Mystery...Romance...Sci Fi...Humor... The joy of writing fiction - meeting brand new people in places that don't yet exist.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Psychology of the Challenge

If you've been following my blog at all this month, you're probably aware that I signed on for a writing challenge: 30,000 Words in February.  Today's the last day and I'm a couple thousand words short so I'll be jumping from here to my WIP.  But first I want to look at challenges.

As this challenge is coming to a close, members of the sponsoring group are already e-mailing their desire/need for another challenge.  This group is ceratinly not unique.  Everywhere we turn there are writing challenges and blogging name it, someone is holding a challenge for it.


What is the attraction?  We supposedly write because we love to write.  Because we can't not write.  Because we have this great driving need to write.  So why do we need a "challenge" to write?  Isn't writing enough of a challenge in itself?  If not, we also have the challenge of the query, the pitch, the unreasonable editing demands, the changing publishing world, etc.

Or maybe that is the attraction.  I can't make an agent love my book.  I can't even make an agent read my book. But I can decide to write 30,000 words in a given month.  A challenge that's within my control.

Or is it the peer support?  The "we're all in this together", "come on, you can do it", "stick with it, don't give up" support that comes with a common goal.

I don't know.  I know I've written more consistantly this month (obsessively checking my word count as I go) than I have in a long time.  I've measured my count every night against the graph that shows where I need to be to make goal and used that to spur myself on.  I'm even considering taking on another challenge.  But why does it work for me?  I couldn't tell you.

Maybe, as an unpublished, it's as close as I can get to an editor's deadline. 

What do you think?  Do you like challenges?  Do they work for you?  Do you know why?

Got to go now.  I've got a lot of words to write before midnight.  Got to meet that challenge.

My current word count: 27,054

I'm currently enjoying: Lion in the Valley by Elizabeth Peters

Groaner of the day: Mother Lion and Father Lion had gone off hunting, and had told their two children not to wander away. However, a couple of small wildebeests wandered by, and the baby lions could not resist the temptation to try out their own hunting skills. They ran out, chased after the animals, killed them, and started eating them.

Just as the baby lions were reaching the end of their meal, the parents appeared in the distance. One of the baby lions turned to the other, and said: "That is the end of the gnus. Here again are the head lions."

Friday, February 25, 2011

Good News and Answers and Laughs, Oh My

Happy Friday!  Sort of.  Mother Nature is doing her thing again and area schools are closed.  You know there have been too many snow days when this news is greeted with, "Oh man, we're going to have to spend our whole summer vacation doing make up days."  (From a sixth grader.)

First, some good news - To all of you who offered prayers and good wishes for our young friend who was severly injured in an accident last weekend, thank you.  Stephanie made it through three emergency brain surgeries this week.  Her condition is stable right now and there are reasons for cautious optimism.  She still has a long way to go, so all prayers are gratefully accepted.

Answers, to Wednesday's Brain Teasers - There were not a lot of brave souls this time but all the riddles were solved.  Dru was the first to correctly get number 2, Stacy was the first to get number 4 and came very close on number 3, and Mary C nailed number 1 and number 3 (and saw plot possibilities in number 4).  Honorable mention to Maria for the most creative suggestion involving the orange juice.

On to the laughter - My only criteria for adding a funny to my blog is that it made me laugh out loud.  This one did.  Of course, it might be a generational thing but I'll bet it makes you laugh too.  (And who can't use a little laughter to wrap up the week?)

Did I win my bet?

I'll be spending much of my weekend in a race to the finish on the "30,000 Words in February" challenge.  With luck, I might just make it.  How about you?  Any fun plans for this weekend?

My current word count: 24,650

I'm currently enjoying: Lion in the Valley by Elizabeth Peters

Groaner of the day: I went through a bunch of puns this morning trying to find one that passed the LOL test.  This one did.  

A pair of chickens walk up to the circulation desk at a public library and say, "Buk Buk BUK." The librarian decides that the chickens desire three books and grants their request...and the chickens leave.

Around midday, the two chickens return to the circulation desk quite vexed and say, "Buk Buk BuKKOOK!" The librarian decides that the chickens desire another three books and gives them another three. The chickens leave as before.

The two chickens return to the library in the early afternoon, approach the librarian, looking very annoyed and say, "Buk Buk Buk Buk Bukkooook!"  The librarian is now a little suspicious of these chickens. She gives them what they request but decides to follow them.

She follows them out of the library, across town, to a park. At this point, she hides behind a tree, not wanting to be seen. As the watches, the chickens begin throwing the books at a frog in a pond - to which the frog was saying, "Rrredit Rrredit Rrredit..."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Put On Your Thinking Cap

I wrote over 3,000 words today on my WIP.  This is a really good number for me since I'm one of those obsessive writers who can't resist going back and editing as I write.  I know I shouldn't.  A friend once told me by the time I write THE END, I'm probably on my twentieth draft - as least on the first half of the book.

Today's 3,000 words also put me over the 21,000 word mark for my 30,000 words in February challenge.  If you do the math, you'll see I've fallen a bit behind...which explains the 3,000 words today.  I get a little obsessive about challenges, too.  Once I commit, I can't stand coming up short.

I'm telling you all this as my excuse for not having any bright ideas for my blog post today.  I was hoping for a little flash of brilliance but it's just not happening.  So I'll let you have a flash of brilliance instead.  I offer these four brainteasers.  Put on your thinking caps and see if you can figure them out. 





I'll give you the answers in Friday's post.  (How's that for trying to get you to come back.)

I do want to take a moment and thank everyone for their prayers and good wishes for the young friend I posted about on Monday.  She's still holding on but it's day to day so, if you would, please keep her in your prayers. 

My current word count: 21,327

I'm currently enjoying: Lion in the Valley by Elizabeth Peters

Groaner of the day: I don't want to overtax anyone's brains today, so here's a short one...  What did the grape say when it got stepped on? Nothing - but it let out a little whine. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Serious Questions

This is not the blog I planned to write this morning but life intrudes.

Friday evening, around 6:00, the daughter (actually, stepdaughter) of a very close friend was struck by a car while biking.  She suffered massive head trauma, even wearing a helmet, and has undergone extensive brain surgery.  She's hour to hour now.   Her doctors have told the family it's in God's hands.

Why would I start everyone's Monday morning with such depressing news?  Well, crisis always brings questions, questions we tend not to think about until we have to.  This young woman was in the peak of health and fitness.  She was biking that day as part of her triathlon training.  Illness wasn't on her radar anywhere.  Neither was this.  She is single, no kids.  So it's not surprising she had none of those things that we start to think about as we get older - a living will, designated power of attorney, designated power of medical authorization, etc.  I'm not sure she even has a will.  Her parents are with her but neither has the legal right to speak for her, to make major decisions, even to access her records and pay her bills.  What would she want done?  Who would she want to speak for her if she's unable to speak for herself?  Who will take care of her?  There will be lawyers and court rulings and lots of unnecessary stress on top of the incredible pain of what is happening to their child.

She is the same age as my oldest.  I love my sons and make it a point to end all phone conversations with a quick 'love you'.  And they do the same.  But it's just a sound byte:  'love you, bye', said without thought or feeling.  How long has it been since I've really told them what they mean to me, how incredibly proud I am of the young men they've become?

If this happened today in your family, to you, to one of yours...what questions would need to be asked?  How would they be answered?

My current word count: 18,308

I'm currently enjoying: Just finished Absolutely, Positively by Heather Webber.  Another absolutely, positively, delightful Lucy Valentine.

Groaner of the day: Adding my usual groaner doesn't feel quite right today so I'm offering these.  The poem came to me in an e-mail, I don't know the author.  The quote is from the incomparable Erma Bombeck.

If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it.
If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it.
He sends you flowers every spring.
He sends you a sunrise every morning.
Whenever you want to talk, He listens.
He can live anywhere in the universe, but He chose your heart.
Face it, friend, He is crazy about you!
God didn't promise days without pain, laughter without sorrow, sun without rain, but He did promise strength for the day, comfort for the tears, and light for the way.

For me, heaven on earth is using up every bit of life before I leave it.  ~ Erma Bombeck, February 14, 1988

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Caption Time - Let's Do It Again

Last Friday's Caption Time was such fun I'm going to do it again.  Give me your best captions for these pictures.  Let's see if we can top last week's.






Do just one or all six.  These might be a little tougher than last week but I'll bet we get some good ones.  

My current word count: 16,653

I'm currently enjoying: Absolutely, Positively by Heather Webber

Groaner of the day: A woman walks into a vet's waiting room. She's dragging a wet rabbit on a leash. The rabbit does not want to be there.

"Sit, Fluffy," she says.

Fluffy glares at her, and sopping wet, jumps up on another customer's lap, getting water all over him.

"I said sit, now there's a good Fluffy," says the woman, slightly embarrassed. Fluffy, wet already, squats in the middle of the room and wets on the floor.

The woman, mortally embarrassed, shouts, "Damn it, Fluffy, will you be good?!" Fluffy then starts a fight with a Doberman and pursues it out of the office.

As the woman leaves to go after it, she turns to the rest of the flabbergasted customers and says, "Pardon me, I've just washed my hare, and can't do a thing with it!"

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Location Location

In Real Estate we all know it's location, location, location.  But how about in fiction? Where do you set your story?

First, I want to exclude from this discussion any fantasy or sci fi that takes place in another world or time.  Obviously, in that case, the setting has to be a world the author creates.  I'm talking about about a story that happens here and now. The nice cozy set in a small town.  The gritty crime drama or urban fantasy that needs a big city. 

But which kind of city - real or fictional?

Sometimes the story dictates the choice.  A story about a murder in the US Senate would have to be set in Washington DC.  But maybe your story just needs a city.  Any city.  Size and geography not really that important.  Do you pick one or make one up? 

If you're lucky, the city you just happen to live in - and know like the back of your hand - is the perfect setting for the story you want to write.  Congratulations. You're good to go. But what if you live in Tinytown, Iowa and your story needs a big city setting, preferably one on the coast?  Well, there's always the extended visit, if your research budget can handle it.  Learn the layout, soak up the culture, take copious notes.  Or you can try the virtual visit.  Go online and read everything you can find on your place of choice. Look at pictures.  Follow the local news.  You can get a pretty good picture of a place this way.  Probably enough to make your settng believable. But be careful, because someday someone who lives in that fair city is going to read your book and if you have your hero taking the Blue Line in Boston to Fenway Park, you've lost all credibility.  (It's the Green Line).

Hmmmm.  Make up your own city and you can't get it wrong.  So that's the better choice, right?   Well, not necessarily.  When you use a real location, a lot of the work has been done for you.  The stage is already set, the backdrop painted, and all you have to do is describe it.  Plus, if you pick a place that is fairly well known, your readers may already have a picture in their mind for you to build on.  That can be a big plus.

So which way do you go?  What do you think?  As a reader, do you prefer stories set in real places or ones from the authors' imagination?  As a writer, what kind of settings do you prefer to use.  Why?

My current word count: 15,071

I'm currently enjoying: Absolutely, Positively by Heather Webber

Groaner of the day: Many years ago, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans had a problem with a mountain lion. This lion had cost Roy and Dale a number of head of cattle, but what really got Roy's attention was one night the big cat crept onto the front porch of their house and mangled Roy's brand new cowboy boots, which had been left outside overnight. That was the final straw. Roy saddled up Trigger, called his faithful dog Bullet to his side, and rode off to find the mountain lion. He found the lion and shot it and tied the carcass across Trigger's back for the ride home.

As he rode up to the house, Dale, who was sitting on the porch, said, "Pardon me Roy, is that the cat that chewed your new shoes?"

[Okay, if you've been around long enough to recognize all the charactors mentioned in this groaner and get the pun (hint: it's a song), you have to admit it in a comment.]

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Did I Type That?

Okay, you know you've done this.  You read a really good blog post.  You come up with the perfect insightful comment.  You type it in, do a preview check, and then hit Publish.

And you immediately see the error.

Argh!  How could you have missed that?  How embarrassing. Maybe it's a misspelled word.  Or a totally wrong word.  Or some strange punctuation you know you couldn't have typed.  But there it is.  Published.  With your name on it.

What do you do now?  You could delete your comment, but that will leave a "this message deleted by owner" notice - or something like that - which will be more obvious than your error.  You could leave a second message, i.e. "Ha ha, sorry, I'm all thumbs this morning."  Or you could just ignore it and let people think you're an idiot with ten thumbs.

Which do you do?  Is this covered in the bloggers' etiquette guide? Is there a bloggers' etiquette guide?  I think this is an important question (or at least a common one) and we need a consensus.

My current word count: 13,077

I'm currently enjoying: Absolutely, Positively by Heather Webber (Yes, I know I switched books in mid-read but I've been waiting for this one.)

Groaner of the day:  The friars were behind on their belfry payments, so they opened up a small florist shop to raise funds. Since everyone liked to buy flowers from the men of God, a rival florist across town thought this was unfair. He asked the good fathers to close down, but they would not.

He went back and begged the friars to close. They ignored him.

So the rival florist hired Hugh MacTaggart, the roughest and most vicious thug in town to "persuade" them to close. Hugh beat up the friars and trashed their store, saying he'd be back if they didn't close up shop.

Terrified, they did so, thereby proving that:    Hugh, and only Hugh, can prevent florist friars.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Caption Time - (Just For Fun)

Hi.  TGIF!  It's the end of the week and I think my grandson just broke my nose (seriously) so I guess it's time to relax and have some fun.

I've got some great pictures here that are just dying for captions. Take a look and give it a try.  Do just one or all seven.  Let see who comes up with the best ones.








Come on, you know you've thought of at least one.  Gotta share it.  (You caption, I've got to find an ice pack.)

My current word count: 12,322

I'm currently enjoying: Lion in the Valley by Elizabeth Peters (I have got to make time to read this weekend.)

Groaner of the Day: A couple was dining at a fancy restaurant, and was most impressed with the broccoli with hollendaise sauce. They succeeded in coaxing the chef to their table to wax eloquent, and to beg for the recipe. Finally, he relented, "Madame, Monsieur, it is so simple. Make sure zee ingredients are FRESH. Zee broccoli should be just so. ....", and on and on he went. Finally, he emphasized, "...And zee most important thing of all, you MUST serve zee sauce on a chromium plate. Chrome is zee key!"

"A CHROMIUM plate?", one of them asked. "Why is this so important?"

"Sacre bleu, Madame and Monsieur, don't you know zhere is no plate like chrome for ze hollandaise?"

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Can a Leopard Change Its Spots?

I've read a lot of blogs in the past few months discussing the pantser vs. the plotter.  I'm a plotter.  Always have been.  I've got timelines and color coding and every sort of whatnot to help me stay on track.  What's worse, I edit as I go, fuss over the exact wording, get hung up for hours on making a scene come out just so.  All in my first draft.

It's not that I prefer to write this way.  It's just the way I got started and never really thought about doing it any other way.

But being a pantster sounds like fun.  Letting the story run where it will, just typing as it flows without laboring over every word or phrase - I think I'd like to try that.  So when this writing challenge came my way, it sounded like just the thing.  The whole emphasis was on just getting the words out there.  Go with the flow. Clean it up later.

I'm trying.  Really I am.  I only have a rough idea of how this story is going to work.  I've written my beginning.  I know my ending.  Now I have to find out how it's going to get there.

It's making me crazy.

And the editing.  Not going back and re-reading, correcting, do pantser do that?  I can't even get to the end of a blog post without going back to the top a couple dozen times.

I'm getting the words out - on target for my 30,000 in February - but the whole free flow thing is eluding me.  So I gotta ask - are there any former plotters out there who have converter to pansters?  How did you do it?  How about people who can do both?  Or are plotters plotters and pantsers panters and never the twain shall meet?

Can an old dog really learn new tricks?

My current word count: 9,110

I'm currently enjoying: Lion in the Valley by Elizabeth Peters

Groaner of the Day: (You've got to stay with this one all the way.)
A number of years ago, the Seattle Symphony was doing "Beethoven's Ninth" under the baton of Milton Katims.

At this point, you must understand two things: First, there's a long segment in this symphony where the bass violins don't have a thing to do, not a single note for page after page. Second, there used to be a tavern called Dez's 400 right across the street from the Seattle Opera House, a place rather favored by local musicians.

It had been decided that during this performance, after the bass players had played their parts in the opening of the Ninth, they were to quietly lay down their instruments and leave the stage, rather than sit on their stools looking and feeling dumb for twenty minutes.

Once they got backstage, someone suggested that they trot across the street and quaff a few brews. After they had downed the first couple rounds, one said, "Shouldn't we be getting back? It'd be awfully embarrassing, if we were late."

Another, presumably the one who suggested this excursion in the first place, replied, "Oh, I anticipated we could use a little more time, so I tied a string around the last pages of the conductor's score. When he gets down to there, Milton's going to have to slow the tempo way down while he waves the baton with one hand and fumbles with the string with the other."

So, they had another round and finally returned to the Opera House, a little tipsy by now. However, as they came back on stage, one look at their conductor's face told them they were in serious trouble.

Katims was furious! And why not? After all, It was the bottom of the Ninth, the score was tied, and the basses were loaded.

Monday, February 7, 2011

YA Beta Reading Across the Generations

Last week on her blog Fallen Formulates Fiction,  Sarah Ahiers was looking for beta readers for her latest YA novel. Not surprisingly, she wanted readers who read a lot of YA.  I started to pass because I don't read that much YA.  When I do, it's usually because one of my own YA's - my older grandkids - have wanted to share a book they've read.  And it struck me, who would be a better YA beta reader than a member of that target audience.  A young adult. 

Not to make myself sound any older than I am, my older grandkids are actually pre-teens but both are excellent readers who read pretty much all levels of YA novels.  I asked my oldest, who lives nearby, if he'd be interested in being a beta reader and explained what would be expected of him.  He loved the idea.  So I asked Sarah if she'd be interested in using him and we agreed all around to give it a try.

Sarah has put together a questionaire for her beta readers and she sent it along with her manuscript. I'm going to read the book, too, in case my grandson wants to discuss it, but the feedback will be all his.  I'm really excited about this.  What a great way for him to learn more about the writing process and hopefully perform a service for an author at the same time. 

Of course, getting to share something like this with him is pretty cool for me, too. 

How about other YA authors?  Do you use younger readers for your betas?

My current word count: 6,619  (no time to write this weekend)

I'm currently enjoying: Lion in the Valley by Elizabeth Peters (no chance to read either)

Groaner of the Day: Christina, a most beautiful child, was born an albino. As an adult, she was even more spectacular. The effect was most intriguing, silver-white skin, almost argent in its nature. Everyone loved her -- except for Ronald, who, we must confess had a deep streak of prejudice against the extraordinary. And, as it always happens, she fell deeply, madly in love with Ronald.

Against the advice of all those who had her best interests at heart, Tina decided to try tanning as a method to darken her silver skin. She was warned about the dangers, especially the long-term effects of ultraviolet radiation on skin lacking melanin. She was adamant. "I'll get a tan and win my man," bravely, she proclaimed her mantra.

Just in the nick of time, a fit of conscience caught the odious Ronald. He expressed his contrition when he told his love-to-be, "Don't fry for me, Argent Tina!"

(Oh Gawd, that's awful.)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Why English is So Hard

Before I get to today's post - Check out this great award I received from N. R. Williams:

Isn't that the greatest face?

Okay - it's Friday.  And that means a fun - and usually borrowed - post.  This is from an e-mail that's been making the rounds forever.  Hopefully, it's one you haven't seen, or at least not for a while. 

And this is the tool of our trade?

Some reasons why the English language is so hard to learn:

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.
2) The farm was used to produce produce.
3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
4) We must polish the Polish furniture.
5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.
6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
10) I did not object to the object.
11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
13) The two were too close to the door to close it.
14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.
15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail
18) After a number of injections my jaw got number.
19) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
20) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests
21) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

Scary, huh?  It gets worse.

There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat.

Quicksand works slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig. And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham?

If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? If you have a bunch of  odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it? Is it an odd, or an end?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?
How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out, and in which, an alarm goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

And why doesn't "Buick" rhyme with "quick"?

You know, it's amazing we can write at all.  Have a great weekend.

My current word count: 5023

I'm currently enjoying: Lion in the Valley by Elizabeth Peters

Groaner of the Day:  I decided to go with a short one today but couldn't decide between these two.  Which one would you pick?

1 - Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway. One hat said to the other, 'You stay here. I'll go on a head.'

2 - Don't join dangerous cults: Practice safe sects!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Wow! Thanks!

On Sunday evening I wrote a pitiful desperation post asking for help getting past a case of "blank page paralysis". I asked for a swift kick and got kicks, suggestions, and all kinds of words of encouragement. What a great group of blog friends you are.

Also on Sunday, I managed to accomplish a couple other things that have been on my do list - I joined the Yahoo groups for the FFandP Chapter of RWA and the Guppies Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Talk about perfect timing. Through the Guppies group I discovered a one month writing challenge that just happened to be starting on February 1. Well, a challenge is second cousin to a dare and I used to get into all kinds of trouble because of dares, so I said "Sign me up."

Tuesday morning didn't go exactly as planned. We had ice storms (here's a picture)

and school closings and my poor hubby woke up with that terrible flu I had last week, but I finally made it to my computer, opened up that blank document and started typing.

My new word count is below.

Thanks, gang. I couldn't have gotten started without you. Wish me luck on the challenge.

Can I do anything for you?

My current word count: 3007

I'm currently enjoying: Lion in the Valley by Elizabeth Peters

Groaner of the Day: The chief of a poor Native American tribe, where there were no paved roads, no electricity, and no indoor plumbing, scrimped and saved and finally was able to send his eldest son to college. The lad did well, working hard for four years and finally graduating with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering.

Arriving home after graduation, the boy was treated to a welcoming party, complete with plenty of refreshments. Shortly after he retired to sleep, the son was awakened by a call of nature. Exiting the hut, he proceeded down the road to the outhouse, only to stumble and fall because of the lack of lights.

The next day, the son decided to put his education to work. He sat down, did the calculations, and prepared construction drawings for a lighting system for the outhouse, complete with lights for the path leading to it. It was constructed and was an immediate success. This chief's son will go down in history as the first Indian to wire a head for a reservation.