Monday, November 18, 2013

Hiding Under a Rock

The rock I've been hiding under.

It's already November 18?

I had every intention of being useful this month. Honestly. But first there was this amazing trip back East. And then I had to recover from that trip. And then I had to prep for teaching some poetry. And then I had to help a small group of the students put together and edit their very own 4th Grade comes out this week, by the way. We're excited.

More than anything, I planned on participating in Nanowrimo this month, but it didn't happen.  I always start Nano...for the past five years. Granted, I've only finished once, but I've ALWAYS started. Oh well. There's always Camp Nano this summer if I'm super motivated.

In other news, I'm making like my blog friend Misty and indulging in Hallmark Channel holiday movie sweetness. I'm surprised I haven't put on 20 pounds with this sappy, ooeey, schloppy stuff, but man it's fun. It's also fun watching my kids grimace at all the mistletoe smooching and hugging. Ha!

I also broke my beloved camera last night. Knocked it right off the counter onto the ceramic tile floor, complete with a sickening crack. I almost puked. Then I cried. A lot. My poor husband didn't know what to do. Photos might be harder to come by the next few months, so just bear with me.

Other than that, I started up a genealogy blog (genealogy snoop), mostly for me to document a couple of research projects and to stay connected with some other family history bloggers. Like I needed a new obsession, right?

...happy happy happy...

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Five Days in Vermont

Earlier this month, my mom flew my boys and I out to Vermont to attend her 60th birthday bash. (Thanks, mom!) It was a lot of fun traveling with my sons now that they're bigger and (I'll admit it) braver than I am about air travel.

We landed in Boston where my mom and my uncle were waiting for us with the most tricked out of tricked-out minivans for the two-hour trek north.

I'll just say it now: five days wasn't even close to enough time there.  I haven't been back to visit family in ten and a half years....haven't seen the places from my childhood that are just now starting to seem interesting and beautiful and unusual, so leaving was tough. Coming home to my husband and my little girls righted the melancholy, but still. I wanted more time to seek out the places I wanted to revisit and more time with the family members I haven't seen in a decade.

My hope is to take my entire family (brace yourself, Green Mountain State) next fall in time for the color we can be those obnoxious slow-driving freaks that drive my brother insane each year. Leaf peepers, they're called.

...happy happy happy....

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1. Andover, Vermont. This is  the Congregational Church in Andover. I spent time when I was reallllly young at a farm a few hundred yards from this church.

My recent obsession with genealogy has unearthed that I have had TWO sets of ancestors get married in this church. One couple in 1802 and one couple in 1844.

I also found out that while I thought Congregational churches were fairly liberal (I have NO idea why I thought this...seriously), they were very, very, very strict and would spend much of their time up in your business if you were a parishioner, even going so far as to fine attendees who decided to imbibe alcoholic beverages in the privacy of their own homes. Yowza.

Still a beautiful church, though...right?

2. Andover, Vermont. The town sign.

 I know the sign wasn't made in 1761, but the town was.

Vermont has such a fascinating history in the Revolutionary War and Civil War. They even sent a lot of men to "seek revenge" on the French and their Native American allies after the massacre at Fort William Henry during the French and Indian War. (Remember that scene in "Last of the Mohicans" where Cora loses her father to Magwa and the ambush after the retreat? That was based on the massacre at Fort William Henry in 1757.)

3. Springfield, Vermont. The view from Uncle Bob's place.

I spent two summers hanging around that pond and I was lucky enough to meet the granddaughter of the nice man who owned the farm you're looking at. Christina and I would ride horses all over the property and she'd show me the sugar trees her grandfather used when he made maple syrup each spring.

4. Chester, Vermont. The First Baptist Church. I can't say "Chester, Vermont" without thinking about this big red church in the middle of town.

Never been inside, though.

When I was a teenager a friend and I tried to open the doors one evening just to peek inside (I was 17, maybe?) But it was locked down.

5. Chester, Vermont. A little creek at the back of town. I'm standing on a suspension footbridge.

 My kids are off to the left, on solid ground, yelling at me to stop being so immature. I would jump up and down on the bridge to freak them out.

6. Chester, Vermont. I was a former inmate at this elementary school.

Kindergarten and first grade right there, folks. And yes, that's a gravestone in the forefront of the picture. It's not technically in the school yard so much as I'm taking the picture from the colonial-era graveyard that's situated a few yards from the school yard.

Graveyards are fascinating to me now. To my kids? Notsomuch.

7.  Chester, Vermont.  Brookside Cemetery.

I have an ancestor named Philomen Parker buried in this graveyard. After serving in Lexington in the Revolutionary War (his father was the first recorded casualty of that conflict...bummer), he moved to Chester with his wife and six children. A decade or so later, typhus would come through the town and wipe out his wife and three of his oldest children.

This grave is obviously not Philomen's. My children got grumpy after about twenty minutes of searching and decided that graveyards were NOT where they wanted to spend their Vermont vacations.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Hag by Robert Herrick (1648)

The Hag is astride,
    This night for to ride;
The Devill and shee together:
    Through thick, and through thin,
    Now out, and then in,
Though ne’r so foule be the weather.

    A Thorn or a Burr
    She takes for a Spurre:
With a lash of a Bramble she rides now,
    Through Brakes and through Bryars,
    O’re Ditches, and Mires,
She followes the Spirit that guides now.

    No Beast, for his food,
    Dares now range the wood;
But husht in his laire he lies lurking:
    While mischiefs, by these,
    On Land and on Seas,
At noone of Night are working,

    The storme will arise,
    And trouble the skies;
This night, and more for the wonder,
    The ghost from the Tomb
    Affrighted shall come,
Cal’d out by the clap of the Thunder.

Anybody else ready for Halloween? I know we sure are...

...happy happy happy...
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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How Can It Be I am No Longer I by Lucie Brock-Broido (1997)

Winter was the ravaging in the scarified
Ghost garden, a freak of letters crossing down a rare

Path bleak with poplars. Only the yew were a crewel
Of kith at the fieldstone wall, annulled

As a dulcimer cinched in a green velvet sack.
To be damaged is to endanger—taut as the stark

Throats of castrati in their choir, lymphless & fawning
& pale. The miraculous conjoining

Where the beamless air harms our self & lung,
Our three-chambered heart & sternum,

Where two made a monstrous
Braid of other, ravishing.

To damage is an animal hunch
& urge, thou fallen—the marvelous much

Is the piece of Pleiades the underworld calls
The nightsky from their mud & rime. Perennials

Ghost the ground & underground the coffled
Veins, an aneurism of the ice & spectacle.

I would not speak again. How flinching
The world will seem—in the lynch

Of light as I sail home in a winter steeled
For the deaths of the few loved left living I will

Always love. I was a flint
To bliss & barbarous, a bristling

Of tracks like a starfish carved on his inner arm,
A tindering of tissue, a reliquary, twinned.

A singe of salt-hay shrouds the orchard-skin,
That I would be—lukewarm, mammalian, even then,

In winter when moss sheathes every thing alive
& everything not or once alive.

That I would be—dryadic, gothic, fanatic against
The vanishing; I will not speak to you again.

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Friday, October 25, 2013

I'll Turn off the Television Once in a While

Sometimes I get so sick of the television noise that I turn it off. And they get so mad at me. They stomp and pout and swear up and down that they're missing something really important. Eventually they run out of steam and settle down.

And they do this.

And I love it.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Make Like Billy Madison...

And head back to school.

Last week I got my school assignment. I've got a new district, but I'm staying with 4th graders. Yaaaay! I have a soft spot for them...Boy Wonder being one himself and all. Yep, I'm biased.

To start each assignment off, we have a sitdown meeting with the teachers I'll be working with, a member of the WITS office, and myself. It's a short time to get to know each other, get a feel for what the teachers are looking for in the coming weeks and a chance to familiarize myself with the school.

I should jump in and say that I was 20 minutes late to the meeting despite leaving my house 90 minutes ahead of time. I-10 hosed me, ya'll. It HOSED me. What a great first impression I must have made...

This year, instead of four teachers, I have two. Two super nice, extra gentle fourth grader ELA teachers. Is it silly that the nice ones scare me more than the more stand-offish ones do?

Their biggest concern this year is adding voice to the students' work. It makes sense. Most of what their learning is aimed for the annual standardized test in the spring and it seems the rubrics are getting more rigid. Kids are getting dinged for not having enough "voice" in their essays...even the dreaded expository. (Barf.)

I've been thinking long and even longer about how to teach kids what their writing "voice" is. I have no clue where mine comes from and I'm pretty sure that it changes depending on the material and whether or not I got enough sleep. It might even lean on the amount of gas in my truck, truth be told.

It's such a vague notion, isn't it? How do you teach someone how to sound like an individual when they're taught to answer the same thing, the same way, every single time throughout their education. We're creating a generation of test drones, but we want these test drones to have an individual voice inside the 34 lines provided. But then go back to having the exact same answer as everyone else.

Luckily, the awesome teachers get to figure that part out, god bless 'em. I get to show up, make them laugh with my Lumpy Space Princess impression and let them go HAM on the paper, no rules, no censoring, just writing.

But here we are. Tomorrow is week one. We're concentrating on voice.

I'm goin' in folks...

...happy happy happy...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Coe's Grocery

A couple of Sundays ago I posted a list of blogging prompts for folks and managed to get too busy to do them. Why would I do my own homework? That's just silly.

But one of my prompts, one that came completely and most randomly off the top of my head asked people to write about their grocery stores. Why did they go there? Convenience? Products? Did they shop the same route each time?

I've been mulling it around in my head these few weeks because some days it seems like I'm back in the grocery store at least four times a week, no matter how big my weekend haul is. (Truthfully, I feel like those Alaskan fishermen some Sundays when I'm dragging in grocery bags stuffed like crab pots. Give me a yellow rain suit and I'd fit right in.)

I always hated grocery shopping and I've never been a gourmet cook. But hwne you are a family of six, food evaporates like rainwater in El Paso.

I shop at the local Walmart. I'm not really thrilled about it, but given the pros I'd be crazy to go anywhere else.

They price match.

I can use coupons without feeling too bad about holding up the line.

I can overstuff my cart and not wince in shame because all six carts ahead of me and the three behind me are dripping with Cheez Its and cans of condensed soup. One flustered lady back there even has two cars to her name.

Walmart is also the closet store to me and my risk of getting pulled over for my expired registration and Alaska plates runs pretty low. I'm riding so dirty I have one snow tire on because my tires are threadbare and scream in pain whenever I drive too long. I live on the edge, ya'll.

 I'd love to go the HEB more often, but that's a local police hangout and then I'd just be playing the odds like an idiot. Walmart it is.

I hit the back first. If I'm down a kid or two (or heaven help me, with NO kids), I might take a luxurious stroll through the candle aisle and smell 18 versions of pumpkin pie wax melts. I hit the back and grab water and baby supplies because we're always out of both.

Then it's dairy. I haul four gallons of milk in at a time because nothing's worse than putting everyone to bed and realizing you're out for the nighttime bottles. (Don't judge. Just don't.)

I bounce around through the grocery aisles. Up two, back three. Then it's sequential and then back two more because I forgot refried beans. Ignore the old lady who's managed to get the sit'n'scoot lodged sideways in the aisle as best I can (think: Austin Powers) and try not to threaten my  daughter too many times out loud for tossing the cereal boxes out when I'm reaching for bread. I'm a good mom and threaten her in the privacy of the truck. 

I take my time in the produce aisle because it's my favorite and I do my best not to dwell on the fact that most of the veggies were grown in some sort of lab and will never, ever decompose on their own. Do yourself a favor and don't think about it, either.

While I'm at it, I'll stand my ground and finish grabbing all nine of my cucumbers in my own sweet time, impatient man behind me be hammed. (Yes, I said ham on purpose. You're proud, aren't you?)

Then it's line time. If I'm alone without a time frame, I'll pick the longest one on purpose and read three magazines like I'm at the library. It's my alone time in a world where I don't even get to pee without the dog, a dollhouse, and two girls fighting over the green Power Ranger.

Not long ago my mom sent me a photograph collection from our family. One is my great-grandfather, Coe. He died young (at 38, I believe) and in all my genealogy obsession lately, there isn't much about him out there. But there is a census in 1930 when he lived with his father. After his own divorce and after his mother died and when it asked for occupation, it listed "salesperson."

The picture is of Coe in a fanatically clean, well-stocked and simply grocery store. He's well-dressed, looking attentive (and handsome, obviously) and I can't help but wonder how far we've come from those days when there were relatively few ingredients to purchase because everyone made everything from scratch to today.

I'd probably like shopping at the grocery store a lot more if was more like Coe's grocery store.

...happy happy happy....

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Monday, October 14, 2013

5-Minute MFA: How I Use the Three Act Structure to Plot (Day 14)

On Saturday I talked about using the Three Act Structure to plot your most basic story line of your novel. (See the post for yourself: Plotting and the Three Act Structure)

I mentioned it was just the beginning for me when I start my plotting journey. It's a small, but very powerful tool I like to use.

I thought today I'd show you how I used the tool to start plotting a recently completed middle grade novel I wrote.

Like I said...there aren't an overload of details, but just enough to get me started. I have two more steps after this before I feel comfortable enough to let 'er rip. More tomorrow!

...happy happy happy...

Miss a day? Check out my 31 Day MFA Challenge Master List!

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Week of Prompts: Blogging

Day One: Talk about a time when you should have helped someone… but didn’t.

Day Two: What’s the most dreadful (or wonderful) experience you’ve ever had as a customer?

Day Three: Talk about something you think is terribly unfair — and explain how you would rectify it.

Day Four: What would it take for you to consider yourself a “successful blogger”? Is that something you strive for?

Day Five: Talk about your favorite pair of shoes, and where they've taken you.

Day Six: When was the last time you really stood out in a crowd? Are you comfortable in that position, or do you wish you could fade into the woodwork?

Day Seven: What bores you?

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

5-Minute MFA: Plotting and the Three Act Structure (Day 12)

Over the next few days, I'm going to dig into just how I plot my novels. There are a few pieces to it, so I thought I'd spare the 50,000 word blog post and break it down into manageable chunks.

Today, I want to talk about the three-act structure.

Whether or not we realize it, we all know the three-act structure. Most movies live or die by the three-act structure and when we write most commercial (and plenty of literary) fiction, the three-act structure is our default story structure.

It has its detractors. Some people swear modern storytelling does not depend on breaks in the action, etc., etc., but I 'm not worried about defending my own plotting methods. I'm simply sharing what works for me. (/end disclaimer!)

It's really just a model that divides the written work in the beginning, middle, and end. Fancier terms would be the set up, the crisis, and the resolution.

Act I

In the first of three acts, we establish the characters and the world they exist in. We learn the rules of their world and toward the end of this first act, something happens. It could be anything. Plague. Zombie apocalypse. The murder of Uncle Owen and Aunt Verue. By the end of the first Act, our hero or heroine has changed and must move on for the story to take shape.

Act II

The second act is called rising action. The speed usually picks up and our protagonist spends the majority of act two trying to resolve whatever problem was dropped on them toward the end of the first act. We learn more about our characters and subplots and the "darkest moment" usually occurs sometime in this second act.


The third act is our resolution. We resolve the problem (or we fail, or we suffer defeat) but the climax occurs and we wind down our story. Our hero usually returns a changed character.

How do I use this in plotting?

In its most basic sense, I'll sketch out the novel's story line and divide the action into the appropriate act. It helps me develop scenes and important moments and I sketch out the conflict, action, and resolution based on this three act structure.

Sometimes I don't follow the "roller coaster" diagram to the letter, but when it comes to plotting the rise and fall of my story's action, I've found that the three act structure is the first step in my rudimentary story building.

I use the three act structure to build my most basic framework. From there, I add more to my outlines, but it all starts with those three acts for me. See my preliminary use of it here: How I Use the Three Act Structure to Plot.

This week? I'll talk about how I layer on the Hero's Journey onto the three act structure and get more detail out of my novel's outline.

Miss a day? Check out my 31 Day MFA Challenge Master List!

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Friday, October 11, 2013

I Vlog, Therefore I am. Then I Give You a Book. For Free. (Day 11)

Hello, friends!

Just a 31 Day Challenge check in here....and a giveaway for an awesome copy of "Still Writing:The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life" by Dani Shapiro.

Good luck!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

5-minute MFA: Use Your Notebook Correctly (Day 10)

Ugh. Last week flew by so fast. I have my last 9 days (of the 31 day challenge) written on Word, but I have yet to transfer those bad boys over. Bear with me, writers. They'll get here, I promise!

So let's talk about today's tip: your writer's notebook.

If you're anything like me, chances are you have MILLIONS of pretty, cute, sleek, fancy notebooks floating around your house, littered with thoughts, words, and doodles. It's fun to dream in these books, but are they really working for you as a writer? Are they helping you get to your goals that much faster? My guess is no.

When I was in graduate school, they  never taught me methods for productivity, despite how badly I needed them. In grad school, you simply show up to your workshop each week with whatever story or poem or essay that was due. Nobody cared how you managed it, you just did. That was fine when I was a single 20-something without kids, who could stay up late and pound out a few poems in haste and sleep in the next morning to recover.

But here in the real world, with kids, and jobs, and bills, and laundry, and Sleepy do we get it done?

One of my methods is the writer's notebook. But more powerful than the notebook itself is how you use it.

In years past, I collected notebooks and filled them with a few pages of character sketches and basic plot notes, but that's about it. So I had 47 notebooks with the first ten pages filled in and not much more. These days I keep my character and plot notes on my computer, print a few sheets out to STICK in the notebook for reference and use my notebook SOLELY for production of material.

I took an online workshop a year or so back that focused on productivity and how some authors just seemed to be book machines. How did they do it? What was their secret?

The biggest weapon these writers had, it turns out, were chunks of 15 minutes sprinkled throughout their days that they claimed. And they wrote in these notebooks during these two or three 15 minute blocks and at the end of the day (or the beginning) when they got to sit down for their larger block of writing, they had at least five or six notebook pages of material they could transcribe and from there, the material kept flowing.

It's a pretty simple concept: work on your draft for 15 minutes at a time, a few times a day, in your notebook and suddenly at the end of the week you've amassed up to 20 pages in your non-writing time.

More on how I stack and organize my notes online tomorrow.

Happy writing!

...happy happy happy...

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Miss a day? Check out my 31 Day MFA Challenge Master List!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

5-minute MFA: Scrivener Review and How-to's (Day 9)

I'm a little tech wary.

It's not that I'm afraid of computers, it's more that I hate the learning curve on each new, greatest "thing." I used Dramatist Pro, Storyweaver, and a number of other writer's software over the years with pretty limited success. I always figured that the time I spent learning how to make the software do what I wanted could be spent writing. All the time I needed to learn how to outline could be used outlining on paper so the time saved could be spent writing.

Logical, right?

Recently, though, a few groups I belong to have started chattering about Scrivener more and more. It's not new, but for some reason it's just making it's rounds  my way.

The trial is free for 30 days. The best part? First, the days don't have to be consecutive. So 30 logged in days. If you write a couple of times a week, your free trial could last a while. Second, it doesn't require your credit card and it won't autobill you if you forget. I love that because I've been bamboozled a time or two by free trials. Nothing like overdrawing because you forgot that you'd signed up with that genealogy site a month ago. (True story.)

I started my Scrivener trial in September and it took me a couple of hours to get comfortable. I was mostly interested in a program where I'd be able to write in a word processor that would be compatible with Word, but that would offer me something more. A little extra writing help.

For me, that extra was the ability to outline your novel, have character descriptions, research, and place names all in the same interface. One click and you're armed with the name of the city your villain was born. Stuck in the plot mud? Click over to your outline notes and reacquaint yourself with what you thought the whole point of the chapter was supposed to be.

To get myself up and running, I copied and pasted the first chapters of a work in progress and went from there, but with the help of a few tutorials and a couple of minutes of tinkering around, you'll be able to start a new project in no time.

I've got about two weeks left of my trial and I'm more than sure I'll plunk down the $40 for the license. Later this week, I'll talk about how I outline my work and how exactly Scrivener fits into that. It's really changed the way I approach new works and I'm excited to learn how I can incorporate Scrivener into other types of writing...essays, short stories and maybe some blog planning?

Sky seems the limit on this one.

Interested? Find Scrivener here.

Want a great group of tutorials to get started? Here's a nice group.

Happy Writing!

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Note: I was not compensated or provided software by Scrivener or any other entity. Nope. I simply loved my free trial and will plunk down my own coins to purchase it. Yay!

Miss a day? Check out my 31 Day MFA Challenge Master List!

Monday, October 7, 2013

5-Minute MFA: Explaining the Lingo of Plotter v. Pantser (Day 7)

Plotters and Pantsers are newer terms to me. I honestly made it all the way through graduate school without one professor or peer using the term when talking about how they write.

It wasn't until years later when I was part of a romance writing crit group that someone started throwing those terms around. I wasn't too proud to ask the question and it was quickly explained to me.

Plotters plot their works out before beginning. They feel most comfortable knowing where they're headed and what's up around the bend and blind corners. I imagine plotters to be neat, organized, type A personalities. (I'm sure there are all sorts of plotters out there, honestly!)

Pantsers live by the seat of their "pants" (hence the name) and write a bit more on the fly. Sure, they might jot notes down for future use, but they only need to see a few feet of them at a time on their journey.

In my life, I've always been a pantser. I make lists and shun them. I leave them on counters. In my truck. Or stuck to the bottom of my shoe. I've never had time to be neat or organized.

But then I tried writing a novel. Or two. And failed. And by failed I really mean I got frustrated and gave up because I just didn't have the energy to figure out where this jumbled mess was headed.

I took a few plotting classes over the years and now live very firmly in the land of the plotters. I have to. I'm a quitter if I don't and now and then, I get really attached to my characters (especially now that I've moved to young adult and middle grade wasn't so hard for me to cast aside romance heroines...they're too perfect and often got on my nerves) and feel terrible when I dump a project because of plot failure.

Where do you fit in? Pantser? Plotter?

I've included a few links and resources for you and this coming week, I'll talk about different ways of plotting your works.

Plotter or Pantser: The Best of Both Worlds
The Pantser, the Plotter, and the In Betweener

Worksheets and planning
Compendium of Plotting Worksheets

Online workshops
Plotting Subplots with June Diehl
Scene By Scene with Sally Parker
Peculiars of Plotting with Monette Michaels

Miss a day? Check out my 31 Day MFA Challenge Master List!

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Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Week of Prompts: Your World, Your View (Day 6)

We're sticking with blogging for the month of October, mostly because I'm concentrating so much on fiction for the 5-minute MFA challenge. And the truth is, sometimes blogging true stories that are interesting seems like such a dynamic feat to accomplish. Why would anyone on this planet care what my day looked like in pictures?

Well, more than you think. We love our blogging community because it's a glimpse into the day to day of another person. We see ourselves in others and we see people we'd never be, by choice or by circumstance. So this week, let's shine the lense of blogging outward and show a little of our world with others.

Happy Writing!

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Day One: I love nothing more than mornings. I always have. They always seem so full of promise and are wide open. What does your morning look like? Is it a rush to the bus stop? A slow amble to the computer to work on your writing? An hour-long bumper car fest in traffic? Paint us a picture using words or photography. Show the world what your mornings mean.

Day Two:  Who do you interact with everyday? Does it change? Does it rarely change? Do you wish for something different? Write about the people in your daily lives.

Day Three:  Meals. (I know, I know, I love food). How do you pick times for your meals? Do you have traditions each day, or only on special occasions? How do you keep your families or yourselves fed on a day to day basis? Do you wish it was different?

Day Four:  What's your routine each day? Do you do the same thing? Are you a free spirit?

Day Five:  Take a photograph of something new today. Was it a new sign in your neighborhood? A picture of a new pair of shoes? It might be difficult, but every day is different in some way. Show us.

Day Six:  What is your neighborhood like? Is it a close community? A rural farm? Tell us about the dynamic between you and the people who live nearby.

Day Seven: What was the most mundane errand you had to run this week? Write about it and why you finally checked it off your list. What was so irritating about it? Is there more to it than what it seems? 

Miss a day? Check out my 31 Day MFA Challenge Master List!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

He Has An Angel Watching Over Him

 For God commands the angels to guard you in all your ways. With their hands they shall support you,lest you strike your foot against a stone. You shall tread upon the asp and the viper, trample the lion and the dragon. [Psalm 91:11-13 ]

Parenting has been so tough lately. Instead of his teacher and friend, I've had to be my Boy Wonder's warrior and protector. Against bus drivers and bullies. And it's not a role I really feel like I'm good at. I hate confrontation. I don't like "picking fights" and being that parent who emails and calls constantly until somebody listens.

And lately I've been wondering more and more if my problems are too small for God. He's got big things like government shutdowns and chemical weapons and hurricane season to deal with. Is he really still able to watch over my tiny people or has it been left to me?

That's a scary thought, but I'm wild and reckless when I'm tired and sometimes thoughts like these get through.

Every morning, in an effort to get Boy Wonder on some sort of schedule we have him take the dog out to go to the bathroom. Every. Single. Morning. It's dark. It's early. You get the picture.

Yesterday morning, I was waking the boys up, throwing socks and underwear at them, threatening to dump water bottles on them and basically making their wake up experience pretty miserable because they showed no signs of moving.

Normally, I push Boy Wonder out the door with a dog and a leash. But yesterday morning, I thought that I needed to take the dog out. I have no clue why. It was just a voice in my head telling me that I should.

Give the kid a break, the voice said. Do it yourself.

So I did.

We walked down the sidewalk to the dog run and while the pup was sniffing and circling, circling and sniffing, I heard them.

A mastiff and a golden retriever were about 50 feet away, off the leash. The owner was smoking a cigarette, uninterested in the fact that his dogs had zeroed in on us.

The mastiff charged at us and as valiant as my 15 pound dog is, he was no match so I scooped him up. The mastiff was barking and encroaching, trying to get a piece of my dog and I'm kicking at the stupid thing with a flip-flopped foot and the thought occurred to me:

What if this had been Boy Wonder?

He wouldn't have been able to pick the dog up. He wouldn't have been able to make himself big enough to make a mastiff stand down. He would have been scared and the stupid dog would have known it and something tells me it would have been awful.

It could have been ugly and a disaster and it was that moment right there that I knew I wasn't outside with this idiot Cujo dog by mistake.

Boy Wonder's guardian angels had done their job and marvelously and I walked away a little less burdened with the recent events and with a little more trust in the Almighty. He's got the time and the ability and the love to watch over my son. He does.

And for a little while this morning, it was enough. It was more than enough.

...happy happy happy...

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

5-Minute MFA, Day 2: Planning Worksheet Freebies

I'm sure somewhere along the way (maybe during my two undergrad creative writing classes, perhaps?), I had a professor talk about initial planning and plotting. But I don't remember that discussion.

In fact, in all the years of taking classes and workshops, everyone has pretty much dealt with the fact that you'd already written the fiction, poetry, or essay. Never once did they talk about their own ways of preparing and plotting what you were about to write.

Doesn't that seem strange?

Thank goodness Writer's Digest comes out with those really expensive "write your book in a month" editions every couple of years because I always find at least one planning worksheet that's worth it's weight (plus some!) in gold.

Today's post is simply a list of links for you to go forth and find your own planning/prepping worksheets and to claim them. Grab them. Make them your own and keep them handy in your writer's notebook as you go forth.

(Don't have a writer's notebook? Don't worry, you will...soon enough.)

One of the biggest keys to victory in writing is a solid game plan, regardless of whether you're a plotter or the seat-of-your-pants author who lives for spontaneity.

Go ahead and be spontaneous with your words...just make sure you've got an idea of where you're headed first!

Story Tracker

Story Idea Map

Scene Card

At A Glance Outline

Character Sketch

Revealing Scenes Index (I love this one because I love to think about my fiction as a collection of scenes...maybe I should have studied to be a screenwriter, hmm?)



Reversal Brainstorm

Thanks so much to Writer's Digest for keeping these up. I LOVE them!

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This month, I'm writing about writing for 31 Days straight as part of 31 Days Challenge. See more about it here.

Miss a day? Check out my 31 Day MFA Challenge Master List!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

5-Minute MFA: Starting the 31 Day Challenge

I've never done the 31 Days Challenge (over at I've watched quite a few of my blog friends so it, but I have a hard enough time committing to sticking to my weekly meal plan that I can't imagine what it would be like to show up to this blog every day for a month and offer up something useful about any topic of my choosing.

Cray, ya'll. Double cray.

But I just joined up a bunch of dynamite gals who are doing spectacular things with their challenges and it's had me thinking the past week or so about what on earth I might offer. I am not so great at crafting and I'm even worse at tutorials. Tried and failed the food blog because I just don't have the patience to stage and photograph food. I want to EAT the food. I tried a jiu jitsu blog, but then I had to give up jiu jitsu for a while because my babies are just too small to drag from practice to practice. I've considered an art blog, but really, I'm just sort of a hack at art. I love to doodle, but I have nothing to offer anybody else. I write about my family on this blog, but I'd hardly consider myself a "mommy blogger." Truth be told, that moniker drives me banaynays. I love humor, but I don't always have the magic touch.

So what do I have?

Ok, ok. Stop pretending that you didn't see the EXTRA LARGE photo centered at the top of the post. I figured that I had the diploma, the student debt, and the writing chops to maybe help out people who don't have the access, money, or time to invest in an MFA program right now. Why not? Really, all you need to write is to have a seat, grab a pencil and a bit of paper....and write.

Here's a secret you might not know:

There are no secrets in writing.

No, seriously! You don't need a master's degree to be a good writer. You don't have to horde all of your ideas and guard your iPad notes with Fort Knox security levels. You don't need 1,000 books about writing (though I'm guilty of that myself!).

Really, you need to write. And then you need to edit. Then write some more. And edit some more. And then submit. Throw some coffee in there along the way and eventually, you're going to be accepted somewhere (we can't all be J.K. Rowling, though I wish you much luck in getting there!) and your story will be told.

And then you'll do it all over again.

That's really what you learn in an MFA program. That and some other things that really have nothing to do with creating your own story (some could argue that all those Dickens and Milton courses I had to take did me a favor in exposing me to classic lit, but I don't always agree.)

The point behind what I want to do with the next 31 days is provide lightening fast inspiration, tutorials, and concepts (less than 5 minutes!) that will set you on your way to writing with help you ditch that nagging feeling that you're not worthy if you're not degreed as a writer.


So over the next four weeks, in anticipation of Nanowrimo and building towards that, I'm launching the 5-Minute MFA. I'll touch on everything I learned in grad school regarding plotting, voice, editing, workshopping, crafting scenes, character pointers, and much more.

I've even convinced myself to step WAAAAY out of my comfort zone and post a vlog each week. WOWZA!

Hope you enjoy the next 31 days and come up with a meaningful challenge of your own. It'll be fun!

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31 Days with the 5-Minute MFA Master List

Day One: 5-Minute MFA Introduction
Day Two: Planning Sheet Freebies
Day Three: Your MFA Reading List (Part One)
Day Four: Your MFA Reading List (Part Two)
Day Five: Favorite Writing Blogs
Day Six: A Week of Prompts
Day Seven:  Explaining the Lingo: Plotter v. Pantser
Day Eight:  Favorite Publishing Links
Day Nine: Scrivener Review
Day Ten: The Writer's Notebook
Day Eleven: Vlog One: Intro to Plotting, My Methods
Day Twelve: Plotting and the Three Act Structure
Day Thirteen: A Week of Prompts
Day Fourteen: How I use the Three Act Structure to Plot
Day Fifteen:
Day Sixteen:
Day Seventeen:
Day Eighteen:
Day Nineteen:
Day Twenty: A Week of Prompts
Day Twenty-One:
Day Twenty-Two:
Day Twenty-Three:
Day Twenty-Four:
Day Twenty-Five:
Day Twenty-Six:
Day Twenty-Seven: A Week of Prompts
Day Twenty-Eight:
Day Twenty-Nine:
Day Thirty:
Day Thirty-One:

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Monday, September 30, 2013

The Uglies

I've been a real peach the past few days.

It started Thursday when the district rerouted our kids. No longer on the local, 1-mile radius "neighborhood" route, they've moved us (as apartment dwellers) to a 9-mile long route that ONLY picks up at apartment buildings all across the school's boundary. No other routes take nearly that long and no other routes pick up at apartments.

Classism, anyone?

Our last route was a 13 minute ride---the school is two whole miles from our front door. The new route, coupled with the nastiest human being who had two kids (one of them mine) crying on her first shift, takes 25 minutes (up to 45 in the afternoons) and drives nine miles down an I-10 frontage road and into neighborhoods that are miles past the school. This bus criscrosses the three most dangerous intersections in the city.

Some fellow parents and I are knee-deep in bureaucracy right now trying to get things righted, but you're dealing with people who really, really at-the-end-of-the-day don't care. They don't. My children are two tiny drops in a sea of bus riders.

So in the meantime, I refuse to let them ride this bus. It's an accident waiting to happen.

I drove them to school this morning and walked them up to the building, hoping to drop Boo off in his new classroom (overcrowding forced a new class to be made...he's in the new group) and get a feel for the teacher and the students.

Three steps in, I was stopped by a small group of staff.

Turns out, parents aren't allowed to walk their children into school anymore. They aren't even allowed to walk through the double doors that separates the school from the world outside now. Too many adults wandering around would be too difficult to manage. People are crazy. They do crazy things.

I guess I get that. I was horrified as anyone else at Newtown. My heart broke at the Spring stabbing. I get sick to my stomach when another arrest is made because some creep makes threats against elementary school kids, promising to storm in and take out as many as possible.

But I also remember the days I could walk my son to his classroom and wait right outside when his bell rang. When I knew the teachers and the assistants and the classmates. When I wasn't presumed a threat to the children until proven otherwise.

And on the ride home, I wondered, when am I a bigger threat to my children than the dangerous route they've put them on during morning and afternoon rush hour? Why is this horrible woman driving the bus and yelling at our children trusted with them and I'm not?

When did the school become a physical barrier between my child and I?

I can't explain how I feel about it right now, but more and more, I start understanding why so many friends of ours have gone "off the grid" and educate their children themselves.

It's ugly, this feeling.

Thinking the district I place my children's fate in really has it all wrong.

That, really, it's all about test scores and attendance funding and less about smaller things like safe, efficient bus routes that aren't manned by cretins, and even less about making parents feel like they're any part of the process at all.

I have a case of the uglies. A great big dose of the uglies and it's so much worse because it's my children they're putting in danger and keeping me from.

Would you understand if I reach my breaking point? Would we still be friends if we drop off the grid and grow our own tomatoes and educate our own kids?

I'd save some canned green beans for you, I swear.

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Weekly Writing Prompts: Introspection

Ready for this week's writing prompts? Again, the focus is on personal writing--think journaling or blogging and allowing a reader into your space.

Happy writing!

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Day One: Write one truth and one untruth about yourself. Make them equally believable and see if any of your readers can discern between them.

Day Two:  Introduce readers to someone who has touched your life. Does it have to always be warm and fuzzy and grandma's apple pies? Not necessarily...especially if you've never had that sort of relationship. Show a nontraditional relationship, perhaps, and how that has touched your life. Or write about Nana, if you like. We always love Nanas around here.

Day Three:  It's been said that without wild animals trying to eat us and with life in the 'burbs so easy, that we create our own challenges to remind ourselves that we're alive. Extreme sports. Tattoos. Adrenaline seeking activities. What do you do with your life to remind yourself that you're alive?

Day Four:  Ctrl-Z. For most of us savvy with computers, that key combinations means we're able to undo whatever we've just messed up. Is there any instance in your life that you wish you could Ctrl-Z?

Day Five:  "It's not one thing in life that gets us, it's a million little things." What are some of your teeny, tiny little things that add up to big things in life?

Day Six: Write about your normal grocery store. Is it close? Do you know where everything is? What is your normal route?

Day Seven: What's that inner dialogue and chatter in your head like? Are you lost in your own head when you walk around or do you have a voice in there commenting on what's going on around you? The crazy looking woman with the McDonald's bag on her head...does your inner voice talk about it?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Week of Writing Prompts: Blogging

I've been hard at work lately with a new group of incredible writers and bloggers. Big ol' things are on the horizon for me as a writer and a blogger and I can't help but feel the buzz of excitement in the air. Either that or the fact that we had ONE day below 90 degrees this week has me all aglow...

In the coming months, I'll be working on all sorts of new things. Collaborations, vlogging (oh my!), and creating a community of writers of all sorts. (More to follow on some of that excitement...)

Part of what we're building is excitement in telling your story. Any story. Just write. So here are some blogging prompts I'll try to get up each Sunday. I can't promise that I'll do these everyday myself, but I'll try. And they're here just to help spark the desire to write. Some might resonate with you. Some might fall flat. Either way, here's hoping your taking the time to write this week.

With love,
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Day One:  Is there something you do every Sunday? Most Mondays? What about the occasional Tuesday afternoon? Do rituals have a place in your life? Why or why not? Write about your own rituals or maybe even your lack of.

Day Two: Write about and post a photo of your favorite coffee mug or tea cup. Does it make you feel a certain way? Does it sit with you when you write? Where does it come from?

Day Three: What's your go-to strategy when dealing with the ups and the downs of your life? Do you shop? Read? Cry? Seek help? Write about it.

Day Four: Write about your own writing. Are you pulled to a certain genre? How often do you write? Who is your audience? When did you start?

Day Five: Write about your reading. Are you pulled to a certain genre? How often do you read? Who is your go-to author?

Day Six: Do connections come easily to you? How do you most connect to others? In person? Through a mutual friend? Online? Are you comfortable knowing lots of people or do you keep your circle small?

Day Seven: I love kitchens. Is there a room in your house (or in your memories) that's special to you? Bring us there with plenty of sensory details and storytelling.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Rules of Storytelling from Pixar

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
#2: You gotta keep in mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won't see what the story is actually about til you're at the end of it. Now rewrite.
#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
#8: Finish your story, let go even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
#9: When you're stuck, make a list of what WOULDN'T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you've got to recognize it before you can use it.
#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you'll never share it with anyone.
#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it's poison to the audience.
#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.
#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against.
#17: No work is ever wasted. If it's not working, let go and move on - it'll come back around to be useful later.
#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d'you rearrange them into what you DO like?
#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can't just write ‘cool'. What would make YOU act that way?
#22: What's the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

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Words On Paper. Year Two.

I have a fantastic job.

I have two, actually.

One I talk about all the time. I post funny photos of my coworkers and the furry dog that is constantly stealing pizza crusts out of the trash. Job duties include clean clothing processing, mediating disputes over fire trucks, and grocery procurement.

The other? I don't talk about it too much. I think I've mentioned it once or twice here, maybe mostly when I was worn out after a long day and even then I mostly gushed about how much strength public school teachers must possess. It's also a privacy and safety issue for the kids and their teachers. They don't need their names or schools out there.

A couple of my friends have asked what I did with my time when I left the house once a week for six hours, and after my first six-hour training of the year, I figured I 'd update and catch my folks up to speed.

I'm lucky enough to work for an organization called Writers in the Schools (WITS) Houston. I was screened, selected, and trained for a 26-week residency in a local Houston elementary school and ended up teaching five classes of fourth graders last year. I spend the week prior figuring out what I wanted them to learn (anaphoric poetry? personification? myths? narrative writing? fractured fairy tales? Did 'em.) Experiments with alliteration and water color, too.

We even modeled a Muhammad Ali press conference speech and worked on our exaggeration, boasting, and rhythm (favorite lesson plan I ever came up with). The whole year was amazing. And it was exhausting. And then it was over.

This summer WITS, allowed me to teach freshly graduated second graders (third graders!) for five hours a day, over two weeks. I was exhausted after that, but so thrilled to be doing what I'm doing. Had I a normal Monday through Friday, 9-5 I wouldn't be able to dedicate one day a week to teaching young minds to create and write their hearts out.

My kids so far have been open and receptive. I'm just as random and uninhibited with them as I am with my own kids. We've danced the gangnam style to loose up our brains and shake the sillies out. We've mooed like roosters and quacked like cows when we decided it was time to shake the world up a bit.

Today was our annual training and we heard stories from some of the other 100+ writers out in the field. One of my favorites talked about an assignment she'd been working hard to get that happened to be at the juvenile detention center. She talked about these young kids with chips on their shoulders and grit in their eyes. And one who had an episode and after she'd torn apart the classroom and thrown books at the window and torn off all of her clothing, she sat in the middle of the room and sobbed. Crying "I want my mama" over and over.

As a mama, this tore my heart out. I have no idea what she did or didn't do to get in there. I only knew that in that moment in time, she was hurting and her mama wasn't there for her.

The point of that story was the good work that programs like WITS does. It gives kids, all kids, everywhere, a voice.

Another writer shared the creed she has her class recite each week after they finished.

"I have a voice.

My voice is powerful.

My voice can change the world."

Every week. Every time. These kids know the words by heart and they believe them.

I am so damned lucky to be part of this organization. I'm still waiting for my call to see what school I'm headed to this year and it's a little like I get my own first day of school jitters. What kids will I get? Will they like me? Will they like Jack Prelutsky as much as I do? Will any of them know who Richard Peck is? How many will have at least one Shel Silverstein poem memorized?

I hope the kids are ready. I know I am.

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