Friday, November 26, 2010


Hope everyone had a Happy Turkey Day! I'm coming down with the sore throat that my boys have been passing around, so they're going to help me with a list of stuff we're thankful for. Whether they like it or not:
  1. D is thankful for "nothing."
  2. C (after reading and laughing at D's response) is thankful for "beating up D."
  3. B (my favorite) is thankful for "you." Meaning me. Not you. Ha.
  4. D is upset that I actually wrote "nothing" and now declares that he is thankful for video games.
  5. C, when given another chance, is now thankful that he can "throw food at D."
  6. B tried to go with his original answer again, but I vetoed it, 'cause there's such a thing as too much gratitude. C suggested that he be thankful for "kicking D's butt." (My kids have a father who has a potty mouth. I take no responsibility. My speech is always as pure as the driven snow.) Finally, B decided he was thankful for snow.
For myself, I'm thankful for:
  1. My boys. Even if none of them came out as a girl. Maybe they'll eventually marry girls who will actually like their m-i-l. Do I have odds on that?
  2. My husband, who lets me read, and write, and read--even when he has no idea what the attraction is. He's unfailingly supportive, even if he will never read anything I write. Including this blog. (Good thing I love him.)
  3. Books. I'm currently reading book #126 for the year (though, really, The Way of Kings, at 1001 pages, should really count as more...). There is no better way to pass the time when you're sick. Or when you're healthy. Or when you're supposed to be doing other things. Last year I read 173, but I'm really trying to write my own, so....
  4. Authors. Even if their books are getting in the way of me writing my own.
  5. My job. I have dreams of becoming a bestselling author and never going back, but it's not a bad way to spend 40 hours a week.
  6. You. Especially if you leave me a comment. :) Thanks for reading.
Any readers crazy enough to brave Black Friday?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Stories We Tell Children

I write YA. I read YA. YA stories are some of the best stories written--and are increasingly popular among adults.

I can't help but notice, though, that some of the YA stories out there are more brutal and violent than many of the "adult" stories I read. One of my favorite adult authors writes books with quite a bit of blood and death, where the rather amoral heroines easily justify the killing of innocents--in a way that has me nodding along. Sure, sure. They had to die. Horrible, but necessary. (I would not recommend those books to children.) Other adult authors also deal with death, but it hardly ever seems to leave a mark, unless the death was a spouse or a child. (I'm sure I'm forgetting some adult books that mirror what I talk about below, but that's not really the point.)

Then we have Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, Harry Potter, and Incarceron, among others. In these stories we not only see brutality and the death of innocents, but it happens to people we know and love. No one is safe. If an adult author were to kill off such beloved characters, it seems there'd be a backlash, and a corresponding fall in readership. Instead, these books are wildly popular.

I'm not getting on a high horse here--my own WIP has a measure of violence and I plan a bit of shocking death, as well, but I just finished Incarceron and had to wonder: what stories are we telling our children? Is it good for them to see the world as uncertain and violent, with betrayal around every corner? More importantly, perhaps: why do they like these stories so much?

I have a theatre background and one thing that is always stressed in the theatre is the beneficial effect of catharsis. So playwrights, directors, and actors will put their characters through horrible experiences, hoping the audience will be able to feel the same emotions... and thus be more capable of dealing with their own mini-dramas in real life. I think, rather sadly, that this is what is happening in YA fiction.

When people die in YA stories, it leaves a mark on the surviving characters. Very few simply pass into death unnoticed, with the MC unscarred. The worlds these characters inhabit are exceptionally uncertain, with immense problems and betrayals lurking around every corner. Our world today is also uncertain, and our children deal with big-bad issues that can literally kill them... but that often are portayed as fun, harmless, and cool. Some are scarred by brushing against these issues, some are killed, but, I think, all are aware of the battle.

One of my favorite quotes lately is “Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.” — G.K. Chesterton (Thanks again, Shea.) In each of the horribly violent YA series (well, I'm taking a bit on faith, since not all of them are complete), the big-bad is conquered in the end. It is horrible, and there are awful consequences to be borne, but success, of a sort, is possible. Almost inevitable.

There's a lot of hope, hidden in the horror, and I think that our teens prefer to know and accept the truth that they will carry scars--so long as they also get to slay the dragon.

What do you think?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

11 things I learned about myself from Kevin J. Anderson

Last night, I got to interview Kevin J. Anderson for the Farland Author's Advisory Conference Calls. Kevin is amazing and sooo nice! We stumbled a bit, trying to decide whose turn it was to talk (really, it was always his turn, but he was nice enough to let me butt in on occasion), but Kevin managed to teach us about his Eleven Tips to Improve Writing Productivity.

The following is what I learned about myself:
1. I need to be better about writing every day. For example, after the call, Kevin said he was going to go write another chapter in his book. I celebrated a successful call by watching some television.

2. I'm doing pretty okay at filling space on the page. If I can't figure out what's supposed to happen next, I just start writing and figure I'll fix it in post. Post is gonna take a while....

3. I rock at writing the "bad first draft"--but I doubt I'll ever be able to write as fast as Kevin. Or even as fast as this guy in my writing group, who just celebrated hitting his NaNoWriMo goal: 50,000 words in 10 days!!! That's just crazy. My head hurts now.

4. I need to start a new project, so I can have something going when I finally finish my current WIP. Or get bored with it. Or want to brag that I have more than one project going at the same time.

5. I need to be better at ignoring the Internet Explorer button at the bottom of the screen. If I run across something I don't know about my setting, I just look it up! Bam! There goes an hour that could have been spent writing 500 more words or so. I don't edit much as I write, but I need to learn to put [look up location of police stations] instead of, well, looking them up right away.

6. #1 notwithstanding, I'm pretty good at snatching what time I have available. I don't need a whole day, just an hour or so in the evening, in between yelling at the kids to go to sleep. I can get a lot done with that. Not NaNo quantity, but pretty decent.

7. I need to consider submitting to Writers of the Future. I've been reluctant because it's a short story contest, but I can win cash and a week-long trip to a writer's conference in Hollywood! (Meanwhile, I still need to meet my goal to finish the WIP, too....)

8. It's a good thing I have hyper-focus, since I have no chance of creating my ideal writing environment. Right now, my kids are watching TV about six feet away from me. But I don't watch. Much.

9. For someone who likes talking so much, I'm awfully intimidated by the thought of walking around with a digital voice recorder.

10. My varied life is a great background for an author, but I still need to learn underwater basketweaving.

11. It's okay to stop editing before your story is perfect. I'm sure this will come in handy when I get really lazy later....

What about you? What writing habits do you have that help/inhibit your productivity?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Singing the Praises of My Writer's Group

A few years ago, I finally reached the point most writers get to where I read one too many books that made me think "Hey! I can write better than this!" Naturally, writing a book--whether I'm actually better or not--is easier said than done. I've learned a lot of respect for anyone who can finish an entire novel. Seriously. Kudos all around.

Getting in the habit took me a few years and I still struggle at times (for instance, I should be writing my book right now...), but I'm getting better. What I really, really needed was a writer's group, who could encourage me, tell me what I was doing wrong, and sneer at me when I slacked. I tried creating a mini-writer's group with a friend, but he was a bigger slacker than I was! (Sorry, Mclaine. You know it's true.)

My area (unlike the one I grew up in, which has bestsellers thick on the ground all of a sudden) has almost no serious authors. That I know of. Not that I put out an ad, or looked, or asked around, or anything. I can guarantee that no serious authors knocked randomly on my door to invite me to be in their writer's group. Snobs.

Finally, likely realizing that there were lots of wanna-be's like me out there, David Wolverton/Farland decided to start up an online writer's forum, made up of lots of writer's groups. Jim Wolverton, his brother, took over the project, and I was fortunate enough to get in on the ground floor--by which I mean I volunteered to help with absolutely everything I could (including writing the Critique Guide...yeah, I know... stop laughing!) and got to know Jim well enough that when I begged, he let me be the leader of his group. The one he put together himself (since he was in charge of putting everyone in groups). He swears he didn't just cherry-pick the best ones for us, but, really--what are the odds that random selection could produce the awesomeness that is my writer's group?

Anyway, unless things have changed since I last heard the numbers, my group is the most active of them all. By a lot. We chat, we critique, and I, for one, marvel that I get to "hang out" with such talented writers.  I'm already a better, more consistent, and more motivated writer.

So thanks to David, Jim, and everyone in my group. Being a wanna-be just got a lot more fun.