January 13

Stoking the Motivational Fire in Your Writing

Writing has always been my companion. I tell people that I was born with a pen in my hand. Through my childhood, writing was my best escape from childhood bullying. It’s been my best weapon against loneliness and despair. I wrote my first novel-length story by the time I was twelve. As a college student, friends would complain that by the time they started reading my work, I’d have re-written half of it. As an adult, my motivation to write has waned. There could be any number of reasons for this, but I can’t say why.

I still love reading. I still enjoy writing, but where I used to get physically ill if I didn’t write every day, now I struggle to put pen to paper. I’ve been trying a few things out and I’m glad to say I’m getting some of my motivation back.

Return to Your Roots

Before I graduated High School I was surrounded by music. My brothers and I constantly had something playing on our CD player, or boombox. We’d dance at random intervals, simply because we really liked a particular song. I listened to songs over and over while I was writing. The music would become background noise, something I ceased to hear at one point, but writing came easily. When I got stuck on a scene in my story, or had no clue where my plot was going, I’d exchange music with one of my brothers. Usually that knocked the devilish idea I needed lose.

Music didn’t disappear once I left for college, but it became a much smaller part of my life. While surviving schoolwork, jobs, internships and a social life, I wasn’t surrounded by music. I exchanged songs with friends on occasion, but it wasn’t the same. Once I graduated with my BA, I moved to Idaho, and music took up even less of my life. I didn’t have a boombox. I had an MP3 off and on—I’m usually behind the times—and my background noise turned into movies I’d watched dozens of times over and over. Every once in a while I’d dig through my music collection and that was usually to get rid of a persistent, unending song.

Lately I’ve been returning to my music roots. I have a stereo and constantly have it playing a CD, an mp3 or the radio while I’m home. I haven’t turned the television on since getting the stereo set up in my room, and I have no immediate desire to change that. I’m shifting through YouTube and Pandora for songs that spark something in me; as well as taking recommendations from friends. My urge to write has grown significantly, though it still isn’t where it once was.

Research/Fill the Well

When I hear fill the well, it’s usually in reference to doing something physical outside of writing, like walking, going to a fair, getting out of the house. I do find those types of activities helpful, but I also find research to be equally helpful in filling my well.

While at work, if I’m not interested in listening to music, I’ll listen to documentaries on YouTube. It can be about anything, so long as it interests me. I’ve listened to videos on the history of guns, studied all the English royals, learned about Ivar the Boneless, Hellewise Pennington, and Aphra Behn. I’ve watched videos on writing, fighting, traveling, and so much more. Most of it has nothing to do with what I’m currently writing, but the new information swirls in my head, ready to be used. Sometimes, a completely random thing I hear in the video makes me look at my story in a different way, spawning potential plot bunnies for me to follow, thus getting me to write. By allowing myself to research outside of what is necessary for my book, I’m learning a lot, expanding my mind and opening the door to getting plenty more story ideas. Most importantly I’m filling the well.

Set Goals

Goals can come in different sizes. One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to get a draft of my sequel completely written. Like most people I didn’t set any parameters on how I’d go about accomplishing this. This is partially because I see New Year’s Resolutions more as guides. What do I want to accomplish? And if, for some reason, I have to change the goal, I can. I’m not tied down to the stone it’s written on, so I won’t drown if I toss it in the lake.

If I write what I’d like to accomplish the next day down in my journal, I significantly increase my chances of doing it. Sometimes I’m very specific on what those goals are “I’m going to edit the entire fight scene in this book” or “I’m going to come up with new words for an hour.” Other times, I’m less specific, “I’m going to get some editing done,  or some new words written tomorrow.” Both are equally effective for me. I can celebrate my success in meeting those goals or commit to doing better in the next day’s entry, which in a weird way creates the accountability that I’ve been lacking. If you don’t keep a journal, I imagine you could post goals on your blog, or Facebook or Twitter. If you’re more private, finding a friend that will ask you “Did you make your goal?” may do the trick.

Those small, miniature, daily goals can help you work toward your big goal. If my daily goal always involves some kind of editing or writing, I’m making progress toward finishing a draft of my sequel and to completing my New Year’s Resolution.

Compete With Yourself

One thing I’m learning is that comparing yourself to other people leads to depression and writer’s block. Instead of thinking “I’m a failure. I’m twenty-six and haven’t published anything, but so-and-so is twenty-two and he/she has published so many books,” I’m trying to compete with myself. In the last few months, I’ve written down what my current word count is on the last day of each month. That way I can see how many words I wrote in the last month. I then tell myself, I’m going to write more the upcoming month. I’m going to compete with myself to get that higher word count. This pushes me to work harder without damaging my self-esteem or making me feel that no matter what I write, or how many times I re-write, I’m producing shit. It also helps keep the fire of motivation burning underneath me, so I write more regularly than I have in a long time. I’m sure I’ll experiment with other things to use against myself, but, for now, word counts work.

With bills to pay, a job to work, the stress of home life to contend with, life seems to do its best to drown the flames of your motivation. But hopefully some of these tricks will help you keep the flames burning. Have you tried any of these tricks? And what tricks do you use to stay motivated? Let me know in comments!

March 2

Plans for Extended Critical Essay (ECE)

For my upcoming semester at Spalding University,  I need to turn in a 20-30 page essay referred to as an Extended Critical Essay, or ECE,  Since I imagine three and a half-weeks between each draft wouldn’t be enough time for me to do all my research, reading, writing and edits, I am working on gathering all my information now.

I’m not sure what my topic will be on. I’m leaning toward writing emotion into a story or something on world building.  Maybe I can somehow combine the two…. How character’s emotions can help with world building in YA. I may decide to go in a totally different direction as well. But I’m hopefully giving myself enough time to do the research and come up with a final decision.

In fact, I plan to write mini-essays on the two topics while I am doing the research, with the hope that it’ll help me build material/resources for the ECE I will need to work on. I would love feedback from people as I make progress, differing opinions, suggestions on what other resources to look at, no matter what stage I am in during this endeavor.

My first step is to find the resources that will help me write the mini-essays and eventually the ECE. I would appreciate recommendations on:

  • Non-Fiction books/articles on Writing Emotion
  • Non-Fiction books/articles on World Building
  • YA Fiction that is a good example of one or both elements.
  • Any other resources that you think may be of interest/help to me.

Thanks in advance for your recommendations and comments.

November 18

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)

I have participated in NaNoWriMo for the entirety of November.  For those who don’t know National Novel Writing Month is when you try to write 50,000 words in 30 days.  This happens in November.

The month is over half-way over and I find myself ahead of schedule by a lot. I’ve never been ahead, in fact, with one exception, I’ve never hit the goal in the allotted time. I think the main difference from now and earlier years is that I’m not allowing myself to edit what I’ve written and I’ve wanted to write this book for a long time.

I don’t expect perfection when I take part in NaNoWriMo. When the goal is to write 1,667 words a day, you can’t expect anything near perfection. The goal, for me, is to get as much of the story written as possible by deadline. By not allowing myself to over think what I’ve written my stories develop more organically and I’ll often find more creative solutions to plot issues than if I took my time and thought my way through the issue.

Those are the positives.  The negatives are that I often end up with a lot of material I end up needing to delete and discard, because I didn’t edit and what I have doesn’t actually work well with the rest of the story.  I’ll find a plot hole the size of Wisconsin that needs patched up or eliminated some other way. And I often have a lot of rewriting to do so that I’m showing instead of telling.

My favorite thing about participating in NaNoWriMo is that the hardest part of writing–which used to be the easiest for me–writing the book is mainly done by November 30th.  I then get to start editing it, rewriting it and making it better. Yes, editing is easier for me now days.  Maybe that’s normal for writers–the editing becomes easier than writing new material.

This years novel is actually the beginning of what I was planning on being my sequel. With what I’ve written so far, I’m getting the strong impression that this “novel” won’t actually be long enough to be a novel. That I’ll, in fact, need to add what I end up with to the end of what I have written. Since what I have written isn’t technically long enough to be a novel by itself, this may be for the best. But I won’t know until I actually get everything written and then re-written and cleaned up.

If I do end up combining the two things together than I’ll have a lot of editing to do, including parts of the novel that I have had written a long time, simply because I’ll have more time to introduce concepts that I’m only now touching on in this “sequel” because it wasn’t relevant to what I’ve now written.  It’s amazing how much a few pages of writing, a simple challenge can change your writing.

I also enjoy the community, and encouragement that can be found on NaNoWriMo. There are write-a-thons available throughout the month where you can meet up with other writers to write. It’s a great opportunity to meet new people, and potentially new critique partners, friends and resources.  Prizes are given for hitting 50,000 words.

If you’d like to finish a book or see how many words you can reach by Nov. 30th, I’d urge you to try NaNoWriMo. Or, try to start from the beginning next November.

July 15

An update on my semester in screenwriting

When I signed up for a semester in screenwriting, I knew I was opening myself to new experiences, new lessons and new writing techniques.  I’d heard of the benefits of at least trying your hand at screenwriting, and this would be my chance at trying it with someone to guide me through my attempt.

I am currently working on packet two. Five are due by the end of the semester and I’ve come to a conclusion: Screenwriting is an experience every writer should try.

The formatting of the story isn’t the only thing different about screenplays.  Screenplays tend to encompass very lean, very fast-paced, very to-the-point scenes. I thought I was doing well in writing those kind of scenes in my novel, but the more I play around with the screenplays the more I question my skills in those areas. Because I keep finding changes I need or should make for the screenplay because it isn’t straight-forward, fast enough, or relevant enough to be in the movie. When I encounter these incidents, I wonder if I should make those changes a part of my novel.  Doing so would tighten my novel. But in some areas I’m not sure if the material I’d lose would be worth the tightening, characterization vs pacing kind of thing. However, I know in other areas tightening the scene would be the better move.

I probably wouldn’t have noticed these options if I weren’t turning it into a screenplay.

With the changes I’m playing around with I’ll lose a lot of words and I imagine I’ll gain ideas as I get further along in the story.  On the flip side of the token, I’m also getting ideas on how to continue the story so that this and the sequel become one work, one book. I’d need the smaller word count to add in the sequel. But since I haven’t really written anything for the sequel yet, I’m not even sure how the sequel will work out yet. But I’m more than willing to find out.

June 5

Writer’s Retreat in McCall, Idaho coming up.

A photo of where we’ll be staying at.
 The picture was taken off of rental website. 

The Coeur du Bois chapter of Romance Writers of America is having their annual Writer’s retreat this month.   Last year was my first year and I enjoyed it immensely. I learned a lot, got a lot of writing done and had fun.

We will be going to the same cabin in McCall we went to last year. As you can probably tell from the photo we are in a pretty remote location during retreat.  However several members last year went into town to enjoy the farmers market, the old-fashioned chocolate factory, the beach and so much more. The cabin came with a television, a dvd play and other electronic toys, but as far as I know they remained unused during our stay.  The one thing members probably wanted but didn’t have was internet access.  However, the lack of internet access and power hours was what allowed one member to write 20,000 words during her internment. Instead of getting online to do research and suddenly losing four hours, you write a note to do research in an area and continue writing.

A photo of the living room.
 The picture was taken off of rental website. 

Power hours, for those who don’t know, are especially helpful. They were offered several times throughout the day. Someone kept track of when the hour began and when it would end.  During that hour everyone participating focused solely on writing. No editing. No researching.  No plotting.  Just editing.  It’s a great exercise and you really learn how much writing you can get done in a short amount of time, especially if you find someone to compete with–word count wise.

As nice and comfortable as the place is, there are things that I’ll need to remember to bring with me this time around, beyond the necessities. I’d like to bring a small pillow to use as a cushion for when I’m going to sit at the table for extended periods of time.  A throw to hang over my shoulders for those days when my body seems to have a different temperature than everyone else in the cabin. Plus, I’ll bring different snacks.  No one seemed to have even touched the homemade cookies I brought, but then, their was an overabundance of desserts there.  Alcohol was also readily available. Those who know me well would probably gape at the fact that I had a glass of some kind of alcohol every night.

As social and collaborative as the retreat can be, the cabin was usually pretty quiet, which allowed people to sleep in, nap or write until their fingers and pencils were stubs.  It’s also highly productive and relaxing. Why wouldn’t I be looking forward to retreat?

March 23

Good Things Can Make Your Writing Stronger Too

As a writer, I know the importance of receiving a good critique from an honest eye. I appreciate the comments I get, the suggestions on how to make my work better, perhaps too much.  When I’m receiving critiques, I often find myself skipping over the complimentary stuff, almost ignoring it completely and focus on the “may improve” suggestions.  That isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate the occasional “Good Job” written on the manuscript, but it’s a secondary desire to improving my writing.

This, unfortunately, has caused problems for me, mainly when I try to critique someone else’s writing. I try to give those I critique what I want most–ideas on improvements. I will, on occasion, put a “Great Job” on the page, but those are extremely rare, mainly because I understand that the best way to improve is to get critiques and work on improving the area of confusion. This has left some people disheartened, even some who I believe to be talented writers.   As an MFA student, I am required to give critiques to classmates–a mixture of good and how to improves.  Although I’m good at identifying what needs improved, I really have problems thinking up the positives in the work to mention.  I’m not sure why, other than I’ve never really focused my attention on the positives I received during my reviews.

I can absolutely love a story but when I write something up, I’ll start listing the negatives, what bothered me about it and what I thought needed changed–even if what I’m reviewing has already been published.  This works out for me as well, since that lets me know what kind of things I need to avoid if I’m going to write a book in a similar genre.  Then, when I’m done, the  few positives I listed  beside the (possible) super-long list of negatives appear miniscule, pitying and/or may be invisible.

Recently I’ve read a book where the author pointed out that identifying the positives and negatives in a work can be beneficial to ones writing. The negatives I’ve already mentioned, will let me know what to avoid, what I don’t like, etc.  The positives, however, will let me know what I need to do more often.   For example, I nailed a description on page 32.  By knowing that, I can try using the same method used to get that description to create other great ones.  In that way, I’m improving skills that I’m already decent at, not just improving things that I’m poor at.

With that realization, I’m hoping that I can write up a more balanced review/critique every time I write one.  I don’t imagine this will be easy.  I’m almost blind to the positives in someone’s work, especially if the piece isn’t something that makes me go  “BEST BOOK EVER!!!”  But I think that learning to balance the positives and the negatives in a review or critique will serve both the writer and I better.  I may need help reaching this goal. And if my dear readers have time, I would appreciate a nudge whenever I focus too much on the negative. Remind me that I want to try thinking up more positives.  Lately, I feel like the latest books I’ve reviewed have come across as negative, when in fact I may have enjoyed the book.  And if you have any questions as to whether I liked a book or not, let me know.  I’d be more than happy to clear that up.

So, don’t do what I’ve done for years, ignore the positive and learn from the negative.  The positives in your writing could make you a stronger writer too.

What about you?  Do you focus on the negative?  The positive?  What about when the comments are from someone else and directed at your own work?

March 8

The Things They Carried Critical Review

 

The Great Descriptions They Carried

Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carriedportrays the Vietnam war through numerous short vignettes. Some stories are fiction others non. In his short story, “Sweetheart of The Song Tra Bong,”a story in which O’Brien admits he’s not sure if the story is real or not, Tim O’Brien reveals through internal and external description how war can rob a child robs of their innocence.
The story starts with Lt. Mark Fossie arranging to have his girlfriend, Mary Anne Bell, brought to Vietnam for a visit.  Medic Rat Kiley, who narrates the story to his companions, describes Mary Anne upon her arrival to the Song Tra Bong outpost as follows:

The cute blonde—just a kid, just barely out of high school—she shows up with a suitcase and one of those plastic cosmetic bags. (…)  She’s got on culottes.  White culottes and this sexy pink sweater. (90)

Kiley provides a pretty picture of Mary Anne Bell with three sentences, and readers see the words Kiley didn’t say: innocence, an innocent girl.  By using the term “kid” to describe Mary Anne, Kiley gets readers to immediately think of the innocence of childhood.  The mention of her being “barely out of high school” has connotations of her still growing up and having little or no experience out in the world.  The plastic cosmetic bag is an interesting detail.  By itself, the detail can attest to her vanity and naiveté.  Here she’s brought a non-essential item into a warzone, a place where people are too busy fighting for their lives to worry about their appearance or how someone else looks.

According to wisegeek.com, Culottes are “a form of split skirt. They are usually made full or calf length, and consist of a pair of loose, flowing trousers which strongly resemble a skirt until the wearer engages in vigorous physical activity.”  In other words, a fashion accessory that is like the cosmetic bag: useless in a warzone, pretty, but impractical. The fact they are white easily refers to purity, the untarnished innocence that white is often associated with.  The pink sweater returns readers to Kiley’s descriptor of “kid,” which is when the favorite color of girls is most often pink.
Mary Anne Bell’s innocence in reillustrated a few pages later when readers are given the history between Mary Anne and Mark Fossie:

Mary Ann Bell and Mark Fossie had been sweethearts since grammar school.  From the sixth grade on they had known for a fact that someday they would be married, and live in a fine gingerbread house near Lake Erie and have three healthy yellow-haired children and grow old together and no doubt die in each other’s arms and be buried in the same walnut casket. (94)

This description shows the idolized life Mary Anne sees for herself.  O’Brien chose his words carefully to convey that this was a fantasy she had, without actually saying it out right.  He mentions they were “sweethearts since grammar school.”  Grammar school refers to a time of innocence and a lack of expectations.  The fact she would get married “someday” instead of a specific date also indicates she’s thinking of a vague concept of time that can easily slip through her fingers.  There is no basis of reality to the assumption yet, no date set.  The “gingerbread house” is possibly the strongest evidence that this is a fantasy, as it refers to the “Hansel and Gretel” fairytale told to children, which links readers back to the “grammar school” reference.

O’Brien also shows Mary Anne’s loss of innocence with descriptors in the story.  Changes in Mary Anne start to show around the time she starts helping treat injured people and saving lives. She also learns how to use M-16s. Within weeks of arriving:

 

There was a new imprecision in the way Mary Anne expressed her thoughts on certain subjects.  Not necessarily three kids, she’d say.  Not necessarily a house on Lake Erie.  “Naturally we’ll still get married,” she’d tell him. “But it doesn’t have to be right away.  Maybe travel first.  Maybe live together.  Just test it out, you know?” (99)

The new imprecision shows her dreams and plans have changed.  She’s gone from the childish certainty that she will marry and have three kids, to a more adult attitude about maybe this wasn’t what she wanted; a realization that there is more out there than marriage and motherhood.  She could do other things with her life, like travel.  Mark Fossie noticed other differences about Mary Anne:

He couldn’t pin it down.  Her body seemed foreign somehow—too stiff in places, too firm where the softness used to be.  The bubbliness was gone.  The nervous giggling, too.  When she laughed now, which was rare, it was only when something struck her as truly funny.  Her voice seemed to reorganize itself at a lower pitch.  (99)

The description of Mary Anne being “stiff in places, too firm where the softness used to be,” is a metaphor.  The softness and flexibility of her childhood has faded, and became hard, adult, tarnished. The bubbliness, and the nervous giggling, are often associated with childhood as well, innocence.  The fact her voice reorganized itself at a lower pitch is another indication of her growing up, stripping the childish innocence she arrived with. All these changes occurred as she learned more about war, saw more of the war: learning how to shoot, how to live like a soldier, learning how to treat wounds.

The last time Kiley says he saw Mary Ann Bell was after she’d disappeared for weeks with the greenies, special force members, and Mark Fossie, after waiting a long time for Anne Mary to come out, goes into the special forces building:

It took a few seconds, Rat said, to appreciate the full change. In part it was her eyes: utterly flat and indifferent.  There was no emotion in her stare, no sense of the person behind it. But the grotesque part, he said, was her jewelry.  At the girl’s throat was a necklace of human tongues. Elongated and narrow, like pieces of blackened leather, the tongues were threaded along a length of copper wire, one overlapping the next, the tips curled upward as if caught in a final shrill syllable. (110-111)

The eyes are known as windows to the soul.  Those who are innocent, tend to have a playful spark in their eyes, a sense of life and wonderment. But in this description her eyes are perfectly flat and indifferent, no emotion in her stare, no sense of the person behind it, a sign that any innocence she once had has now been killed. She has been corrupted by the war and the person she once was has been murdered.  The jewelry she wears is also a sign of who she has become.  Instead of the jewelry being sexy, cute or pretty, it’s grotesque.  The tongue necklace shows she has nonchalance about the lives that have been taken, a lack of horror, and is a sort of badge of what she’s done and lost: her innocence.

Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, possess a short story titled Sweetheart of The Song Tra Bong. The story is narrated by Rat Kiley, and through O’Brien’s word choices and descriptions effectively show how Mary Anne Bell and how soldiers lost her innocence by going to Vietnam.

Works Cited

O’Brien, Tim. “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong.” The Things They Carried. New York: Broadway, 1990. 89-116. Print.
Smith, S.E., and Bronwyn Harris. “What Are Culottes?” WiseGeek. Conjecture, n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.

March 1

Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch By Constance Hale

Writers know it instinctively: Verbs make a sentence zing. Grammar gurus agree: Drama in writing emerges from the interplay of a subject (noun) and a predicate (verb). Constance Hale, the best-selling author of Sin and Syntax zooms in on the colorful world of verbs. Synthesizing the pedagogical and the popular, the scholarly and the scandalous, Hale combines the wit of Bill Bryson with the practical wisdom of William Zinsser. She marches through linguistic history to paint a layered picture of our language—from before it really existed to the quirky usages we see online today. She warns about habits to avoid and inspires with samples of brilliant writing. A veteran teacher, Hale gives writing prompts along the way, helping readers “try, do, write, play.” Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch  guides us to more powerful writing by demonstrating how to use great verbs with style.

I truly enjoyed reading this book. A lot of books on writing that I do read at this point often re-hash the same information as other books: new information is rare. This book focuses not necessarily on writing, but on words.  We learn the history of English, how some words are stronger than others, proper grammar usage. If you follow me on Facebook  you’ll have noticed I quoted this book several times.  What you may not know is that I have a long list, from this book alone, of books I should do my best to eliminate from my story and everything discussed is well explained.

I found this book invaluable and I will probably purchase it for my own shelves.  I borrowed it from the library.  I also plan on checking into Constance Hale’s Sin and Syntax.

February 22

How to Write a Great Beginning

For those of you who follow me, you know I participate in a lot of workshops available at SavvyAuthors. I’m currently taking a class on how to write a great beginning and one of the assignments was to find two great first sentences, two great first paragraphs, two great first pages. Afterwards, comment on why we think they’re great. I thought this was a great exercise and should share the results with you. Later, when we discuss what makes a bad beginning, I may share those results with you as well.

1st Sentence:
The box was a mystery, and for that reason it was the most exciting gift Mary had ever received.
New Orleans Legacy by Alexandra Ripley, Historical, Adult
Comments: This is the very first sentence in the book. I know for a fact that the box that Mary is excited about is going to have a huge impact on her life. What, though, could a box do to change a person’s life?

2nd first Sentence:
Family Secrets are like terrible birthday gifts.
After Midnight by Lynn Viehl, YA
Comments:I really wanted to actually use this as a page, but decided the first sentence worked well enough without the full page. I find the comparison unusual. Secrets = terrible birthday gifts? And I’m curious about what secrets she has. And why they are so terrible.

1st Paragraph:
I close my eyes, hoping he won’t come tonight. It’s later than usual. I hope he’s given up, or just gone, and I can finally sleep. Cool air blows through the window, and I marvel at my bravery. Or stupidity. It’s opened just a crack, no more than an inch. But until tonight I’ve kept it closed, so I know he’ll be wondering what it means.
Uninvited by Amanda Marrone, YA
Comments: This is actually one of the few books I bought solely on the first paragraph. I found myself reading through the entire page than the chapter and was like….I need to buy this thing. The first paragraph intrigued me. I feel a connection with the girl’s apprehension right away and I’m curious as to who he is and why she doesn’t want to see him. Also, why does he persist in whatever he wants?

Second 1st Paragraph:
Darius looked around the club, taking in the teeming, half-naked bodies on the dance floor. Screamers was packed tonight, full of women wearing leather and men who looked like they had advanced degrees in violent crime. Darius and his companion fit right in. Except they actually were killers.
Dark Lover, by JR Ward, Urban Fantasy, adults
Comments: This one I wasn’t so sure about using. I bought the book because of the one page excerpt at the beginning of the book and not for the actual beginning. We get a good description right off. However so many Urban Fantasy novels start in a similar way. A dance club, half-naked people, etc. What really intrigued me though was the last line. They were actually killers. What kind of killers were they? Did they kill humans? Vampires? Some other boogey? It made me curious enough to read the next paragraph and then the next….

Full Page:
Have you ever had such a horrible day that you wondered why your mother didn’t just eat you at birth like a gerbil does and spare you the hassle?
We’ve all had days like that. I’ve had a lot of them–way more than my fair share if I want to be whiny about it (which I don’t because I try really hard not to be a whiner), but none can compare to the day I accidentally opened a demon portal with my zit cream.
Oh, yeah. I did. Would this happen to anyone else? Probably not. But for me, Kenzie Sutcliffe, it is totally typical. If there is mud to step in, ketchup to squirt on my shirt, or a volleyball to be hit on the head with, I will manage it. What can I say? It’s a gift.
Demon Envy by Erin Lynn, YA
Comments: I was stalking this author before this book comes out. She usually goes by Erin McCarthy but since this was a YA book she decided to use Erin Lynn. Since I trusted her as a writer, I bought the book without really looking at it. But I absolutely love Mackenzie’s voice in this story. She sounds very teenagery and we immediately know what the major plot will revolve around.

Second full page:
Roman Draganesti knew someone had quietly entered his home office. Either a foe or close friend. A friend, he decided. A foe could never make it past the guards at each entrance of his Upper East Side Manhattan townhouse. Or past the guards stationed on each of the five floors.
With his excellent night vision, Roman suspected he could see much better than his uninvited guest. His suspicions were confirmed when the dark silhouette stumbled into a Louis XVI bombe chest and cursed softly.
Gregory Holstein. A friend, but an annoying one. The vice president of marketing for Romatech Industries tackled every problem with tireless enthusiasm. It was enough to make Roman feel old. Really old. “What do you want Gregori?”
His guest whipped around and squinted in Roman’s direction. “Why are you sitting here, all alone in the dark?”
“Hmm. Tough question. I suppose I wanted to be alone. And in the dark. You should try it more often. Your night vision is not what it should be.”
How to Marry A Millionaire Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks, Urban Fantasy, Adult
Comments: This one I think originally caught my eye because of the title. Was she like a gold digger who wanted a millionaire and ended up with a vampire who happened to be a millionaire? No. Not at all. But that’s what caught my attention first. The excerpt at the front of the book intrigued me but the first page sealed my fate. It shows Roman’s personality at the beginning of the book, the humor Kerrelyn Sparks frequently uses in her books and made me curious: why would he need so much security? What’s described in the first paragraph sounds excessive, even for a foreign diplomat.

What do you think of my choices?  And what books would you use as examples in this exercise?

December 26

June Casagrande and Grammar

June Casagrande has a unique take when it comes to teaching Grammar to writers. She is the autthor of the weekly syndicated “A Word, Please” grammar column that runs in Southern California, Florida, and Texas. She runs the GrammarUnderground.com grammar tips website.  She has worked for the Los Angeles Times’ community news division as a reporter, features writer, copy editor.  She currently copy edits Special Sections of the Los Angeles Times and teaches copy editing online for UC San Diego Extension.

 She has also published three books, Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies, Mortal Syntax and It was the Best of Sentences, It was the Worst of Sentences, and I’ve read all three.

My all time favorite is Grammar Snobs.  I found it years ago, found it funny and informative. If memory serves, Grammar Snobs does focus more on AP style rules than any other style, but the lessons in it are helpful, make rules easy to remember and often funny.

Casagrande does mention her book Grammar Snobs a few times in Mortal Syntax.  Mortal Syntax doesn’t have the same amount of humor in it as Grammar Snobs, but it remains an informative reference guide on rules and usage, such as “I could care less”  or “I wish I was taller,” or “I rifle through my desk.”  She explains why it is or is not correct and if their are better alternatives to the usage presented.

It was the Best of Sentences, seems to lose all the humor that Casagrande had in Grammar Snobs. But the book is an effective source for any writer who wants to improve their writing skills.  On several occasions, Casagrande would start on a grammar lesson that I felt I grasped well, but she’d introduce the topic in a new way and twisted my way of looking at the concept; a different way of looking at without changing the way I knew it work. This book focuses on the sentence structure used, but you’re not having to diagram sentences.

Every lesson in all three books are told in short vignettes, making it ideal for a busy writer who has only a few minutes in line, a few minutes in the bathroom or a few minutes in the car to read. An entire lesson could be read in that short time.  The books are organized in a way so that they are great reference books.

I recommend all three books to anyone who does any type of writing.  Casagrande can make learning writing rules entertaining, and easily entertaining.  They’re all fairly cheap books to purchase as well.