But it was 5 hours. No way I'd get away from my kids for 5 hours. But then hubby told me to do it. "Go for it!" he said. So I did.

Helloooo boot!

I will be perfectly honest- the workshop was for beginners. Like, beginning beginners. People who think they might like to write a book but may or may not yet even have a story idea. We did some simple exercises- getting to know our main characters (which I actually found helpful because while I knew her pretty well, I had never really "interviewed" her, if you know what I mean), having our characters interact with others' characters using some dialogue (a fascinating exercise, actually), writing scene descriptions, and learning about basic plot structure. Like I said, basic stuff, but just the kick in the pants I needed.

Here's what I got out of it:

1. When you stay away from your WIP for too long, it's hard to remember all those great ideas you had for it before- and it's hard to remember other stuff too, like the color of your main character's horse (true story). I need to not let so much time pass between my writing sessions.

2. I got the great reminder that every character in your story is their own person- they have their own background, their own likes & dislikes and motivations. It was so fun to have my MC meet another person's MC in a store, and to see how they reacted to each other. From that exercise I also learned that I know my MC very well. I was able to say, "You're going to have to talk to her first, because she wouldn't come up and talk to you," and "Give me a minute- she's feeling anxious which means she's going to ramble," and then when my partner's MC gives her a puzzled look, "Yeah, she's familiar with that look. She gets it a lot," and then, "She knows she's screwed this up and when you say that she's going to breathe a sigh of relief."

3. I'm not a beginner anymore. There's no excuse for me to be sitting on these writing talents of mine and not using them. Plus, I have a really great story and it deserves to be a published book- or at the very least, to be finished.

Kick in the pants? Accomplished. Time to get back to work.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

And Here's the Pitch....

By Lacey Gunter

In my post 2 weeks ago, I sought out advice for a live pitch session I had with a children's editor from a big publishing company last week. I promised to report back on my experience, so here it is.

First I want to report that no matter what happens, I had very good experience meeting with the editor and attending the workshop that accompanied the meeting. I learned a lot and I am truly grateful for the opportunity.

I spent my preparation time formulating, editing and practicing pitches for 3 different picture book manuscripts. I had 12 minutes with the editor, so I wanted plenty of potential discussion topics.  This preparation helped to solidify the main themes of my manuscripts and how to talk about them with someone.  It was great practice coming up with less than 25 word summaries for the manuscripts. This skill is very useful for constructing query letters and twitter pitches. 

Practicing the pitches verbally was also very instructive. People tend to talk differently than they write and it took me two face-to-face practice sessions before I realized I needed to write my pitches and practice them in a way I would speak to someone about the manuscript, not write about it. This doesn't seem like that big of a deal until you try it. I strongly, strongly recommend practicing conversing with people before you live pitch.

Try to practice with someone who is savvy enough to ask meaningful questions about the manuscript so you can talk freely about a wide range of topics on the manuscript, not just recite a memorized pitch. Your confidence in conversing will improve after practicing this.

Having said all that, during my preparations I kept wondering about whether agents and editors care all that much about verbal pitches for picture book manuscripts when they can just quickly read or peruse the entire manuscript and make a definitive decision. So I wisely chose to bring copies of the manuscripts along with me.

When I met with the editor she was very kind and easy to talk with. One of the best parts of the experience was to see that editors and agents aren't some super human, they are ordinary people like you and me and you don't have to be so nervous or afraid to talk to them. As I suspected, she listened kindly to my pitch, but really just wanted to see the manuscript. So I just took out my 3 manuscripts for her to review.

I am very glad I prepared three, because the first one matched too closely to a series her imprint is already publishing and it was respectfully dismissed pretty quickly. So I was able to show her and talk about my other two manuscripts.  She had positive feedback to give me on both of the manuscripts along with some suggested edits. She thought they were both very humorous and, happily, she gave me her business card and asked me to send her the manuscripts after I had completed the suggested edits. We will have to see if she is seriously considering either of the manuscripts after I send them in, but I did take note that some people at the meeting reported not getting any requests. So, who knows? What I do know, is that the suggestions she gave me have made my manuscripts stronger, and she cleared up some long standing questions I had about how to present one of the manuscripts.  That alone made the meeting very worthwhile.

So, if you are considered signing up for a live pitch session at a conference, I'd say go for it. You may not walk away with a manuscript request, but it will likely be a good learning experience and I wish you all the luck!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Life at Both Ends

My 94-year old Mom has been in the hospital for nine days.

A few states away, there is a new baby in the family, just two days old.

Both are wrapped in cozy blankets, both are fragile and needy and vulnerable.

Both are loved so much.

Opposite ends of the spectrum, these two lives. One is surrounded by joy and tears. The other is accompanied by frequent sadness and tears. Both tug on the heart and draw us closer to God, who authors all life.

Mom will be 95 in just a few days, and in a month, her latest great grandson will be visiting. I pray we can get a photo of these two together, but today Mom talked of being so tired and getting a feeling that her life is winding down, so we will see what God has planned.

When I look at Mom, I see a long, full life.   When I gaze on this sweet new grand nephew of ours, I see a long, full life. Mom has many memories; our grand nephew has none. I cannot visualize our grand nephew at 95.  Only God knows what his journey will be. 

Life is short and long at the same time. When I'm sitting with Mom, who is often confused these days, the hours are long because there is a relenting grief that this may be the last day I see her.  When my brother holds his new grandson, I'm sure he's aware that this little boy will grow up as fast as his own sons did. Time seems to be measured by the heart - what we are celebrating, and what is painful. 

Life is amazing and scary and surprising at both ends.  It has value at both ends.  And every day in between. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Too Much to Say

by Patricia Cates

Unlike many of my fellow writing comrades, I do not suffer from writers' block. Please do not be envious, for the opposite is just as detrimental a malady. What plagues me instead is an ongoing rush of thoughts to the brain that cannot be constrained. I always have too much to say. One would think that this would be a blessing, right? Well I can tell you it is not. As a busy parent, with little time to write, staying organized and focused is crucial. I get frustrated because I am often neither.
My stories seem to get started but never finished. I have way too many WIPs. There is seemingly always some new idea that is more enticing than the last, popping into my head and distracting me from the current project at hand. Am I alone in this?

I don’t know about you, but my faults lean towards the tendency to want to put too much detail into one area of my book, when I should be working on another. I want to delve into every scene and obsess about it, or get lost for hours in overly tedious dialogue that I could easily work on at a later date. I've been like this since the 5th grade. I'll never forget agonizing over a paper I spent the entire weekend perfecting. Monday I was scolded by my teacher as it was meant to be a three page practice in creative writing. I had proudly turned it into a 13 page play, thinking I would get a high mark for my efforts. Hardly! I had to can the entire thing and start fresh. 
Shouldn't I be past this phase yet? By all means I know what I am supposed to be doing with that precious time. It’s just so difficult to stay on task when thoughts are flowing. Sound familiar? If you recognize yourself as part of this gaggle of gregarious gabbers, I may have found a great remedy.

Try channeling a favorite author. Think of the poet, author or playwright who inspires you most. Simply pretend to be them for the duration you intend to write. I personally like to sit at my desk and become Sue Grafton for a few hours. (What a dream that would be!) I find her composition to be very clear and concise. This in turn aids me in being clear headed and concise, which means I spend way less time editing.

Whoever you believe will help you focus, and get into your groove, is fine. It's alright if they have been dead for centuries. I say all the better. A stoic and serious author from the 18th or 19th century is always a fun one to try on. There's no one like Dickens or Locke when you need to quell some of that exploding fervent passion during a YA or fantasy writing session.  And if you are into horror or sci-fi, why not pick someone wildly successful like Rowling or King?  

For any females who need a cure for wordy vivaciousness, I recommend assuming the brain of a Victorian era author. Incessant speech would have been viewed as intolerable in those days. These fine women would never have considered being such a thing as verbose. So remember when you are going overboard, that you would rather be invited to tea than deemed a bore.
This exercise is a sure bet when I’m heading off the deep end. I hope this both helps and amuses you, when you need to stifle that muse a bit. I know that if my erudite grandmother were still alive, she would have agreed that sometimes we writers just need some reigning in. She would have told me to slow down, because sometimes I just have way too much to say.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What We Get To Say As Parents

By Kathy Lipscomb

Being a parent is difficult, but we do it because there are so many benefits. The love we get is better than anything else in the world. I love the snuggles as long as they last, and I even try to get them with my active toddler—doesn’t always work, but you can’t blame me for trying. But one of the other benefits is something that people may not consciously think about…
            We get to say hilarious things because we’re parents. These are things that if said to another adult, we’d get weird looks or may even get locked up in a mental facility. Here are a few of the things I say to my children that make me giggle:
·          1) “Come over here so I can smell your bum.” Seriously, I say this almost every day. I can say it in the middle of a crowded restaurant and nobody looks at me weird or whispers comments about the craziness of what I just said to my 2 year old son. In fact, they’re hoping that my son is the cause of the smell and that I’ll take care of it. Who wants to smell that when they’re trying to eat. Yuck.
·         2) “Get back here and take two more bites of your pizza, then you can go play.” I wish someone would say this to me. My toddler eats so little that I beg him to eat his pizza. PLEASE, eat your pizza. Do I get to beg him to eat his fruits and veggies? Yes, I do that, but I beg him to eat any food item we have for a meal—which constitutes as pizza sometimes. The best is when I tell him he can’t have ice cream unless he eats his chicken nuggets and fries first…
·         3) “Don’t touch the toilet!” Do I need to explain this one? Curious toddler. There. I explained it.
·         4) “Get off my head!” Okay, so my son does this more to his daddy. My husband will sometimes try to nap on the floor—I don’t know why he hasn’t learned how bad of an idea this is after the first 10 times—and it’s like an invitation to toddlers. He might as well say, “Come jump on me! Climb onto my back and sides. Sit on my head. It’s SO much fun. I’m pretty much a living jungle gym with weird shaped slides.”
·         5) “Will you check if she’s breathing?” I say this to my husband if he’s closer to her than I am. I think I check if my newborn baby girl is breathing about a million times a day. This is something I never understood, even as the oldest with 8 siblings, until I became a parent myself. The horror stories out there. And then of course, she breathes so quietly that I can’t hear her, so I tap her cheek or lift her hand…and she’s awake. Again. No nap for me. Why didn’t I just take the ten minute nap…
·          6) “Please don’t poop on me.” This is said like a prayer, repeated over and over while changing my newborn daughter until I’m in the clear with a new clean diaper put snuggly in place. We should have prizes for record breaking diaper changes, because that would be one of the most competitive sports out there. Most of you know the traumas of being pooped on. It’s like a shotgun…a paintball shot gun with smelly bullets….

There are so many more funny things we get to say because we’re parents. I’d love to hear the funny things YOU say (or have said). 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Spring Cleaning is not just for your house—or spring time.

Recently I have had the opportunity to help my sister in law move from a 3 bedroom home to a 2
 bedroom apartment. All of her furniture didn’t fit into her new home—to be honest, I don’t know how it fit into her old home. Every time I walked into her home I wanted to turn around and run. Everything was big, bulky and in my face. Finally, I took a deep breath and told her it drove me crazy to come visit her. She was a good sport and agreed to let my husband and I rearrange her living/dining room. After hefting a piano, a couch, an entertainment center, dining room table, a display cabinet I could breathe again. The room was open and inviting.
She called me up the next day to thank me and asked if I would help go through some of her boxes. I agreed and the next weekend we turned 11 boxes into 5—no need to keep cotton pasted to a piece of paper her son did 15 years ago. I made her promise to call someone to pick up all the things she decided not to keep or throw away. I got another call a few days later after her extra piles were picked up, thanking me again.

This motivated me to go through my house and make sure it was open and inviting. I became the world’s meanest mom and made my kids clean out their rooms and get rid of things they didn’t use anymore. I rearranged rooms, and got rid of bulky furniture. As I sat in our game/library room—my new favorite room—I was soaking up all the positive energy in it and thought to myself, “I love this feeling. What else can I clean and declutter?” My WIP came to mind.
So, I sat down and cut 5 chapters. No need for an overstuffed chapter that tells not shows. I also got rid of an entire POV. Too many voices your head can make you feel unwelcomed and Closter phobic. Then I spent time cleaning it up—adding a bit of back-story here and throwing in an extra death, just to keep my readers interested. As I have been working on this I have felt a huge lift happen to me. My story is stronger, inviting and cleaner.
If you know me, you know organization is something I struggle with, but when I do it, I find peace and joy in it. Now I’m on a kick and I want to get rid of anything that clutters my life and drags me down. There are more things in my life than I realized that effect my happiness and I’m ready to take back my life.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Who are you?

As I've shared on here before, I am an introvert. In fact, I think many of us writers are. Recently, my mom lent me a book called, "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking." It has opened my eyes to the good things about being an introvert, and made me realize that it's okay- I can embrace my introverted nature without being a freak and a loner.

As I have gotten older I've become very good at faking being an extrovert, because I've always felt like that's what's "normal" and what people expect. Plus, I see that Extroverted Kasey as being more friendly, more helpful, and more useful, and who doesn't want to be friendly, helpful, and useful?

But as I've been reading this book it's helped me to realize that I am not alone- introverts are all around me. Is it possible they just want to be quiet too?

I decided to put that theory to the test the other day when I went to get my hair done. Typically, I really hate getting my hair done because it requires a lot of small talk, and it's exhausting to me. (I think that's why many people go back to the same hairdresser time after time: the more you go to them, the better you get to know each other and the deeper the conversation can become- we introverts hate small talk, but give us some deep conversation and we're happy campers- well, until we're done, anyway).

So I decided that I would assess the situation with the hairdresser before I launched into small talk. I sat down in the chair and smiled in a friendly way and cheerfully answered the questions she asked me about how I wanted my hair. I thanked her when appropriate, cracked a little joke to assure her we were friends, and then I shut up. I decided that if she wanted to talk, she would. And I would talk back. But if she didn't, then I wouldn't either. We could just be quiet.

And we were.

By the end of the appointment I felt very zen. I had embraced my introverted self and allowed my hairdresser to embrace hers, and it felt very good to do so.

I have started using this as a parent as well- I know my son is introverted, and so one day when I took him to Scouts and it was just the two of us in the car, I didn't talk. I knew that he had been at school all day, then had come home with all of his crazy sisters, then spent the last hour and a half at his sister's gymnastics class goofing off with some other boys, then we had all come home and had dinner- I knew that I needed a break from being "on" for so long, and I had a sneaking suspicion that he probably did too. Normally, I would have thought, "Oh look, here is one of those golden opportunities- we're alone, I can pepper him with questions about his day, and we can have a heart-to-heart!" But I shoved those thoughts aside. We both needed a break.

So we were quiet. He read a book. I drove. And it was fine.

That's not to say I will always do this, and I'm sure we would have both been equally fine had we had a nice chat. But it was a nice change of pace.

I also realized as I read this book that it had been awhile since I had taken the Myers-Briggs personality test, so I found a website that offered something similar in the form of this free test. I took the test and my results were INFJ- Introverted (100%, by the way), iNtuitive, Feeling, Judging. Apparently it's quite a rare personality type- only 1% of the population is INFJ.

Once I got my results, I went to Pinterest and typed in INFJ, just for fun, to see what popped up. What fun! I felt like the screen suddenly came alive with a world that *got* me!


A meme: "For INFJs, every day is a battle between wanting to be recognized for the qualities that make us unique and not wanting to be too noticed because of them." I just gave a talk in Sacrament, which I don't mind too much (I just write out what I want to say and read it), but I told my husband that for me the worst part is afterward when everyone wants to tell me what a good job I did. TORTURE! It's not that I don't appreciate it, it just feels unbearably awkward. Just send me a note!

Another thing that I really identified with was the "empath" label for INFJs. I sometimes feel others' pain so strongly that I will cry for them, ache for them, and literally feel like what happened to them has happened to me. It's can be very stressful, but also very good because I get very determined to help in any way possible. This empathic part of me is also one of the things that can make being a mom so stressful- whenever my kids fight their anger seeps into me and it's hard not to feel angry myself. It's a constant struggle. But then again I also feel very happy for other people who are happy, so it's not all bad!

It was so fun learning about myself that I tested my son (INTJ) and my husband (ESTJ- almost my polar opposite). It was a great exercise for me because, for example, now when I feel like my husband is being closed-minded, I can remind myself that it's part of his personality to be very traditional. He is a firm believer in the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality. My husband's very favorite thing he found was a meme that said, "My bad. How insensitive of me. I asked to to stop being stupid without realizing how difficult that must be for you." Ha. Him ALL the way. I made it into a bumper sticker for him for Fathers Day.

Anyway, my next plan is to test each of my characters in my WIP and find out their personality types. Can you imagine how much easier it will be to write them with those sorts of guidelines? And I'll know that if they all test as INFJs then I'm probably doing something wrong... ;-)

So what about you? Who are you? And who are your characters?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Peace o' me

caution men working overhead
By Beckie Carlson
My son and I have been talking a lot about meditation. He struggles with autism and being able to express himself in ways that are appropriate at times. One of the coping mechanisms he has decided to use is meditation.
He has always spent a lot of time alone. It used to really bother me. I know, you might think it bothered him, but it bothered me more. I would see him out in the back yard, swinging sticks around and talking to himself and I would feel the guilt wash over me. You mothers will understand what I mean. My mind would fill with thoughts of how I was neglecting him, I was too busy, I was a bad mom, I need to.........etc, etc, etc. 
Many times I would stop what I was doing and go outside to spend time with him. More times than not, he would stop and look at me and tell me he needed his personal time. In a nutshell, "go away." I didn't understand. Now, I felt the feelings of being a bad mom mix with feelings of rejection. Being a mom is grand.
I spent a glorious weekend up in the mountains writing. It was slow going, to be sure. It might be because I had to run, work, and stress to get there. You can't just run a marathon and then lie down, you will cramp up. At least....that's what I've heard. I don't run literal marathons. I had to wait for my mind to wind down. I took a lot of naps and tried to relax. The second day was much more fruitful.
On Saturday, I did something I rarely do. I visited my husband's grave. It's not like I avoid visiting it, I just don't seek out opportunities to go. It is at least three hours away in a direction I don't go. He is nestled safely among the pines and generations of my family. I doubt he is lonely. 
Another reason I don't go is that I don't think he is there. It would be quite morbid to think that all our loved ones are just in the ground, waiting around.....no, he's not there. I've heard all the stories of people that go to the cemetery to talk to the ones that have gone ahead. They get guidance or peace or closure. I say to them, right on! That's awesome! Keep it up! For me, I always had a sense of panic or maybe denial in going to the grave.
I had some extra time Saturday between 'gigs'. I felt like I needed to go visit the grave. I went to a florist and got some flowers and drove the half hour up to Taylor. I had the radio off and just drove with my thoughts. I passed a lot of bicyclist and a large 'resting' deer. I didn't get lost. 
The cemetery was empty. I was able to drive right up the row next to the grave. I honestly didn't know what I was doing there, but I said a little prayer to help me through. 
It's a weird thing looking at your own grave. My name stared up at me, confident next to my husband's. I put my flowers down and sat on the grass. Maybe it was because no one was around, or maybe I was just ready, but I talked. I poured out my heart as I pulled the weeds around the stone. I didn't blame, I didn't pine, I just talked. I told him what I'm sure he already knew, about the state of things. The state of me.
After a while, I shifted and lay back against the grey stone that held my name. Memories of lying next to my husband washed over me. This was physically much less comfortable, but emotionally it felt right. We spent quite a while there, not saying anything, just being. 
There is a calm at a cemetery that isn't found anywhere else. My mind traveled away from the stresses of the day, the drive, work, and money. 
When Brad was alive, he talked a lot. It was his talent. He kept me up many nights just talking. It was how he worked things out. He would say them out loud and find his way.I think he knew his life would be cut short and he talked enough in his time to fill the long lifetime of any other person. I miss his voice. I miss falling asleep to his rambling. 
As I sat there, in the silence of the sunny afternoon, with the breeze gently blowing, I wished I could hear him again. I wished he would tell me what to do, how to feel, give me advice of some kind. I listened for a long time. No voice came, no feeling, no warm embrace. Just the sun, breeze, and sway of the trees.
After a while, the sun shifted and it became hot. I started worrying about ants getting in undesirable places on my person. I said goodbye and made my way to the car. As I drove away, I realized that maybe the silence was what I needed to hear. Maybe, the silence was telling me that I'm okay; I'm doing just fine and I don't need any direction because, 'I got this'.  
Life isn't how I planned it. I never wanted to have to try and be mom and dad. But, if I had it my way, I wouldn't have learned nearly as much. I'd still be using my training wheels and sticking to the sidewalk.  It may be trickier out here on the road, in the fast lane, but that's the path to where I want to go.
Cause I said so.

Photo credit: www.health-safety-signs.uk.com

Saturday, June 20, 2015

What makes a great story? It may not be exactly what you think.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about what makes a fabulous story. Is it character development? Lyrical language? Properly placed plot points? (Is it alliteration?) What makes that book so intoxicating that you can’t put it down, so addictive that you neglect your family, your housekeeping, heck, even sleeping and showering—just to find out what happens next?

Plot points, world-building, amazing characters—sure, those things are important. Just not in and of themselves. What makes a book not-put-down-able is a combination of all of these things, in the right amounts, in order to create a narrative that our brain can dive into and live for itself.  When we read a story, we don’t necessarily think about the mechanics of why we can almost feel the heat from the raging fire, why our heart breaks in two right along with the protagonist as she watches her board a war-bound plane, or why we want to jump for joy when the hero strikes a fatal blow to the heart of the dragon. We might attribute it to “just a great story” without understanding that there are very concrete psychological and physical causes for the way we become immersed in the story.

My son and I were talking about dreams and nightmares the other day, and I was explaining to him how our dreams are often a way for the subconscious mind to work out problems in a safe environment, sort of like “safe mode” in Microsoft Windows. That dream about being in an out-of-control vehicle can help our subconscious mind deal with feeling out-of-control in a life situation we may be in, for example (or so it goes in the circle of people who try to figure that sort of thing out).

Psychologists have proposed that the human penchant for stories serves sort of the same purpose. Part of what sets us apart from animals is the ability to hear a story and experience it, thereby gaining knowledge with which to navigate the world. An example given is “Don’t eat those red berries. Grog from the next cave did, and wait until you hear what happened to him.” The hearer learns the red berries are not good, perhaps by experiencing Grog’s intestinal distress vicariously, and doesn’t have to learn from experience.

Research has shown that when we read, our minds can actually simulate what we are reading. A 2009 study published in  Psychological Science reports that as subjects read descriptions in a story of different actions, the parts of the brain responsible for those actions or emotions in real life lit up in brain scans. A person reading about a light switch being turned on has response in the area of the brain responsible for interpreting light. The conclusion drawn by the study is:

“These results suggest that readers use perceptual and motor representations in the process of comprehending narrated activity, and these representations are dynamically updated at points where relevant aspects of the situation are changing,” says Speer, now a research associate with The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) Mental Health Program in Boulder, Colo. “Readers understand a story by simulating the events in the story world and updating their simulation when features of that world change.”
(“Reading stories activates neural representations of visual and motor experiences,”Speer, Reynolds, Swallow, Zacks. Psychological Science. 2009 Aug;20(8):989-99. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02397.x. Epub 2009 Jun 30)

In short, we think in story. It’s the way our brains makes sense of the world around us. Other people’s stories do the same thing. Our brains can stimulate intense experiences—our brain craves the knowledge, because it wants to know how to, say, defend the family against an incursion of zombie bunny rabbits. The problem is presented, and then the story teaches our brain how the protagonist conquers it. We feel it—because our brain is running the scenario as if it were real, in order to gain the muscle memory for how to cope quickly with that scenario in real life. It reminds me of Keanu Reeves in the Matrix, downloading Kung Fu.

So, as authors, the goal is to tap into the brain’s need for the story. This is why the three-act plot, with plot points, pinch points, believable character development, etc., are so important. Our brain will believe the most fantastical of plots, if it is in the right format. We know what real humans are like, so unbelievable characters won’t ring true and will disrupt the program. A plot that doesn’t set up the problem properly, won’t engage the brain because it won’t even cross its radar of “situations I need to learn about so that I can file them away unless I need to handle one like it someday.”

SO. All of those “Million Dollar Outlines,” “Write Like Rowling,” “Write About Dragons” and ten-bajillion other writing helps have something. Unless you just organically write in the proper format, you’re going to have to either outline your story, or edit the hell out of it to get it into a format that the brain’s “operating system” recognizes as useful information. If not, no matter how beautifully your words flow, no matter how artfully you can describe the 6-moon sky over planet Whatchamacalit, your story will feel flat and your reader will not find themselves immersed in the world and the journey of your characters.

Here’s a little saying I found in my reading rambles that sums it up perfectly:

Art is fire plus algebra

—Jorge Luis Borges

Friday, June 19, 2015

Video Games and Writing?

Howdy! I'm Alex Mathai and I've actually written a couple of posts here on MMW as a guest of Mike Larson. Anyway, here are a few of my thoughts from the past week!

Video Games and Writing?
This week has been an exciting week for gamers around the world. Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) launched late afternoon last Sunday and has continued to stun gamers with premier game after premier game throughout the week. Each major gaming console (Sony, Xbox and Nintendo) and a few of the more popular gaming companies exhibited their new technology and their impressive lineup of games planned for the next couple of years. Fans were wowed and surprised by each reveal, and more than a few plans were made as to which company would be receiving large chunks of people’s paychecks.

By now, you’re probably scratching your head and thinking, “But Alex, why are you talking about video games when this is obviously a writing blog?” Well, curious reader, I’m glad you asked…
The writing in video games is amazing! To outsiders, video games look like cartoons with needless violence and fighting, but I’m here to tell you that it’s so much more! If you look deeper into video games, you can see the artistic elements they encompass. Graphics, game play and voice acting are all important, but to me, the writing and plot are major factors. 

Video games have improved immeasurably since the Space Invaders “kill all the aliens” plot line. Modern plots are more complicated than a Shakespeare drama played out before gamers’ eyes. For example, let’s look at one of my favorite games: Assassin’s Creed.

The basis of this sci-fi game is that there are two warring underground factions – Assassins and Templars. Both orders fight for the same goal – world peace – but they go about attaining this goal in completely different ways. The Assassins’ want world peace through free will while the Templars want to imprison and control everyone to create order.  There are artifacts in the world dubbed “Pieces of Eden” that have the power to control the masses’ minds. The Assassins want to protect the Pieces of Eden while the Templars want to exploit their power. 

Still with me?

In the first game the gamer plays the part of a modern young man named, Desmond Miles, who is an estranged assassin kidnapped by a Templar organization. The Templars want to find the locations of a particular Piece of Eden, and Desmond is the key. In his ancestral memories, Desmond knows the location of the Piece of Eden…he just doesn’t realize it. The Templars have built a special machine called the Animus that can unlock these past memories of Assassins. Forcing Desmond to search (and the gamer plays) through the memories of an Assassin during the 2nd Crusade, they eventually find the location of the Piece of Eden.

Now I don’t know about you, but I wish I had thought of this premise! This is an amazing blend of Science Fiction and Historical Fiction. Think of how many books in a series you could make, how many worlds you could explore, how many plots you could follow! So far the Assassin’s Creed franchise has explored time periods during the Crusades, the Italian Renaissance, the American Revolution, and most recently, the French Revolution and Victorian London.  And… while the game writers take liberties with the story, like a good historical novel, they try to keep the history accurate.  What an exciting way to learn history.

I’m not the only one who has noticed Video game writing has been gaining popularity and recognition. In January of this year, several games (including Assassin’s Creed) have been nominated by the Writers Guild of America for the 2015 award recognizing outstanding achievement in video game writing. Here is the article if you are interested (Assassin's Creed, The Last of Us, Alien get Writers Guild nods).

Now, I’m not trying to convince you that video games are better than books. Nope! I’m a pretty big gamer, but I still set aside my controller in favor of a good book. I just wanted to draw your attention to the different aspects of writing that you might not have thought about. It’s fascinating to see how writing in video games has evolved. There are even some games that place the dramatic plot arc in the hands of the player. The choices that are made during the game affect the outcome of the story. If a player chooses to rescue one character instead of another, that choice comes back to haunt them later in the game. It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, but in a more visual way!

Since I’ve made my case, what do you think? By playing or just in passing, have you noticed the changes in the writing of video games over the years? Also, video games are made by a team of writers each contributing to the whole. How do you feel about collaborative writing and have you ever tried it?

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Day I Was Called a Helicopter Mom

Please welcome our newest blogger Celeste Cox

Yep. I'm new here! *waves hand* So this happened to me about a week ago and these were my thoughts on the situation. I hope reading it makes your day even just a little better. Enjoy!

To the woman who called me a helicopter mom, and to all the other mom titles,

My daughter has always been independent. Never afraid to venture off on her own. We've had our "fun" adventures, me running after her as she escapes across the park, me chasing her through the grocery store.

But there's a first time for everything. And with toddlers, it usually happens when you least expect it. And in public.

For some reason she didn't speed off into the Chik-fil-A playroom when I took her towards the glass door. Instead she was cautious. She needed me to guide her in there. So I did. But once she was inside I figured I could leave. I knew it. It's how it always went. She'd blow me kisses goodbye and that'd be that.


Tears. Shocking tears. A look on her face that said, "Mom why are you leaving me?" I made it out the door then looked through the glass nervously though I tried hiding my nerves with a reassuring wave and smile. More tears. Alice and Wonderland type tears that would probably fill up the entire playroom if I didn't go back in.


This was new. I'd never had to ween her into playing on her own. I went back in. Watched her calm and smile. Then thought, OK, that was simply a fluke. I can leave now. She's always fine. Just a fluke.


I tried it three more times. But in the end it just didn't feel right trying to force her to play by herself. She was afraid. I had no idea why. Could've been a million reasons. But all I knew was that she needed me. So I stayed. I backed myself in a corner trying not to be trampled by the screaming and running at 100 miles a minute kids. It was a small, cramped playroom. Definitely not intended for a pregnant mom to be hovering around. But there I was. Just standing there, smiling every time my daughter glanced my way.

When it was time to leave, I saw the other moms sitting happily in their seats, their kids happily playing ON THEIR OWN. None of the moms smiled at me, they were looking at me, but not smiling. But that was fine. It was the words I heard one of them say. She must've thought I couldn't hear her with all the kids screams and the chatter everywhere. Or maybe she figured my pregnancy meant my hearing was impaired too. But I heard it. And it hit me, physically. Louder than anything in the entire place.

What a helicopter mom.

Blushing. Was I blushing? I don't usually blush, but maybe I was? Or again, it had to be something related to pregnancy, like hot flashes, right? Not actual blushing. Who cared what some other mom thought of me? No biggie.

But as we sat in our seats to eat our food, the mom and her friends giving me side glances (and I could've been imagining the side glances, and evil red eyes—OK definitely imagining the evil red eyes), I couldn't help run the words in my head over and over again. A broken record player. 

Helicopter mom. 

Helicopter mom.

I was slipping. Slowly but surely I was drowning in the quicksand of insecurity and defeat. What did this mean? Was I a bad mom? Didn't I handle the situation the best I could?

And then my daughter looked up at me from eating her chicken strips and said, "thanks, mommy."Probably not for playing with her. Probably because I was feeding her. But still. I could see it in her eyes: love. Love for me. For being her mommy. For being hers. Uniquely hers.

So dear helicopter moms, non-helicopter moms, vegan moms, yoga moms, skittles and jellybean moms, and all types of moms out there, THANK YOU. Thank you for being moms. For trying. For loving your child the very best that you can. For fitting their needs and yours. For being there when you can. For assessing situations and acting on them to your best ability.

WHO CARES what title someone tacks on to you. As long as you remember the most important: MOM. You are a mom. And if you love and take care of your child or children, you are enough.
I'm not trying to bash on helicopter mom articles. There's some truth to it. But neither you or I can assume that because we have read some article about specific types of mothers that now we can spot them with our new and improved radar. What if that woman you think is a helicopter mom has a child with special needs? What if that woman playing with her child on the playground hasn't seen her child in a very long time? Or what if she's dealing with a situation you couldn't possibly know all the details about? And here you are, assuming the worst, that she's hovering, too involved.

Let's face it. There are negative effects to all sorts of parenting methods that WE WILL ALL MAKE. Not one of us moms is going to be the very best mom in the entire world no matter how many mugs, t-shirts, keychains we acquire saying so. Let's just be grateful we are moms. Let's be grateful for what we are doing right.

Instead of me begging you not to judge other moms, let me put it this way. Being a mom is hard. Whether you're at home all day cleaning up endless messes, or working outside of your home all day and missing your little one(s), it is hard. All of it. So why add to the heaping pile of hardness? Why worry about how another mom is handling a situation with her child? To observe and pat yourself on the back because you think you could've done better? But does that really make you feel better? Does that really help you feel accomplished as a mother? Doesn't it just make you wonder whether another mother is doing the same to you? Doesn't it just add more complication, self-doubt, worry, and make it all harder?

So maybe I was being a helicopter mom. So what? It felt right at the time. It's what made my daughter and I feel good, feel safe. It made us happy. And then I topped it off with a super healthy ice-cream cone!

And the world kept spinning. Or I guess I should say helicopter blades, eh?

You are enough. You are a mom. Whatever word someone decides to put in front of it, even if that word is amazing, just remember the most important: MOM. You. And you are enough.


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