Saturday, November 29, 2008

Scents and Flavors of Holidays

The warmth of holiday books that trigger children's interest and memories often waft delicious scents and flavors throughout the story. Simple plots become memorable to children when they can imagine a gingerbread man baking in the oven throwing out fragrances of ginger and cinnamon.

One story our family refers often to was of an old Granny Glikkens who always made mittens, but one year could only find white wool so she was forced to dye the wool by using peppermint for red, wintergreen for green, and chocolate for brown. And so the children, after wearing her mittens, could enjoy nibbling on the edges. Seems silly to adults but provides fun for small children. Of course the scratch books for Christmas hold wonderful odors of fir trees and favorite foods like the peppermint canes and apple pie.

One of the best Thanksgiving books written for children and by New Jersey's own Harry and Wende Devlin, CRANBERRY THANKSGIVING, offers up a feast of fragrances from the New England setting of salt marshes to the tart flavor of cranberries and an exuberant description of the entire feast including the turkey, "What a great full dinner that was - with everything cooked with crisp edges and tender centers."

A Christmas book for all readers young and old regales us with the glory of the goose. " Mrs. Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast, but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all around the board... There was never such a goose. Bob said he didn't believe there was ever such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavor, size and cheapness, were themes of universal admiration."

What are some of your favorite holiday stories that evoke childhood memories or that you consider are the new current books that will create the memories of the future?

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Being Thankful

Since Thanksgiving is two days away, it seems appropriate, and perhaps corny, to reflect on all that we are thankful for.

I am thankful for my critique group. (I am thankful for a great many other things as well, but since this is a blog about writing and critiquing, I'll spare you my list.)

I recently had an online experience that made me appreciate the thoughtful, thorough, and honest critiques that come from the members of this group. Perhaps I went into the online experience with the wrong expectations. Perhaps I am spoiled in expecting fellow writers to give constructive criticism instead of comments like, "I don't think this is well written" or "This isn't my thing". What is an author supposed to take from a comment like that? I suppose one could just ignore them, but then what is the point of them being posted in the first place?

Like many experiences in life, I try to learn something good from the bad. I've learned to keep things in perspective and appreciate what I do have rather than what I don't.

Thank you, Linda, Gale, Judy, Janice, Brianna, Valerie, Eileen, and Robin for your constructive and supportive critiques. I hope I give as good as I get.

What are you thankful for?

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

What I've Learned from NanoWriMo...So Far

The first thing I've learned is that I'm not going to "win" this time. The second thing I've learned is that it is quite possible to win -- just don't try Nanowrimo the same month your oldest kid has to finish his college applications. But all is not lost. The applications are done, my son and I are still speaking, and I have a freshly created main character whom I love, living in a setting I'm excited to write about. There is still one thing missing. Oh yeah. A plot.

I don't regret trying Nanowrimo. And I'm not done yet. I have another week stretching in front of me and can hopefully knock out another 5,000-10,000 words. I want to move beyond my opening pages, which are mainly character development that will never see the light of day, and into action. I'd like to finish this month with an inkling of where this project might go. Then I'll be happy to walk away from it, let it simmer for a while, and get back to my other WIP.

Nanowrimo showed me that I can write fast. Heck, I found out that I can even type fast. I have a real good idea of where my other WIP is going. I can't wait to pound away at it and finsh the draft. And when that is done, my new project will have simmered long enough. It will be time to bring it to a boil.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Locked Lips Torture

Critique groups endorse a form of torture not mentioned in any Geneva Convention. In my two critique groups, we try to abide by that all-important rule: when your work is being critiqued, your lips are to be locked until everyone has spoken. Hard? Torture hard!

When the critiques begin, you twitch, fiddle with a pencil, or shift in your chair. If someone mentions a small flaw and you don't agree, your brain explodes. You long to cry out, "You didn't read carefully enough! I did explain that! See, it's right there!"

Harder still, is keeping your lips locked when a fellow writer doesn't "get it" and demonstrates total ignorance about a basic premise of your manuscript!

I witnessed two writers accomplish this feat of self-control during the last month. They listened SILENTLY to a few clueless critiques (mine included) that missed an essential point of their manuscript. Kudos to both! One had written a picture book that experimented with the age of the main character. The other is writing a novel blending reality with exaggeration and magic.

Now comes the happy part: post torture, both authors were rewarded. The excellent group discussions following the critiques provided them with helpful fodder for revisions.

Moral of the story? If you belong to a good critique group, suffering through locked lips torture sometimes pays off.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Real Men Don't Critique?

Why are there so few men in critique groups? In our cozy critique group of eight, there are none. In my former group of five, none. There were two men in my 14-member group prior to that one--huzzah!--but they both eventually quit. Again, none.

My group gives wonderful critiques but I'd like to get a few from male readers too. Eventually, I want girls and boys to enjoy my books, so a little male perspective would be nice right about now. But men seem to avoid critique groups like they do quiche. Why is that?

I went to a soiree for children's book writers the other night and had a conversation with a clearly social, seemingly sane male children's book writer. When asked, he said he would never join a critique group, "because I just don't want to hear all the soft and fuzzy crap about my manuscript. I only want to hear what sucks about my book so I can fix it and that's all. The rest is a waste of time."

Oh, okay. When I asked, "But how will you know what to keep in your manuscript if you don't hear what's great about it too?" he just shrugged. End of conversation. Had I stumped him or was I just wasting his time too?

Okay, so he's not necessarily someone I'd want in my group. (No offense if you're reading this!) But I still wonder, why don't most men join critique groups? By the way, if there are any male lurkers out there who can satisfactorily answer this post, you win a prize: A free manuscript critique from our group! Like it or not.

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Poetry Friday: A Kick in the Collection

I enjoy writing poetry, and, over the past several years I have been working on two themed poetry collections. Recently, I went back to an old collection and tried to figure out how to revise it. My wonderful critique group (Thanks guys!) pointed out that my poetry had grown a lot since then. But, since this was an older collection, every one of my poems had an ABAB rhyming pattern. They encouraged me to add variety in my poetic forms and rhyme schemes.

I immediately went to a wonderful poetry resource, Paul B. Janeczko's "A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms".

I knew the ideas I wanted to express in my collection, and since I had decided to greatly expand the number of poems, I was ready to begin experimenting. Of course, I had fun with some classics like Haiku. But I also have experimented with several triolets (what a neat form), an ode, some persona poems and a couple of riddles. I have also fallen in love with the idea of writing a pantoum (what a challenge!), but haven't managed to write one that pleases me yet.

If you're interested in trying to write any of these kinds of poems, I highly recommend you read Janeczko's book. Even if you just want to learn what some of these forms are, I highly advise you to check it out!

For me, it was wonderful to find a book that helped take me out of my "comfort zone" in such a fun and informative way. I would love to know what writing resources have helped you to stretch yourself as a writer. Thanks for sharing! :o)

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Paperless World?

Last week I read that the number of newspaper readers is diminishing. Newspapers are less profitable. Reporters are being layed off. Daily more people get their news on line. Soon, I suppose, newspapers will be considered financially and environmentally unsustainable. We'll take our morning coffee to our computers, boot up and scroll down.

What implication does this have for books? I sit with my year old granddaughter on my lap, turning the pages of a well-worn board book. "Horsie," I say, pointing to the picture. "Duck." "Cat." She grasps the pages with her little hands, her breath coming in short gasps. She flips the pages backward and forward. I am, I hope, creating aonther reader, one who can pick up a book and carry it almost anywhere, ready in seconds to escape into another world, if only for a few minutes or an hour.

In the future will books be too expensive to publish? Will the world revert to the situation where only the very rich can afford a printed book?

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Word Count

I began Nanowrimo today. It's my first, and to be honest, I've fallen short of the 1667 words a day which would help me reach my goal of 50,000 by the end of the month. Does that mean I've had a bad day? If I didn't have this number breathing down my neck, I'd be pretty darn happy at what I've accomplished today. I began a new novel, which only yesterday had been a few random thoughts and a sketchy outline. It's a good feeling to embark on a new adventure.

Then I think of that word count and my writing high comes crashing down.

I'm not sure why I signed up for Nano. I'm not good with deadlines. You know, lose 10 pounds in two weeks. Sounds easy, but show up at the scale and you'll find out the truth soon enough. Nothing is as easy as it sounds. There's work, sacrifice and lots of grilled chicken. 1667 words a day for me, I hate to admit, is a lot of grilled chicken.

I mull as I write. I stare off into space. I pillage the kids' Halloween bags for miniature peanut butter cups. It's not that I can't reach that number. I can, I have, but not every day for a month. So am I doomed to fail before I even get started? I can't look at it like that. What I'm trying to take away from this is a new way to work.

Writing without editing is next to impossible for me. Heck, it can take me fifteen minutes to compose a simple sick note for school. So a novel? I tend to work on my beginning until I feel I've gotten it just right, then I move on. This alone can take a month. Participating in Nano, I hope, will jolt me out of this practice.

Normally I don't pay that much attention to word count per day, but for the sake of shaking my writing habits up a little, I will. If at the end of November I have 50,000 words, awesome. If not, I know I'll have something. A launching pad. The raw material to play with. And a month of writing.

So what's a good writing day for you? A certain number of words, or something else?

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