Monday, May 30, 2011
I know this is my second post of the day, but I just got this from my brother-in-law, Larry O'Donnell, and I'd like to share it with all of you.
In Honor of Fallen Comrades
I would like to take a moment to address this holiday. I started to write something that just got too preachy. I will just tell a story of who I remember on Memorial Day and why I always will.
I remember my uncles, who served in World War II and are no longer here to remember their fallen comrades. I also remember friends and acquaintances, who gave all or damn near all.
Most significantly, I remember the crew and passengers of a UH-60 Blackhawk that was nicknamed “Goat”. In November 2003, I was assigned to a Homeland Security detail in Iraq. My agents and I had many missions there, too numerous to cite. One assignment took me and another agent to Mosul, where we attempted to assist General Petraeus and his command, the 101st Airborne Division. This work required us to fly by helicopter to three different border crossings with three different countries, Turkey, Syria, and Iran. We flew in “Goat” three or four times out of about a dozen flights in late October into November.
The troopers of the 101st are a special breed of Amercan soldiers and their motivation and professionalism are topnotch. This statement is not made lightly by a Marine. These men and women show the same level of mission focus as their forebears, the Battling Bastards of Bastogne. If you saw the Spielberg series “Band of Brothers” you got a flavor of what I mean.
On November 7, 2003, my agent and I boarded “Goat” for my return to Baghdad. As we waited for the flight of two Blackhawks to load, we were called aside by the crew chief. He told us that the Judge Advocate General of the Army and his staff required our seats on the UH-60 and we would get a special flight later, direct to Baghdad. I recall being disappointed by the delay but a special flight just to get us back was a unique compliment. We took our gear back to the 101st Headquarters.
A couple of hours later we went up to the operations center to see the status of our flight. It was apparent that something was going on. There was no banter or chatter among the soldiers. We found out a minute later that “Goat” had been shot down outside of Tikrit. There were no survivors. My associate and I were the last people to personally interact with them.
So I take some time on Memorial Day and Veterans Day to remember them. It could have been a completely different outcome.
The fallen 101st soldiers were: CAPT Benedict Smith, CW3 Kyron Kennedy, SSGT Paul Neff, SSGT Scott Rose. The JAG personnel were CWO5 Sharon Swartworth and SGTMAJ Cornell Gilmore. God bless them and their families.
An 80 lb German Shepherd with sharp teeth?
Or a 10 lb black cat?
If you picked the dog, you’d be wrong – at least in our case. Since we lost Maui and adopted Sorcia, we’ve been robbed blind … of fish.
Last week I reported the loss of our beautiful 8 lb golden koi. Now most of the rest of the fish are gone as well. It’s like the Rapture happened after all, but only the fish got to go. However, I suspect the fish have gone NOT to a better place, but into a heron’s tummy.
A heron has terrorized our neighborhood goldfish ponds for years, but he always left us alone. We figured this was because our pond is sheltered under the deck and too close to the house for the bird’s comfort. But I also saw Maui take him on and chase him off the property – never mind that the bird was WAY bigger than the cat.
Maui was hit by a car about 18 months ago (breaking our hearts), and then we got Sorcia. Since then Mr. Heron views our pond as an All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet. Where is Sorcia while the bird is chowing down? I don’t know – maybe snoozing in the garage?
A neighbor suggested stringing fishing lines across the top of the pond. That’s probably one of the first things we could try. My husband checked out the internet for suggestions, but what he learned only confused us more.
1)Herons don’t like ponds that are sheltered under an overhang.
Well, this one got over it, or it's not a heron after all.
2)Once a heron has discovered a good source of food, he will return again and again, emptying the pond.
Yeah, we’re at that point. There's nothing left in our pond but 1-2 inch minnows.
4) The very, very best thing you can do to keep away a heron or a raccoon is buy a great big dog.
Sigh. That’s a big FAIL, Sorcia. Shame on you.
Friday, May 27, 2011
I blame Dave Singleton who, on Saturday morning, posted this link on Facebook. Apparently, the challenge was to photograph your own “rapture” scenario. Where were YOU when you got taken? No further prompting needed; Gabbey and I got right to work.
It was a gorgeous day, at least in Pennsylvania. Perfect for riding your bike:
Or cleaning the pool:
Of course, Gabbey prefers to stay inside working on her novel:
And everybody knows how I spend my time:
After posting the pictures on Facebook and Twitter, we spent the rest of the day cracking up over all the other ones that were posted. Honestly, I didn’t think my own “rapture” photo was particularly original, but somehow it got picked up by Mashable in their Top Ten. (Definitely check these out! Some are hilarious!)
The biggest surprise came on Sunday when I got an email from the crew at ABC World News with David Muir. They were doing a rapture story and wanted permission to use my photo. Uh … yeah, sure. And darned if they didn’t show it on the 6:30 pm news.
The news story as a whole was very serious and somber, spotlighting believers who spent their entire life savings to “warn the world” and are now left with nothing. Nothing – no savings, no job, and in some cases, no home. Meanwhile, Muir pointed out that most of the world thought the entire thing was a joke – and on came a 10 second parade of prank Twitter photos, including mine – which made me feel kind of insensitive.
I meant no disrespect to those people who deeply believed Judgment Day had arrived. But if it HAD been the last day, at least I spent it laughing. And I can’t think of a better way to go.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Not everybody feels that way, though. My 14 year old daughter, for example, has been agonizing over the revisions she’s making to a book she’s been writing for almost a year. I should probably mention that the current revisions were sparked by my commentary on her last draft, and I love what she’s done with the new one so far! From my viewpoint, it all seems to be going smoothly, but apparently there’s some turmoil inside Gabbey’s head.
She gave the world a glimpse of it on Facebook yesterday, and I’m reprinting it here (with her permission):
Gabbey (to self):
Well, as long as I'm tearing apart the first half of my book, why not twist it up even more, and hey, it might be fun to rearrange all the events...OOH! I HAVE AN IDEA! I'll just add this random scene right here and then this part...nah, I'll leave this part alone.
I think I'll make this chapter ten pages longer and this one four pages shorter. No wait, scratch that, that's a dumb idea. I'll just put these six pages in this chapter and then move this explanation to the very beginning.
Hm, I think this character should get shot with a poison arrow...but that means this other character CAN’T be shot with one. Okay fine, I'll just add a short little battle in here...DIE MAIN CHARACTER, DIE! Just kidding, but I think I kind of wrote him into a corner here...okay, deleting that whole last page. NO WAIT! UNDO! I JUST THOUGHT OF A WAY TO FIX IT! Ugh...okay...breathe...
Gabbey, welcome to the wonderful world of writing, and yes, don’t forget to breathe. I’m still hoping that Gabs will get brave enough to share her first page with us for First Impressions. She talked her crit partner, Dylan, into doing it, but hasn’t yet submitted her own page … hint, hint.
Monday, May 23, 2011
You are hereby invited to attend the climax of the book, expected to begin approximately 20,000 words from now. I wanted to give you plenty of advance notice, because I am anticipating the climax will consist of several climactic scenes which may require rigorous activity, convergence of multiple plot lines, and the death of one of you.
At this point, I can’t give you a precise timeline for the event(s). I’m not sure about the order of the planned activities, nor even if they make any kind of logical sense. I am pretty sure I have some of you booked in multiple locations at the same time. However, I’m hoping we can work that out as we go, and I know you’ll all improvise as needed. (Heaven knows, you haven’t followed the script so far, and I don’t expect you’ll start doing so now.)
As for the death, I cannot name the victim, but I’m sure you all can guess who it is. At this point, I have not worked out a method of dispatch, so I am open to suggestions from all of you. Please feel free to pester me with possible scenarios while I am trying to concentrate on my day job.
I know we had a rough beginning and re-wrote the first 20,000 words three times before we took off running. But, in the end we persevered and even had some fun along the way. Remember the Just Kiss Already Blogfest?
Anyway, with the light at the end of the tunnel a dim twinkle in the distance, I’d like to say that I enjoyed working with you – and look forward to revising your story in the future – multiple times.
At your service,
Friday, May 20, 2011
I started writing a book nearly three years ago. To say that there have been changes is an understatement. To be honest, the book probably started a lot longer ago than three years. I just did not put pen to paper (or keystroke to laptop ) until three years ago.
There came a moment in time, that I cannot precisely define, when the characters staged a coup and took over. Many scenes were purged and even whole chapters were sent to the gulag.
There was also considerable editing pursuant to the patient suggestions of Dianne and now those of Marcy. Their comments caused me to receive an epiphany: A book is written to entertain and inform the public.
Technical content, political viewpoints, social commentary, and historical accuracy are all secondary to the enjoyment and interest of the reader. The characters of my book embraced this concept before me. My antagonist would tell me: “I would never say or act anything like that, dump the scene or dialogue.” That would be an example of one of the kinder criticisms offered up by my creations.
Now and then I take a stand and tell the characters to shove off. If they get too riled up, I remind them that any one of them could be killed off or transferred away in the next chapter. Still, they don’t appear to be terribly concerned with my threats. “Try to do this story without us,” they taunt me, frequently using poorly placed dialogue tags.
Fearless and relentless, the characters change my words, the order of chapters, and even the plot. I work hard and then see it stripped to the bone by people who don’t even have a physical presence. Look them up on the internet, they aren’t there. They don’t Skype, text, nor maintain a blog.
I am nearing final approach on the project. The war of wits with the characters continues but I am seeing more victories over the usurpers. My latest working threat is to tell them I will embarrass them in the next chapter. It turns out that they have concerns about how others see them. We have improved our dialogues and scene descriptions. We are making headway on point of view issues. It is clear to me that some of my characters are nervous about the impending end of the story. Some of them know their fate is uncertain, while others await the end smug in their belief that they will be published.
If the book ever gets to an editor, they will have a much harder task to make changes go their way…
In conclusion, the best transformations are self-induced or dictated by the characters. Just don’t confuse the characters with the voices you hear in your head…
You can find the first page of Larry's WIP here, among April's First Impressions critiques.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Publishing is a little like fishing. You throw your lines in the water … and then you wait. You might even have multiple fishing lines in at the same time. Whether it’s queries to agents or submissions to editors or even a screenplay circulating around Hollywood (ahem), the hardest part is the waiting, watching for one of those lines to twitch, hoping to reel in a fish.
There’s lots of ways to wait. You can keep pulling in your line to see what’s on it.
My sister to her son: “Cameron, if you reel that line in one more time, so help me …!”
You can keep changing the bait.
One daughter to another: “Try sticking a bloodworm between two pieces of squid and making a sandwich.”
You can see what’s in the cooler.
My brother and I: “Hey, Dianne, can you pass me a beer?” – “Sure, Brian, if you hand me those Tastykakes.”
What do you do while you’re waiting for something to bite on your line?
And speaking of fish, I am really sad to report that my beautiful golden koi is gone from my pond. He was there when the pond thawed in the spring, swimming around in the deepest part. And then he simply vanished. No body, no nothing. That fish muat have been around 8 pounds, so I’m thinking it had to be a heron or a raccoon that got him. I am really bummed. Below is the video I made last year of him eating out of my hand and sucking on my fingers.
Monday, May 16, 2011
Gina's Review: Everlost
This is one of my favorite books: Everlost. It is about Nick and Allie, who get in a car crash and don’t survive. But they don’t exactly die either; instead they end up in Everlost. Everlost is a place between life and death where only kids can go. It’s a place filled with ghostly children and things and places that no longer exist in the living world – like The Twin Towers, the Hindenburg, and any object that was ever loved.
Allie and Nick decide to find their parents and see if they survived the crash. As they go along their journey, they are introduced to Mary Hightower. Mary is the supervisor over all the children and she keeps them safe. Nick instantly falls in love with her. Allie instantly hates her.
They are invited to stay with Mary forever but Allie doesn’t agree. She wants to learn some skills from a kid called the Haunter. When they get there Nick gets trapped in a pickle barrel, but Allie manages to get away. Before she can rescue Nick, the Haunter gets attacked by the one true monster of Everlost: The McGill. Allie goes to find the McGill and when she does, he captures her.
Now she has to find a way for her and Nick to escape.
I loved this book because it was so cleverly written. People you thought were good ended up being bad, and people you thought were bad ended up being good. Thank heavens there’s two more books in the series: Everwild and Everfound.
Thanks, Gina! And I second her recommendation. Love, love, love The McGill! As for my class, they enjoyed it so much that this month's Scholastic book order looked like THIS. I think Mr. Shusterman owes me some thanks. :)
Friday, May 13, 2011
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
I started out with only the purple & purple and white & pink varieties. One had upturned flowers; the other had the more regular downturned blooms. All these other combinations produced themselves – white & white, white & purple, lavender & purple, light pink & dark pink, and this lovely burgundy. They’ve also spread themselves all over the yard, front and back, and I expect my neighbors are finding them too. (You’re welcome, folks.)
Stories transform themselves, too, even as you’re writing them. Just because you’re the author doesn’t mean you’re in charge. The story I thought was about psychic researchers turned out to be the story of a girl desperately camouflaging herself among ordinary people, trying to smother everything about herself that was extraordinary. The story I thought was going to be about a fantastic scientific discovery turns out to be about a young man trying to redeem himself for a crime he committed when he was too naïve to know any better. The heroine who was supposed to choose one boy eventually chose the other, because he turned out to be better suited for her.
In every case, I thought the story was about the situation, but instead it was really about the people. And I didn’t know squat about the people until I met them while writing the story. As for the brand-spanking-new WIP about the end of the world? Well, I have no idea what that story will turn out to be, but I’m sure my main character Miri will let me know when she’s ready.
How have your stories transformed before your eyes? How have they surprised you?
Monday, May 9, 2011
Okay, I’m really dating myself if I tell you this was the first video game I knew, growing up. Atari Ping Pong. I wasn’t any good at it.
However, I’ve recently had success at ping-ponging WIPs. I’ve got two projects going right now – one at 16k words and the other at40k words. And somehow, working on them alternately – chapter by chapter -- has improved my productivity.
Which is a good thing, because I felt like I was spinning my wheels a little this winter. With a full time teaching job, my writing time is limited, and sometimes I forced it, so as not to waste a single minute. And forcing your writing is never a good idea.
I’m a lot more successful if I don’t start writing until I have a chapter all worked out in my mind. But now, with two stories going simultaneously, I can put a chapter for one of them down on paper, while planning out the next chapter of the other story in my head.
On a good week, I’ve been able to write one chapter of each. This is not going to be one of those weeks, though. (Thanks a lot, stomach flu. That was a helluva Mother’s Day gift.)
On the other hand, when I make revisions on a completed manuscript, I turn myself completely over to that story. Nothing gets in the way – no other WIPs, no television, no books. Total immersion.
How about you? Do you ping pong? Or do you totally commit yourself to one project at a time?
Friday, May 6, 2011
The final First Impression this month is from an eighth grade student – not a former student of mine, but a friend of my daughter Gabbey. From what I’ve seen, Dylan is already highly committed to his writing. He manages a wiki for seventh and eighth grade writers at his school to post their work and get feedback.
This is the opening page of Dylan’s work, Liberty7:
Vanastia is in total chaos—and by total, I mean armed “guards” patrolling streets at all times of the day, regular violent changes of power, and corrupt government leaders.
The worst one is the government’s military leader—Charles Ventur Bronan. An odd man to begin with. Very paranoid—which I guess could be justified. He pretty much orders peoples’ deaths every day. Eventually someone is going to get him.
He has, “Civil Guards” as he calls them—always armed, untrained but just too happy to shoot you dead with their supplied guns. They’re all goons, mindless followers of all his malicious deeds. People talk about the things that he does in secret, and as soon as Bronan’s guards walk in, everyone is silent.
Of course the government covers all these cruelties up—this one’s a weapon malfunction, this one’s a freak accident. But nobody believes them. They government guarantees they’re just there to keep us safe. But why do they need full-automatic guns in public places? Do they really expect us to believe we’re going to get attacked in the middle of a grocery store?
The worst part of the guards is there punishments. If they hear you say anything against any government official, they beat you. Such was the case as I walked down the street to the market square where numerous vendors sold their goods. Two guards approached an elderly man, cursing at him as loud as they could. Their words
where were law. The first of the two seized the man as he turned to flee and held him firmly in place. The man whimpered.
The second guard grabbed the man’s left arm and twisted it behind his back. A loud crack resonated through the square and the old man moaned. Everyone was silent. Slowly I backed out of the gruesome scene and back to the street I had just arrived from. The Civil Guard proceeded to snatch the man’s other hand and twist it behind his back. There was another crack and blood stained the man’s shirt as the soldiers pushed him to the ground and left him to bleed out.
I wanted to help him—and under normal circumstance I would. I had done so several times before. But the Civil Guards would probably gun me down. Oh, yes I had caused trouble with them, and they all knew my face well.
My first thought while reading this passage was that I didn’t know who was speaking until the bottom of the page, when the narrator sees the old man beaten up. This is my biggest suggestion for Dylan: move this to the beginning and open the story with it.
Dylan has developed a great voice for his main character, so let’s meet him in the opening paragraph. I think the story should open with the main character walking to market and witnessing this event. He wants to intervene, but he can’t, because the guards know his face. Then, we can hear about Charles Ventur Bronan and his cruel regime.
By that time, the reader will be anxious to know more about the main character, whose snarky and sarcastic voice has carried us through this introduction – this person who would have helped the old man under “normal circumstances” but cannot help him today.
I also have to say that with Dylan showing this much talent for voice and style in eighth grade, I can't wait to see what he produces in the future!
Be sure to stop by Marcy Hatch’s Mainewords to see her critique of the same piece. If you’re interested in participating in First Impressions in June, see the information on the sidebar!
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
In Tokyo, high school kids don’t have to be at registration until 8:30 a.m. And by then, it’s daylight. And they ride in on the tram or the subway. How do I know this? Well, Nanako Ivana Saki- Canterbury’s only Japanese foreign exchange student just told me. And yes, that is her real name.
I stifle a yawn and struggle to stay focused on the road but Nanako keeps mumbling nervously, the whites of her almond-shaped eyes visible in the car’s shadowy interior.
“Is so dark outside,” she says, for the third time.
“Yup,” I nod. “The sun comes up a little later here in winter.”
I like the idea of how this story starts, with two girls heading to school on the first day – one of them a Japanese foreign exchange student, the other her desperately-trying-to-be-patient host. I did have to read the first paragraph a couple of times, because at first I thought the story was set in Tokyo. The girl’s name blended in with the town name, so I’d suggest re-wording that sentence. For example:
Well, Canterbury’s only Japanese foreign exchange student, Nanako Ivana Saki, just told me. And yes, that is her real name.
It might be a good idea to ground us firmly in an American car winding its way on a back road in the dusky pre-dawn hours of the first day of school before mentioning Tokyo.
The first page gave me a few chuckles, including this passage:
Nanako swallows. “Sadie?” She says my name with a really soft ‘d’ so it comes out sounding more like ‘Saylieeee?’
“Hmn?” I answer. Dear God, why can’t she save her questions for when I’m fully conscious and not trying to maneuver around sharp curves with no street lights?
“How many murders you say have happened in your town?”
“None Nanako,” I sigh. “I told you, there have been no murders in Canterbury.”
Heh, heh, heh. I appreciate Sadie’s restraint! She must be about ready to commit Canterbury’s first murder! By this time, I am wondering how long Nanako has been in the country and what commentary she will have on the school when they get there.
Nanako shakes her head skeptically, pin straight black hair falling across her cheek. “This place looks like the setting for every horror movie I has ever seen.” She jumps up and gapes out the window. “What was sat?”
“A squirrel.” I reply, hands tightening around the steering wheel. I take a deep cleansing breath, hoping if I relax, Nanako will take my lead.
Overall, I enjoyed this first glimpse of Nanako and Sadie. I’m wondering where they’re going from here, and how Nanako will blend in at school. My only issue was with the first paragraph – but it usually takes me a bazillion tries to get that right in my own work. I considered whether Katie could move a stronger sentence up, but I think it’s more a matter of clarifying what is there. I’d suggest just playing around with Sadie’s voice and the opening lines until the right combination appears.
Check out Marcy’s critique of this same page on Mainewords and be sure to visit Katie’s blog, Creepy Query Girl.
Monday, May 2, 2011