"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." ~ William Wordsworth

The Writing Life Too

And if you're reading this, it means you're not writing.

Friday, December 31, 2010

"For last year's words belong to last year's language And next year's words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning." ~ T.S.Eliot

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Best YA Books
What's not to love about a best of list? From Galleycat readers, here's a list of the best YA books with Links to Free Book Excerpts
13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Girl from Mars by Tamara Bach
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
We Could Be Brothers by Derrick Barne
You by Charles Benoit
The White Cat by Holly Black
Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon
The Girl Next Door by Selene Castrovilla
The Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Matched by Ally Condie
The Gates by John Connolly
The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet by Erin Dionne
Personal Demons by Lisa Dosrochers
Hope in Patience by Beth Fehlbaum
Crossing by Andrew Xia Fukuda
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green
Escape from Furnace by Alexander Gordon Smith
Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey
The Deathday Letter by Shaun David Hutchinson
Teen Cyberbullying Investigated by Thomas A. Jacobs, J.D.
Please Ignore Vera Deitz by A.S. King
Denim Diaries by Darrien Lee
Last Sacrifice by Richelle Mead
The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer
Star in the Middle by Carol Larese Millward
Qualities of Light by Mary Carroll Moore
The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness
Deception by Lee Nichols
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Firebrand by Gillian Philip
Greyhound by Steffan Piper
Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick
Freefall by Mindi Scott
The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith
The Fallen by Thomas E. Sniegoski
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Linger by Maggie Stiefvater
Marcello in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
Leviathan by Scot Westerfeld
Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston
Food, Girls & Other Things I Can’t Have by Allen Zadoff
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

From an Editor's Desk:
Words you rarely, if ever, need in your writing: then, now, absolutely, positively, very, quite, some, somehow, suddenly, just, really, perhaps, personal, personally, actually, basically
"I see but one rule: to be clear." -Stendahl

Monday, December 27, 2010

One of the conclusions I have reached is that people want order, but some part of them craves anarchy, and writers are seen to embody both elements: in a sane, reasonable way, writers will present a situation, but the components of that situation, and the implications, can be dynamite. ~Ann Beattie
Short stories should tell us what everybody knows but what nobody is talking about.  At least not publicly.  Except for the short story writers. ~Raymond Carver

Friday, December 24, 2010

Wishing everyone light, peace, and joy in this beautiful season.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

    childhood is about newness, first loves, and endless possibilities for when we grow older. And sometimes, miracles. Childhood memories carried in our grown-up selves years later are rare and sensory and alive. For some of us it takes years to sort through the pains and pleasures of childhood. But it is a worthwhile task, to go back and find the magic, no matter how small.
     I remember the first time I saw the streaming tail of a jet drawn high in the summer sky. I remember when my brother taught me to make angels in a fresh snow bank and the first time I caught a large haul of slippery, sparkling perch. I remember the steamy windows of our old farm kitchen on wintry Saturdays. We'd bake fat, golden loaves of bread and pies and crescent rolls. I remember the taste of cinnamon toast and hot chocolate on cold winter mornings. I remember the crunch and smell of fallen maple leaves and the wild, dark, changeable skies of November. I remember thunder storms fierce and shattering, and how once a lightening bolt struck the neighbor's tree and burned it in a fiery explosion.
     And I'll never forget my first Christmas miracle. I was six, the second child in a family of six, and no stranger to disappointment. I was a little girl who often felt misunderstood and I substituted imagination for pretty dolls and fancy dishes and adults who lavished love on me.
    That summer my parents returned from a trip to Lac du Flambeau, an Indian reservation in Northern Wisconsin. They brought back rare gifts, an Indian doll in a beaded, buckskin dress and a ring with a beautiful, blue stone. I'd learned about buried treasures and loved my ring so much that I buried it in the back yard for safe keeping. The next day I returned to reclaim my treasure, but it had disappeared. Although I dug and dug and frantically searched, I never saw my ring again.
    For days I stood under the dimming twilight sky and wished on the first evening star for my ring to come back. `Star bright, star light, the first star, I see tonight. Wish I may, wish I might, have this wish I wish tonight,' I recited with the naive hope of a child. After days of futile wishes and still no sign of my beloved ring, I changed my wish and asked the stars for my heart's desire; a doll buggy. To this day, I don't why I changed my wish. I specified that I wanted a blue buggy with stars drawn on it. I told no one, but I hoped with the desperation of a child in a poor family where pretty things arrived mostly on Christmas morning and little girls with freckles and scabby knees don't feel special. And then, as children do, I forgot all about it.
    Months later, Christmas came as it always did in our small town. I sang in the Sunday school pageant wearing the green corduroy dress my mother sewed for me, I visited Santa, and bought handkerchiefs for my parents at the Ben Franklin variety store. We visited my grandparents on Christmas Eve and I played in the back bedroom with the Tickle Bee game I had received from my godparents. I coaxed the fat yellow and black bee along a maze with the magnet and as usual, envied my cousin all her fancy new toys.
    But of course, this was all a prelude to Christmas morning. The one day of the year when hope lived while we unwrapped our bounty from Santa. I came down the narrow stairs in my flannel nightgown, and standing near the tree, with my name on it, was a doll buggy. A turquoise buggy with whimsical, gold stars spangling the toy like a night sky. It had shiny wheels and a brake and a blue-eyed baby doll with flannel diapers and a tiny bottle were waiting for me too.
    I was proud of my toys as a new mother, but mostly I was stunned. Privately and deeply, I wondered again, and again, about the miracle of this toy. Because now I had proof that I'd been heard. I didn't know how or who or why. But I'd been heard. And I didn't feel quite so alone. And some of the pain of my young life, the neighbor kids who called me Jessie James, my jealousy of my younger sister, my simple wish for attention amid the clamor of a large family, began to dissolve into hope with my first Christmas miracle.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

For me the strongest influences are the varied landscapes and bare ground of the hinterlands, rough weather and rural people living lives in the pincers of damaging isolation, ingrained localisms, and the economic decisions made by distant urban powers. The rush, for me, comes from the effort to put these lives on paper, and through them examine the society that draws the lines.~ Annie Proulx
"You are writing fiction. Fiction is an illusion. The moment you speak as the author you rupture the illusion, and upset the delicate balance between storyteller and story-reader. The only place where this is acceptable is in first-person narrative where the narrator is also a character in her own right." ~ Sarah Harrison
"As every author- and every reader- knows,
  writing well is the best trip of them all."
~ Gore Vidal

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I'm going to be on Sirius Radio, Thursday December 23
I'm going to be interviewed on Sirius Radio, on one of thefoxxhole shows, Jamie Foxx's network. Here is the link and info:
Zo Williams' Voice of Reason: Homeless & In Love
Thurs 12/23 8:00 pm ET
Zo Williams broadcasts live from the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles, CA. In this special holiday show, Zo covers the seemingly rare highs and overwhelming lows of the homeless love relationship. It will also be a call to action to donate funds, clothes and food to shelters that provide services to the homeless.
I will be speaking from 6:30-7 PST
I wrote Voices from the Street over a 3-year period. It's based on over 600 interviews of people living on the streets of Portland, Oregon. Writing this  book changed me more than any other project I've ever undertaken. 
When I began this project, I considered myself as someone who had compassion for the homeless but as I worked on it I found myself noticing them with greater clarity. In January of 2004 a severe ice storm blew into the region and I saw the ravages of the storm and all weather with a keener awareness of what it meant to people without homes. And while I’d always noticed the homeless among us, I found myself really looking into their faces and making contact in small ways that earlier I might have been too busy for.
 One moment stands out for me. It was dusk on a November day in 2003 and the brooding sky was changing with the ferocity of a tornado sweeping through with towering, black clouds scuttling across the West hills with a ferocity that crept into your veins. This backdrop looked like a movie depicting the end of the world. In the midst of a busy street near an I-5 off ramp and the Broadway Bridge, a man was standing, silhouetted by the ominous sky, holding a sign. He was walking along a narrow curb between lanes of traffic and I noticed that he was unsteady and wondered if something was wrong. I was a few lanes away from him and traffic was stalled as it was rush hour. And then I noticed the reason for his unsteadiness, he was missing a lower leg and instead wore a peg. I have never seen a sight more lonely than this man hobbling amid the traffic and end-of-the world sky, with his sign begging for help.
This man and so many of the transcripts that I read seemed to illustrate that many of the homeless had more than their share of bad luck, illness and tragedies .I was struck by how many had led rootless lives starting in childhood and suggested that it was a compelling theme worthy of exploration. And I also noticed how the more I read, that the many myths of the homeless I had heard over the years were erased.
I'm looking forward to telling listeners about a particular couple's story that has always haunted me.
And so winter begins....
"I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape - the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter.  Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show. " ~Andrew Wyeth

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Plain English
Drizzly and gray here this morning and I've got editing projects and cookies to bake before I sleep--wait a minute--attend a family gathering. I was reading a friend's short story this morning which set me to thinking about why most of the time, most of us should use unadorned English to tell our stories. I look to William Zinsser, Constance Hale, Arthur Plotnik, and Richard Lederer among others for guidance in such matters. Here's a link to some terrific information on the topic and an excerpt from word guru Zinsser:
So if those are the bad nouns, what are the good nouns? The good nouns are the thousands of short, simple, infinitely old Anglo-Saxon nouns that express the fundamentals of everyday life: house, home, child, chair, bread, milk, sea, sky, earth, field, grass, road … words that are in our bones, words that resonate with the oldest truths. When you use those words, you make contact—consciously and also subconsciously—with the deepest emotions and memories of your readers. Don’t try to find a noun that you think sounds more impressive or “literary.” Short Anglo-Saxon nouns are your second-best tools as a journalist writing in English.

What are your best tools? Your best tools are short, plain Anglo-Saxon verbs. I mean active verbs, not passive verbs. If you could write an article using only active verbs, your article would automatically have clarity and warmth and vigor.

Let’s go back to school for a minute and make sure you remember the difference between an active verb and a passive verb. An active verb denotes one specific action: JOHN SAW THE BOYS. The event only happened once, and we always know who did what: it was John who activated the verb SAW. A passive-voice sentence would say: THE BOYS WERE SEEN BY JOHN. It’s longer. It’s weaker: it takes three words (WERE SEEN BY instead of SAW), and it’s not as exact. How often were the boys seen by John? Every day? Once a week? Active verbs give momentum to a sentence and push it forward. If I had put that last sentence in the passive—“momentum is given to a sentence by active verbs and the sentence is pushed forward by them”—there is no momentum, no push.

One of my favorite writers is Henry David Thoreau, who wrote one of the great American books, Walden, in 1854, about the two years he spent living—and thinking—in the woods near Concord, Massachusetts. Thoreau’s writing moves with simple strength because he uses one active verb after another to push his meaning along. At every point in his sentences you know what you need to know. Here’s a famous sentence from Walden:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of nature, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
Look at all those wonderful short, active verbs: went, wished, front, see, learn, die, discover. We understand exactly what Thoreau is saying. We also know a lot about him—about his curiosity and his vitality. How alive Thoreau is in that sentence! It’s an autobiography in 44 words—39 of which are words of one syllable. Think about that: only five words in that long, elegant sentence have more than one syllable. Short is always better than long.

Now let me turn that sentence into the passive:
A decision was made to go to the woods because of a desire for a deliberate existence and for exposure to only the essential facts of life, and for possible instruction in its educational elements, and because of a concern that at the time of my death the absence of a meaningful prior experience would be apprehended.
All the life has been taken out of the sentence. But what’s the biggest thing I’ve taken out of that sentence? I’ve taken Thoreau out of that sentence. He’s nowhere to be seen. I’ve done it just by turning all the active verbs into passive verbs. Every time I replaced one of Thoreau’s active verbs with a passive verb I also had to add a noun to make the passive verb work. “I went to the woods because” became “A decision was made.” I had to add the noun decision. “To see if I could learn what it had to teach—two terrific verbs, learn and teach; we’ve all learned and we’ve all been taught—became “for possible instruction.” Can you hear how dead those Latin nouns are that end in i-o-n?  Decision. Instruction. They have no people in them doing something.

So fall in love with active verbs. They are your best friends.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Quick Take: (filed under balance)
When writing fiction the inner life of your protagonist (as in inner conflict and decisions, changes, realizations--in other words,character arc), must match the outer life, or the story events or plot arc.
Where do you write?
In case you missed it, here's a link to an article about writing in coffee shops  Destination: LAPTOPISTAN that appeared recently in The New York Times. Although I lug my notebook everywhere I go, I  mostly write at home, preferably in the morning, and these days I keep the room quiet most of the time. I can edit in other places, but that again is best done here, without too many distractions. I like a big flat screen, natural light, and an easy-to use mouse (an unfortunate name for a tool).

Portland is a land of coffee shops and if ever there was a Laptopistan, it's here. Every coffee shop is crowded with people at work on their laptops, coffee cup at hand, pecking away--it's like a secret society. I used to wonder how Portlanders had so much down time to lounge in coffee shops, but I've come to realize that a lot of them are actually working.

Now it's true that there are plenty of distractions when working at home--mainly the refrigerator. But this time of year, especially when I just pulled out a batch of small pumpkin-ginger breads that I plan to give away,  while a load of wash is churning, I appreciate the ability to break off and complete a few tasks. In fact, I've got two boxes that need to be mailed to Wisconsin tomorrow and the place smells like heaven as ginger permeates the rooms.

It seems to me that some time during the end of the year it's good to assess the habits that have been working for you. For example, I'm drinking less Earl Grey these days because too much caffeine and it becomes hard to sit here and concentrate....So I'm wondering: where do you write and is it working for you?

It's Jane Austen's birthday
Called the first novelist and born in 1775 into a minister's family. In college I took a course taught by the head of the Jane Austen Society on all her works as well as the novels of George Sand.And I learned a lot about subtext by reading Austen. What did other novelists, or Austen, teach you about writing and what it means to be human?
She had so many great quotes and lines, but here is one of my favorite: "You have delighted us long enough." from Pride and Prejudice And here is a link to  scads of information about everything Jane Austen.
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Quick Tip: Make Choices
Lovely sky this morning--patches of blue chasing away silver and clouds the color of a baby's ears.
No matter what you're writing--a short story, essay, novel, memoir, or poem--as you work on it, refine it, and create the final draft, you'll be making choices. For most of us, it's rare that every word,sentence, or idea that we first conceive is going to end up in the final draft.

Before you begin your first edit or second draft, put distance between you and the first version, even if it’s only ten minutes spent walking around the block while obsessing about how you’re going to fix things. However, work on a hard copy, and if possible print it out in a font other than what you wrote it in. This is a trick that helps you see the work with a fresh vision. 
During this first editing session you’re analyzing your work for coverage. Have you told the whole story? Are all the important details included? Do you have enough information to support your main points and theme? Is the order logical? Are the facts accurate? 
This is where you're making those hard choices of what must stay and what must go. You've got to justify every sentence, every modifier, every time you move your characters around in the story, or your readers back and forth in time.  "Sit down, and put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it." ~Colette

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Write your first draft with your heart. Re-write with your head. ~From the movie Finding Forrester

Monday, December 13, 2010

Quick take
When writing  about people or characters you can omit references to body parts at times. Some can be implied. For instance, he shrugged his shoulders is redundant, since generally shoulders are the only body part that shrugs. I know my eyelashes don't. Same with he nodded his head. Only heads nod. He nodded. Period. Less, writer friends, less.
Writing, downside
Over at health.com the helpful folks have rated the ten top careers with high rates of depression. And, no surprise, writing is one of them. Here is the piece:
Artists, entertainers, writers
These jobs can bring irregular paychecks, uncertain hours, and isolation.

Creative people may also have higher rates of mood disorders; about 9% reported an episode of major depression in the previous year.

In men, it’s the job category most likely to be associated with an episode of major depression (nearly 7% in full-time workers).

“One thing I see a lot in entertainers and artists is bipolar illness,” says Legge. “There could be undiagnosed or untreated mood disorders in people who are artistic…. Depression is not uncommon to those who are drawn to work in the arts, and then the lifestyle contributes to it.”

They've obviously forgotten other factors that contribute to it:
a spreading butt
paltry advances
puny royalty checks
eye strain
sore neck
family and friends who claim they could be writers too if they only had a bit more time and although they've never written more than "much love" on a birthday card
family and friends who insist "you just need to get on Oprah" 
the cost of ink cartridges or whatever printer gadgets you need
caffeine jitters
carpal tunnel syndrome
when you realize that getting a book published doesn't change your life all that much, although it does change your sense of self
Did I mention a spreading butt?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Quick Take:
Fiction takes us (readers) to places where  we cannot travel to in our ordinary lives and in these places we meet people we'd never meet and glimpse in our ordinary days, and while immersed in these fictional travels, we savor and try on lives much different than our own. Fiction always takes your characters into new physical and emotional territory. These travels into foreign territory must present a threat to the characters and must be written with enough depth so that readers, armchair travelers, are passengers on the ride, worried if they'll ever reach their destination.
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Friday, December 10, 2010

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”
— Robert Frost
Quick Take: More storytelling terms
Plot Arc is about what HAPPENS, the trajectory of the events in the story.
Character Arc
is all about how the characters FEEL and change because of the story events.
Protagonist is the person most hurt and changed by the story events.
Antagonist is the person who forces the protagonist to change in the ways she or he most needs to change.

Yesterday a deluge fell from the sky and as I drove to and from my fiction critique group, I was dodging floods, detours, stranded vehicles, and puddles that were more like small lakes. Meanwhile, I'm gradually adding Christmas decorations to my place, and have wisely begun to give away the fudge I made with my daughter.  I've been editing several manuscripts that contain sex scenes lately and wanted to pass along a few suggestions because sex scenes can easily fizzle (no pun intended):

From an editor's desk: a bit of advice on sex scenes
Writing about love requires describing the indescribable, transporting the reader into an intimate world of two. It requires a freshness of approach, a careful depiction of details and a tightrope walk where the writer teeters between revelation and withholding. As in life, the right touch makes it all worthwhile. When we write of love in scenes, the reader wants to savor the small moments and tenderness, the wildness and surrender, the primal drive of it, and the special sizzle between two people that make their chemistry memorable.
          I would recommend that you really think through your sex scenes--few things reveal a writer's skill level like a well-written or poorly written sex scene. Also, analyze other writers' sex scenes that make you hot or swoon--not to mention those that seem silly or leave you cold. Every sex scene must also push the plot forward and reveal something about the characters that we cannot know with their clothes on. And that doesn't mean skin and body party parts. A sex scene should show us characters at their most vulnerable and soulful.
It’s also helpful to keep in mind that you’re chiefly trying to authenticate the effects of their passion, along with the conflict and tension that likely lead up to it.  Passion is never clinical, never resembles a pop-psych handbook But it is always highly visual and sensual, with the reader clear about who is where in the scene and the physical characteristics of the lovers. Sexual tension is a terrific ingredient in a story; in a romance, it is the story, and it is best prolonged and linked to conflict.
 As in real life, a reader appreciates a slow seduction via the senses. So take it slow, introducing the physical characteristics, the sizzle and chemistry over time, not in one long block. So sex scenes and the capitulation of love require a slow build up of sexual tension. They should tease the reader and make him anticipate what is coming. Sex scenes should seduce the reader just as the hero or heroine seduces the other. In most stories, this slow buildup, this anticipation is fundamental and crucial.
 An effective love scene is depicted through physical action, but mostly through the emotions. While a love scene can be explicit as in erotica, or merely suggestive, its impact on the characters and story is more important than sexual positions. Thus, the key ingredient to a good love scene is emotion. The author has a chance to reveal not just the characters' bodies, but their deepest, most intimate feelings and possibly their secrets.
Love making scenes, especially the first time a couple makes love, should have consequences. Quite often in fiction as sometimes in life, lovemaking will make your characters more vulnerable or conflicted. Whenever possible making love should complicate life for the characters, confuse them, force them to make difficult choices, perhaps leave another person behind or other difficult consequences. 
Sexual tension needs to heat to the boiling point as the story progresses. Every touch, glance, gesture should have meaning—the reader can feel it on her skin too. In a romance it’s vital that the hero and heroine have an intense awareness of each other and that awareness never wavers. Often when the hero and heroine meet, the writer creates a scene where time stands still so that the impact of their meeting can be heightened.
Make more decisions about what sort of chemistry characterizes your alliance —forbidden, dangerous, sweet, tender, or naughty. In your story, their lovemaking seemed not distinct or individual enough. Match your character’s approach to lovemaking to his or her personality and background—athletic, gritty, powerful, humorous, reluctant, or playful. Sexuality needs to fit the characters—someone larger than life needs to be bold in the bedroom. If a timid or conservative character is kinky, then the reader will need other indicators about his or her hidden traits.  Remember, every pair of lovers should have their own chemistry and a love scene should contain tension and often conflict.

Formula for a sex scene: Stimulus > Reaction > Perception > Emotion > Response

Thursday, December 09, 2010

"To make art is to sing with the human voice. To do this you must first learn that the only voice you need is the voice you already have. Art work is ordinary work, but it takes courage to embrace that work, and wisdom to mediate the interplay of art and fear. Sometimes to see your work's rightful place you have to walk to the edge of the precipice and search the deep chasms. You have to see that the universe is not formless and dark throughout, but awaits simply the revealing light of your own mind. Your art does not arrive miraculously from the darkness, but is made uneventfully in the light.
What veteran artists know about each other is that they have engaged the issues that matter to them. What veteran artists share in common is that they have learned how to get on with their work. Simply put, artists learn how to proceed, or they don't. The individual recipe any artist finds for proceeding belongs to that artist alone - it's non-transferable and of little use to others."

  ~David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Sky is the color of pale silver this morning, and it looks calm and dream-like out there. Working on my students' stories this morning before our afternoon critique session, thinking about the writing life, the bigger parts of life, and how to keep going on days when keeping going seems like a mad swirl.Portland is now aglow with lights for the holidays and everywhere the grace and magic of these small sparklers fill me with lots of joy. Hope everyone out there is still writing, still dreaming, and having heart

Meanwhile, here is a writing tip  on creating anti-heroes from my book Bullies, Bastards & Bitches, How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction:

If you want to write a story that grabs readers, cast a tale about imperfect people facing a series of threats and problems. Then make certain these story people don’t always make the right choices or take the high road.
And if you dare to write about less-than charming people, you don’t need to redeem them with an ending in which they see the error of their ways, mend their faults, and allow their flinty hearts to be transformed into a choir loft of goodness. You see, Hollywood movies have greatly influenced audience expectations to such a degree that bad people are expected to become good, endings are expected to be tidy and hopeful, and outcomes are expected to be laced with sunshine. Fiction can and should mimic life with all its messes and discomfort and disquiet. Fiction should also prove just how complicated and troubled many people are.
In fiction sometimes it’s difficult to categorize the various character types, especially when their morality cannot be easily defined. This post is about a kind of protagonist—meaning he’s the focus character in the story—but he sometimes has the morality we’ve traditionally come to associate with bad guys. Which is where the term anti-hero comes from. An anti-hero is a protagonist who is as flawed or more flawed than most characters; someone who disturbs the reader with his weaknesses yet is sympathetically portrayed, and who magnifies the frailties of humanity.
In days of old, especially in the eighteenth century, protagonists were often heroes and antagonists were usually villains, and they were often depicted in stories as either good or evil, clearly delineated as black and white. My hope is that this chapter and the book as a whole will prove that as in real life, story people come in many shades and types. An anti-hero is a protagonist who typically lacks the traditional traits and qualities of a hero such as trustworthiness, courage, and honesty. If he was assigned a color it would be grey.
Often an anti-hero is unorthodox and might flaunt laws or act in ways contrary to society’s standards. In fact, and this is important, an anti-hero often reflects society’s confusion and ambivalence about morality and thus can be used for social or political comment. But while an anti-hero cannot slip into a white hat, he will always:
o  have the reader’s sympathies although sometimes his methods will make this difficult
o  have easily-identified imperfections
o  be made understandable by the story events, meaning that the reader will come to know his motivations and likely will be privy to his inner demons
o  have a starring role in the story

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Always in my books, I like to throw that rogue element into a stable situation and then see what happens. ~ Jeanette Winterson

Writing Recharge workshop
January 22, 12:30- 5, PNCA, 1241 NW. Johnson, Portland, OR Cost: $40
If writing was easy, everyone would be doing it. But it’s not, so as the year begins, let’s take stock of our writing goals, practices and accomplishments. And, of course, make solid plans for living the writing life. A workshop designed for both fiction and nonfiction writers, we’ll cover a range of topics that will motivate and inspire. At the end of the day, you’ll have practical solutions for being more productive; tools for stripping away the hindrances that keep your from writing; and helpful information on craft. The writing exercises, jamming on the page, and discussion will cover strategies that you can immediately put to use.  
Workshop topics include:
Practices that create discipline, balance and structure in our lives so that the writing gets done.
Advice from working writers that clarifies Richard Bach’s statement: “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
How to weave writing into a busy schedule.
How to rejuvenate yourself after a setback.
How an inspiration notebook feeds your awareness and taps into memories.
How to choose measurable and sensible goals.
How to overcome excuses, procrastination, and cop-outs.  
For information contact Jessica at jessicapage (at) spiritone (dot) com

Monday, December 06, 2010

Quick Take: write about what scares you, especially the worries that wake you in the night and leave you rigid with wakefulness in the lonely hours before dawn; the fears difficult to express in daylight’s more forgiving hours.

A prerequisite to success in any craft is acquiring its vocabulary and mastering its core concepts. However, when writing fiction, some elements of fiction are felt more than told, are sometimes unseen or blended in so unobtrusively they are difficult to spot, thus analyze. Still they are necessary to the wholeness and coherence of story. And they’re also necessary to create a seamless and layered work, one that lingers in the reader’s imagination. 
BACK STORY: the history of a character or events that happened before the story events.
EPILOGUE: A conclusion added to a novel after the climatic scene.
EPIPHANY: In modern fiction refers to a sudden revelation that occurs to a main character. The epiphany is a revelation with such impact that it alters the world view of the character who experiences it.
FLASHBACK: A method of narration in which present action is temporarily interrupted so that the reader can witness past events--usually in the form of a character's memory that occurred before the beginning of the story. Flashback techniques include memories, dreams, stories of the past told by characters, or authorial insight.  Flashbacks are especially helpful fill in the reader about a character’s motivation or the background to a conflict.
FORESHADOWING: Suggesting, hinting, or planting information about events that will occur later, used to prepare the reader for what is to come and deepen the sense of anticipation.
MOOD: the atmosphere (pensive, reflective, tense, etc.) which prevails in a work; the attitude the reader gets from the work.
PACE: the speed at which a story unfolds.
PLOT: Refers to structure and relationship of actions and events in fiction. In order for a plot to begin, some sort of catalyst, called an inciting incident is necessary. While the order of events constitutes the "story," we refer to it as plot rather than story as soon as we look at how these events relate to one another and how they are rendered and organized to achieve their particular effects. Events often unfold chronologically, but there are many possibilities for arranging the story events.  
PROLOGUE: In Greek drama, the prologue was either the action or introductory speeches before the first entrance of the chorus. In today’s literature, a prologue is the introductory material before the first chapter, often different in time, place and viewpoint than the opening.
SUBPLOT: A subordinate plot or string of events, sometimes involving a secondary character’s struggles, which takes place simultaneously within a larger plot involving the protagonist. Subplots are effective for creating complications and proving that your fictional world is complex and layered. The subplot often echoes or comments on the main plot and can also reflect on themes and merge with the main plot.
SUBTEXT: what characters do not say out loud but is somehow implied.
SUSPENSE: Curiosity, dread and worry created in the reader by various techniques such as delay and unanswered questions, but chiefly tied to the moral choices made by characters.
THEME: is the fundamental or central idea explored in fiction. It is a unifying element and can refer to meaningful insight or a larger vision of life.  There can be more than one theme in a single work and they can often be described in a single word such as loyalty, risk, endurance. A theme is the writer’s means to share ideas and perceptions with the reader and may be stated directly or only implied.
TRANSITIONS: are the words and phrases that create a smooth flow between ideas, scenes and chapters. They serve as bridges between what has been said and what will be said, and in fiction move readers in time and space, so the reader is not jarred when a new scene, locale, or point of view is introduced.
UNITY: The idea that story has an underlying, organizing principle and all its parts are related so that it is whole, integrated and cohesive. A story with unity has a single purpose and includes mood, tone, atmosphere, description working together so the story resonates.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Unlike medicine or the other sciences, writing has no new discoveries to spring on us. We’re in no danger of reading in our morning newspaper that a breakthrough has been made in how to write a clear English sentence—that information has been around since the King James Bible. We know that verbs have more vigor than nouns, that active verbs are better than passive verbs, that short words and sentences are easier to read than long ones, that concrete details are easier to process than vague abstractions.” ~ William Zinsser

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Quick Take:
Basis for each scene = change
Each time a story changes location give readers a visual/spatial orientation so they can find their way around the new place.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

For laughs (large belly laughs, in fact) Stupid Plot Ideas
I just turned in my monthly column to my editor, commenting that the first of December often fills me with panic. How to accomplish so much in 25 days and still get work done? How to look forward to the new year, but still keep the momentum going? How to keep a sense of humor when life might serve some lemonade at the holidays when eggnog (spiked) is preferred?
     It sounds like we could all use a good laugh so here is a link to Stupid Plot Tricks. And here is a sampling:

Section A: The Bad Guy
If I Ever Become the Evil Overlord...
1. My Legions of Terror will have helmets with clear plexiglass visors, not face-concealing ones.
2. My ventilation ducts will be too small to crawl through.
3. My noble half-brother whose throne I usurped will be killed, not kept anonymously imprisoned in a forgotten cell of my dungeon.
4. Shooting is not too good for my enemies.
5. The artifact which is the source of my power will not be kept on the Mountain of Despair beyond the River of Fire guarded by the Dragons of Eternity. It will be in my safe-deposit box. The same applies to the object which is my one weakness.
6. I will not gloat over my enemies' predicament before killing them.
7. When I've captured my adversary and he says, "Look, before you kill me, will you at least tell me what this is about?" I'll say, "No." and shoot him. No, on second thought I'll shoot him then say "No."
8. After I kidnap the beautiful princess, we will be married immediately in a quiet civil ceremony, not a lavish spectacle in three weeks' time during which the final phase of my plan will be carried out.
9. I will not include a self-destruct mechanism unless absolutely necessary. If it is necessary, it will not be a large red button labeled "Danger: Do Not Push". The big red button marked "Do Not Push" will instead trigger a spray of bullets on anyone stupid enough to disregard it. Similarly, the ON/OFF switch will not clearly be labeled as such.
10. I will not interrogate my enemies in the inner sanctum -- a small hotel well outside my borders will work just as well.
11. I will be secure in my superiority. Therefore, I will feel no need to prove it by leaving clues in the form of riddles or leaving my weaker enemies alive to show they pose no threat.
12. One of my advisors will be an average five-year-old child. Any flaws in my plan that he is able to spot will be corrected before implementation.

Stay warm, eat soup, be well, and keep writing
File Under: Purple Prose
     Did you know that purple prose was so named because people sewed patches of purple to their clothing pretending to be royal? Purple prose, which is prose that is silly, bloated and overwrought, hurts my eyes. There are days when I see a lot of it, which accounts for my need to warn against it, again and again. 
        Here's an example to make you chuckle no matter if the weather outside is frightful.
The sun becomes "that round orb of day" (as opposed, I expect, to those square orbs you see about so much lately); maple syrup is "Springtide's liquid love gift from the heart of the maple wood"; the forest, by a stroke of inspiration, turns out to be "a cathedral of stately grandeur and never ceasing wonder and awe" (argue, if you will, for "cloying quicksand" as the phrase superb, but me, I'll hold out for "stately grandeur"); the ocean - you'll never guess - is "a broad expanse of sparkling silver" [...] It is difficult to say whether Mrs. McPherson is happier in her crackling exclamations or in her bead-curtain-and-chenille-fringe style. Presumably the lady is happy in both manners. That would make her two up on me.
Dorothy Parker reviewing Aimee Semple McPherson's autobiography

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Jeanette Winterson's 10 Rules for Writing
1 Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom.
2 Never stop when you are stuck. You may not be able to solve the problem, but turn aside and write something else. Do not stop altogether.
3 Love what you do.
4 Be honest with yourself. If you are no good, accept it. If the work you are ­doing is no good, accept it.
5 Don't hold on to poor work. If it was bad when it went in the drawer it will be just as bad when it comes out.
6 Take no notice of anyone you don't respect.
7 Take no notice of anyone with a ­gender agenda. A lot of men still think that women lack imagination of the fiery kind.
8 Be ambitious for the work and not for the reward.
9 Trust your creativity.
10 Enjoy this work!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Writing when you don't have time to write
At about 4 this afternoon I went for a short walk along the Clackamas River and I was noticing how the whole scene seemed to be dipped in silver. I've learned to love that river, but then I guess I love most rivers. Last night I crossed the Willamette River on my way home from my book group and noticed that the houseboats on the east shore were decked in lights. All weekend I've noticed how lights are appearing, how they cut through the late-autumn, almost-winter gloom, twinkling with reminders of other times and magic. Earlier that afternoon I was shopping  in Office Depot with a friend buying calendars and a white board for my office. I juggle so many projects and activities that it's difficult to manage them all, so I'm grateful for all the help I can get.

Tonight I'm jotting in the dates of the conferences I'm going to be teaching at in 2011  including (plug) my Summer in Words Conference June 10-12. And yes, I know that these dates do not officially fall in summer--I needed to change the venue to Cannon Beach because we outgrew our space in lovely Manzanita.

With the holidays and end-of-year activities upon us, it's important to make room for writing even in the midst of a crowded schedule. How are you going to squeeze in the time, make headway on your writing projects? A little every day still works best for most of us. Carry around your notebook. Record the magic and chaos of the season. Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart
Scene writing 
 As a writer you have an opportunity to stop time, create an event, dramatize a situation, expose your characters at their most vulnerable by creating a scene. Scenes are the intimate moments in the story that create emotional involvement with the reader worrying about the characters.  In Making Shapely Fiction, Jerome Stern writes: “Your readers can be made to feel the drama of a moment. Actions and thoughts that take seconds to happen in life may take paragraphs, even pages, to be told. When Huck Finn decides he’ll take his chances on eternal damnation rather than betray his friend Jim, Twain doesn’t just tell it—he makes a scene.

When you want to shape a scene in your stories, render sensations fully so that readers cringe at the slap in the face, hear the whimper of pain, see her elbow hit the blue chair, and feel your character’s rage and frustration. Use direct dialogue, physical reactions, gestures, smells, sounds, and thoughts.

Fully rendered scenes are emotional high points. If a novel never compresses action, never summarizes, but is all in full-blown scenes, the endless dialogue and details get monotonous. A shopping trip takes as long as a showdown. It’s as if the writer doesn’t know what is important and what’s not. Remember the wisdom of the child: Make a scene when you really want everyone’s full attention.” 

Writing Prompt:
In media res—“in the middle of the stream” is a common term used to describe writing scenes and beginning stories by jumping directly into the action. Many stories “hit the ground running,” have an urgency and immediacy, but there is more involved to creating a vivid beginning. A powerful beginning draws readers in with a distinctive voice and atmosphere along with other elements that are introduced. Vivid beginnings are not mere gimmicks. Draw a reader into a story by giving her someone or something to care about, a vivid setting and intriguing description.  Or, tease a reader with hints of tensions brewing or immediately plunge into controversy or conflict
Here are prompts to begin in the middle of things:
 “I’m leaving now,” said Alicia quickly gathering her things …
“ The name is George. Like the father of our country.”
“I never even met the man,” said________
It had been raining for three days and a gloom that spelled…..
“You cannot stop me,” warned Ben…..
“Doughnuts would be nice,” Lisa said, curling over onto my side of the bed….
A strange hush fell over the crowd….
“I’m not good at adultery,” he said. “Maybe we should ….
Tom did not believe in coincidences….
When the music stopped we both knew that it meant the ending of many things.
When the doorbell rang at midnight, Jennifer hesitated…..
Thirty years with the wrong man (woman).
It didn’t take me long to discover that tears were not going to help in this situation….
While I waited, every sad cliché came to mind.
That summer, heat smothered the city like a heavy blanket. It was unbearable.
I didn’t want a scandal, I didn’t even want anyone to discover the truth…
It was a death that started the ghastly string of events, and it was yet another death that forced me to….
When he called from San Francisco, I let the phone…
He brings me flowers and hands them to me without saying a word….
Although I agreed to meet him, I knew that it meant a decision….
Although they’re barely visible these days, there are peony bushes and clumps of brilliant day lilies among the tangle of the overgrown garden.
Kristen slipped into the darkened room and fumbled for the light switch.
The moon broke through the wispy clouds and cast shadows on the countryside…
The graveyard looked nothing like I remembered, in fact, as I walked past a tidy row of headstones I began to wonder if…..
“Just tell me you love me,” she pleaded.
“Let’s talk things over,” she said. We were parked outside the Sea View motel although I knew you couldn’t see the beach from here. If fact, the ocean, was a mile down the boulevard and I as stepped back to the car, I wondered how to begin to tell her that this would never work out.
He promised me he could do it with his eyes closed…..

Saturday, November 27, 2010

When I sit down to write, my job is to move the story. If there is such a thing as pace in writing, and if people read me because they’re getting a story that’s paced a certain way, it’s because they sense I want to get to where I’m going. I don’t want to dawdle around and look at the scenery.”~Stephen King

Thursday, November 25, 2010

"Gratitude is the memory of the heart." ~French proverb

Gratitude for......
It’s that time of year when we especially contemplate that for which we’re grateful. It still amazes me that in this country (and others) a day has been set aside for gratitude—what a soulful, powerful tradition.  I’m sitting here in my old bathrobe, heat blasting away to banish the night chill, thinking about all the parts of my life that I'm thankful for. My list is long, so here is just a start:
I’m grateful for all the storytellers in my life.
For my family and the man of my heart.
For books and writers everywhere, especially those who opened doors to me in childhood.
For my readers and students.
For editors and all they do to midwife books and articles and stories of all sorts.
For Rachel Maddow and other knowledgeable people who help keep me informed and sane.
For friends and laughter and listening.
For people who volunteer.
For teachers.
For nurses, cops and firemen and other people who work the front lines.
For American troops and their families and although this country is fraught with problems, our freedoms, laws, and courts.
For lightening strokes of inspiration.
For gardens, forests, and all the babies and toddlers that I spot daily seemingly set apart by their luminance.
Happy Thanksgiving. Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tips from Oakley Hall
1. Write every day 2. Observe and listen 3. Employ all the senses 4. Use strong verbs 5. Detail! 6. A specific always beats an abstraction 7. Describe people and places in terms of motion 8. Anglo-Saxon words are usually more effective than Romance-language-based words 9. Fiction is dramatization; dramatization is point-of-view, sense impressions, detail, action and dialogue 10. In dialogue keep speeches short 11. Look for likenesses, parallels, contrasts, antitheses and reversals 12. Beware of use of the habitual case (would), the passive voice and the word "there." 13. Plotting is compulsion versus obstacles 14. In the second draft start deleting adverbs 15. Borrow widely, steal wisely
Quick Take: 
Build your plot so that each action leads to a reaction that heightens the suspense. This reaction can be to run, hide, seek revenge, seek answers. Some of these actions will be plot points-- a major event that serves as kind of one-way gate forward. Once the protagonist passes through this gate, there is no returning to the way things were, tension is cranked up, and new elements and dilemmas are introduced.

Praying for Snow
There's a light dusting of snow on the ground here, but I'm praying for more. One of my favorite activities is walking in fresh snow, something that doesn't happen too often here in Portland. But there is ice, especially black ice, on the roads and some schools have closed. Of course there is snow up in the mountains, but I live in the valley. I keep reminding my students to really experience the moods of light and weather so that these influences can seep into their writing. Walking amid a snowfall makes me feel like a girl again and creates awe and wonder about all that is possible.

And here's a lovely quote by Jeanette Winterson: "Yes, I do think of poems as lie detectors, it's because the language has to be precise, exact, profound, and layered. Language isn't just about conveying meaning; it's also a metaphor, a way of saying many different things. That's what poetry can offer. In a poem, the language is always authentic. We live in a world of spin, where we find it very difficult to believe anything that we read or anything that we hear. Either we have to put up with that kind of chopped up karate syntax of the sound bite, which is what you hear on the TV, or a kind of verbal incontinence favoured by politicians.

When you go to the poem you find something which is exact, which is precise and which is true in the best sense of the word, that it is about an authentic emotion, or an authentic experience that really happened and is therefore passed on. So it's a place of trust. When you bring poetry into your life you find that it asks you not to lie, not to lie to yourself and not to lie to others, because art has a way of challenging our laziness, our apathies, our inertias and asking that we be better than we are. I think that regular contact with poetry works as a kind of homeopathic medicine and some trace of it still stays under your tongue so that when you next speak, you too are speaking with that precision, with that exactness, with that emotion, with that authenticity. We need, all of us now, to have that authentic voice and not to be seduced by the blandishments of spin."
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart