Thursday, December 27, 2012

Awesome Present for a Writer + An Editing Lesson

I hadn't planned on posting this week, but I just had to share an awesome Christmas present (that only writers can appreciate) which turned out to also be a head-scratching editorial moment.

My 12 year old daughter Gina, all on her own, conceived of this present.  She took my current manuscript for THE EIGHTH DAY, made it into a Wordle, and turned it into a framed poster via Staples.

Wow. My first thought was: I love it.

My second thought was: Why the heck is the word BACK so big? Can that really be the fourth most common word in my manuscript? The most used word after the names of the principal characters? (In the words of 30 Rock's Liz Lemon, "What the what?!?")

So, two lessons here:

1. A Wordle of a manuscript makes a good present for a writer.
2. Wordle is a useful tool to use after completing a manuscript to make sure you haven't over-used some lame word like BACK!

And, I just want to mention that Marcy and I still have one spot open for a First Impression in January (and three spots open in February). We started this monthly feature almost two years ago, and we've yet to have an opening go unfilled. Is there anybody out there getting ready to query who wants feedback on their first page? Ahem, can I mention that First Impressions participants PK Hrezo and Robin Hall both found agents?  Of course, I'm sure their own talent had something to do with it (obviously!), but both PK and Robin shared their first pages for feedback, then shared their REVISED first pages for more feedback, and then went on to successfully woo agents.  Just sayin'. :D

Directions on submitting can be found on the sidebar.

I hope you are having a wonderful holiday with family and friends!
Cheers from the Salerni household ... and Happy 2013!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Slice of Salerni Life 2012

A Slice of Salerni Life 2012 
The End of the World

Gabbey: (looking over Dianne’s shoulder) You too, Mom? All my friends on Facebook are being weird about the world ending, and I’m like, “Really, people? Don’t make me unfriend you.”

Bob: You can tell them Mommy and I saw the actual Mayan calendar at a museum in Mexico City this summer, and it said nothing about …

Dianne: That was the Aztec calendar, dear. Not the Mayan one.

Bob: It was? Oh. I got nothin’ then.

Gina passes by with a suspicious-looking can in her hand and sticks it in the refrigerator.

Dianne: That better not be crickets!

Gina: (snorts in derision) Why would I put crickets in the refrigerator?

Dianne: What was in the can, then?

Gina: Worms.

Dianne: I can’t believe we let the girls get lizards. Feeding raw chicken to the dog wasn’t enough, we’ve got to keep live vermin to feed the lizards?

Sorcia: Whine, bark, whine, whimper, sob. (Translation: I can’t believe you got lizards either. Stop looking at them! Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!)

Bob: 2012 was a good year for us. If the world has to end, at least it’s ending on a high note.

Gabbey: I’m not listening to this anymore. (puts ear buds in her ears) I’m putting on The Legend of Zelda, Symphony of the Goddesses.

Dianne: (snaps fingers) That’s right. Gabbey went to see her first concert this year. A symphony. Very highbrow. My first concert was Journey.

Bob: (raises a hand) Huey Lewis and the News.

Gina: I’ve never been to a concert, but I really, really, really want to see Justin Bieber.

Gina: (looking over Dianne’s shoulder) ARRGH! Take that out! That is NOT true!

Dianne: (applies strikethrough) Okay, okay. I was just making a joke. So Gina has never been to a concert, but she went to an air show with Tara and competed in TWO triathlons.

Gina: And Dad was awesome in the Atlantic City Triathlon with Chris and Andy! He did the bike leg in just over an hour.

Bob: Thus in the middle of the pack and thoroughly beating my goal of not being last. We even got Mom on Gina’s bike this year and built her stamina up to almost 10 miles. All she needs is one of her own, and we can go riding as a family.

Gina: You think Gabbey will come with us?

Gabbey: (pulls out one ear bud) What? In the sunshine? Unlikely. (hunkers over her laptop and types intensely)

Dianne: Don’t give us that dark, teenage attitude. We know you can do “bright and perky” after your performance in Snow White this fall. And you were pretty animated in the Avon Grove Community Theater’s production of The Music Man, too.

Bob: Wow. I almost forgot about the show this summer. How did we squeeze that AND Gina’s band camp between Spiderman on Broadway and Teotihuacan, Mexico?

Dianne: You know, not many husbands would plan a spur-of-the-moment trip to Mexico just so the wife could write a better climactic scene to her fantasy novel.

Bob: (coughstax write off”) Well, climbing to the top of the Sun Pyramid was well worth the effort, considering The Eighth Day sold to HarperCollins in a 3-book deal.

Dianne: 2012 was a darn good year, but I’m looking forward to 2013, too. Gina in Oklahoma! at the middle school, our annual Pocono ski trip …

Gina: The Spirit Game film, The Caged Graves getting published …

Bob: Maybe Vermont over Spring Break and Europe over the summer ...

Gabbey: (perks up) Driving lessons!

Silence. A long, LONG silence.

Bob: Maybe we should hope for the end of the world.

Gabbey: Ha, ha. Very funny.

Dianne: Regardless, 2012 has been a wonderful year. (gives Bob a big kiss)

Gina: Ewwww. Gross! (This from someone who puts worms in the refrigerator.)

Sorcia: Whine, bark, whine, whimper, sob. (Translation: Stop kissing her! Kiss me! Kiss me! Kiss me!)


Monday, December 17, 2012

Facing Monday

I'm writing this over the weekend, wondering exactly how I will face my classroom on Monday. How I will look at it. How I will look at my students. And how they will look at me.

Exactly a week before the Sandy Hook incident, we had an intruder drill at our school. Note: We have lots of drills. The state of Pennsylvania requires a fire drill each and every month. Plus, we have inclement weather drills and lockdown drills thrown in as well.

On that particular Friday, I was annoyed to have the drill interrupt my instructional time. I had quite a bit of work I wanted to get done, and I knew the disruption would put some kids off learning for the rest of the afternoon. I warned my students it was coming, so I could go over the safety rules.

Several of the students cheered when I told them we were doing a lockdown drill. I wanted to know why. "Because it's fun," they said.

The announcement came, and the kids went to their positions. I locked the door with the key I wear on a lanyard around my neck whenever I'm in the building. I covered the windows on the door, and one boy asked, "Couldn't someone shoot through that?"  I gave him the stinkeye, and he went to his place and stopped asking questions.  I seated myself where I could see the children and the door.

What the boy didn't know was this: I was already rehearsing in my mind what furniture I could use to barricade the door. At the time it seemed both silly and morbid for me to plan such a thing, but it's something I think about during every intruder drill.

The kids squirmed and giggled and farted. If you don't believe that fifth grade boys can fart on purpose, then you've never locked yourself in a room with a bunch of them and ordered silence. It happens every single time.

After about 10 minutes, the drill ended, and we all went back to work.  End of story.

Or at least, it was the end of the story until this Friday, when we all understood exactly what the drill is for. Now I know. And sadly, I'm sure my students know too.

Part of my job description is defending my students from armed intruders, and why this should be true in a country not at war defies explanation. While the media erupts with arguments over gun control and security and suggestions are made in all seriousness that arming teachers with handguns is a better solution than banning weapons that can be used to blow apart the entrance to a school -- I don't think the situation is going to change any time soon.

I NEEDED to write this, to get it out.
But I've turned off comments.
Thank you for reading.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Deja Vu 2012 Blog Fest: The Day of the Do Over

Welcome to the Deja Vu Blog Fest: The Day of the Do Over, where we recycle old blog posts that might have been missed or under-appreciated during the year.  I picked this one because I had NO IDEA where it was going to lead me.

In February of 2012, I wrote a post titled Leaving the Comfort Zone:

I saw this image on Facebook last week. It was posted by Laurie Baum Olson and came to my attention via my high school friend, Kathryn Kane. And it made me think.

Specifically, it made me think about two writing projects lurking in the back of my mind, which I’ve been reluctant to attempt because they’re outside my comfort zone.  In fact, I already made a half-hearted attempt at one of them and gave up after only a couple weeks of working on it because it was “just not me.”

But if it wasn’t really my thing, why is the idea still hanging around, bothering me?

If I tally up all my completed and in-progress manuscripts – I’ve got 1 historical fiction, 1 historical mystery, 3 historical with a paranormal bent, and 2 historical with a science fiction bent.  See the pattern?

But one of the stories “bothering” me is a contemporary ghost story and the other is a contemporary fantasy.  The second one might even have the potential to be MG instead of YA, if I play around with it a bit. (My fifth grade students keep asking why I don’t write anything for their grade level!) 

Both these projects are well outside my comfort zone. The contemporary setting scares me a little, because I know I have to nail the voice of modern characters instead of historical ones, and the world building I’d need for a fantasy scares the bejeebers out of me.

But this little graphic got to me. I don’t know if there really is a place just outside my comfort zone where all the magic is happening. However, I’ll never find out if I don’t stretch and grow a little.

I’ve made up my mind to attempt one of those projects this year.

I ended up choosing the fantasy, in spite of my worries about world-building, and started writing it in April. This manuscript led me in August to Mexico, to research the setting of the climax ...

And in October, it led to this:

Author of the forthcoming YA novel THE CAGED GRAVES, Dianne Salerni's MG debut THE EIGHTH DAY, about a mysteriously orphaned boy who discovers a secret day hidden between Wednesday and Thursday and the beautiful girl he finds next door, hiding from people who'd use her to destroy the seven day world as we know it, to Barbara Lalicki at Harper Children's, in a good deal, in a three-book deal, in a pre-empt, by Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger (world English). 

I think the moral of the story is pretty clear.
In 2013, how will YOU leave your comfort zone?

I totally failed at transferring Mr. Linky's link for the participants of this blog. :( But you can pop over and see the list at Cruising Altitude 2.0.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Guest Post: Gina Spoofs Commercials

There's nothing that gets under my 12 year old daughter's skin than television commercials for drug companies, advertising medicine directly to the public -- who totally aren't qualified to choose their own treatment.

She wrote a spoof on these commercials that she wanted to share:

Do you get sleepy late at night?  Hungry when you don’t eat for several hours?  Do you feel pain when you scrape your knee?  Or out of breath when you’re underwater? These problems are horrible, and we have found a solution. Ask your doctor if you should try our new medicine, Probabliewontkilu.  This will fix all your problems! Our pill has been tested by many people we have found on the streets, so you know it is safe. It only has a few side effects, but, why don’t you look at these happy pictures instead of reading them?

Possible side effects include trouble breathing, sudden death, loss of vision, vomiting, coma, heart attack, lung explosion, hair falling out, depression, growing an extra nose, eyeball disappearance, awkward outbursts of song and dance, inability to taste tomatoes, yelling at towels for making you dry, and curling up into a ball on the floor.

Ask your doctor now if Probabliewontkilu is right for you.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Monday Night at The Practice Room

Today I’d like to put in a plug for Tina Laurel Lee’s brainchild, The Practice Room – which operates as a little think tank for the writing community. You can check out the sidebar on her site for the weekly schedule, but I usually run a session on Monday nights, while Tina and other writers host sessions in the mornings and afternoons during the week.

We’ve got a wonderful group of people who attend the Monday night session: many regulars like Krystalyn Drown, Maria Mainero, and Marcy Hatch. Krystalyn’s sister Serena has started coming, as well as Krystalyn’s friend Jen, and Marisa Hopkins is sometimes there. I’ve recently invited Mary Waibel and Christine Danek, and there are other visitors as well.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Come to The Practice Room anytime in the 30 minutes before a session to “check in” and set a goal. (On Monday nights, that’s between 7:30 and 8:00 pm EST.)
  2. During the “Unplug” time, write like crazy. (On Monday’s that is 8pm to 9pm EST, but people do what suits them best. If you can’t write for that hour, you can still chat afterwards. Some people in the later time zones come to the chat first and then write afterwards.)
  3. Return to The Practice Room (IMPORTANT: REFRESH THE PAGE) after the Unplug to attend the chat between the writers. (The chat starts at 9pm EST on Mondays.)

Why do this? Well, the one hour dedicated writing time is important, but the real gem here is the live chat between the writers. We vent; we share; we brainstorm. I have seen people share links, match up as critique partners, and brainstorm through trouble spots. You might not think that a simple question posed by another writer who has never even read your story might solve the one thing that’s been giving you fits – but I’ve seen it happen lots of times.

We always love to have new participants, so I hope you’ll check us out! Maybe I’ll see a new face (okay, a new profile pic) there tonight!

Friday, December 7, 2012

First Impressions: NOT A HOLIDAY

Our final First Impressions post comes from Sharon Mayhew. This is the first page of her MG historical fiction manuscript: NOT A HOLIDAY.

August 1, 1940
            I flung my gas mask over my shoulder and plopped down in a kitchen chair.
            “But I don’t want to carry a gas mask around all the time,” I said.
            “It’s not a choice, Joyce, you have to.  Everyone has to, from grandparents all the way down to babies.” Mummy stacked a pile of newspaper on the counter, and then dug around in the odds and end drawer.
            “Well, I don’t think it’s fair that the war is coming to London.  That Mister Hitler is a real rotter!”
            “I think everyone in England would agree with you on that, Love.” Mummy brushed her long auburn hair out of her eyes.  “But right now I need you to show Gina carrying your gas mask is all right and not fuss about it.  Imagine how grateful you’ll be to have it, if something horrible happens.”
            “I still don’t like it.”  I scratched the back of head and thought about Gina being scared of bombs and gas masks.  “I’m going to make Dolly a little gas mask box. That should make it less scary for Gina.”   Dolly was special to Gina, she was her only doll.  Gran gave her to Gina on her last birthday.
             “That’s a wonderful idea!”  You can make it while I’m getting the house ready in case the air raids start.”
            I found a matchbox, a roll of sticky tape, the crayons, and some string in the odds and ends drawer.  I separated the matchbox into two parts. I cut off a piece of string and taped it to the inside of the outside part of the matchbox, then I slid the drawer part back in.  I colored Dolly’s gas mask box blue.  Gina liked blue and it covered up the words on the matchbox.
            Gina came in the kitchen carrying Dolly.
            “Look what I made for Dolly.”  I held up the tiny gas mask box.
            “Oh!  Now, Dolly will be safe too.”  Gina slipped the gas mask box over Dolly’s shoulder, gave me a cuddle and then plopped down in the chair next to me.

My first thought, as I was reading, was I wanted to know more about Joyce, our main character. I didn’t know why she didn’t like the gas masks (ie: bulky, smelly, uncomfortable, scary) or if she even understood what they were for. And she changed her attitude rather quickly, from being petulant over the masks to making one for a doll so her sister won’t be afraid of them.

I think we need to get into Joyce’s head a little more in the opening page, so that her voice will shine. I want to know how much she knows about “Mr. Hitler the rotter” and the reason everyone carries gas masks. Has she learned about it in school? What has she overheard adults talking about?  Is she scared? Letting us glimpse her inner thoughts will go a long way towards establishing voice and our connection to this MC.

I’d like it to take a little longer before she buys into putting on a good show for her little sister – at least long enough to mull the situation over and decide why it’s important for her to do so. The details of making the mask for the doll could be glossed over in favor of some reflection on Gina and Joyce’s determination to be a good big sister. Readers, what do you think?

Sharon, thanks for sharing your first page with us! Marcy Hatch has a critique of this same page up on her site Mainewords, and you can say hello to Sharon at her blog.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

First Impressions: HAUNTED

Our second submission for First Impressions is from Susan Oloier, a YA manuscript Susan describes as “Paranormal Lite” called HAUNTED.


          It’s raining, so I shouldn’t have agreed to be the designated driver. But here I am. There are no alternatives. I take the keys from Jeremy and dash toward his Subaru. The earthy smell of water soaking into the dirt and pavement rises around us. Jeremy ducks down as if his little exercise is a way to walk between the raindrops, as if he will live forever within their spaces.
            “Let me drive,” he says, though his speech is drowned in grogginess.
            “I’ve got it,” I say as we scramble for the car. “You just relax. Get some rest.” I can use the rest myself as I teeter on the edge of sleep, too. But I want to take care of him. He had so much to drink.
I fire up the engine and crank the heat. Jeremy slips into the passenger’s seat, pulls his door closed, and immediately turns on the stereo. Before taking off, I eye him briefly: his brown bangs hanging limply in his face as he tugs his plastered shirt from his chest. He pushes his head into the back of the headrest and closes his eyes. As our song plays, Jeremy lifts his lids and reaches out to finger the ends of my hair. His eyes mingle with mine for a moment, then he grabs my hand. “Love you, Hailey.”
“Love you, too.”
“I’m so drunk.” Then he lets go and balances between sleep and wakefulness.
I turn on the wipers and try hard to focus on the wet and blurry road ahead of me. My hands choke the wheel. I hate driving in the rain—at night. But I promised I would, which is why Jeremy drank at the party, then drank some more.
I wind my way along the county roads, twisting and turning. The vehicles that pass in the opposite direction douse my windshield in a blinding spray. I sit all the way forward in the seat, feeling the muscles in my neck tighten and the tendons in my fingers strain.

This is a promising beginning. I can feel the tension – the drunken but affectionate boyfriend, the rain, the darkness, and the nervousness of the driver. I anticipate what will happen next, and I would definitely turn the page to find out if I’m right.

My feedback mainly focuses on individual sentences. Jeremy ducks down as if his little exercise is a way to walk between the raindrops, as if he will live forever within their spaces. This was my first hang-up. I am guessing this is meant to describe Jeremy drunkenly dodging between the raindrops – and possibly to foreshadow what happens to Jeremy next. But his actual movement needs rephrasing for clarity.

I also thought Hailey’s line “You just relax. Get some rest.” didn’t ring true.  You tell someone to “get some rest” when they are sick or overwrought, not drunk. I want her to say something else here.

To me, "taking off” suggests a plane or at least a speedy start (tires squealing). Hailey will drive more timidly, so I would choose a phrase that reflects this.  I also want to know why their song automatically comes on. Did Jeremy have it queued up? Was that something he did all the time? If so, I’d like to know it, because it suggests that Jeremy is a romantic – and not just when he’s soppy drunk.

Other than that, I think this is a great beginning. Readers, your thoughts?

Susan, thanks for sharing your first page with us! Everyone should stop by Mainewords for Marcy’s critique of the same page and say hello to Susan at her blog.

And let me know if you've got a first page you'd like to share in January. Maybe that NaNo project, hmmm?

Monday, December 3, 2012

First Impressions: DREAM THIEVES

Happy December, everyone! Our first submission for First Impressions this month comes from Christine Danek. It’s a YA Paranormal titled DREAM THIEVES.

The eyes I sketch on my notebook send chills up my spine. Those eyes are the only thing I remember from my sleepless nights. I glance down at my mangled arm. The hideous bruise and cuts are souvenirs from last night. I rub my elbow and pain shoots up to my shoulder. Thanks to my ex-boyfriend, Graham, these nightmares have invaded my life for the past three months.  
I wince as I pull my hair up in a loose knot and crack the window. Everything is quiet except for a lone cricket and an owl. It seems a little warm for May, but it means school’s almost over. My bed creaks as I sit on the edge. A large stack of papers topped with a yellow Post-It stare back me from my nightstand.

Go through these applications and think about a major. We need to visit more schools when I return. Your father and I want to see what you got on your English exam. I set up a tutoring session on Saturday at 1:00. Keep in mind, if your grades and attitude don’t improve, there’s a spot at a boarding school for you next year.

I pick up the large pile of college applications and drop them on the floor, rustling up a ton of hidden dust. The pressure to pick a major is annoying. I have no idea what I want to do. Of course, my brother knew he wanted to be a doctor, like my dad, since he was five. Of course he got into Yale for undergrad. Of course he got accepted to USC for medical school. He’s the child that paved the way and I’m the pothole growing in the middle. 
This weekend was for me to breathe. No parents to drill into my head how worthless I am. Nothing like adding more pressure--a study session with probably some nerd. Crap. And the threat of boarding school. Double crap. My relaxing weekend has turned into anxiety hell.

For me, the narrative clicked into place with the note from Sadie’s mother and Sadie’s reflection on her “perfect child” brother.  I loved the line about him paving the way and Sadie being a pothole. (Although – I think the note is a little long to be on a post-it unless her mom has very tiny handwriting.)

The first paragraph tells me too many things at once – and too little about each thing.  Sketching eyes on her notebook. Disturbing dreams. A mangled arm. An ex-boyfriend who’s apparently responsible – although I’m not sure if he’s responsible for the dreams or for hurting her arm. 

My suggestion would be to start with Sadie discovering her mother’s instructions on how she is to spend the weekend she thought she had all to herself.  Then weave in some of those details from the first paragraph. Her arm hurts when she reaches for the stack of papers.  Underneath the stack of college applications, Sadie sees the eyes she sketched on a notebook from the last time she had a sleepless night.  Bring Graham in when you have an opening to do so, but I’m not sure you want to link him to the dreams yet. 

Readers, your thoughts? Christine, thank you for sharing your first page with us!

You can find Christine at her blog, Christine's Journey, and don’t forget to check out Marcy Hatch’s critique of this same page on Mainewords.