Monday, February 28, 2011

Monday: On Writing

Well, happy last day of February, everybody! It would have been better if I hadn't had to work at my "normal" job today, but one can't have everything, I suppose. Good news: we hit bonus at work, so that's something. If we hadn't worked today, there's a good possibility that we wouldn't have gotten bonus. So, all things in perspective, right?

Anyhoo, this is my Monday: On Writing day. Here goes!

When I first decided that writing was going to be my "job", I thought I was such a great writer. But my goodness, how deluded I was!

I thought I was quite good where I was. I didn't understand the importance of critique groups, revision, and most important, market study. Who'd have thought writing could be such work, you know?

Of course, I do know better now. Writing is like any other job, or talent. The only way to get better is through constant practice. And, or course, having other eyes to catch what you miss in your own revision and editing process is wonderfully helpful.

Since my first egotistical journey into Writerland about two years ago, I've learned a couple tricks that I have since been employing in my writing. They are my favourite tricks that I've learned so far, and I want to share them with all the rest of you.

The first is, cut back on adjectives. Don't use more words than you have to. In fact, use concrete writing.

The second is, change as many "ing" words so that they end in either "ed" or "s". Instantly, voila! You're writing is tighter, cleaner, more gripping.

Until Wednesday, thanks for reading!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

What if...

... there was no such thing as gravity?

What if day didn't follow night? or vice versa? What if we only had a sort of shadowy daytime that was neither light or dark, but somewhere in between?

What if there were no such thing as stars? or seasons? Can you imagine if we lived in only one continuous season forever and ever amen?

What if we didn't have imagination?

Now, imagination. What is it about the imagination that makes us try to create something more than what we have? Why do we imagine? Why can't we just live in this world and go through life day after day in the same mundane way?

Have you ever wondered that? I have. I am right now. What is it that makes us-- writers, singers, actors, artists, everybody really-- try to co-create life? It's like we reach out and try to define life, define living. We try to extend something of ourselves, to transform the dull and mundane into something shining, brilliant, and new.

Sometimes it's because we want to show the world the hidden secret inside us, the "who I really am" part that we rarely let people see. Sometimes it's because we want to show the world a sudden brilliant ray of hope in a life that may not be hopeful at all. Sometimes it's because we want to change the world.

I wonder if that's why people are constantly asking "what if?" What if the world ended tomorrow? What if there was no such thing as heat? What if the Flood in the time of Noah never happened? What if there was no technology? What if God didn't know what He was doing?

What if you're reading this post, and the electricity goes out? What would you do?

I imagine you'd find out.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wednesday: On Reading

Some writers are so brilliant, I just want to imitate them.

If you don't know it yet, I'll tell you right now. Diana Wynne Jones is one of my favourite authors in the world. She's so imaginative, and she just loves to play with words. When you read one of her books, you can generally tell it's written by her just by the way she uses words. No one else employs word usage quite the same way she does.

When I find a book by her that I have not yet read, I feel amazingly blessed that I have a chance to savour her style again. Whenever she writes, her stories are from a perspective that is entirely fresh and new. Here's an example from one of her books that I was reading a book by her the other day. This book is called "The Eight Days of Luke," and I have to say she shocked me, as she always does, with a versatility of her brain.

In this story, she introduces the main character, David, in once sentence: "Unlike most boys, David dreaded the holidays." That about sums him up. David is unlike most boys, he hates the holidays. Why? Already, you're curious and drawn into the story. Later, she describes how David has decided that smell is more important to the human race than anyone believes, and when he steps into the house it smells "thick and dampish, of polish and old cabbage." At the smell, she writes that David's heart, obstinately cheerful, goes down "about seven notches with a rush." You can just visualize that feeling. It's amazing.

I love to study the way she writes. Look at this sentence: "He got up and stalked upstairs, feeling for the wall as if he thought it might escape him unless he kept in touch with it. His bedroom door did escape him." Isn't that imagery vivid? Look here: "He picked up the skull and knocked an onion ring out of its eye socket." Brilliant! I'd never have thought of that line! Last, one of my favourite lines ever: "Christopher discovered that you dealt with obnoxious masters and most older boys the way you dealt with governesses: you quite politely told them the truth in the way they wanted to hear it, so that they thought they had won and left you in peace."

So, after reading many, many, many of her books,  I've discovered that I'm endeavouring to come up with new, fresh ways to say things that will make people think, "Wow, that totally hit the picture!"

Which authors do you read over and over again, just so you can study how they DO it?

Monday, February 21, 2011

On Writing Monday: Computer versus Pen

I know bloggers everywhere have gone over this topic again and again and again. I'm going to take a minute to talk about it too, 'cause I found this idea very interesting.

I was at Borders the other day, my heaven on earth. I picked up this book in the Reference section, which is the heavenliest part of the Borders heaven, and skimmed through it. (I have to take a moment here, and apologize to the author of this book for not committing her name to memory, but Unknown Author, you have my undying homage.)

This Unknown Author devoted a lengthy amount of time as to why writers should take the time to write by hand, on paper, with that most archaic of all writing devices, a pen... or pencil, if you prefer. Her reason?

Often, when writers put their fingers on keyboards and let their minds and fingers take off at the same time, they're writing too quickly. The thoughts emerge, are plunked down, and the writer is away on the next fragmented idea. Typing is a much more instant form of writing that's more detached from the actual physical exercise of hand writing.

Writing by hand allows you to slow down, to take a moment between words to let the next golden idea blossom. Writing by hand allows your thoughts to emerge more freely, to come out truer and more believable than typing does.

Writing by hand lets your thoughts communicate with the touch of your hand on your paper. Your mind feels the ideas flowing through your brain. Those ideas rush through your blood and stream down into the tip of your finger, from your finger through the pen and ink, and onto the paper. It's a much more living act than typing. You see, feel, hear, smell the sound of the words as they emerge from your imagination and make their way through your body to the very whiteness of the waiting paper.

For me, this is good news, 'cause I happen to LOVE writing by hand. So, I'm curious. Which is the way you find you're more likely to write? By hand? Or by keyboard?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Today is Saturday: On Everything Else

All rights, peeps, I'm setting myself a blog schedule. That's right, you heard me! From now on, come h--- or high water, I'm going to post on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. (Did you like my discreet edit of that actual word there? I try to keep it clean. :-)

Monday will be my "On Writing" day, where I talk about all things writing, whether it be my writing, a friend's writing, or a learned author's recommendations on writing.

Wednesday will be my "On Reading" day, where I talk about all things reading, whether it be my stuff I've read and what I've learned, a friend's writing and what I learned from them, or just a book I'm reading and what I've learned or come away with.

Saturdays will simply be about everything else under the sun, such as the snow that fell last week, the way the sun is shining, the new book I found at the bookstore. I may possibly insert such anecdotes into my other posts, and I may occasionally add a bonus post or two (or three or four, depending on how motivated I am during a week) that are simply about life, but the above schedule is my intended resolution.

So today is Saturday: On Everything Else. O
n to the fun stuff.

Well, I have to tell you, I'm a real music lover. I've decided that the best way to get someone into a happy spot (after food, the all time happy spot finder) is through music. Today, I bought one of those nature sounds CD's that usually play piano or instrumental melodies set to the background sound of ocean waves, wind, or rain. I love those CD's... I don't know why. Actually, yes I do. Those nature sounds CD's put me in a happy place, in a place of relaxation and rest, where I can actually let go of my mind and think.

When I sit on a couch (or at my desk, or on my bed, or curled up on the floor in a blanket) and write, I love to have some sort of instrumental music playing. It blocks the noise from the world, and lets me settle into my zone. Usually I have soundtracks, but nature CD's seem to work even better. There's something about the nature sounds, I think, that can let my easily deluded mind visualize an outside place, some sort of primeval landscape, a forest stream, maybe, where my thoughts go straying.

While we're at it, I like to have a cup of tea, too. With honey. And some lovely whipping cream. Mmmm. Maybe I should add a cupcake. Chocolate. After all, chocolate is a natural anti-depressant, and after I re-read a chapter of my story, whichever I'm working on (I know, I oughtn't to re-read. Bad, bad Cat!), I can be depressed. Hence, the chocolate.

I'm set, I think. Let me just plug in...

Aaaaah. Listen to that thunder roll. I'm in my happy place. Let the ideas flow!

Whoops. That's okay. I can make more tea later. I can clean that spill later, too. Right now, the words are all that matter.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Ring of Solomon

Bartimaeus is back... and he's just as funny as ever!

Jonathan Stroud has written a masterpiece of wit set in the time of King Solomon.

King Solomon is an evil king, intent on ruling the world under the iron fist of fear. He commands a Ring of great power, a Ring that, with one twist, allows him to command all the spirits that reside in the Other Place. With the might of that Ring, all the world cowers in obedience before his omnipotence.

The djinni Bartimaeus has been summoned and bound to a magician in punishment for having escaped and slain his previous master. Forced to work for Solomon's henchman, Khaba, Bartimaeus and six other disgraced djinn are hard at work on his Solomon's new temple, with strict instructions to use no magic in the temple's making. When these orders are disregarded, Bartimaeus and his six companions are sent to hunt out other creatures who are disrupting trade routes. 

Elsewhere, the Queen of Sheba has received multiple marriage proposals from Solomon, which she has refused. Now Solomon threatens to destroy her country's frankincense trade. To keep her country's peace intact, the Queen sends Asmira, a guard in her regime, to kill Solomon and steal the Ring. Fiercely loyal and obedient even to death, Asmira sets off to Jerusalem.

On his hunt, Bartimaeus meets Asmira as she is traveling to Jerusalem under an assumed identity. After many episodes, during which Bartimaeus is beaten by a very powerful marid and imprisoned in a bottle, Asmira summons Bartimaeus and makes him her slave, with orders for him to assist her in killing Solomon and stealing the Ring. Despite the seeming impossibility of the task, Bartimaeus shines his way through with his customary wit, sarcasm, and ingenuity. During their escapades, Asmira and Bartimaeus form an uneasy respect for each other. As the climax reaches it's conclusion, surprising facets of Solomon's true character begin to emerge.

This book is a must-have companion to the previous books in Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus trilogy. (1. The Amulet of Samarkand; 2. The Golem's Eye; 3. Ptolemy's Gate.) The Ring of Solomon will fast become another favourite to diehard Bartimaeus fans. I give this book a five star rating, but I happen to love sarcastic djinnis with a penchant for eating weaker spirits.

My Rating:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award

So, my day has been made! Today, I was lucky enough to receive The Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award from Kelly Hashway, at http://www.kellyhashway/apps/blog/. Thank you so very much, Kelly!

Here's how the award goes:
1. Thank and link back to the person that gave this award.
2. Share 4 guilty pleasures that you have.
3. Pass the award along to 6 other sweet blogs.

Guilty Pleasures:
1. I like having peanut butter on graham crackers after dinner. Mmmm, that is such the best.
2. I haunt Staples. I can always use MORE office stuff, right? Like pens, paper, notebooks, white-out... the list goes on and on.
3. I have a bad habit of buying books. In fact, I have so many books that I need more bookshelves. The one in my closet... well, let's just say I think God's Angels are supporting it, 'cause it should have broken a looong time ago!
4. Music is the same. I have an inundation of CD's, and now that I've got a music player that also plays vinyl, I'm afraid I'm also collecting records, too. Ed Ames is really good!

Six Sweet Blogs:
1. "Yaya" Erickson
2. Michele Bradford-Arkon
3. Jessica Smith
4. Kiersten White
5. Cindy Reed
6. Maria DeLallo

Thanks again to Kelly Hashway for giving me my first blog award! Please, take a moment and stop by the wonderful blogs I've awarded.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy St. Valentine's Day!

That's right, I said SAINT Valentine's Day.

Today is the feast of St. Valentine, or Valentinus, a priest and a martyr. Not much is known about when he was born. However, we do know that his martyrdom occurred on February 14th, 270 A.D, near a gate that was later renamed Porta Valentini in his memory. His burial place is at the Church of Praxedes in Rome. It is said that a girl named Julia planted a pink-blossoming almond tree near his grave, and even today the almond tree remains a symbol of abiding love and friendship.

During his life the ruler at that time, Emperor Claudius II, declared that unmarried men were potential soldiers and thereby outlawed marriage. St. Valentine opposed this presumptuous act, and continued to marry young couples. When Claudius' endeavour to convert Valentine to paganism ended with Valentine trying instead to convert Claudius to Christianity, the emperor had Valentine arrested and sentenced to death.

Even in prison, Valentine continued to assist the soon-to-be martyrs. His piety was so great that even the jailer respected him, and brought his own daughter Julia to be instructed by Valentine. Julia, a young girl blind from birth, was tutored in the history of Rome. At the same time, Valentine instructed her about God.

As Valentine's execution drew nearer, there was one day where Julia asked him whether or not God truly heard the prayers of those who called on Him. Valentine assured her that He did, whereupon Julia confided that she prayed every morning and night to God, that He might give her sight.
"God does what is best for us if we will only believe in Him," Valentinus said.

"Valentinus, I do believe! I do!" Julia assured him, and kneeling she grasped his hand.
As they knelt, a brilliant light filled the cell and Julia cried out in amazement, for all of a sudden she could see. Valentine cried out in praise of God, and they knelt in the cell together.

On the eve of his death he wrote a last note to Julia, urging her to stay firm in her faith and remain close to God. He signed it, "From your Valentine."

Ever since St. Valentine's time, on every February 14th messages of affection and devotion are exchanged everywhere around the world.

God bless!

A Catholic Life: St. Valentine's Day
Fish Eaters: Feast of St. Valentine

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Music and Words

All right, I'm taking a poll.

Okay, not really.

But seriously now, how many writers NEED to listen to music while they write? Hmm? Hmm? Raise your hands. C'mon, get them up there.

Okay. How many listen to vocal music while writing? How many listen to soundtracks? How many listen to classical, opera, country? What's the music you need to listen to in order to get your thought processes going?

I love to listen to soundtracks. There's something about soundtracks that let me visualize scenes, settings, and dialogue of my story through the the crescendos and rifts of the soundtracks. I can't really do vocal music, since I end up singing with the music and concentrating on my vocal delivery rather than on what I'm writing. Neither can I do opera, since I end up trying to imitate the sopranos and giving myself a bad case of the giggles. I love country music, too, and the same problem happens, where I just sing and sing instead of write and write. So, soundtracks are my thing.

Now that I've posed my question, I'm going to turn on my Voyage of the Dawn Treader soundtrack and bury myself in my WIP, Whisper Mansion.

God bless!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Your One Thing

This is going to be just a short note from me today. After this, I'm going to curl up somewhere in my blanket with a lovely book, and try to forget that my throat is sore and my nose is all plugged up. Ugh.

Sitting here, I can hear the wind blowing up outside. The house isn't super heated, but there's just enough warmth coming from the fireplace to lend a feeling of coziness to the living room. The lights are mostly dim, and the clock's ticking is just a faint little sound I can hear over my clicking keys.

Then, there's the wind.

Wind is such an element to a story. Have you ever noticed in books how wind, or the absence of wind, makes such an impression on the writer?

  1. The MC enters into a frightening situation: something happens, and there's silence. Not even a breeze stirs.
  2. An MC is on a life-and-death escape, and the wind is snatching at her as she monkey-bars her way across a balcony's rafters.
  3. The MC has just lost her one true love. She stands on a hill top and weeps. The wind pulls her hair up like a banner.
There's just so much good USE one can get out of the element of wind in a story. Wind adds that aura of mystery, tension, and poetic imagery that all stories need. Wind is one of my favourite elements to work with. It's a sense that I use frequently in my books.

What about you? What's the one thing you find you're drawn to the most, the one thing you like to insert that adds a heightened sense of drama, tension, or pacing to your story?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

From High Fantasy to Historical Fiction. Any takers?

What is your favourite genre to write?

I used to think I could ONLY write one genre, and that genre was fantasy, all fantasy, high, low, comic, light, dark. You name it, I wrote it. However, I like to think I have matured just a little. :) I owe my "maturity" to two different sites, two sites that still give me tons of inspiration and writing confidence.

One is Critique Cafe, my little niche of the cyber world where I can chill with my critique friends and just talk about our hopes, excitements, bummers, and joys of writing life.

The other site is the Writer's Retreat at the Institute of Children's Literature's website. It is a great place to connect with hundreds of other writers. It's a place where people are willing to critique stories for you, where people lift you up when you are down, and where you get so much helpful news into the publishing world of writing.

Both of these sites have helped me in more ways than one. They've helped me gain confidence in myself as a writer. I know I can write MORE than just fantasy.

Granted, all of us have our own special niches. Me, I still love to sit in her little world of fantasies and mysteries and plot out stories that combine a little bit of each fantasy/mystery element. Even though I have since experimented with picture books, steampunk (a genre that is fast becoming a favourite style of mine, to read AND write), and science fiction, fantasy and mystery are my two genres that I LOVE to write.

But because of Writer's Retreat, and Critique Cafe, I have been able to experiment with different genres outside my comfort zone.

Next on my agenda for "experimentation" is Historical Fiction, because I've heard that Historical fiction is on the rise. We've gone through vampires, fairies, and angels. Time to take it to the next level, right? Agent Ginger Clark says to think of this uprising Historical Fiction trend as "Tudor for teens." That could be interesting.

Hey, I've tried (nearly) everything else. Historical Fiction is a lake waiting to be jumped into. Do you want to come with me? The water's fine.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

St. Brigid of Kildare

I'm a fantasy fanatic. I love to read and write fantasy. There's just something about reading worlds that are not of our world, reading about worlds that inspire me to be a better person. Fantasies and fairy tales are my absolute favourite genres.

A lot of times, I think saints are some of the best fairy tales you can read. The best part about them, is that they're real.

My favourite saint's feast day is today. She is my favourite saint, because she was incredibly generous and charitable to the poor, but she was so human!

Her father was a pagan Irish Chieftain, and her mother a Christian slave. Brigid grew up a Christian, and she was most notable for her incredible generosity. She would help her mother with her duties, and though none of the property she worked belonged to her but to her father, Brigid had no qualms about distributing the wealth of the land to the poor. Once, she gave away the whole store of butter her mother had churned, but God matched her generosity by replenishing the butter a hundredfold.

One of my favourite stories about her is the one when she was traveling with her pagan father in his coach, and her father left her for just a moment alone as he tended a small matter of business. While she waited for him to return, Brigid was approached by a peasant, and since she had nothing of her own that she could give to the peasant, she picked up her father's jeweled sword and gave it to the peasant. When her father found out he was understandably upset. When he asked her if she realised what she'd done, she responded, "I gave it to God."

She saw God in everyone. That was her gift. That was the greatest part of her, the complete unselfishness that allowed her to give a smile to everyone, no matter how grim or unhappy they were, or how miserable they were to her. She was charity.

She is a true fairy tale. She is one of those saints that is an inspiration to read about. She is a saint that inspires me to be a better person.

She is known as the Mary of the Gael.

The Prayer Of St. Brigid

I wish I had a great lake of ale for the King of kings, 
and the family of heaven 
to drink it through time eternal. 
I wish I had the meats of belief and genuine piety, 
the flails of penance, 
and the men of heaven in my house. 
I would like keeves of peace to be at their disposal, 
vessels of charity for distribution, 
caves of mercy for their company, 
and cheerfulness to be in their drinking. 
I would want Jesus also to be in their midst, 
together with the three Marys of illustrious renown, 
and the pople of heaven from all parts. 
I would like to be a tenant to the Lord, 
so if I should suffer distress, 
He would confer on me a blessing.

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