Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Coming Up For Air

Yes, I have been absent and for that I apologize. Life has become decidedly more complex and blogging has suffered for it. Working a full time job and a part time job, a full load of graduate coursework, revising a novel and beginning the query process, and now NaNoWriMo, (oh yeah, and my family) have necessarily pushed some things out of the way. There are only so many hours in a day and if my sluggish exhaustion is any indication I should be spending a couple more of those hours sleeping.

For now, those of you who are participating in NaNo and would like more buddies can find me there as mkdbail. I welcome your buddyage!

Good luck and to all of you who are similarly overworked, hang in there. You're not alone.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

At First Sight Blogfest

Thanks to Jacee Drake for hosting the At First Sight Blogfest!

My submission to the fest is an excerpt from my novel. The set up: Dusty is a secondary character, but one of my faves. He's a faerie who can talk to animals. He's out one morning and meets up with Bamboo, who is a cat.

*************

Dusty pumped his wings harder as he zigzagged through the forest, enjoying the early morning before he and Willow started their day. He loved summer mornings and often got up early so he could visit with his animal friends, making it a point to check in on them and share gossip and news every few days. This morning he’d gone farther than he had for several weeks and was just about to turn around and start back when he noticed that the human house that had been empty for months now had lights on inside. He flew closer to get a better look and saw a woman sitting on the porch, eyes closed, with an open book laying across her chest. The cat on her lap lay sprawled on his back, but he was awake and watched Dusty as he approached. It had been ages since Dusty had chatted with a cat and because he enjoyed meeting new animals when he got the chance, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk to this kitty, even if there was a human dangerously close by.

It won’t hurt to just say hi.

He flew down and landed on the porch railing without a sound. He stood still and tense, holding his breath, as he watched the woman sleeping. Her breathing was heavy and her eyes moved back and forth beneath their lids. Satisfied that she was, indeed, asleep, Dusty relaxed and with a big grin on his face he waved at the cat, who eyeballed him suspiciously.

“Pssst, over here kitty,” Dusty whispered, his wave more vigorous. The cat growled at him.

“Hey, be nice! I’m just trying to be friends. Come over here so we can chat!”

The cat rolled upright, glared at Dusty, then jumped down to the porch and sauntered over to where Dusty waited. He was a beautiful cat with fluffy orange fur which made Dusty want to reach out and ruffle his cheeks, but this particular kitty didn’t look excited to see him. He couldn’t understand the cat’s hostility. It had been his experience that most animals were curious and happy to meet him.

“What’s wrong, kitty? I won’t hurt you.”

Dusty jumped down and landed lightly on the porch where the cat sniffed him with cautious contempt.

“C’mon Kitty, what’s the problem? Why won’t you talk to me?”

What are you? Dusty heard the cat’s thoughts flood his mind, happy he seemed to be warming up to him.

“I’m fae. We have a settlement here in the forest. My name is Dusty. What’s your name?”

My person calls me Bamboo.

“Cool name! You and your person haven’t been here long, have you? What happened to the nice old lady who used to live here?”

She died.

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

Why?

“Well, isn’t that the polite thing to say when someone dies?”

I didn’t know her, so I don’t really care.

“Wow. You’re not a very cheerful fellow, are you?”

It’s not a matter of being cheerful. I just didn’t know her, so it isn’t important to me. Did you know her?

“Sort of. I’ve seen her a few times, but it’s been a while since I’ve been here so I didn’t know she’d died. Why are you and your person here?”

Holly stirred in the rocker.

You’d better be careful, you’ll wake her.

*****************

Now, go check out the rest of the entries and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Here's to Another Twenty


Happy Anniversary, Hubby. I love you even more now than I did 20 years ago when I said "I do."

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Banned Books Week


September 25 - October 2

This week why not read a banned book? Open your mind and look at the world from another point of view. Personally, I've never understood book banning. First of all, it only proves the cowardice and small-mindedness of the banner(s) and secondly banning something only makes it that much more desirable. Remember prohibition? Yeah. Like that. Alcohol was illegal? Really? Like that kept people from drinking. It only made people more determined to drink.

Hmmmm. So maybe we should ban books in a sneaky backward effort to makes people want to read them more. Anybody see what happened around the blogosphere last weekend when some dude advocated banning the book, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson? A huge wave of support and lots of publicity for the book. So, I wonder if a little reverse psychology would do the trick?

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Great Blogging Experiment - How To Write Compelling Characters


Thanks to Elana Johnson et al for hosting the Great Blogging Experiment. Participants are all asked to blog today about the same subject: How to Write Compelling Characters.

I didn't actually sign up for the experiment, but the subject is interesting enough that I'm going to blog about it anyway!

So, what makes characters interesting?

In my opinion perfect characters are just boring (and I don't personally know any...do you?). I want to read characters who are flawed and human, who make mistakes and learn from them. It's as simple as that (I kid, it's not really easy).

After you create imperfect people to write about, show us all about them (you know, show, don't tell?) Help us understand them by challenging them and making them make dumb mistakes, then show us how they become better people because of it.

Making your characters compelling is kind of a 2-step process: create people with flaws and dreams and then give them challenging situations that allow them to evolve.

It sounds easy, but it really isn't. It's tempting to write perfect people, but that's just plain boring. Writing interesting characters, and writing in general, takes a lot of practice, but that's part of what makes it fun - coming up with new and fascinating people to write about!

So what qualities do you think make compelling characters? How do you approach writing them?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Blogfeast!


Thanks to Angela over at Jaded Love Junkie for hosting the Blogfeast! My entry is below, from my WIP, Faerie Fate. It's a cross post from my other blog, Mara Writes.

***********


Their house was small and homey. The space was loaded with a soft overstuffed couch and chairs in mismatched patterns. In the kitchen, Willow was cooking something that smelled good enough to make Shadow’s stomach growl. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was.

“That smells great, Willow.”

Willow began the business of serving the meal and not too long after she’d set out plates and bread, Dusty burst through the door, skidding to a stop in the middle of the room. Starrie and Shadow jumped when the door slammed open, but Willow seemed to take it in stride.

“Where've you been, Dusty?” she asked as she dished up another bowl for him.

Dusty leaned over, hands on his knees, catching his breath. “You’ll never believe me even if I tell you,” he said between heaving breaths.

“Try us,” Shadow said.

“Well, I was flying through the forest, saying hi to some friends, and it was just such a beautiful morning I kept on flying, you know? I ended up in a pretty meadow where I saw a deer I know and she introduced me to her baby, and then I saw some lights through the trees so I went to check it out.”

“So, what was it?” Shadow prompted him.

Dusty gulped a couple of shallow breaths as he went to the kitchen and got a drink. “Willow, you remember the house outside the forest where that nice old lady used to live?”

“Mmm hmm.”

“Well, she doesn’t live there anymore.”

Shadow heaved a sigh. Dusty’s storytelling irritated him, mostly because it took him forever to get to the point. He struggled to maintain his patience as he watched Dusty guzzle his drink, wipe his mouth and put the cup in the sink. He wondered if there would to be any more to the tale other than an announcement that some old human woman no longer resided in the house she used to reside in.

“If she doesn’t live there, why were the lights on?” Starrie asked.

“Exactly!” Dusty exclaimed, as if the mystery were solved.

“Was there someone else there now?” Willow prompted.

“Yes there was. I got close enough to see a young woman on the porch and she had a beautiful ginger kitty on her lap. He was so furry and it’s been a really long time since I talked to a cat. So I made sure the lady was completely asleep and I snuck up to the porch and talked to the kitty. But it turns out he wasn’t so friendly after all.”

***********
So, that's my entry. It's not a feast, just a little breakfast among friends. Hmmm. Wonder what happened between Dusty and the cat?

Now go check out the rest of the scenes at Jaded Love Junkie !

Saturday, September 18, 2010

24-Hour Play Festival Success


This weekend was the 24-Hour Play Festival at the university. What's that, you ask? Well, it's a theatre event where within 24 Hours plays are written, rehearsed, produced, and performed. On Friday evening we all meet, introduce ourselves, and share the prop and costume piece we brought.

Then the actors and directors go home and the writers write plays. The finished plays are due by 6:00 a.m. Then actors and directors show up to learn lines, block the plays, and rehearse. Then the house opens at 7:00 p.m., shows start at 7:30 and by 8:30 it's been 24 hours and we're done!

So this is the fourth year I've written for the festival. The first year I wrote a great play, second year bombed big time (mostly because I drew newbie actors who couldn't memorize the script, but the script wasn't my best, either). Third year was good. This year turned out to be awesome!

When I went into it Friday night, I had no idea what I wanted to write, which is pretty much the point of the exercise. But sometimes as a writer you have some vague ideas floating around in your head. I ended up adapting this, which I wrote for the Invasion of the Bloggy Snatchers blogfest.

It turned out amazing and I was really pleased with the result. Was it perfect? No, there were definitely places I realized, after watching it performed, that I can make adjustments, tighten dialogue, add jokes, etc. But for having been accomplished in 24 hours? It was great!

So tonight was another 24-Hour Play Festival well done. I love this as a writing experience!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

And Now I Panic


I submitted a proposal for a presentation to be included in the Red River Women's Studies Conference at University of North Dakota, and I was accepted. The conference is held annually and I presented an academic paper last year, but this year the conference is accepting creative presentations so my proposal was to do a reading from my sci-fi/chick lit WIP.

Imagine how excited I was when I was accepted into the program. Yay! I get to do a reading!

Today I received the schedule of events and I am the only creative submission in the entire conference. The only one. Everything else is hoity-toity academic stuff. Suddenly I feel seriously out of place, like a black sheep, like a silly little piece of fluff amongst the academic heavy weights. A sampling of the other presentations at the conference finds such offerings as:

"Community Circles: Unveiling the Gap Between the Realities of Domestic Violence and the Paternalistic Assumptions of the Adversarial Process." (what does that even mean????)

"The Evolution of Western European Feminism and its Relation to the New Left."

"Gendered Discourses of Stability and Change: Women Communicating Wisdom."

And then you see me on the schedule as: "Excerpt from a Science Fiction Novel."

I am so outclassed it's not even funny. Not only have I never done a creative reading of my own work, but I am not an actress. How am I supposed to make these characters come to life like they are in my head and not sound like a complete moron in front of all these academic types? They probably don't even read fiction unless it's part of the "canon" and written before, say, 1950 (preferrably 1900). I can't compete with the canon.

I'm really thinking about backing out because I don't have nearly enough confidence to pull it off.

Anybody else ever found yourself in a similar situation? How did you deal? Run screaming from the room and hide in a dark corner hoping it would all just go away? Or did you face your demons and pull off a victory?

Monday, September 13, 2010

I Struggle to Understand The Success of a Certain Vampire Novel


One of the courses I'm taking for my MFA this semester is entitled "Individual Aesthetic and Process" the goal of which is to develop standards of value appropriate to the genre in which the student (me!) wishes to succeed. Because I have such a dissociative desire to write both screenplays and fiction I've decided to explore my aesthetic and process with regard to both genres.

How in the heck am I going to do that? Good question. One element of the course requirements is to explore what makes effective and significant fiction and screenwriting by examining three novels which have been adapted to film, the subsequent film, and the screenplay then write responses to each discussing story elements, themes, and structure and how these either were or were not successful in the novel form versus the film.

Basically as a student of writing I want to learn how to write well. But what writer doesn't also want to experience success? Are writing well and success mutually exclusive? I don't think so. And to explore that question, the stories I chose to look at in both novel and film form are: Twilight, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and Whip It. These novels and screenplays were all written by women and, I think, range all along the scales of quality and success.

I wrote the paper on Twilight today, and I've gotta say that I just don't care how popular it was, how successful it was, how much money it made....I just don't like it. It's insipid, it disregards conventions (i.e., it's littered with excessive adjectives and adverbs which make the writing so much weaker than it should have been), and I'm seriously disturbed by some of the messages and themes (co-dependence, underage relationships, obsession, etcetera....).

When I read it the first time I fell for the soap-opera allure of it...like a vampire glamour it mesmerized me to just keep reading no matter how bad it was. It has a certain crack-on-the-page addictive quality to it, though I still can't identify exactly what that quality is because an objective look at it just makes me embarrassed that I fell for it.

However, on second read-through the flaws were much more evident and I actually had a hard time forcing myself to keep reading. The repetitive nature of references to Edward's astonishing beauty, strength, speed, marble-like form, cold skin, and overall perfection in general were gag-inspiring. And Bella's teen angst and utter lack of self-confidence was dispiriting.

The film was even worse.

In just a 3-page paper I couldn't attempt an explanation for the incongruous success of both the novel and the film. I'm stumped to explain it other than it must have struck a chord with its target audience (tween/teen girls who daydream of idealized true love, Prince Charming, and all the trappings thereof) and it was just the right thing at the right time. Nothing more than a quirk of fate.

So...what are your feelings about Twilight? Love it? Hate it? Don't understand it's appeal? Why do you think it was so successful?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Life in the Classroom for a Noob Teacher


As some of you may know, I'm doing my teaching practicum this semester as part of my MFA degree. I'm teaching freshman composition at the university where I got my BA.

I've had very little guidance, save some advice from a former instructor-turned-friend, and absolutely nothing else. I had to design my own course, write my own syllabus, and I'm teaching myself how to teach.

It's been an...um...interesting experience.

The first week passed in a stomach-lurching blur. I don't freak out about public speaking, in general, but it's a totally different story when you're responsible for filling an hour three times a week in front of 22 people.

But after the first couple of classes I was past the being-nervous-in-front-of-people feeling. My stomach had calmed down. The butterflies had disappeared.

However, I was still left with the difficulty of not being able to fill an hour. I was laboring under the assumption that I needed to fill the entire time with lecture. Until I began to bore myself. I simply can't talk that long. And when the students were nodding off I knew it was time to try something different.

Of course, by that time I was convinced I was a crappy teacher and I was thinking to myself, "what the hell have I gotten myself into?" I had a panicked moment of doubt when I thought my carefully laid plans of the last few years were all a pile of shit and here I am in my (grmf)-ties and I've accrued massive student loan debt and it's way too late to discover now that I made a mistake.

Now, usually, I'm not a quitter. I'm stubborn. So I let that moment of panic pass and I looked at the problem logically. I asked myself: Do you like teaching? And I answered, actually, I really do like being in the classroom. I love the university atmosphere. And I like the idea of helping other people learn how to write. So all I had to do was figure out how to manage the classroom.

I'm sure this is not a revelation to anyone who teaches, but I decided to mix it up. Only lecture for maybe 20 minutes then engage the students in some kind of activity that requires their participation.

Last Wednesday we were talking about critical thinking and how it's like investigating and that the question is the investigator's most important tool. So we played a question game (not 20 questions, though I thought about that. I'm saving it for another day). And they loved it. It was a smashing success and they understood how it applied to our discussion. Someone even said, as they were loading up to leave (after the class lasted the full hour...yay!), "that was a great class!"

I got all warm and fuzzy inside.

So what am I learning by being a teacher? That I can do it as long as I'm determined and flexible and creative.

Yeah. I can do that.

Monday, September 6, 2010

To Pen Name Or Not To Pen Name?


The subject of pen names has been explored brilliantly and in depth at various writer's blogs around the blogosphere. In fact, Rachelle Gardner has also discussed it today on her blog, so please visit her there for some great advice.

As a writer, there are several reasons you may want to use a pseudonym. You may have a job or be looking for a job and want to keep your writing and working lives separate. Imagine you work as an elementary teacher by day and write erotica or romance by night. It could be inconvenient to have your employer....or parents....google you and find out about your other life. A pen name might be in order if you just don't like your name, or it's very common and you share it with a lot of other people, or it's the same or similar to a celebrity or another author. If you're planning on writing in several genres, it may be prudent to have a pen name to keep your writing life neatly organized.

Interestingly, whether or not to use a pen name is a question that we ask each of the authors we interview on Critique This WIP and there have been some intriguing answers, so clearly there are as many opinions on the subject as there are authors.

For a combination of these reasons, I've come to the conclusion that I need a pseudonym. It's a question that each of us in my critique group, Critique This WIP, has considered recently. We've been discussing it amongst ourselves for a while now and we all pretty much came to the same conclusion. Some of us have jobs that we want to keep separate from our writing lives, some of us have common or not very "writerly" sounding names, some of us don't want our family to be affected by our writing, so we've all decided to take pen names.

The fun came for all of us in selecting pseudonyms we could feel comfortable with. Tessa was already using a pen name, so the issue was a moot point for her, but the rest of us struggled to find names that "felt" right, that we could comfortably assume and not feel like we were playing at pretend. I've selected the name Mara Nash (come follow me over there, too!), and will now begin building a web "presence" in her name.

I'm nearly finished with revisions of my first novel and will be sending it out to betas soon, then beginning the querying process, so I felt it was prudent to begin the process of assuming my pseudonym. An interesting point Rachelle made in her blog post on pen names is that writers should start the query process from the beginning using their pseudonym. Do all of your correspondence using your pen name, and identify yourself in that way. You don't need to tell the agent it's not your real name until they offer you representation. This is good information to know, and something I had no idea about before I read her blog post. So, thanks Rachelle!
I'd be interested to know your feelings about pseudonyms. Do you use one? Why or why not?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Haiku Blogfest


Today is the haiku blogfest hosted by Stephanie Thornton. The blogfest runs Sept 3rd and 4th, so be sure to visit Stephanie's site and check out the links of everyone participating!

As I've commented here before, I'm not a poet by any stretch of the imagination, but I do love haiku - they're deceptively simple yet can be so zen. And I'm not good at writing them. Like I said deceptively simple, not actually simple.

On her site Stephanie suggested that blogfest participants write haiku based on their WIP, so rather than make an attempt at a "real" haiku (i.e., seasonal references, nature-related, moras vs syllables, etc), which I'm sure I'd butcher, I wrote one about my paranormal romance WIP.


Faeries are real. What?!
Rogue fae father wants her dead.
Can soul mate save her?

If I can come up with one for my sci-fi WIP I'll add it tomorrow!

Check out the rest of the entries and enjoy the fest!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fight, Fight, Fight Blogfest


Thanks to JC Martin at The Fighter Writer for hosting the Fight Blogfest!

This is an excerpt from my sci-fi WIP. It's right at the 1000 word limit, so it's a little long. But hope you like it!

The set-up: Jaska is a thief (it's written in first person so he's the "I" character). On his way to steal a valuable map he's shanghaied by space pirates. This fight occurs shortly after he comes onboard their ship.

******************

“Strip,” Snake commands.

“Yeah, right. I don’t think so,” I say, and a nervous laugh ripples through the crowd. I guess I just challenged the pack’s Alpha.

“You don’t really have a choice,” he says. And although it’s a seriously creepy command, he’s right. I’ve got no weapon and I can’t fight my way off the ship. But I'll be damned if I'll stand here buck naked in a crowd of pirates. I wonder when these guys last saw time in port, on solid ground, and more importantly, in a woman’s bed.

I drop my pack on the nearest bunk and shrug out of my jacket. That’s when Snake, Tiger, and Bug jump me. The crowd cheers. Once on the floor, I manage to draw my knees up to my chest, protecting my softest parts, then roll onto my side. Someone kidney-punches me from behind so I throw an elbow backwards and connect with a satisfying crunch. Whoever it is yelps in pain and his weight disappears off me. There’s a whoop from somewhere in the crowd. I guess he’s rooting for me. Somebody else stands over me trying to kick my head but I have my arms in the way and I’m wedged too close to the bunk for him to land anything. I twist around and kick out with both feet, landing a blow against his locked knee pushing it into hyperextension. He screams. The third guy comes at me, punching at my face. I reach up and grab a handful of his hair and yank his head back. With my other fist I punch him in the temple. That knocks him out cold.

In that instant I jump to my feet, crouched and ready for battle. There’s only Snake and Tiger left conscious and I know I can take them, assuming after I’m done with them the rest of the crowd doesn’t decide to finish me off. Tiger has a broken nose, blood pouring down his chin, and Snake is limping, but they’re still game. It would take more than these minor injuries to disable a couple of pirates. They stalk forward and I retreat.

“What’s with the fight, guys?” I ask.

“You have to earn your place,” Snake says.

“I never asked for a place. I don’t even want to be here.”

“You’ve gotta earn a rank.”

“This is how you rank your crew?”

“It’s as good a measure of a man as anything else,” Tiger says.

I’ve gotta give him that. Tiger lunges for me and I step aside, but he still lands a glancing blow to the belly. I grunt in response. Snake rushes in and lands a punch to my left eye that sends me spinning. Tiger's ready with another punch but I duck to the side to avoid it and see a pile of dishes on the bunk next to me. I grab the nearest utensil, a three-pronged fork, and swing at him, sinking the fork up to the hilt in his belly. He stops short and looks down at his trunk, surprised to see the fork buried there. I use that moment to knee him in the groin then, as he doubles over, grab him by the back of the head and ram his face into my knee. He falls like a sack of grain to the floor. That’s two down.

I spin to face Snake, who springs at me, much like his namesake, and I notice just in time that he’s armed with a knife. I jump back and just miss being gutted.

“Hey, I give, man. You win,” I say.

“I’m not done with you yet,” Snake says and leaps for me again. I jump back and trip over something on the floor. On hands and knees, I scramble between the bunks away from Snake. A glance to the left and I see a shovel under one of the beds. At this point I’m not surprised to see anything in here. Snake’s footsteps get closer. I reach under the bed and grab the shovel, and quickly gain my feet, then, before Snake can see what I’ve got, I turn and jam it into his gut. At close range it doesn't do much damage, but maintains some distance. He grunts, but then tosses the knife in the air and catches it by the blade. Quick as a blink he hurls it at me. My reflexes are good, especially when it comes to self-preservation. I hop sideways just enough so that the blade drills my biceps instead of my chest. Now I’m pissed. Enough is enough. I jerk the shovel up so that it catches him under the chin and crunches his jaws together, snapping his head back. His eyes roll back, he loses his balance and he falls on his ass.

I slide the knife from my arm and turn my back on Snake. I rip a strip from the cleanest sheet I can find and wrap it around my arm, then return to Snake and offer him my hand. He's groggy, rubbing his jaw and cocking his neck back and forth, checking to be sure it still works. There’s suspicion all over his face as he squints at me, but I just stand there waiting for him to take my offered hand. When he finally does I help him up.

“Are we done now?” I ask. “Do I pass your little test?”

“Yeah,” he grumbles. “You’ll do.” The crowd is dispersing. Some of the guys congratulate me for surviving, avoiding Snake’s gaze. Someone helps Bug and Tiger, who are now coming around.

Tiger is up, cradling his sore balls in his hand. “You fight like a dog,” he says, his voice boggy from his swollen nose.

I find this amusing since he was out to kill me first. I shrug at him. “If by that you mean I fight to win, then sure.” Really I was more concerned with surviving than winning, but a little bravado after the fact never hurt anyone.

**************
Now, hop on over to the Fighter Writer and check out the links to the other entries!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Fairy Tale Blogfest


The lovely Emily White over at Stepping Into Fantasy is hosting the Fairy Tale Blogfest today. When I first read the announcement for this blogfest I was totally excited. And then the days slipped by and I hadn't written anything. Here we are on the big day and I'm writing by the seat of my pants again.
What I came up with is a sci-fi mash up of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. It's a little long, but I hope you like it!
So, without any further ado, here's my contribution to the Fairy Tale Blogfest:

**************

Rafe Charming strove always to live up to his name, and so far he'd done well for himself. In the midst of a galactic uprising he'd found plenty of work as a hero-for-hire. But this job might have been biting off more than he could chew.

"Hey, Rafe," his partner, Doc, whispered. "You still think this job was such a great idea?"

Now three floors under the ruins of an ancient palace on a planet at the fringe of the galaxy, Rafe reconsidered. A mental inventory only ramped the adrenalin another degree: one entrance, one exit, the Crone Council, an army of androids crawling the planet surface, a senator's daughter in need of rescue. All in a day's work.

"Maybe not," he admitted. His back to the damp stone wall, he inched closer to the nearby chamber, careful not to trip on rocky debris.

Keeping the wall between him and the vastness of the chamber, he slid a mirror from his pocket and edged it into the open space where the wall came to an end. What he saw inside caused a sheen of sweat to prick his hairline, a bead sliding down his temple. He swallowed hard.

Seeing his response, Doc let his head drop against the wall behind him. "Let me guess," he whispered. "Our lovely target is being held against her will in the midst of some impossible obstacle course."

"You're half right," Rafe replied.

Doc's brows rose as he considered what could possibly make their situation more complicated. Then he smacked his hand to his forehead. "Some huge, hairy, invincible creature is guarding her."

"Bingo."

"Shit. I don't know why I keep working with you."

"It's the charm. I'm irresistable," Rafe said, shooting Doc his most charismatic grin.

"Yeah, whatever," Doc grunted. "Let's get this over with. I'll take the hairy beast. As usual. You get the girl."

"As usual," Rafe finished. That was his favorite part.

They stepped into the empty space of the doorway, blasters blazing, and luck was on their side as they took the massive creature by surprise. It's eyes shot wide as the first bolts hit it, singing its fur. It bellowed rage while its blood flew, spattering the unconscious woman it was guarding. The force of the blaster shots compromised its balance and, arms flailing, it tipped backwards and toppled off the platform into the void below.

The following silence rang in Rafe's ears, but there was no time to waste. With nimble and practiced feet Doc negotiated the obstacle course, making short work of booby traps and obstructions. Rafe took up the rear, guarding against surprise flank attacks.

On the central platform, the woman lay unconscious on a stone dais, her hair an ebony puddle framing her alabaster face.

Rafe approached her, his heart tripping with anticipation. He watched her slow and steady breathing, in awe of her perfect beauty. Her lips were full and rosy and they stirred in him a desire to taste them. He amended his earlier thoughts. This was his favorite part of the job.

"Doc," he said in a reverent whisper. "The balm. Give me the balm."

Doc rolled his eyes and dug around in his pocket until he found the tube of lip balm, then placed it in Rafe's outstretched hand.

Rafe smeared it on his lips, feeling the familiar tingle as the magic took effect. It was almost gone. They'd have to go back to that creepy apothecary and get some more. He sighed. All part of the job, and well worth it if it meant kissing more women like this.

He leaned in until his lips met hers. Soft and cool and sweet, he applied more pressure - just to be sure - then savored the growing heat as the magic began to do its job. He sampled one last mouthful of those luscious lips before the heat of the magic was too much, then stood to find Doc glaring at him.

"What?" he asked. "It's my reward for a job well done."

"What a prince," Doc said. "And we're not out of the woods yet." He gestured at the dark hall from which they'd come. "We still have to get out of here."

The woman stirred and sat, rubbing her eyes. "Where am I?" She asked.

Rafe took her hand and pulled her to her feet. "C'mon, Princess, we've gotta go."

Just then, a spine-chilling cackle filled the room. Looked like their luck wasn't going to hold after all as the Council of Crones spilled from an entrance hidden in the opposite wall. As twisted and hideous as rumors promised, Rafe wasn't interested in sticking around to make their acquaintance. His job was done and it was time to go.

"Doc!" he called. "Take the girl and get back to the ship! I'll take care of these hags."

Doc didn't wait to see if Rafe changed his mind. He took the girl by the hand and sprinted out the door, retracing their steps while Rafe backed away from the crones, his blasters burning bright, serenaded by the sweet sound of screeching as each shot hit its mark.

"I take it back," he said to himself, hopped up again on an adrenalin high. "This is definitely the best part!"

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Review of Whisper Kiss by Deborah Cooke

Recently, I was lucky enough to win a signed copy of Whisper Kiss by Deborah Cooke from the FreshFiction blog. The funny thing is that I had already gone out, that very same day, and bought a copy of the book before I learned that I'd won the signed copy!

First, let me say that the Dragonfire series is at least in part responsible for inspiring the series of paranormal romances that I'm currently writing. So there you go, Deborah, you're an inspiration!

This is how Whisper Kiss describes itself:

For millenia, the shape-shifting dragon warriors known as the Pyr have lived peacefully as guardians of the earth's treasures. But now the final reckoning between the Pyr, who count humans among the earth's treasures, and the Slayers, who are determined to eradicate both humans and the Pyr who protect them, has begun...

Niall Talbot has volunteered to hunt down and destroy all the remaining shadow dragons- who were weakened by the desruction of the Dragon's Blood Elixir- before they can wreak more havoc. Among them is his dead twin brother, making Niall's mission not only dangerous but personal.

Tattoo artist Rox believes the world is a canvas to be made more beautiful. An unconventional spirit who isn't afraid of anything, she doesn't even flinch when a shape-shifting dragon warrior suddenly appears on her doorstep. And as a woman who follows her heart in matters of passion, she makes the perfect mate for a firestorm with Niall

Now on to the review.

Just like with all of the books in the Dragonfire series, I couldn't put Whisper Kiss down from page one. The author weaves a heart-pounding tale of desire and danger that kept me turning pages well into the night. And when, bleary-eyed, I finally put the book down and slept, it was the first thing I thought of when I woke up the next day and I couldn't wait to get back into the pages.

A lost soul, a guilt-ridden twin, a megalomaniac, an army of undead dragons. It's a roller coaster ride of emotion, sexy dragons, and tense battle scenes you do not want to miss. Who could ask for more? Cooke masterfully ramps up the tension bit by bit until you're sure the worst is just around the corner and you're whispering, "no!" with every word you read. I literally couldn't read fast enough to find out what happens next.

I've got to say that I'm impressed that Cooke has managed to create five distinctly different love stories, each of which is self-contained within a single novel, while at the same time continuing a main story arc which remains compelling and fresh thoughout the entire series.

And of course there's a teaser at the end of Whisper Kiss for novel number six, Darkfire Kiss due out May 2011 which I now have to wait impatiently for. *sigh* (if only I could wrangle an ARC for review purposes...)

I whole-heartedly recommend this book. And if you haven't read Cooke's other Dragonfire novels, now is the time to run out and find them for a marathon of shape-shifting fun.

Friday, August 27, 2010

What Makes Good Writing


I'm cheating a little here because this is a cross post from my other blog, Critique This WIP.

First, let me say that the first day of university teaching went fairly well. I was a nervous wreck and only had enough material to stretch the class to 25 minutes, but I really hadn't planned for it to last the whole hour, so I count the whole episode as a success...mostly because I survived without A) fainting, B) sounding too stupid, C) completely losing control.

Today is day two in the classroom and we're going to begin a discussion of what makes good writing. That's why I'm sharing this cross post from Critique This WIP.

It's not so easy to sit down and bang out a good paper, especially if you don't know anything about the nuts and bolts of writing. So as I've gone about writing my syllabus, I've been thinking about the writing process in general and, specifically, what are the qualities that make good writing?

These are questions I'll be discussing with my class. Part of learning how to put the puzzle pieces of a good academic paper together (or putting together any writing project) is understanding the underlying purpose of whatever you're writing and getting at the meat of how to know if it's good.

What qualities make good writing? It's a big, open-ended question which will have as many different answers as people who answer it. With so many different kinds of writing - fiction, nonfiction, academic, technical, business, poetry, and, and, and - it seems like it would be impossible to identify a comprehensive set of qualities that define goodness for any and all varieties of writing...and it is. But there are some basic, foundational qualities that apply to any type of writing:

1. Ideas/theme/story/meaning that is interesting and/or important: This is the heart of the piece - what the writer has chosen to write about.

2. Form/structure/organization that is logical and effective: This is how the items in number 1 are put together and flow. Is there a beginning, middle, and end? Does everything the writer has written make sense to the reader?

3. Language that is smooth and expressive: Good writing uses just the right words to say just the right thing. Do the words paint a picture in the reader's mind? Is there sufficient description and appropriate vocabulary? Are sentences fluent and easy to understand?

4. Voice that is individual and has style: This is the expression of the writer's personality through words. Is the voice consistent throughout? Is it distinctive?

5. Conventions that are correct and appropriate: This is includes punctuation, spelling, grammar, sentence structure. These should adhere to accepted conventions for the English language, unless there is a stylistic reason not to.

As I start discussing the nuts and bolts of building an academic paper, I want the students to be thinking about these ideas of what makes good writing. I want them to think about how writing well will elevate the importance of the content over the form. I was thinking of this analogy earlier: When you build a house, you hide the framing, the electric wiring, and the plumbing inside the walls. And hopefully your plan is laid out so that it flows logically. These are all essential parts of the house and you wouldn't want to live in a house without them. But you don't want to see them or think about them every day, either. You know they're there doing their jobs, but what you really want is to enjoy the aesthetics and comfort of your home.

The same can be said for writing. Whether it's academic or creative, your plan, framing, electrical wiring, and plumbing are your organization, grammar, spelling, and punctuation. If those things are done properly, you won't see them in the writing. All you'll see is the story, theme, ideas or meaning. So thinking about what makes good writing while you write will help you lay the foundation, no matter what your writing project.

What do you think makes good writing? I've only given you five things to think about. I'm sure everyone has their own opinions, too. Do you agree with mine? What would you add to the list?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Back to the Classroom

School starts tomorrow, which in and of itself is no big deal. My kids will be back in the classroom, and it's a big year for our oldest because he's a senior. I'm trying not to think about how fast the year will go and how much my heart is going to break when he goes to college.

Speaking of college...I'll be stepping into the classroom as an instructor for the first time tomorrow. And let me tell you, I am totally freaked out. I'll be teaching freshman composition, so it's not rocket science, but I've never taught so this will be a learning experience for me, as well. I will spend this semester finding my teaching style and learning how to teach. These poor kids will be my guinea pigs. I'm also going to be teaching second semester composition at the air force base. That will be an entirely different teaching experience.

But....I've written a thoughtful and workable syllabus, so at least I'm prepared (I hope). And I think it works in my favor that as freshmen, these kids have no idea what to expect from university instructors, so I probably won't suffer too much by comparison.

Here's hoping I get through tomorrow without barfing or babbling or, even worse, drawing a complete blank and having nothing to say!

If nothing else, this whole experience will replace the golf course for me as a source of writing fodder.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hot Enough for You? And More Golf Course Fun

It's been a long time since I told any golf course stories, so I think it's time for another.

Actually, it's been pretty dull on the course for a while now. We had a couple of tournaments which require two beverage carts to keep everyone happy (read: to keep everyone boozed up). People drink a lot on tournament days. On those days Hubby drives the second cart. We split the course: front nine and back nine, and even then I can't keep up. We make it a little more interesting by placing bets to see which of us can sell the most and who can earn the most tips. It's even more fun when I tell the people I'm serving that Hubby and I have bet against each other...sometimes they take pity on me and tip me extra. But some of them are snitches and when they get on the back nine and meet up with Hubby they laugh, hahahaha, and confide in him what I told them, then tip him too. On the one hand, being uber-competitive as I am, I resent them. On the other hand, all the tips end up in the same place so we end up with more cash because of it.

For those of you unfamiliar with North Dakota weather, it changes really fast. One of the favorite local sayings is, "if you don't like North Dakota weather, just wait a few minutes." We've had a couple of days on the course where it starts out sunny, hot, humid, then as the hours tick away the clouds build, the wind picks up, and before you know it you're stuck at the tee box on 4, which is like half a mile from the clubhouse, and suddenly the clouds open up and literally dump an inch of rain. Okay, so not so much dump as blow sideways, and no matter how fast you try to get the stupid cart to drive it's not fast enough to avoid getting soaked to the skin so that when you walk into the clubhouse Hubby and boss and everyone laughs at you.

Today was a pretty slow day. It topped 90 degrees and probably 150% humidity. Pretty miserable. Every single time I stopped to sell something, somebody had to ask me "hot enough for you." I mean, really. Is it necessary to ask that? Because clearly it is hot enough. It's more than hot enough. But how do you answer that?

"Why yes, yes it is."

"It's hot? I hadn't noticed."

"Oh yeah baby, it's hot. Just like I like it."

"aaaaarrrghghghghgspfffffft."

But it got better when the really, really old fossil of a man who golfs every single weekend but has never, ever said a word to me, much less deigned to buy anything from me, asked me to take my top off. Okay, back up a little. He was golfing with about a dozen Canadians (who are notorious on the course for getting liquored up but quick...no offense to Canadians in general. It's just our local ones)(they come down from Saskatchewan and load up on American beer they can't get in Canada).

So Fossil is golfing with all these Canadians (I don't know if they're friends, relatives, business associates, or what). And Fossil actually buys some beer from me. Apparently it loosened his inhibitions and his lips a great deal. At the tee box for 7 he asks me:

"Hot enough for you?" (big surprise there). I give him a polite, noncommittal and dismissive laugh. then he says:

"How can you stand to wear that sweater?" (I was wearing a lightweight sweater over a tank top.)

I say: "The heat doesn't really bother me that much." (it does, but I'm not about to wear just a tank top around these guys)

He says: "You should take your top off."

I'm like, what?! Then he says, as he's back in his cart and driving past me to the next hole:

"Hehe. Dirty old man, huh?!"

Ewwww. So I don't see him again until the back nine, tee box for 14, where he and his buddies buy yet more beer. Fossil says:

"It's still hot. You should take your top off."

I ignore him and sell beer to his more polite Canadian friends. He tries one more time:

"When are you going to take your top off?"

I say: "When I get home tonight."

Which makes the Canadians guffaw, probably because they're all drunk, because it wasn't really that funny.

Thankfully, that was the last I saw of Fossil and his pals today. I hope he goes home and sleeps it off and the next time I see him he's back to his ignore-me-and-don't-buy-anything self.

So that's all I've got for golf course stories for now. I'll probably have more later. God knows that place is a gold mine for a writer.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Invasion of the Bloggy Snatchers!


I'm getting in on this super duper late in the game. When Rebecca at Sonshine Thoughts first announced it I wanted to jump on board, but of course life got in the way and I looked at the calendar today and realized, OMG! It's Invasion of the Bloggy Snatchers day and I've got bubkis to post. So I'm pantsing this.
**********

"Road trip!" I hollered, jangling the Happy Acres van keys I stole from the nurse's station after sneaking into the coma ward and pushing the call button.

The sun shone through the windows of the common room, leaving a striped pattern on the floor from the bars that kept us safe. A techno beat thumped from the stereo.

"Come on, let's go you guys. We can go anywhere. See? I've got freedom right here, in the palm of my hand." I pumped my fist in the air, shaking the keys to emphasize my point.

"Leave me alone. I'm too edgy for the outside," Bill said, then added, "Zimbabwe."

He cringed as a matter of habit right before Claudine slapped him upside the head. He was well trained to expect the head-slap, but not well enough trained to keep his mouth shut.

"Courtney?" I asked, joining her at her computer where she was madly scheduling and adminstrating her group critique blog. And doing homework. And researching. And writing. And pulling her hair out in little tufts that drifted to the floor.

"Fine. But I'm bringing my laptop," she grunted.

I approached Mia in the corner. She was having another tea and hot dog party with her imaginary zombie friends. They all wore bow ties and flip flops. One sported a spiffy bowler hat. It's Happy Acres. We can all see each other's imaginary friends.

"Mia? Road trip?" I asked.

"ZOMG. I'm totes in! (this never happens)(where's my caffeine?!). All the zombies nodded their assent, as well.

Just then Tessa danced in from the hallway, making her customary entrance, trailing sparkles behind her. She stopped long enough to giggle and throw confetti on the zombie party, then fluttered to a red leather chair where Suzie sat rereading her tattered copy of Twilight yet again. I followed her.

"So, um, Tessa. Suzie. Wanna road trip?"

Tessa threw a handful of sparkly confetti. "Will there be cupcakes?"

"Can I bring my book?" Suzie asked, not looking up from her book.

"Yes and yes," I said. I'm a compulsive liar. I'm really bringing donuts.

One final stop on my tour of the room. "Your majesty?" I asked Simon (we all know he's really the king of Scotland, even though Scotland hasn't come around yet. There's an e-mail campaign going on as we speak).

He glanced up from his icy glass of vodka and his entourage of imaginary literary babes, deigning to acknowledge me. "Yes?"

I jingled the keys seductively. "Wanna go for a ride?"

"Would I ever," he said. The gaggle of babes giggled in unison at his innuendo. "But only if I control the radio."

"Fine." I rolled my eyes. That meant more symphonic metal. But it was a price worth paying.

"Shotgun!" Claudine called from across the room, loud enough for the nurse (who had returned to the nurse's station in a huff, embarrassed that she'd fallen for the call-button-in-a-room-full-of-coma-patients yet again) could hear her.

I quickly swung the keys behind my back and slapped on my innocent eyes, but she knew better and approached me with her fists on her broad hips.

"Hand them over, Margaret," she said and slid a wide open hand toward me.

"Damn," I said, and gave her the keys. I glared at her. She glared back. The silence was deafening (except for the techno). Her glare turned into a glower and I knew I was in trouble for sure.

"Um, can I have a donut?" I blinked, then gave her my best puppy dog eyes.
"Hmph," was all she said, then turned and marched back to the nurse's station. I shrugged and went to sit with Bill.

"Zimbabwe," he said.

"Indeed."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Weather Blogfest

I'm a day late for the weather blogfest, but according to Nick at A Little Slice of Nothing, who is hosting the fest, it's okay to post a day or two on either side of the fest...so I guess I'm still in the safe zone.

This exerpt from my WIP is actually a repeat of the exerpt I used for Tessa's Blogfest of Death, but it works for this Blogfest too...death by weather. What's more fun than that? (literarily speaking, of course).

The setup: Rand is a rogue faerie-turned-human who's pissed off at humankind and wants to start a war with them. Victor is his right hand man. In this scene they're testing a new weapon.

***************

“Is everything ready, Victor?” Rand asked his mage.

"Yes, Master.”

“Good. Then let’s get on with the test.” While Abelo was out searching for his daughter, Rand had decided to test his newest weapon. He needed something to keep him busy, and since weapons test was on the to-do list there was no better time than the present.

He’d chosen the small, isolated community of Fossil in central Oregon as his target. The name was just too ironic. He and Victor were positioned on a high point outside of town and prepared to launch the weapon prototype.

Rand lifted the lid on the wood crate which housed the device. Once the lid was open, the weapon floated free of the housing and hung in mid-air, a thing of beauty. The size of a basketball, it hissed and crackled with electric blue energy. It took Rand’s breath away.

“Shall we?” He asked Victor.

Victor handed Rand a vial of opaque white liquid, which he uncorked and swallowed in one gulp. The warmth of the substance tracked down to his center and then quickly raced to his limbs, energizing him with additional magic. He closed his eyes and began to whisper the spell he and Victor had designed to direct the weapon. His arms out at his sides, he threw his head back as the words gained momentum and his natural gifts took over. It felt good to control the weather again. He had so little opportunity anymore and after years of not being able to use his magic, he reveled in it now. Wind began to rush and gray clouds swirled from nowhere, obscuring the blue sky. The weapon responded to Rand’s urgent words, first spinning wildly on its axis, then whizzing away as it closed the distance between the men and the town. The tempest blew stronger, dark menacing clouds forming overhead as the weapon neared the first buildings.

Rand called on the winds and weather, bending them to his will until he was satisfied to see a twister drop lazily from the clouds as the weapon reached the center of town, where it hovered, waiting for the twister to meet and trigger it.

Even from his vantage he could see humans as they stepped out of their homes and businesses and stared up at the sky, no doubt wondering at the anomalous tornado – and the strange glowing orb hovering over the center of town. He snorted a derisive laugh. How stupid they were – when faced with a threat from nature, they stood like fools and gaped at it. It wasn't until the twister breached the edge of town that people began to race around, frantic and confused about where to go. Rand urged the wind to blow harder, pushing the tornado to meet the weapon. And then they met in a glorious blue explosion of destruction. When the orb burst it released its energy in a shock wave which shot straight down and then rippled outward. As it came in contact with each human being they disintegrated into a cloud of dust and blew away in the wind. Blue lightning streaked across the sky, and fat drops of rain began to fall as the last of the people in town erupted into puffs of dust and disappeared into the storm until the town was deserted and every single human being had been wiped from existence.

“Perfect,” Rand said. “Absolutely perfect!”
*******************
Hope you liked it. Now go check out the rest of the entries in the Weather Blogfest at A Little Slice of Nothing!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

MFA Residency: Day 6

Friday was the last day of the residency, which is always bittersweet because it means the fun is almost over. But by Friday everyone is getting kind of burned out and tired from constantly being on the run for a week, and missing family, etc.

We finished out the second day of the fiction workshop which was, of course, awesome. Even though my piece was workshopped on Monday I still learned a lot by listening to and participating in the critiques of other people's writing. It's a good way to find out what works and what doesn't for form, style, and story. And some of these people are writing some very fascinating projects.

Later in the day we had a lecture and then a wrap-up where we discussed the things that work and don't work for the residency and the program in general. It's sort of the program administrators' way of doing quality assurance, and I don't know how useful it is to them, but it seems to be a good forum for students to air grievances and highlight the things about the program that work best for them.

Finally, the day ended with an open mic for students and readings by a couple of former students from their current works. I read a piece of flash fiction for the open mic (nervously), and some of the other students read some really good writing...mostly poetry, which is really hard to do well. I was seriously impressed with a couple of them.

So now it's early Saturday morning and I'm mostly packed (except for my laptop), getting ready for the shuttle to take me to La Guardia. I slept crappy last night anticipating a long day of travel so I'm tired and I'll likely be cranky when I get home, but seeing the shiny happy faces of my kids and hubby will temper that somewhat, I'm sure. It will certainly be nice to sleep in my own bed tonight.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

MFA Residency: Day 5

For those of you following along, today was day 5 of my MFA residency. I woke up still feeling slightly dizzy and sore but I took some Dramamine and Advil and those seemed to do the trick.

The morning workshop I attended was "Teaching Creative Writing to Non-Writers." The instructor was really great and she gave us some awesome ideas for ways to engage non-writers. We participated in several very fun and productive writing exercises that I can see being useful for teaching both creative writing and adaptable to academic/composition writing. So I was inspired after the workshop.

Then it was lunch time and I started getting really nervous because this afternoon at 2:00 was the agent Q and A panel followed by agent meetings...and I was signed up to meet with an agent. The panel Q and A was fantastic. Four different agents representing vastly different genres, all in the same room and available for us eager writers to pick their brains...which we did. They were a wealth of information.

After the panel it was meeting time. I was totally freaked out trying to remember my one liner pitch, but as it turned out I didn't even need it. Several weeks ago we'd sent intro letters, synopsis and first 10 pages of our projects to the agents we were meeting with, and she didn't even ask for a pitch. She just launched into a discussion about my project and basically said she really liked my story and characters and thought the writing was good, etc.

I was really worried because it's not completely revised and polished, but apparently the agents make allowances for that when they meet with MFA students. Whew.

So she finally asked me, "you'll have this edited in, what, 1 month? 2 months?" and I said, "definitely!" She said, "good!" She said she only has one romance client herself, but she just hired a new agent who handles more romance and she said when I have the manuscript finished to send it to her new agent, then she gave me the new agent's e-mail address.

I'm so stoked!

So now I'm going to give up sleeping and spend every waking minute that I'm not working, eating or doing other vital survival-related activities on editing.

Today was definitely an awesome day. *sigh*

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

MFA Residency: Days 2 thru 4

I'm late posting info on days 2 thru 4, but we've been super busy, so please forgive my tardiness.

Day 2, Monday, was the first of a 2-day fiction workshop. All participants exchanged 10-20 pages of a current fiction WIP and critiqued it before arriving at the residency. Then we spent the 3-hour meeting time workshopping each others' pieces. Because it's such a wildly popular, well-attended, and intense workshop, it's split into 2 days. My piece was workshopped the first day and received very positive reviews. Whew. That's very good news since I'm going to be pitching it to an agent on Thursday. Hope she liked the first 10 pages I sent her.

Monday afternoon there was a lecture by one of the instructors, a very humorous reading actually, then we met for peer workshops where our group really just bounced around new project/plot ideas. I didn't have anything to contribute. Then Monday evening we had readings (one was really great one was okay) and the Flash Fiction Slam. I read for the flash fiction slam, but I was totally nervous and I had 2 pieces to choose from for reading: a cerebral type humor piece and a dark, grim piece. I chickened out on the dark piece and wasn't very happy with the reading of the humorous piece. But it was fun anyway.

Tuesday was supposed to be more workshops, meetings, lectures, but....

I got sick. It wasn't food poisoning, and I'm not entirely sure what the heck it was, but it involved mostly vertigo and dizziness and sore back and neck. So I spent the entire day in bed after ingesting Dramamine and Advil. There wasn't much on TV, but between what I could find on TV and a book to read, and room service, I made it through the day and after a decent night's sleep I was sufficiently better this morning to return to the MFA hijinks.

Today, Wednesday, was an interesting revision workshop, then a sort of sobering lecture entitled, "Can I Actually Make a Living At This," (i.e., writing). The conclusion was: sort of.

After that we sat thru a panel wherein program graduates talked about what they did for the internship/practicum component of their degrees. There was a wide range from working for a literary journal to teaching to working as a grant writer.

Finally, several students gave presentations summarizing their enrichment projects. One of the requirements of the program is to do an enrichment project which is not at all related to your thesis or your writing studies. For instance, one of the students today gave a powerpoint describing the Italian American Art Festival she developed. Another designed a bilingual newsletter for a small town in an effort to bring together the Latino and Anglo populations. The third presentation was another powerpoint describing the stage play the student produced and directed.

So only 2 more days. Time really flies at these residencies. And tomorrow is the agent panel and directly after that? Agent meetings. I'm so nervous I'm trying not to think about it, otherwise I might be sick. Wish me luck, okay? I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, August 2, 2010

MFA Residency: Day 1

Hey Everyone!

I was talking about a week ago about all the preparation I was doing for my MFA residency, and how I was looking forward to all the inspiration and creativity.

Well, travel was uneventful, thankfully, and I arrived without incident a couple of days ago and yesterday was the first day of actual workshop. I signed up for a session on flash fiction.

Before the residency we had all sent each other a piece of flash fiction and then yesterday we discussed flash fiction in general then workshopped each others pieces. It was a great experience. Everyone has such wide ranging stories and backgrounds, and most of the stories were well done. I got some valuable insight into my piece which allowed me to come back to my hotel room and revise it last night.

Yesterday afternoon we attended a panel where several graduates of the program spoke about their experience in the program and how it has propelled them in their careers...basically what they're doing now and how what they did in the program helped them to get there. It was very insightful.

We met with our mentors for the courses we'll be taking this semester so we could get down the nitty gritty of actual academic work.

Then in the evening we attended readings by a recent graduate from her memoir (it was very powerful stuff) and by one of the instructors (who is an awesome writer) from his recently published bestseller and from a novel he's currently working on.

It was a busy day, but that's what residency is all about. Packing an insane amount of academia, creativity, and inspiration into one week...enough to send you through the entire semester.

What's today (Monday) got in store? A fiction workshop, peer workshop, more readings, and a flash fiction slam contest tonight (I'm gonna read my newly revised flash fiction piece....wish me luck!!!)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Contest!


We're having a contest over at Critique this WIP to celebrate reaching 100 followers. You really should go check it out. It would be a shame if you were to miss out on all the fun!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

MFA Residency Countdown


As many of you may know, I'm working my way through an MFA in creative and professional writing (2 semesters left, yay!). The program is low residency which means it's independent study for the most part, except that twice a year I travel to campus for a week-long series of workshops, panels, meetings, readings, etc.

The next residency is coming up July 31 - Aug 7. I've signed up for workshops in fiction, flash fiction, "obsession as the engine of literary invention," and "teaching writing to non-writers."

Plus, I'm so excited (and by excited I mean completely and utterly freaked out) that I will be meeting with an agent during the residency (every summer there's an agent panel and afterwards the agents take meetings with some of the students). Gulp. I'm dealing with this by pretty much not dealing with it. Although I should probably figure out how the hell to best use my meeting time to my best advantage.

On Monday afternoon there will be a flash fiction slam...of course I'm participating with a micro-fiction piece of 153 words. That should be interesting.

For the fiction and flash fiction workshops all the participants are required to send pieces ahead of time so that we can read and critique each other's work and be ready to workshop it. For the flash fiction workshop, that's not such a big deal. All 15 or so people each sent in selections of 1 to 3 pages. So was able to read through those pretty quickly. But the fiction workshop? With 15-20 people each sending in between 10 and 20 pages (most of them close to 20 pages because they insist on sending the page maximum), that comes to somewhere around 225 pages to read and critique in a week. Not so easy. I'm slogging my way through it now.

Finally, I'm doing my teaching practicum this semester by teaching two sections of composition at the local university (one on campus and one at the air force base annex). I'm madly trying to get a syllabus and lesson plans written since classes start on Aug 23. At least I managed to get books ordered for the course. Now I just need to get organized and finish the syllabus!

So Saturday morning I'll be heading to CT, and as I have for past residencies, I'll be blogging about the different workshops and activities.

I'm really looking forward to the fun!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On the Nature of Muses


I had a great post planned for today, a companion piece to the adverb post from not long ago. But life got in the way and I haven't written it yet. I promise I'll get to it shortly, though.

In the meantime, please go check out today's post (authored by moi) at Critique This WIP, all about the Nature of Muses.

Enjoy!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Blogfest of Death


Thanks to the lovely Tessa at Tessa's Blurb (and CritiquethisWIP) for hosting the Blogfest of Death!

I had another scene I was going to use, but I realized I'd already used it for the Murder Scene Blogfest a few months back and because I don't want to repeat myself, I decided to use a different scene. My antagonist leaves plenty of death in his wake, so I have several scenes to choose from.

Tessa's rules state that for the Blogfest of Death at least one person has to die...I went all out and killed a whole town. Mwahahahaha.

Ahem. Okay, so this scene is my antagonist, Rand, doing what he does best...being a bad boy. He's a rogue faerie-turned-human who's pissed off a humankind and wants to start a war with them. I think the scene itself is fairly self explanatory. Enjoy!


******

Is everything ready, Victor?” Rand asked his mage.

“Yes, Master.”

“Good. Then let’s get on with the test.” While Abelo was out searching for his daughter, Rand had decided to test his newest weapon. He needed something to keep him busy, and since weapons test was on the to-do list there was no better time than the present.

He’d chosen the small, isolated community of Fossil in central Oregon as his target. The name was just too ironic. He and Victor were positioned on a high point outside of town and prepared to launch the prototype weapon.

Rand lifted the lid on the wood crate which housed the device. Once the lid was open, the weapon floated free of the housing and hung in mid-air, a thing of beauty. The size of a basketball, it hissed and crackled with electric blue energy. It took Rand’s breath away.

“Shall we?” He asked Victor.

Victor handed Rand a vial of opaque white liquid, which he uncorked and swallowed in one gulp. The warmth of the substance tracked down to his center and then quickly raced to his limbs, energizing him with additional magic. He closed his eyes and began to whisper the spell he and Victor had designed to direct the weapon. His arms out at his sides, he threw his head back as the words gained momentum and his natural gifts took over. It felt good to control the weather again. He had so little opportunity anymore and after years of not being able to use his magic, he reveled in it now. Wind began to rush and gray clouds swirled from nowhere, obscuring the blue sky. The weapon responded to Rand’s urgent words, first spinning wildly on its axis, then whizzing away as it closed the distance between the men and the town. The tempest blew stronger, dark menacing clouds forming overhead as the weapon neared the first buildings.

Rand called on the winds and weather, bending them to his will until he was satisfied to see a twister drop lazily from the clouds as the weapon reached the center of town, where it hovered, waiting for the twister to meet and trigger it.

Even from his vantage he could see humans as they stepped out of their homes and businesses and stared up at the sky, no doubt wondering at the anomalous tornado – and the strange glowing orb hovering over the center of town. He snorted a derisive laugh. How stupid they were – when faced with a threat from nature, they stood like fools and gaped at it. It wasn't until the twister breached the edge of town that people began to race around, frantic and confused about where to go. Rand urged the wind to blow harder, pushing the tornado to meet the weapon. And then they met in a glorious blue explosion of destruction. When the orb burst it released its energy in a shock wave which shot straight down and then rippled outward. As it came in contact with each human being they disintegrated into a cloud of dust and blew away in the wind. Blue lightning streaked across the sky, and fat drops of rain began to fall as the last of the people in town erupted into puffs of dust and disappeared into the storm until the town was deserted and every single human being had been wiped from existence.

“Perfect,” Rand said. “Absolutely perfect!”

*******

Now, go to Tessa's blog and follow the links to all the other fun death scenes!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tagged - What's in My Bag?

Looks like I've been tagged by the lovely Suzie over at Writer Junkie (and one of my partners in crime at CTW) to reveal what's in my bag/purse.

Let me start by saying I loathe carrying a purse so I try to use the smallest purses possible. This is my current purse:


The lighting is bad in my office where I took this pic, so if you can't tell the purse is powder blue. Not very exciting overall, huh? Okay. Here's the contents:


As you can see I like to keep it simple. A change purse for money, a checkbook and pen. My antique cell phone, clip-on sunglasses (cuz I wear glasses and it's easier to just clip on my sunglasses). Some loose change and a receipt. And for breath hygiene and appearance emergencies: gum, a compact and lip gloss. That's it!

So now I'm going to tag the rest of the girls in CTW!

Courtney

Jill (though don't think Jill has a personal blog...)

Tessa

Have fun girls!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Happy Birthday, Rachel


Thirteen years ago today I gave birth to my only daughter, Rachel. Although the birth itself was an horrendous experience, and she and I barely survived it, she was the perfect baby and has been an amazing joy ever since then.

Happy birthday, my sweet Rachel!

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Luke Warm Defense of the Adverb

If, as a writer, you're anything like me, the adverb, at least in the first draft, is your dearest friend. When you're in the midst of the fresh new love affair with your story, adverbs seem like a natural element which are at home sprinkled among your verbs and adjectives, frolicking with abandon and adding spice and verve to your prose.

And then you turn your baby over to your critique partners and whammo! the red (or whatever color your CPs use) "track changes" marks slash all of your lovely adverbs and you get vicious comments about choosing stronger verbs.

Adverbs are a class of words which modify verbs, adjectives, clauses, sentences and even other adverbs. They typically answer questions like: "when," "where," "to what extent," "in what way," and "how."

Although there are several different kinds of adverbs (including comparative adverbs [more/less]; adverbs of place [outside], purpose [in order to], and frequency [always/never]), the most commonly criticized in fiction is the adverb of manner, or the -ly form. Supposedly, these are the "scarlet letter" that mark writing as amateurish and weak. But I would argue that used judiciously and in proper circumstances, adverbs of manner can enhance your story.

There are several reasons why -ly adverbs are frowned upon in fiction:

1. They are redundant. In the sentence, "She screamed loudly," the loudness is already implied by the screaming, which is generally understood to be loud.

2. Adverbs make it easy to choose weak verbs. Compare: "He turned abruptly and she moved quickly toward him, 'I hate you,' she said harshly" with "He spun to find her stalking toward him, 'I hate you,' she growled." Still pretty melodramatic, but no cheesy adverbs!

3. By cutting adverbs you give yourself opportunities to show rather than tell. Instead of telling us that your heroine is beautifully groomed, describe for us her hair, her makeup, or the colors and textures of her clothing.

4. Why not choose a strong action verb instead? Try "sprint" instead of "went quickly" or "crave" instead of "really want."

5. Adverbs of manner are frowned upon in fiction because they tend to be distracting and prevent the reader from experiencing emotions or delving into the intentions behind the action. Good writing needs to pull the reader into the experience of the story rather than just relating what's taking place.


However, there are situations when -ly adverbs are appropriate, such as:

1. In dialogue. Realistic dialogue would include the use of adverbs because people actually use them when they talk. "I probably shouldn't steal money from my mother's purse because she will be seriously pissed off at me if she finds out."

2. They work as awesome placeholders when you're deep in the frenzy of a first draft and you don't want to take the time to craft the perfect sentence or search for just the right verb. Slap in a "looked longingly" and find a better verb in revision.

3. As long as you use them sparingly in places where they work hard and produce strong results, then -ly adverbs can be your friend.

As you can see, adverbs of all persuasion play an important role in fiction, but the dreaded -ly adverb can be especially tricky if you're not careful. However, if you use them sparingly and responsibly they can enhance your writing beautifully. (you see what I did there?)

Now, you tell me how you feel about adverbs!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Secrets Blogfest + Literary Crush Blogfest = Double the Fun


So today is a double dose of fun as Tara over at Midnight Ink is hosting the Secrets Blogfest and Frankie Diane over at Frankie Writes is hosting the Literary Crush Blogfest. (Kristen Yard at Take It As It Comes is hosting the Bickering Blogfest, too but I don't have an appropriate scene for it!) Being the blogfest addict that I am, I had to participate!

Below is my Secrets Blogfest entry. It's from my current sci-fi WIP. The secret in question is that the two main characters don't speak the same language and are trying to communicate without words (for the most part). It's not a secret in the standard sense, but I think it still works. Setup: Jaska inadvertently finds himself on Earth where he runs into Amie who decides to help him. They're in New York heading for a subway but Jaska wants to explore this strange new world. Amie is the redhead to whom Jaska refers.

The door of this particular shop opens and someone walks out with a steaming cup of something and a round bread-like food wrapped in a papery cloth. The aromas flow from the open door and make my stomach growl. I grab the door from the person before it shuts, and I’m ready to go inside when I feel a hand on my arm. When I turn, I find the redhead with an exasperated look on her face. She’s babbling in her language and I can hear the translator buzzing and clicking in my ear, trying to keep up with her. It still doesn’t have enough information to translate, though. I just shrug and turn my back on her and walk inside. She makes a disgusted grunt at me, but follows me inside. I smile. On this planet less than a day and already I’ve got women following me wherever I go.

Inside, this shop apparently sells food and books. The ceiling is low and intimate and the d├ęcor is woods and sleek black. The walls are covered in bookshelves. The tables are packed and there’s a line at the counter where I can see a glass case full of foods. I head in that direction, cutting through the line of people so I can inspect the offerings. The redhead is close behind. “Hey!” she says and pulls me around by the shoulder so I’m facing her. Hmm. She must have said that to me enough that the translator figured out what she meant. I point at the glass case of food, then to my stomach. She raises an eyebrow at me and crosses her arms across her chest. It pushes her breasts up so they’re bulging at the vee in her blouse. Nice.

So I’m reduced to ridiculous sign language to communicate. I take a deep, appreciative breath, sniffing the good smelling food. I paste a silly grin on my face, then rub my belly and lick my lips. Think she’ll understand that? Apparently she does because she sighs and rolls her eyes, then goes to the counter, cutting in line, and says something to the guy working there. He looks angry at her, she sounds angry back, but he gets a big bag and I watch with my nose on the glass as he takes one of everything and puts it in the bag. She throws some green paper on the counter, grabs the bag out of the guy’s hand and shoves it into mine, then grips my other hand in hers and pulls me through the line and out the door. I chuckle at her when we’re back outside, but the look on her face is a mood killer. I make like I’m going to inspect the contents of the bag, but she pulls me along. I guess I’ll have to wait.



Jaska shares my obsessive love of pastry. Below is my Literary Crush blogfest entry. It's unconventional. I happen to adore Stephen King's Dark Tower series and my love letter is to Roland Deschain, the Gunslinger himself. (Frankie originally created this blogfest for YA characters, and I crush on some of them too but it felt a little too, um, cradle-robber creepy for a grown woman to be writing love letters to adolescent boy characters). I've got enough adult literary crushes to keep me busy writing love letters for a while.

Dearest Roland,

I know you don't have a lot of time for the frivolity of love given your obsessive quest to find the Tower and put the world right. I mean, clearly you've got your priorities and you don't let anyone get in your way as evidenced by the long line of dead bodies (both friend and foe) strewn along your back trail. But please take a moment to pause and hear me out.

Your nobility and dedication would make any king proud to call you knight. If only you knew the cruelty of the Tower you'd understand that it doesn't matter how many times you find it, there's nothing at the Tower that will put the world right. You keep making the same mistakes over and over and the Tower keeps playing its games with you.

My heart aches for you and I wish I could convince you that there's more to life than that blasted Tower.

I adore your bad boyness, your charisma, and your weathered cowboy good looks. Your quiet contemplation and practical wisdom coupled with the heart you keep so well hidden and protected all fan the flames of my ardor.

If you ever realize the futility of your quest, please remember me. Ka doesn't have to rule everything with an iron fist - you can make your own ka.

All my love,
~Margaret