Archive for July, 2010

A Very Short Summary

July 29, 2010

All writers have a difficult time trying to summarize their books in a single sentence.  Writing short and interesting summaries is also a challenge of the marketing departments.  They prepare different ones for different markets.  This week, I received a Google Alert that directed me to the Publisher’s Weekly’s list of children’s books coming out this fall.  The entry for SUSPECT read as follows:

Jen attempts to solve a mystery from the past involving her mother’s disappearance.

That actually sums things up rather well.  If I were allowed a few more words, I’d probably add the following to give a hint of the setting. 

While working at her grandmother’s Victorian bed and breakfast, Jen attempts to solve a mystery from the past involving her mother’s disappearance.


How Many Chapters?

July 20, 2010

Once you get a burst of inspiration, you need to find different ways of getting it down on paper from outlining to polished prose.

After my last mowing/brain-storming session, I wrote down a lot of the specific ideas in my Calyn notebook: encounters, events, scraps of dialogue.  After that, I moved onto a bit of outlining.   More little ideas popped up.  Some I had to dismiss.  After careful consideration, for example, I realized that Calyn wasn’t about to take another character into her confidence.  But she would need to later when she had absolutely no choice. A few seconds after that, I realized how to make things even worse for Calyn in the instant that she learned that she’d made the wrong choice through a lack of understanding.   

As a novelist, I only need to get one big idea every 18 months or so.  But each big idea has to be supported by literally thousands of smaller flashes of inspiration along with winnowing out the ideas that won’t work.  After a bit of outlining, I realized that I’d need at least four new chapters.

Mowing the Lawn II

July 16, 2010

Today as I was mowing the lawn, I thought of a way to bring all of plot lines together for the darkest moment.  And I figured out when to have my character come to a truly horrible realization.  There’s a reason I don’t have my kids mow and why I shovel by hand instead of investing in a snowblower.   There’s something about mindless , intense physical labor. 

So what, you might ask, is “the darkest moment.”  This is something from what my Peachtree editor calls the step outline. I’m not sure how much she adapted and how much she created. 

Step Outline. 

Act I:

Turning point/story takes new direction/challenge revealed. 

Act II:

Problem Intensifies
Temporary Triumph
Darkest Moment
Decision Time

 Act III

Final Obstacle

Preparing Summaries

July 15, 2010

One of the challenges of promoting a book is figuring out how to descrbe it for various venues.  Peachtree was responsible for the following summary for the Library of Congress listing: 

As the family gathers at her grandmother’s bed-and-breakfast for a murder mystery weekend, seventeen-year-old Jen confronts her ambivalent feelings about her mother, who disappeared fourteen years earlier, and about the possibility that she might be dead.
I thought about using that for the description for the SCBWI Michigan website.  But after looking at some of the other entries, I saw that I could put in just a bit more flavor.  Instead of starting from scratch, I went to the flap copy of my novel.  Once again, this was generated by Peachtree.  Clearly that was too long.  But I saw some things that I could use.  I won’t type all of that in here since it’s actually quite close to the product description on Amazon.  You could read that here if you like, so you can see how I condensed it.

Jen is scheduled to spend the summer helping Grandma Kay run a Victorian bed and breakfast. But Grandma Kay’s plans include a lot more than housekeeping. She intends to solve a real mystery from the past: the disappearance of Jen’s mother. During the build-up to an elaborate, role-playing Murder Mystery Weekend, Jen’s worst suspicions are aroused. Could a member of her own family be responsible?

Writing the Scene that Doesn’t Want to Be Written

July 13, 2010

Usually, when I’m having trouble moving ahead with a novel, I use a variation of Natalie Goldberg’s cafe writing that she shared in WRITING DOWN THE BONES.  But yesterday, I decided that I wanted to write on patio of our backyard garden while our waterfall splashed and gurgled in the background. I brought coffee.  (I’d trained myself to think of coffee as part of the writing process.)   I managed to handwrite about four pages of text.  I was just about to put my two characters in a room together even though they didn’t seem to have much to say to each other–not even when I meditated on their relationship while  mowing the lawn

At that point, I noticed that a flowering crab tree needed a bit of water.  It was part of the garden installation and didn’t quite have the root system to support itself.  I noticed some weeds, so I pulled them.  They came up easily after the thunderstorm.  So I pulled more weeds as well as bit of grass that were growing where they didn’t belong.  Believe it or not, I avoided writing the scene that refused to be written for at least an hour.  By then, it was time to get going on my students’ manuscripts.  This reinforced the advantages of cafe writing with its absense of distractions.  But I went out again this morning to my own garden. No chores awaited me.  And the words came.


July 12, 2010

Megan Whalen Turner has updated her website.  In it, you can find pictures, podcast and interviews.  But this link will take you directly to a short story out about a much younger Gen.

Link to an Interview with Peter Dickinson

July 8, 2010

I’m afraid that I didn’t discover the fantastic writer Peter Dickinson until Robin McKinley married him.  Since then, I’ve enjoyed his novels like THE ROPEMAKER and the story collections that he’s written with his wife.  You’ll find a lovely interview with him here.

Chapter Breaks

July 6, 2010

It’s not always easy to know where to end a chapter.  Naturally, you need a strong hook that will make  readers want to turn the page even if if they’ve promised themselves that they’re just going to read one more chapter before turning off the light.  There’s also an issue of length.  It’s perfectly fine for the number of pages to vary from chapter to chapter, but I typically don’t want chapters to run on the long side unless it’s a climactic chapter.  

My old Chapter 14 was definitely on the long side.  As I reviewed it further, I saw a great place for a dramatic hook at about five pages in.  So instead of having one really long chapter, I decided to have a comparatively short one and one of average length.  That means, that I’m suddenly working on Chapter 16 after making a few necessary fixes in Chapters 13 and 14 to stitch my new characters into the fabric of the book without creating any unsightly gaps or holes.

Soccer in any Language

July 5, 2010

I’m sure that it’s difficult for World Cup soccer players to hear each other over the vuvuzelas.  When the words do make it through that drone, they probably have a difficult time understanding their own teammates.  In many matches, they can only guess at what their opponents are saying.  Goal appears to be universal even if the O-sound has a slightly different shading from country to country. 

When we lived in Merano, Italy, I had a taste of this as I watched a team from my son’s club take on a local German speaking team.  The Italian coach would yell things like “Forza!” and “Dai!” (Loosely translated as “Strong!” and “Come on!”)   “Dai” sounds a lot like “Die!” so it took awhile for my American ears to get used to that. About the only word that I recognized from the German coach was “Schnell!” (Fast)   I used this experience for one scene in my girls’ soccer novel, DEFENDING IRENE. 

But if you’d like a taste of what it would feel to be coached by someone in a different language, you can click on this link for a story that appeared in Highlights back in 2006.

Back to Chapter 13

July 1, 2010

Sometimes events can take a bit of time to settle when you’re in the middle of a major revision.  As I dove into Chapter 15, I suddenly realized that Calyn would have told the Master of Horse and Hounds about the rather dramatic introduction of two new characters upon her return to Polengar.  And that meant a brand-new scene at the beginning of my comparatively short Chapter 13.  But it will build tension in the book and make things easier for me as a writer down the line.  A nice turn of events.