31 July 2012

What's in a Name? Titles Do Matter!

In preparing for our big move, I've been sorting through all of my old files this week, getting rid of the excess. In the process, I've made some fun discoveries (the story with which I won first place in the Wyoming Young Author's contest in first grade) and some eye-opening revelations (turns out, the idea for the YA novel I started writing in 2008 was sketched out in a short story I wrote way back in my junior year of high school!)

Then I came across a stack of clippings from my brief time as a staff writer for a small-town weekly newspaper in Gillette, Wyoming.

Now, I have to admit that choosing titles has never been an easy task for me, but I know that a title can make or break your story. I was particularly proud of the headline I came up with for my first published article: "Wright does it right for Wright Days 96."

The article was just a basic write-up with information on the upcoming festivities, but the headline was catchy enough to draw attention to my small article at the bottom of the page. Response to my first article was positive enough that I received another assignment for the next issue. This time, however, my editor changed the headline just before publication, because my original suggestion (something along the lines of "Runners Enjoy Fajitas after the Annual Nose Run") wasn't catchy enough. However, the headline that appeared in the paper ("Nose runners eat fajitas") conjured up a plethora of unpleasant images. Even though this second article was better written and featured at the top of a two-page spread in the paper, complete with photos, the biggest response received was, "That headline was kind of gross."

I learned two lessons from this experience that influence my writing today:

1. Don't be afraid to stand up for yourself! I was very uncomfortable with the re-written headline, but I was young and insecure, and I was afraid to say anything. After the issue was published and public response to my article was less-than-positive, my editor asked why I hadn't pointed out the gross-factor of her headline. My only excuse was fear. If I had spoken up, we probably could have come up with something clever and catchy together.

2. First impressions mean a lot! Even though my second article was the better of the two, most people never discovered that, because they were put off by the headline. You wouldn't wear torn jeans and a stained t-shirt to a job interview. Take the time to dress your stories for success as well, with the best title for the tale.

30 July 2012

What My 20-year-old Self Would Tell Me

Going through old boxes of papers in preparation for our move, I discovered this:

This paper was from an exercise I did in one of my college classes. Turns out, the younger version of me had a lot more self-confidence than I do now. I think I need to work on getting back to that!

20 July 2012

A Small Dose of Rainbows and Bubbles

If you know me at all, then you know I don't like to dwell on negative things. I've been often accused of living in a world full of rainbows and bubbles. I'm an eternal optimist, and I don't like to think that there might be people in this world who could or would ever intentionally hurt someone else.

On days like today, when the whole Internet is exploding with reactions to the tragic shootings in Aurora, Colorado, it's not so easy to see the rainbows, and the bubbles pop far too easily.

On days like today, my natural smile fades, and I start to wonder if people aren't as good as I like to believe.

On days like today, I sometimes need to take a moment to refocus my filter - to look through the lens of all the goodness that's everywhere around me, so I'm not discouraged by the tragedy. So, this post will not be about what I'm feeling in reaction to today's news. Instead, I want to take a moment and remember that most people really are trying to make this world a better place for everyone in it.

My mother told me about her recent trip to help two of my sisters. First, she stopped in Utah to help out my youngest sister, who is struggling with a very difficult pregnancy and having trouble keeping up with her very active little girls. Mom cleaned the kitchen and caught up on the laundry - all of the little things that mean so much but seem so impossible when you're sick.

When she got to the airport to fly out to my other sister's house, Mom discovered that, due to a miscommunication and a few wrong clicks online, she had missed her flight. The lady at the check-in counter was super helpful and managed to book Mom on the flight she thought she was scheduled for. But by the time the ticket was changed and bags checked, Mom had only 10 minutes to get to the gate - and the line for security was LONG! Mom said she was on the phone with my dad as she ran to the security check, and when she saw the line, she nearly cried. She explained to him that she was going to miss her flight after all.

But then, a minor miracle occurred. Someone in the line overheard her conversation. He let her go ahead of him. And then another person did the same. And another. And another. The crowds of people waiting in line to get through security (many of whom, I'm sure, were in a hurry to get to their own flights) stepped aside and let my mom pass through to the front of the line.

And she made her flight on time.

Because people are basically pretty wonderful, and when given the opportunity, most people will choose to do the kind thing. Most people want a chance to serve their fellow men. Most people would be quite happy in my little world of rainbows and bubbles.

A little closer to home, I also experienced a minor miracle yesterday.

Yesterday was extremely stressful for me. Trying to pack and sort and pare down in preparation for a cross-country move that's coming at me far too quickly, I was overwhelmed and afraid that I'd never be able to do it all on time. My well-meaning friends and family members, who tried to help me by pointing out all of the things I wasn't doing right... didn't help. By late afternoon, I collapsed in tears and gave up. I decided I'd never get it all done, and I'd have to pay extra fees for going over our military moving weight limit. And I'd probably not be able to find a renter for my house, and so I should expect to quickly drain my savings and watch my home go into foreclosure, ruining my credit and losing my house in the process. And I wouldn't have any time to see any of my friends to say goodbye before we move, and so they'd probably all be angry with me and never speak to me again. And I didn't even know what to make for dinner!

But then, I realized: one of my friends had offered to make dinner for us. I didn't have to worry about that!

The love involved in that one small act of service was enough to stop my downward spiral of fear and worry. And when I started to look at things a little bit more clearly, I realized that nothing was as bad as I feared. I've made a lot of progress on my moving to-do list. I'll be able to finish on time. And I have over a week between the day the movers come to pack up our things and the day we leave Maryland. Over a week where my only commitments will be saying goodbye to friends here (and a little bit of painting and touch-ups on the house to get it ready for renting).

I can do this.

All it took was one small act of service from a friend who didn't even know how much I needed it.

So today, as I'm struggling with sorrow and despair over the news coming out of Colorado, I've decided to look for the good. To focus once again on the rainbows and bubbles - the beauty of the world that still shines, even in the midst of great tragedy. And I'll look for something that I can do to pass those rainbows forward. Because love is the greatest power on Earth, and it can heal the deepest hurts.

What about you? How will you show love today? How have others shown love to you?

19 July 2012

Book Review: BEWARE THE NINJA WEENIES by David Lubar

They say you should never judge a book by its cover. I failed to take that into account when I picked up BEWARE THE NINJA WEENIES: AND OTHER WARPED AND CREEPY TALES by David Lubar. This is the sixth book in Lubar’s “Weenies” series of short stories, and in all honesty, I've been avoiding this series, because I don't like "that kind of book." But this wasn't the book I thought it would be! I expected to find stories rife with potty humor and crass jokes, similar to the Captain Underpants series of books. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find a collection of clever and thought-provoking speculative fiction stories.

In this collection, the reader will find a boy who is so involved in his video game that he doesn’t notice a real alien invasion and a girl who might destroy the universe in the process of discovering its secrets. Children will meet broccoli that learns how to talk and pleads for its life, an alien who performs in a sideshow act, and many more fascinating characters. Lubar’s tales include plenty of the gross factor to appeal to young readers*, but he doesn’t rely on the “ewww, gross” response to carry the stories forward. Like Isaac Asimov for young people, this collection of short stories is sure to resonate with anyone who has ever wondered, “what if?”

* (I was going to say that the gross factor appeals to young boys, but then I thought of my own dear daughter, who loves stories that make everyone around her cringe. Let's face it: Love of gross things is a universal kid trait and not gender-based at all!)

12 July 2012






I finished all of my writing goals! Now, I can take a little bit of a writing break (I'm cutting back to only thirty minutes or at most, one hour per day, and I'm NOT starting any new projects!) while I get ready to move to Albuquerque in less than a month. Thanks, everyone, for your love and support!!

10 July 2012

Can We Be Serious for a Moment? (Ummm.... Probably Not)

As promised, last night I finally sat down and tackled pre-conference challenge #6 on the SCBWI MD/DE/WV blog, in preparation for the upcoming regional conference. I've been procrastinating this one for almost two weeks now, not because it was a particularly difficult challenge, but because I had too many possibilities! The challenge? Take a famous quote (from a movie, a book, a song, a well-known saying) and use it as a first line to a story. Write the openings for two different stories using that same well-known quote. One should be light and humorous, while the other is dark and serious.

I spent over a week trying to decide which quote to use!! I considered:

* You can't judge a book by its cover.
* Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
* Nobody's perfect.
* The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
* Time flies when you're having fun.
* Laughter is the best medicine.
* Reading in the dark will ruin your eyes.
* Actions speak louder than words.

Which one to choose? I couldn't make up my mind.

So I asked my husband for help. He suggested: "I reject your reality and substitute my own." or "Failure is always an option." (both quotes - Adam Savage from Mythbusters) But which one should I use? More choices did not make the decision easier! I needed someone to provide me with ONE quote that I would have to stretch my brain to work into a story.

So I turned to my son. As I should have expected, he suggested "Luke, I am your father." Okay, I could work with that. I sharpened my story pencil and pulled out my notebook. But before I could begin writing, he changed his mind and gave me a different quote.

The most disturbing movie quote EVER....

"I know. Somehow, I've always known." (Bonus points if you know what movie that line is from and WHY it is the most disturbing, shudder-inducing movie quote ever!!)

So I started with the light/humorous:

I know. Somehow, I've always known. Probably because my mom has been drilling it into my head for like, my entire life. Still, I'm always amazed at how many people just don't get it. You should never combine plaids and floral prints in the same outfit!

Moving on to the dark/serious:

I know. Somehow, I've always known. It's not a feeling you can describe, really. Knowing the exact day and time your pet turtle is going to make a break for it....

Ummmm..... yeah. Turns out, I'm not so good at the dark/serious kind of writing. (As my family told me last night: "Duh!") I like to laugh too much to ever take things very seriously!! But I'm also stubborn. As you know, I can't let a challenge go lightly. So I worked and agonized until I came up with this:

I know. Somehow, I've always known. That doesn't make any of this easier. George said he would come back for me after, but the truth is, there is no 'after.' Not for George.

Yep, it's cheesy and cliche. I could probably improve it by working farther into the story. But I had to stop myself before it became another story about a pet turtle making a run for freedom. My son told me that the funniest part about this whole challenge was watching me try to be serious, because it's such a difficult/unnatural state for me. I'm too upbeat and happy. I think I can live with that kind of reputation. :)

09 July 2012

Conferences, Contests and Challenges

As you know from my previous post, I've had a pretty full to-do list lately. I haven't been very active on any of my social media accounts, and I've recently discovered that I apparently don't know how to schedule a blog post in advance, because the book review I tried to schedule didn't go up.

I'm pleased to report, however, that I'm making great progress on my writing goals, and I hope to be able to report on Friday that I've finished all of the projects I'd hoped to complete before the SCBWI MD/DE/WV regional conference this weekend. I promised myself (and my family) that starting next week, I'll cut back on the writing time slightly to focus more fully on our move. I've decided that, if I can get all of these polishing revisions finished by this weekend, I can designate my writing time for the next several weeks, until we're settled in Albuquerque, to sending out query letters, entering contests and accepting a (small) writing challenge or two. I'll let my other established works in progress wait until the dust settles a bit.

Of course, there were a few contests and challenges I couldn't let go until next week.

At the end of June, I entered my YA contemporary novel, KISSING FROGS into Brenda Drake's Doggone Voice Workshop, and I've received some valuable critiques from that. I can't wait to polish my manuscript a little bit more with these responses in mind!

This morning, I woke up before my alarm and submitted my polished picture book manuscript to the Christmas in July agent blog contest, sponsored by Michelle Krys and Ruth Lauren Steven. I'm determined not to obsess (much) about the results, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed. (That's the benefit of an overflowing to-do list. No time to think!) - Update! I got an honorable mention on Michelle Krys' site!! Yay!!

I've also entered for a chance to win one of THREE chapter critiques from Lisa Burstein (and her editor, Stacy Cantor Abrams!! and her agent, Susan Finesman!!) in celebration of her newly-published YA contemporary novel, Pretty Amy.

And I put my name in the virtual hat for a chance to win a query (or first page) critique from Agent Amanda Lewis on the I Write for Apples blog.

Of course, I'm still working on the Pre-Conference challenges on the SCBWI MD/DE/WV blog as well. (Update! I finished all 8 challenges!! Yay!!) In fact, I finished up #7 (of 8) this morning. (I still haven't tackled #6, but I'm going to do that as soon as I post this - I promise!) Challenge #7 was to write several ho-hum sentences to describe your 4th of July celebration, and then rework those sentences into vibrant, active paragraphs for a sparkling mini-story.

My sentences:
* The streets were packed with people waiting for the parade to begin.
* The sun was hot.
* We had no shade, other than the umbrellas we brought.
* The parade was long, but it was fun.

Boring, right? Hopefully, this is much better:

Chairs popped up along the sidewalks in the second week of June, patiently waiting through rain and shine to reserve the best spots for viewing the Catonsville 4th of July parade. By the time we arrived downtown, fifteen minutes before start time, we were already two weeks too late to grab a good spot. The sun blazed overhead and not a single cloud took pity on us. Even the shadows cast by our umbrellas offered little relief from the sweltering heat. Sweat trickled down my back, drenching my shirt, and the slight breeze that danced through the flags hanging from street lights wasn't enough to cool my skin.

"Maybe we should go out for ice cream instead," I thought. "I've seen parades before."

But before I could say anything, with a flash of lights and the scream of sirens, a line of firetrucks rumbled down the street. Marching bands, classic cars, bagpipes, stilt walkers and even a drag racer paused to entertain us as they passed by our chunk of sidewalk. Handcrafted floats, led by tired but enthusiastic elementary school students promenaded past our little corner. As the sun dipped below the roof line of the downtown Catonsville buildings, casting long shadows over us, the final parade performers marched past. Two and a half hours sweltering in the sun was never quite so satisfying. Nothing beats the Catonsville 4th of July parade!

02 July 2012

Taking a Break... Sort of

Update! I am almost finished knitting the samples for my Recycle Knit book. Most of the pictures are now up on my website. Take a look and tell me what you think!!

I'm sorry for the silence on my blog recently. I've been extremely busy lately, and the craziness isn't likely to let up for the next few weeks. On my to-do list:

* Revise/polish my picture book manuscript Done!
* Revise my MG novel  Done!
* Knit up samples of all projects in my Recycle Knit book (and finish writing the proposal) Done!
* Finish all pre-conference challenges from the SCBWI MD/DE/WV blogDone!
* Organize my house in preparation for our upcoming move - I'll tackle this next week!

It all has to be done by mid-July! At least, that's the plan. I'd like to complete my writing goals before the regional SCBWI conference on July 14th, and since our move is coming up right on the heels of the conference, I need to get the moving checklist in order by the same time.

So I won't be writing any long, insightful blog posts for the next several weeks. And I probably won't be hanging out on twitter and facebook as much as usual for now. I'll probably have a few short book reviews to post in the meantime, and I'll be back online as soon as I can whittle the to-do list down to only one or two projects.

Thanks for understanding!