Saturday, June 26, 2010

Vacation Books

So, I am going on my first vacation in ten years and without kids. Yay!

Life gets busy with three kids in the mix. It seems like whenever a Parents Only vacation pops into mind so do a lot of other things like: The kids are still young, we should take a family vacation, we should visit all the grandparents from Utah to Hawaii this year, we should save our money, we can't find a grandparent that will take all three kids for three to five days, work; can't forget the times when work was in the way of a vacation.

See how ten years flies on by? Ever since my oldest started the public school system a few years ago, it hasn't been as easy to just take off or plan random vacations. So, my husband took it upon himself to arrange the babysitting and the vacation. I guess I perhaps figured retirement would be the next opportunity to have a vacation without kids and family, good thing my husband thought differently.

I thought I would be jumping for joy at the chance to go on vacation without the kids, but I'm not. Seriously, I should be jumping for joy; I've never been out of the country and my passport is new for this upcoming trip.

I suppose my lack of enthusiasm is because I've been so busy with the onset of summer. I volunteered, for the third year in a row, to do the class DVD and open house slide show for my daughter's class. That was long before I started writing my first book. Even though I felt rushed at the end, I managed to make the videos and burn 23 of them for the class, after having written 2 books, started a third book and delved full force into the query process. Then my middle child formally graduated from preschool (cap and gown) so we threw a homemade carnival for both him and my niece in our yard; 20 kids, 7 booths, 40 bags of popcorn and cotton candy, candy leis, prizes galore...the details went on and on.

The school year is over, the carnival was a success, and I'm one day away from the start of my vacation and I don't have an ounce of energy left for the excitement I should have.

I decided to get out of the crowded house by myself to get a few travel games and a couple of books for the trip. I had limited time for this task and figured I could probably get everything I needed at Target. I got everything I need, but now I regret not going over to Barnes & Noble and spending quality time finding new and intriguing books to read on the plane.

The travel games pepped me up and got me a little excited for my vacation. I got Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble Slam, and UNO (waterproof, the perfect game for sitting by the pool or at the swim up bar with).

After I stopped daydreaming about my waterproof UNO cards, I practically waltzed over to the book section. Target is not the best place to find a great YA book but I can usually find something decent to read. I spent a lot of last year and the beginning of this year reading vampire series books, but then I got burned out on them and have been looking for other great YA books, this is where Target is failing, or maybe where the publishing industry is failing, it's hard to tell (I should have gone to B&N just for a fair comparison).

Since the majority of the YA shelves are stuffed with vampire stories it's hard to get a good selection of books I know I won't put down. I ended up with Evermore by Alyson Noel. Not to mention, I've been saving The Short Second Life of Bree Tannner by Stephanie Meyer just for this trip. Vampires it is for the trip. HELP ME! I CAN'T GET AWAY FROM VAMPIRES (I'm so ashamed).

So, at the end of the day I'm more excited about waterproof UNO cards than I am about the books I'm taking on the plane.

And I think once the grandparents drive off with my kids snug in their car, I am going to be bouncing off the walls for this vacation, let's hope so anyway.

Had I reached out to the blogging world, I wonder what books each of you would have recommended I take on a five-hour flight for a five-day vacation?

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Accidental Allegory

I took a writing course where I inadvertantly wrote a short story around an allegory. I received praise for the allegory even though the use was unintentional. Has that ever happened to you? Maybe not with an allegory, but perhaps with another writing tool?

Most of all my writing ability comes from just sitting down and writing. The path I chose made it difficult for me to afford college so long-distance writing courses had to suffice, even though the stamps could sometimes be a stretch for my budget. Back then, online classes were not really popular; that was still back when AOL was essential but expensive and dial-up wasn't so bad if you could afford to do that.

Back to the allegory.

I called the short story THE FAMILY TREE. It was a simple story about the rubber tree plant my mom received as a gift when I was born. The plant was important to my dad, as were all the indoor plants. He would become frustrated every time a plant died and wondered why nobody else wanted to water and care for the plants. I didn't have any value for the rubber tree plant, or for any of the indoor plants, so I wasn't going to be responsible for them.

I guess I didn't really have a choice in the matter though. My dad had me watering the rubber tree plant and polishing it's big beautiful leaves by dabbing a paper towel in milk. He said it made the leaves shine. Perhaps.

When I was fifteen my parents divorced. That was unexpected news. It forced my mom and I to move from California back to Utah. My mom and I packed everything. My dad's stuff was labeled and then he picked it up in Utah.

Between the time I was born and my parent's divorce, the rubber tree plant had moved from Utah to Nevada and then back to Utah six months later; from Utah to Helendale, CA; and from Helendale, CA to Hesperia, CA.

In Hesperia, the rubber tree plant started to wane. A chore that once annoyed me became sentimental. When my dad was nowhere around I watered the plant. It didn't help. As the divorce news sank in, the rubber tree plant started to lose it's leaves. I would water, and then pick up fallen leaves.

By the time the last box was taped up and labeled, the rubber tree plant was nothing but a stick. We left California without the rubber tree plant and moved back to Utah where we moved around a few times before settling.

The life of that rubber tree plant is true, but it apparently is also an allegory for the way my family was falling apart at the time.

When I wrote the story I wanted to show the relation between the rubber tree plant and my parent's divorce but I didn't know that what I had done was create an allegory.

Have you ever used an allegory in your stories?

Monday, June 14, 2010

First You Must Envision It

To decide to write a book takes vision. Do you have the vision?

Great! Your vision is the first step you'll take to writing a book.

Now, do you have the ability to envision it?

This second step is crucial. Your ability to envision will be the determining factor in your ability to actually write a book.

Vision vs. Envision

These two acts seem interchangeable; like the same word but spelled differently. Don't be fooled.

A vision is what Shakespeare was talking about when he wrote, To be or not to be, that is the question.

While envision is the journey to the destination.

If you think back over your life you will begin to see the differences in these two words and the importance of one over the other.

When we were young, we spent a lot of time honing our ability to make visions. We were asked questions like, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" So, we knew immediately that the vision comes first, but that doesn't make it the most important of the two abilities.

But, when we were young, we were rarely asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up and how do you plan on making that happen?" So, we went about our childhood making visions without envisioning them.

Envisioning pops up here and there throughout our grade school education. It's a subtle plug. Most of us probably didn't make the correlation until the day after our high school graduation, or even our college graduation.

When you were young you were tied to your parent's ability to envision your life for you. Most of the time we were comfortable with how our parents envisioned our lives. It's when we had to take over and envision our lives for ourselves that the envision muscle showed its strength or weakness.

Your ability to envision successfully for book writing will be determined by what kind of life you currently lead. Basically, are you married? Do you have children? Don't forget about yourself. You might already be envisioning worlds for several people outside of writing a book.

Envisioning is the hardest part of writing the book.

You have to wake up with your vision and then find the time to sit down and envision every aspect of this fictional world you are creating; from the visual to the emotional aspects of your new world.

Envisioning is like a mind FK. You probably already have a lot of envisioning you're doing in your own life and don't realize just how much energy you're using to keep your life static, don't worry, when you start envisioning for your book you will realize how much envisioning you are doing for everyone, or everything else in your life.

Once you finally sit down to write, you might find that it was easier to expand your vision than to widen your capacity for envisioning.

Maybe, you will have enough energy and time to envision the first thirty thousand words of your book right away. You've set up the scene. You've built an imaginary world for your characters. You've detailed every aspect of your main character's life and emotions. Now, you have to see it through to the finish. You have to ride your character's roller coaster. This will require you to pull up emotions from your past to impose on your writing.

Don't underestimate how hard it is to envision the first thirty thousand words. Thirty thousand words is a lot, even if it's only a third of your story; depending on how long you plan your book on being.

Maybe you've seen it through, a couple of times even. That's great!

Did you remember to save a little bit of that envisioning power for querying? It can be difficult to maintain your ability to envision your characters leaping off of published pages for strangers around the world to read. It's only difficult because you may have depleted all of your mental happy juice (serotonin).

Step back from it all for a bit, detach yourself a little because the query process is a whole new rollercoaster.

You've got a story that you want to get out there in the publishing world. Maybe the reality of the quest ahead of you won't hit until your fifteenth form rejection, or maybe it won't hit until your forty-fifth form rejection.

Either way, you must envision it. Take your vision and envision it.

You've envisioned the life your living, the book you've written, now you will need to envision the process to publication. You can do can I?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Delicate Blend of Feats

When my husband wakes me at four thirty in the morning to say he'll meet me just off the 79 Freeway, I muster an, "Okay, sounds good. Love you. Be careful."

I fall back to sleep.

This year is already different than last.

Last year, I was bright eyed and bushy tailed, eagerly awaiting the day ahead of me.

But last year, I was better prepared.

The alarm clock goes off at five o'clock, but I press the snooze and go back to sleep. I figure another five minutes won't make a difference.

I'm wrong. I take fifteen minutes.

The alarm clock sounds for the second time and as I reach for the button that will silence it, I hear something. It startles me. I turn and see someone. I'm still half asleep. My brain can see my sister standing near my bed wearing almost all black, but my brain can't be sure it's really my sister. I scream! It's loud enough that Jenn can hear me downstairs, but not so loud that it will wake the children sleeping in their rooms on the other side of the house.

I calm quickly and realize it's Mud Run Day and it's not going to be a breeze like last year.

We are running late. My husband had to ride his bike even further than the 79 freeway. We pick him up off of the 76 freeway instead.

We have to jog into the event. Last year we were so early we sat around for an hour and a half waiting for the event to start. This time we are only minutes away from go time. It's okay, we all feel great (I'm getting nervous. I know what's in front of me.), we are pumped and ready to run.

Sound off. Like a heard of cows we all start moving. We bob and weave. We are positioning ourselves. The announcer sees me. My hat and twigs are working. They love hats at this event. "I see you!" the annoucer says to me over the microphone while pointing at me. I wink at him and get an extra spring in my step.

My hat makes it through the fire hose intact. I'm pleased.

We are only a mile into the race and I can feel myself getting winded already. I made it to the hill last year without wanting a rest. I start to question my motives. What were they again?

I wanted to write a book this year. But I hadn't made that decision until January 9. I signed up for the Mud Run on January 1. I'm committed, to both. I've done the Mud Run before. I've never written a full book. I make a conscious choice to focus on the writing. I don't excercise. I don't run.

My husband snaps me out of my daydream and away from my own pain to point out the first runner throwing up in the bushes less than three-feet from me. It's a reminder. I'm still doing well. I've got bounce in my step. I don't feel like hurling.

I retreat to my memories.

When I set out to write a book, I didn't know what kind of feat it was going to be. Day in and day out I wrote. I thought I was going to lose the thoughts so I worked hard at envisioning my characters, my story, my plot. By the end of January, I was feeling the physical effects of writing. I was tired. Emotionally drained. I wasn't present. I was a robot for my family and kids. I had to be this way just to keep the story in my head. I've lost story before. I was working from fear. My anxiety was building. I couldn't let myself down again. I needed to finish this first book, if only to prove I could.

The longer I focus on this initial effect of starting my writing regimen I feel my lungs hurting. I need air.

I focus on my breathing and less on my writing. I have to speed walk. I cannot run another step. The hill is just beginning and my brain remembers just how steep and long this hill is. I don't feel bad. There are others walking, although many more are passing me up. My sister and Jenn are out of my view by now.

I reach the first wall climb. My husband gives me a boost. It's not enough. I am drained. I cannot pull myself over this five-foot wall. My husband sees me struggle and gives me an extra push over the wall. This does the job. I'm left with aching ribs and a stomach ache. I DO NOT want to hurl. I trudge on. Last year that wall climb was a breeze. I put one hand on and jumped off. What a difference.

In May, I was done with book one and the first draft of book two. I had time. I could have easily gotten a run in. I even think about working out with my Wii Fitness. I don't. I make a conscious choice to do the Mud Run without any training. I want to prove something to myself. I'm not sure what.

Four and a half miles in. I'm sucking wind. I'm feeling sick again. I have to use the only part of my body I trained to calm myself; my brain. It's working. My mental strength is outpacing my physical strength. I nearly make it to the top of the mudslide hill despite the Marine trying to shoot me down with a firehose, "You are dirty. Really, really dirty," he says with a smile as he focuses all of the spray onto me. I smile and flirt. I make it past him, but slip at the peak. I'm sliding back down. A thousand people behind me and no help until my husband reaches out and pulls me up the hill.

I get to the last steep downhill, and I can barely make it. It's downhill! How could this be so difficult? My legs are shaking and I want to give in. If my husband wasn't guiding me I would be collapsing at this point. "Get to the bottom. We're almost to the finish. I can see the finish from here." I turn my mental strength back on. I can collapse soon, but not now.

The belly crawl is in front of me. It's the last obstacle before the finish. Last year, I used my arms and knees to propell me forward. I bloodied my knee that day. I know what to do now. I can make the belly crawl more successful than the year before. It will be the only part of the race I did better than last year.

I think through this year's race briefly. I had to walk the majority of the race, I bruised my ribs on the wall climb, felt like hurling three times, piggy-backed the swim, slipped on the mudslide hill, had to hold on for dear life on the last downhill...the belly crawl is going to be my pride and joy.

I slide on my belly down the short hill into the mud pit. I get as low as possible. I can't forget my hat. I've made it this far without the shrubs or the hat budging. My face is half in the muddy water. My knees bend outward like a frog. I don't use them. I use the inside edge of my shoes instead. Two flags away from getting out of this pit and I don't think I can make it. I want to give up. I am literally depleated. I used up the rest of my physical strength two miles earlier and now I can feel my mental strength waning.

What if I just stopped for a second? I can't. There are too many people behind me. We all want to get through to the finish.

I make it out. But the finish line is still up ahead. "Keep going Marine. Don't stop now. Get to the finish! Keep running!" This is the second time a Marine has yelled at me to improve. I find a little energy. I pick up my pace. I run to the finish. I feel like hurling. But I can't. I won't. That would be failing. I have to keep my puke back, and I do. I win at failing this year.

This is a true story of my Mud Run experience without any type of excercise for one year. I'm sore all over. I can barely walk down the stairs. Thank the Lord for railings. It was worth it.

I compare this race to exactly how writing my first book felt sans the muscle weakness in my legs. I wrote the book in such a hurry that it made me physically ill on and off for one month. The second book was easier. And now the third isn't as physically straining. I guess that means I'm on the philosophy of: Try to write a little every day to use that type of mental strength. So, I do. I write a little something every day even if it's not my current WIP. (Now, to find time for physical strength training.)

Check out the video:

How did you feel while you were writing your first book? How did you feel after? How do you blend your mental versus physical feats?

Monday, June 7, 2010

New Year's Resolution Roundup

I find the New Year's Resolution to be more and more important the older I get.

When I was younger I didn't ever take this practice seriously. When I was young, I worked hard every day to be something so a resolution was pointless.

Getting to my quarter-life crisis was significant. I realized I was 25 years old and still hadn't gotten anywhere. Except, I had gotten everywhere I wanted to be, but at the end of the day it wasn't enough. I was married, had my first child, but I didn't have a career or a dream job. I had gone from living a fast life to a slow life; I was bored in the mind. I had too much energy; I needed to do something more. However, I had no idea what I wanted to do, or who I was or wanted to be. That's when I knew I needed some resolutions; some way of tricking my mind into believing I was still living and achieving even if I was standing still for the moment.

Now that I make resolutions every year, it's interesting how piddly my resolutions from the past seemed. That's why I started making two resolutions. The first resolution was for something small and easily obtainable (a fail-safe). The second resolution was designed to be difficult, hardly reasonable, but a goal all the same.

This year my resolutions were:
1. Make one new recipe every month. Just one. Not a whole month of new meals.
2. Write a book. Not to be confused with start writing a book (I've done that one already and never finished it). I mean start and finish writing a book.

June is the notorious half-way point of the resolution. So, we should always check-up on ourselves even if we know we haven't even started, because it's a good reminder to get motivated and inspired.

Here's my six-month roundup:

1. Make a new recipe every month: I made a new recipe every month for three months. (I mean from scratch, not a new just-add-water meal). And then, I got too busy and I gave up.

2. Write a book: I finally did it! I wrote a book. I kept my momentum and then I wrote two books. Now, I am on my third book. It's not like me to be able to be inspired for such long periods of time.

Here is what's funny about resolutions to me:

The resolution usually perpetuates a life-style (That's probably why most people avoid making resolutions all together).

Last year, I had a resolution to run at the Marine Corps. Camp Pendelton Mud Run 10K (obstacles, Marine's yelling, mud in the face, etc.). So, last year, before the race, I ran and ran and ran. Then I ran some more. I called this "training for the Mud Run." Well, the race was so successful and fun to do, how could I not sign up for it again this year?

Yeah, so I signed up for the Mud Run this year (January 1 is sign up day), but the book writing prevented me from pulling myself away long enough to train (or stretch for that matter). I will elaborate on this year's Mud Run experience in tomorrow's blog (need to have pictures and they are getting developed as I type this blog post).

See what I mean about how a resolution can perpetuate a life-style change? So, if you decided to lose weight last year and you were successful, then you probably feel like you have to lose weight every year. If you decided to write one book this year and you wrote two or three, then you probably feel like you have to write at least one book every year.

If you stacked resolutions like this in the past, then you've probably stopped making resolutions all together by now.

Perhaps, it would be better to remind ourselves that inside each goal there are several other small but gainful goals.

I don't feel like I have to write three books a year, every year of my life. I might just focus on getting an agent next year (even though I am also focusing on it this year too.) Maybe though, I go from the query process to the conference process.

Piece it out. Don't let the resolution get you down. Remember, small steps to the end goal. Make one small goal and one big goal. Maybe the small goal is a piece of the big goal, if so, then make that big goal further down the road.

How are your resolutions working out for you this year? Have you started yet? Have you already finished? Do you regret your resolution choice this year?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

You Are What You Read...My Life in Books Blog Hop

Thanks to Jojomama, I have stumbled upon yet another great blog; Spin Me Right Round.

Write Chick has a blog hop going on and I thought it was such a great idea that I decided to give it a go. Here is my life in books:

In preschool I wanted to be able to read The Eye Book, a Dr. Seuss book, like my older sister. I remember how important that was to me like it was yesterday. I had to copy the image of this book from the web because I don't have this book in my collection since it was my sister's book.
(The rest of the books are straight out of my collection)

Once I figured out how to read, there was no stopping me. I was an avid reader by the end of first grade. In second grade I brought Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling in for my book report. The teacher didn't know what to think. She wasn't sure if I had actually read the whole thing or not; that is, until I did the book report. I just love the stories about how the animals turned out the way they did; the elephant and his trunk, the giraffe and his neck, etc.

Around fifth grade I fell in love with Mark Twain so my mom bought me Mark Twain Unabridged for my birthday. I love to get books as presents so you can imagine how happy I was with this one. Mark Twain is the king of comedy. His stories were so great.

In junior high and high school I started reading books like Sweet Valley High series books, as well as The Babysitter's Club series books. But there was one book by Lurlene McDaniel that I favored called Too Young To Die. I had an interest in being a nurse or a doctor and so Lurlene McDaniel's books satisfied that medical interest during that time.

Something happened to my reading between junior high and high school; I moved from Utah to the High Deserts of Southern California. This was a dark period of my life, so fittingly I read dark stuff. We were also kinda broke so keeping up my reading habit was a challenge for my parents; that's why I started going through my mom's collection; this is where I found Tales of Mystery & Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe.

I moved to Hollywood, California in 1997 with $1,000 in my pocket and a dream. My dream at the time was acting and I went to The American Academy of Dramatic Arts. I was broke. But, my mom sent me with some books that were my grandmother's books. One of those books was Two Girls and A Mystery by May Hollis Barton. I was so enthralled by this book that I wanted to make a screenplay from it, so I had to do a lot of research to figure out who owned the rights to it. My search turned into a quest. I discovered at this time, that May Hollis Barton was not a real person. She was a cover for a band of ghost writers working for The Edward Stratemeyer Syndicate, which was also responsible for all the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drews. Once I got down to it, I found the screen play rights were up for grabs for only $2,500, of which I didn't have. This was a wonderful journey to take though, that's why this book lands on this list.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Let's Not Get Crazy Here

Have you ever just gotten up in the morning and smelled your soon-to-be bad day wafting through the air just under your nose as you lie in bed trying to ignore your impending doom? Okay, so a bad day doesn't have to be that awful, but you can't be sure of that when you are lying there trying to figure out just how bad your day is going to be, since you've already sensed it.

Maybe your bad day turns out to be nothing more than waking up late and then having to rush around to set the day straight. Or, perhaps you did everything just right. You woke up on time, got dressed, the kids hardly fussed as you gingerly coaxed them out the door and into the car to go to school, so you can't understand the sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach.

Something is off, and you don't know where.

Still trying to find out where your day is going to fall apart, you drive extra cautiously on the freeway. This is where my day might start falling apart.

If I haven't discovered the root of my bad day before I hit the freeway then it's going to become apparant on the freeway. This is where someone is going to rattle my nerves. For all I know, I'm going to be involved in a terrible car accident and that's why my middle finger flies up to the first idiot that swirves around me or breaks hard in front of me. Any other day I may not have noticed this behavior, but on this kind of day I am on high alert for anyone who might get in my way and jeopardize my weakened bubble.

So, you make it off the freeway in tact and just a little more on edge than when you woke up this morning, and you still have that feeling in your gut. Something is going to go wrong. What is it already? Are you going to trip up the stairs? Are you going to forget that it's a minimum day and leave your child at school?

You run down your checklist: Your children were happy when they left, your sister and your husband were both chipper when you spoke on the phone with them; you've logged onto Facebook and everyone's life seems in order and happy, you run down the blogs you're following and everyone seems to have a chipper and helpful posting up already, and there are no form rejections in your inbox, so everyone in your world is having a great day except for you. You don't want to let it get you down though, because you've got plenty to do and only a few hours left until all the kids are running around the house again.

You open up your work in progress (WIP) and start pounding on the keyboard. You've got a 2,000-word goal for today and can't let anything get in your way. As you type, that sickening feeling and that waft starts to go away. You don't feel so bad anymore. You actually feel pretty good; mostly because you are working on your WIP and the thoughts are flowing, uninterupted, onto fresh pages. Maybe you've even exceeded your word goal for this day.

Tell me, when you sat back to read over what you've just written, did your bad day rub off onto your characters? Did your MC have a rotten day? Did the love get lost, or the best friend die? Maybe you knew what was expected of your story for today and it wasn't going to be a good thing.

Are we intrinsically connected to our characters? Do we suffer because of our characters or do our characters suffer because of us?