Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Beast and the Beauty

Movies are often cited as great resources for fiction writers. Kids movies deal with strong emotions and universal themes. Fairy tales have survived because they are so relatable. Better still for the writer, they are a story stripped to it's essentials.

Maisey Yates has a new post about Disney's Beauty and the Beast. She talks about the Beast as  a vulnerable alpha hero. I always thought that B&B was remarkable for the character of Belle. She's lovely and likable, but she is not perfect. She is has emotions and she isn't always kind and forgiving. Although at the beginning of the movie Belle isn't fooled by Gaston's pretty face, she does learn over the arc of the story to see past the Beast's appearance to see the man underneath. A man who becomes a better man for her.

Ariel and Aurora are flawless ideals. Belle is a person and she opened the door for other Disney heroines that break the princess model like Mulan and Giselle. Mulan pretends to be a boy. If you haven't seen Enchanted, I'll clue you in: Giselle isn't very bright. These are the characters that my kids loved the best. In truth, we don't love a character in spite of their flaws; we love them because of their shortcomings.

Friday, December 24, 2010

our gingerbread house

Last weekend, we went and saw a gingerbread house building demonstration. The chef's house was amazing.

So we incorporated some of her ideas into our house this year. Although, I didn't back the gingerbread with chocolate, much to my family's dismay.

The trick is to let the walls dry for 24 hours before adding the roof pieces.

Then the fun part: the decorating. The kids took pastry bags and candies and made a project of it this afternoon.

Here's the final product. Tomorrow, we get to eat it!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Last night my family and I drove to a small holiday party. We exchanged gifts with family we won't be able to see again before Christmas. It was a gray and rainy day. The sun didn't peek out once. The drive home was amazingly foggy, a very unusual evening. If we do have fog, it tends to occur in the early morning and quickly burn off once the sun has risen. It's really beautiful driving past all the lakes where wisps of fog pool next to trees covered in Spanish Moss. My new driver daughter, Prudence,drove home behind me, her first ever drive in the fog. She had her dad as copilot which enabled me to relax. She did well, but I don't think she's anxious to repeat the experience.

Even the city skyline was obscured by fog.

Today, another gray day, we went to a nearby hotel for a gingerbread house building demonstration. We used to make one every year, and, now that I'm not working, we're going to do one again. They had a gingerbread house large enough to stand in on display in the lobby. It even had a chimney with cinnamon scented 'smoke'. A chef came out and decorated several small gingerbread houses.

I got some great tips from that pastry chef. In years past, I just made a big house and bought a ton of candies and cereals. I made some royal icing and let the kids decorate it as they pleased. One of the best things I learned was that the candies are great, but you can do a lot with just the icing and a pastry bag. I now know how to make icicles on the roof that won't break off!!! Our house will be smaller this year, but I think it will be the prettiest yet.

We even got to have roast chestnuts and hot cocoa. While the girls drank their cocoas, we sat by the three-story tree and watched all the people arriving from out of town. Babies in velvet dresses, kids who'd clearly been permitted to dress themselves and kids in shorts and coats.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Christmas Wish

Last month for NaNoWriMo, I got a lot of support from online friends, people I've never met and might never meet in real life. It's a wonderful thing to be a part of a community of people who are all sharing the same experience. And it was really inspiring to be struggling right next to some lovely published authors on the eHarlequin forums. As an added encouragement, the writers with the highest weekly totals won a copy of  a book donated by those generous authors. I was doubly lucky when I won the first week: I wasn't even close to the word counts in later weeks and I won a copy of an anthology of Christmas stories from Donna Alward entitled Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses.

Donna's contribution is a lovely story, "A Bride for Rocking H Ranch", about a woman struggling to make a perfect Christmas for her family. The trouble is Kelly needs help and isn't used to asking for it. This is a subject near and dear to my heart.

I am awful at asking someone to help me. I'll suffer and toil and grouse, but I won't simply ask. It's worse than that even. When my friends sit around and complain about how much they do, I am happy to join the chorus. But when the talk turns to ungrateful husbands I fall silent.

I am married to that rare kind of man who when I leave the dishes to take a phone call, just does the dishes. Without being asked. If the dryer buzzes while I'm reading a book, he'll fold the laundry because it needs to be done. If I am tired or busy or stressed, he looks at me and asks, "What can I do to help?"

And do I accept that help with good grace? Or ask him for help he would so willingly give? Almost never. I tell him I'm good. I'll manage. I'll do it myself, all alone. It drives my husband crazy. I am so stupid, I know.

That just made me enjoy Kelly's struggles so much more. Accepting help, letting someone love you, these things make us vulnerable. You have to open yourself up. It's scary sometimes how much of my heart is walking around with other people. And still, to be happy, you have to find a way to give away a little bit more.

Thanks again for the great read Donna!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What I learned about NaNoWriMo

I just completed my first ever NaNoWriMo. I feel euphoric. It was an amazing experience and I'm so glad I did it. If I have the time I'd do it again next year.

All of that said, I don't think I could write like that every month. I did only the bare minimum of things outside of writing the first couple of weeks. I had family the last week of the month, but aside from that week, I let a lot of things slide.

Monday, November 29, 2010

I won!

I did it. I wrote 50K of a novel in the month of November. I even have a nifty little web badge that says so.

I rule the world.

Friday, November 5, 2010

NaNoWriMo DAy 5

Five days into NaNo and I'm questioning which direction to take the plot. Three chapters in is the sticking point I've read; that apparently continues to be true for me.

 Instead of sitting down to figure it out, I've been sewing my daughter's homecoming dress.  After much fussing with the placement of the little midriff piece ( she's too small for it) and breaking four needles on the stupid invisible zipper foot all that left is to hem it. She loves, loves, loves the dress (yes, she talks just like that, complete with hand gestures) so I don't mind much. Here's the photo from the pattern envelope. Alas, it will be quite cold tomorrow night and she will be forced to hide her adorable taffeta ruffles under a coat.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tomorrow is the big day!

Tomorrow is the first day of November and, more importantly, the first day of NaNoWriMo. I have an outline. I've changed it so radically that, twice, I simply began a new document rather than try and edit what I had. I believe it's been better with every version. I have the shiny new Scrivener Beta. I love it. I know it's a beta and it's crashed a few times and not everything is working yet. But it is wonderful for plotting. It has a nifty board for notecards that I can drag and drop into the proper place, adding ideas and research as I go. That act of looking at the cards and rearranging them gave me such clarity. My NaNo book is an old idea I've been kicking around for months, but it never felt right. Now, I've fixed the huge plot holes large enough to drive my minivan through and I at least have a plan come tomorrow morning.

In the spirit of NaNo and writing even if you aren't sure what you'll end up with, here's a post from the Deadline Dames on not being discouraged, even if what you wrote yesterday doesn't seem that great.

And for the times when even that seems hard to believe: something pretty and silly

Happy November!!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Kate Walker has a great post up on the pivotal moments of the Final Four in the New Voices contest. I'll say some of the choices surprised (not in a bad way) me. And hats off to the author of Blood Roses. I was genuinely worried how she would handle the last two entries with a much shorter word count than her competitors.

With just days to go until NaNo begins, I have been busy doing research and polishing my outline. I have been tempted to pick up the outline of another half-finished book, but I have resisted. I really want to win; it's my first time and I've never written so many words in such a short time. I'm not sure if I'll really be able to finish in time. It's a bit like the contest: exciting and a little bit scary.

In preparation, I've downloaded the Beta for Scrivener. I adore it. Yes, it has crashed a couple of times and not all of the features are working. But, oh my goodness, it's shiny! I can forgive a fair number of tech issues for something that instantly made visible to me where the weak points in my plot were going to be. It has this little corkboard thingy. And there for me to see, are scene after scene of my characters talking and thinking right around the middle. *headdesk* Why I couldn't see it before, I have no idea. But now, I can; so they're going to have to do something; maybe I'll blow something up.



Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Someone forwarded to me Jessica Hart's blog post on increasing emotional intensity in writing. It's a great post but it's her post from Moday that really resonated with me. The post is all about the ways to trick yourself into the right frame of mind to write. It's got some good ideas but what I've been thinking about this week is how people have reacted to the New Voices competition. What surprised me most of all is my own reaction. I have never been much of an optimist, yet I have certainly come away from the competition with that attitude and I wondered how I've changed that much.

The answer is my kids ballet dancing. Or to be more frank, my absolute refusal to allow my daughters into the jealousy and bitterness that some of their peers indulged in. Seems an odd thing, but preprofessional dance training is much like any other athletic endeavor. Some dancers excel from an early age, only to be overtaken by a late bloomer. Some kids just don't have the body or aptitude to ever be able compete with other kids their age. And some kids just have everything they need; they are just better without trying as hard. And at every casting for a ballet or recital it is a question of not only what did I get, but what did the other girls get. Who's better than me? Who am I better than?

Let me tell you, you take a bunch of young teenaged girls and give them something to compete for and it can be a recipe for disaster. If they do well, they forget that it might not always be that way. They forget that if they do poorly as well. And then they all have to go and stand next to each other at barre. And dance for two and half hours. Things are said. Teachers, and other dancers, criticisms and compliments take on a disproportionate weight. That burden can weigh on a child. And so I have spent years now teaching my kids to be gracious and kind (even if you're sure the other girl doesn't deserve it) when things are going your way, to be patient and determined when they aren't. The girls who are able to put all of that aside, both the good and the bad, and refocus on their classes those are the kids who survive.

Neither of them are dancing this year. The mental toughness they gained from all those years of training remains. They both have had more academic challenges this year than ever before, but they never gave up. They both have thrown themselves into new pursuits with the same passion they had for ballet. So should I be tempted to sit in front of my computer screen and question my goals or be tempted by frustration to give in to despair, I just whip out one of my well worn little pep talks and try it out on myself.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Casting My Vote

I finally did it. I voted for a second chapter. I won't say I voted for my favorite chapter. Obviously, I liked it, but it was so hard to choose (and, no I won't say who; the voting continues). I knew it must have been hard for the editors to narrow it down, but, boy, was it difficult. The range of the final 10 was great and that just made choosing only one that much more of a puzzle. There are more than four I'd like to see go on to the next round, but of course that won't be possible. Honestly, I wouldn't mind reading the next chapter of any of them.

 In the end I didn't do any fancy scoring of the entries on their technical and artistic merits, although I think that would be interesting to see if that matched up with the handful I preferred. I didn't read through the entries as a writer at all. No, in the end I just voted for the one I most wanted to keep reading. It seems such a nebulous test for how I could spend my single vote. The flaw in that is that  it might well have been a different title on a different day when I was in a different frame of mind. And I am something of a moody reader. I'll pick up a title and like everything about it, but still find it too silly, too intense, too contrived or too something for whatever sort of day I'm having. So, I'll set the book aside and a week later (or a month, or a couple of years) pick it up again and read it in a single day, loving every minute of it.

As fun as reading all of the entries has been, I'm grateful I don't have to do this for a living.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I heard a writing speaker once say of a critique partner that she was a lovely writer but she didn't think she'd ever get published. Her partner had a creative job and as long as so much of her creativity was spent on the job she loved, there wasn't enough left over to pursue writing seriously.

I've been thinking a lot about this since I entered the New Voices competition. Until this summer, I had a job that, I think, used up not just much of my time, but all of the cleverness I need to be able to write. A job or project that drains me mentally might leave time for writing, but it makes it difficult to write anything I want to keep. And when I wouyld sit down to write, there would be other problems tickling the back of my mind, intruding on my thoughts until I moved on to take care of them.

Something the competition did for me was give me the permission to take myself seriously as a writer. While I was writing the entry and, later, commenting on other writers' work, I did something I'd never done before: I put my writing first. I defrosted something for dinner. I put off laundry and avoided housework. I told my daughters to save their stories until I had finished what I was doing. And they did. It seems such a small thing but it was a revelation. I certainly don't consider myself a model housewife, but much of what I do everyday is not as obligatory as I like to think. This week, I made my daughter's study group Halloween cupcakes.

From a boxed mix.

 Everyone ate them anyway.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The start of a story

After having read a good number of the first chapters at the New Voices competition ,both those I liked and those I didn't, I feel like I have learned a lot. Some of the entries that I enjoy start out in a sort of meandering way. It's usually well written, with likable characters, but it doesn't have that spark.

 What's missing? Conflict. How do you get conflict on the first few pages without dropping your heroine in the middle of a battlefield? I mean, that's a great way to do it, if you're writing paranormal or suspense, but I'm not.

I think for me, the answer is to keep the story, the thread of conflict in mind. Most importantly at the beginning. I'm glad I took the advice to begin  a new work for the competition. It's true my chapter would have benefited from some editing, but the process of building these characters and their story has enabled me to look at the other entries with a more discerning eye. To notice and most importantly, be able to articulate why an entry works for me.

I think all of the top ten, even the genres I don't prefer, have a strong conflict from the outset. This makes the reader wonder about what will happen next. The worrying  a reader does about the characters is what makes those characters matter. Then, even if they aren't saving the world, their problems carry more weight and that makes one read on.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Writing and Waiting

Well, I enterd the Mills & Boon New Voices writing contest. It's been thrilling, like a roller coaster ride. I posted my chapter at the last moment.  There have been over 800 first chapters submitted. You have to register to comment or vote, but do drop by and take a look around. there are some really great entries. The range of writing submitted is impressive. The 10 semifinalist will be posted tomorrow.

Entering the contest was supposed to be an opportunity to get feedback from other readers and aspiring authors. And the comments that I've recieved have been observant and helpful.

The real benefit though was in the act of writitng the entry itself. I had started a new novel just for this competition. I was about 8K words into this manuscript when I felt a bit stalled. For me this is almost always caused by a lack of clarity in my mind about the conflict. I own a lecture CD from an old RWA conference and I popped in a talk given by Christine Ridgeway on conflict. And Christine starts talking about the inciting incident. As I am sitting listening to this, I had a big lightbulb moment: the first two chapters of my book were backstory.

I mean, it involves the first time the hero and heroine meet and very exciting things happen, but the events that begin the story don't happen until later on. I was just being too linear. I'll have to rework what I'd originally written into the book as a flashback perhaps, because the events are central to the conflicts facing the couple, but, structurally, it will be much stronger. Maybe I had to write it in a linear fashion, but it wasn't the best way to lead the reader through the story.

So, after the contest had already begun accepting entries, I started writing a new opening. The prose wasn't as polished as my first attempt, but I finished on time. I was forced to recall that  I really like working under time pressure. Firm and fast approaching deadlines certainly make me more focused in my work. I feel like I learned so much more from the process than I could have expected.

So thanks Christine!