Monday, October 31, 2011

My Dickens Confession

As a BYU English graduate, I had the opportunity last week to speak to a group of English majors. I always love speaking opportunities like that; it's quite different than discussing dialog or plotting at a writing conference. (It's also a bit weird to look out at the class, feeling like I just graduated, and realize that most of those in the audience are half my age. Ahem.)

In the intro that Brother Spotts, the academic advisor, gave for me, he mentioned that my senior course (a semester-long required class where you focus on one author) was on Charles Dickens. I was impressed; he had to research that one out.

I had a great time speaking to the class, and afterward, I had the urge to pull some Dickens off the shelf.

I absolutely loved my Dickens course. We didn't read the typical Great Expectations and such that most of us were already familiar with. Instead we read books like Our Mutual Friend and Bleak House. Our professor led fascinating classroom discussions that challenged me, revealed layered themes Dickens used again and again, and helped me think in new ways. In fact, some of the "tests" she gave were nothing but small groups discussing the reading with her listening in.

(Talking and giving my opinion? Now that's my kind of test.)

The same semester, I also took a general Victorian literature class. (I tended to gravitate toward literature written between the Romantic and Victorian eras any chance I got.)

I was also expecting my first child and therefore heinously exhausted. All. The. Time. I could fall asleep at the drop of a hat.

That semester, I also had more reading to do than any other, often 1,000+ pages a week (of small, itty bitty text). And I'm a slow reader.

More than once, I opened a novel to read my assignment, only to find myself waking up two hours later.


To get my reading in, I resorted to pacing our little apartment and reading aloud. I made slower progress that way, but hey, at least I didn't fall asleep.

Side note: My son turned out to be a natural, reading at age three and decoding at a fourth-grade level when in kindergarten (as the youngest in his class, no less). I've always wondered if hearing classic literature in utero helped his brain form extra connections or something.

Meanwhile, for my Victorian Lit class, we were to pick any book written during that era and write a 2-page paper on it. Very simple, right? Except that I simply had no time to read one more book. I almost cried when I heard the assignment. How could I possibly squeeze in anything else?

And then it dawned on me: I'd just finished Bleak House for my Dickens class, and hello, it's a Victorian novel. It's also something like a thousand pages long, has dozens of characters, and is one of Dickens's darker works. Not nearly as easy to read as Oliver Twist.

So I killed two birds with one stone by using the novel I'd just read for my senior course and writing about it for my 2-page Victorian Lit paper.

The class period after we turned our papers in, our professor wrote the titles of the novels we'd chosen and did hash marks for how many students picked each book. Most of the books had several hash marks next to them. But he paused significantly before writing one title (Bleak House) and turned to the class, eyes wide.

"Can you believe it? One student read Bleak House for this assignment. Bleak House!"

I sat there feeling a bit sheepish. He didn't identify me as the student who'd chosen it.

And I didn't dare admit why I'd written the paper on that book . . . especially since I'm pretty sure his admiration was the reason he gave me an A on it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

How I Pulled an "Anne"

Or: Maud's Influence

Like many writers (at least, I believe), I am influenced here and there by the books I read. Not in a blatant "I'm stealing this plot" sort of way, and not even in the more subtle, "I'm totally using that metaphor" kind of way, either.

If I come across a passage where an emotion comes across powerfully, I'll step back, put on my writer hat, and try to figure out how the author made the scene so effective. I watch for structure: what works well, what doesn't. Most importantly, why.

And so on.

But there was one case where a book impacted mine in a more direct way.

I won't do spoilers, so here's my attempt at explaining while being vague:

There was a case where I wrote Character A needing redemption in the eyes Character B, so A and C could be together. As I pondered the plot issue, I remembered a device in Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery (who preferred to be called Maud, not Lucy).

I realized with an aha that I'd found my solution. Sort of.

Those who have read all my books will likely recognize this now that I'm about to point it out. (And now you'll know where that plot event came from.)

When Anne accidentally gets Diana drunk on what she thinks is raspberry cordial, Mrs. Barry refuses to let the two be friends anymore. The two girls are not allowed to even talk to one another.

It's not until Mr. and Mrs. Barry are gone one night, and Diana's little sister Minnie Mae gets very ill, that things change: Anne comes to the rescue to save Minnie Mae, who would have died by the time a doctor arrived had Anne not intervened.

That night changes everything: now Mrs. Barry is overflowing in gratitude toward Anne for saving her baby. And she knows without any doubt that Anne can't be a horrid, evil girl after all. Diana and Anne get to be friends again! All is well.

In my book, I pulled an "Anne." I gave Character A, who needed redeeming, a chance to save someone else to prove their character to Character B, who was keeping them from the Character C.

(Is that vague enough to avoid a spoiler? Yet clear enough for those who know what I'm talking about? Hope so.)

That was the one time I deliberately used a specific technique I learned from LMM or any other writer. Yet my version looks very different than hers. I adapted a device.

However, in my very first book, I accidentally mimicked a line of hers from one of my all-time favorite books. I didn't realize I'd done so until two years after Lost Without You first hit shelves, while rereading The Blue Castle for probably the 10th time. I came to a similar line near the end of the book and gasped.

At first I was horrified. Had I accidentally plagiarized? But then I realized that no, I hadn't. First of all, plagiarism is deliberate. This was completely unintentional. Plus, the line wasn't copied; it just contained a distinctive adverb. I'd simply read and loved so much of LMM's work that her influence was bound to creep into my writing on some level.

Most of the time, when I'm influenced by another writer, it's in unseen ways: I notice how they start or end chapters, how they reveal character, show emotion, even describe gestures. (Robert Jordan was particularly good at the latter.)

So: I'm assuming others are influenced in similar ways. For the writers out there: whose writing influences you and how?

Or am I the only one weird one?

(Oh, and if you know what book and situation I'm talking about, please don't spoil it in the comments for anyone else! Thanks!)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

WNW: Homophones, Take 3

Time for another round of homophones that are commonly confused.

Six more pairs in today's Word Nerd Wednesday:

Something rises on its own, like bread or the sun. Or yourself, if you're talking about getting out of bed in the morning.

A person or thing raises another object, like the curtain on a stage, or an employee's wage, or children.

Hint: The second word (raise) requires a direct object, like the curtain or the wage. It can't be alone:
I raised. We raised. He raised.
Nope. Those don't make any sense. We need a "what" that is the object of the raising.

everyday/every day
This one has its own WNW post, but in short, the single word (everyday) is an adjective, while the two-word version describes a time period. It answers the question, "When?"

Tip: If you can add "single" in the middle, you know you need the two-word version.
Brushing my teeth is an everyday thing.
I brush my teeth every (single) day.

If something is just and evenhanded, it's fair, like a test or a ruling.

What you pay to ride the bus is a fare.

Moments after my daughter comes home from school, I've been shown her latest creation. (Past tense of show.)

When something is very bright and shines (such as the sun), the past tense is shone or shined.

The most common way of using these wrong is like so:
She'll just have to make due with the current job schedule.
Nope. What you need here is DO:
She'll just have to make do with the current job schedule.
The other words, due means (among other things) when something is expected, like a library book or an assignment or a baby.

I think the confusion comes in with another definition of due: Something owned or rightfully belonging to someone, such as:
The teacher gave Scott his due.
Maybe people are thinking "make do" and "his due" mean the same thing? I don't know.

When you're asking for help on something, you may ask your friend to advise you. (VERB)

What your friend then gives you is advice. (NOUN)

I'm learning some fun Finnish terms for a project I'm working on. Maybe they'll show up in a future Word Nerd Wednesday!

Monday, October 10, 2011

My Current Writing Life

Thought I'd post a few pictures of what I've been up to lately.

In September, I went up to the League of Utah Writers Round-up conference. Due to mommy commitments, I wasn't able to stay the entire time (next year, I hope!). I did some one-on-one manuscript critiques for Precision Editing Group. At the hotel, Josi, Heather, Julie and I wrote, laughed, ate snacks at a bakery, and ultimately buckled down to go over mutual scenes from the Newport Ladies Book Club series to make sure they all match.

(We had to finish that over the phone Saturday night, since I was no longer at the hotel.)

Saturday morning before my critique sessions, I spent some time with my laptop. I literally kicked off my heels and typed away. Unbeknownst to me, Josi snapped a picture.

I believe this is the only photo in existence where I'm drafting something involving the military wives from Band of Sisters. Here, I'm working on the sequel (as yet unnamed). The book is about the re-entry time after the husbands come home.

Above: Me, hanging out with Marianne.

Later in September was the triple launch party for Josi, Sarah, and Mel. Because I'm smart like that, I didn't get picture of them, but here's one of some of us who were there:

Pictured: Mindy and Sheila from the LDS Women's Book Review
and novelists Becca Wilhite and Julie Wright, with me on the end.

Then on October 6th was a day my entire critique group has been waiting for: the release party for Robison Wells' Variant at The King's English bookstore.

First we gathered in a small room to hear Rob speak. It was super inspiring and totally awesome. Here I am right before Rob spoke, with critique group member Michele Paige Holmes.

(Image from Krista Lynne Jensen's blog.)

After Rob spoke, we had yummy refreshments and an insanely long line to get books signed, plus lots of friends and writers to chat with (I'd name drop, but I know I'll forget someone). I even got to meet Rob's parents, who are seriously cool people.

Here I am with Rob at his launch with my very own signed copy of VARIANT:

I actually have two signed copies, one for me, and one that I'll use as a giveaway sometime in the future.

Coming in about a month: I get to attend the Authors Incognito writing retreat. If I can keep up my drafting goals this month, I should be able to finish the BofS sequel at the retreat. Then it'll be time to get it hammered by critiques and alpha and beta readers, revision, and, soon after that, I hope, submission.

Of course, I have several other pots in the fire as well, but that's my biggest focus for now.

Something for local writers out there to be thinking about: in the first quarter of 2012, Precision Editing Group will be doing another live critique workshop like the one we did in August. Be sure to watch for the date announcement and registration information. It was a great experience last time, and you won't want to miss out.

Here's a picture of my workshop table from last summer. They were awesome, and we had a great time!

Monday, October 03, 2011

Come! Learn to Write About YOU

A lot of people tell me they aren't writers. And in the sense of writing for publication, maybe they aren't. But then they say they "can't" write, and I want to blow a raspberry at them and say that yes, they can too write.

Everyone should write, if nothing else than to experience the power of the written word and of creating the written word for yourself and your family. That doesn't mean it's up to you to write the Great American Novel or anything like that.

It can mean blogging. Journaling. Family history. It can also mean writing a personal history.

About a year ago, I attended the funeral of my aunt Eleanor, my father's older sister. As I listened to her daughter, my cousin Becky, relate Aunt Eleanor's life sketch, I couldn't help but think about the day (many, many years hence, I hope) when my father passes. I sat there thinking that I didn't know the kinds of stories about my dad that Becky was telling about her mother. And I wanted to know them.

Afterward, I told my dad that he needed to write his personal history. He replied, "I already have." (And then I cheered.)

A few months later, he let me read it. I've known lots about my father. I've heard him tell many stories about his life. But those 60 single-spaced pages told me so much more. I laughed a lot. Many times, I cried. And when I finished, I felt that I knew my father so much better--and my grandmother, grandfather, aunts and uncles--in ways I never had before and couldn't in any other way.

All of this is why I was excited to hear about a new conference about this very thing. It'll be in March up in Salt Lake City.

If you're even remotely inclined to write and record and save . . . or to learn how to find records from relatives who have already passed on . . . you'll want to attend.

The Power of Story @ Home conference is March 9-10, 2012. It's sponsored by Cherish Bound, Family Search, and the Casual Bloggers Community.

You can find workshops on blogging, oral history, traditional storytelling, and getting your own stories put someplace permanent. You can dip your toes into genealogy and writing your own history or the story of your family.

Tickets are $79 for the full event, or you can pay for one day ($49). Either way it's a great price. You can already register HERE.

I'm going to the conference. I hope you will too.


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