Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for Zounds!

So, I've been doing a lot of self-reflection this month. You know that old adage that you can't know what you think until you see what you write? Well, writing about myself all month--and some self-reflection on the side--has helped me realize a few things:
Sometimes Inspiration is Ugly
Realization #1: I'm not naturally gifted at this writing thing. 
Don't get me wrong--I think I can do a lot of it well. Putting words together into sentences. Knowing what elements to include to make things exciting. That sort of thing. But I'm not as good as I thought I was when I started out... and I'm not going to get better at it by wishing it was so. Or by staring off into space and daydreaming about how and why I got stuck in my most recent WIP. I read over a hundred books a year, but that doesn't make me an expert at plotting or at clearly expressing my ideas.

The related realization, of course, is that I need to get educated. Mostly, I want to learn how to outline--at least to do outline beats. You can expect to see me outlining the plots of some bestselling books here soon, as I try to figure it out. I'm also going to write several outlines for my WIP--I've been stuck because I know there's not just one right plot, and I haven't been able to choose the best alternates. I'm hoping that drawing out several different plots will give me the clear options I need to make a definite choice.

I'm also going to make a point of reading more books about writing. Recommendations are appreciated.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Realization #2: I'm not quitting anytime soon.
Not that I really thought about it. I've actually been bummed at times because so many authors talk about how their break came just after they decided it was never going to happen. It's going to be years before I reach that point. I've been doing this long enough and have tasted enough rejection that I know most of the pitfalls and heartaches (well, the pre-agent, pre-publication ones, anyway). I can take 'em. Pain don't hurt. At least, it don't hurt enough to abandon my dream before I've really given it a fair shot.

So, I'm going to write, polish, and query at least five books before I decide it's not going to happen for me. If Brandon Sanderson can write more than that many epic fantasy books before his day came, I can do at least five. Right now I have 1.4.

I've got some writing to do.

Realization #3: I've got some writing to do...
... and daily blogging takes more time than I can spare. It's not that I haven't enjoyed this challenge, but the hours and hours that I've spent on this challenge have made a huge dent in what I could have accomplished on my WIP. It's not that it was wasted time--I've had some important realizations, after all--but maybe if I'd spent that time writing instead of blogging, I'd have gotten there sooner.

So I'm going to try using blogging as a tool or as a carrot. If I can write a post using the exercises I do while I learn outlining, etc, I'll do that. Or, if I'm caught up on my writing goals, I can do a blog post. But no more using my only hour of writing to do a blog post. Writing has to come first--or what's the point of having a writing blog?

In other news, I'm going to be at LDStorymakers at the end of this week. Who's going to be there with me?

What do you have to change to become the writer you want to be?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y is for mY Anniversary

During which I will ignore you in favor of cavorting with my husband. Yes, that kind of cavorting.

If you're just pining away without my normal brain vomit, feel free to revisit my April 11 ode to my hubby or even my anniversary post from last year.

Now go away.

Friday, April 27, 2012

X is for Gen X

In law school, I worked for a summer for one of the deans, who had me read and report on a book about the various generations and their workplace peccadilloes. Traditionals, for example, really liked staying with one company forever. Hire one of them and you've got them for life. Baby Boomers... I forget, but I think they enjoy security, too. As the children of Great Depression survivors, they don't like risk.

Gen X, though, is restless. According to this book, they tend to be completely disillusioned by the pension system and are likely to change jobs just because they are feeling like they aren't increasing their diversity enough and therefore damaging their employability. Companies who want Gen Xers to stay on, therefore, should provide lots of opportunities for movement within the company. No Gen Xer wants to be a one-trick pony, 'cause when the robots can do your job, you'll be unemployed.

Worse, if possible, are the Millennial generation. Millennials are the very definition of multitaskers--they don't even want to only do one job at a time. Companies who employ Millennials should provide a rotating job schedule so that they... well, don't get bored doing the same thing day in and day out. They have no patience for that--they were raised on TV, video games, and the internet.

Though my birth year falls at the end of the Gen X span, this book acknowledged what it called "cuspers"--those on the edges of their generation who will likely exhibit traits of the bordering generation, too.

All of which could explain why I started out as a theatre arts major, became a lawyer, and am now, simultaneously, a wanna-be writer.

So do you fit nicely into your generation?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

W is for Way of Kings, et al

I could stare at this cover all day.
The Way of Kings is only the latest in a long string of books that will (God willing) prove to be just the briefest beginning of a long and glorious career. The author, Brandon Sanderson, is one of my personal heroes, author-crushes, and if-I-could-write-half-as-well-as-he-can-I'll-die-happy benchmarks. If you haven't read each and every one of his books yet, start now. It will take you a while to catch up, but you'll thank me for the journey.

So here's a short list of why I love Brandon--and you should, too.

  • He is only six months older than I am. Though that should make me burn with jealousy, I love that he's accomplished so much in our (relatively) short lives. (And HE doesn't have a law degree.) He proves that it is possible to be achingly wise without aching joints.
  • He paid his dues. He worked as a night clerk during college so he'd have time to write and churned out several books before his first book, Elantris, was published. He started focusing on writing in 1997 and in 2003 finally got "the call" that he'd been accepted for publication. Elantris came out in 2005. Now, again, this could be discouraging if I was intent on publishing a mite earlier than 8 years after I started... but if I can take 8 years and get half as good as Brandon before I publish, I'm a-gonna be satisfied. Now I just have to write a few more books....
  • Brandon is a master of detail. Not just in magic systems, which he's famous for, but for casually slipping in tiny little "inconsequential" details... that blow your mind two books later. He doesn't over sell them, he doesn't paint a huge arrow saying HEY, THIS IS IMPORTANT! REMEMBER IT!, and he also doesn't make them forgettable. When I got the the moment of realization in Hero of Ages, I remembered the exact scene from The Final Empire (this is all the Mistborn trilogy) that made everything significant. But I remembered the scene because of the other details. The important one was there, but jumbled together with the rest so that... oh, just read it and see for yourself.
  • Brandon loves playing with his genre--and he's incredible at it. Most epic fantasy involves a journey? Elantris and Mistborn both involve a single city, more or less. Most epic fantasy worlds are stuck in the pre-technology past? Enter Alloy of Law, where the metal-based magic system from Mistborn gets its ultimate boost from guns and its ultimate playground in skyscrapers.
  • Robert Jordan, as you may know, had the bad taste to die one book away from the end of his long-running Wheel of Time series. He'd written 11 novels and a prequel. According to his plan, only one book remained. Who to write it? Who else? Brandon threw himself into the project in the best possible way. He studied all of Jordan's notes and his outline, then read the entire series again (he'd been a fan of the series probably since the beginning, in 1990). He took his own notes about the loose ends that needed to be tied up, the characters that needed a resolution and the plot lines that needed an end. Eventually, he needed three books to tell the end of the story. That Brandon is writing the last three books is the only thing tempting me to read the first 12. Maybe next year.
  • With The Way of Kings, Brandon proves that, like Robert Jordan before him, he can craft the kind of world fans want to spend 9,000+ pages playing in. WOK is only 1001 pages long and, I believe, he has around 9 books planned. It's gonna be awesome.
  • You'd think with all the epicness of the rest of his fantasy, he'd be rather stuffy... but he's not. Witness Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians, a very tongue-in-cheek upper-MG series where the MC/Narrator is a young boy who grows up to be rather famous and writes the books as a way to convince his fans that he's actually rather a horrible person. His family each has a bizarre talent. His is breaking things--like locked doors, enemy weapons, and oh, time. His grandfather is always late for everything... like his own death. His uncle gets lost at the drop of a hat, so if you let him lead, you'll probably end up a few thousand miles away in a matter of minutes. His cousin can fall down spectacularly.... you get the idea. These books are hilarious.
  • Brandon gives back. He contributes to a weekly writer's podcast called Writing Excuses that any writer should listen to religiously. He teaches at BYU (and you know how I love BYU). He attends writing conferences and teaches classes on... whatever (like any topic is off-limits for him). He even did a call for Authors' Advisory on Magic Systems.

Annnd... I've already gone past my "short" list intentions. Brandon can't write short things and you just can't praise him in a short post. Impossible.

So go read his books. Read them all. Revel with me in his amazingness. (Or, as my friend Peter did, you can throw his book across the room because you have realized that there is a pinnacle of quality that you will never, ever reach in your own writing.)

Do you love Brandon, too? Which authors make you simultaneously swoon and tear your hair out because they're just too good?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V is for Vanessa

Vanessa, Brian, and their babies
Last of my siblings (only because she has a V-name, which is neither her fault nor mine) is Vanessa, the fourth of four girls, fourth of six kids, and the best-traveled of the lot of us. Vanessa was the first of us girls to figure out that diet and exercise can make even an Ambrose girl thin, and married at the oldest age (I'm pretty sure--I stopped keeping track of my siblings' ages when I started needing a calculator to remember my own). She is also the only child of my parents who was given a name that could be easily shortened--Dad had this thing against shorten-able names.

Vanessa was born on Father's Day way back in the days before ultrasounds were common. I remember staying with Denise and Heather at a neighbor's house while my parents went to the hospital. When dad came back, he had us guess the gender of the baby. The winner got to hold it first. I was the only one who guessed that we had a fourth girl. She was so cuddly!

As soon as Vanessa had some independence, she started traveling. While the rest of us remain relatively home-bound, Vanessa has taken trip after trip to exotic locations. Fortunately, she found a husband who also loves to travel, and the two of them are constantly leaving their beloved dogs with the grandparents so they can travel some more. Someday, when I have more money than I've ever had, Vanessa is going to be my personal travel guru.

Vanessa is stylish, fun, down-to-earth, and unfailingly supportive. When I had my third child, she traveled all the way up here to visit while I was still in the hospital. She's the kind of woman you can count on in a pinch. She's a wonderful sister and a tireless friend. She's going to make one heck of a mom someday soon.

Love you, sis!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U is for University. Brigham Young University.

It looks cool until you try to hike it.
My parents attended BYU. My mom told stories of them finally allowing the women to wear pants. (I can imagine the letters to the editor from all the scandalized young men who now had positive proof that their female classmates had legs that went all the way up!)

My big sister Denise attended BYU. She fell victim to the RM's-and-freshmen-are-makin'-connections curse. (Ten points if you can name the artist and the song.) I was a year behind her, so by the time I started my own freshman year at BYU, I visited her in married student housing and she set me up with her husband's uncle (who was younger than he was, and a football player to boot). It didn't work out.

I was so sure I was going to BYU, I didn't even apply anywhere else. Back-up schools? I don't need no stinkin' back-up schools! My phenomenal ACT score (I got a 31. *breathes on fingernails* *polishes fingernails*) earned me an invite to Y-Weekend, where they recruit phenomenal high school students. Yeah, they could have saved their money and I still would have attended.

I started out thinking I would do psychology, but my Psych 111 class was deadly dull (though my roommate, Susan Kennedy [Jensen] was in that class with me... along with her future husband, so at least some good came out of it). I ended up declaring a Theatre Arts major because I needed a major... and then didn't ever find a decent reason to change it. Theatre Arts is fun, yo?

Theatre Arts majors hang out in the Harris Fine Arts Center (known as the H-Fack), which is the coolest building on campus.

Oh, the Theatre Slab. How I miss thee.
Not only did we have a big hung of rock to sit on / leave notes on / congregate on / etc... in the nice, echoey lobby, but we had three floors above ground and two below ground to get lost play in. There was a huge concert hall, a decent-sized theater, a theater-in-the-round, and an "experimental" theater just for us students to afflict our fledgling directing efforts on our classmates in.

So. Much. Fun. And, I now know several famous actors, including Erin Chambers. You're jealous, right?

Of course, after having that much fun in my undergrad, it was time to buckle down and do something serious for my post-grad. Again, I only applied to BYU's law school. Why waste the money to apply somewhere else? My oldest son was a week old when I went to the BYU-Law recruitment lunch. Hey, it was free food! A few months later, I started and, again, had a blast. It was a more studious, less gleeful kind of fun, but fun nonetheless.

Fortunately my law school took about half as long as my undergrad, and I topped out my higher education exactly a decade after my high school education. (I took an 18-month break in the middle, too.)

All in all, BYU rocks. I have so many fond memories of the campus, the classes, the teachers, and my classmates. I worked early morning custodial until I got pregnant and I speed-walked daily through the amazing, art-filled campus. I can't imagine attending anywhere else.

So where did you go to college?

Monday, April 23, 2012

T is for Twilight, et al (also, HNtWaQ 4 breakdown)

Sometime in 2006 (or early 2007), my sister-in-law, Paula, who knew I loved reading, mentioned that she had a cousin who was being touted as the next J.K. Rowling. I reacted about how you'd expect: with congratulatory skepticism. Still, I Googled her cousin's name and read the book description. And the glowing reviews. And marveled over the cover, with two white hands holding a red apple on a black background. Huh, I thought. Might actually be worth reading.

My library provided me with a copy very quickly and I got to reading. I have never been so sucked into a book. By the time I was finished, I couldn't imagine a world in which Bella and Edward weren't real, living, breathing people. They haunted me. I immediately put NEW MOON on hold... but there was a really long waiting list. The librarian I appealed to estimated that I might get a copy in about a month. A MONTH! (I've never had the cash for all the books I want to buy.) I was devastated. I re-read TWILIGHT to soothe my anxiety... and got an email from the library the next day. NEW MOON was mine! I read it. Then read them both again.

To this day, those two books are the only books I've ever re-read immediately upon finishing them. (Well, that I can remember. I've been reading a long time.)

That year, for my anniversary, I got my own copies. Then purchased and devoured ECLIPSE as soon as it came out. I went with a group of 30-something friends to the midnight release of BREAKING DAWN--teh only midnight release I've ever attended. I watched the Twilight movie with a group of Stephenie's cousins (jealous?). I was sort of disappointed by the ending of BD (little-miss-happy-thoughts ruined what could have been a wonderful battle scene), but, overall, loved the series. I still love the series.

One of the miraculous things the Twilight Saga did for me was make it seem possible to write amazing stories. Some authors (ahemBrandonSandersonahem) write so well, young writers despair of ever being that good. Others write so poorly (ahemyouknowwhoI'mtalkingaboutahem), they make it look too easy to get published (in an "I can write better than that!" sort of way). Stephenie Meyer made quality seem possible. She is a large part of the reason I finally started to take my half-formed ambition seriously.

She blew me away, though, with THE HOST. I think it's the best thing she's written so far, and I can't wait to see the movie. And sequels.

On April 19th, I presented a bastardized version of the very nice official blurb for THE HOST. I even made it exactly 190 words long, like the official blurb is. Here they both are together:

Official (Good) Blurb
My (Bad) Blurb
Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away.

Our world has been invaded by an unseen enemy. Humans become hosts for these invaders, their minds taken over while their bodies remain intact and continue their lives apparently unchanged. Most of humanity has succumbed.

When Melanie, one of the few remaining "wild" humans is captured, she is certain it is her end. Wanderer, the invading "soul" who has been given Melanie's body, was warned about the challenges of living inside a human: the overwhelming emotions, the glut of senses, the too vivid memories. But there was one difficulty Wanderer didn't expect: the former tenant of her body refusing to relinquish possession of her mind.

Wanderer probes Melanie's thoughts, hoping to discover the whereabouts of the remaining human resistance. Instead, Melanie fills Wanderer's mind with visions of the man Melanie loves—Jared, a human who still lives in hiding. Unable to separate herself from her body's desires, Wanderer begins to yearn for a man she has been tasked with exposing. When outside forces make Wanderer and Melanie unwilling allies, they set off on a dangerous and uncertain search for the man they both love.
Have you ever felt trapped in your own body? Unable to choose how you will talk or move? Can you imagine how it would feel to be taken over by a parasitic host that can control your every move? What if that parasite is better at being you than you are? Would you welcome an invader that could eradicate poverty? Cure any disease? Drop the crime rate to zero?

Melanie doesn't care how good the invaders are at being human. She just wants to be left alone with her boyfriend Jared and her brother Jamie, to try to survive as three of the last remaining free humans. She doesn't get her wish. Instead, she is captured and taken over by Wanderer, a "soul" whose most important job is to help find the very humans Melanie would give her life for.

But Melanie is different: she refuses to fade away. Instead, her love for Jared and Jamie helps her hang around, fighting back in the only way she knows how: by concealing their location from Wanderer, who can read every thought in her head and examine every memory she’s ever made.

Part of the learning process, for me, is figuring out what is wrong by seeing what makes it right. Since it's impossible to know for sure if my own book's query is right before I have an agent tell me, I find that intentionally writing blurbs wrong and then comparing them to the official blurbs can help.

So what did I do wrong this time?

Don't Open with a Question
If the agent you want hasn't ever actually felt trapped in his/her own body, they will read the first line and answer No. The last thing you want an agent saying while reading your query is "No."

Worse, most questions are transparently designed to force the reader to imagine themselves in the roll of the protagonist. If you've ever been in a training where the teacher told you to close your eyes and imagine [insert any number of things you don't want to imagine, thank you], you know how that feels. Don't make your dream agent feel like you're forcing your world on them.

Finally, questions are condescending. They subtly imply that you can't possibly figure out how the protagonist feels unless it is spelled out for you. My questions, especially, attempt to force you to examine two sides of an issue, suggesting that you wouldn't examine both sides without my questions.

The official blurb does the two-issues thing more organically: by describing both Melanie and Wanderer. By making them both seem like real people. Whenever a reader has two opposing people to like, they will naturally start to see both sides. Spelling-out not required.

Describe the Real Conflict
Reading my blurb, a reader would likely come away with the impression that Melanie is the protagonist, Wanderer is the antagonist, and that the conflict centers on Melanie trying to hide Jared and Jamie from Wanderer. If you've read the book--or even just the official blurb--you know that's not true. If anything, Wanderer is the protagonist, not Melanie. Also, as the official blurb states, the two become allies on a joint quest for Jared. Though the first part of the book is about Melanie keeping things from Wanderer, most of the book has them working together.

This, by the way, is a great blurb to emulate if your plot takes a directional change after the first act. (Though, really, if you're not already established, you should probably stick to making your main conflict apparent in the first few chapters.)

Keep it Simple, Stupid
If you'll notice, the official blurb does not mention Jamie at all, even though, in point of fact, Wanderer is well aware before they set out that Jamie will probably be with Jared. Why doesn't the official blurb mention him?  Because he's unnecessary. Not to the plot, of course, but to the blurb. All the blurb has to do is tell us what the protagonist(s) want. What Melanie/Wanderer want is to reunite with the one(s) they love. This desire begins a quest, which fuels the rest of the book (even when they find them, they don't get their reunion--that takes the rest of the book).

I'll stop there, but feel free to add on. What else makes the official blurb superior to mine?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

S is for John...'S birthday

So for those of you who have been here all month, you might have noticed that my big sister's birthday was on April 1st, and you're thinking "Wow. That family ate a lot of cake in April."

You don't know the half of it.

Of the eight members of our immediate family (not counting spouses, children, etc), seven of us had birthdays in April, May, and June. Seven. Dad was the only original birthday boy, with his birthday about as far removed from the rest of ours as it possibly could be. Mine was fifth in line, so I stopped asking for cake and started looking for more creative birthday desserts. Contrary to popular belief, you can actually eat too much cake.

Lance and Ray, the first two brothers-in-law to join our family, share a birthday, a month removed from dad's. My own husband's birthday is within a week of theirs. Brian, my other brother-in-law, has a birthday within three days of my dad's. Yup, that's now five birthdays in November and December. Really good thing we don't all live together anymore.

And then there are the girls my brothers picked. Instead of continuing the very respectable trend of putting the spouse birthdays six months away from the April-June glutt... they thought they'd add to it. Mark, as I may have mentioned, is dating Kelly, whose birthday is in June, within 2 weeks of his.

John is married to Jenny, whose birthday is within a week of his. Actually, her birthday was this last Sunday.

John's birthday is today.

John and Jenny. Cutest. Couple. Ever.
Sometimes I think John is the coolest of all of us. He's unfailingly charismatic. He's unstoppable when he wants something. He knows the value of hard work and is willing to work hard to get what he wants. He's the most athletic (though lately Denise and Heather have been giving him a run for his money) and, I do believe, he was the most popular in school. Because who can hate that face?

Like Mark, John grew up mostly after I left the house. I remember being amazed when I visited home during college breaks when I realized that John was actually funny. It was such a strange concept. He was always the smallest--though he might be taller than me and Heather, now--but that didn't give him short-man syndrome. It made him scrappy. In a friendly sort of way. (It probably helped that he had a wonderful friend his age, also named John, who was even smaller than he was.)

John is the only one of my parents' children who didn't catch the fiction bug--I believe that, when he reads, he's more likely to read non-fiction like my dad--but that's okay. I love him how he is. I love that he's always happy. I love that he has such great taste in women. I love thinking of how he'll be with his children.

I just love him.

Happy Birthday, John!

Friday, April 20, 2012

R is for Robyn... Carr

Back when I was just a young wanna-be (okay, a younger wanna-be), I decided to start telling people was going to write a book. I figured the shame of scores of people asking for updates would help motivate me to actually, yanno, write it.

It worked, sort of. Took a few years, but eventually I finished a whole book. Now I get to tell people I'm looking for an agent and writing another book.

But there was one benefit even greater than that: I got to meet my mentor. And she even had a cool name!

One of my colleagues at work mentioned one day that his best friend growing up had a mother who was a writer. My friend had practically grown up in her house. She was reportedly very nice and would likely respond if I emailed her. So I did. (I think I've mentioned how I'm never shy.)

Robyn Carr emailed me back within a few hours. She was delighted I'd contacted her, told me which of her books to read first, and, a few emails later, started asking me about myself. That was in early 2008. Over the next year, we exchanged literally thousands of emails. Slowly, she taught me details about the industry, such as how royalties are calculated and that it's a good idea to put your first advance into growing your career.

Isn't she gorgeous?
After about a year of exchanging emails, Robyn hit the NYT Bestseller list. She'd been writing for thirty years and had finally found her niche writing about a quirky small town in the Northern California mountains populated by sexy ex-military men, strong and gorgeous women, enough eccentrics to shake a stick at, and a worrisome hidden population of marijuana growers. I love her books. When I'm sick, they're the perfect comfort food. When I'm well, they can soothe the worst day. They make me laugh, they make me cry. Love. Them.

Robyn's been awfully busy writing 3-5 books a year and touring and being all famous and everything, but we still exchange the occasional email, and she's always made me feel like a privileged friend. I can't express how much her friendship has meant to me. We've only had one phone conversation (recorded for posterity on Authors' Advisory), but someday I AM going to meet her in person. That will be a good day.

So who are your writing mentors?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q is for How NOT to Write a Query (4)

My A-Z this month is all about me and the people, places, and things that have made me who I am. Well, part of who I am is someone who likes to pontificate on subjects I know little about. Fortunately, I usually give obviously bad advice and horrible examples that can be picked apart for instructional purposes.

Mostly, I like taking good books and writing bad queries for them. Like so.

To Whom it May Concern:
Have you ever felt trapped in your own body? Unable to choose how you will talk or move? Can you imagine how it would feel to be taken over by a parasitic host that can control your every move? What if that parasite is better at being you than you are? Would you welcome an invader that could eradicate poverty? Cure any disease? Drop the crime rate to zero? 
Melanie doesn't care how good the invaders are at being human. She just wants to be left alone with her boyfriend Jared and her brother Jamie, to try to survive as three of the last remaining free humans. She doesn't get her wish. Instead, she is captured and taken over by Wanderer, a "soul" whose most important job is to help find the very humans Melanie would give her life for.

But Melanie is different: she refuses to fade away. Instead, her love for Jared and Jamie helps her hang around, fighting back in the only way she knows how: by concealing their location from Wanderer, who can read every thought in her head and examine every memory she’s ever made.
So can you guess the book? Can you spot my "mistakes?" Why doesn't this work?

Come back on April 23rd for a breakdown, to read the real blurb, and to learn why this author is one of my all-time favorites.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for Pied Pipers

I have recently chronicled my sad pre-group life. How I couldn't find motivation with a floodlight and eight extra hands. (Not that I had either.) How I was left to muddle through by myself with one or two stalwart-but-unmotivated friends. How my writing was doomed to stagnate with only my still-enamored-by-the-sight-of-my-own-words self to critique my... self.

No longer.

Now, not only do I have an awesome group of writers to critique my work, but I have all these lovely feelings of guilt when I slack! (Like I've been doing lately. Ahem.)

Also, critiquing the works of others teaches me SOOO much about what works and what doesn't, and helps me to better spot the same things in my own writing. I truly believe that anyone trying to learn to be a writer should get a group if only for this benefit: reading and critiquing other writer's works is awesome.

The best part about my writer's group, though, is the camaraderie. Very few of us have met in real life (that should change in a few weeks: Yay!), but that doesn't stop me from feeling like I have a core of loyal writer friends who are happy when I have a success, who let me gripe about all the things you're not supposed to gripe about, and who truly understand what it's like to slog through this industry. Not because they can imagine it, but because they're doing it, too.

My group boasts self-published authors, short-story anthology authors, and at least one now-inactive member who has signed a traditional publication contract or two--on a book we got to help edit. Since I've read a lot more of my group's books, I can confidently say that there will be more contracts in our future.

We are the Pied Pipers.

So how do you like your group?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for Optimism

If you've never visited, you're totally missing out. Especially if you're a writer, you'll likely appreciate their backwards way of looking at the world. You'll laugh. You'll want to order some doom-and-gloom products to grace your writing desk. You'll think it's cute that they have hundreds of "demotivator" posters. You will fail to be demotivated by them.

Why? Because writers have a skewed perspective when it comes to facing the odds. Odds make us laugh. The bigger the odds against us, the more easily we ignore them. We persevere. Like this:

Ever heard the adage that publishing a best-seller carries the same odds as winning the lottery? Or the stats on how many authors can actually support themselves with their writing? Pretty bleak, yes? So why do we still do it? Why do we dream of turning our obsessive little hobbies into full-time careers?

Because it's next to impossible for someone to have the imagination necessary to dream up a story, with loveable, realistic characters who overcome impossible odds... without having some of that overlap into real life. To read hundreds and thousands of books showcasing successful dreamers without internalizing the power of dreams.

Reality might bite, but it can also be ignored. For those who ignore it long enough, and who work faithfully to accomplish the improbable... sometimes reality conforms to match what we think it ought to be.

So what impossible goals do you have?

Monday, April 16, 2012

N is for... Not Like This

I like defining things by what they are not. For instance, an apple is a fruit, but not an orange. My mini PC is portable, but it isn't a tablet PC.

A writing career takes a lot of effort to build, but some efforts don't actually move you toward that goal. All anti-definitions are taken from my own experience.

  • If you want to go with traditional publishing, you'll eventually need an agent and an editor. Do NOT call / email / pitch / camp out on doorsteps of agents or editors until your book is completely written and polished. If you're a brilliant writer, that's wonderful. Prove it by writing a book, not a letter. Not every brilliant writer is also a brilliant storyteller. Believe it or not, those are different skills. (I apologize to the editor I emailed when my first never-to-be-finished book was still in the idea stages, harboring a dim hope that someone would pay me to write it.)
  • Most writers need a writing group for motivation and feedback. A writing group is NOT comprised of one thinking-about-getting-serious writer and her friend who thinks it would be fun... but doesn't care enough to prioritize writing over... anything else. Those folks can make good beta readers and idea-bouncer-offers, but they'll do little to motivate you to write.
  • When writing fantasy, world-building is essential. World-building is NOT day-dreaming about your book in odd moments when you're in the middle of a mindless activity. Or, at least, that's not all it is. If you don't write it down, it didn't happen.
  • Eventually, you're going to actually sit down and write the book. Maybe you write with an outline, maybe you're a pantser. Whichever is your favorite, you're NOT a writer if you don't sit down and write. Writers write. Serious writers write seriously. Dedicated writers dedicate regular writing time. If you find yourself in the middle of "writing" a book, but you haven't written anything in a few weeks... maybe you're not really a writer. There's nothing wrong with being a dabbler, but dabblers are unlikely to turn their hobby into a career. (Ouch.) To change your definition, change how you spend your time.
  • Every once in a while, a writer comes along who is able to redefine a genre, brilliantly break hard-and-fast rules, and lead the charge into the strange and unknown. That writer is usually NOT a debut author. There are certainly exceptions to this, but keep in mind that no matter how brilliant your firstborn novel is, if it doesn't fit neatly within an established genre, follow every rule, and tread familiar paths, it is likely to be rejected. That's not fair, and that's not right, but that's the way of the industry. Find the rules. Follow the rules. Break them after you've proven yourself.
Have you ever tried something to build your career that didn't work?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

M is for Mark (the baby)

I love all my siblings, and could never pick a favorite. Really. I couldn't. And wouldn't. And you shouldn't, either.

But if I had to, Mark would be in the running. Definitely in the top five.

Yeah, I think this pic speaks for itself.
Though my parents succeeded in turning five out of the six of us into readers, only Mark seems to be as obsessed with books as I am. Like me, he'll always have a book nearby and he devours them. He mostly reads epic fantasy and sci fi, two (of the many) genres I adore.

Mostly, though, I love Mark because one day, when I was visiting over the holidays, he got all excited telling me about the guy who was picked to finish Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. Yanno, this guy named Brandon Sanderson. Who? I asked. He was quite appropriately shocked and I left with the first two MISTBORN books in my hot little hands. (Mark, if you're reading this, I totally returned those to you. Like, ages ago. I'm not up here, years later, ignoring who they belong to while I loan them out to all my friends. Nu-uh.)

Since then, I can depend upon Mark to text me whenever there is any awesome Brandon news. He's content to talk books with me far into the night.

Also? Best. Uncle. Ever.

He did most of his growing up after I left home, but from the day I got to help with his home-delivery (which was awesome) to the day he got taller than all of us, my "littlest" brother Mark has been a constant source of delight.

Which can only increase when he proposes to his girlfriend already. *waves to Kelly* *is glad she's so far away* *is now worried that she'll see them in three weeks* *still doesn't delete the paragraph*

Any of your siblings share your obsessions?

Friday, April 13, 2012

L is for Lynette (aka My Clone)

If my husband is my opposite (see April 11), my mother is my clone. Or, well, I'm her clone? Something like that. Today is Friday the 13th, but I don't need to switch bodies with my mom to feel like I've walked in her shoes.


Mom was an Air Force brat, so her parents traveled all over and instilled in her a sense of global consciousness. My father is English, and my mother was an Air Force brat. Voila global consciousness.

Her parents raised her with a love of the theatre. When she directed Fiddler on the Roof for our church group years ago, I played Tevya's youngest daughter. Turns out limelight is genetic and addictive.

Mom majored in Theatre Arts at BYU, with an emphasis in directing and a minor in English. Me, too.

When she met my dad, she left her entire family to follow him to the land of his origin (though they returned a couple years later). When I married my husband, I left my entire family to follow him to the land of his origin. Fortunately, we're close enough to visit a couple times a year.

Mom worked outside the home most of the years I was growing up. My children also have a working mother and stay-at-home father.

She eventually settled down as a legal secretary and later became a paralegal. I worked at her law firm in high school and college . . . and went to law school.

Mom reads fiction and can be relied upon to have a book at hand at all times. I read fiction and feel lost if I don't have a book nearby. Neither of us read much nonfiction outside of work.

I have my mother's hips, her struggle with weight, and my face flushes just like hers when I exercise. Speaking of her face, all that blood means that we get fewer wrinkles than the rest of you. Which is a Very Cool Thing. Mostly because I'm also her spitting image, which means I'll look just like this in a few decades:

I know. You're jealous.
Okay, side stories: When I had her wedding picture copied once, the copy shop girl completely flipped at how much we look alike. That same year, we went to Hawaii together (dad was busy, dang it) and two boys my age (23) checked us out. One of them pointed to the one next to him, then to each of us and proclaimed "Hey! Brother, brother, sister, sister!" Mom was not amused when I returned with "Mother, daughter!"

There are, of course, some differences. I'll never have Mom's neat handwriting, I struggle to be as self-sacrificing as she can be, and I'm a tad more outgoing than she ever was. You'd think, though, that we would have butted heads as I grew, and would have constantly been at daggers-drawn since we're so similar. We weren't. (Not as much as you'd think, I mean.) I give full credit for that to her generous, wise, and loving nature. (It certainly wasn't because I was an obedient, malleable child.) She gave me room to grow and the tools to become whatever I wanted.

Is it any wonder I chose to follow her?

So are you your mother's daughter? Father's son? Do you fight it or just accept the inevitable?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

K is for Konferences

Oh, like any A-Z blogger is going to get through the whole month without misspelling something.

There's a lot to be said for writing conferences, and I've learned a lot about them over the last two and a half years. In that time, I've attended two different conferences two times each, though I'm hitting another one early next month. They've become an essential part of who I'm becoming as a writer--and not just because of all the awesome stuff I learned.

Me pretending I know stuff at LTUE XXX with
Nathan Shumate, Michael Brent Collings, Michael Collings, and Jenn Johansson
I stole this pic from Donna Weaver
So here's ten quick and dirty things I've learned about conferences, in no real order:

  1. Wear comfortable shoes, ‘cause you’re gonna be walking. A lot.
  2. Wardrobe is business casual as a default, though I’ve seen bestselling authors wearing jeans and t-shirts to them. You might want to dress up a tad more if you’re doing a pitch session, though I wouldn’t wear a suit or an uncomfortable skirt. That would just be weird.
  3. Business cards are essential. They should include your email address, your blog address, your twitter ID, and any other contact info you might want to give a perfect stranger who may soon become your best friend. A picture of you will help your new friends remember whose card they picked up. A short description of who you are (“YA Writer”) helps, too. If you have a book you’re pitching, agents like it when you put a short blurb on the back. Finally, carry the business cards behind your name tag in the name tag holder. That way they’re always at your fingertips.
  4. A shoulder bag is more convenient than a rolling bag. Take it from the girl who did it backward for 3 out of the last 4 conferences. There be crowds, folks. Don’t trip people.
  5. Laptops (or, if you’re cooler than I am, tablet computers) are really good to have. Not only can you take faster notes without cramping your hand, but you can settle down and write your own book whenever inspiration strikes. Also bring paper, though, for when your battery dies. At the conferences I’ve gone to, less than 20% (totally random, made-up number) bring their laptops, so if you don’t want to, you won’t feel out of place.
  6. Networking is key: that’s half the reason you’re there. Meet the presenters. Introduce yourself to the table at lunch. Ask questions in the classes. Sit at the front of the room. If you’re naturally shy, find a friend who isn’t, who can drag you around with them. Remember that writers are generally very nice people—and if they’re at a writer’s conference, they usually expect to meet people. They won’t mind.
  7. Parties after-hours can be the best way to get to know your fellow conference-goers… but keep in mind that you’ll also need to be able to function the next day. Know your limits and get enough sleep.
  8. Examine the schedule as soon as you know it and map out which classes you want to attend. If you don’t know where you’re going next, chances are the one you want will be full when you get there. If the schedule is available online before the conference, check it out: many times there will be a query help class that requires you to have a copy of our query on hand or a simulated slush pile that you'll want your first page for. Don’t be caught without one and miss out on valuable, personalized advice.
  9. If the conference solicits volunteers, raise your hand. Early and often. There is no better way to meet established authors than fetching their water and making sure they have everything they need for their presentation. Being behind-the-scenes at a conference is even more fun than attending.
  10. Ignore anything on the above list that might limit your ability to enjoy the experience. There is absolutely no reason to stress over a writer’s conference. Have fun, learn all you can, and steep in the motivation until you get all pruny.
So do you attend conferences? Any tips I missed that you want to share? 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

J is for Jerry (my Yin)

2013 NOTE: This post is about my recently-exed-husband. It's still all true, but ever-so-slightly sad, now. This post explains a little about what happened. Turns out that the opposites-attracting thing is harder to maintain than I ever suspected.

Ever hear about opposites attracting? Ever doubt that it was true? Doubt no more. My husband, Jerry, and I have very little in common. Maybe that's why we keep behaving like newlyweds after almost 12 years of marriage (come back on April 28th).

I have a law degree and a full-time job. He has a high school education and takes care of the boys with odd jobs on the side. I'd like to take care of the boys and write on the side. He'd like to get a full-time job.

He thinks my hometown, near Salt Lake City, is MUCH too big. I think his no-stoplight hometown in Eastern Idaho is MUCH too small.

I enjoy reading, and can do it day-in, day-out, dawn-to-dusk, without stopping, so long as there is a stack of willing books nearby. Jerry... is not a reader. He will never read any of my books. If one of my books is one day made into a movie, I might be able to get him to wear a suit to the premier, where he will most likely take a two hour nap. (Unless I can shoehorn in some explosions....) Yessir, we will be keeping him far away from the press.

I am overweight and generally sedentary, with occasional bouts of guess-I-should-use-my-gym-membership fervor. There is not a single active activity that I can't quite happily do without. Jerry is NOT overweight and actually prefers to be active. There is hardly a single active activity that he doesn't enjoy--but he especially loves those activities which come with loud bangs and blood-covered hands. He and the boys are constantly trying to get mommy to join them on their outdoor adventures. They bribe me with books and lawn chairs.

Jerry has been working since the age of nine, when he started moving pipe for a local farmer and taught himself how to drive a farm truck. He went on to drive tractor-trailers for a few years and now gets carsick if someone else drives for too long. I've been working since the age of sixteen and, not counting my half-interest in our marital vehicles, have never owned my own car. I've never changed a tire all by myself--forget about the oil. I rarely pump gas (unless I'm away at a conference and Jerry isn't around to do it for me). I never get carsick. While Jerry drives, I read or write.

Jerry used to be a bona-fide cowboy. Rode bulls and bucking broncos, wrestled steers, and roped calves. He was kicked in the head three separate times by bulls and usually rode again the next night. He's prone to headaches, but rarely lets it stop him. I get a headache when I ride too many roller coasters and rarely want to ride any more until it goes away.

I (barely) passed the AP Calculus test in high school and never took another math class. Ever. I doubt I've ever balanced my checkbook. Jerry never took AP Math, but he can do calculations in his head that I need a calculator for. Wanna guess who's in charge of finances around here? (I make it, he spends it.)

Jerry has been doing my laundry--including my unmentionables--since we were engaged. He does the grocery shopping--all of the grocery shopping. He keeps the dishes washed and has dinner on the table when I get home. He vacuums. He maintains the cars, improves the home, and kills the spiders. He does NOT clean the bathroom. I clean the bathroom and the kitchen. Every few months, with a lot of griping, I deep-clean something. I do no car maintenance or yard work.

We don't watch the same TV shows (except House--and what will we watch together when the last few episodes are gone?), think each other's movies are insipid/boring/horrifying/silly, and have realized that we should NEVER talk to each other about the death penalty. Not. A good. Idea.

So why do I love him? The rocks in his head exactly fill the holes in mine. Where I am weak, he is strong. Where I slack, he shines. He supports me even though he'll never understand me. He thinks I'm beautiful even when I've been sick for a week, and makes me feel light even though I outweigh him.

He is the Yin to my Yang.

He loves me. He loves my children.

What's not to love?
Who can resist a strong man with a baby?
So are you attracted to your opposite or do you prefer someone who likes the same things you do?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I is for In-Laws (and why mine are cooler than yours)

When my husband told his mother that he was getting married (to me), her first words were "No, you're not!" Or something like that. She was Not. A. Fan. Of the idea of her firstborn getting hitched, that is. She's always liked me. Really. She has!

Here's an old picture of the happy family:

Clockwise from the back left: Yvette, Jerry,
Jerry "Dee", Michelle, Debbie, Carl
I couldn't be happier with my in laws, which is a pretty weird thing to say. The only thing we fight about is what to call my husband. (He's a Junior, so they call him by his middle name, which he does NOT prefer. His little sister actually corrected me once right after we got engaged: "His name is Dee!" I'm all, well, I love him, he wants to be called Jerry, so that's what I'm a-gonna do.)

Meet my mother-in-law, Yvette, whose name I mention mainly because I think it's awesome that it's so close my own mother's name, Lynette (come back on Friday--the 13th--for more on my mom). In case that's not enough Twilight Zone for you, her next child to get married has a mother-in-law named Annette. Yvette married her Jerry while they were still in high school, which she graduated with two kids in tow.Yvette never meddles, but she steals my children for a week every summer. She's a master gardener / canner / foodstorage-er, so when the world economy collapses, I'll be at her house, which is always immaculate, dang her.  She is now a volunteer EMT, and can hunt, camp, lumberjack, and drive a truck up muddy back roads as well as any man. I'd want to be her when I grow up, but I haven't a prayer.

Jerry (Sr.), like my own Jerry, is Yin to his wife's Yang. He is calm to her frantic energy and helps to ground her--and the rest of the family. He's a great patriarch, always there when you need him (unless his job--which he's held since they got married--is on shut-down), and instilled in his children the benefits of hard work. He taught my own Jerry how to be the wonderful husband and father he is today, for which I cannot thank him enough.

Carl, my-Jerry's "little" brother was close enough behind him to be guaranteed a spot as his lifelong buddy, companion, and nemesis. Their personalities are much too similar to ensure perfect harmony, but they can get along swimmingly so long as they're hunting, fishing, or working. They're a force to be reckoned with when they play on the same basketball team, but if they're on opposite teams... someone's gonna bleed. Carl, his wife Paula, and their two adorable adopted children are our only relatives to live in our same town (unless you count in-law-in-laws), and it is wonderful having them so close. (Paula could stand to be a little less perfect, actually. It's hard to hold my head up next to someone who can claim credentials as a nurse, model, and photographer, and who can take some old doors and turn them into amazing bookshelves. Seriously.)

Debbie, the oldest girl, is a lot like her mother in that she goes out and gets done what needs to be done. She's got a nursing degree, four wonderful boys, and a house big enough to open up for the whole family when we want to get together. (What, me? Jealous?) Her husband Jeremy is steady, supportive, and was in college the same time I was in law school, so we would do homework together over holidays. Ah, bonding.

Michelle, the baby, has a gorgeous voice and is the first of all of us to break the no-female-grandchildren policy (that's a big deal, believe me). She now has three beautiful little girls, a handsome son, and a husband (Nathan) who adores her. I'm constantly impressed with her ability to handle whatever life throws at her with a cheerful smile and stubborn determination.

So how do you feel about your in-laws? Look forward to spending time with them? Try to get out of it as much as possible? Are you jealous that mine are so cool?

Monday, April 9, 2012

H is for Heather (the "perfect" sister)

I was almost two when Heather was born, so I have absolutely no memories that pre-date her. That's a wonderful thing, because she's been a steady force for good in my life.

She's the "angel" middle child. The peacemaker 3rd-of-6 who always manages to be liked by everyone. (The mother's curse even worked to get her four angel-children of her very own.)

She's also the sister with the blond hair that my mother thought was a lot like spun gold. When she decided to get it permed like her big sisters, my dad spend the afternoon brushing it so it wouldn't take.

In high school, I caught her singing along to the radio while reading a book. I've never been able to figure out how she does that.

Several years ago, she served as a very young Relief Society President of her ward. For those of you who don't know what that is, she was in charge of the women's service organization of her congregation, including all the welfare efforts, funerals, instruction, visiting teaching program, etc, etc, etc. This is a job normally handled by someone much older. (I was going to say wiser, but Heather is very wise already.)

Like my big sister Denise (see April 1st), Heather married at nineteen. Where Denise missed my high school graduation for her honeymoon, I missed Heather's wedding because I was on a church mission. I did get to meet her husband before I left, though, and heartily approved. In fact, I ended up marrying a man very much like hers.

She now lives in the same city as Denise and serves as president of Denise's choir. We all look alike, but Heather is so short (and blond), the choir members who elected her didn't even know that they were sisters (different married names). Some of my favorite memories (then and now) is when we all get together (with my mom and sister Vanessa) to sing. I sooo wish I lived closer and could see them more.

Also like Denise, Heather is working hard to show the rest of us up in the fitness department. As a working mother of four, you'd think she wouldn't have time to spend hours in the gym, but she does and she looks amazing.

So do you have a sibling who's annoyingly perfect, but too nice to hate?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

G is for Graham (aka Dad)

My father is English (see "E is for England" on April 5th). He has the accent to prove it and is constantly mispronouncing words like tomAHtoe and GAR-age. (He's been in America longer than I have, so I'm sure he's doing now just to be backwards.)

Dad recently took a trip to England to visit with his family upon the event of his father's funeral. (We all would have loved to go, obviously, but it's dang expensive to travel that far!) He's a photographer, so of course he came home with bunches of pictures. This one, obviously, was taken by someone else:

My dad. Isn't he handsome?
When he posted it on Facebook, dad said this about the picture:
Me on top of a fell (large hill) in Lancashire that Philip [his brother] and I climbed together. It was cold, misty and remote... just what I was looking for!
Notice the stylish hat, compass, and grey sweater / green slack combo. This is where I get my instinct for comfort and practicality over fashion. (Though I would never consider slacks to be good hiking gear.)

Growing up, Dad was always wanting to take us on nature walks, scenic drives, and "let's try to get ourselves lost" adventures. Now that he has oodles and gobs of grandchildren, whenever we get together he disappears with the lot of them like a daddy duck with a herd of ducklings. They seldom get lost, but they do come back pink-cheeked and usually saturated in dirt, snow, or water. I did not inherit dad's wanderlust, but I married a man who also loves nature (so my boys get plenty of fresh air despite mommy's homebodyness).

My dad is a huge reader and critical thinker. So many of the twists and turns my brain can take (and which must often be edited out of my writing) are easily traceable to him. Unlike me, however, he reads exclusively non-fiction. If When I publish my own work of fiction, he'll probably read it to be nice, but I don't really expect him to enjoy it. I DO expect him to sit me down and ask me to explain myself, why I included each element, and what I think about my theme, etc.

There is no letting down the mental guard around my father, folks. :) Thinking is required and enforced.

What parts of your dad do you carry around?

Friday, April 6, 2012

F is for Farland

David Farland (aka David Wolverton) has been around for a while. He's taught some of the greatest writers of our day and is constantly engaged in teaching more. He's the perfect example of a life-long career writer, from his win 25 years ago in Writers of the Future to his most recent book, the young-adult fantasy, NIGHTINGALE. (Where you'll find my name in the acknowledgments!)

I've never been able to travel to one of his awesome workshops (though I know those who have and they rave), but I've been able to sit at his feet at several other lectures and classes. He knows his stuff, folks. From the most basic composition questions to what books and marketing will be like in the future, he's got the experience and the flexibility to survive long after wimpy writers fall by the wayside. If you can possibly get to his upcoming Superstars of Writing seminar (with enough of his bestseller friends to make anyone drool), it's coming up fast on April 30-May 2 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

I can't talk about David, though, without mentioning his brother, Jim. Jim has been helping David for years. Jim sends out the Daily Kick (which you really should subscribe to) and, in 2010, came up with the idea to start up an online community of writer's groups, to help those without a group find one. Pure Genius.

I live in a small city. There are a few writers around here, but not enough to form a great let's-get-together pool. For over a year, I tried to get a writer's group going, if only for the motivation. Didn't work out. So I joined David Farland's Writer's Groups with rejoicing as soon as the first forum opened up.

David and Jim are also responsible for letting me host David Farland's Authors' Advisory. That's a podcast where I, along with my cohost, Mike, interview awesome authors on a conference call that anyone can join in on. I've been a total slacker for a few months in setting up guests but I love love LOVE talking to authors about writing. Plus, it's the perfect excuse to approach them at conferences! :)

In short, I owe a lot of my little place in our writing community to David Farland and his brother Jim. Without them, I'd probably still be struggling with motivation and trying to find a writer's group that fits my needs. I can't express how thankful I am to them both.

Which writers have impacted your writing / life / career?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

E is for England

I'm half English. I'm so half-English, half of my extended family still lives there.

My parents met when my father came across the pond and they both worked at Zion's National Park for a summer. When my dad's green card expired, he went back, and my mom followed him to England a few months later, where they married and started their lives together.

My older sister was born in England, but the last time I was there, I was roughly the size of a lima bean. My poor parents had to eat lima beans so much, they called them slima-beans and sang a song about them to the tune of Edelweiss. Eventually they tired of singing and moved back to America.

The internet has brought us all closer to our English relatives, but they're still VERY far away, so we seldom see them.
My dad took this pic when he went
over for his dad's funeral last month
I think every American feels a bit like England is the "Mother-Country," but for me that feeling is very much more pronounced. It's harder to feel triumphant about how the colonists won the Revolutionary War. I very much want to get over there someday to see the cloudy skies and lush pastures.

Perhaps I can take a book tour there someday. :)

Where are your people from? Which country besides your homeland do you most identify with?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

D is for Day-Job

Day-jobs aren't cool in the writing world, are they? Writers aren't supposed to like their day-jobs, since, obviously, no one who had any viable alternatives would actually want to write for a "living." Day-jobs are the things that get in the way of having uninterrupted writing time. The things we give up when we become bestsellers and look back on with revulsion and the relief born of escape.

Well, my day-job isn't like that.

I've loved reading since I was a tiny little thing and first discovered the wonderful lives I could live between the covers of books. I was that kid who checked out a pile of books from the library every single week. Who stayed up reading well past bed-time. Who never went anywhere without a book, just in case things got dull.

I'm still like that, come to think of it.

But that's not all I am.

At the age of 4, I told my mother to "Stop treating me like I'm 2." In second grade, I about broke down and cried when my teacher, on the first day of school, set us the task of copying sentences off the board. I've always been drawn to characters (like the girl in The Westing Game) who become lawyers or who argue effectively. I've never wanted things to be too easy. I've never wanted to be treated like I'm dumb (even when I am).

I embraced drama growing up and, my senior year, I was the Speech and Drama Sterling Scholar at my high school. Freshman year of college I gave a talk over Christmas in my home church congregation and took about three times longer than my allotment. A lawyer who heard it suggested I should be one. I scoffed. Why would I want to be a lawyer? (At that point, four more years of school was about all I could think about.)

By the time I got married, though, I'd changed my mind. I was going to law school. I took the LSAT. I applied. I was accepted. I started with one baby and graduated with two.

While I was there, I learned to love the law. Reading the cases. Writing about applications. Arguing in class, in mock courtrooms, and in competitions. Trial prep and all that jazz. I published a case note on the juvenile death penalty and learned that I could write really long things--and enjoy it. Fun. Fun. Fun.

I now have a law job. I write fiction at night. I read whenever I can. I'm blessed with a terrific boss and colleagues who also love to read. I still love to argue. Love to say things like "I'm off to court" and "I'm with a client" and "objection" and "your honor." Take guilty pleasure in the foolish way people assume I'm not-dumb if I let slip that I'm a lawyer.

So why do I want to write? To publish? To start a second career? Because I've loved books longer. I love books better. And because, unless lightning strikes and I win the bestseller lottery, I'll never have to choose between the two.

But also because, if I ever do make enough writing to quit my day-job, I'm hoping I'll get to spend more time helping raise my kids. Because I love my family best of all.

So do you have a day-job? Do you hate it? Love it? Plan to leave it as soon as possible?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

C is for Children

By which I mean my own children, though it can also mean the children who may someday read my YA books.

I grew up the second-oldest of six children so I had a lot of mothering experience before I became a mother myself. Still, one of the most surreal moments of my life was when I was filling out paperwork in the hospital and wrote "mother" under "relationship to patient" for the first time. It was a definite perspective shift. Even now, I'll often look around at my small brood and wonder what the powers that be were thinking by putting ME in charge of these miniature people.

Shouldn't mothers be, like, perfect or something?

For better or worse, though, they are mine.

D, C, and B climbing a tree with cousins.

KidD, my 11-year-old, loves reading zombie books and is even trying his hand at writing his own hunting story--a comedy--during his spare time.

KidC, my 8-year-old, loves reading about hunting and sports. I love listening to him read out loud: I think he's a natural.

KidB (so-named because both D and C are 2-syllable names and we decided to follow the trend when B was born, so we went looking for a 2-syllable B-name), my six-year-old struggles with reading because of his speech-delay, but still soldiers on. It's amazing how much he's improved over the last year alone.

Their father isn't a reader, but they do enjoy their bedtime mommy-reading time, so I have high hopes of making readers out of them eventually.

What about you? Do your kids enjoy reading as much as you wish they would?

Monday, April 2, 2012

B is for Briggs. Patricia Briggs.

Every once in a while, you read a book that is so good, you simply have to read more just like it. Not only similar books, but similar books written by the same author. Because the voice is that amazing. Because the story is that compelling. Because the world is that rich and layered.

Also, less often, the amazing, compelling author actually has plenty of books already in print. You do a happy dance and set out to read every last word. You grab all your friends, shove the author's collected works into their hands, and force them to sit down that second and share the wonder with you.

For me, one of these authors is Patricia Briggs.

The first book of hers I read--and where I suggest you start--was MOON CALLED. MOON CALLED is your typical skinwalker-coyote-raised-by-werewolves tale . . . if the typical coyote, Mercy Thompson, left the werewolves to become a mechanic in the city . . . and if her typical mentor is a powerful fae . . . and if he is typically forced to transfer the mechanic shop to her a year before the story starts because the fae were "coming out" to the humans . . . and if she's typically forced to return to the wolves round about chapter 2 because the local (sexy) alpha is severely injured. . . . Dang. I'm going to have to read it again, now. And then I'm going to have to read all the rest, too. Because boy do they all have pretty covers.

Your fingers are itching right now. I know.
The insides are better.
Mercy Thompson also has a spin-off series, ALPHA AND OMEGA, which I suggest you read next . . . or simultaneously, since the plot lines aren't exactly one-then-the-other. Just see her printable book list for pub dates and that will keep you mostly satisfied.

Best expansion of a short story ever.
Both of these series are urban fantasy, both have lovely romances that don't rely on the couple splitting up at the beginning of each book to create romantic tension, and both are chock full of awesome.

But that's not all. Patricia has more books.

Patricia started out writing high fantasy, and those books, while not as fantastic as her more recent ones above, are still very, very cool. I'm not going to describe them all, but check out her book list and read them all. Seriously. I just finished reading the last two books of hers that I hadn't read yet and she has always been good at storytelling.

That said, though, one of the best reasons to read absolutely everything she has written is to see her evolution as a writer. Though her earlier stories were good, they weren't grab-your-friends-and-make-them-read-fantastic. She's that good now, though. Which means she's been able to grow as a writer. She's been able to improve beyond her first published efforts. She has stretched herself, branched out over the years, and has reached a level I can only describe as phenomenal.

I want to be like Patricia when I grow up.

So which authors have you felt like this about?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A is for ... Denise

No, I'm not trying to cheat on the first day of the challenge. My big sister Denise has "A" written all over her. And, no, I don't mean the scarlet kind.

Miss Ambrose: If we lived in Victorian times, she would have been Miss Ambrose, since she's the oldest. I'd have been Miss Robin Ambrose. Fortunately, she got married while I was still in high school (she missed my graduation because she was on her honeymoon), so I wouldn't have been too deprived of society.

Grade-A: I'm 13 months and 14 days younger than Denise and I can tell you that she was a tough act to follow in school. My dad used to complain that her report cards were boring: all A's. I've had very few all-A report cards. She's always been driven and works hard to accomplish what she wants. Following along right behind her, how could I help but want to catch on to some of that?

Type-A: Denise is the original Type-A personality, which she comes by honestly, being the oldest of six children. Any girl who has had to babysit from a young age is going to turn out bossy. Heck, I turned out bossy and I'm second in line! This certainly has its benefits, though. When I was getting married and had no clue what to do for my wedding, Denise charged the breach. In short order, she designed and made my wedding dress, designed and assembled my flowers, designed and marshaled my centerpieces, designed and baked my refreshments... you get the idea. She also catered wonderfully to my wishes, only demanding that I not call her the "Matron" of Honor, just because she was married with children.

Amazing, Astonishing, Astounding: I'm constantly in awe over what Denise manages to accomplish. She has five wonderful children, a tastefully decorated (and wonderfully chaotic) house, her own community choir (seriously: she's the director and founder), is very involved with her children's schooling and schools, substitute teaches on a regular basis, is currently back in school for her Master's Degree, and gets up almost every morning at 5 am just to help prove that, yes, our genetics CAN be thin. And that's before we factor in that her husband was a bishop for most of the last decade, robbing her of most of her partner-support at home. I couldn't do half of the things I do without my husband to pick up the slack and Denise manages to do twice as much with half as much support.

April Fool's Baby: Which finally explains why I had to start with my big sis. Today is her birthday. No foolin'. We had sooo much fun with that, growing up! :)

For this A-Z challenge, I'll be reviewing the wonderful family, books, authors, and institutions that have made me who I am. Denise fits so well into this theme, she actually inspired it. I couldn't blog on April 1st and not pay homage to my big sis, even if she is too busy to read my blog.

Happy Birthday, Denise!