Saturday, June 23, 2007

Gone on Vacation 'Til Wednesday

"A good holiday is one spent among people whose notions of time are vaguer than yours."
~John B. Priestly

It's here! Summer vacation!! And to celebrate, I'm off on a little road trip for the next few days. First it's the city of Philadelphia, where I'm thrilled to be meeting, face to face, Cynthia Borris.

Cindi is my oldest and first cyber-writing friend, the moderator of the first writers' group I joined, and responsible for much of my writing success. She's read and critiqued umpteen manuscripts of mine and shared some awfully wise advice about the biz side of writing, too.

But she lives on the other side of the country.

She came all the way to the East Coast for a journalists' conference, though, so I'm off to see her, book in hand, for a proper autograph. Can't wait!


Then my sister and I are meeting up for our annual girls-only trip. We try to take one each year. Last year we climbed Mount Marcy in a day (her choice). This year we're taking in the small towns of coastal NJ, shopping, etc. for a few days (my choice).

So...I won't be blogging again until Wednesday.

But make sure you stop back for that Writers' Wednesday, which is going to be a discussion of writing endings. There seem to be an awful lot of articles and advice on writing the beginning of your novel, perhaps because it's more difficult to start than to wrap up. But I've found there are some tricks to writing a saisfying closing scene as well.

So check back in a few days, and have a great weekend in the meantime!

Friday, June 22, 2007

So What's a Classic Movie?

"Education would be much more effective if its purpose was to ensure that by the time they leave school every boy and girl should know how much they do not know, and be imbued with a lifelong desire to know it."

~William Haley

Yesterday I asked for suggestions for great movies I could introduce to my high school students. Of course, we could debate the "definition" of classic all morning, but I'm really just looking for quality films that were made before they were born that are funny/thought-provoking/interesting/controversial. Got some great suggestions, and so my list is slowly but surely taking form. Here, in no particular order, are a handful from the 100 that I'm considering, right now:

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
To Kill a Mockingbird
Rain Man
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
The Breakfast Club
American Graffitti
West Side Story
My Fair Lady
North by Northwest
From Here to Eternity
Dances with Wolves
The Sting
The Godfather
On the Waterfront
The Shawshank Redemption

Interesting collection, right? Well, we'll see. I have enough time to think about it.

Speaking of which, here's me doing the TGIF happy dance, not only because it's the end of the week, but because it's the end of the school year and I have no students and no papers and no lessons for almost 2 months!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hmm...wait a that my pile of unfinished promotional work calling me? And my 2 novels needing revision piping up in the background? Well, crap. Guess no school just means more time for other things.

That's OK. I'm still not complaining.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Another Happy Graduation...and a Question

"Graduation is only a concept. In real life every day you graduate. Graduation is a process that goes on until the last day of your life. If you can grasp that, you'll make a difference."
~Arie Pencovici

Well, it was another lovely graduation last night, and even though there were record numbers of students (near 700), the entire ceremony took less than 90 minutes. (We're a selective, specialized school that pulls in kids from all over the county; they'll also go to their own HS graduations this weekend). The weather even cooperated...check out the sunshine!


Here's my question of the day for all you readers: next year I want to introduce my students to classic films - classic being any great movie that was released before they were born (for next year's group, that will be...gulp...1990). I'd like them to be able to watch older films that were either really well made, or award-winning, or thought-provoking, or ground-breaking, and be able to think and speak about those films intelligently and apply them to life and situations today.

I already have an informal list growing in my head, but I'd like your opinion. What movies made before 1990 would you recommend? Remember, they'll be 16/17/18 years old, so while R-rated might not be totally out of the picture, I'll have to use some discretion.

So what do you think? Which movies stand out for you as being excellent ones that everyone should see in their lifetime??

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Writers' Wednesday: An Interview with Jeff Draper

Welcome to Writers' Wednesday! Today we have another interview with a talented up-and-coming author, Jeff Draper, whose short story "Protector" recently appeared in The Sword Review, a SF&F e-zine.

Let's hear what Jeff has to say about the world of writing and publishing...

1. Hi, Jeff! Can you tell us a little about your background?

I was raised on a farm near Olympia, Washington. I did the normal stuff growing up; went to college, got married, became a Marine Corps officer. After my time on active duty (all of which was spent in Orange County, California) I took a job in NoCal for a year or so before moving back up to Washington. Along the way I watched my wife give birth to four kids. She tells me it hurt a bit.

2. When did you first begin writing? Was there an event that triggered it?

I don’t recall a specific event that struck like lightning and made me declare ‘I am going to write’. However, it can be said that the movie Star Wars inspired my general creative desires. I was, like many other 9 year old boys, completely blown away by that movie. It had everything a story needed; young hero, beautiful princess, loveable rogue, old mentor/father figure, and villains most foul. That event, coupled with my mom’s tendency towards stories and other creative outlets, drove me to tell lies to strangers.

3. Why do you call it ‘telling lies to strangers’?

I don’t think the phrase originated with me but it’s because fiction, for the most part, is a series of things that did not happen, yet people line up at ticket counters and bookstore cash registers to voluntarily take in someone else’s fantasies. It’s a giant game of make believe. And then by definition, when you actually publish one of your lies it is read by people who don’t know you.

4. Tell us about your first publication.

The story behind ‘Protector’ is a little interesting in that it did not start out the way most of my other writings have. I did not sit down, crack my knuckles over the keyboard, and state that I was going to write a story for publication. It began as a series of posts at TORC, as it’s called, is a site and forum that I frequent. Now that I think about it, TORC was my first big dive into the world of internet forums way back in 2001. There’s a thread in the Scriptorium of Imladris called The Writer’s CafĂ© and it’s been around for a few years now. Several of the active participants decided to write stories featuring each other as main characters. My princess character was originally designed to be a fellow poster there who goes by Ms_Gamgee89 or alternately by the pen name of Quentiel, which is supposed to be derived from Tolkien’s elven languages and means Story Daughter. Anyhow, that’s how the story was born.

5. How do you go about creating your characters?

I cheat. Most characters, like plots, have already been created. I just try to come up with an interesting way to flesh out an existing trope. An excellent book on writing which I recommend enthusiastically is The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. He details the plot structure of the mythic journey as well as describes the standard story functions, or perhaps ‘energies’ would be a better word, that need to be in any story to make it resonate with a reader’s heart. Most characters fall into an archetype that lends itself to moving a story along. I don’t recall them all off the top of my head but the big ones are Hero, Mentor, Trickster, Shadow, Shapeshifter, etc. It may seem unoriginal but always remember, if something’s been done a thousand times before, there’s probably a very good reason. That’s why we see a never ending stream of dragon and vampire stories.

6. What advice do you have to give to those considering writing?

Writing is one of the many Get Poor Quick schemes floating around our society today. You clearly have to do this because you like to do it. There are few rewards other than the satisfaction that you get from pulling an idea out of your head and recording it onto a page in a fashion that communicates the original feeling to others. As for the craft itself, you cannot go wrong by finding a trusted first reader who will tell you when you have gold and when you have iron pyrite. I have stated many times before that I have the best first reader in the free or oppressed worlds. She can find a way to reveal what remains hidden to me, to connect what remains apart. When it comes to writing we are like brain and heart. One cannot function without the other.

7. What are your favorite books and authors?

Right now I read fantasy. I’ve read several books by Clive Cussler, John Grisham and Tom Clancy as well as a lot of science fiction but what I really enjoy is epic fantasy. The trick is, there’s a lot of stuff out there that I think is absolute garbage. I’ve never been able to get into Robert Jordan or George R. R. Martin and I think there is an entire circle of Hell where you do nothing but read Terry Goodkind. I don’t like humorous or campy stuff so Terry Pratchett is out. I also don’t like thoughtful fantasy that’s slanted toward the female reader so Marion Zimmer Bradley is out, as well as half of what’s on the shelf. But that doesn’t really answer your question. My two favorite fantasy series are the Fortress books by C.J. Cherryh and The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone by Greg Keyes. Also, just about anything from the late David Gemmell is outstanding.

8. What do you find most difficult about writing?

I get long stretches of writer’s block just like everyone else. It is frustrating because you have some ideas that are wandering around in your head but you can’t seem to sit down and force them out. It’s an elusive thing. What finally happens to me is that I remember that the difference between a writer and a daydreamer is directly proportional to the amount of time spent with Fingers Hitting Keyboard. And really, who wants to be a daydreamer?

9. How do you balance writing with the rest of your life?

Those long stretches of writer’s block are seductively convenient excuses to have a Real Life.

10. What can you tell us about your future writing projects?

I’ve done a lot of work, and had a lot of help, toward making ‘Protector’ the first chapter of a novel. Some scenes have been written and a plot sketched out but since my last attempt at a novel ran for three hundred pages before falling apart due to several inherent structural problems I want to take my time with this one. I also keep coming up with ideas for stories to write so I’m doing that now. My current work in progress is called The Battle of Raven Kill. This is a situation where three things came together at once. I thought up the title first and really liked it. Then I envisioned a fight between one man on a narrow bridge and a horde of savage raiders that are after the last of his clan. The last piece came to me when I thought up a hero that, through some plot device to be named later, gets to choose the moment of his death. In that way, he is a different type of immortal than your average vampire or Highlander character. What intrigued me most was the question, “Under what circumstances would a man choose to die?” The notion of sacrifice runs deep through most of my writing. I have the Marine Corps to thank for that. Once a Marine, always a Marine.

Thanks for your time with us. Any final thoughts?

Thank you for your interest. I suppose I would stress again that you should do what you like to do, in writing and in life. There are plenty of opportunities for us to do what we have to do. Make time to set that all aside and follow your (legal) passions. Your sanity will thank you for it later.

Want to know more? Visit Jeff at his blog. And make sure to leave a comment and let us know you were here!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Pick Up Picoult

Jodi Picoult has a great article in the July issue of Writer's Digest titled "Try, Try, Try Again."

(She's one of my favorite authors, by the way, and if you haven't read any of her novels, you're missing out. I suppose she's termed "general fiction" or perhaps "women's fiction," but she targets controversial topics like teen suicide and organ donation and sexual abuse and school shootings in page-turning stories with rich characters.

While her stories don't always have storybook, happy endings, they always have satisfying ones. ***The exception to this is the ending of My Sister's Keeper.*** Hated it so much I threw the book across the room when I got to the final page. I wouldn't recommend that one. My favorite Picoult novel is The Pact, because it portrays teens of the 21st century in such a realistic light. Every parent and teacher should read it. I also liked Salem Falls and have Nineteen Minutes on my summer reading list. Anyway...)

In this WD article, Picoult talks about long journey to becoming a best-selling author.

"For some reason, reporters often call me an overnight success. But if that's true, it's been a 15-year-long night..."

She retells her experience of writing her creative thesis as a Princeton undergrad, selling it as a novel, but being turned down by an agent and even her own publishing house at one point. She recalls watching her sales dwindle to nothing and wondering how she'd pay the mortgage, only to plug away and eventually find an agent she clicked with. After she made it onto the NYT bestselling list for the first time, she tells this story:

" publicist got a call from a very influential agent in NYC. She wanted to fly me to New York for lunch and talk about representation. Well, sure, I'd thought at the time. Who doesn't want to back the winning horse? I declined politely...I'm quite sure that this NYC bigwig doesn't remember that she was the very first agent to reject me, but I never forgot."

Every interview I've read with this author is practical and down-to-earth. She does amazing amounts of research and almost always writes her novels in 9 months after she's finished researching. In this article, especially, she discusses at length how difficult, and disheartening, the publishing business can be.

"One of the saddest truths in publishing is that good books aren't always the ones that sell. You can do everything right and still not get a contract. More often, the writers who succeed are the ones who refuse to buckle under the failures that are heaped upon them..."

Ultimately, though, she stresses the importance of keeping on, of believing in yourself and your talents even in the face of hardship. It's a lesson we could all stand to remember.

Check out this article from last month's issue of WD, also by Picoult. It's a great one about the intricacies, and the payoffs, of researching before you write. And put her on your TBR list for the summer!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Getting a Late Start

I know, I know, I'm late posting today. Suffice to say it's a story that involves me not being at my home computer, and remembering how slow dial-up Internet connections are...

Anyway, since it's Monday again, you should check out the Samhain Best First Line Blog Contest. This week the editors have chosen 50 of last week's 90 entries to move on to round 3. Here's an interesting quote from the blog:

We have just over 50 entries moving on to round three. Some interesting stats from round 2: The line from round one that was chosen by the most editors (5 of 7) was chosen by only one editor to move on to round three. No line in round two got chosen by more than 4 of the 7 editors. 60% of the lines were voted forward by one editor.

Wow! That really does emphasize, I think, how subjective the publishing world is. What one person loves, another person passes by. I used to be depressed by this, but I've since learned to see the glass as half-full...really, it only takes *one* editor or agent to say YES to your work. It's just a matter of finding that one editor or agent.

Anyway, swing by the contest and take a look. I have a couple favorites that are developing...what about you??

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Father's Day

"He didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it."
~Clarence Budington Kelland

Random Childhood Memories of my Father:

He could fix, or build, anything. He'd spend hours down in his workshop in the basement and then come upstairs with the coolest creation for my mom's kitchen, or the living room, or the yard outside. I always thought that was amazing.

He loved music. He would always sing harmony in his deep bass voice when we were in church, or caroling, or in the car driving someplace. He knew all the words to just about every musical there is. And he'd always clap for me when I finished practicing the piano in the evenings.

He would talk to anyone. We'd be driving somewhere on vacation and stop for lunch, and the next thing you know, he'd be chatting up the couple at the next picnic table. Or the truck driver climbing out of his cab on the other side of the parking lot. Or the teenagers playing Frisbee. Countless times my sister and mom and I would be ready to leave and look around, knowing he was deep in conversation with a stranger somewhere.

He had limitless patience for me and my sister. He'd push us on the swing under our apple tree out back for hours. He'd give up a whole afternoon to put together some random toy with 100 parts. He'd do 500-piece puzzles with us. And he taught me to drive. Need I say more?

Happy Father's Day, Dad!