Thursday, October 28, 2010

Happy Chocolate Day!

Today's is a mini post with just a couple of quick items:

1) Crash, one my of my favorite bloggers, whom I lub (as she would say), is going after a blogging gig. She needs our votes to get to the next stage. Vote for her HERE once a day.

2) Remember how I got to be part of the cool reenactment of the original Mormon Pioneer Trek via Twitter? SUCH a cool experience. The guys behind TwHistory are shooting to get $25,000 in funding to help create new reenactments, which are excellent educational tools. To get the funding, they have to be in the top 10 by Halloween. Today, they're #12. Please vote for them! (Again, you can vote once a day through the end of the month.)

3) In case you've missed my incessant shouting about it, TODAY is National Chocolate Day and my book launch party in Orem at The Chocolate Dessert Cafe.

The Daily Herald announced it HERE. (See me holding the cookbook and matching my kitchen . . . yes, the very kitchen every recipe was invented/tested/tweaked/enjoyed in.)

The deets:
  • 212 South State, Orem
  • 4:00-7:00 pm
  • The first 5 people get a FREE copy of the Chocolate Never Faileth companion DVD
  • Get a free caramel cupcake with each book purchase
  • Eat free mint fudge samples
  • Have me sign your book!
  • (Oh, and you get to meet my brilliant, handsome, taller-than-mom son. He'll be my sample helper tonight.)
Happy National Chocolate Day!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

WNW: People Who Became Nouns

I love learning the history behind words.

(Okay, duh. I could have pointed out something else equally obvious to my reader. Hmm. I like chocolate. Yeah, that'll do.)

Life magazine recently ran a piece online that I found utterly fascinating: How the names of people from history morphed into nouns and adjectives we use today.

I knew many of them (sideburns, gerrymandering, Heimlich, guy).

Others were totally obvious once they were pointed out, sort of a head-smacking "Of course!" moment (Colt, ottoman, Kalashnikov, Bunson).

And some were fascinating news to me (pompadour, Ferrari, fuchsia, jacuzzi, kelvin).

Check out the complete list with pictures and explanations HERE.

Tip: It works better if you click on the next picture from the menu below rather than on the NEXT arrow.


REMINDER:
TOMORROW IS NATIONAL CHOCOLATE DAY AND MY BOOK LAUNCH!

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 28TH
The Chocolate Dessert Cafe
212 South State, Orem
4:00-7:00 pm

-Giveaways & prizes
-Free Companion DVD to the first 5 people
-Free samples
-Free cupcake with each book purchase
-Get your book signed!

Please come!


Friday, October 22, 2010

Top 5 Ways to Stay Sane as a Writer

Top 5 posts HERE.

Writing is a lifestyle where it feels as if you sit on the brink of sanity. Sometimes that's because you hear voices and see "movies" in your head. Other times it's the see-saw of emotions that goes from "Yay! I can really write!" to "I'm the lamest person to ever string two words together. Wah!" and back again.

And that's not counting the crazy stuff involved in getting or staying published.

When I'm losing my mind, here are my top 5 ways of staying SANE:

1. Read.
I always have a book (or two or three or four or . . .) that I'm reading, but I tend to read piecemeal. When I'm in the crazy zone, I find that sitting back and actually reading for an afternoon or an evening is a great way to de-pressurize and get back into the literary groove.

2. Take a Walk.
I walk as long as it takes for my mind to "unkink." No iPod or anything else. Just me and the sidewalk. The first several blocks, my brain chatters about this and that and the other. Eventually, the even pace of my steps and being outside calms the chatter, and my mind relaxes. I've found story ideas and plot solutions when I'm not even trying . . . but when I'm walking.

3. Have an Artist's Date
You know, ala Julia Cameron and The Artist's Way. For me, it can mean walking through the library, taking a jaunt through a thrift store, checking out a local museum, or even the dollar store. Just getting OUT. Sometimes this can be taking my writing with me and writing in a different location, like the picnic table at a park. I have a dream of going to a movie alone some afternoon. Haven't done it yet, but I will.

4. Knit.
Another way to unkink my brain. Provided I'm not doing a pattern that requires a lot of thinking, I can knit, still creating but in a different way. It always provides me with relaxation as well as a way for my mind to drift.

5. Each chocolate.
I don't think this needs much commentary. My downfall is often Mrs. Callender's French Silk Pie with the cookie crumb crust (because when I'm in the crazy, I'm in no mood to make my own chocolate, even though I have plenty of chocolate recipes!).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

PAR-TAY!!!


I interrupt my regular blogging schedule to announce what I will be doing on Thursday, October 28th (a week from today) on National Chocolate Day.

I hope you'll celebrate with me at my cookbook launch party!

It's at THE CHOCOLATE dessert cafe in Orem (can I hear a woot, woot?)!

Check out the deets on the invite below. Spread the word!

(Come! Maybe win a free DVD, get a free cupcake . . .)


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

WNW: English, The Obituary

First, a couple of housekeeping items:
1) Just got a 3-min
ute clip from the
Chocolate Never Faileth DVD. Check it out in the sidebar! It shows how to make Tiger Tails, a great kids' birthday activity.

2) TODAY I'll be signing the cookbook at the Lehi/AF Costco from 11:00 am - 2:00 pm. I hope to see some friendly faces!

On to Word Nerd Wednesday!

This one is courtesy
Lara, who sent me a link to an article that made the nerd in me totally grin.

It's as much a pseudo-obituary as it is an article. You can find the brilliant piece in
The Washington Post

It begins, like any good obituary, with the "birth" and early history of the dearly departed, as well as those loved ones it left behind:

The English language, which arose from humble Anglo-Saxon roots to become the lingua franca of 600 million people worldwide and the dominant lexicon of international discourse, is dead. It succumbed last month at the age of 1,617 after a long illness. It is survived by an ignominiously diminished form of itself.

After describing some rather dire mis-usages found in
The Washington Post itself, the piece goes on to say:

Moments later, already severely weakened, English died of shame.

Another great bit:

It was not immediately clear to what degree the English language will be mourned, or if it will be mourned at all.

The kicker is the last line, which I won't ruin by copying it here.

But here's a hint: It deals with two issues, one of which we
ranted about discussed here recently.

Go read
the full piece.

It's worth your time!

Sniff. Poor English. It had a good run.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Dialogue: 6 Things It Can/Should Do

The other day I left a comment over at Jordan McCollum's blog about writing good dialogue. I referred to six things I think good dialogue can do. My belief is that every scene with dialogue should have at least two of the six.

Then in the comments of my last post, Kathleen asked if I'd list them. I've taught dialogue at writing workshops. At some point maybe I'll go into more that I cover in the 1-hour workshop, but for today, here are the six things:

#1 Reveal Character
Good dialogue is a great characterization tool. A man might call a color "orange," while his wife might refer to it as "salmon" or "coral." Meanwhile, he might discuss all the features of the latest Mustang, while her eyes glaze over. (Or, for variety, switch things up: make her the mechanic and him an artist who notices the nuances of color.)

My father (a 70-something retired linguistics professor who grew up milking cows in Cache Valley, Utah) would use very different vocabulary and sentence structure than my 8-year-old daughter. Both of them would vary widely from a forty-year-old Jewish woman from New York, who would again vary from a twenty-something college student from South Carolina, who would vary from a Silicon Valley executive.

Age, gender, education, socioeconomic level, geographical background, and so many other things impact our speech.

Sometimes, even the people we're with affect how we say things. I know I've lapsed into an almost teenage-style of talking around friends I know from that era, while I'll use a more formal register with, say, the school principal. When I'm talking with my sisters, I sound very different than when I'm talking to my kids. And so on.

Personality traits and attitudes come through in speech all the time.

#2 Propel the Plot
Avoid scenes with characters chatting about what they had for dinner or something else equally mundane and pointless (unless the scene really does do something else in this list). If there's no point to the chatter, if the story isn't moving along, if we don't need the conversation, cut it.

Now, I've read scenes where discussing food is important even if it's not propelling the plot. Maybe it reveals character or introduces a conflict or foreshadows. But I've also had countless manuscripts cross my editing desk where the conversation is just boring filler.

In most cases, cut the conversation or make it move the story forward, whether it's characters discussing what to do next, what the problem is, their reactions to something, or whatever.

#3 Give the Reader Important Information
Dialogue is a great way to reveal information that's important to the story.

That said, if you're not really, really careful, it's also a lazy way to dump information on the reader. Beware of speeches where characters explain their past or the current predicament or something else convenient. Never have characters tell each other things they both already know, just so the reader can find out about it.

Well used, dialogue can be a powerful way to get across information. Done poorly, it creates some of the weakest writing ever.

#4 Foreshadow
Goes along with #3: foreshadowing in dialogue is when something a character says hints at what will come later. But don't be obvious about it. Don't do it too often, and don't call attention to it. Be subtle.

An example: Lane in Better off Dead tells Monique how bad he is at mechanical things. He says something like, "My brother's making a space shuttle out of household appliances like blenders and vacuums. That's probably going to work, and then there's my car, just sitting there in the driveway. It'll never run." (Not a direct quote, but you get the idea.)

What comes later in the film? Of course, Monique helps Lane fix his car. Then, as a great cherry on top, during the final credits we see the brother's space shuttle take off and blow the roof off the family home.

But as far as the audience is concerned, when Lane delivers that line, it serves another purpose: characterization. It shows the total frustration Lane has with his life and his complete lack of self confidence.

#5 Show the Setting
Have your characters interact with the setting and even comment on it: Aaron thinks the carpet in the restaurant looks like orange astro-turf. Betty breathes in the smell of the old truck and mentions that the scent is just like her grandfather's old Ford. Charlie argues with the coach over the next play. Great dialogue can put us right in the middle of the setting and make the story world come alive.

#6 Create Conflict
This is probably one of the most important ones. Throw two characters together with opposing goals/desires, and get them talking. Voila: immediate conflict. To a great extent, this goes hand in hand with #2, propelling the plot.

Plot can't exist without conflict. Spark up some trouble, and your plot will come alive.

***

I always tell writers to use 2 or 3 of the 6. Don't try to use all six in one scene; chances are, one scene can't bear the weight. But often you'll write a scene with two purposes in mind, and a third (or maybe even fourth) will show up. Awesome.

Just make sure there's a solid reason for the conversation to be there.

Analyze all your dialogue. If some doesn't serve any legitimate purpose (or, rather at least TWO), cut it.

If it serves one little purpose, can you pump it up and have it accomplish more?

A final note, something I'll probably touch on in another post some time:

Contrary to what some teachers say, realistic-sounding dialogue does NOT mimic real speech. It's the illusion of reality. Real speech is boring, pointless, has pauses and filler words (um, well, yeah, etc.), repeats itself, includes talking over one another, interruptions, and so much more that makes for boring and (ironically) fake-sounding dialogue.

Your job as the writer is to make the reader think they're getting realistic speech, what we somehow think is real, but isn't.

Sorry, Miss W (my high-school creative-writing teacher), but recording and listening to conversations is NOT the best way to learn how to write good dialogue.

(That said, I highly recommend eavesdropping. Just not to learn dialogue. It's a great way to come up with characters and story lines!)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Top 5 Things Every Aspiring Writer Should Know

All Top 5 posts HERE.

This one's tricky. Looking back, I wish I'd known a lot of things about writing and publishing.

But then I second-guess myself and think, No, I'm glad I didn't know this or that back then . . . it might have made me give up.

Here are five things that I think would have helped, many of which I learned the hard way:

1. You will have an apprenticeship.
That means not to plan on success out of the gate. Sure, you may be one of the lucky ones who hits a home run on their first try, but the chances of that are less than the chance of getting struck by lightning.

Most of those overnight successes you hear about took years to actually happen. Like a concert pianist who spent years on their craft, writers must spend time (and lots of it) learning their craft. Writing well isn't easy.

Case in point: Uber-famous and successful Brandon Sanderson has exploded onto the fantasy scene. But it took writing something like THIRTEEN books, religiously honing his craft for YEARS, before his "overnight" success arrived.

2. You Will Be Rejected.
I don't know a single author who hasn't faced rejection at some point. Not even those lucky enough to get their first book accepted. Eventually everyone gets rejected in some way. Many times. The way to success is often paved with the stones of how you cope with that rejection.

Do you wallow and weep and tear your hair out and quit?

Do you whine and complain that someone's an idiot and that no one recognizes your brilliance?

Do you allow yourself a few tears but then come back and think, Hmm. Is there any truth to what they said? How can I take this and grow?

(Note #1: There are some big life lessons there. This doesn't apply to writing alone.)

(Note #2: Large quantities of French Silk Pie have been known to speed along the grieving process. Anecdotal reports, of course.)

3. At some point, you'll have to step out of your box.
For that matter, you'll probably have to step so far out of it that you don't know where your box is anymore.

I'm naturally a very shy person. I feel comfortable chatting it up with friends I know well, but I have a difficult time making new friends. (Example: I've been in this neighborhood for about 8 years, and I don't think more than a couple of people really know me or consider me a friend. Sad, really. And largely my fault.)

But the moment you have a book out, you can't sit in your happy bubble with your computer, living in the little world of your own creation. You have to do things like book signings and speaking engagements and other things that scare the living daylights out of you, like talking to complete strangers about your projects, maybe even teaching about this thing you know internally but have never put into words. Even exciting, wonderful things can be terrifying. (TV appearances and radio interviews, anyone?)

4. Your safe little bubble isn't the best place in the world after all.
I've had some of the greatest experiences of my life since blasting my little box to bits and pushing myself to step into situations that were uncomfortable at first. One of the greatest benefits include amazing writing friends who are the best support system I could have. Another is the honor of being involved in things like the LDStorymakers conference and the inception of the Whitney Awards.

Or the year Heather Moore and I chaired the conference, getting to host the agent and editor who came . . . and then hanging out and talking with them for hours after the rest of the attendees went to bed. (One of many priceless experiences.)

5. There is no finish line.
Somehow we writers get the idea in our heads that when X happens, THEN we will have arrived. THEN we'll be happy. THEN it'll be easy. Or whatever.

Here's the thing: "THEN" never arrives. Really. Your contract isn't the end of the race; it's the beginning of a new lap. Every new step is just that: another step. There will always be another level to reach for.

And (here's a depressing thought) no, this gig doesn't get easier. You'll always hit the 2/3 mark on a manuscript and be absolutely certain there's no way you'll finish a book this time (or whatever your personal Achilles' heel is).

In some ways, that's a good thing. I figure that if I ever think that I've arrived, that I'm totally awesome and have this thing down, then that's also the day I rest on my laurels and stop caring about the craft, about my readers, about growing.

It's the day my work takes a nosedive. *Shudder.*

Growth is good; I never want to end up stagnant. So, no looking for a finish line.

Instead, work what's in front of you now and reach higher. Always.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Absentee Blogger

Bad, blogger. It's been a whole week, and nothing from me!

Not for lack of trying or lack of inspiration. Just lack of time and stuff piling faster than I can get rid of it. (Much of it good stuff, like extra freelance work, but still.)

A couple of bits until I post again:

  • Last Friday, I guest-posted at Christine Bryant's blog about the joys (and constant mistreatment) of being an English major.
  • On a similar topic, in November, I get to speak to a class of freshman English majors at BYU. I took that very class (more years ago than I care to admit) and now get to be on the other side . . . published, just as I hoped. COOOOL!
  • Today I posted over at Precision Editing Group's Writing on the Wall blog about the crazy timeline that is publishing.
  • A couple of weeks ago I got to speak at the UVU Book Academy. The next day I had a book signing at BYU Bookstore, where I handed out fudge samples. One of my daughters was my sample helper. Catch photos of both at Krista Jensen's blog.
  • Last weekend, I spoke at the AF Arts Council conference. Got to hang with one of my bestest friends ever, Josi Kilpack, meet John Brown, chat with writer buddies I've met through events like this (like The Damsel and Taffy), and met lots of other new writers.
  • I have no book signings this week for the cookbook, but I have TWO next week at the Lehi/AF Costco. Watch my sidebar for details.

    Now, back into the fray! (Read: go vacuum, empty the dishwasher, and sort laundry. The glamorous life of a writer . . .)

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

WNW: The Much-Abused Semicolon

;


Rampant semicolon abuse is so frequent that I just have to post about it in hopes that maybe one person will stop the mistreatment of the poor mark and give it some respect. Or at least keep it from being so regularly misused.

Let's start by getting two things clear:
1) A semicolon is NOT a fancy way to show a pause.
2) A semicolon is NOT a colon and therefore is NOT used the same way.

In other words, the following examples are WRONG.

The fancy pause semicolon: Trixie climbed to the top of the high dive; terrified.

The semicolon-as-colon:
At home, Jane began her second arduous job; keeping house and caring for her children's physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

Please don't do those. Pretty, pretty please?

A semicolon is used correctly when the text on both sides of it can stand alone as complete sentences.

THIS version would be correct:
Trixie climbed to the top of the high dive; she was terrified.

See? Separate the sides:

Trixie climbed to the top of the high dive.
(Complete sentence? Yep.)

She was terrified.
(Yep. That can stand alone too.)

(The fact that you could find a way to show her terror instead of telling it is another post.)

Colons introduce a list or significant information. Usually, that information isn't a full sentence (although there are exceptions).

Fixing the semicolon-as-colon is way easy. Just replace the semicolon with the colon that should have been there to begin with.

At home, Jane began her second arduous job: keeping house and caring for her children's physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

Here's another issue to clarify: semicolons are not the punctuation equivalent of the dodo bird. They are used in contemporary writing, even fiction. Regularly.

Yes, even in fiction.

(Okay, I admit to overusing them at times, to the point of arguing with my editor over keeping some. So I'm a semicolon addict.)

I've heard people claim that semicolons belong only in non-fiction, that em dashes should be used instead, at least in fiction.

I disagree. Vehemently. (Me have a strong opinion? Shocker, I know.)

Here's the thing: semicolons serve specific purposes, and no other punctuation mark can do exactly the same thing. Sure, sometimes an em dash can work, but an em dash gives a slightly different feel and longer pause length than a semicolon.

Now, I don't advocate throwing in semicolons with abandon, even when used correctly. Too many call attention to themselves, and anything that draws a reader out should be avoided.

But there's some great lines that deserve a semicolon, like when you want a close connection between two sentences. A period can't do it. Using a comma + conjunction is correct
(Trixie climbed the high dive, and she was terrified), but again, that adds a different feel.

(A perfectly fine feel, if it's what you're going for, but not a semicolon feel.)

Sometimes the semicolon is the only way to get the rhythm, the pacing, and the tone you want.

This may sound odd to non-word nerds, but a writer who has a great grasp on punctuation is like a conductor leading a symphony. The writer leads the reader along with clear signs for pausing at the right places, speeding up here, slowing down there, emphasizing this part.

Learn to use the semicolon; you'll thank me.

(Couldn't resist throwing one in.)

Friday, October 01, 2010

Top 5 Things to Make the Writing World a Better Place


First, a couple of housekeeping items:
Still haven't heard from Dan, winner of the redundancy contest. He'll forfeit his prize if I don't have a way to get the prize to him by Saturday night.

Book signings for Chocolate Never Faileth (with FUDGE SAMPLES at both!):

TODAY (Friday, October 1)
BYU Bookstore, 5-8 PM

TOMORROW (Saturday, October 2)
Deseret Book Flagship store, SLC
4:00 - 5:30 PM


Now for today's post:

Top 5 Things to Make MY Writing World a Better Place

Writer's Digest had someone list the "top 5 things to make THE writing world a better place" in their top 10 issue.

I'm already taking the number down to 5, so I can change the premise, too, right?

Things to make MY writing world a better place:

1. A crystal ball.
Not knowing is probably the worst part of writing and publishing. Whether it's submitting and waiting to hear back for acceptance or rejection or trying to figure out which of your ideas would be most marketable, or a hundred other things, not knowing is simply the worst. If I had a little crystal ball to consult about what to write, what's the right place for it, and just the right moment to hit SEND, aaaah . . . life would be so much easier.

2. WordPerfect as the industry standard.
I love, love, love WordPerfect. It's the best and most user-friendly word processor out there. If a techno-idiot (like yours truly) doesn't know how to do something, you can muddle you way through figuring it out. (I have done so many a time.)

Not so with Word. That program, I swear, is of the devil. The newer versions are getting better, but dang, it's hard to figure anything out with it, and it refuses to listen to you, thinking it's smarter than you are.

When I first started writing, everyone took WP files: magazines, newspapers, and even my publisher. Not anymore. Now I have both programs, and I've been forced to learn Word, at least, parts of it. I still use WP whenever I can, though.

Because it's not lame.

3. A housekeeper and cook.
That person would also do grocery shopping and laundry. Man, having someone else deal with all that would free up so much time!

Pardon while I bask in the fantasy . . .

4. Have a body that needs 4 hours of sleep. Or 5 or 6.
As it is, I have a body that, to really function, needs around 8 1/2 or 9 hours of sleep regularly. Lately it's been about 7 1/2. Not good. (REALLY not good . . .) People talk about waking up early to write, and I admire that.

I hope they don't think I'm a wimp, but in all honesty, getting up two hours early is NOT an option for me if I want any semblance of a life (or if my children want a mom). Fatigue is a migraine trigger for me. If I cut out two hours of sleep, I'd wake up early, write, then collapse, whimpering, in a fetal position for the rest of the day. (I'm already paying for getting only 7 1/2 hours). But dang, I love the idea of being able to stay up late and get up early to get SO MUCH DONE.

5. A reward machine.
You know: I made my word count for the day/finished research on this article/completed an edit for a client/revised this chapter/sent out 3 queries. Immediately a truffle pops out. Or a coupon for a free massage. Or a ten dollar bill. There's always a reward, but you never know what.

I'd be so productive!


What would make your (writing or other) world a better place?



Coming Soon: Firsts and Lasts

UPDATE: Firsts and Lasts is now live as an ebook, and it'll soon be available in paperback as wel! Get the ebook HERE . I've got s...