Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"...almost incredibly successful"

I picked up The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy last night and actually read through the introduction this time. And I found this gem:

"... Later I became a writer and worked on a lot of things that were almost incredibly successful but in fact just failed to see the light of day. Other writers will know what I mean. " - Douglas Adams
Do you have an almost incredibly successful project in the works? What stage is your future success at right now?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

There's still time!

No, I'm not talking about Christmas shopping.

What I was thinking about was year-long goals. Do you set those at the beginning of the year? I often do. I always start with some easy ones so I feel progress right off the bat. But those ambitious ones are trickier. They take plodding - one small task at a time that eventually adds up to the big job done.

So it's about this time of year that I dust off the goal list and see how I've made out. And as I look at it, I see some things I'm really proud of. I finished one ambitious art piece that I've been working on for 2 1/2 years. I've experimented with some new mediums - some I like, some not so much. I've had some very productive public appearances and made some good friends in the process.

But I must confess, I've got one big project that still isn't ready to go. In spite of time blocked out, my husband's support (read "coaxing", "encouraging", "nagging") and a "productivity pal" it's still not where I wanted it to be by this time.


But the good news is the year isn't over yet. I still have time (roughly a week, once the Christmas company clears out for the year) to pull it back out and make some progress. And even if I don't quite make it, I guess I have the beginning of a goal list for next year.

What's left on your list for this year?

My thanks to Rick Green for the use of his hilarious "doodle".

Monday, December 14, 2009

Art in healing

Art enables us to find ourselves
and lose ourselves at the same time.
Thomas Merton
I found a site today that intrigued me. And once I finished looking through it, it also touched and challenged me.

The site is called "Lilly Oncology on Canvas" and it features an annual art competition, as well as a gallery of past competition winners, for those who have been personally touched by cancer, either as a person diagnosed with cancer, caring for someone with cancer or as a healthcare professional.

I'd encourage you to take a moment to look through it. And if you know someone that might be eligible, encourage them to consider expressing their journey through art. The guidelines for the 2010 competition are here.

An artist cannot fail; it is a success to be one.
Charles Horton Cooley

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Touch typing

I've run into a funny dilemma in my writing.

The letters are wearing off my keyboard.

B and N are totally gone. L and V are a mere speck of their former selves. S, D, C, M and K are fading fast. And E is looking pretty skinny too.

I've never actually had this happen before and its been funny to watch the letters slowly dissolve into blackness. It's also causing more typos and spelling mistakes. It's not that I stare at the keyboard as I type. I progressed beyond that some time ago. But somehow having the "anchor letters" fading, combined with the process of thinking through the spelling on some words makes me too aware that some letters are missing. That it'll be a laborious process of memory to find it on the keyboard if I have to look.

My solution, for now, is to have to operate in autopilot. You know how that works, right? Like the centipede that has no trouble walking until it has to explain which leg goes where - if you forget your hands and just type away, it seems to work much better than being conscious of where each finger should go to find each letter. It goes much more smoothly that way. (It also works sometimes if you forget your PIN.)

I suppose I could get a new keyboard. But I kind of like the story this one is telling on its own. It tracks my writing almost as well as anything else. So for now, I'll just clatter away on this one.

But when I wear out the asterisk, I'll know for sure it's time for a new one.

(I also learned two things while taking the picture of my keyboard:

1. It's very dusty!
2. There are actually function cues on the fronts of some of the keys. Never noticed that before ...)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Responding to criticism

I was pointed to a great blog today by Nathan Bransford. His blog on "How To Respond to a Manuscript Critique/Editorial Letter" is definitely worth the price of admission.

These responses can be difficult. I always open them with rubber gloves and as long a reach as I can manage, especially if it's a first-time response from an editor I haven't worked with before, or that I've disagreed with before. And I've had clients tell me they react the same way when I send revisions their way, too.

So what do we do? We know that these suggestions and critiques are necessary to make our writing stronger. (Yes, I said NECESSARY.) But the whirlwind they can cause sometimes makes writers (and artists) want to pack in their pencils.

I've learned to watch for some warning signs in my responses. Maybe some of them will look familiar to you:

1. Anger. This usually takes an "How dare they?" or "They don't know anything" sound. Don't they understand that the whole premise of the plot rests on the fact that the protagonist had his mother serve him bad brussel sprouts as a child?

My suggestion? Anger might suggest they have a point. So have a tantrum if you must, but then take a deep breath, count to ten and look again at the suggestions in small pieces. Remember that it's business, not personal. Your editor or agent isn't out to destroy your voice, your career or your reputation. On the contrary, they have a very vested interest in seeing you succeed. That doesn't mean to have to agree, but it does mean you need to understand why you agree (or don't agree) with the suggested changes.

2. Despair. "I'm just not a writer," "I'll never write again," or "This will take MONTHS to revise." It may be even the silent motion of simply closing the file and walking away with no intention of ever opening it again. (Depending on deadlines, of course. Or money on the line.)

My response to myself has usually been, "Get over it." Put it away for a bit and then take another look after you've armed yourself with a goodly supply of chocolate (or coffee or Barry Manilow or whatever it takes to keep your mental boat steady. Okay, maybe not Barry Manilow.)

3. Dismissal. I was part of a critique group once that had a mix of genres represented in the group. And I found myself "weighting" the criticisms by the genre the other writer wrote. "Well, he writes novels - he just doesn't get picture books," "She's a poet. She doesn't have to deal with character development."

It's common sense that we gravitate towards people with similarities, in almost every situation. But that doesn't mean there's no value in the differences. Why? Because our readers will also have different viewpoints, backgrounds and areas of expertise. Perhaps don't make wholesale revisions based on every comment you get, but welcome the "hmph" reaction as a chance to see from another point of view. And then (and only then) evaluate it's validity.

Criticism is a double-edged opportunity. Too many times it can feel like "hit me again." But it's still the mark of the dedicated writer to be able to accept the input of others to shape and carve our words. Hopefully without feeling carved up in the process.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

From paper to stage

Once again, I'm knee deep in Christmas and have been for two months now. I'm involved again in set design/construction and costuming for a Christmas musical set in 1850s London. It's actually a sequel to last year's production. And what started as a paper script in July is rapidly taking shape into something truly special.

What's fascinating this year is the range of experiences we have represented in this year's drama. Creativity is always exciting and to see the various strengths of each person work together is a huge learning experience and an exciting process. I would really encourage you to step out of your comfort zone once in a while and see how this type of collaboration can "enlarge your vision" within your own craft.

Our costume consultant has worked in community theater and has a private collection of over 1000 vintage costumes that she is loaning and adapting to our actors.

Our scriptwriter is a multi-talented man and a fantastic actor with an unerring sense of blocking.

Our director has over 30 years in voice talent, print and movie promotions, acting and decorating, which all adds up to some really exciting possibilities.

Our set builder was a doctor by profession but is also a very creative builder who can see and make anything we've handed to him (including a SHIP!) so far.

And the songwriter has proven again his versatility in stirring the heart with a range of songs and styles.

It promises to be something truly exciting and I hope to post some photos soon. But until then, you are invited:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

People's Choice

Awards are always an honor but I must confess the ones I enjoy watching (and receiving) are People's Choice-type awards. They're a little more unpredictable and a little more exciting and often more surprising.

Today, I was very honored to receive the annual "People's Choice" award for photography from SOSA (Southern Oregon Society of Artists) for my photography "Love Never Fails". A year of juried entries in the quarterly critique categories culminated in today's choice by the SOSA members.

Thank you to my fellow artists, photographers and peers.

I am honored.

(And, it would appear, I am also bragging. ;) )

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ladybug Picnic and Bud Luckey

The Ladybug's Picnic was (and still is) my all time favorite Sesame Street clip. As a child I would sing along and dance in the living room. I still do - though it's not on as often any more. As a child, I never thought much about the person that created it. I just loved it.

Then I grew up and one day went to see Pixar's "The Incredibles" . And fell in love with Boundin' - the short for the movie*.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that Bud Luckey, the writer/director/singer/illustrator/etc of Boundin' was also the man that animated The Ladybug's Picnic. It was a moment roughly akin to the day as an adult that I realized Jay Williams, author of The Practical Princess and Other Liberating Fairy Tales was also the author of A Bag Full of Nothing, the story my sister won in first grade and that I'd been threatening to steal every since. It connected a lifetime love where I hadn't know there was a connection.

Mr. Luckey makes a comment in one of the extras about Boundin' that I love (yes, I rushed out to get the DVD). He says of working with a generally younger team,
"I like to think these days that 30 years ago, I used animation to teach kids their numbers. And now these kids are teaching me how to animate with numbers ... So it was a good deal."
I like to think I'm at the beginning of my career as a writer and artist. But if I think about the long term, my real goal is to be like Mr. Luckey - able to look back on a varied career that touches something special in a child. For a lifetime.

Thank you, Mr. Luckey.

*the Academy Award-nominated Pixar Animations Studios Short Film Boundin', to be precise

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Putting it to the vote

At my last public author event, I took along the usual coloring pages, gum balls, postcards and that sort of thing that help catch the eye of parents and children and make great ice breakers. But I also took along a sketch that I'd worked up awhile ago, along with a supply of colored pencils. A fellow author once observed "You're not a real writer until you've been ignored by the public" and the art was a way to pass the time while I was being ignored. It was also "test time" for me - I wanted to experiment with a couple different techniques in the same medium and see which I preferred.

These obviously aren't finished yet and the scan is patchy, but this is where the gaps in two days got me. Keep in mind, I used roughly the same colors (I switched the shadow shade in the darker version from green to purple but otherwise, it's the same colors) just a different technique:

It turned into an impromptu survey. As I chatted with various people, my work was out on the table (each was only 5 x 7 or so) and if people craned their necks to have a look, I'd ask which they preferred, the light touch or the strong arm approach. I have to admit, I usually enjoy the strong arm approach - laying down the color as thick as possible. But with a new drawing in the planning stages, it was time to experiment.

The end result was interesting.

Girls preferred the light touch, almost unanimously. And the younger they were, the more emphatic they were about their preference.

Boys like the brighter color and wanted the dragonfly to be RED.

It was an eye-opener to get their feedback and see where I agreed and where I didn't. I've done the same thing sometimes with story sketches when visiting classrooms but adding the color discussion was a lot more fun.

I think I'll take some new sketches along next time, too.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Build your vocabulary

Ever needed just the right word but it's simply not there?

Well, chances are it's there, you just don't know what it is.

So here's few random words to help build your vocabulary. Or help you with your morning crossword puzzle.

noun: The part of the body where one cannot reach to scratch.

verb tr.:
1. To mutilate a book by clipping pictures out of it.
2. To illustrate a book by adding pictures cut from other books.

noun: Overzealous censorship of material considered obscene.

cwm: (gotta love a word with no vowels)
noun: A steep bowl-shaped mountain basin, carved by glaciers. Also known as cirque.

adjective: Relating to charity

Now go see if you can put these words to use.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A writing quote

"The cat sat on the mat is not a story. The cat sat on the other cat's mat is a story."
--John le Carre

Friday, October 23, 2009

Showing and telling

One of the time-worn maxims of writing is "show don't tell." Novice writers mumble it in their sleep, and experienced writers stand in front of novice writers and repeat it. Sort of an "I had to learn it, now you have to learn it."

As a picture book writer and as an artist, "Show don't tell" is been a maxim that I have to view differently. It's my job to tell the story but in telling it, I get to use pictures (show) AND words (tell). Do you suppose it's a coincidence that show-and-tell vanishes from the classroom about the same grade as picture books? Wordless picture books are phenomenal in their own right but admit it, they don't function to improve reading skills and there are some constraints on the types of information they can convey. At the same time, words only don't always spark the fascination of the reluctant reader. Or even an avid reader, sometimes - even in adult markets, why do you think that so much effort goes into producing that eye-catching cover?

That being said, it's long been my theory that in a picture book, good illustrations will carry a weak story but weak illustrations will sink even some of the most magical text. I have some wonderful stories by various talented and favorite writers on my shelf but quite frankly, don't read some of them very often because the illustrations are not appealing to me at all. It doesn't have to do with style or color - some of them just don't add to the story.

And that, I think, is the key.

In picture books, both the art and the text tell a story. In the best picture books, each carries a separate thread of the story but they become braided together through the tempo of the tale to create something unique and whole and completely satisfying.

As a writer, I cannot add every detail to the text. The story has to be a single "lint free" thread. But in the pictures I can create a rich world or a fanciful one that supports and adds to the intrigue or humor or suspense or silliness of the story.

As I was mulling this over once again (I offer a workshop on this so spend a fair bit of time thinking about it), I picked up The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Bookby Bill Waterson. It's a fascinating book because he shares some of his "behind the scenes" thoughts about everything from the strip composition and story lines to his struggles with licensing and syndicates. And he makes this statement:
"The best comics have funny writing and funny drawings, but sometimes the strength of one can make up for the weakness of the other."
So far I agree. And then he goes on to say this:
"Great writing will save boring artwork better than great drawings will save boring ideas ... "
Now if you've been paying attention, I just spent a couple paragraphs disagreeing with this. But he goes on:
" ... but comics are a visual medium, and a funny picture can pull more weight than most people think."
Okay, that's true. Particularly because he demonstrates it so well by having a frame just below this statement where Calvin's bubble gum imploded all over his face. He concludes:
"Whenever deadlines force me to go with a mediocre idea, I go for broke on the illustration."
And we're back to agreement. Ding, ding, ding. Round's over ...

Picture books, like comics, are largely a visual medium. I suppose it's a perk of the current publishing environment that fewer of the boring ideas (including a few of my own) are making it to market. The variety of illustration styles and mediums is also picking up and giving greater variety to the look and feel of the stories.

But I still say go for broke on both.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Seeing a story

"Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don't see any."
--Orson Scott Card

Monday, October 12, 2009


Some people (writers, artists, salesmen, whatever) are very good at finding reasons not to (write, paint, make contacts, whatever). And I confess I am frequently one of them. Life steps in and I forget to put things in their proper order. Or I do put them in the right order but that means writing falls down the list for the moment. I've heard this called "the tyranny of the urgent" and I dare say it catches all of us at some point.

Randy Ingermanson - "deranged physicist and award winning author" - wrote once of an arrangement he made with a group of friends that helped him stay focused on his priorities. The basic gist of it was that if he didn't meet a deadline they'd agreed on together, there was a penalty to him. And as he pointed out, it had to be something he couldn't afford to give them.

I told a friend about this last summer and, half joking, said "We should do that. But let's not make it about money - I don't have any of that. How about one of your paintings?" Now, I must say, I didn't think she had agreed to the plan. We were interrupted at that point and went on with our day. But a couple weeks later I was emailing her and closed with "So how's your writing? Am I any closer to owning one of your paintings?" (Total joke this time.) And we hadn't been in touch since then.

Until yesterday when the phone rang.

My wonderful and talented friend called to tell me that she had met the deadline for the particular piece of writing she was working on. She even had the FedEx receipt time-stamped for 3:59 pm (4 pm was the latest she could turn it in). I congratulated her - it was quite a feat and I was very excited for her. But my jaw hit the floor when she told me how instrumental I had been in helping that happen.


She had taken our "deal" very much to heart and had even shed a few tears at one point because she didn't think she'd make it and wasn't willing to part with painting she knew I would ask for. She wrote the final chapters from a hospital bedside in the wee hours of the morning but she GOT IT DONE.


What will it take to get you motivated? I'm not even sure I can always answer that question myself. But let me close with a thought from Hope Clark's Funds for Writers newsletter this week:

"I don't care if you want to be a writer or a plumber, a doctor or a teacher. You need to establish your path and lay out benchmarks to reach those personal goals. The television, the movie and the dust mop can go to hell.

The only time you have is now."

What will it take?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The pen is mighter

While getting my breakfast together this morning, I realized something. Just as important as my cereal and fruit is my pen.

Why? Well, because it tastes good dipped in milk.

Okay, not really. But I like to do the crossword puzzle every morning to get my day started. It's roughly the equivalent of that first stretch of the morning. It gets the juices flowing and shakes loose the stiff spots. Trying to make the connections the puzzle maker assumes I'll be able to loosens up the mental pathways as sometimes the clues have the expected answers and sometimes you have to think in a totally different direction. Usually the puzzle has an overall theme and the major clues will all link back to that one premise. It's almost like bullet point plotting.

What do you do to get your mental processes shaken into working order? It might be worth remembering that sometimes, the pen is mightier than the spoon.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A triptych

I spent the weekend playing in my paint and ended up painting a triptych. (Do you know I have to look up the correct spelling for that almost every time I use it? And if you google it, you get lots of hits from people that decided not to look it up.)

Figured out a simple green "recipe" that I really like, and experimented with some textures and shapes at the same time. But even more exciting for me is a fourth painting that's not turning out at all like I expected. Just like a story can take you to unexpected places, the painting has as well.

Abstract art is always fascinating because though it can speak volumes, it always seems to speak a different language to different people. Our connections to colors, to emotions, to shapes all contribute to the "appeal" of an abstract piece. It reminds me of a passage I recently read:
... The third picture was my picture. There wasn't really much to it, if you know what I mean. It was -- how can I describe it? It was kind of simple. A lot of space in it and a few great widening circles all round each other, if you can put it that way. All in different colors -- odd colors that you wouldn't expect. And here and there, there were sketchy bits of color that didn't seem to mean anything. Only somehow they did mean something! ... All I can say is that one wanted terribly to go on looking at it. (from Endless Night by Agatha Christie)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A list of ___ things

I recently read an article that touched on the topic of writing list-style articles. (I'll point you to it later.)

I have to admit that as a freelance writer, I have written list articles - 5 Ways to Bake Cookies Without An Oven During an Oregon Summer; The Top Ten Things You Need to Know About Odors in Your Closet; Three Reasons Pet Rocks Trump Pet Frogs - that sort of thing. There are advantages to the list article, not the least of which is that it can be a helpful way to group semi-unrelated thoughts.

So here's my list article for the week.

(or Random Excuses I May Want to Pull Out as a Deadline Approaches)

1. A wildfire.

Yep. I walked out my front door Monday afternoon only to discover that 600 acres of my view were in the process of being consumed. It was an interesting day. I'm a prairie girl and don't know a lot about forest fires. But I did know that if the wind shifted, we were going to be in real trouble. Fortunately, due to a host of heroes from across the state, no homes were lost in this fire and only one (that had been vacant) was lost in the sister fire down the valley.

2. Make that two wildfires.

It was an interesting lesson in crisis management. A neighboring town had a 90-acre, four-alarm fire the same day the fire broke out across from my neighborhood. And there was talk of a third fire in between. The good news is that every possible resource was in motion very quickly. But the rumors and speculation ran rife for quite some time. Why? Because the people that had the accurate information were busy doing the job that had to be done. Even now, there is still no definite word on the cause of either fire (or confirmation of the third).

3. A broken faucet.

The kitchen sink went kablooey, meaning I've had to do dishes in the laundry room. It would have been a great week to strap on the pedometer.

4. A virus.

It's the beginning of the school year and somehow that seems to amount to an open invitation for every virus in town to come visit. Again, though, there is a silver lining. Because of H1N1, students are coming home jam-packed with information on preventing germs from spreading. Which they explain to us as they pass the germs along anyways.

5. Router issues.

And I lost my favorite pencil. (You guessed it - Ms. Organization tried to tidy up.) How is this related to my router? Please don't ask me to explain. Not now that I've finished my list and am wrapping up.

In the meantime, here's the article I mentioned at the beginning of this post, "The List of N Things" by Paul Graham. I think you'll enjoy it. And in a somewhat related topic, I'll be posting on jargon later. After I find my favorite pencil.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Author Organization

Today at the Books & Such blog, I saw an author organization quiz in the lower right hand corner. Being a sucker for punishment, I decided to take it.

Now as much as I try to avoid generalizations, when it comes to my own work, I have many. And generally I do not see myself as very organized. I'm sure my family would agree when they step into my studio. But in other areas where I work, I seemed to have developed a reputation for organization. Ironic, don't you think?

Well, the results of the survey surprised me a little but here's what the results said (and I might add, the majority of authors seemed to fall into this group):

Organization Meister


You look organized to everyone around you because you shine in several areas, but you secretly worry about the hidden glitches in your systems.

Even meisters can improve so ... "

A Meister? Cool, but ... really?

Well for starters, I must say I don't usually secretly worry about the hidden glitches because I see the hitches every time I try to walk to my desk. Some days, it's an obstacle course. Organized? It sure doesn't look like it.

But at the same time, I don't miss a deadline unless it's for circumstances completely beyond my control. If I say I'll do something, I usually do it the moment I'm back at my computer. I figure I don't have to stress about what's on your to-do list, so the faster it's off mine and back to you the better. I have two calendars open (a desktop one and a, well, a "desktop" one) to track what needs to be done and what I have done each day. I think I can say it's fairly organized.

Here's where I think the dichotomy lies:

I do have a system. I jokingly refer to myself as being a "visual filer" because my system runs somewhat on the principle that out of sight is out of mind. So I tend to have stacks of papers or letters or supplies sitting around me. My desk does tend to overflow. All my shelving is open so I can see at a glance what's there. Project supplies, research or notes get stacked together. I prefer the open mesh-style filing boxes for current stuff. And I usually have one small box of stuff "to be dealt with." It's not urgent but I don't want to put it away just yet because it's significant for some reason.

Now here's the thing - I can find everything. I know which stack to look in. It's when I clear up and file things that I lose track. Occasionally I do a massive purge (like the days before company comes) and then I have to reorganize the mental files to match the move in the physical ones.

So while my friend the professional organizer might agonize over the state of my system, it's working. I hear, though, that even meisters can improve and I never want to close the door on improvement. I'm sure there are tips and tricks that will let me better mesh neatness and organization.

But for now, I'll add that thought to the appropriate stack. Then I'll know where it is when I need it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Author visit with Donita K. Paul

School starts in my area today and to mark the occasion, we have a former teacher visiting today!

Donita K. Paul is another of the authors that participated in the Motiv8 fantasy fiction tour. I met her on that tour when I heard a young reader say, "You can tell she has fun writing her books." Of course, with an accolade like that, we had to bring home DragonSpell (Dragon Keepers Chronicles, Book 1).

I've since learned that before picking up her pen to write, she worked in the classroom. So let's sit down for a chat with her today while the students are finding their way to their seats.

Q: What is your background and how did that lead to your career in writing?

A: You know that old saying, "Don't quit your day job"? In a manner of speaking, my day job quit me. I was an elementary school teacher, but I became disabled in '96 but didn't give in to not working outside the home for a couple of years. Writing became a career because I was stuck at home - an A type personality in a D body. In order not to go crazy I started writing again, something I've always wanted to do.

I think this is just where God wants me. I kind of wished I'd listened earlier to the gentle nudgings.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your writing process? Do you plan first or let the story develop as you write?

A: I am definitely a seat of the pants writer. I "see" the scenes in my mind and just write them down. Then I go back and do the technical stuff. I have a general idea that will be accomplished by the end of the story, but there are no details on neat 3x5 file cards. No story board. No notebooks. No character sheets. If I die just before the climax of my next book, everyone is out of luck. No ending!

Q: You work in two genres (romance and fantasy) - does the process vary between the two?

A: The process is the same with both my romance and fantasy novels.

Q: Christian fantasy has historically been considered a very tough market. How did you find your publisher? How long was that process for you?

A: It didn't take long at all. I submitted the manuscript and had a contract in eighteen days.

Q: What marketing techniques or events have you found to be most successful for you?

A: Without a doubt more books are sold by word-of-mouth than any other ploy. So you need to consider how you can stimulate conversation about your books. I use bookmarks and t-shirts as giveaways.

Q: How did the Motiv8 tour come about? Had you met any of the other authors before?

A: I knew Christopher Hopper from one quick meeting. This young man is a dynamo and has a wonderful ministry to teens. I know LB Graham from another brief meeting. I was most familiar with Bryan Davis and Sharon Hinck. We've been online writing friends for several years. The fantastic four (Wayne Thomas Batson, Christopher Hopper, Bryan Davis, and Sharon Hinck) did a book tour up the east coast the year before the Motiv8, and they invited us to join the troupe traveling down the west coast.

Q: What were some of the benefits of working together with other Christian fantasy writers?

A: One of the things we did as we talked to readers was to guide them to the authors who had the books best suited for the reader. I would point out that the mother of my young fan would appreciate Sharon's book with a mother protagonist. For younger brothers and sisters of my readers, I could point to Eric's and Jonathan's boks. For those interested in more epic fantasy, we had books by Bryan, Wayne, Christopher, and LB.

Q: Drawbacks?

A: With eight authors and readers with limited funds, the frustration of young readers wanting to buy everything they saw and not having enough was a bit sad. However, we encouraged the patrons to ask their public libraries to get copies of the books and to put the books on their birthday and Christmas lists.

Q: What encouragement would you offer writers that are just beginning their journey to publication?

A: 1. Read. Read. Read.
Read the genre that you intend to write.
Read the books on how-to.
Read the books you like and try to figure out why.
Read the books you hate and try to figure out why.

2. Get in a productive critique group. Don't pick one where everyone says "Oh that was just wonderful!" Don't pick one where there is one person who "knows it all" and has the kind of forceful personality that dominates the group.

Q: Are you already working on another book? What is next for you? For your readers?

A: I have started writing the next book. It picks up where The Vanishing Sculptor: A Novel left off.

Q: One last question - I noticed on your blog that you sometimes take your dragons out for dinner. Are they generally well behaved?

A: They are generally well behaved. However, if the grandsons go also, the dragons become excited and don't behave.

Thank you, Donita!

If you want to know more about Donita K. Paul and her books, visit her website at http://www.donitakpaul.com for games, downloads, a photo gallery, writer's resources and more.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Measuring success

I recently was part of a community fun fair. It was a first attempt by a local group and they had a few problems with the logistics of the event. I don't want to comment too much on that, but it did lead a lot of the vendors to look at each other and ask, "How was the weekend for you?"


One vendor said she'd met her goals. Enough books sold to cover her fees plus some community connections that would lead to more business. Another vendor was cautiously optimistic - he never knows until a couple weeks down the road what final results are. Some just shook their head and several others actually packed up and went home part way through the day.

It made me stop and think about how I was going to measure the event.

Sales? Well, I sold a respectable number of books, plus had the pleasure of seeing some faces really light up as they looked through them.

Give aways? I gave away over 200 gum balls, plus every one of the dozens of coloring pages I'd brought. (I literally finished the day by cutting my master sheets apart.)

Contacts? I had a great chance to talk with several area teachers and handed out brochures about school visits and art residencies. It remains to be seen whether any of those translate into visits. And I was able to provide resources to many parents and a few aspiring writers as well. That's always a perk.

Publicity? This was the most interesting one for me, this time. Each of the brochures, business cards and coloring pages I handed out listed my website (of course). Yesterday I went to my web stats and found some exciting numbers. In that one weekend, the number of unique visitors to my site had jumped by 25%; the number of visits by almost 30%; page hits were up and so were page views.

So I think the upshot has to be that, yes, it was a successful event. And I learned a few things to do slightly differently next time and that counts in the plus column too.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Children's writers (a quote)

I was catching up on a older version of a WOW! newsletter, and came across this great quote that Esther Hershenhorn attributes to a friend in her interview there:

“Children’s book creators are actually long-ago friends from another time and place who have simply and suddenly reconnected.”

I made a few of those connections last weekend, and I must say that they are always eminently satisfying. Although in one case, it was not a person. It was a book. A delightful and instant long-lost friend sitting on a library shelf.

Where do you plan to connect with some "long-ago friends" this year?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Another unlikely writing tool

I've been rather silent here because I've been preparing for a 2-day community fair in my area that began today. Teamed up with a friend that's written a fabulous book for teachers and parents that have a struggling reader at home (find her here).

But in the meantime, I came across another unlikely writing tool the other day. I was paying my credit card bill and the opening flash ad looked suspiciously like a writing prompt. See what you think and have at it:

"Your rental car got stolen.

In the French Riviera ..."

Now begin while I finish up with a full (9-9) day tomorrow. Then I'll be back. And if you finish early, check the ads around you for some other likely looking prompts.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A fish out of water?

It's summer. I'm preoccupied with weather. (You may have noticed.) There have been a couple days where I just want to crawl right inside my water bottle and stay there. Which led to this sketch:

Stay cool!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Love the library hum

We dropped into our local library and what a pleasant trip it was. We have a beautiful new library downtown and it's not the sort of place where you'll see "Shhhh" on the walls. It's had it struggles in the past few years but today it looks to be a vibrant and much-loved place.

Today, if fact, it made me think of a market. There was a pleasant hum as people talked about different titles or browsed the fresh selections and well-loved standbys on the shelves. At the self-serve check out stations people arranged their assortments of topics, ideas, information and entertainment preparing to take them home to savor. At the staffed check out counter, staff shared insights and tidbits about various titles people were sampling for the first time, or sharing from timeless favorites.

And in a delightful display, a woman of somewhat Reubenesque proportions reclined on a bench in the lobby, in no hurry to leave the novel she was devouring with a rather voracious appetite. I would have liked to have painted her.

Today was also a "wrap up summer" party, and a live xylophone performer in the courtyard played a pleasant counterpart to the planned children's activities. Open doors and sunshine made an inviting atmosphere where even the children negotiating "just one more book?" with their parents added to the flavor of the afternoon.

Mmmm ...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Fancy words & fanciful words

I came across something today that might develop into a real writing tool for me.

I was posting a comment to a friend's blog today and it was one of those that requires you to enter a password before posting. The "word" that came up was REMIDDLE.

I like that non-word. It seems delightfully familiar but of course I don't have a clue what it means. And as I let my mind wander to try to find a meaning, I found a sentence, then a paragraph forming about the process of "remiddling." It had a fantasy flavor to it and I may take time to play with it some more.

Yesterday, it was VADAL. Sounds adjectival, don't you think? Now it turns out that Vadal is actually the name of a community in India. I hadn't know that. So I could do some research and choose to write a short story set in Vadal, or I could work on a setting where the appropriate - the only - descriptive word for some noun would be that it was "vadal."

Keep your eyes open. Those passwords might just open the door to some truly vadal writing.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Turn up the heat

I mentioned in my last blog the temperatures that are jumping around above the 100 degree mark in my area. It's summer and probably soon the sky will start to haze over with forest fires or thunderstorms (or both, or in sequence).

But I got thinking about this today - the impact of something is always notched up when we turn up the heat. For example:

Molten lava vs. solid rock
A sheen of sweat vs. a cool facade
Melted chocolate vs. solid chocolate with a dusty haze
A roaring fire vs. a drizzling rain
Burning desert sands vs. murky ocean floor
The heat of an argument vs. rational discussion
A sizzling steak vs. raw meat
"hot-headed" vs. "icy, null and void"

So it begs the question - how can I ramp up the temperature to give my writing more sizzle?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Escaping with my imagination

It hit 109 degrees in my neighborhood yesterday - I know, I know, there are some places even hotter but you've got to remember I'm a Canadian girl. I am acclimating but not fast enough for those kinds of temperatures!

So here's a different time of year to think about:

Stay cool!!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Team writing/Coauthoring Without Murder

Team writing intrigues me. Whenever I see two names on a script or a book cover, I begin to wonder about them as a duo and how they managed the mechanics of coauthoring. I recently met a woman that writes with another person (actually her sister-in-law). And a few years back I met a dynamic mother-daughter duo that write together. When I meet these teams, my first thought is usually, "How's that working for you?"

A very interesting article on the subject by Randy Ingermanson is below (and the legal stuff that says it's okay to post it is below that. Then a Monty Python clip is below that. It's all good so hang in there.)

I've learned from experience that team writing differs significantly from the editor/writer relationship. There's an implicit hierarchy involved in the editor/writer arrangement that really gives one person or the other the final say. In a writing duo, that has to be spelled out more carefully but can be a good thing to do up front, so to speak.

I also think there are styles of writers that work best together. That's why I find the clip below so funny. I will say though, that my friend and her writing teammate seem to be handling the challenges very successfully.
At least neither of them has gnawed their own arm off yet.

Organizing: Coauthoring Without Murder

By Randy Ingermanson

"We're Best Friends Forever," she said, tilting her
head toward the woman sitting beside her at the dinner
table. "And we're writing a novel together. Isn't that

I nodded noncommitally. "Sounds . . . great." We were
eating supper at a writing conference and I was hosting
a table and trying to get to know the other writers at
my table. But anytime I hear that two friends are
coauthoring, I get nervous, because writing a novel
together can be murder on your friendship.

"We heard you coauthored a couple of novels with your
best friend," one of the BFFs said. "And those worked
out great, right?"

I nodded. Yes, I wrote two novels with my best buddy,
John Olson. Yes, we sold the novels, won several
awards, and remained best buddies. Yes, it worked out
extremely well. Yes, we would do it again.

But the fact is that writing a novel with a friend
doesn't always work out great. In fact, it rarely works
out at all.

Coauthoring is serious business, and there are a lot of
ways to go wrong. John and I were too ignorant to know
better, or maybe we wouldn't have tried it. But we did
and it worked.

The main reason -- probably the ONLY reason -- you
should ever coauthor a novel with anyone is that you
each bring some skill to the table that the other
person doesn't have.

With fiction, the most common reason two people
coauthor a novel is that one of them is an expert on
the subject of the novel, while the other is an expert
at writing fiction.

The reason this works so well is that fiction needs
both good content and good craft in order to work.
Normally, an author brings both the content and the
craft, but it makes perfect sense to team up one person
who has the content and another person who has the

For example, the LEFT BEHIND series, which sold tens of
millions of books, teamed up Tim LaHaye (famous in
certain circles for his interpretation of biblical
prophecy) with Jerry Jenkins (a talented novelist). Tim
brought the content; Jerry brought the craft. Together,
they made an enormously successful team.

So whenever I meet BFFs who are working together on a
novel, the first question I ask is, "What does each of
you bring to the project that the other doesn't?"

A lot of times, this draws a very long, blank look, and
the words, "Well . . . we're FRIENDS."

My next question is, "How do you split up the writing?"

If this also gets a blank look, then I know this
partnership is in trouble. You have to split up the
writing somehow. You have to. You can't sit there at
the keyboard all cuddly and both type at once. (John
and I NEVER tried this, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't

I've often thought about what went right with John and
me. There were several reasons that we made a good

First, we have complementary organizational skills.
John is a visionary guy who is great at setting
strategic goals. I am good at taking a vision and
translating that into a set of tactical goals. So our
first novel, OXYGEN, was John's idea (although I
contributed a lot of ideas). I made the battle plans
(and John played a key role in revising those plans).

Second, we have different areas of expertise. John is a
biochemist. I'm a physicist. Our novel, about the first
human mission to Mars, required a ton of research. John
handled the life-science aspects. I took on the
physical-science stuff.

Third, we have different skills as fiction designers.
John is exceptional at developing plot and he LOVES
writing synopses. I find character development easy and
I LOVE writing character sketches. So we each did what
we liked best in developing the story and writing the

Fourth, we have complementary emphases in our writing.
John loves to "write from the shadows" -- giving each
scene an air of mystery and intrigue. I like shining a
bright light on things, so that the reader always knows
exactly what the viewpoint character knows.

So when John edited my scenes, he added some mystery
and shadows. When I edited his scenes, I clarified
things that might have confused the reader. Somehow, it
all melded together into a unique style that was
neither mine nor John's. Our editors were completely
unable to guess which of us wrote which parts.

Now here is where things could have gone badly wrong.
If we'd asked anyone for advice, they'd have told us
not to both be the writer. It's very hard to mix two
people's styles into something that works.

But we didn't ask for advice because we didn't know
there might be a problem. So both of us wrote first
draft material and both of us edited. Our biggest
problem was scheduling things so that we were always up
to speed on what the other guy had written.

Early on, we thought that if we each wrote a scene at
the same time, then we could work twice as fast. But
then we discovered that the scenes simply didn't work,
because the tone of one scene's ending determines the
tone of the scene that follows. And you don't know
exactly how a scene is going to play out until you
write it.

So eventually, we hit on a plan where we'd map out the
scenes for a week in advance. It would go like this:
Randy will write a scene Monday morning and send it to
John. John will edit that Monday night, then write the
next scene, and send them both to Randy. On Tuesday
morning, Randy accepts or rejects John's changes, then
edits John's scene, then writes the next scene, and
sends it all to John.

Repeat until the end of the book. It's a little
complicated, but it worked without anybody losing an

There was another rule we had. Each of us "owned"
certain characters and we got to write the first draft
of any scenes in which our character was the
point-of-view character. John "owned" the female
biochemist astronaut named Valkerie. I "owned" the male
physicist astronaut Bob.

There was a third character named Nate who had a fair
number of viewpoint scenes. Nate was a very rude and
belligerent guy, and it turned out that I'm ruder and
more belligerent than John, so I wound up writing
Nate's scenes. This evened the work out, because John's
character Valkerie had more scenes than my character

If you are going to work with another author, then one
key requirement is that you both have to leave your ego
at the door. This is hard. Writers have big egos
(otherwise, they'd never do something as egotistical as
believe that they might be able to write something that
many thousands of people might actually want to read.)

I think what made things work for John and me was that
we each had a very healthy respect for the other guy's
talents. We had been friends for a few years, and each
of us knew what the other was capable of doing. I think
each of us felt lucky to be working with the other guy.

There is a very bad reason that people sometimes give
for coauthoring: "It cuts the work in half to have two
people working on it."

No. It cuts the MONEY in half. But there is always some
inefficiency in getting two people working together. I
suspect that in most cases there is a LOT of

Don't kid yourself on this. It may take more time to
coauthor a novel than to write it alone. I used to joke
that "John wrote 80% of our book . . . and I wrote the
other 80%."

But I suspect that each of us actually put in about
120% of the normal effort for a book. This would be
foolish unless the end result is better than either
author could have done alone. In our case, I think we
did get a better result as a team than either of us
could have done solo.

When John and I first pitched the idea for our book to
an editor, one question he asked was what we'd do if we
disagreed. We hadn't thought about that, but the answer
seemed obvious to me. The book was John's idea. So if
we couldn't agree, then he had the deciding vote. For
the same reason, his name would go first on the cover.
And if we decided to break up the team, then John would
own full rights to the book.

Our editor thought that made sense. It would have been
wise to spell that out in writing, along with a few
other details. Maybe we should have. I've heard that
it's a good idea to write a contract between coauthors,
but we never did.

Should you write your novel with a coauthor? Before you
do, here are some questions you MUST have answers to:

* Why can this NOT be a solo project?
* How are you going to split the work?
* How are you going to split the money?
* When you disagree, who gets to decide?
* Whose name will go first on the cover, and why?

You'll notice that none of those questions has anything
to do with whether you're best friends with your
coauthor. Friendship is a fine, fine thing, but you
need a good sound business reason before you enter a
business relationship with anyone.

I never heard what happened to the two BFFs who were
writing a novel together. Maybe they finished it. Most
likely they didn't. I hope they're still friends.

People ask me once in a while if John and I are going
to write another novel together. The answer is always a
good, firm, "Maybe." We'd like to. Working together was
great fun, and I learned a lot about writing from John.
I hope that he may have learned a trick or two from me.

But it has to be the right book, at the right time, for
the right reason. When that happens, we'll do it. If it
doesn't, we won't. I value John's friendship more than
I value any book we might write together.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the
Snowflake Guy," publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing
E-zine, with more than 16,000 readers, every month. If
you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction,
AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND
have FUN doing it, visit

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing
and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Live and learn, grasshopper

Here's another sketch I did many moons ago while sitting stranded (yet again) in the Denver airport. Because we were snowed in, there were no grasshoppers in sight. And in spite of growing up surrounded by grasshoppers in Saskatchewan, I realized I didn't know how many legs a grasshopper actually had. Logic said six, like any insect, but did the big ones count or should there be an extra pair on the thorax?

Turns out I was on track. It's amazing what you aren't sure you know sometimes.

And on the subject of grasshopper legs:

*Did you know grasshoppers have ears in their legs? Although it depends what type of grasshopper they are - some types keep them on their abdomen. (You can print a grasshopper anatomy picture to label here.)

*Here's a cool piece of fractal art call "Grasshopper Legs".

*I just finished a fantastic novel called The Brushstroke Legacyby Lauraine Snelling that also involves grasshoppers. But you'll have to read it to find out how.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Write or Die (Dr. Wicked)

Have you seen the Dr. Wicked site? Apparently Write or Die is now in version 2.0, with extra devious gadgets and nefarious consequences should your writing falter.

I found it in the comment section of Rachel Olson's blog and must say, it's a very convincing (and slightly masochistic) tool for getting through writer's block. Give it a try! (insert evil chuckle here...)


Friday, July 17, 2009

Tough Love and tough to love

Tough Love:

In an open letter posted in the School Library Journal Talkback section, librarian Diantha McBride posted an article called "Tough Love". It is definitely worth reading whether you are a children's writer, illustrator, editor or publisher. This is the kind of inside information I love.

Check it out here.

Tough to love:

In another interesting but unrelated post, David Pogue of the NY Times posted an article about Amazon Kindle readers that suddenly were missing copies of e-books they had purchased. Apparently, the publisher "changed their mind" about making the e-books available so Amazon simply took them back while crediting the users' accounts. As Pogue says, "This is ugly for all kinds of reasons" and I have to agree.

Read Pogue's post here.

"Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on DiscoverySchool.com"

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Visual words - like, y' know?

I love this clip on so many different levels it almost leaves me speechless. (Almost.)

Typography from Ronnie Bruce on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mimicking art

While teaching at the Inspire conference, I had some free time to take an illustration workshop with Jeannie St. John Taylor. Her road to publication and illustration is an interesting one and someday I hope to have her visit the blog. But what is always fun is to see how other artists work - their tips, their tricks, their methods and their madness.

Jeannie walked us through her "formula" for Eric, the star of several of her picture books ( like Am I Praying?) She uses a mix of mediums and methods but at the end of it all, we each had a version of Eric. It was fascinating to see how we all interpreted her instructions. Our Eric's were unique. Some comical, some delightful, some very close to her version, some a little ... challenged. It was a great exercise in learning how to structure a character and how to make an idea your own. She pointed out how she addresses some of the realities of illustrating picture books. And her formula definitely is something to keep in mind when developing a character of our own.

Here's my Eric. I didn't get to the final step which would have added some shading and contour but I know how she does it now. (It was also a lesson in color reproduction as he really isn't this yellow in real life.)
Is there an illustrator you'd like to learn from?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Testing your opening

I found an interesting way to test an opening sentence. It easily answers those pressing questions: Does it grab you right off the bat? Do you plunge into the action? Are you drawn in from those first few words?

How does it work?

Simple. Go to a customer service page on any website that has a feedback form. Type your opening paragraph and then hit submit.

Now, if it's like the one I used today, it will send a confirmation email with only the first sentence of your question displayed. You will see it like a reader will see it - out of context, directed to you and vying for your attention. Trust me - you'll see that opening sentence in a whole new light.

Mine could have used a little work.

(Really, you shouldn't bother random customer service centers with your WIP. Although I suppose if they emailed back asking for more, you'd really know you had a winner.)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Training to amble

I ran across an interesting word the other day:



1. Something that limits or hinders.
2. A fishing net having three layers.
3. An instrument for drawing ellipses.
4. A shackle used in training a horse to amble.
5. An instrument for gauging and aligning parts of a machine.
6. A hook for hanging a pot or a kettle over a fire.

verb tr.: To restrain; to hinder.

Now apart from being a very versatile word with a variety of divergent meanings, the fourth definition caught my eye.

I had no idea horses had to be trained to amble. I thought ambling was one of those things that went automatically with unbroken stretches of desert, western sunsets, dusty trails and worn leather saddles. Maybe I've been confusing the cowboy with the horse.

Which poses a problem. As the pace of summer slows things down just a little, I've been okay with ambling through the weeks until school begins again and my daily writing and art routine has better defined hours. I'm still writing, still drawing and painting, but perhaps not at the same speed.

Does this mean I've been trammeled?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Good writing trumps everything

Over the weekend, I read a novel called Talking to the Dead: A Novel by Bonnie Grove. I'd been anticipating this book, partly because of one of those 6-degrees-of-separation circumstances, and partly because I follow Grove's info-packed blog. So I picked up this debut novel and snuggled into a corner of my love seat, preparing to indulge.

I was surprised as I began to read to find myself somewhat confused. Why? Because for reasons I still don't understand, I was expecting chick lit. Maybe I gave too much weight to the notion that it was "tender" & "quirky." Instead found a story that fell somewhere between "Regarding Henry" and "Sleeping With the Enemy." As I progressed further into the novel, I literally had to stop and reset my expectations. But it also helped me understand the maxim that "good writing trumps everything". In spite of my confusion, Grove's writing had drawn me into this story. And once I had my perspective back on track, Grove's writing shone as she led me through the trauma and discovery of a grieving woman.

So really, my review needs to begin here:

The novel begins with one of the best openings I have ever read:
"Kevin was dead and the people in my house wouldn't go home. They mingled after the funeral, eating sandwiches, drinking tea, and speaking in muffled tones. I didn't feel grateful for their presence. I felt exactly nothing. Funerals exist so we can close doors we'd rather leave open. But where did we get the idea that the best approach to facing death is to eat Bundt cake?"
So begins the story of Kate, a young widow, facing her future from an internal emptiness where the past months have imploded in her memory and left her with questions she is trying to answer. Grove deftly stays with her character, revealing Kate's story bit by bit as she pieces the past together through an odd assortment of characters, including Kate's dead husband, that are never what Kate has assumed they are. Grove just as expertly reveals that Kate is not everything we expect her to be either.

Grove manages to weave themes of betrayal, obsession (dare I say idolatry?), manipulation and human nature into a story of recovery and hope. Her light touch keeps it from being overwhelming and points instead to the heart of forgiveness on the path to wholeness. My only criticism, perhaps, in this book is that the romantic ending looks formulaic against the honest reality and occasional brutality of the rest of the story. But overall, it is beautifully crafted and will draw you in to Kate's journey through grief and back to life.

A review copy of this book was provided by The B&B Media Group.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Conference reflections

Phew! We just finished the Creative Arts conference today and am I tired. But in a really good way. I think all in all, we can call it a success.

And it was a huge learning experience. Both in the process of organizing the conference (8 months of it), in teaching at it, and in getting to attend some of the other workshops offered as well. I think from each one I found a nugget of information that was an absolutely golden one.

Randy Ingermanson
once suggested that every writer (artist, etc) should attend conferences because "opportunities lie thick on the floor." I'll write more about some of those opportunities later but for now, just let me say he's absolutely right. And some of those opportunities look different than you expect.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

By any other name

I met a woman today who's background is in theater costume. I've had a taste of this and while I enjoyed it and love clothes of all times and types (I was a seamstress for 8 years), I also knew that in that situation, I was out of my league. I got the job done, of course, but because I was also the set painter, it involved some intervention by a wonderful crew of volunteer seamstresses to come alongside to make it happen.

This person was telling me of a review that described her costume work as "luscious" along with a lot more complimentary words. Isn't that a great descriptive word? I can envision luscious costumes, and in fact will get to work with her this fall and am very excited to see that process in action. The time period we'll be working in is given to "luscious" and I will be wielding a needle again when necessary.

I have a friend that writes luscious prose. (Mine tends to be fairly streamlined. So do my favorite fashion eras. And my home decor. But I digress.) My mother makes a luscious chocolate cake. And ad companies have made millions from the concept of luscious lips. (Speaking of luscious, you need to check out the photos on this blog - wow!)

What word would you like someone to use about your writing?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A dancing hippo

Just a portion of a sketch I did the other day. Ever feel like a hippo in a tutu?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Building language

It's been a while since I've posted and I'd love to say that I've been deep in a creative effort. And I have, sort of, but it's been a bricks and mortar kind of creative effort. It's the time of year when the weeds take over without some really intensive effort so I've been on my knees battling Bermuda grass (came up with a few new epithets - I suppose that's writing related) and getting landscaping in order. We were given two loads of fresh cedar mulch, too - just the smell conjures up images and stories start to dance around in the fragrance. And I do feel the creative juices start to stir as my yard has become filled with raised beds, climbing roses and gently curving walkways. Lovely.

But I did take time for a seminar of sorts. Not a new one but a fascinating one. My husband came into the studio one night and told me I had to listen to this. "It's a geek thing but I think you'll get it."

Now that alone was enough to pique my curiosity. There's not many geek things I "get." I'm a technodummy of the nth degree. So away I went.

The presentation is Guy Steele's keynote at the 1998 ACM OOPSLA conference (it's a computer thing). If you have a chance to watch it, it's fascinating both in concept and in construction. If you don't have time for the whole thing, I've put a few of my own thoughts below.

Did you watch any of it?


The premise of his talk is that he does not use words of more than one syllable unless he defines it first. (It takes him about 9 minutes to explain that.) And he does this for almost an hour!

As a writer, I found it to be a fascinating exercise. (Probably my background in linguistics plays a part too.) But particularly as a children's writer, I want to expose kids to fun and extended vocabulary but I must be careful to leave enough context or enough familiar language in the text so that my readers don't get lost. Just like the computer operates within a set of rules, so young readers are taught a set of rules to help "decode" the language they encounter. The more decoding they have to do, the harder it can be for them to grasp the story. I don't want them stuck with "small language" but must pace the growth too, so that the purpose is not overwhelmed by a language that is too complex too fast.

And so we build a language together as writers, teachers, parents and caregivers that work with children through reading and writing. And from that language come the images, ideas and worlds that we can revel in to accomplish big things.

I'd heartily recommend finding time to watch the whole thing.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The write tool for the job

There are a lot of tools available to writers these days. Plotting software (which I've never tried because it is my personal opinion that all software plots against me), market guides, digital recorders for catching those on the go ideas, workshops, critique groups, and so much more. Technology has produced some pretty helpful gadgets and gizmos to help the writer along.

But they are not worth a plugged nickel when you're caught away from the tech toys and the inspiration starts flowing. Whether you sit up in bed at night with the dialogue flowing or meet the perfect protagonist in the produce aisle of the grocery store, you have to write it down before you lose it. And when that happens, it's whatever is closest and will leave a mark.

Today, the perfect writing tool for me just happened to have a dancing monkey posed on top. And it worked just fine.

In fact I could tell when the juices were really flowing because the monkey lit up. How's that for making the muse happy?

Good writing to you today - whatever that may look like.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A conference invitation...

This unique conference features tracks for writers, artists, actors, musicians and photographers. Two free-to-the-public concerts will feature Russell Fragar and Jared Anderson, and the days will be jam-packed with instruction, hands-on training and encouragement. The faculty includes:

Russell Fragar - song writer and producer

Jared Anderson - recording artist and song writer

Karen Cain-Smith - award-winning pastel and oil artist

Roger Hutley - music pastor, song writer and script writer

Rene' Phelps - actor, scriptwriter, director

Jeannie St. John Taylor - author, speaker and artist

Jacob Gregory - event and fine arts photographer

Sandy Cathcart - writer, artist and photographer

And me!

For more information and registration and hotel info, visit www.medfordbethel.com.

I hope to see you there!