Sunday, April 28, 2013

Very Inspiring Blogger Award

I would like to thank Cassandra Griffin for nominating me for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award.  Colleen was a finalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest for her novel Dreamcatchers.  When she isn’t writing, she may be found driving 400 ton dump trucks in Northern Alberta. Yes, she’s that cool!  Cassandra’s blog CH Griffin is a treasure trove of writing tips and humor. If you haven’t checked her blog out yet, swing by soon. Cassandra is also a Doctor Who fan, a fact that puts her at the top of my blogger list, even without the great writing posts and righteous truck driving skills. I’m honored that she finds my blog inspiring and nominated me for this award. I’m looking forward to passing it on and spotlighting bloggers I find inspirational.  To start, here are a few facts you may not know about me:

1. I once played a man in the musical The Club.

(I'm the Tom Selleck wannabe)

2. I placed first in both empty hand and weapons kata at the 2009 Isshin ryu World Championship Tournament.

3. I am obsessed with Doctor Who and aspire to one day write an episode of my favorite show.

4. Once after beating my 8th grade ELA students in mini-debates, I jumped up and down and proclaimed “I am the Master Debater! I am the Master Debater!” in front of a room full of 13-year old boys, only to realize an hour later that I had just jumped up and down and proclaimed “I am the Master Debater! I am the Master Debater!” in front of a room full of 13-year old boys.
(Luckily, my principal had a great sense of humor and no angry parent phone calls poured in that afternoon.)

5. I hold the distinct honor of having one of my writing quotes displayed in Editor Stephen Roxburgh’s office. I framed it and presented it to him after he told me it was “the worst line of writing he had read in his 39 years in publishing.” Although the notorious line no longer resides in my manuscript, it does reside in Stephen's office.

6. My family has a ridiculous amount of Legos. My husband and I plan to put them to good use when the children move out and finally build that addition we've always wanted.

7. My retirement plan includes working at Walt Disney World as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother because 
1. I LOVE Disney World
2. The Godmother’s costume is very forgiving, so I may enjoy as many Dole Whips as I like while sprinkling pixie dust on people’s vacations.

Now, without further ado, here are my Nominations (in no particular order):  Drum roll please…
1. Amy Emm
2. Heather Clark
3. Shannon Hitchcock
4. Teri Harman
5. Pat Esden
6. Michele Jakubowski
7. Brian Klems
8. Sandhya Menon
9. Kate Messner
10. Glenn McCarty
11. Stephanie Stussman
12. Christina Farley
13. Katharine Grub
14. Rebecca Taylor
15.  Bill Bunn

Award Rules:
1.Display logo in your blog to show you’ve been nominated!
2.Link back to your nominator.
3.Share 7 things about yourself.
4.Nominate 15 other bloggers for the award.
5.Notify your nominees.

These are just a few of my favorite bloggers at the moment, and I hope you’ll find them as inspirational as I do!  I’m looking forward to reading some fun facts about all of them.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Getting to the Core of your story

Anyone who has written a query letter or synopsis knows how difficult it is to explain your 68,000+ word story in less than 250 words. It is a task writers loathe and avoid like I loathe and avoid cleaning the bathtub. Unfortunately, my hatred and avoidance of both unpleasant tasks does not eliminate their necessity.

So after completing my first YA manuscript, I visited various writing blogs about query letters and synopsis and read through dozens of successful examples. After a few months of teeth gnashing and hair pulling, I felt that I had composed a decent summary of my story.

And then I was accepted into to Stephen Roxburgh’s Editing for Writers workshop and given the following homework assignment. 
Write, in 100 words or less, the core statement of your story.

In the months preceding the workshop, I made several attempts to write a core statement for my manuscript IN THE CREASE. At one point I even summed up my story through haiku.

Fitzy moves from home
Joins a Mohawk lacrosse team
And learns to be brave

Ultimately I decided not to go with the haiku. Surprising, I know. And in late June 2011, I packed up my 100-word core statement and drove to Honesdale, PA.

During my first one-on-one session with Stephen, who had read my entire manuscript, he asked to see the statement. Upon reading it, he told me what I’d written was not the core of my story. I explained that I’d found it difficult to summarize IN THE CREASE in so few words. He explained that the limited word count was not the issue; my attempt to summarize the story was the problem.

Instead of summarizing the story, I should have been pinpointing the plot. The story is the sequence of events. The plot has causality and ties the events together. He further explained that though IN THE CREASE was a sports story, its plot dealt with deeper issues. Those issues were the core of my story. And then he sent me off to my cabin to revise the statement.

Over the next couple days I struggled with differentiating between the story and the plot, but by the end of the workshop and with much guidance from Stephen, I crafted a true core statement, which I am proud to announce weighed in at a scant 55-words.

This is the statement I wrote with Stephen’s help:

Traumatized by his father’s death and his older brother’s deployment, fifteen year-old Fitzy finds protection and guidance within the crease of a Mohawk lacrosse team, but when the team’s leading defenseman and Fitzy’s best friend dies on a smuggling run, Fitzy must discover the confidence and strength within himself to step out of the crease. 

Stephen further whittled it down to 8 words:
Fitzy’s recovery from trauma and discovery of self.
And then he gave me this directive:

Cut anything in your story that does not relate directly to your core statement.

Twelve months and numerous revisions later, I had cut 6 characters, 3 extraneous storylines and 200 pages. I revised my query letter to begin with my new 55-word core statement and began researching agents.

With subsequent projects, I’ve worked on crafting my core statement earlier on in the process. It keeps my writing anchored and prevents tangential storylines, which I’ve discovered I’m prone to writing.

As painstaking as it is to write a core statement for your story, I highly recommend it. As a writer, it is important that you know what lies at the core of your story, for if you can’t define what your story is about, chances are your reader won’t be able to either.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Fear vs. Regret

There are 8 Codes of Isshinryu Karate.  The sixth code states “The time to strike is when the opportunity presents itself.” It is a logical statement; look for an opening and act.

In the dojo, we train our minds, bodies and spirits to recognize opportunities to strike through sparring. Yet often in the sparring ring, the decision to strike can by impaired by fear. Second guessing one’s timing or ability causes a person to hesitate. In that hesitation, the opportunity is lost. In sparring, a lost opportunity may cost you the match. Outside the sparring ring, it may cost you more.

For this reason it is no surprise that when faced with a difficult decision, fear is present. During my journeys in both karate and writing, I have been presented with many opportunities that have involved risk.

When facing difficult decisions; such as, whether or not to compete in the Isshin-ryu Karate World Championship, attend the Highlight’s Writer’s Workshop at Chautauqua, submit queries to agents, accept a new job, or ride the Tea Cups at Disney World, I ask myself one question:

Does the fear I am experiencing outweigh the regret I will carry for not taking this opportunity?

Every time my answer has been no… except for the Tea Cups. When faced with that opportunity, my fear of puking in the Happiest Place on Earth dwarfed any regret I may have experienced for not riding the Whirl-n-Hurl cups.

Last year I was presented with another opportunity and another difficult decision. Ricky Anywar Richard, a former abductee and one of the first children to be forced to fight in Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, approached me about writing his story. We emailed back and forth for a couple of weeks. He shared details about his life and told me of his organization Friends of Orphans. His was a story that deserved to be told; I just didn’t know if I was the writer to tell it.

I explained to Ricky that I was not a published author and was anxious about taking on such an important project. It was one thing to take a risk with my dream. It was a completely different situation to take a risk with someone else’s. Although I was hesitant to commit to the project, I agreed to a Skype conversation.

On April 6th 2012, Ricky and I spoke for the first time. Within five minutes, I knew the answer to the question "Does the fear I am experiencing outweigh the regret I will carry for not taking this opportunity?" Once again, the answer was no.

Ricky and I have been working together for over a year now. We email and Skype frequently and were able to spend a week together last summer when he visited the United States. It has been an amazing journey. It is a journey I am honored to be travelling; a journey that has helped me grow as a writer and as a person.

 It is a journey that I would have regretted not taking had I allowed my fear to decide.

So next time you find yourself hesitating at a crossroads, ask yourself “Does the fear I am experiencing outweigh the regret I will carry for not taking this opportunity?”
If the answer is no, strike.
I promise you won’t regret it.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Creative Process Step One: Marble, Wood, or Manure

I have had the distinct pleasure of attending two workshops with Editor Stephen Roxburgh of Namelos. The first was the 2010 Highlights Writers Workshop at Chautauqua, where I was fortunate to have Stephen as my mentor for the week. The following summer I attended his Editing for Writers workshop in Honesdale, PA.  At both workshops, Stephen taught me a great deal about the writing process.

Of his many lessons, one that I think about every time I sit down to write is Stephen’s description of a rough draft as a pile of words. He explained that when you are beginning a story, start by building your piles. Don't waste time scrutinizing each word. There will be plenty of time to sift the words and polish the ones that tell your story during the revision process. 

Stephen equated a writer beginning with a pile of words to Michelangelo beginning with a slab of marble...
“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and in action.  I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.” - Michelangelo
or Stradivari starting with a piece of wood.

 “To make a violin, take the wood and carve away all that is not the violin." - Stradivari
They are beautiful sentiments, and thinking of my writing process in those terms, makes me feel as though I am following the path of masters. But in all honesty, my writing process does not begin with a gorgeous block of marble or beautiful piece of wood, it begins with a pile. A big, steaming pile of words.  As a writer, I am less like the sculptor or carver, and more like the optimistic twin in my favorite joke.

The joke goes like this:
Parents of twin 5-year old boys, were worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities -- one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist -- their parents took them to a psychiatrist.
First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears.
"What's the matter?" the psychiatrist asked, baffled. "Don't you want to play with any of the toys?"
"Yes," the little boy bawled, "but if I did I'd only break them."

Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands.
"What do you think you're doing?" the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist.
"With all this manure," the little boy replied, beaming,
"there must be a pony in here somewhere!"

It is hard to follow up that joke, so I will close with this:
Whatever your creative process may be, embrace it! 
And may your piles be great and your ponies plentiful!