Thursday, December 31, 2009













From Shannon at Book Dreaming













From Jen at unedited















From Medeia at Medeia Sharif and Tyrean at Tyrean's Writing Spot


















From Simon at Constant Revision















From Janet at It Is What It Is

















From Tamara at Chasing Dreams and Kristi at Random Acts of Writing















From Shannon at Book Dreaming














From Rhonda at Snarktastic Ramblings














From Carol at Carol's Prints















From Sarahjayne at Writing in the Wilderness
















From Carol at Carol's Prints, Christine at Christine's Journey and Lola at Sharp Pen/Dull Sword















From Nicole at One Significant Moment at a Time













From Karen at Novels During Naptime and Kelly at Kelly's Compositions













From Simon at Constant Revision













From Sarahjayne at Writing in the Wilderness














From Jemi at Just Jemi














From Crystal at Write Because You Must















From Nicole at One Significant Moment at a Time
Thursday, December 31, 2009 Laurel Garver












From Shannon at Book Dreaming













From Jen at unedited















From Medeia at Medeia Sharif and Tyrean at Tyrean's Writing Spot


















From Simon at Constant Revision















From Janet at It Is What It Is

















From Tamara at Chasing Dreams and Kristi at Random Acts of Writing















From Shannon at Book Dreaming














From Rhonda at Snarktastic Ramblings














From Carol at Carol's Prints















From Sarahjayne at Writing in the Wilderness
















From Carol at Carol's Prints, Christine at Christine's Journey and Lola at Sharp Pen/Dull Sword















From Nicole at One Significant Moment at a Time













From Karen at Novels During Naptime and Kelly at Kelly's Compositions













From Simon at Constant Revision













From Sarahjayne at Writing in the Wilderness














From Jemi at Just Jemi














From Crystal at Write Because You Must















From Nicole at One Significant Moment at a Time

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Where do you get your ideas?

It's the Grand FAQ we writers face nearly every time we meet someone new. Some writers will tell you they write from life. They're trying to process their experiences, find some closure, warn others off their path of folly. My hats off to them. Autobiographical writing scares the snot out of me. Maybe when I'm 60 I'll be gutsy and wise enough to open myself up in that way.

Other writers are escapists like me, who write to enter fully into another life, another story. To shape it and be shaped by it. Writers like this will often give the quick and easy answer that "stories are everywhere, you just have to look." They make it sound so nice, like we non-autobiographical writers are the plucky pirate heroes who know how to walk 20 paces east and 3 paces north, dig a spade into the soft dirt and unearth a treasure.

Here's a dirty secret: realizing that stories are everywhere makes you feel somewhat insane. Unweeded gardens talk to you, tell you of despondency and pain. Your neighbor's bulging recycling bin sweeps you away to a party where one-time friends snub each other and the host pukes on his dream girl's shoes. Random strangers on the train captivate you, make you start stalking them so you can capture how they walk, swirl coffee in a travel mug, high-five a classmate.

I've yet to formulate an honest response about the source of my ideas that doesn't send my new acquaintance running for the DSM-IV. Due to the curse of an overactive imagination, I can actually imagine this happening to me at a party--three pages of dialogue sprinkled with action and description. And four other alternate scenarios as well, one of which involves a dog licking the canape in my acquaintance's hand when she's not looking. That's just how my brain works. I'd invite you for a tour, but it would probably scare you.

How do you answer the question "Where do you get your ideas?" when non-writers ask it?

*this is a re-post from July, in case anyone is having a strange sense of déjà vu.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009 Laurel Garver
Where do you get your ideas?

It's the Grand FAQ we writers face nearly every time we meet someone new. Some writers will tell you they write from life. They're trying to process their experiences, find some closure, warn others off their path of folly. My hats off to them. Autobiographical writing scares the snot out of me. Maybe when I'm 60 I'll be gutsy and wise enough to open myself up in that way.

Other writers are escapists like me, who write to enter fully into another life, another story. To shape it and be shaped by it. Writers like this will often give the quick and easy answer that "stories are everywhere, you just have to look." They make it sound so nice, like we non-autobiographical writers are the plucky pirate heroes who know how to walk 20 paces east and 3 paces north, dig a spade into the soft dirt and unearth a treasure.

Here's a dirty secret: realizing that stories are everywhere makes you feel somewhat insane. Unweeded gardens talk to you, tell you of despondency and pain. Your neighbor's bulging recycling bin sweeps you away to a party where one-time friends snub each other and the host pukes on his dream girl's shoes. Random strangers on the train captivate you, make you start stalking them so you can capture how they walk, swirl coffee in a travel mug, high-five a classmate.

I've yet to formulate an honest response about the source of my ideas that doesn't send my new acquaintance running for the DSM-IV. Due to the curse of an overactive imagination, I can actually imagine this happening to me at a party--three pages of dialogue sprinkled with action and description. And four other alternate scenarios as well, one of which involves a dog licking the canape in my acquaintance's hand when she's not looking. That's just how my brain works. I'd invite you for a tour, but it would probably scare you.

How do you answer the question "Where do you get your ideas?" when non-writers ask it?

*this is a re-post from July, in case anyone is having a strange sense of déjà vu.
Check out MG and YA writer Christina Farley's big book giveaway at Chocolate for Inspiration: your chance to win one of three fabulous prizes. The deadline to enter is January 5, 2010. Good luck!
Tuesday, December 29, 2009 Laurel Garver
Check out MG and YA writer Christina Farley's big book giveaway at Chocolate for Inspiration: your chance to win one of three fabulous prizes. The deadline to enter is January 5, 2010. Good luck!

Monday, December 28, 2009

My long-overdue thanks to Shannon at Book Dreaming for the Picasso Award!

This little beauty comes with the stipulation that I pass it on to seven other blogs and share seven things about myself.

My nominees, because they make me thankful to be part of the writing blogosphere, are as follows:
Kristi Faith at Random Acts of Writing
Nickles at Who, What, When, Where and Why
Sherrinda at A Writer Wannabe
Roni at Fiction Groupie
Natalie at Natalie Bahm
Tricia at Talespinning
Rhonda at Snarktastic Ramblings

A special thanks to Kristi for my second Honest Scrap award!

My seven things:

1. While taking a long walk in 1992, I "met" the protagonist of two novels I’m currently working on. Dani seemed to fall into step beside me and tell me her story of loss, family dysfunction and struggles to hang on to her faith. I filled pages of notes at the time, then stuffed them away. Those long-buried notes came out more than a decade later, after I, too, lost my father and felt a strong pull toward this grieving girl. I don't think I could have written her all those years ago.

2. When I worked as a reporter for an energy industry publication, I went by Laura just so I wouldn’t have to spell my name thirty times a day.

3. I owe my warped optimism when things go wrong to my parents’ guiding words. Mom: “It will make a good story later.” Dad: “It’s better than a sharp stick in the eye.”

4. I cannot stand the taste of honey, aka bee vomit. The whole concept is gross.

5. My stomach churns at the thought of riding a boat of any kind in the ocean. Boating on lakes and rivers? No problem. I chalk it up to disaster movies from the 70s like Jaws and the Poseidon Adventure.

6. I’ve had shingles twice, at ages 6 and 26. I’m bracing for the virus to re-emerge when I’m 46.

7. A more random aspect of my life is my checkered employment history. Some of the jobs I’ve had include tax prep clerk, Avon lady, cashier at McDonald’s, retail clerk, electronics and automotive clerk, clown, janitor, camp arts and crafts director, writing tutor, dispensing optician, reporter, graphic designer and magazine editor.
Monday, December 28, 2009 Laurel Garver
My long-overdue thanks to Shannon at Book Dreaming for the Picasso Award!

This little beauty comes with the stipulation that I pass it on to seven other blogs and share seven things about myself.

My nominees, because they make me thankful to be part of the writing blogosphere, are as follows:
Kristi Faith at Random Acts of Writing
Nickles at Who, What, When, Where and Why
Sherrinda at A Writer Wannabe
Roni at Fiction Groupie
Natalie at Natalie Bahm
Tricia at Talespinning
Rhonda at Snarktastic Ramblings

A special thanks to Kristi for my second Honest Scrap award!

My seven things:

1. While taking a long walk in 1992, I "met" the protagonist of two novels I’m currently working on. Dani seemed to fall into step beside me and tell me her story of loss, family dysfunction and struggles to hang on to her faith. I filled pages of notes at the time, then stuffed them away. Those long-buried notes came out more than a decade later, after I, too, lost my father and felt a strong pull toward this grieving girl. I don't think I could have written her all those years ago.

2. When I worked as a reporter for an energy industry publication, I went by Laura just so I wouldn’t have to spell my name thirty times a day.

3. I owe my warped optimism when things go wrong to my parents’ guiding words. Mom: “It will make a good story later.” Dad: “It’s better than a sharp stick in the eye.”

4. I cannot stand the taste of honey, aka bee vomit. The whole concept is gross.

5. My stomach churns at the thought of riding a boat of any kind in the ocean. Boating on lakes and rivers? No problem. I chalk it up to disaster movies from the 70s like Jaws and the Poseidon Adventure.

6. I’ve had shingles twice, at ages 6 and 26. I’m bracing for the virus to re-emerge when I’m 46.

7. A more random aspect of my life is my checkered employment history. Some of the jobs I’ve had include tax prep clerk, Avon lady, cashier at McDonald’s, retail clerk, electronics and automotive clerk, clown, janitor, camp arts and crafts director, writing tutor, dispensing optician, reporter, graphic designer and magazine editor.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Shannon over at Book Dreaming is hosting a big book giveaway in honor of reaching 100 blog followers. Stop on over to win one of two prizes--a set of adult fiction and writing books OR middle grade and young adult books.

Good luck!
Thursday, December 24, 2009 Laurel Garver
Shannon over at Book Dreaming is hosting a big book giveaway in honor of reaching 100 blog followers. Stop on over to win one of two prizes--a set of adult fiction and writing books OR middle grade and young adult books.

Good luck!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Yesterday my family and I took a trek up to NYC for some holiday fun and a wee bit of research for me. How I landed on a New Yorker MC rather than a Philly girl (which would require less travel) is something I'll have to elaborate in another post. I thought I'd take the opportunity so share some of my best tips for day trip research travel. And, of course, share some fun pictures of my cute kid.

1. DO dress comfortably and weather-appropriately. You want to be able to chase sensations without going completely numb or limping. I highly advise waterproof hiking boots and warm clothes for winter trips.

(Side note: If your most weather-appropriate outerwear is obnoxiously bright, DON’T expect to blend into the crowd, DON'T be surprised if you get a few stares--and more importantly, DON’T care. New Yorkers are weirdly color-averse. Ditto with Londoners. But hey, I’m a Philadelphian—we’re known for being a bit outrageous and tacky a la the Mummers Parade.)

2. DO plan your trip. Have a sense of which locations you want to visit most and plan out an efficient route. Pack maps so you don’t get hopelessly lost when the spontaneous urge to tail a fascinating stranger strikes you.

We knew we wanted to see all the best holiday window displays: Macy’s, Saks, Lord and Taylor, and our perennial favorite—Bergdorf Goodman. And who could miss the madness that is FAO Schwartz three days before Christmas?

3. DO pack essential supplies: a camera with fully-charged batteries, a pocket notebook, good pens not prone to ink freeze, light refreshments. If you’re a gadget person, a sound recording device can be handy also. Video recorders I’m not so keen on. The machine gets between you and the experience.


4. DO have a reasonable agenda. To make the most of your trip, it’s best to know what sorts of information you need and how you hope to use it. Unless you’re planning a several day intensive trip, limit yourself to a few agenda items. This was my fifth or sixth NY trip and I was looking specifically for sensory images to build “memories of childhood Christmases in New York.”


5. DO be open to the spontaneous. I built my agenda around my daughter, since my focus was on developing backstory for my MC’s childhood. I paid special attention to what engrossed her, and let her lead us to side adventures. She wanted to go into the NY Public Library, and there we discovered the REAL Winnie the Pooh and all his Hundred Acre Woods friends that once belonged to Christopher Robin Milne (bequeathed to the library by Milne’s publisher). It was quite a thrill to discover something any New York kid would have grown up with, hidden away in a basement room.


Claire was also especially engrossed by the skaters at Rockefeller Center and would have gladly watched them for hours.


6. DO engage all your senses, and make sure you record at least one detail for every sense. How does this place smell? What textures do I feel here? What unique sounds can I discern? What flavors are unique to this place? What sights are ubiquitous or striking?


I was delighted by the handsome young Arab vendors selling hot dogs, pretzels and roasted chestnuts on every corner and jamming to the sinuous sounds of Middle-eastern music. One even drummed along to a song, banging on bin lids with spoons.


What are your best tips for on-location research? Any wonderful discoveries or disasters you'd like to share?

Are you planning a research trip in 2010? I'd love to hear about your plans.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009 Laurel Garver

Yesterday my family and I took a trek up to NYC for some holiday fun and a wee bit of research for me. How I landed on a New Yorker MC rather than a Philly girl (which would require less travel) is something I'll have to elaborate in another post. I thought I'd take the opportunity so share some of my best tips for day trip research travel. And, of course, share some fun pictures of my cute kid.

1. DO dress comfortably and weather-appropriately. You want to be able to chase sensations without going completely numb or limping. I highly advise waterproof hiking boots and warm clothes for winter trips.

(Side note: If your most weather-appropriate outerwear is obnoxiously bright, DON’T expect to blend into the crowd, DON'T be surprised if you get a few stares--and more importantly, DON’T care. New Yorkers are weirdly color-averse. Ditto with Londoners. But hey, I’m a Philadelphian—we’re known for being a bit outrageous and tacky a la the Mummers Parade.)

2. DO plan your trip. Have a sense of which locations you want to visit most and plan out an efficient route. Pack maps so you don’t get hopelessly lost when the spontaneous urge to tail a fascinating stranger strikes you.

We knew we wanted to see all the best holiday window displays: Macy’s, Saks, Lord and Taylor, and our perennial favorite—Bergdorf Goodman. And who could miss the madness that is FAO Schwartz three days before Christmas?

3. DO pack essential supplies: a camera with fully-charged batteries, a pocket notebook, good pens not prone to ink freeze, light refreshments. If you’re a gadget person, a sound recording device can be handy also. Video recorders I’m not so keen on. The machine gets between you and the experience.


4. DO have a reasonable agenda. To make the most of your trip, it’s best to know what sorts of information you need and how you hope to use it. Unless you’re planning a several day intensive trip, limit yourself to a few agenda items. This was my fifth or sixth NY trip and I was looking specifically for sensory images to build “memories of childhood Christmases in New York.”


5. DO be open to the spontaneous. I built my agenda around my daughter, since my focus was on developing backstory for my MC’s childhood. I paid special attention to what engrossed her, and let her lead us to side adventures. She wanted to go into the NY Public Library, and there we discovered the REAL Winnie the Pooh and all his Hundred Acre Woods friends that once belonged to Christopher Robin Milne (bequeathed to the library by Milne’s publisher). It was quite a thrill to discover something any New York kid would have grown up with, hidden away in a basement room.


Claire was also especially engrossed by the skaters at Rockefeller Center and would have gladly watched them for hours.


6. DO engage all your senses, and make sure you record at least one detail for every sense. How does this place smell? What textures do I feel here? What unique sounds can I discern? What flavors are unique to this place? What sights are ubiquitous or striking?


I was delighted by the handsome young Arab vendors selling hot dogs, pretzels and roasted chestnuts on every corner and jamming to the sinuous sounds of Middle-eastern music. One even drummed along to a song, banging on bin lids with spoons.


What are your best tips for on-location research? Any wonderful discoveries or disasters you'd like to share?

Are you planning a research trip in 2010? I'd love to hear about your plans.
My sincere apologies to you all for being a big time blogland slacker. I am way, way, way behind with acknowledging all the generous blog awards bestowed in the past week and a half. I also have an overdue "editor-on-call" post waiting in the wings. There are so many new friends to be made, too. Oh dear. I do mean to escape my bubble and say hello to the nice folks who came by to enjoy my backstage snog scene. I will get to all these things as soon as I'm able.

December is not the easiest month, is it? On top of work being incredibly busy (and I can't even escape to my office--campus is locked), my youth group kids need help with college app. essays, my husband is holed up with 130 papers to grade, my bored 7-yo is bouncing off the walls now that school's out, and I'm trying to hit a critique group deadline. I'm also in charge of making Christmas happen because of the aforementioned end-of-term grading. And did I mention the pipe under the kitchen sink burst this morning? Whee!

I hope it's not bad form to preempt the promised acknowledgements with a post I'm super excited to share with you all: a research trip post about my adventures in NYC yesterday. Here's hoping I can just get persnickety Windows Vista to allow me to upload pics...otherwise I'll have to wrestle my hubby off his laptop for a bit. Stay tuned!
Wednesday, December 23, 2009 Laurel Garver
My sincere apologies to you all for being a big time blogland slacker. I am way, way, way behind with acknowledging all the generous blog awards bestowed in the past week and a half. I also have an overdue "editor-on-call" post waiting in the wings. There are so many new friends to be made, too. Oh dear. I do mean to escape my bubble and say hello to the nice folks who came by to enjoy my backstage snog scene. I will get to all these things as soon as I'm able.

December is not the easiest month, is it? On top of work being incredibly busy (and I can't even escape to my office--campus is locked), my youth group kids need help with college app. essays, my husband is holed up with 130 papers to grade, my bored 7-yo is bouncing off the walls now that school's out, and I'm trying to hit a critique group deadline. I'm also in charge of making Christmas happen because of the aforementioned end-of-term grading. And did I mention the pipe under the kitchen sink burst this morning? Whee!

I hope it's not bad form to preempt the promised acknowledgements with a post I'm super excited to share with you all: a research trip post about my adventures in NYC yesterday. Here's hoping I can just get persnickety Windows Vista to allow me to upload pics...otherwise I'll have to wrestle my hubby off his laptop for a bit. Stay tuned!

Monday, December 21, 2009

In honor of mistletoe, a group of writer bloggers are participating in a Kissing Day Blogfest. To sign up, stop by Sherrinda's blog, A Writer Wannabe.

Kissing scenes are not the easiest to write. In first draft, I find that I tend to err on the side of steaminess that doesn't gibe with the characters. My WIP-1’s one and only kissing scene has gone through a good eight permutations, varying in intensity from yikes to yawn. It has finally landed at a spot that focuses far more on the emotional meaning to the characters than on the physical act. And sorry, I won’t post the steamiest draft from the cutting room floor. Too, too embarrassing!

With WIP-2, I’m still trying to figure out how to approach a long-term teen relationship in which the guy in particular is concerned about going too far. This is an excerpt from a backstory scene I may or may not use, written from the female MC’s point of view:

Two stupid sophomores kept flubbing their scene, one thing after another—blocking, lines, delivery. I was just trying to stay awake back in the fly gallery, waiting for the next cue to reel the scenic drops in and out of the stage area. About the time the director switched from annoyed to huffy, Theo slinked over to me, snaked an arm around my waist, switched off my headset. He nuzzled my neck, my hair; nipped the soft tip of my earlobe. Something inside me snapped: the careful cords that held in place my public persona.

My mouth found his in the dark and we sort of melted into each other. We stumbled over pulleys and fell onto the steel stairs to the catwalks. The metal seemed to ring beneath us. His breath was mine and mine was his and we were one intertwined mess of sweetness and sensation and hunger. There were fingers fumbling on buttons, a lot of missed cues and entrances. Then a flashlight in the face and Callie the stage manager, hissing “I should’ve known. Mating season for the Jesus freaks.”

When it’s the guy who runs off to the bathroom crying, you know you’ve got serious problems.
Monday, December 21, 2009 Laurel Garver
In honor of mistletoe, a group of writer bloggers are participating in a Kissing Day Blogfest. To sign up, stop by Sherrinda's blog, A Writer Wannabe.

Kissing scenes are not the easiest to write. In first draft, I find that I tend to err on the side of steaminess that doesn't gibe with the characters. My WIP-1’s one and only kissing scene has gone through a good eight permutations, varying in intensity from yikes to yawn. It has finally landed at a spot that focuses far more on the emotional meaning to the characters than on the physical act. And sorry, I won’t post the steamiest draft from the cutting room floor. Too, too embarrassing!

With WIP-2, I’m still trying to figure out how to approach a long-term teen relationship in which the guy in particular is concerned about going too far. This is an excerpt from a backstory scene I may or may not use, written from the female MC’s point of view:

Two stupid sophomores kept flubbing their scene, one thing after another—blocking, lines, delivery. I was just trying to stay awake back in the fly gallery, waiting for the next cue to reel the scenic drops in and out of the stage area. About the time the director switched from annoyed to huffy, Theo slinked over to me, snaked an arm around my waist, switched off my headset. He nuzzled my neck, my hair; nipped the soft tip of my earlobe. Something inside me snapped: the careful cords that held in place my public persona.

My mouth found his in the dark and we sort of melted into each other. We stumbled over pulleys and fell onto the steel stairs to the catwalks. The metal seemed to ring beneath us. His breath was mine and mine was his and we were one intertwined mess of sweetness and sensation and hunger. There were fingers fumbling on buttons, a lot of missed cues and entrances. Then a flashlight in the face and Callie the stage manager, hissing “I should’ve known. Mating season for the Jesus freaks.”

When it’s the guy who runs off to the bathroom crying, you know you’ve got serious problems.

Friday, December 18, 2009

It's less than a week till Christmas and chances are the holiday hubbub is upon you: attending and hosting parties, decorating, cooking, baking, shopping, wrapping, attending school programs, entertaining out-of-town guests, participating in worship services and perhaps preparing to travel. Many of you, like me, have day jobs (mine, thankfully, is 3/4 time). You have normal day-to-day responsibilities with maintaining a home and caring for family.

How do you maintain a writing routine at a time like this? Do you set writing on the back burner? Or do you steal a few minutes while the wassail's on the back burner? Do you decline invitations? Sleep less? Lower your expectations? Trim the to-do list to clear "essentials"?

How are you coping (0r not) with having a writing life in a busy season?
Friday, December 18, 2009 Laurel Garver
It's less than a week till Christmas and chances are the holiday hubbub is upon you: attending and hosting parties, decorating, cooking, baking, shopping, wrapping, attending school programs, entertaining out-of-town guests, participating in worship services and perhaps preparing to travel. Many of you, like me, have day jobs (mine, thankfully, is 3/4 time). You have normal day-to-day responsibilities with maintaining a home and caring for family.

How do you maintain a writing routine at a time like this? Do you set writing on the back burner? Or do you steal a few minutes while the wassail's on the back burner? Do you decline invitations? Sleep less? Lower your expectations? Trim the to-do list to clear "essentials"?

How are you coping (0r not) with having a writing life in a busy season?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

While washing my hands at work this morning, I realized my left hand looked a little strange. Naked. The spot where my engagement ring and wedding band usually sit was empty. Stranger still, the now-exposed skin was shiny with scar tissue. The finger seemed atrophied below the knuckle, slimmer than its neighbors. Twelve years of ring wearing had left its mark.

I'll return the rings to their rightful spot this afternoon; my winter-dry skin is better today. Seeing that strange indentation and scarring got me thinking. Long habits mark us, and absence can become as palpable as presence.

A powerful way to portray a character might indeed involve showing the traces of what is not there. Virginia Woolf ends Jacob's Room with a pair of empty shoes, a powerful image of loss in wartime. Artist Sophie Calle photographed places in Berlin where the traces of its communist history had been effaced. Her book Detachment: A Berlin Travel Guide catalogs those images, as well as remembrances--real and imagined--from those who pass by the spots where monuments of the GDR once stood.

Where have you seen in books or life the traces of what is not there? Have you used this idea in your own work? Where might this idea deepen one of your characterizations?
Thursday, December 17, 2009 Laurel Garver
While washing my hands at work this morning, I realized my left hand looked a little strange. Naked. The spot where my engagement ring and wedding band usually sit was empty. Stranger still, the now-exposed skin was shiny with scar tissue. The finger seemed atrophied below the knuckle, slimmer than its neighbors. Twelve years of ring wearing had left its mark.

I'll return the rings to their rightful spot this afternoon; my winter-dry skin is better today. Seeing that strange indentation and scarring got me thinking. Long habits mark us, and absence can become as palpable as presence.

A powerful way to portray a character might indeed involve showing the traces of what is not there. Virginia Woolf ends Jacob's Room with a pair of empty shoes, a powerful image of loss in wartime. Artist Sophie Calle photographed places in Berlin where the traces of its communist history had been effaced. Her book Detachment: A Berlin Travel Guide catalogs those images, as well as remembrances--real and imagined--from those who pass by the spots where monuments of the GDR once stood.

Where have you seen in books or life the traces of what is not there? Have you used this idea in your own work? Where might this idea deepen one of your characterizations?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

...or maybe Easter, is this Gilmore Girls book! The university presses are rolling out their spring catalogs and this particular title made me squee with delight:

Screwball Television: Critical Perspectives on Gilmore Girls
David Scott Diffrient and David Lavery, eds.
Syracuse University Press, 2010
Cloth $39.95

"Bringing together seventeen original essays by scholars from around the world, Screwball Television offers a variety of international perspectives on Gilmore Girls (WB/CW, 2000–2007). Adored by fans and celebrated by critics for its sophisticated wordplay and compelling portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship, this contemporary American TV program finally gets its due as a cultural production unlike any other— one that is beholden to Hollywood’s screwball comedies of the 1930s, steeped in intertextual references, and framed as a “kinder, gentler kind of cult television series” in this tightly focused yet wide-ranging collection.
This volume makes a significant contribution to television studies, genre studies, and women’s studies, taking Gilmore Girls as its focus while adopting a panoramic critical approach sensitive to such topics as serialized fiction; elite education; addiction as a social construct; food consumption and the disciplining of bodies; post-feminism and female desire; depictions of journalism in popular culture; the changing face of masculinity in contemporary U.S. society; liturgical and ritualistic structures in televisual narrative; Orientalism and Asian representations on American TV; Internet fan discourses; and new genre theories attuned to the landscape of twenty-first-century media convergence. Screwball Television seeks to bring Gilmore Girls more fully into academic discourse not only as a topic worthy of critical scrutiny but also as an infinitely rewarding text capable of stimulating the imagination of students beyond the classroom."

--Syracuse University Press Spring 2010 catalog, page 22.

What could be better than Gilmore Girls through the lens of media studies and English lit crit? Seriously folks, I so, so, so want this book that comes out in March. But it's reeeeealy expensive for a paperback. Would it be completely evil to request a review copy for the journal, even though our focus is modern period rather than contemporary?

All right, it would be unethical. Sigh. Better start saving my pennies.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009 Laurel Garver
...or maybe Easter, is this Gilmore Girls book! The university presses are rolling out their spring catalogs and this particular title made me squee with delight:

Screwball Television: Critical Perspectives on Gilmore Girls
David Scott Diffrient and David Lavery, eds.
Syracuse University Press, 2010
Cloth $39.95

"Bringing together seventeen original essays by scholars from around the world, Screwball Television offers a variety of international perspectives on Gilmore Girls (WB/CW, 2000–2007). Adored by fans and celebrated by critics for its sophisticated wordplay and compelling portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship, this contemporary American TV program finally gets its due as a cultural production unlike any other— one that is beholden to Hollywood’s screwball comedies of the 1930s, steeped in intertextual references, and framed as a “kinder, gentler kind of cult television series” in this tightly focused yet wide-ranging collection.
This volume makes a significant contribution to television studies, genre studies, and women’s studies, taking Gilmore Girls as its focus while adopting a panoramic critical approach sensitive to such topics as serialized fiction; elite education; addiction as a social construct; food consumption and the disciplining of bodies; post-feminism and female desire; depictions of journalism in popular culture; the changing face of masculinity in contemporary U.S. society; liturgical and ritualistic structures in televisual narrative; Orientalism and Asian representations on American TV; Internet fan discourses; and new genre theories attuned to the landscape of twenty-first-century media convergence. Screwball Television seeks to bring Gilmore Girls more fully into academic discourse not only as a topic worthy of critical scrutiny but also as an infinitely rewarding text capable of stimulating the imagination of students beyond the classroom."

--Syracuse University Press Spring 2010 catalog, page 22.

What could be better than Gilmore Girls through the lens of media studies and English lit crit? Seriously folks, I so, so, so want this book that comes out in March. But it's reeeeealy expensive for a paperback. Would it be completely evil to request a review copy for the journal, even though our focus is modern period rather than contemporary?

All right, it would be unethical. Sigh. Better start saving my pennies.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

(My apologies to the Beatles. I've listened to far too much Weird Al in my lifetime, and seem to hear parody potential everywhere.)

As the calendar year wraps up, my mind leaps to the coming year. What will 2010 bring? Many of my new-found friends will take a giant step forward, armed with agency representation. Some will lose heart, set aside the manuscript they've sweated and bled for...and will discover new characters they love even more.

My writerly goals for 2010 include:
- publish another short story
- complete trimming and revising and gathering critiques on WIP 1
- rewrite the query and synopsis for WIP 1
- test market WIP 1 to another dozen agents
- draft the first third of WIP 2
- apply to the Rutgers One-on-One Plus conference
- attend an SCBWI event (conference or workshop)
- encourage the socks off some of my crit partners till they start regularly submitting work for critique.

What about you? Does making goals motivate or overwhelm you? What are your goals for 2010? Will you dream big or take the conservative route like me?
Tuesday, December 15, 2009 Laurel Garver
(My apologies to the Beatles. I've listened to far too much Weird Al in my lifetime, and seem to hear parody potential everywhere.)

As the calendar year wraps up, my mind leaps to the coming year. What will 2010 bring? Many of my new-found friends will take a giant step forward, armed with agency representation. Some will lose heart, set aside the manuscript they've sweated and bled for...and will discover new characters they love even more.

My writerly goals for 2010 include:
- publish another short story
- complete trimming and revising and gathering critiques on WIP 1
- rewrite the query and synopsis for WIP 1
- test market WIP 1 to another dozen agents
- draft the first third of WIP 2
- apply to the Rutgers One-on-One Plus conference
- attend an SCBWI event (conference or workshop)
- encourage the socks off some of my crit partners till they start regularly submitting work for critique.

What about you? Does making goals motivate or overwhelm you? What are your goals for 2010? Will you dream big or take the conservative route like me?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Apostrophe anxiety in the digital age
Roots of the problem--the demise of gatekeepers

For generations, the humble apostrophe has been quietly helping us keep track of who owns what and acting as a placeholder for omitted letters. Yet more and more I see this little curl popping up where it never belonged: in plural nouns and possessive pronouns. How did this error become so widespread?

I think it is fair to blame the democratization of design and publication. Prior to the digital age, we had a layer of gatekeepers--sign shops, publishing companies, well-trained secretaries--whose reputations depended upon accuracy. They made sure errors never hit the public eye. Now that anyone with a computer can create documents and signage, the gatekeepers that would have caught and repaired errors are largely bypassed.

The digital age also encourages reliance on technology over human knowledge. Many times spell check won't help you use apostrophes correctly, however; who's might be a correct spelling, but it doesn't mean the same thing as whose. Grammar checkers will flag similar sound-alike errors sometimes. But even these tools will get hung up on unusual plurals, such as the one in An Abundance of Katherines.

Finally, I blame Dan Quayle's very public gaffe in 1992--insisting at a spelling bee that potato is spelled potatoe--for creating heightened anxiety about spelling rules for words ending in vowel sounds. Slapping on an apostrophe has become the strange default. (I imagine the inner monologue goes like this: "Is it tacos or tacoes? Oh, heck, I'll just write taco's, everyone will understand.") Words ending in Y trip folks up, too. While pony becomes ponies and contingency becomes contingencies, joy does not become joies, but joys. Apostrophes seem to act as duct tape when these anxieties surface--a good-enough quick fix for those in a hurry. My advice for handling thus particular anxiety: When in doubt, look it up. Merriam-Webster online has an easy-to-use interface.

Thanks for bearing with my analytical rant. Here's the goods you really came for: a reliable guide to using, not abusing, our humble friend the apostrophe.

Mine! Mine!
Apostrophes and possessives

To indicate ownership, add an apostrophe and s to singular nouns (no matter what the ending consonant) and plurals that don't end in s. Some examples are below.

John's box
Yeats's poems
Inez's marimba
Children's menu
Men's restroom

With plural nouns ending in s, indicate ownership by adding an apostrophe alone. Be sure that the plural is correctly formed first. (When in doubt, look it up.) Errors creep in with names especially. Names ending in y simply take an s. Names ending with s, sh, ch, x or z take an es when made plural. Some examples are below.

Girls' first win
Grants' party
O'Reillys' bar
Collinses' house

Beware the masqueraders! PROnouns, those handy stand-in words that keep us from sounding incredibly redundant, do not use apostrophes in their possessive forms. Some examples are below.

She had her cat spayed. That tabby is hers.
They drove me in their car. Yes, the Audi is theirs.
You want me to come to your house? Which one is yours?
Who left this here? Whose magazine is this?

Pronouns take apostrophes only when forming contractions (more on this below). NO EXCEPTIONS. If you see who's, it means "who is" or "who has" or "who was." It's means "it is" or "it has" or "it was."

Bridging the gaps
Omitted letters and contractions

Apostrophes play another important role: as a placeholder. They stand in for omitted letters in a single word or combined words (a.k.a. contractions). Some examples are below.

Ma'am = madam
'cause = because
don't = do not
could've = could have
who's = who is / who was / who has
they're = they are / they were

Oddball plurals
a soon-to-be extinct exception

It was once the rule that numbers, letters, abbreviations and acronyms always took an apostrophe and s in their plural forms. For example: In the 1940's, C.P.A.'s minded their P's and Q's. This "rule" is currently in flux and appears to be headed for extinction.

Most of the newest style manuals have eliminated this practice. MLA 7th edition section 3.2.7g says "Do not use an apostrophe to form the plural of an abbreviation or a number." The Associated Press applies the oddball apostrophe plural rule only to single letters (for example, M's), while numbers and abbreviations/acronyms go without the curl.

The trend seems to be apostrophe minimalism. So go ahead and write it like this: "In the 1940s, CPAs minded their Ps and Qs." The Modern Language Association will back you all the way.

**A brief disclaimer
I am not a grammarian. I'm just a workaday editor with degrees in English and journalism who has been copy editing professionally since 1991. All the advice I give above came from reliable grammar manuals. If you think I got it wrong at any point, please let me know in the comments or at lonexylophone (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Monday, December 14, 2009 Laurel Garver
Apostrophe anxiety in the digital age
Roots of the problem--the demise of gatekeepers

For generations, the humble apostrophe has been quietly helping us keep track of who owns what and acting as a placeholder for omitted letters. Yet more and more I see this little curl popping up where it never belonged: in plural nouns and possessive pronouns. How did this error become so widespread?

I think it is fair to blame the democratization of design and publication. Prior to the digital age, we had a layer of gatekeepers--sign shops, publishing companies, well-trained secretaries--whose reputations depended upon accuracy. They made sure errors never hit the public eye. Now that anyone with a computer can create documents and signage, the gatekeepers that would have caught and repaired errors are largely bypassed.

The digital age also encourages reliance on technology over human knowledge. Many times spell check won't help you use apostrophes correctly, however; who's might be a correct spelling, but it doesn't mean the same thing as whose. Grammar checkers will flag similar sound-alike errors sometimes. But even these tools will get hung up on unusual plurals, such as the one in An Abundance of Katherines.

Finally, I blame Dan Quayle's very public gaffe in 1992--insisting at a spelling bee that potato is spelled potatoe--for creating heightened anxiety about spelling rules for words ending in vowel sounds. Slapping on an apostrophe has become the strange default. (I imagine the inner monologue goes like this: "Is it tacos or tacoes? Oh, heck, I'll just write taco's, everyone will understand.") Words ending in Y trip folks up, too. While pony becomes ponies and contingency becomes contingencies, joy does not become joies, but joys. Apostrophes seem to act as duct tape when these anxieties surface--a good-enough quick fix for those in a hurry. My advice for handling thus particular anxiety: When in doubt, look it up. Merriam-Webster online has an easy-to-use interface.

Thanks for bearing with my analytical rant. Here's the goods you really came for: a reliable guide to using, not abusing, our humble friend the apostrophe.

Mine! Mine!
Apostrophes and possessives

To indicate ownership, add an apostrophe and s to singular nouns (no matter what the ending consonant) and plurals that don't end in s. Some examples are below.

John's box
Yeats's poems
Inez's marimba
Children's menu
Men's restroom

With plural nouns ending in s, indicate ownership by adding an apostrophe alone. Be sure that the plural is correctly formed first. (When in doubt, look it up.) Errors creep in with names especially. Names ending in y simply take an s. Names ending with s, sh, ch, x or z take an es when made plural. Some examples are below.

Girls' first win
Grants' party
O'Reillys' bar
Collinses' house

Beware the masqueraders! PROnouns, those handy stand-in words that keep us from sounding incredibly redundant, do not use apostrophes in their possessive forms. Some examples are below.

She had her cat spayed. That tabby is hers.
They drove me in their car. Yes, the Audi is theirs.
You want me to come to your house? Which one is yours?
Who left this here? Whose magazine is this?

Pronouns take apostrophes only when forming contractions (more on this below). NO EXCEPTIONS. If you see who's, it means "who is" or "who has" or "who was." It's means "it is" or "it has" or "it was."

Bridging the gaps
Omitted letters and contractions

Apostrophes play another important role: as a placeholder. They stand in for omitted letters in a single word or combined words (a.k.a. contractions). Some examples are below.

Ma'am = madam
'cause = because
don't = do not
could've = could have
who's = who is / who was / who has
they're = they are / they were

Oddball plurals
a soon-to-be extinct exception

It was once the rule that numbers, letters, abbreviations and acronyms always took an apostrophe and s in their plural forms. For example: In the 1940's, C.P.A.'s minded their P's and Q's. This "rule" is currently in flux and appears to be headed for extinction.

Most of the newest style manuals have eliminated this practice. MLA 7th edition section 3.2.7g says "Do not use an apostrophe to form the plural of an abbreviation or a number." The Associated Press applies the oddball apostrophe plural rule only to single letters (for example, M's), while numbers and abbreviations/acronyms go without the curl.

The trend seems to be apostrophe minimalism. So go ahead and write it like this: "In the 1940s, CPAs minded their Ps and Qs." The Modern Language Association will back you all the way.

**A brief disclaimer
I am not a grammarian. I'm just a workaday editor with degrees in English and journalism who has been copy editing professionally since 1991. All the advice I give above came from reliable grammar manuals. If you think I got it wrong at any point, please let me know in the comments or at lonexylophone (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Last night, one of my critique group friends called with an urgent punctuation question. It was something pretty simple about quotes within quotes.

This got me wondering if any of you have burning questions about some matter of grammar, usage or style. If so, please drop me a line at lonexylophone (at) yahoo (dot) com. I'll address your questions in future posts.

My first editor-on-call post will address one of the more abused forms of punctuation, the apostrophe. Stay tuned!
Saturday, December 12, 2009 Laurel Garver
Last night, one of my critique group friends called with an urgent punctuation question. It was something pretty simple about quotes within quotes.

This got me wondering if any of you have burning questions about some matter of grammar, usage or style. If so, please drop me a line at lonexylophone (at) yahoo (dot) com. I'll address your questions in future posts.

My first editor-on-call post will address one of the more abused forms of punctuation, the apostrophe. Stay tuned!

Friday, December 11, 2009

The lovely, soon-to-be published Tamara over at Chasing Dreams bestowed my second blog award--The Honest Scrap. I blush, I swoon.... Seriously though, it was a wonderful treat to be so honored when I'm the new kid in this corner of the blogosphere.

That said, I'm going to bend the award rules a bit and name just a handful blogs, largely because I haven't yet ventured terribly far in writer-blog land. I'm working on it, folks. The introvert in me has a hard time doing something so forward as commenting.

So here goes. My nominees for the Honest Scrap are:

Candice, Suffering from Writer's Blog. She only posts weekly, but doggone is she hilarious and often touching, too. This post on the misuse of "literally" had me laughing so hard my ribs ached.

Heidi, Some Mad Hope. Her debut novel launches next week, and it looks riveting--a family's diabetic daughter develops an insulin allergy, and their best hope for a cure puts them at odds with their small town's conservative religious community.

Robyn, Putting Pen to Paper. I enjoy hearing about Robyn's life as much as her musings on writing and faith. I'll go dust off my Breyer models now and try to stop jonesing her horses.

Shannon, Book Dreaming. I think this is her third nomination, and deservedly so. She is a terrific encourager and asks great questions on her posts that spark some lively interactions. I've met a number of my most recent followers through her.


Apparently this award stipulates that I also share ten things about myself. So here goes.

1. I'm managing editor of a scholarly journal on modernist literature. This means I get to read some pretty cool scholarly work on the greats of the 20th century: Joyce, Woolf, Faulkner, Hemingway, Pound, Yeats, Beckett. I also have to copy edit the most egregious run-on sentences imaginable. And I get lots of e-mail calling me Dr. Garver, which is my philosophy professor hubby, you silly people.

2. I've nearly forgotten how to cook, because my husband has been the chef for the past 11 years.

3. My gateway drug to writing was...Dungeons and Dragons. Eek, gasp, run for the hills! I started playing in 7th grade--it was an enrichment activity we did in the gifted program at school. I continued to play on and off over the years, up until about two years ago. I liked to cross-stitch between bouts of smiting evil.

4. I played mallet percussion in high school (xylophone, bells, marimba, etc.) and marched in the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Dublin my junior year.

5. Besides being a band geek, I was also a choir geek, art club geek, lit mag geek and theater geek.

6. Speaking of geeking out, I love geeky TV like Dr. Who (especially the most recent incarnation) Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica. However...

7. I haven't read much Sci Fi or fantasy in about 15 years. Back in the day, I was ga-ga over Frank Herbert's Dune series and Anne McCaffrey's Pern books. At the moment, I prefer realistic fiction with psychologically complex characters and relationships.

8. I've only been a bridesmaid once, but I've sung in almost a dozen weddings.

9. From just a few bars of music, I can "name that tune"--and artist--for just about any pop song from the early to mid 80s. I was a "Top 40 countdown" addict in my teen years.

10. My favorite author is Susan Howatch. Her most recent St. Benet's series (The Wonder Worker, The High Flyer, The Heartbreaker) has intense plots and deep characterization, pulls no punches about the nature of evil and our own capacity for self-deception, and delivers mind-blowingly redemptive denouements. I want to write books for teenagers that are like hers.
Friday, December 11, 2009 Laurel Garver
The lovely, soon-to-be published Tamara over at Chasing Dreams bestowed my second blog award--The Honest Scrap. I blush, I swoon.... Seriously though, it was a wonderful treat to be so honored when I'm the new kid in this corner of the blogosphere.

That said, I'm going to bend the award rules a bit and name just a handful blogs, largely because I haven't yet ventured terribly far in writer-blog land. I'm working on it, folks. The introvert in me has a hard time doing something so forward as commenting.

So here goes. My nominees for the Honest Scrap are:

Candice, Suffering from Writer's Blog. She only posts weekly, but doggone is she hilarious and often touching, too. This post on the misuse of "literally" had me laughing so hard my ribs ached.

Heidi, Some Mad Hope. Her debut novel launches next week, and it looks riveting--a family's diabetic daughter develops an insulin allergy, and their best hope for a cure puts them at odds with their small town's conservative religious community.

Robyn, Putting Pen to Paper. I enjoy hearing about Robyn's life as much as her musings on writing and faith. I'll go dust off my Breyer models now and try to stop jonesing her horses.

Shannon, Book Dreaming. I think this is her third nomination, and deservedly so. She is a terrific encourager and asks great questions on her posts that spark some lively interactions. I've met a number of my most recent followers through her.


Apparently this award stipulates that I also share ten things about myself. So here goes.

1. I'm managing editor of a scholarly journal on modernist literature. This means I get to read some pretty cool scholarly work on the greats of the 20th century: Joyce, Woolf, Faulkner, Hemingway, Pound, Yeats, Beckett. I also have to copy edit the most egregious run-on sentences imaginable. And I get lots of e-mail calling me Dr. Garver, which is my philosophy professor hubby, you silly people.

2. I've nearly forgotten how to cook, because my husband has been the chef for the past 11 years.

3. My gateway drug to writing was...Dungeons and Dragons. Eek, gasp, run for the hills! I started playing in 7th grade--it was an enrichment activity we did in the gifted program at school. I continued to play on and off over the years, up until about two years ago. I liked to cross-stitch between bouts of smiting evil.

4. I played mallet percussion in high school (xylophone, bells, marimba, etc.) and marched in the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Dublin my junior year.

5. Besides being a band geek, I was also a choir geek, art club geek, lit mag geek and theater geek.

6. Speaking of geeking out, I love geeky TV like Dr. Who (especially the most recent incarnation) Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica. However...

7. I haven't read much Sci Fi or fantasy in about 15 years. Back in the day, I was ga-ga over Frank Herbert's Dune series and Anne McCaffrey's Pern books. At the moment, I prefer realistic fiction with psychologically complex characters and relationships.

8. I've only been a bridesmaid once, but I've sung in almost a dozen weddings.

9. From just a few bars of music, I can "name that tune"--and artist--for just about any pop song from the early to mid 80s. I was a "Top 40 countdown" addict in my teen years.

10. My favorite author is Susan Howatch. Her most recent St. Benet's series (The Wonder Worker, The High Flyer, The Heartbreaker) has intense plots and deep characterization, pulls no punches about the nature of evil and our own capacity for self-deception, and delivers mind-blowingly redemptive denouements. I want to write books for teenagers that are like hers.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

I was mercilessly flogging revising chapter six last night and hit a paragraph where my MC cues up Mozart's Requiem on her iPod in what should set up a totally Emo, wallowing-in-self-pity moment. But alas, she pauses with a flashback about singing the piece in chorale.

Oh dear, dear, dear. First drafting self, what were you thinking? That no self-respecting teenager could possibly like classical music, unless it's forced upon her by a music teacher? That there has to be some explanation to make the scene at all plausible?

It looks like explain-itis struck again. A choice my gut told me was spot-on for showing my character I immediately second guessed. Insecurity attacked and explanations and justifications started pouring out. But the attempt to justify a choice often yanks my reader out of the moment and that's not good. Really, does it matter if my girl sang Mozart or not? The Pixar animated short "Jack-Jack Attack" features the "Dies irae" movement to great effect. The Requiem is a fabulous piece of music that's sad, sweet, at times poundingly angry and all about death (kinda like my novel). Enough said, right?

One of my critique groups regularly calls me out for explain-itis. "If your character's actions and thoughts and words flow out of who she is and what she wants or fears," they tell me, "let it stand. Refrain from over-explaining." However...they all write for adults. Is it really, truly safe for me to use cultural references most adults get when writing for teens? I want to trust teen readers to be able to get it or google it. Still, that niggling insecurity creeps in that I'm going over their heads.

How about you? Do you struggle with the temptation to over-explain? To what degree do we need to explain certain things to younger readers?
Wednesday, December 09, 2009 Laurel Garver
I was mercilessly flogging revising chapter six last night and hit a paragraph where my MC cues up Mozart's Requiem on her iPod in what should set up a totally Emo, wallowing-in-self-pity moment. But alas, she pauses with a flashback about singing the piece in chorale.

Oh dear, dear, dear. First drafting self, what were you thinking? That no self-respecting teenager could possibly like classical music, unless it's forced upon her by a music teacher? That there has to be some explanation to make the scene at all plausible?

It looks like explain-itis struck again. A choice my gut told me was spot-on for showing my character I immediately second guessed. Insecurity attacked and explanations and justifications started pouring out. But the attempt to justify a choice often yanks my reader out of the moment and that's not good. Really, does it matter if my girl sang Mozart or not? The Pixar animated short "Jack-Jack Attack" features the "Dies irae" movement to great effect. The Requiem is a fabulous piece of music that's sad, sweet, at times poundingly angry and all about death (kinda like my novel). Enough said, right?

One of my critique groups regularly calls me out for explain-itis. "If your character's actions and thoughts and words flow out of who she is and what she wants or fears," they tell me, "let it stand. Refrain from over-explaining." However...they all write for adults. Is it really, truly safe for me to use cultural references most adults get when writing for teens? I want to trust teen readers to be able to get it or google it. Still, that niggling insecurity creeps in that I'm going over their heads.

How about you? Do you struggle with the temptation to over-explain? To what degree do we need to explain certain things to younger readers?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Thanks to Simon over at Constant Revision for naming me a Superior Scribbler! He must've gotten wind of my love of jotting notes on ATM receipts and in el-cheapo spiral notebooks. I feel honored to be named among his fave blogs and so thankful to know him IRL. If you haven't read his blog, drop everything and go now!

With this award comes responsibility: I get to share the love with some blogs I enjoy, but, alas, only five. I thought I'd draw attention to a few you might not have heard of. Here goes, in alpha order:

Carolina at Carol's Prints writes YA fantasy and paranormal romance and blogs with feeling and wit about craft and how our imaginations run with us as writers. Plus, she's lived in Britain, which makes her all kinds of awesome in my book.

Elle Strauss - Author, writes YA chicklit and is fairly new to the blogosphere. I've enjoyed her posts on craft and her book reviews as well.

EspressoLatteMocha is a group blog of three writers, including two wonderful women from my children's critique group, Chrysa and Carmen. All three have loads of pointers for pursuing different paths toward becoming published. Carmen's Two Moon Princess was published with a traditional publisher, Chrysa started her own publishing venture, the Well Bred Book, and their friend MaryFran took the print-on-demand route.

Mindy Withrow has published five YA nonfiction books, co-written with her husband, that bring church history to life. She's an insightful reader and book reviewer and is working oh-so quietly on her first novel.

Scathing Reviewer reads widely in YA and has a no-holds-barred approach to reviewing I find refreshing. She'll be swinging by soon to do a guest Q&A that should be informative for YA writers hoping to engage even the toughest YA audience members.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009 Laurel Garver
Thanks to Simon over at Constant Revision for naming me a Superior Scribbler! He must've gotten wind of my love of jotting notes on ATM receipts and in el-cheapo spiral notebooks. I feel honored to be named among his fave blogs and so thankful to know him IRL. If you haven't read his blog, drop everything and go now!

With this award comes responsibility: I get to share the love with some blogs I enjoy, but, alas, only five. I thought I'd draw attention to a few you might not have heard of. Here goes, in alpha order:

Carolina at Carol's Prints writes YA fantasy and paranormal romance and blogs with feeling and wit about craft and how our imaginations run with us as writers. Plus, she's lived in Britain, which makes her all kinds of awesome in my book.

Elle Strauss - Author, writes YA chicklit and is fairly new to the blogosphere. I've enjoyed her posts on craft and her book reviews as well.

EspressoLatteMocha is a group blog of three writers, including two wonderful women from my children's critique group, Chrysa and Carmen. All three have loads of pointers for pursuing different paths toward becoming published. Carmen's Two Moon Princess was published with a traditional publisher, Chrysa started her own publishing venture, the Well Bred Book, and their friend MaryFran took the print-on-demand route.

Mindy Withrow has published five YA nonfiction books, co-written with her husband, that bring church history to life. She's an insightful reader and book reviewer and is working oh-so quietly on her first novel.

Scathing Reviewer reads widely in YA and has a no-holds-barred approach to reviewing I find refreshing. She'll be swinging by soon to do a guest Q&A that should be informative for YA writers hoping to engage even the toughest YA audience members.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Ah, holiday parties, when well-meaning friends inevitably ask, "how's the book coming?" and I have to admit I'm revising AGAIN.

"But I thought you were trying to find an agent."

"Well, that wasn't working out too well, so I'm doing more revisions."

"Huh. So how did you know you needed to revise more?"

How did I know? It's a great question. There's abundant advice online about how many agents one should query, and it's a very high number. I went back to the editing room after just a dozen rejections, one of which came after a request for a full. Why? Some would argue I should plow ahead and query like crazy.

Call me a cautious, hedge-your-bets kind of gal, but I didn't want to exhaust every possibility for representation when I didn't know with deep certainty that it's NOT me and my manuscript that's the problem. There are a number of reasons I didn't feel certain, which I'll explain.

1. I can't yet "elevator pitch" the story (give a pithy description in under 30 seconds). If I don't have a clearly articulated description of my own story in my mind yet, an agent isn't going to be able to pitch it to publishers, either. It suggests I have work to do still, and possibly deep flaws in the plot.

2. Writing a synopsis was unparalleled torture. Pre-epidural back labor was less painful. This tells me the most pivotal plot points aren't yet clear. It also suggests plot flaws and pacing issues. This was probably my biggest red flag.

3. I'm not happy with the comparison authors I chose to cite in my query. This tells me I need to read more widely yet. In so doing, I should gain a better idea of how to niche my work, which will affect the voice of my query and which incidents I highlight in the synopsis.

4. I discovered, after the fact, that I'd broken a genre "rule" on word count. Sure, tons of books for teens exceed 75K words, but they generally aren't first books by an unpublished author, or they're a subgenre like fantasy, where the norm is higher word counts.

5. My critique group hadn't taken a crack at the manuscript. I had 14 people read and give critiques on the first draft back in 2008, but most weren't themselves writers. I also had niggling fears that I hadn't adequately addressed some of the problems those first readers identified.

6. I'm all kinds of impatient about all kinds of things. My instinct on timing is thus suspect!

How do you approach the "Is it them or is it me?" question with some of your rejections? How do you (or will you) know when your manuscript is ready--really, truly, verily and forsooth ready?
Monday, December 07, 2009 Laurel Garver
Ah, holiday parties, when well-meaning friends inevitably ask, "how's the book coming?" and I have to admit I'm revising AGAIN.

"But I thought you were trying to find an agent."

"Well, that wasn't working out too well, so I'm doing more revisions."

"Huh. So how did you know you needed to revise more?"

How did I know? It's a great question. There's abundant advice online about how many agents one should query, and it's a very high number. I went back to the editing room after just a dozen rejections, one of which came after a request for a full. Why? Some would argue I should plow ahead and query like crazy.

Call me a cautious, hedge-your-bets kind of gal, but I didn't want to exhaust every possibility for representation when I didn't know with deep certainty that it's NOT me and my manuscript that's the problem. There are a number of reasons I didn't feel certain, which I'll explain.

1. I can't yet "elevator pitch" the story (give a pithy description in under 30 seconds). If I don't have a clearly articulated description of my own story in my mind yet, an agent isn't going to be able to pitch it to publishers, either. It suggests I have work to do still, and possibly deep flaws in the plot.

2. Writing a synopsis was unparalleled torture. Pre-epidural back labor was less painful. This tells me the most pivotal plot points aren't yet clear. It also suggests plot flaws and pacing issues. This was probably my biggest red flag.

3. I'm not happy with the comparison authors I chose to cite in my query. This tells me I need to read more widely yet. In so doing, I should gain a better idea of how to niche my work, which will affect the voice of my query and which incidents I highlight in the synopsis.

4. I discovered, after the fact, that I'd broken a genre "rule" on word count. Sure, tons of books for teens exceed 75K words, but they generally aren't first books by an unpublished author, or they're a subgenre like fantasy, where the norm is higher word counts.

5. My critique group hadn't taken a crack at the manuscript. I had 14 people read and give critiques on the first draft back in 2008, but most weren't themselves writers. I also had niggling fears that I hadn't adequately addressed some of the problems those first readers identified.

6. I'm all kinds of impatient about all kinds of things. My instinct on timing is thus suspect!

How do you approach the "Is it them or is it me?" question with some of your rejections? How do you (or will you) know when your manuscript is ready--really, truly, verily and forsooth ready?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Meeting for writer's group is always a highlight of the month. We're an exceptionally diverse group genre-wise: literary fiction, fantasy, magical realism, young adult, memoir and nonfiction features. The main connecting thread is we've had relationships in some church setting, so there's an underlying faith tradition we share, even if it doesn't come out explicitly in each person's work. Many writers would consider this diversity to be a less-than-ideal situation. They want to stay in their own genre ghetto, so to speak, where everyone knows all the rules. But sometimes sticking to the genre rules too strictly will keep your from taking risks that could make your story something truly breakthrough.

As we critiqued four very different pieces last night, one of the guys piped up,"You know, I think I learn as much or even more hearing you all critique someone else's piece as I do getting my own stuff critiqued. I realize I've been making the same mistake, or I see new ways to handle a problem or good deeper in my own work."

Amen to that, Bryan (whose Harvey Award win we toasted with great huzzahs). Being generous with your time in offering critiques will pay back dividends beyond getting a few more sets of eyes on your work. Interacting with other writers, struggling with them and building them up will shape you as a craftsperson in the rag-tag guild of writers.

What are some of the unexpected rewards you've discovered in your critique groups?
Thursday, December 03, 2009 Laurel Garver
Meeting for writer's group is always a highlight of the month. We're an exceptionally diverse group genre-wise: literary fiction, fantasy, magical realism, young adult, memoir and nonfiction features. The main connecting thread is we've had relationships in some church setting, so there's an underlying faith tradition we share, even if it doesn't come out explicitly in each person's work. Many writers would consider this diversity to be a less-than-ideal situation. They want to stay in their own genre ghetto, so to speak, where everyone knows all the rules. But sometimes sticking to the genre rules too strictly will keep your from taking risks that could make your story something truly breakthrough.

As we critiqued four very different pieces last night, one of the guys piped up,"You know, I think I learn as much or even more hearing you all critique someone else's piece as I do getting my own stuff critiqued. I realize I've been making the same mistake, or I see new ways to handle a problem or good deeper in my own work."

Amen to that, Bryan (whose Harvey Award win we toasted with great huzzahs). Being generous with your time in offering critiques will pay back dividends beyond getting a few more sets of eyes on your work. Interacting with other writers, struggling with them and building them up will shape you as a craftsperson in the rag-tag guild of writers.

What are some of the unexpected rewards you've discovered in your critique groups?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

It's been sooo hard to keep this under wraps, but one of my pieces was published today in the Winter 09-10 issue of Flashquake! "Wedding Singer" is the true story of one of my stranger experiences as a vocalist. Click the linked title to go directly to the piece.

It might be an encouragement to others of you seeking publication to know the history of this piece. It's had a very slow journey to the public eye. The wedding portrayed in the piece happened in November 1991 and I journaled it at the time.

Flash forward to the mid-1990s when I took a feature-writing journalism course in grad school. I'd turned in an early draft of this piece for an assignment--a short nonfiction piece expressing point of view. I don't recall the teacher having an especially positive response, probably due to the complete lack of "newsworthiness" of my topic. (A downside of having your employer foot the bill for your master's coursework is they dictate you study something "job-related," thus I got stuck somewhat unhappily in journalism school, where it's all about newsworthy facts.)

Flash forward yet again to last winter. I'd been cleaning out a file drawer and unearthed a folder of random grad school papers. I came across this assignment and got a chuckle out of it. I sent it to some friends on Facebook and got a huge response. The idea of submitting it for publication hadn't occurred to me, partly because it's such a short piece. Enter my friend and critique partner Simon, who got me up to speed on the whole "flash fiction" phenomenon last spring. As I experimented with writing the flash fiction form and started looking to submit pieces, I found that some magazines, like Flashquake, also take nonfiction. Remembering the positive response to the draft, I gave it a dusting down and sent it out. I got an acceptance on the first try.

Moral of the story: look through those files of random stuff every so often. You might have the germ of something publishable in there.

And speaking of Simon, I'd be remiss if I didn't share his good news: he ALSO got published in the same issue of Flashquake, and his fiction piece "Rise, Lazarus," which I'd had the privilege to critique, is one of the editors' picks! Way to go, Simon! You are an inspiration!
Tuesday, December 01, 2009 Laurel Garver
It's been sooo hard to keep this under wraps, but one of my pieces was published today in the Winter 09-10 issue of Flashquake! "Wedding Singer" is the true story of one of my stranger experiences as a vocalist. Click the linked title to go directly to the piece.

It might be an encouragement to others of you seeking publication to know the history of this piece. It's had a very slow journey to the public eye. The wedding portrayed in the piece happened in November 1991 and I journaled it at the time.

Flash forward to the mid-1990s when I took a feature-writing journalism course in grad school. I'd turned in an early draft of this piece for an assignment--a short nonfiction piece expressing point of view. I don't recall the teacher having an especially positive response, probably due to the complete lack of "newsworthiness" of my topic. (A downside of having your employer foot the bill for your master's coursework is they dictate you study something "job-related," thus I got stuck somewhat unhappily in journalism school, where it's all about newsworthy facts.)

Flash forward yet again to last winter. I'd been cleaning out a file drawer and unearthed a folder of random grad school papers. I came across this assignment and got a chuckle out of it. I sent it to some friends on Facebook and got a huge response. The idea of submitting it for publication hadn't occurred to me, partly because it's such a short piece. Enter my friend and critique partner Simon, who got me up to speed on the whole "flash fiction" phenomenon last spring. As I experimented with writing the flash fiction form and started looking to submit pieces, I found that some magazines, like Flashquake, also take nonfiction. Remembering the positive response to the draft, I gave it a dusting down and sent it out. I got an acceptance on the first try.

Moral of the story: look through those files of random stuff every so often. You might have the germ of something publishable in there.

And speaking of Simon, I'd be remiss if I didn't share his good news: he ALSO got published in the same issue of Flashquake, and his fiction piece "Rise, Lazarus," which I'd had the privilege to critique, is one of the editors' picks! Way to go, Simon! You are an inspiration!

Monday, November 30, 2009

True confessions: as a kid, I was a bit of a rebel when it came to reading. I come from a family of anti-sports book lovers. Our coffee table was always piled high with magazines. Long car trips usually meant a read-aloud trip to Narnia. Dad devoured historical fiction, especially Civil War stories. Mom loved a good mystery or character-driven mainstream story. My brother gobbled through adventure stories. Me? I preferred being out in the woods, building forts on the stream bank and imagining my own adventures.

In seventh grade, my reading teacher picked up on my rebellious reluctance to read and had a sixth sense about how pre-teens think. She called me over to her closet chock full of paperbacks one day with a "Psst. Come 'ere. I hear you take horseback riding lessons. I've got a little something you might like. Our little secret, though, okay?" She pointed me to a shelf of Walter Farely books and the addictive YA horse stories by Patsey Gray (whose stuff is now considered "rare" and "collectible").

It took just one of Grey's books to get me hooked. From there I devoured every horse book in my small-town library and even re-read the Narnia books on my own. It surprised me to no end how captivating Lewis was in my own internal voice rather than my mom's external one. Perhaps the magic was more sparkling when I didn't have the mind-numbing miles between Pennsylvania and my grandparents' place in western Montana as a soporific backdrop to the experience.

Were you a reader as a kid? What were the gateway books that drew you in to a lifetime habit of reading?
Monday, November 30, 2009 Laurel Garver
True confessions: as a kid, I was a bit of a rebel when it came to reading. I come from a family of anti-sports book lovers. Our coffee table was always piled high with magazines. Long car trips usually meant a read-aloud trip to Narnia. Dad devoured historical fiction, especially Civil War stories. Mom loved a good mystery or character-driven mainstream story. My brother gobbled through adventure stories. Me? I preferred being out in the woods, building forts on the stream bank and imagining my own adventures.

In seventh grade, my reading teacher picked up on my rebellious reluctance to read and had a sixth sense about how pre-teens think. She called me over to her closet chock full of paperbacks one day with a "Psst. Come 'ere. I hear you take horseback riding lessons. I've got a little something you might like. Our little secret, though, okay?" She pointed me to a shelf of Walter Farely books and the addictive YA horse stories by Patsey Gray (whose stuff is now considered "rare" and "collectible").

It took just one of Grey's books to get me hooked. From there I devoured every horse book in my small-town library and even re-read the Narnia books on my own. It surprised me to no end how captivating Lewis was in my own internal voice rather than my mom's external one. Perhaps the magic was more sparkling when I didn't have the mind-numbing miles between Pennsylvania and my grandparents' place in western Montana as a soporific backdrop to the experience.

Were you a reader as a kid? What were the gateway books that drew you in to a lifetime habit of reading?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Slang: do you love it? Hate it? Find you can't avoid it?

Using lots of slang can date your work, or at least your characters. That can be a slippery proposition in some genres. You can make it work for you, though. My title example, "cat's pajamas," comes from what era?

If you guessed the jazz age, you're right. Using old-timey slang in dialogue can be a fun way to suggest, for example, that Great-Granddad wasn't always a funny-smelling Jeopardy addict with dentures. Perhaps back in the day he was the popular guy every girl swooned over.

Slang can also suggest your character's ethnic background and class. How heavily you rely on it will, of course, depend on genre.

One of my favorite sites for slanging up scenes that involve British characters is the Peevish Dictionary of Slang and Colloquialisms Used in the United Kingdom (I also double-check with real people who live in Britain, just to be sure I'm on target). It's an especially useful site because it's searchable. Pop in a term like "crazy" and get useful results like "barmy," "nutter," "potty" and "totally hatstand." Even if you don't have British characters, it's an awfully entertaining site.

Do you use slang in your work? How? Any favorite sites you frequent to research it?
Friday, November 27, 2009 Laurel Garver
Slang: do you love it? Hate it? Find you can't avoid it?

Using lots of slang can date your work, or at least your characters. That can be a slippery proposition in some genres. You can make it work for you, though. My title example, "cat's pajamas," comes from what era?

If you guessed the jazz age, you're right. Using old-timey slang in dialogue can be a fun way to suggest, for example, that Great-Granddad wasn't always a funny-smelling Jeopardy addict with dentures. Perhaps back in the day he was the popular guy every girl swooned over.

Slang can also suggest your character's ethnic background and class. How heavily you rely on it will, of course, depend on genre.

One of my favorite sites for slanging up scenes that involve British characters is the Peevish Dictionary of Slang and Colloquialisms Used in the United Kingdom (I also double-check with real people who live in Britain, just to be sure I'm on target). It's an especially useful site because it's searchable. Pop in a term like "crazy" and get useful results like "barmy," "nutter," "potty" and "totally hatstand." Even if you don't have British characters, it's an awfully entertaining site.

Do you use slang in your work? How? Any favorite sites you frequent to research it?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sunday morning. I made my coffee palatable with ice cream, because we ran out of milk Saturday. A milk run was not top priority after a tiring day helping prep an apartment for a refugee family and trying to capture a stray kitten friends want to adopt. My husband returned from his jog. I finalized the "quick grocery run" list, called out my goodbyes.

"Don't go to the store," came a thin voice from upstairs. "I don't feel well."

I jogged up the steps. "Are you nauseous or something?"

My husband laid in bed with the laptop open, looking at cartoon chests. "It's my...I think it's my heart." He pointed to an image labeled "angina" and described the radiating pain, the sense of suffocation. I thought my eyeballs just might pop their sockets. He's only 40! I ran for the phone, called his doctor's office, worked through the endless menus until we got a live human, then handed over the phone. My husband described his symptoms to the doc-on-call and she urged him to take an aspirin and go to the ER.

After hustling our slow-moving 7-yo to dress and pack something to keep her occupied, we headed off to the hospital. In the next anxious hours, while my husband endured countless tests, I sat in the waiting room being as boringly normal as I could. I put finishing touches on my lesson for youth group that evening, admired C's drawing efforts and doled out snacks. I pushed the mute groans of prayer into the back of my head, off my face where they would terrify my child.

As the day progressed, we learned little of what had actually happened inside my husband's chest that morning. The "event" remained unlabeled. Cause, unknown. They would keep him overnight for observation. Run more and more and more tests.

Lunchtime was approaching. The milkless fridge at home called. My hubby would need an overnight bag packed and more things to read. So off we went, my daughter and I, to tend to the mundane. Food in the belly, groceries, clean socks and pajamas and toothpaste.

I'd forgotten how grueling the ordinary can seem. How anxiety can come not only from a health scare, but also from competing obligations and desires. How can I be the wife my husband needs and the mom my kid needs and the youth leader my teen girls need? And what of the lean, hungry lamb in me with her own needs, like hearing the voice of her shepherd, eating from his table every single week?

This strange mishmash of feelings I had to process opened my eyes to the many faces of courage. That at times it looks like asking the produce guy to check the storeroom for pomegranates because your kid needs to know you hear her, are for her, even though taking the time meant forgoing something I wanted (i.e. being with the youth group kids I adore). Later that evening, as we ate a quick bite in the hospital cafeteria, my daughter sang to herself as she assembled her tuna on rye. She felt safe. Wasn't worried.

And it hit me: this is what it feels like to walk in the shoes of my novel's antagonist, the mother my protagonist misreads again and again. Just because she won't publicly break down, it doesn't mean she doesn't feel every "barb and arrow of outrageous fortune." She has courage that looks like affect. Courage that's food in the belly, groceries, clean socks and pajamas and toothpaste.

Has life ever given you insight into your story's "bad guy"? How did it feel for you?
Tuesday, November 24, 2009 Laurel Garver
Sunday morning. I made my coffee palatable with ice cream, because we ran out of milk Saturday. A milk run was not top priority after a tiring day helping prep an apartment for a refugee family and trying to capture a stray kitten friends want to adopt. My husband returned from his jog. I finalized the "quick grocery run" list, called out my goodbyes.

"Don't go to the store," came a thin voice from upstairs. "I don't feel well."

I jogged up the steps. "Are you nauseous or something?"

My husband laid in bed with the laptop open, looking at cartoon chests. "It's my...I think it's my heart." He pointed to an image labeled "angina" and described the radiating pain, the sense of suffocation. I thought my eyeballs just might pop their sockets. He's only 40! I ran for the phone, called his doctor's office, worked through the endless menus until we got a live human, then handed over the phone. My husband described his symptoms to the doc-on-call and she urged him to take an aspirin and go to the ER.

After hustling our slow-moving 7-yo to dress and pack something to keep her occupied, we headed off to the hospital. In the next anxious hours, while my husband endured countless tests, I sat in the waiting room being as boringly normal as I could. I put finishing touches on my lesson for youth group that evening, admired C's drawing efforts and doled out snacks. I pushed the mute groans of prayer into the back of my head, off my face where they would terrify my child.

As the day progressed, we learned little of what had actually happened inside my husband's chest that morning. The "event" remained unlabeled. Cause, unknown. They would keep him overnight for observation. Run more and more and more tests.

Lunchtime was approaching. The milkless fridge at home called. My hubby would need an overnight bag packed and more things to read. So off we went, my daughter and I, to tend to the mundane. Food in the belly, groceries, clean socks and pajamas and toothpaste.

I'd forgotten how grueling the ordinary can seem. How anxiety can come not only from a health scare, but also from competing obligations and desires. How can I be the wife my husband needs and the mom my kid needs and the youth leader my teen girls need? And what of the lean, hungry lamb in me with her own needs, like hearing the voice of her shepherd, eating from his table every single week?

This strange mishmash of feelings I had to process opened my eyes to the many faces of courage. That at times it looks like asking the produce guy to check the storeroom for pomegranates because your kid needs to know you hear her, are for her, even though taking the time meant forgoing something I wanted (i.e. being with the youth group kids I adore). Later that evening, as we ate a quick bite in the hospital cafeteria, my daughter sang to herself as she assembled her tuna on rye. She felt safe. Wasn't worried.

And it hit me: this is what it feels like to walk in the shoes of my novel's antagonist, the mother my protagonist misreads again and again. Just because she won't publicly break down, it doesn't mean she doesn't feel every "barb and arrow of outrageous fortune." She has courage that looks like affect. Courage that's food in the belly, groceries, clean socks and pajamas and toothpaste.

Has life ever given you insight into your story's "bad guy"? How did it feel for you?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Occasionally my library runs will open up some fantastic new world, or in this case, a new continent. My penchant for titles with religious resonances (in the off chance I’ll find someone publishing work like mine) led me to works by some fabulous YA writers from Down Under. The colorful slang alone will make you love the Aussies.

I’ve included for review two Aussie YA books from my library. If you’ve come across other quality Aussie YA that’s now available in the US, please drop me a note in the comments.

Finding Grace by Alyssa Brugman

College freshman Rachel takes a job as a live-in caregiver for a brain-injured woman, Grace, with an elegant home, weirdo neighbors and greedy sisters. Rachel uncovers a box of Grace’s belongings that hints at unfinished business. She soon finds herself drawn into the mystery of this strange, silent woman she bathes, dresses and feeds like a doll.

Interspersed are Rachel’s escapades interacting with Grace’s family and neighbors, and trying to fit in and find love on campus. It’s an engaging and enjoyable read, LOL funny at places, touching at others. Brugman creates a sparkling narrative voice that I found delightful. She definitely piqued my interest in reading other Aussie authors.

I was a little disappointed that a few of the subplots were simply dropped at the end, but knowing the austere word-count limits of YA publishing, I wonder if the author was forced to cut.


The Sweet, Terrible, Glorious Year I Truly, Completely Lost It
by Lisa Shanahan

This novel’s wordy title, bubble-gum cover photo and weird back-cover blurb with unfamiliar slang like “chucking a birkett” has probably scared off many an American reader. Had I not been on the prowl for Aussie YA, I might have taken a pass on what proved to be one of very my favorite reads of 2009.

This story of a shy teen, Gemma, who finds her voice in theater is both hilarious and deeply touching. Amidst the moments of zany comedy (really far-out farce at times), there are some beautifully lyrical scenes. The romantic subplot with the boy from “the wrong side of the tracks” was exceptionally well done—subtle and thought-provoking. Through Gemma’s interactions with Raven, one of the notorious, thuggish DeHead boys, Shanahan explores the socio-economic divide and exposes how community prejudice makes it exceptionally hard for a kid from a "bad" family to rise above his upbringing.
Friday, November 20, 2009 Laurel Garver
Occasionally my library runs will open up some fantastic new world, or in this case, a new continent. My penchant for titles with religious resonances (in the off chance I’ll find someone publishing work like mine) led me to works by some fabulous YA writers from Down Under. The colorful slang alone will make you love the Aussies.

I’ve included for review two Aussie YA books from my library. If you’ve come across other quality Aussie YA that’s now available in the US, please drop me a note in the comments.

Finding Grace by Alyssa Brugman

College freshman Rachel takes a job as a live-in caregiver for a brain-injured woman, Grace, with an elegant home, weirdo neighbors and greedy sisters. Rachel uncovers a box of Grace’s belongings that hints at unfinished business. She soon finds herself drawn into the mystery of this strange, silent woman she bathes, dresses and feeds like a doll.

Interspersed are Rachel’s escapades interacting with Grace’s family and neighbors, and trying to fit in and find love on campus. It’s an engaging and enjoyable read, LOL funny at places, touching at others. Brugman creates a sparkling narrative voice that I found delightful. She definitely piqued my interest in reading other Aussie authors.

I was a little disappointed that a few of the subplots were simply dropped at the end, but knowing the austere word-count limits of YA publishing, I wonder if the author was forced to cut.


The Sweet, Terrible, Glorious Year I Truly, Completely Lost It
by Lisa Shanahan

This novel’s wordy title, bubble-gum cover photo and weird back-cover blurb with unfamiliar slang like “chucking a birkett” has probably scared off many an American reader. Had I not been on the prowl for Aussie YA, I might have taken a pass on what proved to be one of very my favorite reads of 2009.

This story of a shy teen, Gemma, who finds her voice in theater is both hilarious and deeply touching. Amidst the moments of zany comedy (really far-out farce at times), there are some beautifully lyrical scenes. The romantic subplot with the boy from “the wrong side of the tracks” was exceptionally well done—subtle and thought-provoking. Through Gemma’s interactions with Raven, one of the notorious, thuggish DeHead boys, Shanahan explores the socio-economic divide and exposes how community prejudice makes it exceptionally hard for a kid from a "bad" family to rise above his upbringing.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"I am a great surmiser, a bellows, blowing life into people and things, though they already have lives of their own."
--John Hazard. "Signage." South Dakota Review 46.4 (Winter 2008): 6.

One of the luscious perks of my job editing a scholarly journal is the freebie lit mags that arrive each season through a journal exchange program. I'm more apt to thumb through the latest issue of Ploughshares or The Southern Review, but the less prestigious journals like SDR have their gems as well (even if their production cycle is an entire year behind schedule).

I had to share the opening quote above, because I think it captures so well the storyteller brain at work. The more I write, the more I imagine stories everywhere: in every gum-chomping co-ed on the train platform, every bored security guard I pass (and now wave to), every clerk who rings up my purchases. The color of their umbrellas, condition of their fingernails, day-dreamy expressions suggest character traits and personal history. Before I know it, my brain has pumped fictional life into random strangers. I'm sure I'm not alone in experiencing this phenomenon.

My question is, what do you do with it? I tend to see it as a harmless diversion most of the time, a way to pass the time waiting for the 8:03 to arrive. Have your people-watching fictions ever become something more? Do you jot them in a notebook? Turn them into whole stories?
Thursday, November 19, 2009 Laurel Garver
"I am a great surmiser, a bellows, blowing life into people and things, though they already have lives of their own."
--John Hazard. "Signage." South Dakota Review 46.4 (Winter 2008): 6.

One of the luscious perks of my job editing a scholarly journal is the freebie lit mags that arrive each season through a journal exchange program. I'm more apt to thumb through the latest issue of Ploughshares or The Southern Review, but the less prestigious journals like SDR have their gems as well (even if their production cycle is an entire year behind schedule).

I had to share the opening quote above, because I think it captures so well the storyteller brain at work. The more I write, the more I imagine stories everywhere: in every gum-chomping co-ed on the train platform, every bored security guard I pass (and now wave to), every clerk who rings up my purchases. The color of their umbrellas, condition of their fingernails, day-dreamy expressions suggest character traits and personal history. Before I know it, my brain has pumped fictional life into random strangers. I'm sure I'm not alone in experiencing this phenomenon.

My question is, what do you do with it? I tend to see it as a harmless diversion most of the time, a way to pass the time waiting for the 8:03 to arrive. Have your people-watching fictions ever become something more? Do you jot them in a notebook? Turn them into whole stories?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Yesterday, I hit a point revising when I felt I'm losing the love for the story. Does this ever happen to you?


It was time to recharge. Nothing does it for me like a library run (I'd love to say a bookstore run, but after replacing a water heater, well...bound paper treats will not be in the offing for a while). At times like this, I need some literary Oreos. Double stuffed. Something cute, light and cheerful, like this sweet YA romance, In Your Room (2008) by Jordanna Fraiberg.


The inventive premise hooked me: a teen boy and girl strike up a long-distance relationship when their families house-swap and they have to spend the summer in one another's rooms. Told from alternating points-of-view (limited third person) plus e-mail and IM exchanges, the story clips along at a nice pace. I liked especially how Molly develops over the course of the book. Her yearning to become a fashion designer moves from a secret passion to something she throws herself into as she works hard to develop her skills. Charlie's voice is well drawn, though we don't get quite the same level of detail about how he spends his summer or how it changes him.


There are hints throughout of deeper psychological issues: Molly's grieving her father's death 10 years prior and adjusting to her step-dad, Charlie's struggle to be real and honest with girls when he lives in a female-dominated world (a two-mom household with twin sisters). The potential to go deeply angsty was certainly there, but Fraiberg's lighter touch was a breath of fresh air for me, and a good reminder to look for opportunities to lighten up my own work a little.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009 Laurel Garver

Yesterday, I hit a point revising when I felt I'm losing the love for the story. Does this ever happen to you?


It was time to recharge. Nothing does it for me like a library run (I'd love to say a bookstore run, but after replacing a water heater, well...bound paper treats will not be in the offing for a while). At times like this, I need some literary Oreos. Double stuffed. Something cute, light and cheerful, like this sweet YA romance, In Your Room (2008) by Jordanna Fraiberg.


The inventive premise hooked me: a teen boy and girl strike up a long-distance relationship when their families house-swap and they have to spend the summer in one another's rooms. Told from alternating points-of-view (limited third person) plus e-mail and IM exchanges, the story clips along at a nice pace. I liked especially how Molly develops over the course of the book. Her yearning to become a fashion designer moves from a secret passion to something she throws herself into as she works hard to develop her skills. Charlie's voice is well drawn, though we don't get quite the same level of detail about how he spends his summer or how it changes him.


There are hints throughout of deeper psychological issues: Molly's grieving her father's death 10 years prior and adjusting to her step-dad, Charlie's struggle to be real and honest with girls when he lives in a female-dominated world (a two-mom household with twin sisters). The potential to go deeply angsty was certainly there, but Fraiberg's lighter touch was a breath of fresh air for me, and a good reminder to look for opportunities to lighten up my own work a little.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I'm in the process of cutting 14,000 words out of my manuscript, which obviously requires more than simple line edits. Big, honking chunks must go: characters, subplots, dragging scenes, entire chapters. My main problems seem to be a story that started in the wrong place (so long, chapter 1!) and a saggy, draggy middle. But the solution isn't simply removing material--how simple that would be! Instead, I need to replace bloated sections with tightly-written, plot-moving NEW scenes.

Identifying problem areas was the first step. I bracketed a section of five chapters in which the scenes don't pull their weight. And then? KA-BOOM!

What do I mean by "Ka-boom"? Figurative TNT: I quickly dismantle a big section into components, some of which may still be usable. Like Mary Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein, I pick through an array of parts and sew together the strongest to create a new creature. Most often in my case it's settings/scenarios that stay, while the actions or actors or conversational tone or information revealed may need to change significantly. Zippy bits of dialogue and beautiful descriptions from otherwise plot-slowing scenes can find greater vitality when grafted into a new location.

Yes, revision sometimes requires "killing your darlings." Other times, it involves radical surgery or even "Frankensteining" (if I may stretch a strained metaphor) to give you darlings--and your work as a whole--health and vigor.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009 Laurel Garver
I'm in the process of cutting 14,000 words out of my manuscript, which obviously requires more than simple line edits. Big, honking chunks must go: characters, subplots, dragging scenes, entire chapters. My main problems seem to be a story that started in the wrong place (so long, chapter 1!) and a saggy, draggy middle. But the solution isn't simply removing material--how simple that would be! Instead, I need to replace bloated sections with tightly-written, plot-moving NEW scenes.

Identifying problem areas was the first step. I bracketed a section of five chapters in which the scenes don't pull their weight. And then? KA-BOOM!

What do I mean by "Ka-boom"? Figurative TNT: I quickly dismantle a big section into components, some of which may still be usable. Like Mary Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein, I pick through an array of parts and sew together the strongest to create a new creature. Most often in my case it's settings/scenarios that stay, while the actions or actors or conversational tone or information revealed may need to change significantly. Zippy bits of dialogue and beautiful descriptions from otherwise plot-slowing scenes can find greater vitality when grafted into a new location.

Yes, revision sometimes requires "killing your darlings." Other times, it involves radical surgery or even "Frankensteining" (if I may stretch a strained metaphor) to give you darlings--and your work as a whole--health and vigor.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sometime this morning, after I'd squeezed in a shower and a couple loads of wash, we realized the water heater had sprung a huge leak. While my hubby shop-vacc'ed up 40 gallons of water and I called the plumber, I got thinking how so many of these home catastrophes strike without any warning whatsoever. Is there an extent to which it's okay to toss this sort of random breakdown disaster into a story without any foreshadowing? Is it realistic, lending verisimilitude, or artistically lazy, a deus ex machina sort of cheap trick?
Saturday, November 14, 2009 Laurel Garver
Sometime this morning, after I'd squeezed in a shower and a couple loads of wash, we realized the water heater had sprung a huge leak. While my hubby shop-vacc'ed up 40 gallons of water and I called the plumber, I got thinking how so many of these home catastrophes strike without any warning whatsoever. Is there an extent to which it's okay to toss this sort of random breakdown disaster into a story without any foreshadowing? Is it realistic, lending verisimilitude, or artistically lazy, a deus ex machina sort of cheap trick?

Friday, November 13, 2009

"Write what you know" sometimes spills into our approach to scene writing. We stick to the scene format that feels most comfortable to write, whether that's action, dialogue, description, narrative summary or internal monologue. This, my friends, is not good. Can we say "one trick pony"?

Have you picked up a book with too much dialogue and thought, "Would these people shut up already and DO something?" or read something that's action, action, action and felt completely exhausted within 10 pages? Presenting scene after scene in exactly the same manner can become tiresome to read. It can also hamstring your pacing. Tension that's never released tends to fizzle rather than build.

Self-editing for Fiction Writers delves into this particular problem well. The authors' remedy? Mix it up. Avoid putting the same scene format back-to-back. I'd say perhaps an exception would be when there's a chapter break.

Example time. I'm revising a chapter that opens with a dialogue scene. (And by golly am I entirely too addicted to dialogue scenes.) In it, the MC's grandfather drops a large family secret in her lap. Narrating the event would have sucked tension, so the dialogue is staying. My problem is the follow-up scene. What I can't do is more dialogue, at least not a scene that's driven by it. But alas, what I've drafted is indeed dialogue. My fix? Narrative summary. Not telling it in flashback, but reporting the event in story "real time" (in my case, first person present). I also plan to include some action here to pick up the pace. If I wanted to slow the pace, my best option would be an interior monologue section. Slower yet? Interior monologue with flashbacks.

Narrative summary doesn't come naturally for me. But craft trumps comfort. The more I bang away at it, read writers who do it well, the more the scenes flow.

So, my friends, get out the carrot or the whip, but by golly, teach that pony some new tricks.
Friday, November 13, 2009 Laurel Garver
"Write what you know" sometimes spills into our approach to scene writing. We stick to the scene format that feels most comfortable to write, whether that's action, dialogue, description, narrative summary or internal monologue. This, my friends, is not good. Can we say "one trick pony"?

Have you picked up a book with too much dialogue and thought, "Would these people shut up already and DO something?" or read something that's action, action, action and felt completely exhausted within 10 pages? Presenting scene after scene in exactly the same manner can become tiresome to read. It can also hamstring your pacing. Tension that's never released tends to fizzle rather than build.

Self-editing for Fiction Writers delves into this particular problem well. The authors' remedy? Mix it up. Avoid putting the same scene format back-to-back. I'd say perhaps an exception would be when there's a chapter break.

Example time. I'm revising a chapter that opens with a dialogue scene. (And by golly am I entirely too addicted to dialogue scenes.) In it, the MC's grandfather drops a large family secret in her lap. Narrating the event would have sucked tension, so the dialogue is staying. My problem is the follow-up scene. What I can't do is more dialogue, at least not a scene that's driven by it. But alas, what I've drafted is indeed dialogue. My fix? Narrative summary. Not telling it in flashback, but reporting the event in story "real time" (in my case, first person present). I also plan to include some action here to pick up the pace. If I wanted to slow the pace, my best option would be an interior monologue section. Slower yet? Interior monologue with flashbacks.

Narrative summary doesn't come naturally for me. But craft trumps comfort. The more I bang away at it, read writers who do it well, the more the scenes flow.

So, my friends, get out the carrot or the whip, but by golly, teach that pony some new tricks.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I'm a bit burned out on revisions after several days of long slog, so I thought for fun I'd dig out something completely different to blog about. A poem. An old poem written during my brief career in the MA English/Creative writing program at Michigan State, polished and published a few years later.

Not Quite Away

Yesterday
all my troubles seemed so far
across the street my best friend
or close enough stepped on her
gerbil squish
She was walking it on a leash
like a dog pretty dumb I think
probably she'd forgot everything else and
burst into Tomorrow
I love ya tomorrow you're
only a day
around the block
the Bartelli boys who like to stick
crawly things into people's lunches
bought the guts for 50 ¢ &
2 red rubber bands & a swirly
marble all stuffed into
her hand too late for me
to yell cooties she smiled toothy
and wiped scritch scratch
her bloody shoe in the grass

© 1996 About Such Things

As you might guess, I was experimenting on a number of fronts here: interpolating song lyrics, breathless stream-of-consciousness style, tone/subject dissonance and finally voice. You could say my choice was somewhat in reaction to the mop-pushing megalomaniac in my poetry class who loved to use allusions to the Gilgamesh epic, among other pretensions. Ugh. Being around him made me want to write real, to get past all the grad school trying-to-sound-important BS. What could be less important-sounding than some silly kid story? So that's what I did. I worked from of a true childhood tale a high school friend had shared about one of her neighbors who thought it would be fun to walk her hamster on a leash, then inadvertently killed it. I vaguely recall that money had been exchanged to use the rodent remains for some ghoulish purpose.

My initial inclination for telling this had been to take a knowing tone, looking on this scenario with adult eyes. But it felt entirely wrong. I realized that if I was going to be true to this story, I needed to enter into the child world--seeing the neighbor girl as the kid I imagined she was, impulsive and apt to burst into song. I mined memories for details, like what the truly evil kids did for fun. Instead of 30 pieces of silver, the beloved pet is sold off for kid treasures--the sorts of things I admired in my parents' desk drawers, on my siblings' closet floors. By using onomatopoetic words, I tried make the gore concrete but not sensationalized.

It's an interesting escape, to dip into your well of memories, to set cynicism aside and speak again as a child.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009 Laurel Garver
I'm a bit burned out on revisions after several days of long slog, so I thought for fun I'd dig out something completely different to blog about. A poem. An old poem written during my brief career in the MA English/Creative writing program at Michigan State, polished and published a few years later.

Not Quite Away

Yesterday
all my troubles seemed so far
across the street my best friend
or close enough stepped on her
gerbil squish
She was walking it on a leash
like a dog pretty dumb I think
probably she'd forgot everything else and
burst into Tomorrow
I love ya tomorrow you're
only a day
around the block
the Bartelli boys who like to stick
crawly things into people's lunches
bought the guts for 50 ¢ &
2 red rubber bands & a swirly
marble all stuffed into
her hand too late for me
to yell cooties she smiled toothy
and wiped scritch scratch
her bloody shoe in the grass

© 1996 About Such Things

As you might guess, I was experimenting on a number of fronts here: interpolating song lyrics, breathless stream-of-consciousness style, tone/subject dissonance and finally voice. You could say my choice was somewhat in reaction to the mop-pushing megalomaniac in my poetry class who loved to use allusions to the Gilgamesh epic, among other pretensions. Ugh. Being around him made me want to write real, to get past all the grad school trying-to-sound-important BS. What could be less important-sounding than some silly kid story? So that's what I did. I worked from of a true childhood tale a high school friend had shared about one of her neighbors who thought it would be fun to walk her hamster on a leash, then inadvertently killed it. I vaguely recall that money had been exchanged to use the rodent remains for some ghoulish purpose.

My initial inclination for telling this had been to take a knowing tone, looking on this scenario with adult eyes. But it felt entirely wrong. I realized that if I was going to be true to this story, I needed to enter into the child world--seeing the neighbor girl as the kid I imagined she was, impulsive and apt to burst into song. I mined memories for details, like what the truly evil kids did for fun. Instead of 30 pieces of silver, the beloved pet is sold off for kid treasures--the sorts of things I admired in my parents' desk drawers, on my siblings' closet floors. By using onomatopoetic words, I tried make the gore concrete but not sensationalized.

It's an interesting escape, to dip into your well of memories, to set cynicism aside and speak again as a child.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In writing early drafts, even plodders tend to skim the emotional surface of their scenes. One's initial focus is on pushing the plot forward and grasping the first burst of emotional play in character interactions. Usually one can retain the protagonist's core motivation (what Sandra Scofield calls the "pulse") as other characters interact with her. That's fine as far as it goes. But when you start passing your draft around for critique, expect your readers to find your protagonist flat and unrealistically single-minded. Because when are any of us of one mind about anything? Emotion is always a mixed bag. Always.

This is where revision comes to the rescue. On second draft, it's essential to go deeper in every scene. Look especially for places where you or your critique partners feel the emotion isn't quite what it could or should be. The reactions are flat, melodramatic or don't ring true in some way. Mark and label them, then set the manuscript aside.

Now pull out those character profiles you made while laying the groundwork of your first draft. Look at you character's back story, and identify her core values--things she stands for--and her deepest fears. Usually these things are connected. Always-poised characters, for example, often have some point of shame in their background. They value reputation and fear exposure. These drives will color every interaction in a story, even if only tangentially.

From these character sheets, brainstorm past the surface desire/motivation in the scene you need to revise. In a scene I'm currently revising, my character wants to keep a secret from a friend. But what else does she want? Well, she wants to maintain the friendship, to reassure her friend, to have her friend's support and love and acceptance. Immediately, I see inner turmoil for my protagonist--conflicting desires to conceal and reveal. Her back story will determine which desire takes precedence. In my protagonist's case, concealment is all that's ever been modeled in her family.

What about the friend? She wants information, wants the protagonist to open up, wants to be trusted, wants the protagonist to be free of hang-ups, wants the protagonist to stop game playing. Her back story as an extrovert ringleader in a boisterous family of six kids will make her more likely to push hard against the protagonist's reticence. She'll thus struggle with conflicting desires to know NOW and to reassure/support with gentleness.

Back to the manuscript. Look at those weak spots again. Where could the characters' mixed motives and mixed emotions express themselves? And how would they express themselves?
Nancy Kress's book Character, Emotion and Viewpoint notes some helpful techniques.

Show
-bodily reactions (muscles tightening, tears welling, etc.)
-actions (punching the wall, tidying a mess, high-fiving, etc.)
-dialogue that expresses the emotion without labeling it ("Hotdiggity! That's awesome!" rather than "I feel so excited for you, Jim.")
-character thoughts rendered like internal dialogue (expressing emotion rather than labeling it, but without the quotes)
-snippets of back story that shed light on the character's emotion or motivation

In the case of mixed emotion and conflicting motives, it's a matter of layering techniques. A character might inwardly cringe while outwardly acting nonchalant. He might say something supportive while his body reacts with anger, like clenched fists or a surge of heat.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009 Laurel Garver
In writing early drafts, even plodders tend to skim the emotional surface of their scenes. One's initial focus is on pushing the plot forward and grasping the first burst of emotional play in character interactions. Usually one can retain the protagonist's core motivation (what Sandra Scofield calls the "pulse") as other characters interact with her. That's fine as far as it goes. But when you start passing your draft around for critique, expect your readers to find your protagonist flat and unrealistically single-minded. Because when are any of us of one mind about anything? Emotion is always a mixed bag. Always.

This is where revision comes to the rescue. On second draft, it's essential to go deeper in every scene. Look especially for places where you or your critique partners feel the emotion isn't quite what it could or should be. The reactions are flat, melodramatic or don't ring true in some way. Mark and label them, then set the manuscript aside.

Now pull out those character profiles you made while laying the groundwork of your first draft. Look at you character's back story, and identify her core values--things she stands for--and her deepest fears. Usually these things are connected. Always-poised characters, for example, often have some point of shame in their background. They value reputation and fear exposure. These drives will color every interaction in a story, even if only tangentially.

From these character sheets, brainstorm past the surface desire/motivation in the scene you need to revise. In a scene I'm currently revising, my character wants to keep a secret from a friend. But what else does she want? Well, she wants to maintain the friendship, to reassure her friend, to have her friend's support and love and acceptance. Immediately, I see inner turmoil for my protagonist--conflicting desires to conceal and reveal. Her back story will determine which desire takes precedence. In my protagonist's case, concealment is all that's ever been modeled in her family.

What about the friend? She wants information, wants the protagonist to open up, wants to be trusted, wants the protagonist to be free of hang-ups, wants the protagonist to stop game playing. Her back story as an extrovert ringleader in a boisterous family of six kids will make her more likely to push hard against the protagonist's reticence. She'll thus struggle with conflicting desires to know NOW and to reassure/support with gentleness.

Back to the manuscript. Look at those weak spots again. Where could the characters' mixed motives and mixed emotions express themselves? And how would they express themselves?
Nancy Kress's book Character, Emotion and Viewpoint notes some helpful techniques.

Show
-bodily reactions (muscles tightening, tears welling, etc.)
-actions (punching the wall, tidying a mess, high-fiving, etc.)
-dialogue that expresses the emotion without labeling it ("Hotdiggity! That's awesome!" rather than "I feel so excited for you, Jim.")
-character thoughts rendered like internal dialogue (expressing emotion rather than labeling it, but without the quotes)
-snippets of back story that shed light on the character's emotion or motivation

In the case of mixed emotion and conflicting motives, it's a matter of layering techniques. A character might inwardly cringe while outwardly acting nonchalant. He might say something supportive while his body reacts with anger, like clenched fists or a surge of heat.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Literary agent Anna Webman of Curtis Brown Ltd. will be judging a contest on the Query Tracker Blog this coming week. She wants to see the first five pages plus a synopsis of your YA novel. This contest is for completed Young Adult novels only. (All the genres that fall under the YA umbrella.)

The contest will open tomorrow, November 10th, at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (6:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.)You will need to submit your first five pages AND a single-spaced one-page synopsis. Submissions will be accepted through the official form on the QT main site ONLY. Only one entry per person will be accepted. Only the first 70 entries will be accepted.
For more information about the contest, visit the QueryTracker Blog.

If you have a manuscript ready to market, the race is on to be one of those 70. Good luck!
Monday, November 09, 2009 Laurel Garver
Literary agent Anna Webman of Curtis Brown Ltd. will be judging a contest on the Query Tracker Blog this coming week. She wants to see the first five pages plus a synopsis of your YA novel. This contest is for completed Young Adult novels only. (All the genres that fall under the YA umbrella.)

The contest will open tomorrow, November 10th, at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (6:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.)You will need to submit your first five pages AND a single-spaced one-page synopsis. Submissions will be accepted through the official form on the QT main site ONLY. Only one entry per person will be accepted. Only the first 70 entries will be accepted.
For more information about the contest, visit the QueryTracker Blog.

If you have a manuscript ready to market, the race is on to be one of those 70. Good luck!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Last night, we took our small person to meet some favorite authors at kid lit event in Haverford. This place was so packed, we could barely squeeze in the door. This is the sort of scenario I usually avoid like the ebola ward. But to my great delight, one of the first faces I saw was the newest addition to Milestones Critique Circle, Kathye. She gave me a huge hug and promptly marched us directly to her friend, Judy Schachner, author/illustrator of the delightful Skippyjon Jones books. While C. watched in wide-eyed awe, Judy whipped up a quick sketch of her story's protagonist and signed with a flourish. When we pulled out a somewhat dog-eared, well loved older title, Judy graciously did the same. After whispering her thanks, C. nipped into a corner of the store, layed open the custom-signed pages and savored these special drawings made just for her.

Our early success, thanks to Kathye, gave us the extra courage to press through the crowd in search of two-time Caldecott medalist David Weisner. He adorned C.'s copy of Sector 7 with a cute anthropomorphized cloud that greeted her. More wide eyes and wows.

A couple lessons really hit home in this experience. First, exploring the webs of relationships around you will lead to good things. And second, if put yourself out there just a little, the rewards snowball. I got to have this wonderful experience with my kid because I attended a $10 writer's workshop offered by a local magazine last summer (which someone in my church network had alerted me to). There I met the Milestones Critique Circle coordinator, who invited me to visit the group. I nervously went, and found surprising welcome there. Meeting Kathye, and through her, Judy Schachner, is only the beginning of the good things to be found knowing these great women, I'm sure. In time, my webs of relationships may prove useful to them, too.

I know most of us who write are introverts and a bit neurotic. I carry the additional baggage of being the "pesky" youngest of five kids. Believe me when I say putting myself out there to connect with other writers feels like returning to the junior high cafeteria with my shoelaces tied together. It's important to remember that most other writers feel exactly the same. So mumble that hello and see where it leads.
Saturday, November 07, 2009 Laurel Garver
Last night, we took our small person to meet some favorite authors at kid lit event in Haverford. This place was so packed, we could barely squeeze in the door. This is the sort of scenario I usually avoid like the ebola ward. But to my great delight, one of the first faces I saw was the newest addition to Milestones Critique Circle, Kathye. She gave me a huge hug and promptly marched us directly to her friend, Judy Schachner, author/illustrator of the delightful Skippyjon Jones books. While C. watched in wide-eyed awe, Judy whipped up a quick sketch of her story's protagonist and signed with a flourish. When we pulled out a somewhat dog-eared, well loved older title, Judy graciously did the same. After whispering her thanks, C. nipped into a corner of the store, layed open the custom-signed pages and savored these special drawings made just for her.

Our early success, thanks to Kathye, gave us the extra courage to press through the crowd in search of two-time Caldecott medalist David Weisner. He adorned C.'s copy of Sector 7 with a cute anthropomorphized cloud that greeted her. More wide eyes and wows.

A couple lessons really hit home in this experience. First, exploring the webs of relationships around you will lead to good things. And second, if put yourself out there just a little, the rewards snowball. I got to have this wonderful experience with my kid because I attended a $10 writer's workshop offered by a local magazine last summer (which someone in my church network had alerted me to). There I met the Milestones Critique Circle coordinator, who invited me to visit the group. I nervously went, and found surprising welcome there. Meeting Kathye, and through her, Judy Schachner, is only the beginning of the good things to be found knowing these great women, I'm sure. In time, my webs of relationships may prove useful to them, too.

I know most of us who write are introverts and a bit neurotic. I carry the additional baggage of being the "pesky" youngest of five kids. Believe me when I say putting myself out there to connect with other writers feels like returning to the junior high cafeteria with my shoelaces tied together. It's important to remember that most other writers feel exactly the same. So mumble that hello and see where it leads.

Friday, November 06, 2009


Thanks to the SEPTA strike, my hubby and I will not be taking a group of his college students via subway to First Friday in Philly's Old City gallery district tonight. Instead, we'll be bringing our cute 7-yo to meet her favorite authors, Judy Schachter and David Weisner, at a fabulous children's lit event in Haverford. I also hope to meet the elusive Jennifer Hubbard, who's part of a children's/YA critique group I started attending in August.


Children's Book World in Haverford hosts this event for Philly-area authors and illustrators each year. If you write for kids or teens, this is a great networking event. Or if you happen to have avid young readers in your home, bring them out to meet real, live creative folks who make their world so much more vibrant.


Friday, November 06, 2009 Laurel Garver

Thanks to the SEPTA strike, my hubby and I will not be taking a group of his college students via subway to First Friday in Philly's Old City gallery district tonight. Instead, we'll be bringing our cute 7-yo to meet her favorite authors, Judy Schachter and David Weisner, at a fabulous children's lit event in Haverford. I also hope to meet the elusive Jennifer Hubbard, who's part of a children's/YA critique group I started attending in August.


Children's Book World in Haverford hosts this event for Philly-area authors and illustrators each year. If you write for kids or teens, this is a great networking event. Or if you happen to have avid young readers in your home, bring them out to meet real, live creative folks who make their world so much more vibrant.


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Revision is my thing. I work as an editor, after all. Give me a stack of pages and a pen and I'm happy as a clam. But put me in front of a blank screen? Ai-yi-yi.

As a result of my blank screen dread, I do most of my rough drafting in those el-cheapo spiral notebooks you can get 10 for $1 at a grocery store back-to-school sale. The el-cheapo factor seems to cry for messy lists, half-baked plot ideas, random musings that may or may not end up working their way into usable prose. The downside of this dubious system is that I sometimes spend as much time trying to find a nugget as I spent writing it in the first place. Time stealer=bad news for this working mom trying to squeeze in some writing.

I know I need to get over this blank screen phobia, and pronto. One of my critique group friends recommends a software solution, this program called "Write or Die" that monitors how many words you churn out in a given timeframe. Pause too long, produce too little and it metes out punishments (the user can select the level of severity). This sounds kind of big-guns to me. Punative systems, like praise-averse bosses, tend to make me less productive.

Instead, I figured I'd set up a simple experiment and reward myself with library book time/Netflix with spouse if it worked. I had to write raw for 40 minutes. Raw AND autobiographical, the two things that really make me squirm.

It was a pretty successful experiment. I not only filled two pages, but tapped into a powerful memory from my teen years that will make a decent short story if I keep going with it. Take that, stupid phobia!
Wednesday, November 04, 2009 Laurel Garver
Revision is my thing. I work as an editor, after all. Give me a stack of pages and a pen and I'm happy as a clam. But put me in front of a blank screen? Ai-yi-yi.

As a result of my blank screen dread, I do most of my rough drafting in those el-cheapo spiral notebooks you can get 10 for $1 at a grocery store back-to-school sale. The el-cheapo factor seems to cry for messy lists, half-baked plot ideas, random musings that may or may not end up working their way into usable prose. The downside of this dubious system is that I sometimes spend as much time trying to find a nugget as I spent writing it in the first place. Time stealer=bad news for this working mom trying to squeeze in some writing.

I know I need to get over this blank screen phobia, and pronto. One of my critique group friends recommends a software solution, this program called "Write or Die" that monitors how many words you churn out in a given timeframe. Pause too long, produce too little and it metes out punishments (the user can select the level of severity). This sounds kind of big-guns to me. Punative systems, like praise-averse bosses, tend to make me less productive.

Instead, I figured I'd set up a simple experiment and reward myself with library book time/Netflix with spouse if it worked. I had to write raw for 40 minutes. Raw AND autobiographical, the two things that really make me squirm.

It was a pretty successful experiment. I not only filled two pages, but tapped into a powerful memory from my teen years that will make a decent short story if I keep going with it. Take that, stupid phobia!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Not long ago I had a nice IM chat with a friend my husband and I visited in England in 2006, when I was in the early stages of drafting Bring to Light. It got me thinking about how discovering a captivating setting can open possibilities for plot, theme and characterization.

In early outlines of my novel, I'd intended to include a one-chapter foray to southwest England, where I'd actually lived with a family when I was in college. But this particular vacation morphed into a major research trip changed everything.

The nature of the trip first changed when we entered King's Cross station, the railroad gateway to the north--a hub for rail service to northern England and Scotland. Despite the Harry Potter connection, it's not an elegant station like Victoria or sleek and hip like Charing Cross. This communicated a lot about internal stereotypes among Britons, namely that north England is considered the sticks, and its inhabitants, country hicks. Suddenly a resonant back story on my protagonist's British father began to unfold: Country boy leaves home and culture to seek his fortune abroad, where he'd meet fewer prejudices about his upbringing.

Durham itself was the second great discovery, a rare jewel few tourists ever see. The city is perched on cliffs on a peninsula formed by the rivers Tyne and Wear, with a stunning 900-year-old cathedral its crowning beauty. At the cathedral and elsewhere in the region, we saw evidence of Christianity's long history sunk deep into this land--back to Roman times. The ancient past of the Vikings, the Saxons, the Romans seems nearer here than in the south, where generations have built over the past time and again. This got me thinking about the decision every generation must make: will we examine and learn from the past, or bury it?

Our friends, American transplants to England, patiently answered my thousand and one questions. Unlike natives, they were able to see the jarring differences between the "two cultures divided by a shared language" that my American-born protagonist would also notice. I soon saw how cultural differences--especially American versus British ideas about privacy and emoting--could have interesting consequences within a family dynamic.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009 Laurel Garver
Not long ago I had a nice IM chat with a friend my husband and I visited in England in 2006, when I was in the early stages of drafting Bring to Light. It got me thinking about how discovering a captivating setting can open possibilities for plot, theme and characterization.

In early outlines of my novel, I'd intended to include a one-chapter foray to southwest England, where I'd actually lived with a family when I was in college. But this particular vacation morphed into a major research trip changed everything.

The nature of the trip first changed when we entered King's Cross station, the railroad gateway to the north--a hub for rail service to northern England and Scotland. Despite the Harry Potter connection, it's not an elegant station like Victoria or sleek and hip like Charing Cross. This communicated a lot about internal stereotypes among Britons, namely that north England is considered the sticks, and its inhabitants, country hicks. Suddenly a resonant back story on my protagonist's British father began to unfold: Country boy leaves home and culture to seek his fortune abroad, where he'd meet fewer prejudices about his upbringing.

Durham itself was the second great discovery, a rare jewel few tourists ever see. The city is perched on cliffs on a peninsula formed by the rivers Tyne and Wear, with a stunning 900-year-old cathedral its crowning beauty. At the cathedral and elsewhere in the region, we saw evidence of Christianity's long history sunk deep into this land--back to Roman times. The ancient past of the Vikings, the Saxons, the Romans seems nearer here than in the south, where generations have built over the past time and again. This got me thinking about the decision every generation must make: will we examine and learn from the past, or bury it?

Our friends, American transplants to England, patiently answered my thousand and one questions. Unlike natives, they were able to see the jarring differences between the "two cultures divided by a shared language" that my American-born protagonist would also notice. I soon saw how cultural differences--especially American versus British ideas about privacy and emoting--could have interesting consequences within a family dynamic.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The fiction experts tell us time and again to "show, not tell." It's a useful enough guideline, as far as it goes. But how should one go about showing? Describing physical sensations is one way: throat tightening and eyes stinging shows a character is sad or upset. But a whole page of this sort of descriptions gets tiring to read. Ditto with descriptions of movement and tone of voice.

Tapping into a character's interior world, showing thoughts that are never spoken can be another way of punching up a scene. The real trick is to write "non telling" thoughts. One of the ways to do that came to me, strangely, while editing an essay about Knut Hamsun at work. The author of the piece was from Denmark, and my mind made the association he's Danish...mmm, I could go for a danish. Wouldn't knut hamsun be the perfect name for a rich, eggy dessert bread full of pecans, sultanas and candied cherries? I posted some of these random thoughts on Facebook, and a friend piped up, "you must be hungry." Of course, I was hungry. Ridiculously hungry. Those strange associations said it colorfully and memorably, much more than if I'd made my status "Laurel is hungry."

So when you want to tell it slant in your character's inner monologues, remember "random associations" as yet another way of showing, rather than telling, how you character feels.
Friday, October 16, 2009 Laurel Garver
The fiction experts tell us time and again to "show, not tell." It's a useful enough guideline, as far as it goes. But how should one go about showing? Describing physical sensations is one way: throat tightening and eyes stinging shows a character is sad or upset. But a whole page of this sort of descriptions gets tiring to read. Ditto with descriptions of movement and tone of voice.

Tapping into a character's interior world, showing thoughts that are never spoken can be another way of punching up a scene. The real trick is to write "non telling" thoughts. One of the ways to do that came to me, strangely, while editing an essay about Knut Hamsun at work. The author of the piece was from Denmark, and my mind made the association he's Danish...mmm, I could go for a danish. Wouldn't knut hamsun be the perfect name for a rich, eggy dessert bread full of pecans, sultanas and candied cherries? I posted some of these random thoughts on Facebook, and a friend piped up, "you must be hungry." Of course, I was hungry. Ridiculously hungry. Those strange associations said it colorfully and memorably, much more than if I'd made my status "Laurel is hungry."

So when you want to tell it slant in your character's inner monologues, remember "random associations" as yet another way of showing, rather than telling, how you character feels.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My writing buddy Simon, who really got the ball rolling with our critique group, now has a blog. He's an insightful reader and emerging talent--I look forward to his contributions to the blogosphere.


His initial post on openings got me thinking about one of the most helpful writing books on my shelf: Les Edgerton's Hooked.

This book proved very helpful when I'd been spinning my wheels for months trying to craft an opening for a sequel novel and getting way too bogged down in back story. That alone made this worth the $15. Edgerton uses loads of examples from several genres, which made his advice far more applicable than many other books that advise writers rather generically how to get a story started. His observations about the changing literary landscape also seemed spot-on.

On the minus side, this book feels repetitive. The most helpful, unique advice resides in chapters two and three. The chapters that follow are largely just variation on the themes of these two chapters. I think it would have been helpful to include a chapter about specific genre conventions--what elements are essential for successfully starting up not only literary stories, but also SF, YA, historical, mystery, romance, etc. Readers' expectations for each are quite different, even if on a structural level stories should gear up in a similar manner.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009 Laurel Garver
My writing buddy Simon, who really got the ball rolling with our critique group, now has a blog. He's an insightful reader and emerging talent--I look forward to his contributions to the blogosphere.


His initial post on openings got me thinking about one of the most helpful writing books on my shelf: Les Edgerton's Hooked.

This book proved very helpful when I'd been spinning my wheels for months trying to craft an opening for a sequel novel and getting way too bogged down in back story. That alone made this worth the $15. Edgerton uses loads of examples from several genres, which made his advice far more applicable than many other books that advise writers rather generically how to get a story started. His observations about the changing literary landscape also seemed spot-on.

On the minus side, this book feels repetitive. The most helpful, unique advice resides in chapters two and three. The chapters that follow are largely just variation on the themes of these two chapters. I think it would have been helpful to include a chapter about specific genre conventions--what elements are essential for successfully starting up not only literary stories, but also SF, YA, historical, mystery, romance, etc. Readers' expectations for each are quite different, even if on a structural level stories should gear up in a similar manner.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

In How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James N. Frey says many plots lack integrity because the author doesn't have her characters acting at their maximum capacity.

What does he mean exactly? When a character hits a problem, some roadblock keeping him from his goal, he'll do everything in his power to reach the goal. Characters who become easily stymied by their problems lose readers' sympathies and their desires and drives won't seem particularly compelling. The Harvard-educated investigator, for example, won't just sit around wringing his hands when he doesn't immediately understand something--he'll make use of all the intellectual tools at his disposal to research and probe. Likewise, even the "cannon fodder" expendable characters should go to a lot of trouble to avoid dying, unless the author has characterized them as suicidal or deeply stupid or proven some motivation for a death wish. "Maximum capacity" will, of course, vary from character to character. An 8-year-old protagonist in a middle grade adventure will have fewer resources than the Navy SEAL/brain surgeon in a techno-thriller. The trick is to know one's characters thoroughly.

In every scene, Frey says your character's actions and reactions have to pass the "would he/she really ____ ?" test. Does the action/reaction fit her personality? Is he making full use of his personal resources, know-how, experiences? I've been amazed at how these lines of questioning open up plot to intriguing new possibilities.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009 Laurel Garver
In How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James N. Frey says many plots lack integrity because the author doesn't have her characters acting at their maximum capacity.

What does he mean exactly? When a character hits a problem, some roadblock keeping him from his goal, he'll do everything in his power to reach the goal. Characters who become easily stymied by their problems lose readers' sympathies and their desires and drives won't seem particularly compelling. The Harvard-educated investigator, for example, won't just sit around wringing his hands when he doesn't immediately understand something--he'll make use of all the intellectual tools at his disposal to research and probe. Likewise, even the "cannon fodder" expendable characters should go to a lot of trouble to avoid dying, unless the author has characterized them as suicidal or deeply stupid or proven some motivation for a death wish. "Maximum capacity" will, of course, vary from character to character. An 8-year-old protagonist in a middle grade adventure will have fewer resources than the Navy SEAL/brain surgeon in a techno-thriller. The trick is to know one's characters thoroughly.

In every scene, Frey says your character's actions and reactions have to pass the "would he/she really ____ ?" test. Does the action/reaction fit her personality? Is he making full use of his personal resources, know-how, experiences? I've been amazed at how these lines of questioning open up plot to intriguing new possibilities.

Friday, September 18, 2009

My "flash fiction" novel excerpt, "Swan Moment" has been published on the e-zine Maternal Spark. You can read it here.
Friday, September 18, 2009 Laurel Garver
My "flash fiction" novel excerpt, "Swan Moment" has been published on the e-zine Maternal Spark. You can read it here.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Most of the folks in my critique group write short stories--something I haven't attempted or marketed in years. When they ask why, I usually trot out the explanation that the characters crowding my brain have stories that are too big to fit in 25 pages or less.

I'm beginning to rethink that excuse. In reality, I think my evasion of short stories stems from a fear that if I don't spend every ounce of writing energy on novels, I'll never finish. But a novel is a huge commitment with almost no rewards for years and years. The marketing process with novels is so slow and rejection-filled, it's enough to take the wind out of one's sails for good.

Many of the books on marketing novels stress the importance of having numerous publishing credits. I'm realizing now that this is a good idea not just to get one's name out there, but also because small victories are important for morale. And low morale is a creativity crusher.

To that end, I'm looking at retooling some novel excerpts as short stories, and, even better, starting a whole new short piece with a new character in a different genre. Meanwhile, the WIP novel can continue simmering in my subconscious.
Tuesday, September 08, 2009 Laurel Garver
Most of the folks in my critique group write short stories--something I haven't attempted or marketed in years. When they ask why, I usually trot out the explanation that the characters crowding my brain have stories that are too big to fit in 25 pages or less.

I'm beginning to rethink that excuse. In reality, I think my evasion of short stories stems from a fear that if I don't spend every ounce of writing energy on novels, I'll never finish. But a novel is a huge commitment with almost no rewards for years and years. The marketing process with novels is so slow and rejection-filled, it's enough to take the wind out of one's sails for good.

Many of the books on marketing novels stress the importance of having numerous publishing credits. I'm realizing now that this is a good idea not just to get one's name out there, but also because small victories are important for morale. And low morale is a creativity crusher.

To that end, I'm looking at retooling some novel excerpts as short stories, and, even better, starting a whole new short piece with a new character in a different genre. Meanwhile, the WIP novel can continue simmering in my subconscious.

Monday, August 31, 2009

It's pretty common to hit road blocks while taking on the Herculean task of drafting a novel. What I didn't expect was how simultaneously trying to market a finished book has sucked away much of my creative energy. During the recent weeks of ramping up new queries, every time I open my WIP, I feel stuck, stuck, stuck. And yet, the less I write, the more miserable I become. It's a vicious cycle and escaping it requires good tools.
First, I find that talking writing with other writers can be enough of an energy boost to get me going again. A writer's group that a friend and I started up this spring met this weekend and critiqued pieces of two of the members. The energy in the group is beginning to snowball in exciting ways. Only one of the group has done much publishing, but the rest of us are inching toward the goal of becoming published authors. Knowing these folks value my perspective and commitment (and won't let me wimp out and quit when the going gets tough) helps me hang in there.

Second, I hit the shelves. Sometimes it's reading a few pages of a favorite author like Susan Howatch that reminds me why I write. Other times, like this past week in particular, I need a sage mentor to address the stuckness head-on and offer strategies for getting unstuck.

I found just such a mentor in Barbara DeMarco-Barrett and her wonderful book Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman's Guide to Igniting the Writer Within. The title alone made me want to find this woman and hug her. She gets it. She's direct and so insightful about the torn guilt women writers feel. Our families and homes and jobs and spiritual disciplines and friends and volunteer commitments all vie for our time and attention, and yet the vast world within our imaginations begs to be brought to life. We want to be everything to everyone, and often it's writing that gets shelved, though doing so comes at the cost of amputating part of one's truest self.

I felt particularly encouraged by her notion of taking small, incremental steps. Because writers write. Everyone else just makes excuses. While some can hit a 500-1,000 words-a-day goal, the rest of us merely need to keep up the discipline of writing for 15 minutes each day--even rough notes or lists or journal entries. This "counts" as writing. The book is chock full of exercises to fill that 15 minutes when ideas just don't flow.
Monday, August 31, 2009 Laurel Garver
It's pretty common to hit road blocks while taking on the Herculean task of drafting a novel. What I didn't expect was how simultaneously trying to market a finished book has sucked away much of my creative energy. During the recent weeks of ramping up new queries, every time I open my WIP, I feel stuck, stuck, stuck. And yet, the less I write, the more miserable I become. It's a vicious cycle and escaping it requires good tools.
First, I find that talking writing with other writers can be enough of an energy boost to get me going again. A writer's group that a friend and I started up this spring met this weekend and critiqued pieces of two of the members. The energy in the group is beginning to snowball in exciting ways. Only one of the group has done much publishing, but the rest of us are inching toward the goal of becoming published authors. Knowing these folks value my perspective and commitment (and won't let me wimp out and quit when the going gets tough) helps me hang in there.

Second, I hit the shelves. Sometimes it's reading a few pages of a favorite author like Susan Howatch that reminds me why I write. Other times, like this past week in particular, I need a sage mentor to address the stuckness head-on and offer strategies for getting unstuck.

I found just such a mentor in Barbara DeMarco-Barrett and her wonderful book Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman's Guide to Igniting the Writer Within. The title alone made me want to find this woman and hug her. She gets it. She's direct and so insightful about the torn guilt women writers feel. Our families and homes and jobs and spiritual disciplines and friends and volunteer commitments all vie for our time and attention, and yet the vast world within our imaginations begs to be brought to life. We want to be everything to everyone, and often it's writing that gets shelved, though doing so comes at the cost of amputating part of one's truest self.

I felt particularly encouraged by her notion of taking small, incremental steps. Because writers write. Everyone else just makes excuses. While some can hit a 500-1,000 words-a-day goal, the rest of us merely need to keep up the discipline of writing for 15 minutes each day--even rough notes or lists or journal entries. This "counts" as writing. The book is chock full of exercises to fill that 15 minutes when ideas just don't flow.

Friday, August 21, 2009

For most characters, motivations are driven by family of origin issues. This includes far more than one's relationship with parents. Sibling relationships and one's place in the family pecking order can be strong influences on characters.

Dr. Kevin Lehman's The Birth Order Book looks at the particular pressures of being first born, middle, last born or only child. He goes on to discuss how the family dynamic tends to shape relational styles and personality development for each birth order position. He concludes that these early relationships shape not only the family dynamic but also how each individual relates to people outside the family. He observes that first borns and only children tend to be achievement oriented, natural leaders who desire affirmation from authority figures. Middle borns, he says, are laid back, excel at mediating and developing consensus and tend to be more open with friends than with family. He observes that last borns are creative, rebellious and often rely on humor and charm to get along in the world.

I'm not in any position to critique the science here, though more recent studies, like the ones reported in this Time article, do seem to back up his observations. I've simply found the book helpful in the character development process. When I think through the backstory of any character, birth order has a place and can subtly bring verisimilitude to the story. In Bring to Light, when I needed a likeable guy friend character who would respond with gentleness and humor to my protagonist's plight, I made him a last born with older sisters. My protagonist's workaholic mom is, of course, a first born. Her laid-back dad, the youngest of two.
Friday, August 21, 2009 Laurel Garver
For most characters, motivations are driven by family of origin issues. This includes far more than one's relationship with parents. Sibling relationships and one's place in the family pecking order can be strong influences on characters.

Dr. Kevin Lehman's The Birth Order Book looks at the particular pressures of being first born, middle, last born or only child. He goes on to discuss how the family dynamic tends to shape relational styles and personality development for each birth order position. He concludes that these early relationships shape not only the family dynamic but also how each individual relates to people outside the family. He observes that first borns and only children tend to be achievement oriented, natural leaders who desire affirmation from authority figures. Middle borns, he says, are laid back, excel at mediating and developing consensus and tend to be more open with friends than with family. He observes that last borns are creative, rebellious and often rely on humor and charm to get along in the world.

I'm not in any position to critique the science here, though more recent studies, like the ones reported in this Time article, do seem to back up his observations. I've simply found the book helpful in the character development process. When I think through the backstory of any character, birth order has a place and can subtly bring verisimilitude to the story. In Bring to Light, when I needed a likeable guy friend character who would respond with gentleness and humor to my protagonist's plight, I made him a last born with older sisters. My protagonist's workaholic mom is, of course, a first born. Her laid-back dad, the youngest of two.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It's no small task to create characters that live and breathe on the page, that don't hamstring your story by behaving in a way that seems implausible. You can spend weeks dreaming up the physical details of your characters, mentally filling her closet and his iPod playlist only to discover you don't really know your characters, especially what they want, and more importantly, why.

What motivates a person, makes him choose this action and not that one, makes her invest in a relationship in a particular way--this is the deep stuff of characterization. I've found that simply observing people going about their business of living is not enough to train me to understand character motivation. And because motivation is the building block of solid plotting, it's essential to get motivation right.

All this is to say that I highly recommend every writer spend some time reading in the social sciences, especially psychology, child development and sociology. My characterization in Bring to Light would not have gotten off the ground had I not read heavily and talked to experts about the grieving process and grief therapy.

In coming posts, I'll highlight some of the social science reading I've found particularly helpful.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009 Laurel Garver
It's no small task to create characters that live and breathe on the page, that don't hamstring your story by behaving in a way that seems implausible. You can spend weeks dreaming up the physical details of your characters, mentally filling her closet and his iPod playlist only to discover you don't really know your characters, especially what they want, and more importantly, why.

What motivates a person, makes him choose this action and not that one, makes her invest in a relationship in a particular way--this is the deep stuff of characterization. I've found that simply observing people going about their business of living is not enough to train me to understand character motivation. And because motivation is the building block of solid plotting, it's essential to get motivation right.

All this is to say that I highly recommend every writer spend some time reading in the social sciences, especially psychology, child development and sociology. My characterization in Bring to Light would not have gotten off the ground had I not read heavily and talked to experts about the grieving process and grief therapy.

In coming posts, I'll highlight some of the social science reading I've found particularly helpful.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Since attending a workshop on marketing, I decided there might be some benefit to getting back into blogging. Laurel's Leaves is the result. As the weeks go on, I've tried to add sidebar elements, especially expanding the list of blogs I hope to check with some regularity.

As I've gone out looking for other YA writers who blog, I've been a bit overwhelmed. How do these people manage to be so darned chipper? How do they find time to write pithy anecdotes for the blog AND read so many pre-published books AND market their own work AND hold contests AND keep up with chores AND keep spouse and kids even marginally happy AND actually write new material that's fresh and doesn't utterly suck? I suppose some of this wonderwoman facade can be chalked up to "brand." Women who write high-energy, humorous stories need to keep up a high-energy, humorous persona online. I imagine the YA fantasy writers keep blogs that are more serious and lyrical.

It can be hard not to look at the community that writes for teens and not have the sinking feeling that you have to contort yourself to somehow fit in, as if these folks sat at the "popular table" in the high school cafeteria. Fortunately, I don't think that's quite the case. I've noticed an encouraging trend on these blogs: YA writers support each other, cheer each other on. They read widely in the genre, and appreciate the best in each subcategory, whether it's humor, romance, suspense/thriller, fantasy, historical, or literary. There seems to be room for new voices and a delight in discovering them. So even if my work is on the strange and serious end of the spectrum, I suspect there really is room for me at the table. Time to pull up a chair and start learning names.
Thursday, August 06, 2009 Laurel Garver
Since attending a workshop on marketing, I decided there might be some benefit to getting back into blogging. Laurel's Leaves is the result. As the weeks go on, I've tried to add sidebar elements, especially expanding the list of blogs I hope to check with some regularity.

As I've gone out looking for other YA writers who blog, I've been a bit overwhelmed. How do these people manage to be so darned chipper? How do they find time to write pithy anecdotes for the blog AND read so many pre-published books AND market their own work AND hold contests AND keep up with chores AND keep spouse and kids even marginally happy AND actually write new material that's fresh and doesn't utterly suck? I suppose some of this wonderwoman facade can be chalked up to "brand." Women who write high-energy, humorous stories need to keep up a high-energy, humorous persona online. I imagine the YA fantasy writers keep blogs that are more serious and lyrical.

It can be hard not to look at the community that writes for teens and not have the sinking feeling that you have to contort yourself to somehow fit in, as if these folks sat at the "popular table" in the high school cafeteria. Fortunately, I don't think that's quite the case. I've noticed an encouraging trend on these blogs: YA writers support each other, cheer each other on. They read widely in the genre, and appreciate the best in each subcategory, whether it's humor, romance, suspense/thriller, fantasy, historical, or literary. There seems to be room for new voices and a delight in discovering them. So even if my work is on the strange and serious end of the spectrum, I suspect there really is room for me at the table. Time to pull up a chair and start learning names.