Friday, December 23, 2011

My latest accepted poem, "Storm Shelter," was published today at the e-zine Daily Love. You can read this fiction-in-verse piece HERE.

Sometimes when I'm drafting, I find it helpful to try out a scene in verse format as a way of getting to the emotional core of the action. This is one such experiment with a scene from my second novel.

Happy Holidays, all! I'll be back in the new year.

Do you even rearrange or play with material you've already written, just to try it out?
8:44 AM Laurel Garver
My latest accepted poem, "Storm Shelter," was published today at the e-zine Daily Love. You can read this fiction-in-verse piece HERE.

Sometimes when I'm drafting, I find it helpful to try out a scene in verse format as a way of getting to the emotional core of the action. This is one such experiment with a scene from my second novel.

Happy Holidays, all! I'll be back in the new year.

Do you even rearrange or play with material you've already written, just to try it out?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of Google searches in the research process. They can be an efficient way to fact-check aspects of your story. I've at times used Googlemaps street view to walk around neighborhoods I hadn't forayed into deeply enough on a prior research trip. Heck, I've even used street view to roam cemeteries in France in search of a geographically appropriate surname.

The truth is, I'd never have bothered with the graveyard walks if it weren't for an expert. A French ex-pat I work with once offhandedly identified one of our magazine contributor's home region based on her surname alone. If any native would know regional ties to particular names, I couldn't pick a surname for my characters willy-nilly. An inaccuracy would make my reader lose confidence. Were I more fluent in French, I could have searched regional phone directories, surely. But the graveyard walks yielded what I needed easily enough.

My point here is to not limit yourself to Internet research alone. More often than not an actual human being will have insider knowledge that will keep you from making embarrassing mistakes. And a ten minute phone conversation might just save you from hours of trawling through page after page of useless information.

Just as importantly, you need the right kind of expert who can speak to your story's particular situation. Your family doctor might know the standard procedure for treating a broken leg, but his knowledge is likely limited to treatment best practices under ideal conditions. You know, in a clean, shiny hospital. But what about injuries in non-ideal conditions, when X-rays and surgery are not readily available? Your family doctor isn't going to be much help--partly because he will fear opening himself to legal liability by dispensing advice that isn't clinically defensible. Your better bet would be to find a military field medic, or a mountain climber trained in first aid--someone who has experience with non-ideal conditions.

One golden truth I learned in journalism school is that people LOVE to be considered experts (well, eight out of ten; take into account a certain percentage of natural jerkiness in the general population). Start by approaching people you already know, and be as specific as possible with the kind of information you're seeking. Your personal contacts can lead you to other experts as well. But don't be afraid to take a leap and call or e-mail a stranger. The worst they can say is "Sorry, I can't help you."

Approach your sources as if you were a reporter doing fact-checking--in other words, there will be no pressure that your source's name will splashed across a front page. For more tips on contacting and interviewing experts, see THIS helpful site, created for student journalists.

Have you made use of experts in researching aspects of your fiction? How might expert insights help make your story stronger? If you could shadow someone for a day to get insights for your story, who would it be?

**Repost from February.
11:00 AM Laurel Garver
Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of Google searches in the research process. They can be an efficient way to fact-check aspects of your story. I've at times used Googlemaps street view to walk around neighborhoods I hadn't forayed into deeply enough on a prior research trip. Heck, I've even used street view to roam cemeteries in France in search of a geographically appropriate surname.

The truth is, I'd never have bothered with the graveyard walks if it weren't for an expert. A French ex-pat I work with once offhandedly identified one of our magazine contributor's home region based on her surname alone. If any native would know regional ties to particular names, I couldn't pick a surname for my characters willy-nilly. An inaccuracy would make my reader lose confidence. Were I more fluent in French, I could have searched regional phone directories, surely. But the graveyard walks yielded what I needed easily enough.

My point here is to not limit yourself to Internet research alone. More often than not an actual human being will have insider knowledge that will keep you from making embarrassing mistakes. And a ten minute phone conversation might just save you from hours of trawling through page after page of useless information.

Just as importantly, you need the right kind of expert who can speak to your story's particular situation. Your family doctor might know the standard procedure for treating a broken leg, but his knowledge is likely limited to treatment best practices under ideal conditions. You know, in a clean, shiny hospital. But what about injuries in non-ideal conditions, when X-rays and surgery are not readily available? Your family doctor isn't going to be much help--partly because he will fear opening himself to legal liability by dispensing advice that isn't clinically defensible. Your better bet would be to find a military field medic, or a mountain climber trained in first aid--someone who has experience with non-ideal conditions.

One golden truth I learned in journalism school is that people LOVE to be considered experts (well, eight out of ten; take into account a certain percentage of natural jerkiness in the general population). Start by approaching people you already know, and be as specific as possible with the kind of information you're seeking. Your personal contacts can lead you to other experts as well. But don't be afraid to take a leap and call or e-mail a stranger. The worst they can say is "Sorry, I can't help you."

Approach your sources as if you were a reporter doing fact-checking--in other words, there will be no pressure that your source's name will splashed across a front page. For more tips on contacting and interviewing experts, see THIS helpful site, created for student journalists.

Have you made use of experts in researching aspects of your fiction? How might expert insights help make your story stronger? If you could shadow someone for a day to get insights for your story, who would it be?

**Repost from February.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Today is D.L. Hammons's Deja Vu blogfest, when we were invited to repost something we wish had gotten a little more attention. Swing by DL's blog Cruising Altitude to check out the other participants. (And if you want to know why the possessive of D.L.'s name looks like this, check out THIS POST to get up to speed about creating singular possessives correctly.)

My repost, "Gene pool: fun with secondary characters" went up in August 2010, arguably a bad time of year for garnering comments, when everyone is on vacation.

====

Creating a fully realized cast of characters is for me one of the most fun aspects of writing. Part of what makes fictional characters seem real is their webs of relationships--including relatives.

Unless your main character is adopted, she will share certain characteristics with other members of the family. And this is where some of the fun comes in. As Bill Cosby joked in a comedy sketch, having children is like conducting a chemistry experiment--you mix a little of each parent and see what you get. Some kids are strongly like one parent, while others are an amalgam.

Now imagine working backwards. You have a main character. What do his parents look like? Is he a younger version of his dad? A male version of his mother? Or have the sets of genes combined in an interesting way? The genetic combo is, of course, the most fun to extrapolate ancestors for.

One thing to keep in mind when dreaming up your character's genetic heritage: you need a grasp of heredity basics (remember high school bio?). Certain traits are dominant and will most frequently reappear in offspring. Others are recessive and won't appear at all unless someone in the line has the trait. Tone deafness, for example, is a dominant trait. Your piano prodigy character must have ancestors who can carry a tune (a recessive trait).

Here's a good refresher on the basic science of heredity.
And here's a list of traits (and also here) known to be dominant and recessive.

How might heredity shape your character building? Have any characters you might alter to make your protagonist more plausible?
7:08 AM Laurel Garver
Today is D.L. Hammons's Deja Vu blogfest, when we were invited to repost something we wish had gotten a little more attention. Swing by DL's blog Cruising Altitude to check out the other participants. (And if you want to know why the possessive of D.L.'s name looks like this, check out THIS POST to get up to speed about creating singular possessives correctly.)

My repost, "Gene pool: fun with secondary characters" went up in August 2010, arguably a bad time of year for garnering comments, when everyone is on vacation.

====

Creating a fully realized cast of characters is for me one of the most fun aspects of writing. Part of what makes fictional characters seem real is their webs of relationships--including relatives.

Unless your main character is adopted, she will share certain characteristics with other members of the family. And this is where some of the fun comes in. As Bill Cosby joked in a comedy sketch, having children is like conducting a chemistry experiment--you mix a little of each parent and see what you get. Some kids are strongly like one parent, while others are an amalgam.

Now imagine working backwards. You have a main character. What do his parents look like? Is he a younger version of his dad? A male version of his mother? Or have the sets of genes combined in an interesting way? The genetic combo is, of course, the most fun to extrapolate ancestors for.

One thing to keep in mind when dreaming up your character's genetic heritage: you need a grasp of heredity basics (remember high school bio?). Certain traits are dominant and will most frequently reappear in offspring. Others are recessive and won't appear at all unless someone in the line has the trait. Tone deafness, for example, is a dominant trait. Your piano prodigy character must have ancestors who can carry a tune (a recessive trait).

Here's a good refresher on the basic science of heredity.
And here's a list of traits (and also here) known to be dominant and recessive.

How might heredity shape your character building? Have any characters you might alter to make your protagonist more plausible?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tomorrow is DL Hammons's Deja Vu Blogfest, a chance to recycle a post you love, or one you wish would've gotten more attention the first time around. I hesitated signing up because tomorrow is my daughter's school program, and I'll be away from the computer all morning listening to cute kiddos singing. Hopefully I can manage to catch up in the afternoon!

To me, the holidays are incomplete without music. Participating in choirs (and also band in high school) meant months of practicing, practicing, practicing words and tunes that always shifted something inside me. I can live without the lights, the sweets, the gifts and cards. What I can't live without is that resonance of joy and mystery, the mighty made weak and rich made poor for our sake.

And speaking of things I can live without--one of my biggest holiday pet peeves is the misuse and misunderstanding of the Twelve Days of Christmas. People, these are NOT days PRIOR to Christmas day, they are AFTER Christmas day! The twelve days are the period between Christmas and Epiphany (Jan 6; also called Three Kings Day, in remembrance of the Magi's arrival and gift-giving). During this period, the liturgical colors switch from advent purple to white. You can read more about them HERE (includes an interesting explanation of the song, too).

It's the third week of advent right now, not the "second day of Christmas." OK? Thank you. I needed to get that off my chest.

What do you consider a holiday essential? Do you have a holiday pet peeve?
10:04 AM Laurel Garver
Tomorrow is DL Hammons's Deja Vu Blogfest, a chance to recycle a post you love, or one you wish would've gotten more attention the first time around. I hesitated signing up because tomorrow is my daughter's school program, and I'll be away from the computer all morning listening to cute kiddos singing. Hopefully I can manage to catch up in the afternoon!

To me, the holidays are incomplete without music. Participating in choirs (and also band in high school) meant months of practicing, practicing, practicing words and tunes that always shifted something inside me. I can live without the lights, the sweets, the gifts and cards. What I can't live without is that resonance of joy and mystery, the mighty made weak and rich made poor for our sake.

And speaking of things I can live without--one of my biggest holiday pet peeves is the misuse and misunderstanding of the Twelve Days of Christmas. People, these are NOT days PRIOR to Christmas day, they are AFTER Christmas day! The twelve days are the period between Christmas and Epiphany (Jan 6; also called Three Kings Day, in remembrance of the Magi's arrival and gift-giving). During this period, the liturgical colors switch from advent purple to white. You can read more about them HERE (includes an interesting explanation of the song, too).

It's the third week of advent right now, not the "second day of Christmas." OK? Thank you. I needed to get that off my chest.

What do you consider a holiday essential? Do you have a holiday pet peeve?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

While laid low with a cold over the weekend, I rewatched the old Winona Rider version of Little Women, an odd mix of wonderful and terrible acting, and a sentimental journey for anyone who writes.

For some reason, this watching I was most struck by Prof. Bhaer's opinions about Jo's first novel. He assented that yes, sensational, exciting stories sell. But Gothic romance seemed to not admit any of Jo's best qualities: "There is nothing in here of the woman I am privileged to know." I'm not entirely sure if Alcott intended this as a smear on pulp fiction; perhaps so, perhaps not.

But whether you write literary realism or more fantastical work, I think there's something to his assertion that the very best books, the one that are loved for generations, are works of extreme courage. "There's more to you than this," the professor says, "If you have the courage to write it."

In Jo's case, she doubts that her life experiences are worthy subjects of fiction. The most courageous thing for her is to expose her "quiet" upbringing for all its humor, beauty and drama. But another writer might have been raised in an environment that shunned imagination and was always thoroughly Philistine. In his case, it would take great courage to write light, humorous fantasy. In so doing, he'd have to own up to suppressed desires and embrace what he fears others might not value as much as he does. Honesty is the supreme act of courage.

Do you have a story you lack the courage to write? I do. It's been niggling at me for years, and Prof. Bhaer's wise words have again it pinned front and center on my imagination's notice board. Even the holiday busyness hasn't been able to push it into a closet it this time. For once I have a sense of just how the story wants to be told. So here's to courage!

What does courageous writing look like to you?
12:22 PM Laurel Garver
While laid low with a cold over the weekend, I rewatched the old Winona Rider version of Little Women, an odd mix of wonderful and terrible acting, and a sentimental journey for anyone who writes.

For some reason, this watching I was most struck by Prof. Bhaer's opinions about Jo's first novel. He assented that yes, sensational, exciting stories sell. But Gothic romance seemed to not admit any of Jo's best qualities: "There is nothing in here of the woman I am privileged to know." I'm not entirely sure if Alcott intended this as a smear on pulp fiction; perhaps so, perhaps not.

But whether you write literary realism or more fantastical work, I think there's something to his assertion that the very best books, the one that are loved for generations, are works of extreme courage. "There's more to you than this," the professor says, "If you have the courage to write it."

In Jo's case, she doubts that her life experiences are worthy subjects of fiction. The most courageous thing for her is to expose her "quiet" upbringing for all its humor, beauty and drama. But another writer might have been raised in an environment that shunned imagination and was always thoroughly Philistine. In his case, it would take great courage to write light, humorous fantasy. In so doing, he'd have to own up to suppressed desires and embrace what he fears others might not value as much as he does. Honesty is the supreme act of courage.

Do you have a story you lack the courage to write? I do. It's been niggling at me for years, and Prof. Bhaer's wise words have again it pinned front and center on my imagination's notice board. Even the holiday busyness hasn't been able to push it into a closet it this time. For once I have a sense of just how the story wants to be told. So here's to courage!

What does courageous writing look like to you?

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

I am currently buried under an enormous pile of proofreading at my paying job, but I thought I'd pop over here with a recent insight from the experience.

Changing page layout will make a text read differently. I am always, always finding new errors when I proofread digest-sized pages of material that I'd already proofread on letter-sized pages. This is partly because the eye tracks differently on shorter lines. I've also noticed that some spatially-related issues like paragraphing (specifically, overly long blocks of text) are much more apparent on smaller pages.

I highly recommend that you do your final manuscript proofreading in a size other than letter size to give yourself fresh eyes. It's pretty simple to do this. Go to the "page layout" menu in Word, select "paper size" and choose "A5"--which is roughly digest size. When you're ready to print, open the print menu, go to the "pages per sheet" drop down menu in the bottom right, and select "2 pages."

You'll be surprised how different your manuscript looks--and how many errors slipped past you when you always saw pages in the same size draft after draft.

What other tricks do you have to give yourself a fresh perspective?
11:26 AM Laurel Garver
I am currently buried under an enormous pile of proofreading at my paying job, but I thought I'd pop over here with a recent insight from the experience.

Changing page layout will make a text read differently. I am always, always finding new errors when I proofread digest-sized pages of material that I'd already proofread on letter-sized pages. This is partly because the eye tracks differently on shorter lines. I've also noticed that some spatially-related issues like paragraphing (specifically, overly long blocks of text) are much more apparent on smaller pages.

I highly recommend that you do your final manuscript proofreading in a size other than letter size to give yourself fresh eyes. It's pretty simple to do this. Go to the "page layout" menu in Word, select "paper size" and choose "A5"--which is roughly digest size. When you're ready to print, open the print menu, go to the "pages per sheet" drop down menu in the bottom right, and select "2 pages."

You'll be surprised how different your manuscript looks--and how many errors slipped past you when you always saw pages in the same size draft after draft.

What other tricks do you have to give yourself a fresh perspective?

Thursday, December 01, 2011


Today is Vicki Rocho's "Well, I Never" blogfest. She invited us to share something we'd never done, never thought we'd do (but did) or something that simply puzzles us. Go swing by Rambles and Randomness to see the other participants. Rather than a list, I'll share one quick story...

I never went to the prom. It wasn't because I wasn't asked. No, it was largely because I didn't want to go with the guy who asked me. We had a history, one I didn't care to repeat.

I briefly considered asking a friend who went to another school, but as fun and cool as he was, the fact he was a freshman and I was a senior gave me pause. Too much potential to get really awkward. I was also kind-of-sort-of seeing someone at the time, a junior from my own school. Our daily walking-home-from-school flirtation would really go nowhere if I asked someone else to the prom--someone even younger than he. I had a real knack for relationship muddles like this at 17. Is it any wonder I write YA?

From what I could tell, the prom would be just like the school cafeteria but with formalwear--every clique keeping to themselves, everyone carefully guarding his or her established image. Honestly, why bother? So I decided to throw an anti-prom party instead. I had a fantastic night watching movies and hanging out with my favorite underclassman and a senior or two, who, like me, decided the prom was one of the "high school necessities" we could happily live without.

Funnily enough, my friends who did go to the prom ditched early and came to my house instead. Apparently, annoying classmates become even more so under the influence of cheap beer and Jack Daniels. More genuine fun was to be had with us sober, soda-sipping geeks.

====

In other news, there's a wonderful new e-zine now accepting submissions: Vine Leaves Literary Journal. This publication features vignette writing--short pieces that deeply explore character, setting or description rather than being a traditionally plotted story. You can read more about the editors' vision and submission guidelines HERE.

Vine Leaves Literary Journal is the brainchild of Jessica Bell (author of String Bridge) and her critique partner Dawn Ius, a Canadian writer and marketing/communications pro. They felt this subgenre of literary writing deserved a venue of its own.

I'm thrilled to have a piece accepted to the premiere issue (January 2012). I'll post a link when the issue goes live.


Did you go to the prom? Tell me your story!
8:56 AM Laurel Garver

Today is Vicki Rocho's "Well, I Never" blogfest. She invited us to share something we'd never done, never thought we'd do (but did) or something that simply puzzles us. Go swing by Rambles and Randomness to see the other participants. Rather than a list, I'll share one quick story...

I never went to the prom. It wasn't because I wasn't asked. No, it was largely because I didn't want to go with the guy who asked me. We had a history, one I didn't care to repeat.

I briefly considered asking a friend who went to another school, but as fun and cool as he was, the fact he was a freshman and I was a senior gave me pause. Too much potential to get really awkward. I was also kind-of-sort-of seeing someone at the time, a junior from my own school. Our daily walking-home-from-school flirtation would really go nowhere if I asked someone else to the prom--someone even younger than he. I had a real knack for relationship muddles like this at 17. Is it any wonder I write YA?

From what I could tell, the prom would be just like the school cafeteria but with formalwear--every clique keeping to themselves, everyone carefully guarding his or her established image. Honestly, why bother? So I decided to throw an anti-prom party instead. I had a fantastic night watching movies and hanging out with my favorite underclassman and a senior or two, who, like me, decided the prom was one of the "high school necessities" we could happily live without.

Funnily enough, my friends who did go to the prom ditched early and came to my house instead. Apparently, annoying classmates become even more so under the influence of cheap beer and Jack Daniels. More genuine fun was to be had with us sober, soda-sipping geeks.

====

In other news, there's a wonderful new e-zine now accepting submissions: Vine Leaves Literary Journal. This publication features vignette writing--short pieces that deeply explore character, setting or description rather than being a traditionally plotted story. You can read more about the editors' vision and submission guidelines HERE.

Vine Leaves Literary Journal is the brainchild of Jessica Bell (author of String Bridge) and her critique partner Dawn Ius, a Canadian writer and marketing/communications pro. They felt this subgenre of literary writing deserved a venue of its own.

I'm thrilled to have a piece accepted to the premiere issue (January 2012). I'll post a link when the issue goes live.


Did you go to the prom? Tell me your story!