Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Writing Challenge - Rendition of a fairy tale

For writer's group next week, we will be sharing together renditions of fairy tales, or fairy tales of our own creations. I decided, with Christmas on the horizon, to write a strange tale about the runaway Gingerbread Man.


It was the third week of Advent, and Christmas was nigh
When dear, sweet old granny with a glint in her eye
Formed a soft ginger dough, and rolled it out flat
And cut out small men, each donning a top hat

With such tender care, and slight arthritic ache
Granny placed each cookie sheet into the oven to bake
I was a small, spritely child, and could not wait to see
The delicate cookie man Granny would make just for me

Ten long minutes had passed when the egg timer rang
And Granny up from her wooden rocker sprang
She took out the cookies; I could feel myself drool
"Don't touch these," she scolded, "They still have to cool"

I thought about waiting, but my feet were so sore
I knew I could not stand even one minute more
There in the corner of the den was a seat
A place to watch TV while I rested my feet

Granny busied herself and washed all the dishes
And I could hear her sing sweetly about holiday wishes
The strangest song, by far, that Granny did sing
Was about how children these days never do anything

Just as she sang, "That's why kids have grown stout"
I heard a commotion and cookie from the kitchen dashed out
"Hey! You're for me!" I called with genuine surprise
And that cookie yelled back with a voice twice his size

"Your dear Granny's right," he said, giving his hat a flick.
"Kids like you sit so much, it just makes me sick."
And with that he was gone, he rushed out the front door
I stood up and followed. I just had to see more.

The man raced up the street, yelling cruelly and lispy
"I'm a delicious cookie, delicate and crispy.
I'll let someone eat me, but first you must prove
That you won't get winded by how fast you must move!"

One by one, eager children from their houses did peer
Hoping the ginger man would be perfectly near
So they wouldn't have need to break into a run
Because for young children, running just isn't fun

I peered through the window of a boy on my street
I noticed the sofa was formed to his seat
His mother was screeching, "Sonny, get that rude treat!"
But he just responded, "That treat isn't so neat."

"I've got other things that are calling my name.
And I don't have to move to keep playing my game."

The ginger man hopped gleefully, and taunted our block
"Will no one come get me? Are you slowed by your stock?"
And he let forth a cackle, and his sprinkles did dances
While he contorted his face into awful, mean glances

After nearly an hour, and all kinds of ruckus
Mrs. Jackson couldn't take it and got off of her tuckus
She sent her dog Furball to catch the rogue snack
Furball's belly was dragging, his pace rather slack

The dog walked a few feet toward the cookie, then stopped
And Furball flopped down with an enormous kerplop
"Oho!" yelled the cookie with vigor and glee
"Looks like Furball's too chubby to come after me!"

An older boy, Sam, had heard quite enough
Of the ginger man's taunting. It was time to get tough
Sam thought his skateboard would give him great speed
He could zoom at the cookie and catch him indeed

So Sam mounted his board and showed us his best
Tricks and smooth moves. All of us were impressed
But the cookie had plenty of moves of his own
It didn't take long before Sam headed home

Young and old all alike soon became tired of the show
But the gingerbread man's heckling only did grow
My neighbors and friends all went back to their resting
We'd all had enough of the cookie man's jesting

I wanted to leave, I wanted to quit
I wanted to lie down, or at least stop and sit
But something seemed wrong with just going back home
It seemed far too risky to leave the cookie alone

Suddenly it hit me - one glorious muse!
And I remembered the things I once used to do
Afternoons spent at play; parks, slides and trees
I once took great pleasure in things such as these

And so I spoke up and yelled to the treat
I had to make clear I would not be beat
"Mr. Ginger," I yelled as politely as I could
"I think you have me misunderstood."

"You think I'll give up; you're sure I'll give in,
If I got back home now, you'll certainly win."
And so I stood tall, then broke into a sprint
I followed that cookie wherever he went

Though it took a long time, the spry treat did grow weary
He smiled right at me, his candy eyes looking teary
"I knew you could do it, your energy was reserved
Take a bite, dear child, for this treat is deserved."

The End!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Nearly 40,000 Words and a Gluten-Free Spread

I hope never to repeat such a lengthy blogging absence! We had a whirlwind beginning to November, and the raging winds are just starting to settle -- only to be replaced by ice! That's right, Thanksgiving plans around my area are being rescheduled or canceled due to freezing rain and icy roads. I suppose that is the one upside to spending the holidays at home. I am glad I was not planning to travel this weekend.

By the end of today I should have over 40,000 words on my NaNoWriMo novel. I finally hit my stride around 30,000 words and discovered that the climax of my story is a gem. Unfortunately everything that leads up to it is rather shoddy. But, it is a starting point, even if it is a starting point that I will have to work backwards from. In the off-chance that something actually becomes of this novel, it is probably best for me not to give away the best part. Trust me when I say that it is intense and emotionally thought-provoking. How's that for a teaser? :)

All of this writing has made me miss the Older Series. I miss Jakobis and Amara and I can't wait to get back to their story. I think it has been good for me to walk away from it for a time, but I am starting to ache for the characters I know and love. I hope this will propel me to great editing come December 1! Feel free to harrass me (daily, if necessary) to stay on task and finish what I've started.

I've also been spending my time learning how to cook gluten free food. I will spare the gory details of my wonderful digestive system, but will tell you that after every possible acid-reducer could not curb my heartburn, I decided it would be worth taking my health into my own hands. So far things are going quite well, but cooking has become far more of an adventure than it ever has been! I've got homemade gluten free bread crumbs ready for a baked stuffing, and I just pulled a dozen dinner rolls out of the oven. They smell delicious! Even though tomorrow will be my first gluten free Thanksgiving, it is something I am very much looking forward to. I hope your holiday is filled with food, family, friends and memories you can treasure for the years to come. I'd love to hear what your plans are, what you are writing, or anything else you might like to share. Comment away!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Tomorrow's the Day...and Other Novel Thoughts

I apologize for such a lengthy absence from blogging. As usual for me, fall weather approached and my body rejoiced by getting sick. Everyone in my house has a lousy cold, but I think I am finally on the mend. Just in time too! Book signing at Merry Bee's in Hampton is tomorrow from 1-3. Stop by to get a signed copy of Seeking Solace, and be sure to check out Delbert Beard's book Daddy, as well. Merry Bee's is a wonderful place to sit and relax with family or friends over a cup of coffee, or a bowl of their delicious soup. My favorite is the Cheesy Potato, but you can't go wrong with any selections you make there. No one asked me to make a plug for them. I just can't help it! :)

In addition to making a stop in Hampton for a book signing, I am busy writing a novel during National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo , as it is called, is a thirty-day scramble to write the rough draft of a fiction novel. Aspiring writers agree to check their internal editors at the door in order to allow creativity to roam freely. This year I am taking a break from the Older Series to write a piece of realistic fiction. I am hoping that a break will reinvigorate me so that I can leap back into editing book 2 of the Older Series - tentatively titled Walking in Darkness. The only thing I can tell you about book 2 is what my husband said after reading an early draft: "It is definitely book 2...I am waiting for book 3 to help me see what is going to happen!" But for now, I will content myself with a steaming cup of chai, a book-signing event tomorrow, and roughly hewn words of a piece of realistic fiction.

What does this November day hold for you?

Monday, October 11, 2010

A new event on the calendar!

I've got a book-signing event coming up next month. Check out the "Upcoming Events" tab for more information.

The event will be held at Merry Bee's in Hampton, Iowa - a fantastic place for lunch, coffee and gifts. I hope you can swing by, or at least think of me on that day.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Update on Book 2 in the Older Series

Book 2 has been written and exists in a very rough form at this point. I have begun the editing process, but this time the process will be much more involved than it was with Seeking Solace. I've learned some mistakes I made with that novel and hope not to repeat them this time around!

Little glimmers of what book 2 is like:
The feel of this novel is quite different from Seeking Solace.
Many characters are the same, but new ones will also make an appearance.
One very early read-through reveals a darker, more complex work - afterall, it is book 2!
I want to say so much more, but I dare not give anything away!

Unfortunately, editing is on hold for about 6 weeks, and then things will speed up considerably. I take a break every November to do some writing. This year will be the same. Check out www.nanowrimo.org and plan to write a novel this November as well! I will NOT be writing book 3 of the Older Series this November, though book 3 will certainly be written at some point in the near future. Instead I will begin working on a work of more realistic fiction. It will be a stretch for me, and we'll see if this piece of writing will ever be suitable for human eyes (well, other than my own!).

If you've read Seeking Solace, what are you looking forward to in a book 2? Any characters you hope to hear more from, or things you hope to have expounded on? Any burning questions you need answered?

If you haven't read it, why not give it a shot? :) Check out the link under the tab above - April's Work.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Writing challenge: Fall

Every month my writers group issues a writing challenge. For this coming meeting, we are to write about Fall. Hope you don't mind me sharing this with you!


"It's fall time, Mommy!" my three-year-old son calls excitedly from the backseat of our small, four-door car.

We are in the middle of a lengthy road trip, and along the way my son has had the chance to notice many trees that are missing their leaves. When he first saw a leafless trees, he had called out in horror that the trees were dead. Like many three-year-old children, my little boy is a bit obsessed with understanding the difference between life and death. He notices dead bugs everywhere we walk, wilted flowers, brown leaves on the ground, and branches that have fallen from trees and dried. "It's a dead tree!" I had heard my son call time and time again when we first began our trip. Now that he is contenting himself with talking about "fall time" I am beginning to think he believes me when I promise him that the trees are not, in fact, dead.

As the miles continue, my inquisitive little boy shifts his attention to other items outside the car window. For a time he is fixated on hay bales of different sizes and shapes. One great thing about driving across Iowa and Nebraska with a child who notices everything is the plentiful presence of hay bales. Next we examine construction equipment, and I rehearse the various names of the trucks: cement mixer, steam roller, dump truck. I think I've learned more about trucks in the past month than I had learned in my my entire life leading up to this point. My son and I notice cattle grazing, horses running and foals following their mothers. We see streams and ponds, cloudless skies and overcast ones. But then, the dreaded preschool question comes and I flounder to give a sufficient answer.

"It's fall time, Mommy!" he begins. "Why is it fall time?"

Oh no. He's done it. He is asking me why, and the truth is I don't know.

After stumbling all over myself for a time, I manage to respond, "I don't know."

My lack of knowledge does nothing to diminish his excitement. "That's because it is, Mommy," he says as he answers his own question. Fortunately, that answer was good enough for him.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Creating a place to write

Up until this point I've been writing wherever I can find room in my house. I would haul my little netbook over to the couch, to the kitchen table, or even to a spot on the floor when I would want to write. That has not been working for me at all. So, I started rearranging my furniture.

I moved the diaper changing table since I don't use it anyway and put a small, simple desk in its place. After adding a couple of fabric embellishments, I think it is usable. I still plan to add a nice picture to the wall, or maybe a decorative bulletin board. Slowly but surely I am making a place for myself in this massive house.

So, that leads me to a few questions. Where do you write? Why do you write there? If you are not a writer, where do you go to do your creative work? Is the space in which you work important to you?

Here's a picture of my simple, small desk:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Breaking Unwritten Rules

I don't tend to read books that are popular. In fact, when a book becomes a sensation or hits a best-seller list, I am less likely to read it. It took me several years before I agreed to read Harry Potter because I knew how popular it had become. Once I read it, I was hooked and ended up reading all seven books in the series. I prefer classics most of the time - books that were considered sensational decades ago - or a book that someone I know is reading. For this reason, I was hesitant to pick up anything written by Jodi Picoult. I had heard too many good things about her work, read too many rave reviews about her intriguing style, heard too many people say they wait on tenterhoods for Picoult's newest book to come out. I did not want to read her work because I was certain that the high expectations I would have could not be met.

A week ago I walked into my public library and asked for a recommendation. I am waiting for the third book in The Hunger Games series and wanted something to pass the time. She asked me what kind of books I enjoy.

"Anything," I replied.

"Read this for me," she said slowly, "because I have a child with Asperger's and I am interested in this book, but it is long and I don't want to read it if it isn't as good as people tell me it is."

She handed me a copy of House Rules by Jodi Picoult. I grimaced and then agreed to read it.

The book began slowly, and I was sure I wouldn't enjoy it. Each section is written from a different character's perspective, and I found it a tad confusing at the beginning. By the end, however, I was sold. This novel is really good. It is over 530 pages, but I was not certain until 5 pages from the end how the mystery would turn out. To me, that is good writing, good plotting, and great suspense. The subject matter - an eighteen year old male with Asperger's and the way his "quirkiness" keeps him from feeling empathy, and reacting "normally" in given situations - is timely and a subject about which many people should take the time to learn. I recommend this book, but will give the disclaimer that it begins slowly. Plod on, and you will be glad you did.

*Writing tip: Don't be afraid to tackle tough subject matter, but if you do, do your homework. Picoult took the time to get to know young adults with Asperger's, and she spent time learning about crime scene investigation. Her material is accurate, and you can tell she knows it well. When you have a character with something like autism, you will have readers who know whether you have done your research or not. In fact, there may be people who pick up your book because they want someone who can identify with their own life stories. People will pick up House Rules because they have a child with autism or know someone who does, and they want to find comfort in a character who resembles them in some way. I applaud Picoult's willingness to broach a subject that is uncomfortable for many people, and I agree with what many say about her writing in this book. The suspensful story she weaves is masterful.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Catching Fire

Just a word about the second book in The Hunger Games series: AMAZING. I've not been that engrossed in a book in a very long time. I read 380 pages in a day. I had other things going on that day and still managed to do them even while reading!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Coffee, GERD and Writing

Apologies for taking more than a week before blogging again!

I asked my wonderful husband what I should blog about today, and he requested that I share with you some thoughts on coffee. Coffee is on his mind right now after the second coffee pot in three years bit the dust yesterday. He's back to using his old stand-by, but he seems to be grieving the loss of his trusty Mr. Coffee. I'll be honest that coffee is on my mind too, but definitely not for the same reason. I over did it on coffee last week and effectively worked my acid reflux (GERD) into a tizzy. I am reminded anew that what I put in my body actually matters. Next time you see me jittering around my house because of a third cup of coffee, please remind me of this blog post. Perhaps I will return to it, read of my misery, and be reminded that I cannot be a coffee drinker.

We consume coffee for a variety of reasons: for the warmth of something in our mugs, for the invigoration we feel when the caffeine stimulates our senses (and our vascular system), for the social outlet of having a sip of coffee with friends, and simply because we enjoy it. When we drink coffee, we are doing it because it meets some kind of deeper need, even if that need is merely a desire for more energy after a poor night of sleep. But, coffee also does something more. It transports the drinker into an altered state, a heightened state of awareness, almost like every sense has been awakened from sleep to experience a new reality. This is why coffee is sometimes likened to a drug. Once a person has experienced the new awareness, it is hard to go back to regular life. This is why many people become chronic coffee drinkers.

There is something similar in writing. When I sit down to write something new, I suddenly become aware of the enormity of the task. When I want to describe something, it is as though a thousand different adjectives come rushing at me, each with a meaning that could alter the reality I am painting with my words. Writing is like having one's senses heightened, or like having an emerging awareness that the world of description is at one's fingertips. It is exciting, transformative, and very real. The downside to writing is that editing must follow in order for the writing to be worth reading. And the downside to coffee is, for me, a painful fire in the pit of my stomach.

Well, I've done it. I finally found an analogy that works for me. Writing is like enjoying the awareness and warmth of a fresh-brewed cup of coffee. Editing is like the heartburn that follows. Only, with writing the editing is worth the pain. So, loving husband of mine, I will forego that cup of coffee. It isn't that I don't love you. I have just decided to stick with writing instead. :)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Don't give it all away

I was feeling lousy on Sunday and decided to treat myself to a day of reading. With my feet propped up, I opened The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and I devoured the entire thing. First, a big thanks to everyone who recommended this novel to me. I am hooked on the series. Second, I wanted to give a review of this novel and tell you what makes it a work of art (in my very humble opinion at least).

1. Suzanne Collins takes on difficult subject matter with ease. She dares to imagine what life would be like in North America under different leadership and different circumstances. She explores the worlds of hunger and starvation. She gives voice to the brutality many children face in countries around the world, but because she sets it on what used to be American soil, we cannot ignore what is taking place. How could this happen? What could we have done to keep it from coming to this? Are we doing anything now that could lead us to become like those in the country of Panem?

2. Katniss Everdeen. The main character of The Hunger Games is someone who I found myself both identifying with and marveling at. She is a strong female character, something literature desperately needs, but she also remain stoic in the face of many atrocities. The reader cannot help but realize young Katniss has seen more and knows more about class disparity and violence than what a young girl her age should have ever seen or known. Life has not been kind to Katniss, and she has erected a wall to protect herself that will not be removed easily.

3. Collins is not afraid to let her readers imagine the events. The events that take place within The Hunger Games are eye-opening and stomach-turning, but not because of the words written on the pages. Suzanne Collins adopts an art that was perfected in old Alfred Hitchcock movies - the art of suggestion. She suggests what is happening and lets her reader's imagination do the rest. This allows the reader to disengage during uncomfortable parts, or to imagine the events without too many descriptors given to guide the imagination. The power of suggestion and trusting the reader to imagine the events actually makes the novel more powerful. Suddenly the reader has to make a choice either to become involved in the narrative or disengage. If you become involved, The Hunger Games will force you to face demons you never knew you had.

Writers, are there elements of your novel, short story or poem that would make more impact if left unsaid? Resist the urge to describe everything, to give everything away. Give your reader's imagination the opportunity to engage the narrative. When you reduce the unnecessary description, you can focus on making characters memorable and relatable. You will be giving your reader the gift of imagination, something that distinguishes reading from watching a sitcom. So, don't give it all away. You will be giving your readers more than if you just handed them a roadmap of your writing.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Recapturing Imagination

I remember it like it was yesterday. The gentle rush of a chilled breeze gracing my cheeks. The rhythmic squeaking of a glider loveseat as its mechanism followed the course of its track. The unforgettable stickiness of turquoise vinyl under my thighs. The murmur of hummingbirds thick in the air. Though I have not been on that white-painted, wooden porch in nearly fifteen years, if I close my eyes I can go there again. On all sides of me are family: great-grandma next to me, grandma nearby with fierce kindness, great-aunt taking in precious time with family, my brother and cousins planning boyish mischief (in which I was, of course, eager to join), mom and dad grateful for a respite from the rush of daily life, and grandpa perched on the steps gazing toward the garage several paces away. Grandpa wasn't distant, or trying to imagine himself elsewhere. No. The Jeep in that garage would take us somewhere for fishing, bring us into Boulder for ice cream, or serve as our vessel of exploration as we observed how our favorite summer location had changed since we last visited.

When many people think of their favorite vacations, they may think of a cruise ship or a tropical beach. They imagine the worries of their work or stressful lives melting away for a week, or two if they are lucky, as they escape from reality. For me, vacation was imagination. Vacation was time with my family, and an opportunity for a change in rhythm of life. The mountain air beckoned me to slow down my worries, to soak in the rays of the sun looming closely overhead, and to listen to the wisdom of Jim Creek as it rippled nearby. Just when I thought I had experienced or seen everything possible, something brand new would tickle my senses. From the discovery of a treehouse in the middle of the forest, to the herd of loose cattle grazing in our yard, nothing was ordinary.

I wonder what would happen if I closed my eyes right here where I sit to write this entry. Might I be transported to another place to soak in the sights, smells and sounds of my imagination personified? Perhaps I would be able to capture even a snippet of that imagination again, and ordinary life might become a little more extraordinary.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Oh the humanity!

Humor me for a moment, and engage in a short mental exercise with me. First, I want you to think of your favorite novel -- perhaps two or three favorites if you cannot narrow it down. Second, choose your favorite character(s) from the novel(s). Third, close your eyes and remember the character's journey in the story. What makes the character your favorite? What things do you love about the person? What things make you uncomfortable in his or her life story?

Close your eyes and think about it. Open your eyes when you are ready, and we'll continue to think about this together.

Very recently I finished the novel Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. The novel takes place in the time of the Great Depression and the Prohibition movement, and the storyline focuses on young Jacob Jankowski's exploits as he learns the ropes of life on a circus train. Jacob's life is an uncomfortable one. Tragedy seems to follow him in the beginning, and his thoughts and actions left me wishing he was a more savory person. He makes a few poor choices, allows others around him to influence him, and he loves the people and animals around him with an irrational sort of love. Reading about Jacob Jankowski's growth and development over the course of his years is not always a pleasant experience. At times I wanted to shield my mind's eye so that I could avoid "watching" what young Jacob would do. But, were I Sara Gruen, would I re-write Jacob's story if given the chance?

Absolutely not.

I truly believe that Water for Elephants is a bestseller for a few reasons:

1) The writing is beautiful and unusual. The storytelling from Jacob Jankowski's perspective reminds me of sitting down with a grandparent and listening about days gone by.

2) The story is intriguing. From the rugged time period, to the intricacies of circus life, this novel is filled with many elements that pique the curiosity of the reader.

3) Jacob Jankowski is human. He's like you, or like me. He makes mistakes. He lets things get the best of him. He allows himself to be swept under by love's current. Sara Gruen has allowed Jacob Jankowski to do things she probably never wanted him to do. His life took shape on the page, and Gruen allowed him to be human -- so much so that I was nearly afraid to relate to him.

If you are a writer, you need to let your characters be human. You can neither keep them from the inevitable mistakes they will make, nor can you polish them to glorious perfection after a slip up. They will be messy, dirty, and perhaps even undesirable. This is what endears them to us.

If you are a reader, open yourself up to love these unkempt characters. Underneath their foibles, their mistakes, and even their serious character flaws, they are like all of us. If you allow yourself to identify with the miscreant, the homely, the morally impoverished, you may find yourself changing along with them as they grow, mature, and develop. A good book - a great author - can take the unsavory and turn it into something beautiful. Should you desire that experience as you read, I would highly recommend Water for Elephants for your next read.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sticking a toe in the water...

I feel overhwhelmed as I sit here writing my first blog entry. The world of blogging feels a bit like a vast ocean, and I am perched cautiously on the shore. I promise that before long I will get up the courage to stick my toes in the water, and perhaps after that I will roll up my pant legs and wade. I ask that you will sit next to me, encourage me, and perchance walk with me when I dare to enter the waters. After all, we are a team. Writers would be nothing were it not for readers, and I am grateful for each of you that accompanies me on this journey.

Sit with me. Let's watch the waters roll up towards our bare feet.