Thursday, December 29, 2011

Books for Christmas!

I hope everyone is enjoying their holiday season. :) We had a wonderful Christmas with our family. Danish dinner on Christmas Eve, Santa's presents on Christmas Day and many wonderful family gatherings throughout the last few weeks. We received many very thoughtful gifts, particularly in response to our recent flood. Though we are grateful for each one, I'm going to focus my blog on what my husband gifted me - my entire Amazon wish list of books.

I am very excited about these books. I had 12 in the list, with 10 arriving because the other two are future releases. More than just reading, though, I chose these books because I think each of them can teach me something I need to learn for my own writing. It's the first time I've picked books with every intention to enjoy and learn from the author's writing styles.

Currently I'm reading a book as an experiment for 42WD Publishing. It is a book I'm not really enjoying by design. There's not anything wrong with the story, it's the style that I'm not connecting with. The point of reading this book is to learn why I don't like it and what I might like or learn to like despite the dislike. I write about what I'm learning on 42WD's blog. It's a struggle, to be certain, but I'm learning how to read with an eye for writing. I'm convinced I can do the same with books I can like.

I selected them after reading another author's review of the story and synopsis of the author's style. If it was something I thought I could work on, I added it to my wish list. So now, along with the self-help writing books I've collected on author-recommendation, I have some live examples.


I know, I know. I can definitely be a geek about books. Without that, though, there wouldn't be much point to writing one (or many), would there?

So, what did I get and why? Well, let me explain. :) I'm only going to write about why I chose the 10 books I have. I can't review them, anyway, because I haven't read them yet. I've posted links to the book and to each recommending blog if you would like to read more. Each link takes you specifically to the blog post I mention (at least, that's how it should work).

  • The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab - This a ghost story, which I usually stay away from because I'm a scaredy-cat. I'm hoping to learn how to use suspense effectively while keeping it lyrical. Sister's in Scribe recommended this book.
  • You Have Seven Messages by Stewart Lewis - This is a mystery that starts with tragedy. I'm hoping to learn how to place subtle clues throughout to lead to the answer while staying true to a character struggling through the emotions her journey incites. The Contemps recommended this book.
  • Don't Expect Magic by Kathy McCullough - This book is said to be a lot of contemporary with a little bit of magic. I'm intrigued by the combination since what I tend to read is either one or the other. I want to see how it's done. The Contemps recommended this book and The Apocalypsies posted an interview with the author.
  • Flyaway by Helen Landalf - This book looks like it's going to be a great character study of a girl dealing with difficult, real-life problems resulting from the choices her mother has made. The Contemps recommended this book and The Apocalypsies posted an interview with the author.
  • The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson - This is a ghost thriller. As I mentioned above, I am a scaredy-cat. This book is also a mystery. All of these areas are genres I don't write, but could definitely use aspects of in my own stories. The YA Sisterhood recommended this book.
  • Shut Out by Kody Keplinger - This book is completely contemporary and deals with a lot of teenage boy testosterone and teenage girls thinking they can manipulate it. I think it will be a great character study and just plain fun. I learned about this book on The Other Side of the Story when the author guest blogged.
  • Winter Town by Stephen Emond - This is a complete character study. I'm particularly interested in the female main character who, from one year to the next, changes from 'average' to 'goth.' The Contemps recommended this book.
  • Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler with art by Maira Kalman- This book is a breakup letter using items from the relationship to explain. It's supposed to be a heartbreaking trip through these teen's relationship. The items are written to be conceptual more than literal. I want to know! Side note, the author also writes as Lemony Snicket. The Contemps recommended this book.
  • Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally - The main character of this book is star of the football team, set to get a scholarship, and female. Then the new guy moves in. A contemporary romance, I think this will help me focus on my main character relationships. This book got a lot of buzz, so I'll just list the different links. The Contemps recommendation; YA Highway recommendation; The Other Side of the Story author guest blog.
  • Love and Leftovers by Sarah Tregay - This really caught my eye because it's told entirely in verse and is about the emotional struggling of finding faith in love when your own parents' relationship fell apart. Having started writing poetry, I think this is one I can appreciate and expect to learn how to use imagery rather than explanation in my writing. The Contemps recommended this book.
I fully believe I have a lot of exciting reading ahead of me. I hope to learn a lot and get back to writing with all my new-found inspiration and suggestions. Maybe I'll even have something to share here. :)

See you after the New Year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Keeping and Making Holiday Memories

When we got older, my sister and I would decorate the house while our mom was at work. We would get all the boxes down from the attic and start unwrapping the carolers Mom made at ceramics class, taping the green string of lights into the shape of a Christmas tree on the picture window and setting up our fake Christmas tree. When she came home to the lights in the window, then Christmas in the house, she would always be able to relax a little more and enjoy the evening a little more. Even the one year we used roofing nails instead of picture nails to hang the garland, she was grateful for the transformation which always made our efforts that more gratifying. (Though we realized the nails were big, my sister and I didn't know enough to think about the holes they'd leave behind when they came out. Mom uses Command strips these days.)

Though my family and I celebrate Christmas, it's not actually Christmas Eve or Christmas day that I remember about growing up with the holiday. Instead, it's the decorating. Putting up the lights and the garland, wrapping picture frames to look like presents, cutting out snowflakes for the walls, trimming the tree. All those things stand out in my mind than most of the gifts I ever gave or received.

Now that I'm older with my own family, we are working to combine the Christmases that my husband and I grew up with. He's from Denmark where Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve. Even Santa comes a day early for them. They celebrate with family conversations, lots of food, wine, schnapps, and an almond desert that has only one whole almond in it and the person who gets it wins the Christmas prize. Presents are unwrapped. People join hands and circle 'dance' around the Christmas tree singing carols.

This year we are adding Christmas Eve dinner to our American celebrations, along with the pajama presents given yearly. Santa will still come on Christmas Eve. After opening Santa's presents at home we'll have breakfast at my mom's house while the kids open their presents from her, and the extras Santa dropped there. It is the first Christmas our 2 year old son is really grasping and I can't wait until he gets to live it along with his more experienced cousins. It will be interesting to see which day stands out more in my memory as time passes.

Are there any season related memories that you remember the most, or is the day of the holiday what comes to mind for you? No matter what holiday you celebrate this season, I hope you have plenty of fond memories that come to mind as you are making new ones.

Friday, December 16, 2011

You Have Permission

The last two weeks not in my comfort zone have worked to shake up my world a little bit. We are finally ready to move back into our own house and back to our own routines. Here with my parents is simply different than how we are at home. The TV is on more - exponentially more. Even though they have wireless, it's more difficult to be online with all the extra noise and distractions. The kids have less to do, so are more likely to get in trouble. With four adults in the house, we're right on top of each other, particularly when the kid(s) are in bed. It's more difficult to find the time to crack open a book or really focus on getting the words out.

Yet, with all this TV watching and lack of privacy, accepting that I wouldn't be able to really work on my writing turned out to be not as bad as I'd thought. As I haven't been writing much because of everything going on, anyway, giving myself permission to not write at all was refreshing and enlightening.

I have come to the conclusion that down time in writing is completely under-rated. Of course, by down time, I mean not sitting on your computer or with your notebook, furiously trying to get out so many words per hour so you can finally finish this work in progress - particularly when words aren't flowing. Unless you're on a deadline, there's no reason not to simmer in creative thoughts. That's not saying you shouldn't give yourself (and stick to) a deadline if you haven't been given one. However, not writing a few thousand words within a specific time frame isn't necessarily the end of the world.

This is particularly true in two situations: Preparing to write the story and tearing the story apart on re-writing or revising.

Preparing to write the story is a time of research and planning. There is no reason not to take some time here to think things through, to let scenes form and build on themselves, juggling themselves into a vague order you can outline or note. Taking time here can help make your plot fill in so you're not stuck as much when you get to power-write the first draft. Instead of a word goal here, set aside times to meditate or sketch (pics or words) out your ideas. Search the web for inspirational images or photos. Create your playlist of songs that knock your brain into the story.

Re-writing has a different angle on the issue, but you can still be thinking about major changes along with minor ones. You have your ideas settling even if your story has a beginning, middle and end. What if your main character turned out too perfect? What if the love interest or suspense isn't convincing? Sure you could dive in and try to find plot holes, re-organize scenes, and otherwise chop up your work, but certain parts really just need thought and other inspiration. Watch your movies, read the books you put off while writing your draft. Maybe your main character needs a physical change to help add depth. The inspiration is out there somewhere - you just have to look. Throw what you find into the mix and let it marinade until the parts that don't work are filtered out, and the others have morphed their way into the changes you need them to be.

Stories are born of the mind, after all. It would be a disservice to not let your thoughts work through your creation. This shouldn't take too much time. Set yourself a deadline here, too. Use the 30 days between finishing the first draft and looking at it again. Or, if you really want to put it away for 30 days, set yourself a time period after that point. However you do it, give yourself permission to not write and let your brain work it's magic.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Flooded Out

Last week my area saw a lot of rain. November has been unseasonably warm, so the white stuff never came. The result was my little village saw it's second highest flood on record. The bridge dividing our town was closed by the state DOT for two days, resulting in hour long detours for locals, truckers and passers through alike. The worst part? The good pizza place was on the other side of the bridge from us. :P

The road I live on was a river. My family and I were able to get out before it became impassible, heading straight to my parents. It's a measure of how loved and lucky we are that I didn't even have to ask if we could stay with them.

Thankfully, the water never made it to our main floor, but it was only inches away by the time my husband and I risked our SUV to check. The water filled our basement nearly to the joists. We grabbed more clothes and headed out. A week later, we're waiting for the flood insurance we were lucky to have to approve the electrical and utility repairs needed. It won't cover everything lost, but it will get us hot water and warm air back in the house. We hope to be back in this weekend or soon after.

With all this going on, my brain has turned pretty numb. I've had moments of clarity where I could write a few pages, but mostly I've been focusing on small tasks that require action and not much thought. I haven't even read much, realizing I wasn't absorbing it, anyway.

I cannot stress enough how lucky we are. My parents took in my family of three plus our three dogs. We didn't lose anything we can't replace (thank you Internet Cloud, as our external hard drive was in the basement with a ton of pics backed up in both places). We should have our house back in plenty of time for Christmas. In the end, I'll even have new experiences and emotions to draw from when I do get back to writing. We are certainly lucky and I am amazingly grateful.

Please feel free to share your own stories. Comment or link your own post if you would. It's these type of events that help link strangers together, and give others hope while they're dealing with their own disasters.
Written with my Samsung Galaxy tablet. I apologize for any errors.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

I'm A Horrible Blog Responder

Since I've started my whole online endeavor, I've collected a healthy list of blogs I'm following. By reading them, I believe I've developed a stronger blog style and have found it easier to narrow down on a topic for each entry. I can't get to all of them, but I do read most of them. What I don't do is respond.

I read a post on Google + about reading blogs or social network comments. It stated something about reading being fine, liking or plus one-ing being better, but commenting is the best way to show the author you're there and you appreciate their work. It shows you read their entry and that you thought about it enough to have something to say. It's more than kudos, it's getting accolades for the time and effort put into the work. Whomever posted it (sorry, I don't remember who) said it shorter, sweeter, but it holds true no matter how it's said.

I just read. I don't really even show my appreciation through a plus one or a share, even if the idea flits through my mind. A lot of the reason is because I read through Google Reader and don't take the time to make that one more click to the real link. Wow, look at that excuse - because that's all it is, an excuse.

Do you want another one? I'm incredibly shy and wary of saying the wrong thing in a comment. I constantly second guess myself. Who am I to know what to write? What if I write something that's wrong and someone corrects me or - much worse - think in their Internet anonymity that they can completely tear me apart for making such a dumb comment?

These thoughts stall me, then stop me completely. They really shouldn't. They're just thoughts. The fact of the matter is, even if I do get cyber-mocked, I've been there before and have been able to just roll my eyes at it. As for content, my blogging should show me practice makes better and commenting should be no different.

This week I improved my stats. I commented on one person's blog. Yeah, I know, it's just one, but it's one more than I did before. I plan to improve on this one way or another, whether it's in content or quantity. I really don't want to comment just for the sake of the comment, but I do want to show that I've read, digested and appreciate what all these blogging authors have shared with me. My unexpected perk? I gained a new follower because of it. :)

So what about you? Do you read without commenting or do you find the time and the words to share? And yes, I do get the paradox of asking non-commenter's about commenting. ;)