Saturday, December 26, 2009

My Top Reads of 2009

Just for the fun of it, I thought I'd post some of my favorite reads from the last year. This isn't a complete list by any means.

I'm aware that this list contains a rather a bizarre combination of genres. What can I say? I'm an eclectic reader.

The Reckoning, by Tanya Parker Mills
A finalist in several Whitney categories, and definitely deserving of that honor. Loved it.

Seeking Persephone, by Sarah M. Eden
Also Sarah's Affectations. The former was a Whitney finalist this year for Romance (it's a Regency), and I adored it. She's now publishing with Covenant, and her first book with them will be out in March. (Same month as my Band of Sisters! Maybe we can do signings together!) And she's already got another book accepted. She's a terrific writer.

The Source, by James Michener
Holy research, Batman. This book is one of those that you can't read in long, relaxing stretches. There's just so much that fills your brain that you have to set it down periodically to let it percolate before you pick it back up. But man, this guy can write and put together a fascinating story. Actually, several stories. The book covers (literally) about 1,000 years and everything that happened on a small hill in Israel during that time. I read it after visiting the Holy Land myself to get a better idea of the history of the place. Wow. Just wow.

Columbine, by David Cullen
I thought I knew what happened during the 1999 school shooting. No, I didn't. None of us really did. I thought I had a pretty good grasp on the profile of the shooters. Nope. This is a fascinating book that goes through what they were really like, what they did, why they did it, how it could have been prevented (several times), and every minute of the event. Warning: There are a lot of quotations from the boys' journals. They contain harsh language. So be aware going in that the book contains language.

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
One of those classics that I'd never read and felt I ought to. One of those I'm so glad I did. But one I cannot believe people let high schoolers read. (The content is not for teens. I was rather stunned to reach a few parts and think, Wait. This was written how many decades ago?!) That said, the story is brilliantly (if quirkily) crafted. It's downright hilarious in places, and in others, it's so tragic it made my cry. I don't know how he pulled it off, but man, he's an amazing writer.

The Singer of All Songs, by Kate Constable
This is the first of a trilogy, and I liked the whole set. It's a young adult fantasy that uses singing as the magic, and different people have the ability to sing different types of magic (iron craft, animal craft, air craft, etc.). The legend goes that some day, there will be a Singer of All Songs, which seems impossible, because some songs require really high notes that only women can hit, while others require low, grumbling notes only men can sing. It's a fascinating story, and I loved the author's voice.

Ice, by Sarah Beth Durst
I loved Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, by Jessica Day George, so when I heard about this alternate telling of the same fairy tale, I had to read it. This is a totally different take, but it's fascinating and just as enjoyable. I love it when a writer keeps me guessing. I knew that something would be significant at the end, but I didn't anticipate how. Right up to the end, I was still trying to piece the puzzle together. Note: Jessica's version is very much targeted at younger readers, while this one is definitely for older, teen readers. It has some swearing (not the "biggie" words, but still some) and other themes that would be more appropriate for older teens. I'd give my 7th grader Jessica's book but not this one for a few more years.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jaime Ford
The title really does say it all: this is such a bittersweet story of love and loss. It's half historical, half almost contemporary (1980s), with the historical part set during World War II when Japanese Americans were shipped off to relocation camps and how that affected not only the Japanese but other Asian Americans, including a young Chinese-American boy, Harry, whose father makes him wear a "I am Chinese" button every day so people won't mistake him as Japanese. Harry's best friend is a Japanese girl whose family is taken away, and that event changes his life forever.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan
Never did think I'd enjoy a book about zombies. Huh. This is a delightfully creepy book for young adults.

Gravity vs. The Girl, by Riley Noehren
This is a self-published book, and as such, I want to mention it, because they're hard to get the word out about--and people often dismiss them, because self-published books can be junk. This one is not (yes, it had a few typos, but perfect typesetting does not a good book make). This novel is an absolute riot: great characters, awesome story, and so much more. For lack of a better term, it's paranormal chick lit, and it was a great read. I really hope to see more of this writer soon.

I've read tons of great books this year, so that's a taste of just a few of my favorites. I always keep a running list of books I read each year so I can refer to it. I love going back to see what I read and when. (And then I like to see if I can out-read myself from the year before.)

Any titles you recommend from this year?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

WNW: Christmas Edition

There's a little Christmas word myth I'd like to set to rest.

As a teen, I thought "Xmas" was a cute way to shorten "Christmas" (and it definitely took less time to write out!).

But then someone pointed out a horrifying concept: by using such shorthand, I was crossing Christ out of Christmas! Henceforth, I felt guilty anytime I used it. Anytime I saw "Xmas," I cringed.

There were times that writing out the whole thing was tedious, however, such as on a big plastic storage tub for the basement with tree ornaments. But I couldn't get myself to use it. So I'd compromise and use "Cmas." At least that started with Christ's first initial . . .

Turns out that all my worries were for naught. The term "Xmas" is very religious and very much keeps Christ in Christmas.

It goes back to the fact that the Greek word for Christ begins with the Greek letter Chi, which looks like, yep, the Roman letter X.

The Early English adopted that X as a symbol for Christ, so you'd see them everywhere denoting the Savior of the world: in symbols from religious art to carvings in church buildings and on documents and more. Sometimes the X all by itself was used as the name for Christ in writing.

Many early Christians (commonly known as Xians) considered the X to be further significant because not only was it the first letter of Christ's name in Greek, but it looked like the cross.

So literally, Xmas meant Christ's mass. It wasn't a shorthand for anything. When Christians centuries ago saw that word, they thought of Christ. They literally saw a symbol of his death in the cross. They didn't see it as keeping Him out of Christmas at all, but putting Him right in the middle of it.

I hope all of you have Merry Christmases and that Christ is the center of them, however you decide to spell the holiday.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It Was Inevitable, Really

The other day, my fifth grader's class was discussing parts of sentences.

One student guessed that a preposition was the subject of an example sentence, and my daughter gave a rather lengthy explanation about why that was not, in fact, correct.

I believe the sentence in question was something like:

The students went to the school.

"To the school is a location. It's where they're going to," she said. "So that can't be the subject. The action with the verb is where you find the predicate, and to the school is at the end of that, so it's part of the predicate. But the students are the ones doing the action. So the students is the subject."

The class stared at her in stunned silence.

My daughter closed her mouth, swallowed, and, looking around at the class of gaping fifth graders realized:

Oh my gosh . . . I'm turning into Mom.

Sniff. I'm so proud. What a great Christmas gift.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Writing Journey: Evolution of a Word Nerd


Alexes from One Cluttered Brain asked me several all at once, and they're all sort of related, so I'm answering them together:

When did this fascination with grammar and words begin? Does it interfere much when you write something? And aren't you an editor as well? How does that work when you are trying your writing hat on? Does your editing hat ever get in the way?

Being as I grew up with a linguist as a father, conversations about words were typical dinner-table fodder.

(I thought this was normal. Apparently not.)

I don't remember ever not thinking that words and etymologies and so forth were interesting.

I also grew up with a mother who was always reading. My father used to joke that he couldn't get into his own bedroom without a library card. The master bedroom had several bookcases which were filled, stuffed, and then crammed with books.

The basement was the same. So was the kitchen. Every room in the house had books. And I mean every room. Yes, even the bathroom had a bookcase. (Not kidding.) When I moved out, guess what moved into my bedroom? Yep: more bookcases.

As a result of being the child of both a linguist and a bibliophile, I think it was pretty much inevitable that I'd develop a love of language and books.

On the other hand, the specific grammar and punctuation switch got turned on in 10th grade when I had Miss Drummond for honors English. She made those subjects suddenly make sense and be fascinating to boot!

I loved her as a teacher so much that I was her aide in 11th grade and then I took College Prep English from her in 12th. (After which, I challenged the AP test and passed with a 5, because she's just that good of a teacher.)

Even my brother, who has no interest in anything English, had her in high school and admitted that she was the only teacher who ever made grammar make sense to him. She made him get it.

(See? GRAMMAR CAN BE TAUGHT! It's not just freaks like me who can understand this stuff!)

The poor woman couldn't get rid of me. She also couldn't get rid of my family. First she had Dad as a professor at BYU, then my brother as a student, then my older sister as a student, and then me . . . twice. (Or for three years, if you count the aide thing.) Of us siblings, only one of us didn't have her as a teacher.

In college, two classes with Dr. Oaks cemented my love for all things language, whether it's grammar, usage, punctuation, or anything linguistic. But on some level, the interest has always been there thanks to Dad's PhD in linguistics and Mom's passion for books.

So on to the second part of the question: Does my word nerdiness interfere with my writing? After all, I do edit professionally as well on the side. Do they conflict? Not really. In some ways, having that background helps.

The nerdiness and internal editor are just part of who I am. Yes, there are times I put on my editor hat specifically to look at grammar and usage issues, but even in a rough draft, it's just not in me to throw in a random "less" when it should be "fewer" or to mess up "imply" and "infer." That's not how I speak or write. The rules are so ingrained that some things simply come out correctly the first time.

One thing that's easy to mess up as I type is homonyms, but that's not because I don't know the right word but because my fingers often get going on one word, and it's the wrong one, so I have to fix it later.

(So yes, even I, the person who wrote a book on the topic, mess up at times when I'm randomly throwing out a comment in on a blog or on a Facebook status, as Jessica noted so ably recently when I wrote "there" instead of "their.")

On the other hand, I do have to make a point of separating my editor side from my creative side. While I'd never write, "less times" (unless it's an intentional character quirk in dialogue), there are plenty of other editorial things I could be stressing out over, and drafting is not the time for that.

Trying to edit as I draft would be paralyzing, because writing is a creative experience. You have to let go to create, let yourself get lost in the world and the characters and the story. I can't worry about revisions and editing at that point. Those will come later.

So I let go. I take off my editor hat, knowing I'll come back and put it on another time. I love drafting. It's a ball living for a time in my own little world.

The nice part is that when I do come back for revisions with my editor hat on, I know that what I have to fix won't generally be grammar errors and spelling mistakes. (Just a small bonus, really.) That's not to say I won't have plenty of other things to fix (character motivation, plot holes, telling instead of showing, lame dialogue . . . holy moly, truly, on some days, the list goes on and on).

The one place my obsession does interfere with is reading. It's really, really hard to take off the word nerd/editor hat then, which is frustrating. I have a difficult time picking up a book and enjoying it for its own sake.

It's a rare gem that draws me in so fully that I don't notice clunky punctuation or where I don't mentally rewrite sentences or groan at a really bad typo or grammar error.

My personal favorite error I caught a few years ago: three times in the same book I found prostate instead of prostrate. Oy. Where oh, where was the proofer?! I also caught a dang funny dangling modifier in one of the Twilight books. I giggled like crazy (it implied that Bella was her own father), but obviously no one else gave a snit about it.

(Then again, I doubt I'd care the slightest bit about a dangling modifier if my books were on the NY Times list for dozens of weeks on end, sold millions of copies and were made into blockbuster movies. But I digress.)

Got a question about anything writing or publishing-related? Ask away!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bad Blogger!

I've totally slacked off. I'm aware. I apologize.

I had a way cool idea for a post for Monday. Didn't have time to write it, because I was doing things like, oh getting ready for things like that big holiday that's coming next week (oh, and tackling that pile that suddenly multiplied in the laundry room).

Monday night I spent time with my family making pulla, a sweet Finnish bread flavored with cardamom. It's something we've had in the house at Christmas since I was a little girl, and I make it every year with my kids. (To see what it looks like, here's a post from last year with a picture.)

Tuesday night I had a ball taking some pulla to a Relief Society activity in my parents' ward (the same one I grew up in!). The young women were invited, so my oldest daughter got to come, and my two sisters were there as well. After treats and talking (and getting shushed . . . we were seriously SHUSHED! Okay, fine. Luthy women tend to be loud) my mom spoke about some Finnish Christmas traditions. So no blogging Tuesday.

I had a great idea for a Word Nerd Wednesday. Instead of writing it, I spent the day finishing an edit for a friend that I should have (and would have) finished earlier if it hadn't been for that pesky (albeit totally awesome) thing called Thanksgiving and then all those great Christmas preparations and other things like dishes and laundry that keep me getting sidetracked.

Bad blogger. Bad, bad blogger.

The good news is that I've still been lurking, even if I haven't been commenting much. And I already have Friday's post written (good thing, because no WAY would I have time to get it done otherwise).

Oh, and today I was mentioned at the Frog Blog because I'm SUCH a nerd. Thanks, Stephanie! (I take these things as compliments.)

Talk about a random post.

To round out the randomness, I'll add one last bit: my getaway last week rocked. I got a ton of revisions done on my current WIP (that's "work in progress" for non-writer folk). I also finished reading one novel and started another.

Oh, and I had room service for dinner and breakfast. Never did that before. It was seriously fun. (Who cares if that chocolate milk shake was four bucks? It was delicious. Plus, I didn't make it or clean up after it, and someone brought it to me while I was in my pajamas.)

One more thing: Thursday is my debut on the AML blog. I'll link over in the morning.

I'm smelling popcorn. I'm going to find out who made it and eat some . . .

Friday, December 11, 2009

Writing Journey: I'm Skeered and Other News

Today, I'm in the mood for a list. Therefore:

1) Edits for Band of Sisters are done and turned in. They were pretty painless. To make things even better, Kirk's a riot. He kept inserting funny comments along the way that made me laugh. (I've mentioned that I'm glad he's my editor, right? Just a few times?)

2) I had a phone call on Wednesday that lasted nearly an hour and a half with the man behind an amazing charity that I will be partnering with soon to help families of deployed soldiers. I know that a lot of people want to do something for families in that position but simply feel helpless and don't know what they can do that would make a difference.

Here's something anyone (yes, you!) can do that can make a significant difference in a family's life. Details will be forthcoming as the release of Band of Sisters gets closer. Let's just say I'm totally stoked for this!

3) I've taken on a new blog job. Sort of. I'm apparently either really brave or a total idiot. Time will tell. The Association for Mormon Letters has started a brand new blog, Dawning of a Brighter Day, with several bloggers. I was asked to be one of them. I was honored/ smart/stupid/brave/stunned enough to say yes. I feel almost like I've been invited to a party with the Doctors Crane and don't know what to say or wear, and I just know I'll end up looking like a buffoon.

Regardless, I'm jumping in and will do my best to hold my own with the academics and intellectuals hanging out there (many of the other bloggers are literature professors . . . um, yar?). My monthly posting day will be the 17th. That means my first post is due THIS COMING THURSDAY. No clue yet what it'll be about. Yeah, I'm a tad nervous. In the meantime, go visit the blog and check out the posts so far.

4) Hooray for the pre-posting feature! As I type this, it's actually Thursday night. On Friday, I'm taking an early birthday present trip for myself and will be cutting myself off from the Internet for a couple of days. I'll be heading to a hotel writing, reading, editing, eating, and sleeping to my little heart's content. I hope to finish reading the novel I'm on and get some serious headway on the next manuscript I need to be turning in soon. Plus eat and rest and just have some down time alone.

5) Remember that a week from tomorrow (December 19th) is my book signing with Heather (HB) Moore and Julie Wright in Spanish Fork from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm. We'd love to see you there!

Have a great weekend! (I know I will!)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

WNW: Metonymy Rocketh

Wondering what the heck I'm talking about? Ten bucks says you know what metonymy is, even if you don't already know the term for it.

Let me preface this Word Nerd Wednesday by stressing that I'm such a nerd. Just the word metonymy makes me happy.

Say it. Savor it. Metonymy. Ahhhhh . . .

Okay. So you're thinking, Annette, shut up already. What does "metonymy" mean, already?

Here's the basic idea:

You use a piece of a whole thing, something the whole is associated with, and use that to refer to the whole.

Sounds confusing, but it really isn't.

(Side note: metonymy and synecdoche are so closely related that I'm not going to really distinguish between the two here. Most of the examples below are technically metonymy, but an argument could be make that a couple are synecdoche. They're sub-classes of the same concept, really. Sue me.)

One classic metaphorical example is from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar:

"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears."

Does Mark Antony really want the crowd to hand over their ears? No, of course not. He's asking for their attention and does so using metonymy. Their ears represent their hearing and attention, so he focuses on those.

Here are more common examples you might be more familiar with: we often refer to "the press."

We all know what who and what that means, right? The journalists and the TV people and the newspaper folks. The press.

When we hear the term, no one ever imagines an actual printing press, although technically that's what we're talking about. We all know that what we really mean are all the people involved with the news that goes into making the news. In a sense, what goes into the printing press and the newspaper that comes out of it.

Similarly, "Hollywood" is technically a location. But we use that term to refer to the entire film and television industry, even though a lot of movies and TV shows aren't made there. Not to mention that many actors don't live or work there. (Heck, Oprah works out of Chicago and Sesame Street is in New York!) And so forth. But anytime someone refers to a "Hollywood marriage" or anything else "Hollywood," we immediately know they're referring to the acting business.

Other examples of metonymy:

"The crown." The monarch of England.

"The White House." It can't speak. We are regularly told that it does, but we aren't confused by the statement. When the "press" (hah!) tells us that the "White House said," we know what they mean.

Other common examples of metonymy include Detroit (the auto industry), Rome (the head of the Catholic church), and Salt Lake (head of the Mormon church).

Much like Hollywood refers to all things acting, Wall Street refers to all things financial industry, especially banking.

Then there are other examples that are less obvious, more symbolic, like having sweat refer to hard work: "He put a lot of sweat into that project." (Surely no one's picturing the guy dripping perspiration into a project. At least, let's hope not. Ick.)

I love coming across a new use of metonymy in a novel where the author has invented a metonym that just fits, one the reader understands immediately but one that isn't commonly used.

This is especially fun in fantasy works, where the author has to build a new world and figure out what kinds of metonymy would have naturally grown in their fictional world's culture.

I used metonymy once in a scene where I had a threatening group of soldiers chasing a young brother and sister. The point of the scene was the threat the army posed and the fact that the boy and girl were desperately trying to get away.

I described a horde of red and black armor spilling out of an inn and chasing after siblings almost like insects coming out of a hive. Using metonymy (just the armor and its colors) made the threat more real and scary. At least, I think so.

In a sense, it also dehumanized the enemy. Putting faces on the soldiers and referring to the men inside the suits of armor isn't what I wanted at that moment in the story. The men were supposed to be evil, faceless drones working for the villain. (Think: Stormtroopers.) I didn't want the reader imagining individuals inside each suit of armor. That might have evoked sympathy for them or at least humanized them on some level, and that's not where the focus needed to be.

Metonymy is a fun tool when used at the right time and well, and I think that's a scene where it worked.

Another word on synecdoche: It tends to be a bit more specific than metonymy. An example would be the term, "John Hancock" to refer to anyone's signature or plastic to refer to credit cards. Those are synecdoche, a bit too specific for metonomy, which tends to work in more general ways.

If there are other word nerds out there who thought up other uses of metonymy (or synecdoche), throw 'em into the comments!

They're loads of fun.

Monday, December 07, 2009

You Can't Hear Me

People often assume that because I'm a writer, I must be great at getting across what I mean in conversation. That when I open my mouth, eloquence ushers forth like a fountain.

The reality is that most of the time, I feel like I have a short circuit between my brain and my mouth, and I struggle to find a way to get what I'm thinking past my brain, into words, and out of my mouth.

I recall one conversation I had with a good friend where my response came out absolutely wrong. I knew it the moment I said it. The words alone were enough for my brain to flash red warning lights, but her face also told me my answer was hurtful.

I didn't mean it the way it came out, but for the life of me, I couldn't come up with how I could have said it differently. I grasped at straws for several minutes.

After she left, I continued to ponder on the conversation. Two weeks later, I figured out what I should have said.

This is why I like writing things like novels: I can go back for weeks at a time to fix the manuscript until it says what I want it to. I can show a scene to my critique group. When something comes across in a way totally different than how I intended, they point it out, and I can change it before anyone else reads it.

I have a chance to fix my words.

In real life, I rarely have such opportunities, and the effect is that I often hurt people. The fact that I have strong opinions doesn't help matters, because I'll state them, and apparently, I'm not always smart enough to soften them in public or be aware or how they come out.

Sometimes I hurt people in verbal, face-to-face conversations, and other times it's in e-mail, where we don't have the benefit of intonations and body language to help figure out what the other means.

Several years ago, I was involved in such an e-mail "conversation." (Okay, it was an ugly argument in a public forum.) I said a lot of nasty things on my end, things I'm not proud about. I don't think either of us handled the situation all that well, but as we were popping off e-mails back and forth over several days, I wasn't taking time to really think through my words to see if what I meant and the tone I intended was coming across accurately.

Then I got another e-mail. I don't recall the exact words, but it said something along the lines of how I'm really good at making people feel small, and how I must know that and enjoy it.

I stared at the screen, feeling as if I'd been punched in the gut. I knew what it felt like to be made to feel small. But over the course of the argument, I hadn't meant to belittle anyone. Sure, I was trying to outwit my opponent. I was probably sarcastic and snarky and more.

But I hadn't realized I was hurting her, putting her down, making her feel as if I was stepping on her and wiping her off the bottom of my shoe.

In the darkness of the room, I wept, staring at the monitor for a long time. It was a harsh lesson, but one I needed to learn. I didn't want to be the person she'd described. I replied saying I was sorry and that I'd be stepping back from the forum for awhile.

It's been my great fortune that the other party has forgiven my stupidity and is now, literally, one of my best friends in the whole world. Today, I'm grateful she called me out on that.

I've tried hard since then to not belittle others in the same way. Unfortunately, every so often, I find out it's happened again . . . never intentionally on my part, but it seems to be almost like a reflex. I'm really good at smacking people down without realizing it.

Sometimes it's with situations I really have no control over. (I find out someone is intimidated by my knowledge of grammar. In that case, I shrug and move on, because there's nothing I can do about that.) Other times, it's something I said or wrote, or maybe a comment I made or something I said on a blog post. Maybe something else.

And I realize that I haven't quite learned the lesson. It always comes as a shock to me when someone calls me on the carpet, telling me I was mean or rude and need to apologize or that I was hurtful or whatever.

Then, confused and hurt, I mentally rewind what happened and view it from their lens. And I realize that yep, that could have been seen as rude or hurtful. I didn't mean it that way. If they saw into my heart and knew the entire story or history and why I said it that way and how I really think, they wouldn't have been hurt. They wouldn't have judged it that way. But I didn't say it right to begin with.

And they were hurt. Are hurt. I needed to be more sensitive in how I approached the topic. I hurt someone.

Over the years, I've thought about how we'll communicate in the next life. I've heard theories about how maybe we'll be able to get entire ideas across with our minds without having to resort to speaking words.

That idea is tantalizing to me. I already wish I could take entire thoughts, feelings, and histories from my head and insert them into others' minds with a swoop of my hand.

Now do you see what I see? Feel what I feel? Do you understand what I mean?

As much as I adore words, I hate them just as much. They limit me. They cause confusion and hurt and miscommunication. I think the urgency to make people hear my thoughts and understand what is in my mind is one reason (aside from the genetic component) that I talk fast. Words hold me back. I want to get the thought out of my head and into the other person's.

I pray that one of these days I'll be able to open my mouth, truly speak what's inside, and be understood.

To be able to type what's in my heart without fear that it'll be the wrong thing and that I'll be misjudged.

That someone will not be hurt by me. Again.

Because just when I get comfortable, thinking I've made it, that I've finally learned the lesson and know how to prevent it from happening, I do it again.

The cycle is repeated.

I'll keep trying, but I don't know how to overcome it, once and for all.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Writing Journey: Got My Edit!

My current journey . . .

See Wednesday's and Thursday's posts for some of my other fun news for the week (a Christmas article, my winning essay, etc.). I was touched when my friend Alison Palmer even posted about my win. I had so many people e-mail me, comment on Facebook, and otherwise congratulate me. Yesterday was awesome. Thanks to everyone!

In other news, I officially have my edit for Band of Sisters. I got it earlier this week, and I'm supposed to give it back to Kirk, the editor of awesomeness, on Monday.

For previous books, such short of a timeline to go over an edit would have seriously freaked me out. This time, I'm okay with it, because the edit is quite light. I really think that by the time I got this one through my critique group, it was pretty darn clean. That, and I was able to write it at a pace that got it clean as I went, if that makes sense. Plus, it's contemporary, which required very little research beyond the military parts, yet I took as long to write it as my historicals, again, cleaning as I went. .

Or maybe I'm improving as a writer. I like to hope so. :)

When I got the edit, Kirk gave me some of the highest praise about this manuscript, better than I think I've ever received for any book even from a reviewer or a reader or anything. I've already printed out his e-mail and will be tacking it near my desk so I can read it on those days when I feel I'm an idiot for thinking I can write.

(Thanks, Kirk! You SO made my day!)

I'm still wigging that I actually get to keep the title I submitted the book with.

To be honest, I stink at coming up with titles. This time, I was brainstorming with my husband, and Band of Sisters was his idea, a play on "Band of Brothers," since the story is about women who come together and support one another while their husbands are deployed to Afghanistan.

And the journey goes on.

Next week, I'll either give a continuing update, or I'll answer some reader questions in the queue.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Link! The Link!

As promised, I'm posting the link to the annual Funds for Writers essay contest, which I won. (Yippee!)

I recommend subscribing to the Funds for Writers newsletter and blog. (You can do that from the link above as well.) Both are great resources for writers.

Now I have to decide how to spend the prize money. Hmm . . .

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

A Wee Bit Sidetracked

I had an entire Word Nerd Wednesday post already written about metonymy (because I like funky literary gems like that, and they're so much fun to talk about).

But then something happened, and now I'm sidetracked, so metonymy will just have to wait until next week.

Instead of a regular WNW post, here are 5 pieces of information I want you to know:

1) First, last week's Nerdiversary book winner:

Congratulations to Countess Laurie, who selected as the winner of a copy of There, Their, They're!

(Click on the title to get your own copy! That's called blatant self-promotion! Stop me! I'm using excessive exclamation points, and I can't get up!)

Countess Laurie, send me your mailing address so I can ship your book to you!

2) The ladies over at LDS Women's Book Review are doing a countdown to Christmas by interviewing writers about their Christmas traditions and book lists. I got to be their first one yesterday. Read the post by clicking HERE.

3) Remember that All Is Bright is cheap ($4.95) and makes a great Christmas gift! Yippee! More blatant self-promotion and exclamation points!

4) I often publish articles with Desert Saints Magazine. My article this month is about giving gifts to the Savior during Christmastime.

I thought I'd link over to it, because the message is one I feel strongly about. Read it HERE.


5) All day yesterday, I waited for the announcement about a writing contest I'd entered, the C. Hope Clark Annual Essay Contest. She's the editor of the Funds for Writers newsletter, which has been listed in Writer's Digest for umpteen years now as one of the top 101 sites for writers.

This year's theme: Invisible Writing.

My essay: "The Invisible Writing Mother."

I tried not to get my hopes up, because I knew that the contest has been going for 8 years, and this year it got a record number of entries, something like 250. (I think last year was in the ballpark of 167.) Yeah. Okay, then. If I was really lucky and the planets aligned, I'd get an honorable mention.

The list of winners didn't get sent out until about 10:00 pm my time.

AND I TOOK FIRST PLACE. (Plus I get a nice cash award, too!)

Coincidentally, one of my daughters couldn't sleep last night, and she came upstairs from her bedroom just in time to hear Mom screaming like a banshee from the other side of the house.

Mom was kinda excited.

For those interested, I'll post the link to the winning essays just as soon as I get it.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Happy Birthday, LMM

135 years ago today, a little girl was born in a small town called Clifton. She would one day become a world-famous author.

Her mother died when she was only 22 months old. The little girl's only memory of her mother is at the funeral, of her mother lying in her casket, looking asleep, and the girl wondering why everyone was crying and giving her sympathetic looks. That memory would one day show up in a book called Emily of New Moon, about a young girl who aspires to be a writer. The Emily trilogy is the most autobiographical of anything she ever published.

Her father remarried and moved out west, and she stayed behind to be raised by her rather strict grandparents. She did spend a year or so with her father during her adolescence, but it was a miserable time, and she longed to be home with her cousins and friends, so she went back to live with her grandparents.

Later on, she went to college and at one point became a school teacher, sleeping in a room so cold in the winter that her wash water and ink bottle would freeze overnight.

Even so, she had aspirations to be a writer, so she got up early before school, lit a fire, got the ink workable, and hand-wrote short stories and poetry. Some of that work she published in magazines, which helped to keep her finances afloat.

Later, she worked at a newspaper proofing copy as articles flew down a chute at her. She no longer had the luxury of quiet time to write, but she found a way to write with the loud noises of the printer banging around her and in the snippets between the times articles shot down the chute. She had more acceptances during this period. (Good luck making excuses like, "Oh, I can't write if it's not totally silent.")

Eventually, however, she had to return home to care for her ailing grandmother, who had raised her. At this point, she managed to sell dozens of short stories, and she kept sending them off, something easy to do since the family ran the local post office. (In fact, that's how she sent off her first submission and many others without anyone ever knowing about it.)

During a particularly harsh winter, she had a deep depression and nervous breakdown, and the local minister, named Ewan, a bachelor, became a dear friend who helped her through that time. He proposed, and she accepted, on the condition that she couldn't marry until her grandmother had passed away. He agreed, but his ministry called him away a year or so later, and they had a long-distance engagement for several years. (Note: Many documents spell his name Ewen, but she uses Ewan in her journals.)

She admitted in her journal that she was never in love with him, but she did love him dearly as a friend and couldn't imagine her life without him, but at her age, that was the best she could hope for.

During this time, she decided to try her hand at a novel instead of short stories. She flipped through her idea notebook, where she always jotted down random ideas that came to her, and she came across one that seemed like a fun one to explore: a couple who wants to adopt a boy and accidentally gets sent a girl.

That book was rejected a few times, but eventually it found a home. Anne of Green Gables was published in 1908 and became a break-out success.

In the last 101 years, it has since been translated into dozens of languages, made into several movies and a musical, and continues to be a beloved classic. Her readers demanded many sequels. Her life as a famous novelist began.

When her grandmother died, Ewan returned, and they married. She was 36.

Right away, they left what was her home and moved far away, to the Toronto area. She would never live there again, only visit it, but she most of her future writing would be focused on her old stomping grounds of Prince Edward Island, and the world would love her for it.

She had three children, all boys. The second was stillborn due to a knot in the umbilical chord. She named him after her father, Hugh. She never quite got over losing him, even giving a similar loss to Anne in one of her later books.

In spite of the happy, almost magical, tone of her books, she led a sad life filled with depression, largely due to her husband's mental illness and tendency toward being a hypochondriac. Her eldest son, Chester, gave her much grief, failing in college, having an extra-marital affair, becoming a liar and a cheat, and so forththings that made her completely heartsick.

She and her husband both had chronic depression and were dependent on prescription medications. She was generous, almost to a fault, with readers and fans, and frequently loaned money to family (which she often never got back). When her husband became too ill to work as a minister (and keep a congregation happy), she became the primary breadwinner of the family.

This was particularly difficult during the Depression, when buying books became a luxury for most people, and her income suffered dramatically as a result.

She kept a journal from the time she was a young girl almost until the end of her life. She nearly stopped writing in it during her final years. Quite often she wrote entries on other pieces of paper or in notebooks and later transcribed them into her journal.

The last one in the published version of her journals is supposedly such a note, written about a month before her death, but it was found on a table next to her body, and some people believe it to be a suicide note. We'll never know conclusively whether she died of natural causes or if she had a hand in it, as an autopsy was never performed.

She wrote:
Since then my life has been hell, hell, hell. My mind is goneeverything in the world I lived for has gonethe world has gone mad. I shall be driven to end my life. Oh God, forgive me. Nobody dreams what my awful position is.

Whatever happened at the end of her life, I hope she's a happier woman now on the other side and has found some semblance of peace, particularly since she brought so much joyand continues to bring joyto the millions who read her books every year.

I can honestly say that of all writers out there, L. M. Montgomery has had the most profound impact on me as a writer. That could be because of the age I was when I discovered her work or the friends I had who also loved her stories. As I've said before, I'm not just an Anne fan.

In fact, while I love Anne, she's not in my top three of LMM characters: 

Rather, I am fascinated by L. M. Montgomery the mother, the wife, the writer, the woman. 

I can point to elements in my own work that have been directly impacted by hers. Today I'm remembering her and honoring her. 

Happy birthday, Maud.*
May you truly rest in peace.

*Not Lucy. She hated her first name. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Word Nerdiversary!

Image courtesy Daily Clip Art

It's been a YEAR since I started doing Word Nerd Wednesday!

So far I have personally had a ball talking about some of my personal favorite topics, whether it's been pet peeves on holiday gift cards, Grimm's Law, or when to use parentheses versus brackets and italics versus quote marks. (Those last two posts are ones Googlers regularly land on. Never expected that.)

Technically, Word Nerd Wednesday's anniversary is November 26th, so tomorrow is the anniversary, but tomorrow isn't a Wednesday, so we're cheating by celebrating today. (Sue me.) Let's just say the party is a day early, a bit of pre-Thanksgiving joy.

The celebration will have TWO PARTS:

FIRST: I'm going to share three fun words that have some history for me dating back to my teens.

SECOND: we have a giveaway. This one requires nothing but a comment to enter. No Tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, or anything else. Just leave a comment so I know you want it. This time it's my way of saying thanks for hanging out with the nerd side of me each Wednesday!

First, the three words:

xanthic: Of or pertaining to yellow.
I have no idea why my bestest teen bud (and future bride's maid) J.J.-Panda and I latched onto this one, but in high school, it became our catch-all word for anything we loved. If we liked something, it was xanthic. If it passed muster, it was xanthic. It was such a random word, but it was lots of fun, especially since no one else knew what the heck it meant. (I'm pretty sure she's the one who taught it to me. I wasn't nearly that creative.)

The technical definition is more along the lines of "certain compounds that produce substances of a yellow color," but we liked our simple definition better.

plethora: Over-fullness in any respect; a superabundance, an excess.
We loved using this one. We used to drop notes in one another's locker on a regular basis, and I'd guess that 90% of them included plethora in some context. (I'm sure a good 75% included xanthic.)

melancholy: Depressed, sad, gloomy.
This one has more of a story behind it. I was a huge L. M. Montgomery fan (okay, I still am), so I knew full well what melancholy meant, since LMM used the word a lot. But I'd never heard it spoken.

It wasn't until my 9th grade honors English teacher, Miss Jarmon, had the class taking turns reading a short story aloud that I heard it for the first time . . . about two students in front of me. The girl who said it correctly ended up as our valedictorian.

The word is pronounced roughly (since I don't really have the right symbols here): meh-lun-KAH-lee

I was mentally saying it as: meh-LAN-kuh-lee

Sooooo glad it wasn't me reading it aloud. Katie H. saved my bacon.

I thought it appropriate to give away a copy of There, Their, They're: A No-Tears Guide to Grammar from the Word Nerd on Word Nerd Wednesday's Nerdiversary.

To win, simply drop a comment below so I know you'd like it. (Or, if you win and already own a copy, you can have it shipped to a friend. Consider it a Christmas gift!)

I'll pick a winner NEXT Word Nerd Wednesday.

This isn't a requirement, but I might be fun if, in your comment, you mention a word that impacted you in some way like xanthic, plethora, and melancholy impacted me.

It'll count toward your giveaway entry, and we'll all get an extra treat to boot!

Good luck!

(Have a xanthic Thanksgiving. May you enjoy a plethora of food and never for a moment feel melancholy.)


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