Monday, February 28, 2011

Mystery Prize Revealed

The winner of my most recent License Plate Trivia contest, Stina Lindenblatt, chose the Mystery Prize. I wanted to make sure she got it before I did the big reveal, but it has arrived!

So are you ready? For those of you who don't know, I love fairy tales. So when I found this, I was giddy with admiration for whoever thought of it. I knew I had to find a way to use it for my blog.

The Mystery Prize?

A Frog Prince!

Stina has obligingly posted a couple of pictures on her blog, Seeing Creative. Plus, you get the total bonus that it was posted at the beginning of her Cool Links Friday post. Every week she compiles a list of all the best posts over the past week for people working on their writing craft. So while you're there, check out her awesome blog or check out some of the great links she's posted. You won't regret it.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Rubber Gloves

Have I ever mentioned how much I hate doing the dishes? Well I do. A lot.

And my aversion increased ten-fold when I recently got what's called "Acute Dermatitis" on my hands. Really, that's just a fancy way to say that washing the dishes makes my hands blister and crack and bleed. Not fun.

For a while, I left stacks of dishes for my husband to do when he got home from work. But I hated that and felt horribly guilty because he has so little free time anyway. In addition, it turns out that I hate a dirty kitchen worse than I hate doing the dishes. It was a rotten dilemma, because Acute Dermatitis really hurts. It seemed like I couldn't win.

I was complaining to my mom, and she said, "Well why don't you just go buy some rubber gloves?"

It was an "Aha! moment" for sure. The thought had never occurred to me. Never. But it was the perfect solution---well, almost. Hiring a maid would have been the perfect solution, but this was a pretty darn good one (and much more based on reality).

No more acute dermatitis. No more dirty kitchen. Granted, I still have to DO the dishes (which are never ending!), but the gloves are new enough that they're like a fun little toy. ;) I almost look forward to it. Almost.

So this story is a little like life (and writing novels). We run into problems that seem unsolvable. We can't think of any good ways to get past them. We feel stuck between a rock and a hard place.

But sometimes, all it takes is a willingness to look outside the box. Maybe they aren't what we'd expect, but the solutions are there, ready to shock us with their simplicity.

When's the last time you found an unexpectedly simple solution to a dire problem?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

More Questions and More Answers

Next batch of questions. I'm sure you've been dying to hear my answers. ;)

Lydia K asked: What interesting bit of history about yourself would no one ever guess, the first time meeting you?

Okay, I had to beg my husband for help on this one. Just before I got married, I wrote a French screenplay for an introduction to a literacy manual (French), and while it was edited down by the director, it was actually filmed. I own a VHS copy of it. :)

Colene Murphy asked: What is your favorite go-to book?

Though I haven't read it in a while, Robin McKinley's Outlaws of Sherwood is definitely my favorite go-to book (there are, of course, others). I had a big-time crush on Robin Hood when I was a teenager. We won't mention the life-size poster of Kevin Costner as Robin Hood. But in my defense, it was a gift---I couldn't very well turn it down! ;)

Christina Lee asked: Do you believe in Tabula Rasa?

Excellent question! After having kids, I absolutely do NOT believe in Tabula Rasa. BUT I love the idea of it, especially when I'm starting a new book.

Melissa asked: What's your favorite book?

This is perhaps one of the hardest questions I know of. There are too many books I like to play favorites. When I was little, I would have said "Anything by L.M. Montgomery." Then a little older, "Anything by Robin McKinley." Then, "Anything by Jane Austen." Yes, I'm an author reader. If I find an author I like, I devour everything they wrote. But I digress.

Perhaps it's a cop-out, but here are a few of my favorites (in no particular order):
  • Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale
  • Pat of Silver Bush, by L.M. Montgomery
  • Beauty, by Robin McKinley
  • Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine
  • Harry Potter (all of them . . . though I felt book 5 wasn't quite as good as the others), by J.K . . . (Okay, it just feels silly to write the author here . . . it almost goes without saying)
Okay, I'll end here, but I think one more post should do it. :)

Monday, February 21, 2011

This vs. That: Washington vs. Lincoln Results

In honor of President's Day, I bring you the results of the Washington vs. Lincoln debate. Thank you to all my non-U.S. visitors for putting up with my U.S.-centric question this last time.

So, of all my proposed debates, this has been the hardest question for me to answer by far. Actually, I'm still debating who to vote for as I write this introductory paragraph. But since I forced the issue, and I have no one to blame but myself, here we go:

Total votes: 22

George Washington: 5 votes; 22%
Abraham Lincoln: 14 votes; 63%
Both: 1 vote; 5%
All Presidents: 1 vote; 5%
Decline to vote: 1 non-vote; 5%

After the first few votes, I totally thought that George Washington would take it by a landslide, but the tables turned. Both men are fascinating in what they did as President of the United States. Great leaders in a time when we really needed them. And though Lincoln may have won this vote, I honor both of them. However, in the end, I voted for George Washington. I've read a lot more about him, and recently visited Mount Vernon, so I suppose I was biased. A couple of things I particularly admire about him are 1) his love for his wife, Martha Washington; and 2) the fact that he never asked the men who fought with him in the revolutionary war to do anything he was not willing to do himself. A true leader.

So a couple of quick facts about each. 

Washington: In his will, he granted freedom to all of his slaves, to take effect after Martha's death (though Martha didn't wait for her death to free them).

Lincoln: The observance of the Thanksgiving holiday began with him. On Oct. 3, 1863, he proclaimed that there be a national day of Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. He also was the first president to have a beard.

Okay, enough of that. Two great men. I admire them both. Now on to the next vote:

Photo Credit: Pictures of Paris



Friday, February 18, 2011

Query Helps

Writing a query letter is never easy, but I've found several useful helps that I wanted to share. Most of you probably know of these, but just in case I ever lose my head, I want a record. ;)

The biggest help was Elana Johnson's blog and her book From the Query to the Call. I stumbled upon her blog about a year ago, and she was just starting a series on writing a good query letter. I found her advice so useful at actually getting words on paper, that I purchased her book (which I still refer back to ALL THE TIME).

With all of Elana's success, she now generously offers her book free to anyone who would like it. Don't let that fool you into thinking it's not useful. Seriously the best $8 I've ever spent---I'd still pay money for it. If you don't have it, go get it post haste. You'll find it on her website under the "Query to the Call" tab.

Another helpful blog is Janet Reid's Query Shark. As a successful and respected agent, she breaks down queries that have been submitted by brave souls and points out what is and isn't working. It's a fascinating study. While you can submit your query, I've found it very useful to simply read through her past posts. You start to get a feel for what a query should be and what you definitely should NOT do. So go, and be enlightened.

The last link I want to share is Not only can you sign up for a free account (they have Premium accounts you can pay for if you want to do more) that will track all the queries and submissions you have sent with the dates and names of the agents or publishers, but they have the Query Tracker Forum as well. You have to request an account for the forum in addition to the account, but it is well worth the trouble to do so. Here you can connect with other writers and also receive feedback on your work. They have forums for giving and getting critiques on query letters, the first five pages, as well as the synopsis. They have a forum for any questions you may have about the query process and they have forums for about anything book related you could want.

The forums at are similar in nature, and also very useful. (So I lied about being the last link.)

There are many other helpful sites and blogs when it comes to querying (see Matthew Rush's blog The Quintissentially Questionable Query Experiement, for example), these are simply the ones that have been most helpful to me. In the comments, feel free to share sites and blogs that have helped you the most with writing your query.

And best of luck to all of you working on writing a query letter!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

You Asked for It!

Thank you for all the questions! I appreciate your patience with my brief episode of Tabula Rasa-itis. So here we go:

Justine Dell asked: What is your biggest fear? And don't say something lame like spiders or something.

It's a good thing you clarified, because I TOTALLY would have put spiders. :) But beyond those, I would have to say my biggest fear is split in two:
  1. Losing any member of my family. (But whose isn't, right?)
  2. That my best won't be good enough . . . whether in writing, or raising my family, or whatever.
  3. Have you noticed that I really like lists?
Joanne asked: If you didn't write, what would you do creatively?

Hmmm . . . this is a hard question because there are so many ways to answer it. I actually love music and play the piano and (dabble in the guitar), but I don't have the discipline to practice enough to become good. So while I'd do it for fun, I don't think it could ever fill in for writing.

And I've always wished I had any talent in illustration, but alas, 'tis not my lot. BUT, if we're talking about an imaginery world here where all things are possible, then this would be it. I'd be an artist for sure! Oil paintings and maybe water colors. :)

Stina Lindenblatt, after acusing Justine of cheating, asked: What is the thing you like best about writing fiction?

Honestly, it's getting lost in another world. I've always been a daydreamer (and I was master of doing it without getting caught in school), so I suppose it was a natural shift to write fiction. But who doesn't want to escape their reality at some point for a more exciting place where you are important or even essential to the well-being of the world? The possibilities are endless! It's why I'll be writing for the rest of forever even if I never do get published.

Jackee took the liberty of asking two questions (such presumption!): What would be your ideal writing life?

I'm a little torn about this question because my ideal writing life would probably exclude all of my current life. But see, then it wouldn't be ideal anymore. So trying to strike a balance . . .
  • I would have a cute little writing office with an ocean view.
  • My children would wait patiently while I finish that chapter.
  • The day would have something like 26 hours in it.
  • I'd have a water cooler next to my desk.
  • A fresh platter of chocolate-covered strawberries would be brought in by the maid at the tinkle of a bell.
  • The laws of science regarding calories and weight gain would not apply to me.
  • The maid, of course, would keep the house sparking clean, AND cook deliciously healthy meals for my family.
  • I could go on for a while, but I might start to despise my life or something, so I'd better stop. ;)
Question #2: When did you first know you wanted to write? (But not necessarily get published).

I think the first hint that I enjoyed it was in High School. I sent an outline for a Disney-ified version of The Pied Piper to The Walt Disney Co. :D

Oh, yes I did. I knew nothing about query letters or anything, and I didn't even want to get paid. I just wanted my idea to be the next Disney animated feature-film. I still have the response they sent stating that The Walt Disney Co. does not read outside ideas. My un-read letter was included in the package. Really, I'm quite proud of my first rejection. :)

So I have this personal rule about long blogs . . . I try to avoid them. And this is getting long, so I will have to respond to these in batches. No worries, if you asked a question, I'll link back to your blog (if I have your link) and respond. I promise.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Darling Husband's Guest Post

As a special Valentine's Day treat (for me), my Darling Husband has laboured over a blog post to give me a break. It took some doing, but I finally convinced him to let go and let me post it. :D
And here we go:

In an effort to produce a truly great gift for Singleness Awareness Appreciation Day (oops I meant Valentine's Day), I am going to write my wife's blog. Sorry to all those of you who would have preferred a more literary bent!  

Valentine's Day (if you have someone) or Singleness Awareness Appreciation Day (all those of you who don't, and Lenny [you're too young to have a significant other. Play and have fun until you are at least 25 ;-)]) strikes me as a holiday of stark contrasts. On the one hand, you have those commercial entities pushing onto people the idea that you HAVE to get something for that special someone. While on the other, a truly Lovely message (pun intended) of showing those you love you care. I for one love the idea of showing love. I like Valentine's Day most likely since I have a significant other, my wife.

Which is why, even after 9 years of marriage, I still struggle to find the perfect gift. The radio tries to sell you pajama grams, roses, Vermont teddy bears, chocolates, diamonds, jewelry, smartphones, etc, all in an effort to say I love you to those we love.  Whatever happened to doing something for that person that they couldn't do for themselves to say I love you?  

Now my wonderful wife, who makes our family run, might want a 5 day vacation on a Caribbean beach and I am working on that. In reality what I manage most often is when I am home trying to clean the house, playing with the kids, and making dinner while she writes. Well that's the plan anyway!  

As with even the cards, candy and flowers, the best laid plans often go awry and usually my Valentine's Day gifts end with something crazy happening or me picking some crazy gift. Which reminds me, I think the craziest Valentine's Day gift I received was a phone call at 3 am from some friends who had (after years of searching) found a song with my name in it.  I personally would have preferred the sleep, but the memory of that call still makes me laugh. Maybe just maybe the crazy gifts---or more appropriately the memories they give us---are the best gifts on a day that for many is really just Singleness Awareness Appreciation Day. 

What was your craziest gift?

Well, I digress! To my wife my best gift is my love for you, Je t'aime, and to my children, I love you! 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Tabula Rasa

So Tabula Rasa is the theory that babies are born with a blank slate . . . meaning they know nothing in the beginning. Every experience they have fills their slate [read that, mind] and makes them who they are.

This is my mind right now. I want to claim that there was a glitch in the system, and the whole hard drive just crashed. Perhaps it was a burn out. Nevertheless, there we are.

So I've seen others do this and I've been saving the idea for just such a moment as this: Go ahead, ask me any question you would like, and I may or may not answer it in the next post.

And in the mean time, feel free to add your vote to the last This vs. That debate if you haven't already. The results are coming next week! Don't get too excited, now. ;)

And now go, and have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Over-analyzers Anonymous

Hello, my name is Juanita, and I'm an over-analyzer.

*Hello, Juanita* (Yes, I did just speak for all you in the blogosphere. I hope you don't mind.)

So here's her story:
According to this blog I . . . I mean, she read (you know, the kind that stalks agents), she heard that Agent Super totally makes full requests on every query she gets on days with a Blue Moon.

So she did it, she waited until the next Blue Moon to submit, but then she didn't get a reply back within Agent Super's usual ten minutes, and by the time an hour had passed, she was totally freaking out! I mean, seriously!

Since she knows this Agent has impeccable taste, and she knows said Agent responds within minutes (according to the said blog), and that Agent Super ALWAYS requests a full on Blue Moon days, . . .

then the ONLY POSSIBLE conclusion is that her manuscript is HORRIBLE!

Yes, Juanita is an over-analyzer. She latches on to a little detail (which may or may not be true, depending on the context) and then lets her mind run with it. And of course, her mind uses LOGIC and "FACT"-BASED EVIDENCE to make conclusions that are sure to tear her self-esteem to shreds.

And there's no escaping it, because it's all sitting in that pretty little head of hers, and no matter how busy she may keep herself, her brain has this extra 90% that isn't being used, so it has plenty of room to keep analyzing, and analyzing, and analyzing, and analyzing, and analyzing,

and analyzing,

and analyzing,

and analyzing,

and analyzing,

and analyzing,

and analyzing,

and analyzing,

and analyzing . . .

Well, you get the point. Poor Juanita.

Lucky for her, there IS a cure. But unlucky for her, I'm not sure what it is, so I'm hoping you all can help Juanita out . . . What do you do to keep your brain in check when it threatens to hi-jack your sense of reality?

*Note: Super Agent and Juanita are fictitious characters. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is a complete coincidence. Really.

Monday, February 7, 2011

License Plate Trivia Revealed

So wow, I was impressed with how many of you got the color right! *wink, wink*

For those of you just tuning in, the license plate was


My readers were charged with guessing the color, make and model.

But alas, no one got it exactly right. Stina Lindenblatt was the closest with the guess of a Red, Toyota, Sienna.

Red, yes. Toyota, yes. Sienna, no.

This license plate actually corresponds to the car model. "ROS3" or Rose is a type of flower, no? So this car was a red Toyota Corolla. Corolla is a Latin word which means the collective petals of a flower. Not a perfect fit, but you can definitely see the connection.

In any case, congratulations, Stina! You have the choice of your favorite candybar or a Mystery Prize. It may be better than a candybar. It may not be (bwa-ha-ha!). Your pick. :D

Friday, February 4, 2011

Conquering Clichés, Part 4: Using Them . . . or Not

As writers, we are told so often to "Avoid Clichés," that the warning has pretty much become a cliché itself. Ah, the irony. In the last post in this series, we discussed several reasons to cut clichés, but it's good to note that there are moments when clichés can work.

I can think of two valid reasons for using them:

1. Establishing a Character.

People speak in clichés. It's a natural thing. While I don't think that means you should fill your characters' dialogue with clichés, you might use them to establish a type of character.
  • An old granny who has a proverb/idiom for every situation.
  • A ranch-workin' cowboy transplanted into a New York boarding school.
  • A Budda monk who lives in a monastery on top of Mount Kismet.
  • A parent arguing with a teenager who missed curfew.

You get the idea. The clichés they use build their character---show us who they are---place them in the world of your book. Still, the clichés should be used responsibly. Be sure they build up your character, rather than pull the character into the quagmire of overuse.

2. As Irony or Humor.

When you are using a cliché with the specific purpose of mocking it, I think it works. Clichés can be a lot of fun to play with. And because they are so well known (you know, from being overused), they make good joke bait.

For example, in Sorcerer's Apprentice (you have seen this movie, haven't you?), they use a plot cliché (namely Jedi mind-control) so the bad guy can get the information he needs. So just when I'm thinking, Huh. That reminds me an awful lot of Star Wars, his apprentice, the comedic sidekick, waves his hand and says in a mock-serious voice, "These are not the droids you are looking for." Okay, so maybe you have to see it, but it totally worked. Because they made a mockery of the cliché, I not only forgave it, but now think it's one of the best parts of the movie.

A word of caution: even though clichés may work in such situations, we need to be careful not to overdo it. What is funny once can fall flat the second or third time.

To end this series, I want to recognize that clearing out clichés that have crept into our writing is never easy. It takes work and effort. It often requires thinking outside the box. One of the best resources I know of to help your mind envision the possibilities is The Bookshelf Muse.

On the sidebar of their blog, you will find a wonderful assortment of Thesauruses: Setting Thesaurus; Emotion Thesaurus; Colors, Textures and Shape Thesaurus; and a Symbolism Thesaurus. Angela and Becca are nothing if not thorough, and they are constantly adding entries. I highly recommend you visit them for help with conquering clichés.

Again, I don't claim to be an expert. Hearing others' opinions and ideas is always good. So in the comments, please feel free to share other situations where you think using a cliché would work, other resources you know of to help conquer clichés, and any differing view you may have.

If you missed the first 3 parts, feel free to follow the links:

Conquering Clichés, Part 1: Introduction
Conquering Clichés, Part 2: Ways to be Cliché
Conquering Clichés, Part 3: Why We are Cautioned Against Them
Conquering Clichés, Part 4: Using Them . . . or Not

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pay It Forward

Shelli, over at Market My Words, is having a Pay-It-Forward Contest. One of the requirements to enter is that you recognize in a blog post (or on Facebook) someone who has helped you in some way.

I love the idea of paying it forward, and I am an advocate of giving thanks, so I am excited to share. And I didn't have to think long about who I wanted to thank.

Back when I was first introduced to the writing blogosphere by my fabulous CP Vicki, before I even kept a writing blog, I read a post about a writing contest over at Laurel's Leaves. It was her Eleventy-one Celebration Writing Contest where she wanted a scene showing negotiation and persuasion.

I decided to enter, and lo and behold, I won! I was astonished . . . and even more astonished when she gave the break down on her blog of why she chose my piece.

I can't express what it meant to me to have a complete stranger (at the time) say such kind things about my writing. It was just what I needed to hear right then. It boosted my confidence, and it was the catalyst that led to my starting a writing blog and to the drive to finally finish editing my book.

I just wanted to tell Laurel thank you for your contest and for your kind words. It all meant much more to me than I'm sure you could have guessed.


And in the spirit of thanks, feel free to give a shout out to someone who influenced your life for the better. :)