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 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


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 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 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 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!