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Friday Flashback: Just one more red light please… February 24, 2011

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Friday Flashback from June 28, 2008

Most of us spend our time trying to avoid red lights. What is it about that bright red lamp that makes us get more impatient, more frustrated and start glancing at our watches and wondering if it’s taking too long? Maybe the light is broken? I’ve had this experience fairly often, but some of that comes from the fact that more often than not I’m running ten minutes late. I could give you a variety of excuses for why I’m running late, but usually it’s simply that I found something to play with, and lost track of time. Or… I just found the thing to play with more interesting, so I keep too /close/ track of time. You know the thought… oh, well… I’ve got 10 more minutes, really. It’s only a 30 minute drive. Hmmm, 5 more minutes reading won’t really be that big a deal. Technically it’s a 24 minute drive…  Oh. Well, it’s really not that big a deal if I’m five minutes late. I can read one more chapter!

Hah, you know the commentary. Or maybe you don’t! but as usual, I digress. I’m generally a polite person, except when books are involved. I’ve snuck a book in my purse to movie theatres, parties, dinners out, family holiday events, pool parties, amusement parks… etc. I can recall my Aunt telling me irritatedly, “Why did you bring a book to our lunch date!” And I responded, “Because it’s too good to put down, I figured I had some time while waiting for a table! (and in the bathroom at the restaurant! I snuck away to “powder my nose” and hid on one of those fancy couches women’s restrooms inevitably have. Who would have thought wearing make-up for the first time this last year had such a delightfully nerdy use!)

But I’m sure you’re still wondering about the red-lights comment? Yes… I take my books in the car sometimes when I’m forced to leave my house in the midst of literary ecstasy. This is the one and only time I choose the route with the most headlights, set the book on the dash and try to read when paused at lights. Is it effective? Alas, no. Is it wise? Nope. But I do generally get about a chapter read before I’m reluctantly forced onto the freeway where reading can no longer happen. I’m not /that/ crazy. I only read at red lights! Promise. The second of the Mistborn series is what held my attention this weekend. I finished five minutes ago, and not a minute too soon! I have to go to a party and I doubt they’d appreciate my reading while there. Of course, being fellow libro-philes and nerds, they’d probably understand.

~ Kristen


Friday Flashback: What I’ve read… January 28, 2011

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Friday flashback from June 25, 2008

This is from Editoral Ass run by the fantastic Moonrat.

The idea here is to look at the top 100 books listed by the National Endowment for the Arts and mark how many you’ve read.  The average adult has read about 6 in this list…

I had to read more than six of these for AP English, but it’s fun to go through the list.  Here’s the list, and my bolded count.

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (I’ve read most of them)
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34 Emma – Jane Austen

35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill
75 Ulysses – James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

I’m at 45 of the hundred with maybe another 10 in the list that I’d like to read and at least a half dozen that I have read that I’d like those hours back!

So how about the rest of you?  Are we average with our 6 of 100 or do we rock the reading world?


Friday Flashback:Authors and open mindedness January 21, 2011

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Friday flashback from June 24. 2008

I’ve been looking at various personality traits lately, and realized one that’s very important to me. That would be openmindedness. I’ve always been an adventurous person, and I love to learn new skills, new activities and try new things. I was watching Travel Channel the other day and realized, much to my shock, there’s very little I wouldn’t eat. Provided it’s not moving… and I do draw the line at squiggly insect-like eggs. Now if it was chopped up, and fried? I certainly am game! I will admit I haven’t yet gotten the guts to try crawfish, they look too much like spiders. I get gooseflesh just thinking of touching it! But I digress….

Being open to new experiences of all sorts is vital as a writer. You should, of course, have a care for your own safety and health absolutely, but you never know just what will give you great inspiration or what you’ll need next time you’re writing. From relationships, to white water rafting, to eating eel sushi, the only experience that’s worthless is the one you haven’t tried. Doing your research as an author is good, but having personal experience with something brings an authenticity to your work beyond research. (Not to mention it’s a lot more fun!). So next time you’re hesitant about trying that jet ski, that strange unpronounceable Indian dish, or learning to sword fight… remember, what’s the worst thing that could happen? (Oh PS: This includes watching movies that aren’t ‘your type’, reading books that aren’t your ’style’, and watching television shows you’d probably never pick up on your own!)

Some last advice to leave you with. Most people say they’ll “try anything once” when they’re the adventurous sorts. I have a friend who says, “I’ll try anything twice.” I think she’s right. The first time I ate sushi, I HATED it! Now I’m an addict. Sometimes our preconceived notions get in the way of truly enjoying something.

So… remember Jaime Heller’s words… “Try anything twice.”

~ Kristen

Aug 2010 update: The caveat to this: You want to make sure the things you try once are things you can try twice! Those guaranteed ‘lethal experiences’ can’t be tried twice after all.

Friday Flashback: There’s inspiration everywhere January 14, 2011

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Friday flashback from June 20, 2008.

I own a Calvin and Hobbes book titled There’s Treasure Everywhere.  I love this book, not just for the comics the title comic detailing the finding of a bunch of trash that Calvin makes into an anthropological find, but also for what the title implies.  Treasure is where you look for it, all around us.

Often in writing the question of where ideas come from is asked.  I’ve rarely seen an author with a specific list of idea generators.  Instead most authors carry a mental notepad and take note of everything around them and how it can be used in what they’re currently writing or will write.   I’m fairly sure this tendency frightens friends and family, but it’s that ability to draw from the every day which makes the best novels feel so real.  Characters breathe because they remind us of ourselves, even if they’re from the future, or the past, or another planet.  Even when they are monsters, we search for the human and recognize echoes of the familiar.

People watching is a fine art, and a fun past time.  Watch, note, remember, write…inspiration everywhere.


Friday Flashback: Fairy Circles January 7, 2011

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Friday Flashback from Jun 9, 2008

While running around in the back yard this weekend my boys found a half ring of mushrooms growing in the grass.  These mushrooms grow back every year in exactly this spot, they are a fungus feature of the landscape.  They destroyed them all…with much glee, by the way.  This got me to thinking and talking to my sweetie about fairy circles.  Those old mushroom circles that can drag you into the world of the fairy.  So what happened in the back yard?  Why was there only part of a ring?  What happened?

For writers these questions about what seems to be a very normal every day thing are a great place to start coming up with writing ideas.  From a very logical point of view the mushrooms are there because that’s how the fungus grows and there are under lying connections that follow the best moisture.  There, fine…  From my point of view:

Some fairy was working too slow and got sucked into the lawn mower.  These are the dangers of being a fairy ring creator.

My husband theorizes that the fairy was drunk, ran out of mushrooms, thinks it’s a ‘beautiful thirthle,’ and is going to be in big trouble when he gets home…

Sooo…gentle reader…what do you think?  What ideas come from a half formed mushroom circle?  Is it something supernatural, or just a chance for wild mushroom soup?


Friday Flashback: Whitewater Rafting Part 2 December 17, 2010

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So where was I? Oh yes. Five people,  small rock, fast rapids! As soon as we free the boat it immediately pinwheels around the big flat rock and starts off down the river. My Aunt Smokey is first in the boat, landing in a flying leap. This is followed by myself and my Aunt Susan. I make it in the boat just fine and grab a paddle, but my Aunt bounces on one arm and goes rolling off into the foamy water. (Pictures will be forthcoming).  My Uncle Gerald makes his leap and lands in the b oat as well, but we’re all on top of eachother so paddling has become very difficult. And my Aunt Susan is  bobb ing her way further away, towards the water falls! Without paddling help, she zips away from us and we’re doing all we can to stay afloat…

But wait… there’s 4 people accounted for. We had 5 in the boat?  Turning around, my Uncle Enzo is standing on the rock we had just been marooned on, hands on hips, glaring after us. Yes, we lost another man! About this time my Aunt Smokey yells, “Gerald, Susan’s gone under!” I turned back to the water just in time to hear a splash as my noble Uncle (and our Captain, and the only other one paddling on the boat) leapt into the water to rescue his wife. Unfortunately she was a bout 100 yards away by now, and he’s now clinging to the boat as we rush towards the falls ourselves.

So I abandon my paddling, lock my heels and somehow manage to  haul him back in the boat. My Aunt Smokey helpfully asks me, while this is going on, if I can’ get my Aunt Susan’s floating shoes as well! I’m told I was a touch testy in telling her no! Hah. But she understood. You see, she said,  Susan would have only had one shoe left anyway so there was really no point.

Anyway so now my Uncle is hauled back in the boat and we’re  managin g to spin, swirl and paddle our way down this waterfall. We make it in one piece back to the landing, and wait for someone to help us rescue Uncle Enzo. Of course, no one is entirely sure what to do. A few more boats land, the rest of our party laughing uproariously. You see, we’re told, Uncle Enzo is sitting on the rock with his thumb out as if hitch-hiking and also guiding traffic, telling people “Youse better go left, eh!”

He finally gets rescued half an hour later by two girls in bikinis. He, of course, claims that was his plan all along. He did lament, though, that he didn’t get the idea to start mooning people until later.


Friday Flashback: Whitewater rafting, Part 1 December 10, 2010

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Friday flashback from June 4, 2008.

Hello and greetings from  North Carolina!

I’m going to try to keep up with  my posts as best I can from the Smokey Mountains, but the connecton  is iffy and  sitting on a dusty cobwebby wooden chair doesn’t make for the most comfortable writing position! I hate to say it, but between writing and a spider crawling up my leg… Little Miss McAlear-uffit is gunna run every time!

Anyway I thought I’d just give an update of my trip. I went Whitewater rafting with my aunts and uncles on the Natanhala river. This was a trip where we had no guides, they just gave us a boat, had us watch a safety video (that told of all the terrible ways you might die), and strapped us into  life jackets. We were hauled up the side of the mountain and set loose on ice cold bubbling water. ( It says around 48 degrees year round). As one of the young strong ones (don’t they  know I’m a computer nerd?) they put me in the front, and my Uncle Gerald took the Captain’s seat at the back. It wasn’t five minutes before we hit a set of rapids and I was promptly tidal waved with icy water, drenching me from  head to toe. My Uncle gleefully crowed how I took most of the water, and blocked him. My Aunt Smokey just screamed and dove into the middle of the raft ev ery time the water got bumpy. Which, of course, set my Aunt Susan to laughing hysterically while my Uncle screamed, ” Row Susan and Smokey! We’re gunna hit the rocks!”

Well we managed to get together after a few near capsizes and got some good speed down the river, riding the rapids. This, of course, lead to over confidence. You see, the river ends with a category 3 rapid down some small waterfalls.   But to get water falls, you need big rocks and big drops! We go paddling our way down the river and end up in  a heavy turn, which beaches us on a big rock in the middle of the river. We’re stuck! So one person gets out, and starts shoving at the boat while maintaining footing on a slick rock in rushing water. No dice. Two people get out. (All the men  first, of course). Lots of hopping and swearing and shoving (and Aunt Susan doubled over laughing hysterically), but no dice.  Now we’ve shifted the boat so water is pouring INTO the boat, and it’s beginning to submerge. Aunt Smokey is floating in the middle asking, “Fellas, this boat isn’t going to go down, eh?”  (She’s Canadian).

So now I’m elected to get out on the slick rock and help the men push. No dice. Finally all five of us get out of our boat and are standing almost on eachother’s toes, shoving at the boat. I analyze the physics of it and suggest a lateral rather than vertical pull, which yes, WORKS! Of course we didn’t think of the most important problem…

Five people.

Slick rock.

Small boat.

Dum de dum…. to be continued with my next post!

Friday flashback: Put down the pen… December 3, 2010

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Friday flashback from June 3, 2008.

My name is Jana and I’m a compulsive editor.

At first it was only every now and again; A hit before the weekend or just one before breakfast.  After a while it got to the point that I just couldn’t stop.  Every written page in front of me became an opportunity.  I was a monster of my editing habit, and after a while it began to take away my joy in reading.  I could not read without seeing the problems and all writing has it’s problems, my own included.  At some point I had to make myself stop.  It was a long process of convincing myself that I could sink back into the writing for the writing sake and ignore the rest, and a division appeared between my editing brain and the rest of my brain.  It’s a handy division now, able to be turned off and on mostly at will, but sometimes I still have to tell myself to stop.  Particularly when I’m revising my own work I can get caught up in the cycyle of revision revision revision…  For example I just trimmed another 4.5K words off of Whispers…I had to…it needed it, but I’m to that point I have to promise myself not to edit it again until eyes other than mine have looked at it.

It’s a hard habit to break, but revising forever does not a complete book make.  At some point you have to let go…

I can do that.

I think.


Friday Flashback: Finding new authors November 26, 2010

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Friday Flashback from May 30, 2008.

When you find a favorite author, it’s a unique pleasure. You love the way they tell a story, their creative characterizations and the spine-tingling plots. It’s a reward for wading through authors you find dull, trite and uninteresting. But the danger is getting stuck reading only the same authors, without expanding your library. But how do we choose new authors wisely? After all with job, kids, family and friends there’s only so much time to find for reading. Here are my suggestions:

1) Read the websites of your favorite authors. Often they will list their favorite authors, which has always steered me right.
2) Read reviews of your favorite authors to see what is suggested as similar literature.
3) Join Shelfari.com. My co-author introduced me to this and it’s a great way to get an idea what books are out there.
4) Join a book club. There’s tons online and in your local community.
5) Go to the library! Many people spend more time buying books and so they’re reluctant to try new authors. The library is free, so you can pick up the world’s most awful book with no trouble! I discovered my favorite author by picking a book by it’s intriguing cover, and if I had been a book store I may never have risked it.
6) Finally, read one classic or one New York Times bestseller at least once a year.

Friday flashback: Outlining November 19, 2010

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Most writers have mixed feelings about the value of outlining. Many will argue that an outline is best after you’ve completed a first draft and explored your ideas for characterization, plot and scope of your novel or story. An outline, they argue, will stunt creativity, even if you  have to throw out 3/4 of what you wrote before the outline. Other writers argue that an outline is the only way to effectively structure a long work without degenerating into broken and unresolved plots or a monsterous multi-plotted work. An outline is a way to structure the bones of your work, so the flesh can be built around it.

I fall into both catergories. On shorter works I make sure to have a general idea of characters, basic conflict and what I’d like to see happen but I don’t outline much beyond that. With longer works I start out writing without an outline, getting a feel for characters and interactions. Much of that will end up in the delete trashcan, of course, but it gives me an idea for what works and what doesn’t. Then I try to make sure to have a general outline for the mechanics of the world I’m working in  (for sci-fi and fantasy) and as much of a general outline of major plots as I can. Now it may be possible to come up with a chapter by chapter outline early on in your writing, but I find keeping a working outline that expands and changes as the writing goes on is most feasible. Having a goal to work towards in the next session eliminates frustration, alleviates writer’s block and makes your writing time more productive.

– Jana