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three things thursday


One of my friends just posted on Facebook that during a phone call to her husband, they both heard a distinct clicking noise. When she spoke to it, it responded. 

Her explanation was that the clicking was aliens trying to communicate. Other people commented that it was the weather, cell phone interference, or the government spying.
What’s the first thing you thought it was? Whatever your first thought was, throw it out. What was your second idea? Your third? What would your character have thought?
Now that WIFYR is over (and I’ve slept and slept and slept for several days), thought I’d share an occasional topic or idea that resonated with me while I was there.  One of the panels consisting of Ann White, Ann Cannon and Michelle Branson discussed non-fiction.  Specifically, non-fiction for kids.  It was suggested that we take a look at children’s magazines who are ALWAYS looking for interesting non-fiction ideas, and often for poetry as well. They need articles about people doing good things, helpful things, funny things, accidental things.
Your kid was in a class program and something funny happened?  Write about it.
You had an odd, funny, difficult, sad, happy incident in your childhood?  Write about it.
You know a favorite family story that would bring a chuckle or show the way things were “back in the day”?  Write about it.
We can step beyond the boundaries of Utah’s own The Friend magazine to look at Cricket, Boys’ Life,Girls’ Life,Highlights, Jack and Jill, Ladybug, Stone Soup, to name just a few.  Not familiar with many of them?  Go to your friendly neighborhood library, and spend a few pleasant hours seeing who’s publishing what and where.  Need more info? Check out the Writer’s Market: they list many publishers, approximate prices for work . . . and just seeing what each is looking for will probably give you enough ideas to work on all month!
Happy Publishing!
How do you get done all the important things that must be done?
Right now I’m so tired.
I know most of this is from stress, but I am almost weak from exhaustion.
What do you do when you get to this point?
Just watch TV?
Go running?
Eat ice cream?
Suggestions gladly accepted.

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Kyra Leigh, Queen Bee

I’m still on the blog. Sort of. I’m still in the writing world. Sort of. I’m still inspired. Sort of.
I had I good idea for a book a few days ago. But because I am so high stress at work all the time, I forgot it.
But I still have ideas brewing.
I’m almost settled in my new place, which means writers and book groups are going to be just around the corner.
I could be reading again.
Mom is a real writer. Someday I want that to be me.
It will be, I hope. I hope I hope.
It’s late and I’m tired.
Sleepy tired.


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Threee Thingss Thursdayy

Herb and I survived WIFYR, the week-LONG marathon of learning how to improve our writing 10 hours (and more) a day. We’d both been struggling a bit with opening chapters and, as a parting shot, Carol gave Herb an extra assignment: Read the first chapter of 50 books. Read them as a writer, noting what happens, when and how throughout. Then post “reports” on what you found out in each one. I was in a different class, but I thought Carol’s idea was an excellent way to figure out what I was doing wrong in my first chapter. I made a template, of sorts, for myself: the things I should look for or notice in each chapter read.
Here’s the list from my template — please feel free to add items you think might be helpful and post them here for all of us.
1.  Title
2.  Author
3.  World (as shown in chapter)
4.  Main Character  (MC) – how s/he is introduced
5.  What the MC wants
6.  The MC’s main problem (in getting it, or in life)
7.  Introduction of other characters
8.  Plot development (as revealed in just this chapter)
9.  Opening (what we find out in the first few paragraphs and how it’s working — or not)
I also added a few quoted sentences which showed the tension, the created world, and a couple of the outstanding characters. By the time I’ve read 50 chapters like this, those sentences will also be a solid reminder of that specific book.


I just watched The Great Gatsby again and I’m wondering  what makes it a classic. It’s not the writing, at least not for me. There are a few brilliant lines in it, but overall, it feels too flowery. The characters aren’t likable either. Each are burdened with flaws that can’t be vindicated. 

I think the genius lies in the fantasy it provides. Everyone can relate to longing for The One Who Got Away. It’s such a romantic idea, to think that someone has been pining for you from afar. And on the other side, we have the quintessential American Dream. A young boy, dirt poor, who managed to rise up to be the greatest and the richest of them all.
And then there is the debate about soulmates. The definition of bravery. The concept of honor. Is it possible, after all, to rectify a mistake made in the past?
What do you think makes it a classic?
Off to ALA tomorrow.
Going with my little Caitlynne.
Signings on Saturday: at the Zondervan/ HC booth at 10 am and at S&S at 3 pm. Come see me if you’re there.
I won’t be able to write tomorrow  as we’re leaving early in the AM. So here’s a FRIDAY exercise for everyone:
Get a cheap spiral notebook to keep your writing facts in. Save it always. Keep it near so you can add to it, like Brenda has. Ann Dee and I will work with you and this notebook the rest of the year, on Fridays.
To start–begin a collection of first lines and first paragraphs of novels. Write them into your notebook. Add title and author.
Analyze WHY these work or don’t.
How do you feel about the first line? The opening?
Do they fulfill a promise (you know this if you’re rereading)?
Do the first lines grab you?
What’s the tone from just that opening?
Are there wasted words?
Do you know what the book is about? How?
Why did an editor pick up this novel?
Is it successful?
Do this for the rest of the year. Analyze beginnings and why they succeed or don’t.
Remember Richard Peck said you are no better than your first line.
And Heather Flaherty, The Bent Agency, said she gives books three sentences.


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To blog or not to blog

My husband teased my last week because not only did I not get FIVE comments, I didn’t even get ONE comment.

I teased him because he has a mustache and that’s gross.

I  don’t mind not getting comments. I actually don’t mind if nobody reads this (does Carol mind? Maybe. Sorry). For me, blogging forces me to put sentences together. Lately that has not happened in any other forum. I also have a personal blog that I only write on when I am under extreme duress, or I am mad, or I can’t talk to anyone because I’ll start crying–so that blog is a little more regular than this one. Ha ha.

I do however have writing friends who don’t blog because they feel like it wastes writing time and energy.

Or they think no one reads blogs anymore (twitter is the thing).

Or they say it’s actually NOT writing practice because it’s a different type of writing.

Here are the questions:

1. Do you blog?

2. Why do you blog?

3. Is it a writing exercise?

4. Can it be a waste of time?

5. Do you read blogs?

6. Do you think twitter is the thing?

7. Do you find kale to be disgusting?

8. How many times a week do you wash your hair?

9. Do you think all writers should have blogs?

10. Do you think we should stop blogging and move to Hawaii?

That is all for today.


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Poor Carol

I have become the most unreliable blog partner. Carol and hopefully most of you are at WIFYR right now, one of my favorite places.

I am NOT at WiFYR, sadly.

Instead, I’m wiping down walls and stepping on spiders and trying to get my house ready to sell. Would you like to buy my house?

Here are a few things to think about this week–if you’re not at WIFYR. If you are at WIFYR, you will have plenty to do.

1. Listen to this podcast on fathers from This American Life. Different parts of this podcast jumped out at me.  One segment in particular, about a boy losing his father and seeing him in his casket (he used the word coffin which is a whole lesson on diction and how it can change a piece completely) made me think a lot about my own experience with bodies. And death. And parents. And how we are “supposed to” react to tragic events in our lives but yet things are so much more complicated than they seem.

Writing Prompt: Listen to this podcast and then write about your own dad. Write about he did or didn’t attempt to show you how he loved you. Did he say it out loud? Did he cook you breakfast every morning? Did he hug you and write you notes in your lunch? Did he dress up every day and wave to the bus? This could turn into a first chapter. It could be a short story. Or better yet, it could be a letter to your own dad, telling him how you love him.

2. Here are some summer reading programs to motivate your kids. Now we all need to think of some summer reading programs to motivate each other. How many books will you read these next few months? Why can’t i finish a novel? Why do my toes ache.

Writing Prompt: Make a list of books you’ve always wanted to read. Make another list of books you’ve heard about and possibly will read. Now make a list of books that are sitting on your side-table that you should read. Make a reading goal. The more you read, the better you write. Now tell me what to read.

3. Watch this show. Pay particular attention to the story-telling, the narration, the character development, the rising and falling action of each episode. This is based on a memoir. Are you keeping a journal? If someone was going to make a show of your life, what would the episodes be? What would have to change (to keep viewers interested), what could stay the same? A lot of times people will write stories and they will be unbelievable. I’ll tell them this. Then they’ll tell me that IT HAPPENED LIKE THAT IN THEIR REAL LIFE! And I’ll tell them: Sorry. It’s still unbelievable.

Life really is stranger than fiction. But we can use our life to make our fiction more rich. We just have to finesse it a bit.

Writing Prompt: Write a short episode–complete with hook, middle/climbing action, climax and ending–all based on an incident in your life. A small incident. Maybe something that happened today. While you were trying to cross your sweet child’s room to get a shirt and stepped on a lego and fell down on more legos and screamed out in pain and then someone called the ambulance and you were fine but you pretended you weren’t fine. You crossed your arms across your chest and waited for the men to come and put you in the back of the truck and people would be screaming and you’d be very very still and your kids would be worried so should you wake up? Or should you keep still. And let them learn about life and how sometimes people get hurt when they step on Legos. Write a story like that. Only different. And better.

That’s all for today. I think if I get five comments, I’ll give you more assignments tomorrow. If I don’t, I’ll know you’re all networking and laughing and singing and eating at WIFYR without me and definitely not reading this blog and I’ll just go back to acting like I’m going to paint walls WHICH I HATE.

The end.

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“Returning to the Elements,” an article written by Jack Smith in last February’s THE WRITER, gave a review of several authors’ ideas about several of the basics of writing all of us are familiar with: Creating Your Protagonist, Managing Plot, Handling Point of View, Developing Setting, and Creating Dialogue.  Personally, he has written several books, including WRITE AND REVISE FOR PUBLICATION, and two satirical novels: HOG TO HOG and ICON.
He gathered ideas from several other authors, Catherine Ryan Hyde (of PAY IT FORWARD and 24 other novels) who led off the discussion on Protagonists.  She believes compelling protagonists “share two chief traits”: first, he or she needs to be someone with a strong enough “will to move forward through adversity,” and, second, needs to be “someone readers can relate to.”  It doesn’t harm to have your “relatable” character show some vulnerability either.  “We’re all vulnerable on the inside so our hearts go out to anyone enduring struggles we understand,” she says.
Oddly enough, she also points out protagonists “don’t necessarily have to be likeable or sympathetic,” though they do need “to be human.”  And how do we show the humanity?  “[G]et inside your character’s head” because that’s when the “humanity will begin to shine through.”
Is your protagonist . . .
moving with strength through adversity?  CHECK!
Relatable?  CHECK!
Likeable or not?  Doesn’t matter (though you should probably know).
Human?  CHECK!
And you know this by getting into his/her head?  CHECK!
GOOD JOB ! ! !

When it comes to writing, I am a perfectionist.  Nothing is ever good enough. The sentences are never tight enough, the structure is never solid enough, the pace is never steady enough. I have been known to spend an entire week on one paragraph.

But I wonder sometimes if my perfectionism is really just insecurity.  It’s a good line, saying that I’m a perfectionist when someone asks why I haven’t published yet.  It’s true that I’ve met with a few agents and editors and I’ve never actually been rejected, just asked to revise and resubmit.  But that revision…I can’t ever get it to a place where I can actually say I’m proud of it. I’ve never reached the point where I can say, “This is it.  This is as good as I can make it.” It’s always, “Something is wrong. I don’t know what it is, but something isn’t right.  I can’t show this yet, it needs work.” Then I spend months, no, at this point I’ve spent years trying to figure out what it is that’s wrong.

However, if I could be brave…if I could just be brave enough to show my writing to others as is…maybe they could help. Maybe these things that having me panicking could be fixed with a couple of sentences by someone much more talented than myself.

This is why a good critique group is so important. Finding those that can help, inspire, and keep you on a deadline is vital to success for people like me. If you’ve been struggling, a good critique group could be exactly what you need. And if you’re lucky enough to be heading to WIFYR this year (I’m so jealous!) then be on the lookout. Many phenomenal groups have been formed there.

FYI–I won’t be around next week. Not sure in Ann Dee will fill in or not.
So! I’m off to the conference!
Hope to see you there.

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Some assignments.

1. Today I was doing this fifteen minute workout and was about to pass out. My eight year old was timing me and my six year old was sitting nearby saying things like, “Why are you breathing so hard?” “Why is this hard for you?” “Is your leg supposed to go like that?” It was really rejuvenating. All writers should take time to exercise around kids. It really helps you get in the mood to write for children. Assignment: Do ten side plank oblique crunches with young really nice children looking on.

2. My two year old just ate a handful of kosher salt . . . and is going in for more. Next I’m going to hand him some lemons. Assignment: Give kids bad things to eat. Watch them. Write down a lyrical passage about their reaction.

3. I wish I had my own swimming pool. Assignment: Buy me a swimming pool.

4. I’ve been reading Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. In five minute spurts.  I have decided to copy down passages word for word from his book. His writing is beautiful and one of the best ways to learn is through imitation. When you actually write down the words, you can feel the rhythm. You get a better sense of the sentence length, punctuation, description. Assignment: Find a great book. Something DIFFERENT from your style. Write down several passages word for word. Read them out loud.

5. My girl Valynne has her book launch tonight at the King’s English. Please go. Assignment: Go to the King’s English tonight.

6. Last week someone asked me when my baby was due while I was holding my six month baby. Although I know I look pregnant and normally this wouldn’t affect me so much–I’ve had five babies! Life is good! Belly fat is fine!, I just happened to be really tired and really run down and really emotional. I cried in the car. Assignment: Write about a time someone said something and made you feel sad and they realized they made you feel sad (the lady realized it) which made it even worse because then they felt bad and you felt like crying but you didn’t want to cry in front of them because then they’d feel worse and you’d have to keep saying, It’s okay! It’s okay! I’m fine. This is my cute baby. This is my body after my cute baby!

7. He just took another handful of salt. I’m a fabulous mother. Assignment: Eat a handful of salt.

I think that’s all the assignments for today. If you do them all, and I mean ALL, let me know and I’ll send you a prize. I want proof P.S.


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