Friday, May 18, 2007

Happy Weekend - It's My 200th Post!!

"What is the city but the people?"
~Wm. Shakespeare

Wow, I can't believe this is my 200th blog post already...

Anyway, I know Friday's post is up a little early, but I'm going out of town for the weekend, to my beloved adopted hometown of Cleveland, Ohio.

I spent 4 years living there in my 20s, during and after graduate school, and I have to say that they were some of the most formative years of my life. I fell in love with the city: with the kindness of the people, the burgeoning downtown, the museums, the beautiful suburbs, the inexpensive cost of living, the sports teams...just about everything except the weather. I also had a wonderfully tight-knit group of friends, and we spent just about every day and night having dinner together or going out for drinks together or struggling through classwork together.

There is such luxury in being young and single, in having the energy to stay up until 3 am talking with your classmates about philosophy, or dancing at the newest club, or watching your home team win a double-header and still having the stamina to get up early the next morning and go to work or school and do it all over again. I remember feeling such contentment then, feeling my way into adulthood with great pals by my side.

So I go back to Cleveland as often as I can, aiming for once a year, though it's usually only for a few days or a weekend. Most of my friends from back then have moved elsewhere, anyway. Ah, well. When I contract that best-seller and get a million-dollar advance, I'll buy myself a cushy little townhouse so I can go back whenever I want to, and host annual reunions!

Here's the question of the day: if you could choose to live anywhere in the world, either a place you've lived before, or someplace you've always dreamed of, where would it be? And why? Is there a place or time you look back to that shaped the person you are today?

(Note: Lots of news to share on my 2 up-coming novels, as I've recently gotten first edits on Lost in Paradise and a first-draft cover design for One Night in Boston. So stay tuned, next week. And have a great weekend ~ I'll be back on Monday!!)

(Second note: what was up with that totally depressing season finale of Grey's Anatomy last night?? Nothing like a TV show that makes me want to slit my wrists. Sheesh...)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Freedom Writers

"Your faces are carved onto my heart..."
~from the movie "Freedom Writers"

Wow, where is everyone?? Writers' Wednesday started off with a bang a few weeks back, but last week, only 7 comments, and this week, only 5. Hmm...I know people are still stopping by. So where are all the voices?

Anyway, that made the odds of winning the $5 Amazon gift certificate a lot better for...Ali (great name, by the way :) ) Congratulations!! Ali, email me at and let me know which email address you'd like the GC sent to.


So yesterday, I watched the movie "Freedom Writers," starring Hilary Swank, and I highly recommend it. I expected the typical white-girl-goes-to-the-'hood-and-saves-a-bunch-of-underprivileged-kids movie, which it sort of was, but it was well acted and had a really good central message. So I enjoyed it all the same.

It's the story of Erin Gruwell, this brand new, lily white, pearl-wearing teacher who takes a job in an LA high school during the riots of the early '90s. One day, totally fed up, she's telling her students how the way they treat each other, separating by race and hating or loving each other just because of skin color, is what started the Holocaust.

And not one of her kids knows what the Holocaust is.

So the movie is really the story of how she enlightens them about that time in history (she calls the Nazi party the biggest, baddest gang in history, one that puts their own gangs to shame), but also how she shows them the power of writing down their own stories. The journals the students kept, about their own experiences, eventually turned into the book The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them, which I had read before I saw the movie. A worthwhile read as well.

Rent it, if you haven't seen it yet! (Added bonus: Patrick Dempsey, a.k.a McDreamy, plays Gruwell's husband ;) )

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Writers' Wednesday: How To Add Emotion to Your Writing

Emotion: do you need to have it in your writing? If you’re writing fiction, the answer is almost always “yes.”

But that doesn’t mean that your characters are weeping and moaning, wringing their hands, or talking in tirades on every page. It doesn’t mean that you must keep them on a perpetual “high,” piling conflict upon crisis until they have a nervous breakdown.

It does mean that you take the time to reveal your characters’ emotional states. It means that you show us their reactions to events in their lives. When you do this, you involve the reader emotionally as well. We want to care about the characters. We want to cheer for them, or curse them, or fall in love with them. We want to miss them when the story’s through.

So how can you achieve that? Well, here are 4 tips I’ve found helpful in my own writing. Do you have others? Leave a comment and let me know! (And remember, if you leave a comment, you're automatically entered into a drawing to win a $5 Amazon Gift Certificate!)


1. Follow dialogue with action. Often, you can signal characters’ emotion through the words they speak:

“Oh, God. How early was she? How are the babies? I had no idea Marilee’s pregnancy was so risky.”

“What do you want from me, Bryan? What? I can tell you a thousand times I never cheated on you, but you’ve already made up your mind.”

We can sense tension and emotion in both examples above. Sometimes, though, it can help to add an action to emphasize a character’s emotional state. Is your heroine nervous? Have her play with her hair as she speaks. Is your hero frustrated or upset? Maybe he paces, or pulls books off a shelf and hurls them across the room, or clenches the back of a chair so tightly it splinters. Consider these revisions:

“Oh, God.” Dave swayed in the doorway and reached for something to hold himself up. “How early was she? How are the babies?” He pulled at his collar, as if trying to let in a little more air. “I had no idea Marilee’s pregnancy was so risky.”

“What do you want from me, Bryan? What?” Jane sank to a seat on the edge of the sofa. Her fingers tightened into tiny, white fists in her lap. “I can tell you a thousand times I never cheated on you, but you’ve already made up your mind.”

2. Insert involuntary physical sensations. You can also use actions that the characters are not necessarily aware of committing but that signal heightened emotion to the reader. Consider the following:

Her stomach twisted
His voice turned ragged
A flurry in her chest left her weak
She could feel her pulse skip at the base of her throat
The color drained from his face
His fingers twitched beneath his coat sleeves
Her heart thudded behind her breastbone
Tears welled to the surface
Her cheeks pinked
His jaw clenched

3. Manipulate your sentence length. In scenes of heightened emotion or tension, sentences should be short and terse. In scenes of indecision, they can be halting, perhaps punctuated with ellipses or em-dashes. In scenes of courting or lovemaking, on the other hand, they might be longer.

4. Let your characters interrupt each other. A wonderful way to show emotion is to allow your characters’ dialogue to overlap. What’s more realistic than two people who are so angry, or so excited, or so in love, that they rush to speak without waiting for the other person to finish?

“Did you hear?” Janet shot into the room and flung her purse into the closest chair. “I got the—“

“The job with Parker and Lowenstein?” Annie clapped both hands together. “I knew it, I knew—“

“That’s not the best part,” Janet went on. Her cheeks flushed as she paced back and forth inside the tiny apartment. “They’re giving me a relocation allowance. A huge one.” She paused and turned to her roommate and best friend of almost twenty years.

“Relocation…?” Annie sank back into her chair. “But I thought—“

“It’s with their foreign branch. The one in Hong Kong.”

Finally, I always recommend sharing your work with someone else for feedback. Often, an external reader can point out areas that fall flat in terms of emotion, or areas that lack specific character reaction to a pivotal moment in the story.

Good luck!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Joining--and Building--A Writers' Group

"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do."
~Eleanor Roosevelt

(This is one of my all-time favorite quotes, by the way...)

So this past weekend, I attended the monthly meeting of my local RWA group, which I joined back in February. It's a small group (there were only 5 of us there Saturday), though I think they claim membership of around 20-30 or so.

The best thing that happened: the core of members who apparently meet every other Tuesday to do more in-depth critiques of each other's work invited me to join their Tuesday group. I was flattered, honestly, because it's an invitation-only group and many of the members are multiply-published.

The second-best thing that happened: I shared some pages out loud with the group for the first time. Seriously, I can stand up in front of a class of 17-year olds, I can speak to a crowd of 500+ at union meetings, but the thought of baring my writing soul in front of 4 other writers terrifies me. Crazy. Ultimately, of course, I was glad I did, 'cause I got some really good feedback for this new-old-resurrected novel I want to work on. Maybe next time I won't feel so much like my heart is leaping out of my chest. I guess if I want to join the Tuesday group , I better get over my fear!

Finally, at the end of the meeting, the topic of conversation turned to recruiting new members. We churned out a few ideas: ads in the local papers, recruitment mailings to local RWA members, monthly newsletter.

So here's the question: what would make you (or what made you) join a writers' group? Do you find more support or more pressure from sharing your work with others? Do you enjoy the dialogue about the publishing industry, or would you rather stay focused on your own pursuits and learn from reading rather than discussing? Would programs from different writers or speakers draw you in to a group? Lunch? How far would you drive for a monthly, or bimonthly, meeting? And what would you hope to gain from your membership?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Two New Links

"A room without books is like a body without a soul."

Did you know that May is "Get Caught Reading Month?" Me either, but apparently it is. The official website has some interesting information regarding books and literacy, especially the Literacy Fact Sheet.

There's a new blogger in cyber-world, a local teacher/musician/friend of mine who shares 3 Things To Do every day on his blog: swing by and leave him a comment!

That's all for today, since it's another crazy Monday. Quick note, though: Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to go to a college graduation of a former was me and 11 of her family members for the celebration dinner afterwards. I had such a lovely time, and felt so honored to be included with her immediate family, and I told her and her mother as much. Her response? "Well, you've been such an important part of all this, of me getting here. I couldn't not invite you."

Who says teaching isn't the most rewarding profession in the world??

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day!!

"A mother is a person who, seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie."
~Tenneva Jordan

5 Childhood Memories of my Mom:

1. She would always get up in the middle of a summer night when it rained, come into my bedroom, and close the windows so the floor didn't get wet. 30 years later, I still think of that when I wake up at 1 am to a thunderstorm.

2. She made an awesome concoction of honey and lemon juice anytime I had a cough. Much better than any cough syrup you could buy at the store!

3. She always had boxes of cereal, milk, and our favorite orange bowls on the table when my father, sister and I came downstairs for breakfast in the morning. It's only now that I wonder how early she had to get up to do that.

4. She came to my school when I was in first grade and scolded the librarian for not letting me take out books from the "blue" section because those were only for 2nd graders and up (forget that I was reading at about a 3rd grade level then).

5. She was always there. And I mean, for every breakfast, for every dinner, for every sporting event, for every play or concert I was in. For the awkward moments when I was an adolescent. For every bad breakup with a lousy boyfriend. For the night I got engaged, and the morning I got married. For every time I have a question about cooking a casserole or planting a perennial. Always.

Thanks, Mom!

What do you remember most about your mother?? And for what do you love her the world over??