Sunday, July 31, 2016

Let's Pretend it's 24 hours ago......

by Jewel Leann Williams

This post should have been written on a Saturday. Yesterday, to be exact. However, I spent the past three or so days recovering from a wicked case of either heat exhaustion, or something very exotic with a 3-day recovery period, and I've not been able to think, let alone write something worthy of you, gentle readers.

With that said, here are lessons to be learned from my experience:

1)When they talk about taking care of yourself in the heat, it's no joke!

Seriously, though. A 12-year-old boy collapsed in the heat the previous Friday and unfortunately passed away. It's that hot.

But I wasn't hiking, I was just doing a marathon radiator flush. At 8 am. I didn't think it was going to be my last act.

But it was 112 degrees that day, and when the LOW was 91 degrees, that made it about 100 degrees, even as early as 8 am. So yeah, I'm an idiot.

2)Water!  I was sweating, not really feeling distressed, but I also was just hanging around, sweating, not replenishing. But, I don't like water, and turns out Coke will dehydrate you.  'nuff said.

3) Really, just see #1 and #2.

I worked Tuesday night, came home from work, prepared my stuff, kissed the husband goodbye, and went outside to work on the car. Again, just "drain radiator. Fill radiator. Run car for about 20 minutes. Let car cool. Repeat twice." I did all of that, and a trip to drive a boy to a student council meeting, and was finished around noon.  Took a shower, went to bed.

I woke up 6 hours later, and couldn't see straight. The room was spinning like I have never experienced before, I was nauseated, groggy and felt drugged, and there was no way I was going to work. I was contemplating calling 9-1-1, but I knew from experience that the dang paramedics would've made me try to walk myself down the stairs, and that would've made me throw up. Too undignified.  So, I called in to work, cried dry little pretend tears at how terrible I felt, sucked on Otter Pops and ice chips, then water a bit later, and slept all night. I thought the next day I would feel better.

Nope. Dizzy. Nauseated. It took, as I said, about three days to go all the way away. I'm actually still much more tired than usual.

So, this isn't much of a writing blog--but it is a warning. When you're out there living and gathering up all of the experience to fuel that masterpiece, take care of yourself!!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

When Hollywood Gets It Wrong, part 1

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 PosterWarning: Major Harry Potter spoilers ahead.

I’m a book person. And like most book people, I tend to prefer the book to the movie. Despite this, I try to give movie adaptations the benefit of the doubt. Or, more accurately, I expect to like the movie less, and I just accept that. It doesn’t matter if the actors don’t look the way I imagined the characters. It doesn’t matter if they left out my favorite little side scene. Sure, I really wanted to see sparklers spelling out “POO” in the fifth Harry Potter film, and I was thrilled when the extended Lord of the Rings had my favorite scene with Eowyn and Faramir. But in the grand scheme of things, these events don’t really affect the meaning of the story.**

However, there are times when Hollywood really messes up. When they completely fail (in my not so humble opinion, of course) in ways so epic that I just want to kick them in the shins.* These are the times that try women’s souls. And these are the times that require a rant. So, let the ranting begin . . . with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows!

Okay, I know the producers had a major challenge: shoving a bazillion pages into two movies. But. BUT. What is the core conflict of this book? Sure, the obvious one is Harry versus Voldemort. But I don’t think that’s it. I think the core conflict is hallows versus horcruxes—power versus responsibility and sacrifice. It’s Harry versus the natural man’s lust for control. The book portrays Harry struggling with which things he should chase. This is a real challenge for him. It seems so logical that the battle should be about who has the most power and control—thus he should seek out the hallows. But in reality, the battle is about self-control—making the hard decisions even when you don’t like it. It’s about being the kind of person who can find and destroy the horcruxes.

This entire struggle is completely lost in the movie. Heck, it isn’t even clear from just the movie that Harry had actually owned the invisibility cloak (not just an invisibility cloak). The only inkling we get of the struggle to decide between horcruxes and hallows is in the very end when Harry contemplates the Elder Wand for about three seconds before breaking it and chucking it off a cliff.

Maybe I’m getting a little overheated about this, but I think there is a powerful message to the horcrux/hallows struggle that really gets lost in translation. It’s about how we beat the evil in the world. Is it by gathering more power so that we can crush the evil?*** Or is it by choosing difficult, yet quieter, roads (and yes, I recognize that destroying the horcruxes was in no way “quiet”; I’m talking metaphorically here)? Destroying the horcruxes was a task that almost wouldn’t get you noticed (think of RAB, who stole one, though nobody knew he’d done this huge thing). Gathering the hallows would make you impossible to ignore. And yet, in the end, when you possess the hallows, they destroy you, no matter how enticing they are at first. This is about real life, people, and it’s a nuance totally lost in the movie adaptation.

Sigh. Hollywood should really consult me before doing such foolish things.*** (By the way, despite my frustration over this particular aspect of the movie—which is, do not forget, still a major mistake—I did enjoy the movie overall. So don’t start sending me hate mail.)

Stay tuned next fortnight when I rant about the movie adaptation of the Broadway play Into the Woods! There will be fun, there will be laughter, there will be witty rhyming lyrics and shirtless princes!****

* Yes, I realize that’s a pretty pathetic response, but I’m sort of a pacifist, so that’s pretty high conflict for me.
** I would argue that my other favorite LofR scene, the scouring of the Shire, does in fact affect the story’s meaning, but that’s another subject entirely.
*** I can’t help but think there’s a lesson in here for the upcoming elections, but I’m not going to try to suggest to you what it might be.
**** Don’t worry, I will not be so foolish as to complain about the shirtless princes.

Monday, July 25, 2016

5 Miracles

Last night, since it was Pioneer Day, we watched 17 Miracles as a family. It was especially interesting for my husband and me, as we had just returned from our Stake's Pioneer Trek with youth ages 14-17.

Chad and I were 'Ma and Pa' for a group of 7 kids (none of them our own, and none of them related to each other). The temperatures were in the 90s with heat indices reaching closer to 100. We dressed in pioneer clothing- long sleeves for all, long pants for men, long skirts and aprons for women- and hiked about 8 miles over the course of 2 1/2 days, pulling loaded handcarts. We camped at night- no running water, so no showers or flushing toilets (at least we had port-a-johns).

The scenery was beautiful, the kids were astonishingly helpful and cooperative and tough, and all in all it was an amazing experience. And as we watched the movie last night, I started reflecting on some of the miracles we experienced during our little trek; miracles that were perhaps smaller than those the true pioneers experienced, but were profound and inspiring to me nonetheless.

So here are my 5 Miracles:

1. We were asked to go on Trek about 2 1/2 weeks before the trek was to begin, and we were fairly certain we would have to say no. We didn't know who we could get to watch the kids on such short notice, and we were almost certain Chad wouldn't be able to get the time off work. His boss had initially agreed to give him time off to go to Scout Camp with our son, but he cancelled it at the last minute. And even if he did get the time off, we are so tight on money right now that the time off would really hurt us financially.

Well, Chad happened to see his sister and mentioned our invitation to go to Trek and she immediately volunteered to take our kids for us. One hurdle down.

Chad hesitantly asked his boss if he could get the time off, and his boss said yes right away, and said he owed him one for having to cancel on him before, and promised no cancellations this time. Second hurdle down.

The last one was up to us, and we decided that if the Lord was gracious enough to throw open the doors for us to attend, then we'd trust in Him to take care of our finances. And He has.

Thank you, Lord, for giving us this amazing opportunity.

2. On the first day, I started catching a cold. By lunchtime I needed to have tissues on me at all times, because I was blowing my nose quite a bit, and I had that oh-so-fun ever-present tickling sensation that was making me sneeze.

That night I said a prayer, and I told God that I didn't know how effective I'd be in this service with a cold. I asked if I could get some relief, just enough so that I could function.

The next morning I woke up feeling totally fine. I felt fine the whole day. The next morning I felt perfect.

That afternoon after we'd loaded the car up with our belongings and started for home I started coughing. That night my nose was stuffed up, and I woke up in the morning totally hoarse and still coughing, blowing my nose again.

Thanks, Lord, for sustaining my health just long enough.

3. The day before we left, the rubber on the sole one of my running shoes started coming off, flapping every time I walked. I knew that it was too late for me to break in another pair of shoes for the trek, so I super-glued it and said a prayer that it would last. And last it did! I had no problems at all with it- until we stopped on the way home to pick up our kids. I got out of the car and the sole almost immediately started flapping.

Thanks, Lord, for keeping my shoe together just long enough.

4. I'll combine these into one, although it could probably be many more: in the final testimony meeting, 4 of the 6 of our remaining kids (one had to leave early) bore testimony, and 2 of them told of receiving answers to prayers. Many other kids told of how they came to Trek with doubts and were leaving with hearts that were full of faith. There were others who told of a life of hardship- of not being accepted in school or even in their own families- and from coming to Trek they learned what love really is. Miracles upon miracles.

Thank you, Lord, for changing hearts.

5. On the final day, we had a tough pull uphill in the hot sun- no shade. We had done the same route the day before and it had really done a number on us. The heat index was around 100, and we were all exhausted from the previous two days' exertions. As we climbed, however, a steady breeze picked up, cooling us as we went. I mentioned this to the girl I was walking with, and I said, "Thanks for the breeze, God! We needed it!" She laughed a little and said, "Hey, would you mind making it a little stronger? That would be great." Just then a gust came along and we both just started laughing and said, "Thanks!" This girl was not a member of the church, and she came from a broken home. I hope that this little miracle helps her to remember that God is mindful of her always.

Thanks, God, for reminding us you're always there.

I was only one of about 85 people on this trek, so I know that there were more miracles that I didn't even see. But this experience reminded me that when we trust in Him, when we press forward in faith, even when we can't see what's ahead, He will take care of us. He doesn't always take the challenges away completely; sometimes He just makes them easier to bear. And sometimes He just sends some reminders that He's with us, to help us keep going when it gets tough.

We didn't go through the same trials that the original pioneers went through, but I think our experience helped us to appreciate them a little bit more, and it certainly opened my eyes to the way the Lord can still work miracles for those who believe.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Here's to 15 years....

Lacey Gunter

Most of us like a good love story. We root for that destined couple to figure out they adore each other and we wait on bated breath for all the pieces to fall into place. Then when they are finally together and the story closes out we imagine their happily ever after.

What does happily ever after look like? Ever is sure a long time. It would be pretty boring if it were all smooth flat sailing. It pretty much demands a climb. We don't really think of that climb when we imagine what happily ever after looks like.  But our imagination of that happily ever after is usually pretty short lived isn't it. If it was a really great story we might mull over it for a couple weeks, at most obsess for a couple months. But in real life, a love story that lasts a couple months isn't much of a love story.

My husband and I are about to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary.  Fifteen sound like such a large number. Neither of us really feels that old. But both of us feel grateful the other person has stuck around that long and has continued this journey together.

Happily ever after is definitely a climb.  Stagnation never feels very happy. Growth can really hurt, but pain and happiness are not mutually exclusive. Sometimes we might feel like we are dragging our partner up the hill, kicking a screaming. Other times it may feel like our spouse is so far up the slope we're not sure how we will ever catch up. But the key, to me, seems to be to just keep climbing. We are not always holding hands, in perfect step with each other. But those moments when you both reach a peak at the same time and you turn around together to see the breathtaking view are as much fairy tale as anything I know.

Here's to fifteen years....going on ever after.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Writing with Children

By Kathy Lipscomb

Writing is hard. Getting that first (or second, or third, or whatever one you’re on) book written takes time and effort. And then come all the edits, which if you’re anything like me, take a lot longer than the original draft. There are the critiques, the rewrites, the beta reads and revisions, the query and synopsis, and the dreaded agent submissions, which isn’t even the end of the writing process. You could say we’re a little masochistic with all we’re willing to go through.

Now let’s add being a mom into the mix.

Insert sad laugh here.

I’m a mom of a three-year-old son and a one-ear-old-daughter. I have yet to experience any sort of school, and I’m losing nap time with the older one. My kids are full of energy, and I definitely spend my days chasing them, making sure they don’t get into trouble (no matter how much I baby-proof or even kid-proof my house, they still find ways to be mischievous).

I know many, many writers who have little kids and who tell me they’ll write when their kids are older. And that’s totally okay! Sometimes we need to take breaks from writing to take care of our families, friends, or hey, even ourselves.

I’m a little stubborn on this area though. I love to write (in general, not necessarily ever time I force myself to write) and when I try to take a week or two break, I always jump back in way sooner than planned. My stupid brain won’t shut up about my characters or worlds or new ideas, and I just don’t have enough time to get it all down. I’ve been to a lot of conferences this year, and once people find out I have two tiny ones at home (and want another one eventually), they all ask me the same question: When do you have the time to write?

You find the time. You make the time. I know some authors who wake up a couple hours before their kids do (no, thank you). Others stay up really late (yeah, I’m not a night person either). You have to find what works for you. Neither of these options are true options for me. I used to write during nap time, but my oldest hasn’t really been napping much. He’s getting older. So now I make time. I get my kids ready for the day, give them breakfast, get them all happy and playing, and then write in the mid-morning. It’s the time my brain is most awake. I’ll admit that I’m interrupted often, many times it happens several times in the same sentence. While writing this blog, I’ve been interrupted at least ten times.

The response I get to this is: Oh, I can’t switch my brain like that.

I get it. I truly do. It takes me a lot longer to write something when interrupted by my kids then when I have peace and quiet for a full hour. But I kept trying, kept training my brain to do the quick switches from Mama Mode to Writer Mode and back (over and over again), and I write 1000 words in an hour easy. Then I give myself permission to be done and do my other Mama Mode things for the day.

If you want to wait until your kids are older to write, do that. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you want to write right now, while your kids are young, it’s possible. Because when you get older, your kids go to school, but then other things get in the way. Some writers never stop letting their lives get in the way of writing. Now, don’t let writing rule your lives (that topic needs its own blog post), but you can write. You can make the time. Sometimes it means something else becomes less important. In my case, my husband helps more with keeping the house clean, but that’s something we discussed beforehand. That is something he said is okay by him because he believes this is important to me. And honestly it’s mostly the social media that falls for me. Wow. Facebook and Twitter are so addicting.

What is okay to let go a little? Or to get help with? What can you cut back on to get in writing time?

Because you can write even if your life is busy. You really can. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Taking Time to Recharge

by Jewel Leann Williams

I don't know about anyone else, but with summer comes doldrums. I mean, BIG time doldrums. Not only does it feel like the crispy oven-like heat will just never end (yup, I'm an Arizonan), but my whole family is home, and they are all cranky and uncooperative from staying up late, getting up late, and not being able to go outside for fear of instant vaporization a la Raiders of the Lost Ark. We tend to sort of sit around in a funk, unless we have miraculously planned some escape from it for the day.

(Disclaimer: I'm not whining, really. I work nights and my husband is working days; it becomes difficult to schedule outings and things, so yeah, we really are that family that was binge-watching before binge-watching was cool.)

At any rate, all of this makes it very hard to write, even my biweekly blog.

Add to that the mayhem of the past month or so, and my head is spinning, my heart is hurting, and I am at a loss for what I could possibly say that would matter an iota in the grand scheme of things.

It occurs to me that other people may be feeling the same, or at least suffering some of the symptoms of the summer (and world insanity) doldrums.  In that spirit, I present to you some ideas for recharging your writer's mind, body, and soul.

First and foremost, we all need to acknowledge that we NEED recharging. As moms, wives, and creative minds, we tend to think we always need to be "on"--that's just not true. We don't expect athletes to play games every single day with no break, or dentists or doctors to do their dentistry and doctoring 24/7, yet we don't often give ourselves permission to take a break.  I'm also proposing that this break can't just be an escape-break, but needs to be one specifically designed to recharge. (Sometimes escaping is all we need to recharge, but sometimes, we just go back to the same grind and the battery depletes itself faster than a 2005 Nokia battery.)

Okay, with that said, here are some tips:

UNPLUG!!! Not only do many of our electronic past-times (talking to you, Facebook) waste our time, but we tend to get caught up in the emotions of our newsfeeds.

Something like this:


Up, down, love, anger, frustration, fear--emotional stimulus without any time for processing, without any real physical engagement--it is taxing and it is draining your emotional battery. So dump it, even if only for a day. But for that day, REALLY dump it. Rest your psyche a little.

Get back to nature:

Did you know that camping, REALLY camping, leaving all the man-made light and devices at home (you can have a campfire... and if the bathroom is far, a flashlight)--has been shown to reset your body's biological clock and combat the detrimental effects of artificially altering our circadian rhythms?  It's true! (Those detrimental effects range from the mild morning drowsies, to weight gain, substance abuse, mood disorders.... yuck.) Here's a link to the article (which has its own link to an informative video):

But even if you can't camp, going for a walk in a park, sitting outside in the moonlight, breathing air that didn't go through a machine to get to you--connecting with nature can help clear your head and give you a boost. Sometimes that little added zip is what you might need to refocus.

Exercise.  I groan even as I type it. But did you know that exercise increases your mitochondria? When I read this, I instantly thought of Charles Wallace's little farandolae and mitochondria in A WIND IN THE DOOR, the sequel to one of my favorite books, A WRINKLE IN TIME. Charles Wallace is sick and his mitochondria are dying, leaving him constantly out of breath. Saving the mitochondria is key to saving him, and the universe.

But I digress. Mitochondria are the energy powerhouses of our cells. Exercise makes mitochondria grow, thereby giving our cells and our bodies much needed energy.


This brings me to another point:

Spend time--real time--with the people you love, or with people who inspire you.  I'm also saying that it needs to be real time, reconnecting time. Not "everyone sitting around watching a movie" time, or "Oh my gosh just please can we do the dishes" time.  But the kind of time that reminds you why you like these people to begin with. Time that reminds you why you like YOU.

It can even be spending real, quality time, with the person you want to be. Remember when you were a fired-up, can't nothin' hold me back, look out world, kind of writer? What made that person tick? What did you do then? Sometimes getting in touch with that person can help you to get back to that place.

This is where ANWA (or other writers' groups, or even an informal group of writerly friends) can really help. Conferences, retreats, meetings, even write-in's have always helped me to truly recharge and reconnect to the reason I write, and help me to find the muse that seems to be increasingly finicky the busier and more zombified-by-my-crazy-life I get.

Alrighty, there you have it. A few tips. I think I'll off and try one or more of those.  Once you've recharged, get back to writing!! You don't want to waste all of your newly charged batteries now, do ya?

What are some tried-and-true methods you have for recharging your writerly battery?  Share in the comments!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Everyone's Bathroom Has Quirks

Note: I am writing this from my phone, so please be a little compassionate toward my errors. Pretty please?

My family and I are on vacation right now, visiting family and friends in Salt Lake City, Utah. We're having a grand time, and it's nice on the budget to be visiting people we know because we get to stay at their houses.

While we've been doing this, I noticed something. Everyone's house has quirks, weird little things that don't work right or make strange noises or whatever. This is especially noticeable in the bathroom, probably because it's such a private place (so asking for explanations can be awkward) and probably because you really have to use that room at some point.

The thing is, everyone is used to their own bathroom's quirks, so we hardly ever notice them. For example, in my bathroom, we have two toilet seats. One is a smaller version insert into the larger version. It's for our little kids when they're learning to use the toilet, so it's extra small. I'd never thought about it, though, until a friend came out of the bathroom and said, very awkwardly, "Soooo, your toilet seat is kinda small." I realized she used the kiddie seat because it isn't obvious that the other seat is under it! This is something I never thought to mention.

Staying at my sister's house, I've discovered that the pipes to her downstairs bathroom sounds like a moaning ghost when the water is running. This is a sounds she's used to but that surprised me a bit. And at my in-laws house, there's a bathtub that doesn't have a shower, which was so crazily weird to me when I first discovered it. And at a friend's house, the hot water comes out of the sink scorching. Oh, and there's the sink handle at another house that I accidentally pulled off when I turned it! Fortunately, it was broken before I came along. But you get the point -- all houses have quirks, and we get used to our own.

Now what does this all have to do with writing? Okay, originally it had nothing to do with writing. I was just in the shower desperately trying to come up with an MMW post (and also desperately trying to get the water temperature right) when I thought of it.

But then I realized actually it does relate. In our own manuscripts, just like in our own houses, we get used to the weird stuff and the stuff that doesn't work right. We sometimes barely notice it or maybe don't even see it at all! We need beta readers (or whatever you want to call them) to look at our stories with fresh eyes and see what isn't working. They'll notice the jiggly flusher or the creaky tiles when we won't.

And they can't all be our critique partners. Our critique partners have essentially been living in these houses with us, or at least visiting often enough that they too miss the stuff that isn't right. Maybe you had a scene that explained why the character acted a certain way, but then you pulled that scene out. Your critique partners still understand, but your future readers wouldn't get it. Enter the beta reader! They find and help you fix those quirks before they go to your readers.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against houses having quirks or unfinished projects. Such is life. But if you're planning on selling your house, you're gonna have to fix a lot of that stuff. To you it may be charming or at least invisible, but to a prospective buyer, it isn't. Same goes for a story. Do you want your readers to "buy" it? Then fix it up.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

If You're Late Be Late

by Celeste Cox

It has been engraved into my mind since childhood to NEVER BE LATE. Being late is irresponsible. You are perfectly capable of planning your time accordingly to make it someplace on time. Oh, and being on time means you are late. So be there early.


Even though this mentality has been stuck in my head like a song from Frozen, I have yet to live by it. I try. Oh gosh do I try, but something always comes up: the baby needs changed, fed, then changed again, the toddler took off her shoes AGAIN, then I can’t find the keys BUT THEY GO ON THE KEY RACK! I forgot deodorant—should I unlock the door, lug the kids back inside and put some on? Probably.

Anyways, I could go on, but you get it. I thought being on time as a teenager was hard, but getting tiny humans ready to leave the house is near impossible sometimes.

About a month ago, Friday, was one of those days. My cousin was waiting on me at the zoo. I was supposed to be out the door thirty minutes ago. Once I got the kids in the car it was The Fast and the Furious SUV edition. If a car went below the speed limit I rushed around them, called them names: Voldemort, Kylo Ren, Sauron, because well, with kids in the car I couldn’t use those other kinds of names.

I FINALLY made it to the zoo. The kids were in the stroller. I was on the sidewalk. I was almost there…..BAM

The family in front of me just stopped. I have no idea why. I didn’t even try to take the, point zero two seconds to look and see why they stopped. Instead I thought ARE YOU SERIOUS? And in the words of Stephanie Tanner and C-3PO,

I said out loud, “Excuse me,” as I wheeled my stroller into the dirt to get around them.

Ahahahahaha. My stroller did not make it back onto the sidewalk. My poor kids. I kept trying. I kept slamming it against the sidewalk. Finally, an older woman in the family I was trying to pass, picked up the front of my stroller and placed it onto the sidewalk for me.

I was speechless. And yet I heard myself say, “thanks, sorry I just . . . thanks.”

I rushed passed them again but only because I wanted to get as far away as possible. I was beyond embarrassed. My cousin didn’t seem upset that I was late. Everything was fine. Why was I in such a rush? Since then, I've tried to put that morning out of my mind. I had a great day at the zoo, but that morning has been bothering me.

Why was I in such a rush? Why am I always in such a rush?

If we are running late and my toddler stops to pick a flower on our way out, I tell her to hurry. If she takes her time skipping instead of walking, I tell her to hurry. If she spots a plane in the sky and wants to just stand there in aw, I say, “yeah, wow, okay, hurry let’s go.” I should add though, that it is usually above 109 degrees Fahrenheit so I kind of have a not wanting to bake to death motivation.

I get that being late isn’t a good thing. If you say you’re going to be somewhere at a certain time, you need to try to be accountable. I need to learn how to manage my time and to account for all the little things that can and will come up. I will keep tying to be on time. I will figure it out somehow, but I’m done rushing. If I don't manage my time and I realize I'm late, I'm going to hurry, but not rush. No more crazy, unnecessary stress.

Swerving around all those cars gave me two minutes. Maybe. Trying to get around that family on the sidewalk took two extra minutes. So in reality all rushing did was put us in danger and make me a total jerk. Voldemort, Kylo Ren, Sauran. Yep. I was the villain. I was the problem.

If you’re late, chill. It’s okay. If you’re ticked because this always happens and why can’t you ever just make it on time? Chill. You can. Just worry about it when you're not already hyped up on stress. Try again next time. It’s not worth getting angry. It’s not worth freaking out. Smile. You’re doing okay.

If you’re late, be late.

And remember,

Monday, July 11, 2016

When you don't know what to post when it's your turn to post... send your readers on an internet FIELD TRIP to go read some excellent writing!

Because who doesn't love a field trip?

Pack your lunch, wear comfy shoes- er, well, find a comfy chair, that is, and enjoy The Alot of Books Writing Contest Results. It's all good, but if you scroll down a little bit you'll see the finalists in this short story contest, and you won't be disappointed. There is something so thrilling to me about reading a tight, well-written short story.

>>WARNING: Some of these have some language.<<

I would love for you to return and tell me what you thought!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Extreme Word Dieting

By Lacey Gunter

Being a picture book writer, I spend a lot of time trimming out words. With the average picture book manuscript expected to be 500 words or less, every word counts. When people are often touting how many words they wrote during a certain period of time, I am often thinking about how many words I was able to eliminate.

Unless you are also writing for very young children, this is probably not a big worry to you. But there are many situations where a WIP needs to go on a serious word diet. The typical writer usually approaches this using techniques of elimination. Unfortunately, these techniques are often slow and difficult. If you have a lot of time on your hands and you like the hard work, great, keep at it. For the rest of us who are strapped for time, and really hate having things taken away, an addition technique may be just what you need.

Remember when you were young and you would strain to get a Band-Aid off ever so slowly, thinking somehow if you went slow enough you could just avoid the pain and your mom or dad would suggest just ripping it off quick and then the pain would all be over. Well, word dieting can work like that too. Instead of slowly and painfully removing a word at time, it might be better just to take it all out at once. You're probably wondering how in the world you trim off a large portion of your manuscript in one quick stroke.  Well I was speaking literally, as in take it ALL out, every single word. Open up a brand new blank writing document and there you go, all gone. Whew, Band-Aid off. That didn't hurt so much, did it?

Now that that's done, the rest isn't quite so bad, because all you have to do is add. People like adding, it's much more enjoyable than having things taken away. The only difficult part is playing gate keeper. But you can open and close doors pretty well, can't you? You've been doing since you were like 2-years old.  Simply let in only the parts that absolutely need to been there. With everything else, just keep the door shut. This is most easily done by adding a scene at a time. Start with the most important scene in the manuscript. After each scene added, read or see what you have. Ask if the story can stand on its own, does it make sense, is it good? If not, add another scene.  If so, then it's time to stop and close the door.

If you are concerned about all the lovely or awesome writing you have left outside, don't worry, you can save the new version under a different name. The old version doesn't have to disappear. It can be there any time you need to just go back and look at it. It can even be mined for good ideas and good writing in your next project. But don't be surprised if after reading the old version, you prefer the new, leaner version better.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Attention and Intention

By Patricia Cates

The first time I read a Deepak Chopra book was back in 1996. I own six of them now. My most recent purchase was in January. I bought a book of his entitled “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga.” It is co-authored with David Simon, MD. The reason I bring this up is because it is extremely enlightening, and it’s motivating me to write!

So I’d like to share a few brief but sage words from a specific yogi principle. It comes from the sixth branch of yoga, and is known as the Dharana. The book tells us that Dharana is the mastery of attention and intention. It teaches us that, “Whatever you place your attention on grows in importance to you.”

So…Where are you putting your attention? (If you have small children you get a free pass because you deserve a break as it is.)

The same chapter goes on to say, “Be aware of your intentions. Make a list of the most important things you would like to see unfold in your life.” The book suggests that through this we are activating things with our attention, and then our intentions can in turn manifest this in our lives. Apparently intentions have a powerful influence. It is such a simple concept, yet so true.  Sometimes it is nice to be reminded.

Maybe we do intend to work on our books but our attention and time is placed on something entirely different. A book cannot manifest itself. There is a lot more in this chapter but I will just leave you with that for tonight. This is just something fun to think about.   

I know I feel inspired to focus my attention towards my newly clear intentions. Thanks Deepak.

Monday, July 4, 2016

What Writers Often Forget About Freedom

image from

Over the weekend I was the only one awake in the car at 11pm as we drove back from a family 4th-of-July celebration two hours away from our home. I was flipping through radio stations trying to find something to keep me alert, when I came across a BBC program called World Book Club, in which they were interviewing Colombian author Juan Gabriel Vasquez. (Listen to the entire interview here.)

Well, I always jump on the chance to learn from a published author, and it's rare I get exclusive car radio privileges with no interruptions from my little peanut gallery, so I settled into my driver's seat to listen as I drove through the rainy night, the soft thwip-thwup of the windshield wipers marking a steady background rhythm behind Vasquez's deep, thoughtful voice coming through my speakers.

Vasquez has published several books, but the one they were discussing was, "The Sound of Things Falling." Don't you just love that title? It just kind of makes you sit up and want to know what it's about.

Anyway, he said something during the interview that really made me think, and so beautifully fit with our celebration of Independence Day that I knew I had to share it with you today:

"Memory is an essential part of my work as a writer. I think that writing novels and the act of remembering go hand in hand. The act of remembering is a moral act; it has moral connotations. It speaks to our need to keep alive something that, without literature, without fiction, would die.  
"As human beings we're constantly competing with authorities for control of our life story. The State- all those words we write with capital letters: the State, the Government, Religion- they're all great narrators and they strive to control their own version of our past. Fiction is to me the place where we as citizens raise our hands and say, 'I don't remember it happening that way,' or, 'I think it might have happened in another way.' And that moral act of remembering from the point of view of a citizen is one of the things that novels do that cannot be done in any other way. To go to our recent past and find out what's going on in (for lack of a better word) the soul of a person, the mind of a person, is one of the great privileges that fiction affords us." – Juan Gabriel Vasquez

He said that so eloquently, and what an important reminder to us that the ability to write and have those recorded memories (either ours or others') read and shared is indeed a privilege, it is a freedom that I think we often overlook, and as Vasquez's words imply, it's one that should not be taken for granted.

There are many of our predecessors who have not fought on battlefields, but on the front of public opinion, who have painstakingly paved the way for the freedoms we now enjoy. I think specifically this week of the profound work of Jewish writer Elie Wiesel, who passed away just two days ago. When he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the committee called him a "messenger to mankind." If anyone was a soldier in the battle for the preservation of memory through literature, Elise Wiesel was.

So this Independence Day, I encourage you to be a little more grateful that you can write without fear, and to remember that through our writing we can be a voice to memory, a voice for the ordinary person whose name may never appear in a history book, and whose experiences might be lost without the work of writers like us.


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