Thursday, January 29, 2009

Getting sparkles

Sometimes the fun of school appearances is the way kids show (or are prompted to show) their thanks for my coming and spending time with them. I've been given artwork, mugs, chocolate, bookmarks and more. Add to that countless hugs and "I like your books" and I generally feel spoiled rotten.

Right now, I'm 80% through my current residency (some days the math matters more than others) and yesterday was a really great day. As I prepared to leave one classroom, the teacher said, "Boys and girls, let's give the art teacher and helpers sparkles today."


I must confess I wasn't sure whether my first reaction should be to turn and smile, or duck and run. I'd never heard of "sparkles" before.

When I turned around, the entire class was snapping their fingers and waving their hands around. It sounded like elf applause or bubbles fizzy-popping, and it looked like fireworks with all their little paint-tipped fingers flashing through the air.

It definitely sparkled.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


It's been a busy week - I'm halfway through an artist residency, having the usual mix of fantastic time and frustrating moments with the students and staff, and its just been zipping by. But amidst the lesson planning and commuting, I took time last night to attend a local artists' association critique evening.

I always enjoy critique sessions, even when it's my work under the eagle eye of a juror. It's a great opportunity to see what others are doing, to stretch your own ideas and to sometimes test your own opinions against those of an "expert". The juror last night was Delores Ribal, a very talented artist and a very gracious lady. I fared fairly well, enjoying her comments and taking a few suggestions to heart as well. I will confess, it was much more interesting to hear her comments on other artists' work and fortunately my "share" of the evening was very short.

This weekend, I flip hats again and will be at a writer's critique session which I am looking forward to because it is going to be a real switch from my normal group. Sometimes its just fun to get some fresh insights. I am regularly involved in several writing groups, both online and locally and appreciate each of them for the unique flavor they bring and for the generosity the other writers offer in sharing their time and expertise.

I highly recommend critique groups. They knock the corners off the rough spots and polish the unrecognized burrs out of your work until they shine with genuine skill and confidence. Of course, one of the things you learn is whose opinion you value and whose you will respectfully ignore. Mixed genre settings often make it clear pretty early which opinions you will value and incorporate into your own work. But even from the "out-genres", you can get some real insights.

Do you have a critique group? I recommend you find one - either on-line or in person. Sometimes, you may feel the need to thicken your skin a little but in the long run, the benefits will far outweigh the abrasions.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A univocalic challenge

(Note: This blog was originally posted at my other blog on October 2008. )

I'm part of a fabulous group of writers called InScribe Christian Writer's Fellowship. On the listserve, we often toss around writing ideas and challenges and other prompts. So last week I issued a challenge to come up with the longest univocalic (it means using only one vowel) sentence my fellow writers could produce. And the winner is...

(Cue fanfare and confetti)

Diane Stephenson!

Here's her whopping wonder:

Let's never, ever remember pesky pests, fender benders, pens lent, cents spent, where we've never been; better we remember where we've been, letters we've been sent; better see the best, be the best, whether we've been tested, whether we've been bested, when we're rested let's remember pets we've petted, checker sets, pretty scenes we've seen; then whether we're here, whether we're there, even when needy we'll ever be blessed.

For you Type As out there, Diane honorable admitted there are two "y"s included but she also cut 10 words from this monster before submitting it. You can find out more about Diane on Facebook
or on the Ryze network.

And my personal choice for an honorable mention is by another great writer, Mary Haskett. Perhaps not as long as some but beautiful nonetheless:

Meet me 'ere the glen,
Where the sleek tree bends,
Where the tree's evergreen
Never felt better.

Great job to all!! I can't even think of an appropriately univocalic accolade for you...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Comma confusion

"This morning I took out a comma.
This afternoon, I put it back in."

--Oscar Wilde

Comma's are kind of like table manners. I use them regularly and, I must confess, usually without too much thought. I guess I have some sort of innate faith in my ability to use them appropriately. And then an "expert" comes along and I think, wow, if I was put on the spot, I'm not sure I'd know every situation where that particular rule applies.

When I'm writing a blog or an email, I do toss commas around pretty recklessly. Kind of like dashes - love those...

But when I put on my editor hat, I get ruthless with commas. Whether my own writing or someone else's, if the comma isn't absolutely necessary, out it goes. Partly it's the markets I typically write in. In business or advertising or news-style writing, commas are fairly scarce. When spaces count as characters, those commas are a luxury. In more scholarly writings, the commas can be sprinkled throughout with a more generous hand. Of course, the sentences are usually longer so it could be argued that the commas take on more importance just to keep the right thoughts grouped together.

So when are they necessary? Well, it's often a matter for debate but here's a short list I like:

1. To separate the elements in a series

eg. Our traditional Christmas dinner includes turkey, ham, stuffing, and cranberry sauce.

Note: That last comma is sometimes called the Oxford comma and while appropriate is not necessary unless the last two items are likely to get muddled together without it. Personally, I kill it off every time I get the chance unless clarity really is an issue.


It was a hot, humid day on the bayou.

Note: A good rule of thumb to see whether the comma is necessary is to try replacing it with "and". It was a hot and humid day on the bayou is acceptable, but It's just a little and old bunny rabbit is not the way we would group those adjectives. We'd say (or we'd have our character say), "It's just a little ol' bunny rabbit."

2. To set apart parenthetical phrases or clauses (phrases that can be dropped from the sentence without it losing sense but that still expand or clarify part of the sentence)

eg. The twins, Ian and Igor, had a habit of breaking their grandmother's knickknacks.

3. After introductory phrases

eg. Leaving the boat on shore, Ellen trudged up the beach towards the dunes.

Note: The advisability of overusing this type of sentence in writing is an entirely separate issue...

4. To set a direct quote apart from the text

eg. "It's too bad we have to have winter," said Sandy.

Of course, if the quote is not a complete sentence, but just a phrase or snippet, there is no comma before the quote although the attribute (identifying the person who gave the quote) is often treated as a parenthetical phrase (see #2).

eg, The use of slug bait, says master gardener Eli Spade, is one of "debatable virtue."

5. In dates, titles or other typographical conventions

eg. June 14, 1992, set records for its unseasonable rainfall.


Randolph James, Jr, led the parade as grand marshal.


Walter Spivins, MD, led the research team at Ample Health Institute in Flatlands, GA.

6. To avoid confusion

Sometimes you just have to add it in to make sure the reader keeps the right thoughts connected or has a chance to take a breath. But remember that it's often better for clarity to just break these types of sentences into two or three shorter ones.

There are many, many other places where commas are used - sometimes appropriately and sometimes not. It may be a question of style or taste rather than grammatical accuracy. Just remember that those commas can be to your writing what salt is to your cooking - a little enhances, a lot is unpalatable.

Want to see how your commas measure up? Here's a Comma Quiz that compares your commas to the "experts". And they give reasons for their choices, which can be just as helpful as knowing the "rules".

Maybe I should blog about "quotes" next...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Fantasy Fiction Tour

(Note from vjc: This post originally appeared on my other blog on October 6, 2008. It's another example of marketing well done. Each of these authors agreed to talk with me again sometime soon so stay tuned for more from each of these great authors!)

Last night, my kids and I attended the local Motiv8 Fantasy Fiction West Coast Tour in our area. Wow!

Now I have to say, as a writer, book signings are often a mixed bag when it comes to interest, excitement, store support, community turn out, etc. Some are really fun, some are really dreadful. Sometimes even the authors go to great lengths to avoid them. I have one colleague that says "You're not a real writer until you sat and been ignored by the public."

But this group did everything right.

Evangel Family Bookstore hosted the event and decorated the hallway of the mall with pillars, an antique podium, pillar candles (with those little battery-operated tealights inside so the mall was happy) and a chained-off circle of velvet-covered tables. Each of the 8 authors was dressed in a medieval/Renaissance costume and each of them carried a sword with a cross embossed on the handle (apparently the mall wasn't happy about the swords but they were a HUGE hit with the fans).

The authors included Wayne Thomas Batson, Bryan Davis, Eric Reinhold, Sharon Hinck, Donita K. Paul, Christopher Hopper, LB Graham and Jonathan Rogers. Turn out was great and the authors kept the crowds fascinated until well after the lights went out in the mall. (In fairness, the mall stayed open an hour late to accommodate the event but apparently they forgot to tell the timer on the lights.) Along with the signing "circle", there were the usual short readings and then, a sword fight! Christopher Hopper and Wayne Thomas Batson did a fantastic job entertaining the crowd with their funny sword antics and Jonathan Rogers brought a scene from one of his books vividly to life - almost too vividly since it involved eel slime and mashed garlic...

Authors stood for photos, signed autographs for fans young and old, and some even knighted their readers. My family has 8 treasured autographs (several of each, actually), we have a new stack of books to read and we're anticipating some great adventure!

If you want to find out more about the authors and their books, visit I highly recommend it.

Added later:

Of course, I found the promo trailer after the event but it's a fun one to watch:

Monday, January 5, 2009

Flash Mob Marketing

It's always fun to see when an author does something a little different to promote their books. After all, we're creative people - why not do something creative? I've come across several great examples lately and will be sharing some of the best.

Some authors really seem to have a flair for it. The best I know of in this department is Canadian author Eric Walters. He always seems to have something out of the ordinary and exciting connected to a new book. Here's an idea that he came up with for his book "In A Flash." What better idea than create a flash mob?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Blank pages

I have a fascination with paper. (Okay, it borders on being a fetish but just work with me here.) I love paper - craft papers, office paper, art paper, watercolor paper, hot press, cold press, handmade papers, even some wrapping paper. I particularly love journals - bound books with lovely covers and blank pages.

But here's the catch. I can't bring myself to mar those beautiful clean surfaces. My sketch book is a sad and sorry sight because it pains me to cover all that potential with my scrawls and scratches. I actually use pads of tracing paper instead of my sketch book for roughs and jottings. And a collection of 10-cent notebooks for interview notes and fiction writing. I have tried to get over this but still look at the used pages with a twinge of regret. So I have a collection of blank journals and gorgeous sketch books.

Now, let me say - I don't consider them empty. Just like I can look at a bolt of fabric and see the garment or quilt that could be cut from its length, those blank journal pages are chock full of my imagination and dreams. They run rampant with characters and scenes and plots and techniques that I hold in my mind. They are even categorized according to the cover and the content - the hand-stitched silk cover around floral-embedded handmade paper carry romance and literature. The fuzzy bee cover has the dancing elephants, merry-go-rounds and tablecloth tents of childhood. The classic Canson covers hold charcoal and graphite wonders with a vintage feel. And the recycled papers and "green" covers hold the few sketches I've been willing to commit to paper.

Then today I came across this quote in the Funds for Writers newsletter:

"We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day." -- Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Wow. What a challenge for this new year.

So it's time to fill blank pages. Just maybe not the bound ones...

Friday, January 2, 2009

More, same, less

Reviews are a funny thing to me. I've been on both sides of that coin - reading reviews of my work and also reviewing the work of others. I've written an editor about poorly-done reviews (it wasn't reviewing my work, it was just unfair to the industry as a whole - ironically that editor then invited me to write reviews for his major paper), and been scalded by the words of an author that didn't appreciate my review of her work. (But I still stand by my review. ) It's a shadowy sort of land.

However, that being said, a new year has started and I'm taking time to review the year that just passed. My DH had our family sit down and rather than make resolutions, we simply made three lists - More, Same, Less. What did we want to see or do more of in the coming year, what should stay the same and what could we do with less of?

We brainstormed over the lists without too many peanut-gallery comments, then as a family we picked three or four out of each list to concentrate on in the coming months. The lists ranged from "More people in our family" to "Less potty talk at the table"; "More vegetables" to "Less driving on vacation"; "More game nights" to "Less vegetables" (Mom and the family weren't really on the same side of that argument).

So in looking back at my writing and artwork for the year, what do I want more of, what should stay the same, and what did I need less of in order to look back on 2009 as a satisfying year?

All in all, 2008 was a pretty good year. There are a few things that could have happened differently but there usually are. So in looking ahead, here's some of my thoughts:


Focused writing time
Book proposal/manuscript submissions
New freelance markets
Art revenue
Interviews/input from other writers/authors/artists on this blog


Chaos in the studio (my creative urges sometimes look like a hurricane blew through)
Distractions from my prioritized markets
Timidity about approaching editors and publishers


Daily writing/art time
Balance between work & home life (tough sometimes when they are in the same place)

That's the short list. Some of them, I already have a game plan. Others I'll need to think a bit about ways to make them happen. But it's a start. And since the year has only just started too, I think I'm on track.

Happy New Year to you and may your 2009 be a satisfying one.