Thursday, August 1

Sorry to have been gone so long, my friends. In February, we pulled my high schooler out of public school to begin cyber school--a tricky change with a steep learning curve for us all. Despite the online curriculum and teacher support, I needed to be fairly hands on during the transition. I'm thankful to report my daughter ended the year strong. My freelance editing business has been thriving and I've made significant progress on a new novel that I hope to release in time for the Christmas holiday. In this busy year, something had to give, and the blog was it.

As life settles into a new normal, I thought I'd get back in the blogging grove after this long hiatus by sharing my brief take on some recent reads I really enjoyed.


The Upside of Falling Down
Rebecca Crane
new adult fiction

If your past were erased, who would you become? What choices would you make?

While being the sole survivor of a plane crash and suffering amnesia might sound like a plot pulled from a soap opera, Crane makes the scenario an intensely personal one, pulling you into her heroine's lost sense of self and frantic desire to be whole again.

I think this is my favorite Rebekah Crane book so far. I liked that not every character had super unusual name and that while there are lyrical moments, they don't feel so forced. (Infinite Pieces of Us irked me on both counts; The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland mostly on the former.) The intrigue of a very, very unreliable narrator trying so hard not to be, and discovering her story with her, kept me turning pages. I also liked that well-placed details actually provide clues rather than merely being too-convenient author machinations.

If you're merely looking for a feel-good travel story of touristy vistas, this isn't it. The travel aspect is almost metaphorical--a reflection of the heroine's extreme sense of being lost and out of her element. At its core, the story examines the part memory plays in forming our identities. The slow build romance worked really well, as did Clementine/Jane's friendships, some of which come easily, and others that are hard-won. The mystery behind Clementine's identity makes sense of so much of what comes before that when the truth comes out, you don't feel tricked so much as impressed at the subtlety and wanting to look at it again, like with the film The Sixth Sense.

Digging In
Loretta Nyhan
women's fiction

I inhaled this book in two days, it is just that much of a great read, managing to be heartfelt and funny while dealing with some pretty tough issues, like death of a spouse and ageism in the workplace.

It has a chick-lit-ish fun side, glorying in the messiness of life while really making you think. The young, trying-too-hard-to-be-hip boss manages to be equal parts terrifying and laughable, and I really adored the gang of friends Paige manages to gather around her.

While this story certainly has some comic exaggeration in it, I could suspend disbelief because it had such a nice balance of lightness in a dark situation. Kudos to the author for offering hope and making widowhood seem a little less scary, hard as it surely is in reality.


Vinegar Girl
Anne Tyler
literary women's fiction

So many retellings (I'm thinking especially of Austen knock offs) try to slavishly recreate the plot of the original without really modernizing it, so they kind of fall flat. I love that Tyler doesn't fall into this trap. She takes elements of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, and reworks them in a contemporary idiom so that the result is a delightful read, quite funny, and a lot less sexist than the original.

I especially liked the unusual careers of the characters. How often, outside of medical thrillers, do you ever encounter high-level biomedical researchers who spend all day genetically engineering specialty mice? Tyler totally gets the personalities of men drawn to this kind of work--intellectual, utilitarian, and rather emotionally stupid. Preschool teachers are pretty common in romance, but feisty Kate is terrible at it, breaking the usual stereotype in a wonderful way. The Green Card marriage twist was a pitch-perfect way to update Shakespeare's plot. I was quite wowed by Tyler's ability to really hear and recreate the romantic lead Pyotr's accent. And the wedding scene? Comic gold.


What have you been reading lately?

Thursday, August 01, 2019 Laurel Garver
Sorry to have been gone so long, my friends. In February, we pulled my high schooler out of public school to begin cyber school--a tricky change with a steep learning curve for us all. Despite the online curriculum and teacher support, I needed to be fairly hands on during the transition. I'm thankful to report my daughter ended the year strong. My freelance editing business has been thriving and I've made significant progress on a new novel that I hope to release in time for the Christmas holiday. In this busy year, something had to give, and the blog was it.

As life settles into a new normal, I thought I'd get back in the blogging grove after this long hiatus by sharing my brief take on some recent reads I really enjoyed.


The Upside of Falling Down
Rebecca Crane
new adult fiction

If your past were erased, who would you become? What choices would you make?

While being the sole survivor of a plane crash and suffering amnesia might sound like a plot pulled from a soap opera, Crane makes the scenario an intensely personal one, pulling you into her heroine's lost sense of self and frantic desire to be whole again.

I think this is my favorite Rebekah Crane book so far. I liked that not every character had super unusual name and that while there are lyrical moments, they don't feel so forced. (Infinite Pieces of Us irked me on both counts; The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland mostly on the former.) The intrigue of a very, very unreliable narrator trying so hard not to be, and discovering her story with her, kept me turning pages. I also liked that well-placed details actually provide clues rather than merely being too-convenient author machinations.

If you're merely looking for a feel-good travel story of touristy vistas, this isn't it. The travel aspect is almost metaphorical--a reflection of the heroine's extreme sense of being lost and out of her element. At its core, the story examines the part memory plays in forming our identities. The slow build romance worked really well, as did Clementine/Jane's friendships, some of which come easily, and others that are hard-won. The mystery behind Clementine's identity makes sense of so much of what comes before that when the truth comes out, you don't feel tricked so much as impressed at the subtlety and wanting to look at it again, like with the film The Sixth Sense.

Digging In
Loretta Nyhan
women's fiction

I inhaled this book in two days, it is just that much of a great read, managing to be heartfelt and funny while dealing with some pretty tough issues, like death of a spouse and ageism in the workplace.

It has a chick-lit-ish fun side, glorying in the messiness of life while really making you think. The young, trying-too-hard-to-be-hip boss manages to be equal parts terrifying and laughable, and I really adored the gang of friends Paige manages to gather around her.

While this story certainly has some comic exaggeration in it, I could suspend disbelief because it had such a nice balance of lightness in a dark situation. Kudos to the author for offering hope and making widowhood seem a little less scary, hard as it surely is in reality.


Vinegar Girl
Anne Tyler
literary women's fiction

So many retellings (I'm thinking especially of Austen knock offs) try to slavishly recreate the plot of the original without really modernizing it, so they kind of fall flat. I love that Tyler doesn't fall into this trap. She takes elements of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, and reworks them in a contemporary idiom so that the result is a delightful read, quite funny, and a lot less sexist than the original.

I especially liked the unusual careers of the characters. How often, outside of medical thrillers, do you ever encounter high-level biomedical researchers who spend all day genetically engineering specialty mice? Tyler totally gets the personalities of men drawn to this kind of work--intellectual, utilitarian, and rather emotionally stupid. Preschool teachers are pretty common in romance, but feisty Kate is terrible at it, breaking the usual stereotype in a wonderful way. The Green Card marriage twist was a pitch-perfect way to update Shakespeare's plot. I was quite wowed by Tyler's ability to really hear and recreate the romantic lead Pyotr's accent. And the wedding scene? Comic gold.


What have you been reading lately?

Friday, February 8

If you haven't seen the BBC miniseries Wives and Daughters, based on the unfinished novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, I heartily recommend it. I found the story more accessible than Austen's works, perhaps because the social faux pas are more evident to a modern reader. I often feel I'm missing something when I read Austen--the manners so central to the comedy are a bit too removed from our own day.

The acting is really first rate. All the characters come across as full-orbed. The heroine, Molly, is virtuous but outspoken, trustworthy to a fault and perhaps a bit too attached to her father. The stepmother who enters the story is an interesting riff on the stereotype: she's a bit self-absorbed and small-minded, but she's more weak than anything else and never cruel. She fumbles at asserting her role as mistress of the house, coming across as a pitiable character. Along with the stepmother comes a daughter, Cynthia, who is also quite a mixed bag. She's beautiful, charming, free spirited and careless. Though she and Molly become fast friends, her charm and carelessness get her into sticky situations from which Molly loyally tries to rescue her. The hardest part of the story is when Molly crucifies her desires, standing back as the man she loves falls for Cynthia, who neither cherishes nor deserves his love.

The hero and main love interest, Roger, is also pretty unusual. Instead of a rakish, dashing fellow, or a romantic artist or poet, he's a naturalist. He spends his hours outdoors collecting insects and pond scum, then brings his finds inside to draw or examine under a microscope. He seems a far more iteresting hero than most men you'll find in women's literature. He's the guy Gilbert Blythe (Anne of Green Gables series) could be if L.M. Montgomery were better at writing men.

There's a strong undercurrent involving class issues. Most of the romances take place across class boundaries. Those who oppose the matches are often humbled later for their opinion. At one point, Molly repirmands the daughter of the most fabulously wealthy family in town, Lady Harriet, a young woman about 5-7 years her senior. Lady Harriet had confided that she's been invited the home of two middle class spinster sisters who she considers "quite ridiculous," and Molly chides her to not go if you're only going to gawk and laugh, adding that she dislikes hearing her class spoken of that way. Lady Harriet takes the rebuke in stride and her admiration for Molly grows to the point that she takes great pains to help her "protege" ever after. Lady Harriet's brother likewise admires Roger's first-class brain and becomes his benefactor. It was refreshing to see noblesse oblige working properly.

Most of all, I think Wives and Daughters is a fascinating character study in the effects of different parenting. Molly loses her mother at a young age, yet matures into a loyal, soft-hearted girl. Her foil and stepsister, Cynthia, loses her father at a young age. Yet Cynthia matures into a woman who is unable to feel deeply or make meaningful connections with people.

One would expect the motherless girl to fare worse, but Molly is more fully human. Gaskell’s point is that a child needs loving care, regardless of the sex of the parent who gives it.

Cynthia’s living mother treats her as a burden from the beginning of widowhood, sending Cynthia off to boarding school at age 4. Every school vacation, Cynthia is left in the care of strangers while her mother travels with the great families that employ her as governess.

The net effect of this continued neglect is a vanity and manipulativeness, someone who cannot ever turn off the charm for fear of rejection. Yet Cynthia is apt to reject others, three suitors in all in the course of the novel. She admits that she’s not really capable of love or deep feeling for others. Today I think Cynthia would be said to suffer from an attachment disorder.

Molly, on the other hand, is blessed to be educated at home by a loving governess. She lives in a community where the women watch out for her, take an interest in her growth, strive to keep up a relationship with her. Though her father is a busy country doctor in the age of nothing but house calls, he works to be as available as he can. Theirs is a relationship of nurture and friendship. Gaskell paints their intimacy by showing father and daughter kneeling at the fireside, making toasted cheese sandwiches and amiably talking about the day’s events.

When Molly’s father marries Cynthia’s mother, thinking it will help is “poor motherless girl,” Gaskell makes it clear that it’s far too late for Molly to be helped by a stepmother. Her good character is well formed by age 17, as is Cynthia’s weak character. A great tension of the story is whether either girl will be swayed by the new family circumstances so late in “childhood.”

What literary classics have you most enjoyed? What have you learned from them?
Friday, February 08, 2019 Laurel Garver
If you haven't seen the BBC miniseries Wives and Daughters, based on the unfinished novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, I heartily recommend it. I found the story more accessible than Austen's works, perhaps because the social faux pas are more evident to a modern reader. I often feel I'm missing something when I read Austen--the manners so central to the comedy are a bit too removed from our own day.

The acting is really first rate. All the characters come across as full-orbed. The heroine, Molly, is virtuous but outspoken, trustworthy to a fault and perhaps a bit too attached to her father. The stepmother who enters the story is an interesting riff on the stereotype: she's a bit self-absorbed and small-minded, but she's more weak than anything else and never cruel. She fumbles at asserting her role as mistress of the house, coming across as a pitiable character. Along with the stepmother comes a daughter, Cynthia, who is also quite a mixed bag. She's beautiful, charming, free spirited and careless. Though she and Molly become fast friends, her charm and carelessness get her into sticky situations from which Molly loyally tries to rescue her. The hardest part of the story is when Molly crucifies her desires, standing back as the man she loves falls for Cynthia, who neither cherishes nor deserves his love.

The hero and main love interest, Roger, is also pretty unusual. Instead of a rakish, dashing fellow, or a romantic artist or poet, he's a naturalist. He spends his hours outdoors collecting insects and pond scum, then brings his finds inside to draw or examine under a microscope. He seems a far more iteresting hero than most men you'll find in women's literature. He's the guy Gilbert Blythe (Anne of Green Gables series) could be if L.M. Montgomery were better at writing men.

There's a strong undercurrent involving class issues. Most of the romances take place across class boundaries. Those who oppose the matches are often humbled later for their opinion. At one point, Molly repirmands the daughter of the most fabulously wealthy family in town, Lady Harriet, a young woman about 5-7 years her senior. Lady Harriet had confided that she's been invited the home of two middle class spinster sisters who she considers "quite ridiculous," and Molly chides her to not go if you're only going to gawk and laugh, adding that she dislikes hearing her class spoken of that way. Lady Harriet takes the rebuke in stride and her admiration for Molly grows to the point that she takes great pains to help her "protege" ever after. Lady Harriet's brother likewise admires Roger's first-class brain and becomes his benefactor. It was refreshing to see noblesse oblige working properly.

Most of all, I think Wives and Daughters is a fascinating character study in the effects of different parenting. Molly loses her mother at a young age, yet matures into a loyal, soft-hearted girl. Her foil and stepsister, Cynthia, loses her father at a young age. Yet Cynthia matures into a woman who is unable to feel deeply or make meaningful connections with people.

One would expect the motherless girl to fare worse, but Molly is more fully human. Gaskell’s point is that a child needs loving care, regardless of the sex of the parent who gives it.

Cynthia’s living mother treats her as a burden from the beginning of widowhood, sending Cynthia off to boarding school at age 4. Every school vacation, Cynthia is left in the care of strangers while her mother travels with the great families that employ her as governess.

The net effect of this continued neglect is a vanity and manipulativeness, someone who cannot ever turn off the charm for fear of rejection. Yet Cynthia is apt to reject others, three suitors in all in the course of the novel. She admits that she’s not really capable of love or deep feeling for others. Today I think Cynthia would be said to suffer from an attachment disorder.

Molly, on the other hand, is blessed to be educated at home by a loving governess. She lives in a community where the women watch out for her, take an interest in her growth, strive to keep up a relationship with her. Though her father is a busy country doctor in the age of nothing but house calls, he works to be as available as he can. Theirs is a relationship of nurture and friendship. Gaskell paints their intimacy by showing father and daughter kneeling at the fireside, making toasted cheese sandwiches and amiably talking about the day’s events.

When Molly’s father marries Cynthia’s mother, thinking it will help is “poor motherless girl,” Gaskell makes it clear that it’s far too late for Molly to be helped by a stepmother. Her good character is well formed by age 17, as is Cynthia’s weak character. A great tension of the story is whether either girl will be swayed by the new family circumstances so late in “childhood.”

What literary classics have you most enjoyed? What have you learned from them?

Thursday, January 24

I confess I wasn't much of a reader in my childhood. From age 4 to almost 9, I lived on a 100-acre farm (most of it forested), where I spent many happy afternoons imagining adventures with a host of imaginary friends, a few barn cats at my heels. Being cooped up inside looking at paper was the stuff of school, the stuff of have-to, must, and you'd better.... Out among the trees was the stuff of color, texture, and life of all kinds. The worlds my imagination built were more real to me than Dick and Jane, cursive, and George Washington.

I suspect this concerned my parents a bit. They were both big readers who filled our house with books and magazines. They often read to me at bedtime, and on long car trips, Mom or one of my sibs would read aloud to us. Several books of the Narnia series got us through the insanely long drive from Pennsylvania to my grandparents' house in western Montana.

My parents rarely, if ever, watched TV. In fact, my oldest siblings grew up without one in the house. I was, according to them, lucky to even have a TV. It was black-and-white in an era when absolutely everyone else had color, and we got only four channels out in the sticks--the three major networks and PBS. The 70s weren't known for realistic programming--aside from the Bionic Man, Wonder Woman,  and Fantasy Island, were the distant luxury worlds of The Love Boat, and the sanitized "Old West" of Little House on the Prairie. These shows, plus The Wonderful World of Disney, and some Saturday cartoons made up my entertainment diet, which was quite time-limited. When I complained about my meager TV time, "Go play," was the usual response. So I did.

We ended up having to sell the farm because my father had a mental health crisis. My ability to get lost in my imaginary world saved me, I think. Out in the woods, I could process my anxieties. Nature soothed me and brought joy in a very dark time for our family.

Our new home was a more manageable three acres, part of it wooded with a creek, so the adventures--and my source of nature therapy--continued there. Through a school friend, I soon got caught up in an obsession with horses. Her family had kept them sporadically, and she took riding lessons from a stable near her house. Many a Saturday, I trailed her around the barn, soaking up knowledge about how to care for these amazing creatures.

My seventh-grade reading teacher somehow caught onto the fact that I didn't really read for pleasure, though I had no struggles other than a lack of interest. One day during study hall, she called me over to her closet at the back of the classroom. "I hear you like horses," she whispered conspiratorially. "Check this out." She handed me a book with a gorgeous bay mare on the cover. "You want to borrow it?" Boy, did I ever.

I read every horse book Mrs. Brooks had. Over the next two years, I read nearly every horse story my public library had, and there were quite a few. When I finished those, I read other books written for middle schoolers, most notably Madeleine L'Engle's work.

During the same period, I was placed in the gifted program, and our advisor got us playing Dungeons and Dragons as a problem-solving and creativity-building exercise. D&D draws on historic and fantastical lore from many, many sources, which opened up even more avenues for reading for me. And the storytelling aspect of role play also captured my imagination.

Soon I was writing my own stories. Not just short works, but the beginnings of full novels with large casts of characters. The itch to create worlds with words was a natural outflow of many, many hours spent in creative play early on. My writing only grew from there, and my love of reading continued to flourish into an English degree and a career in publishing.

So if you have a reluctant reader in your house, take heart.  Not every writer starts out bookish. Model good reading habits. Keep your home full of books that are cool to look at. Read aloud to this child and as a whole family, enjoying and discussing a book together. Limit TV and computer time. Give lots of outdoor playtime in nature. Be patient for the right opportunity to let your child follow their passions in pleasure reading.

Have you seen other reluctant readers go on to become writers? What encouragement would you give to parents of reluctant readers?
Thursday, January 24, 2019 Laurel Garver
I confess I wasn't much of a reader in my childhood. From age 4 to almost 9, I lived on a 100-acre farm (most of it forested), where I spent many happy afternoons imagining adventures with a host of imaginary friends, a few barn cats at my heels. Being cooped up inside looking at paper was the stuff of school, the stuff of have-to, must, and you'd better.... Out among the trees was the stuff of color, texture, and life of all kinds. The worlds my imagination built were more real to me than Dick and Jane, cursive, and George Washington.

I suspect this concerned my parents a bit. They were both big readers who filled our house with books and magazines. They often read to me at bedtime, and on long car trips, Mom or one of my sibs would read aloud to us. Several books of the Narnia series got us through the insanely long drive from Pennsylvania to my grandparents' house in western Montana.

My parents rarely, if ever, watched TV. In fact, my oldest siblings grew up without one in the house. I was, according to them, lucky to even have a TV. It was black-and-white in an era when absolutely everyone else had color, and we got only four channels out in the sticks--the three major networks and PBS. The 70s weren't known for realistic programming--aside from the Bionic Man, Wonder Woman,  and Fantasy Island, were the distant luxury worlds of The Love Boat, and the sanitized "Old West" of Little House on the Prairie. These shows, plus The Wonderful World of Disney, and some Saturday cartoons made up my entertainment diet, which was quite time-limited. When I complained about my meager TV time, "Go play," was the usual response. So I did.

We ended up having to sell the farm because my father had a mental health crisis. My ability to get lost in my imaginary world saved me, I think. Out in the woods, I could process my anxieties. Nature soothed me and brought joy in a very dark time for our family.

Our new home was a more manageable three acres, part of it wooded with a creek, so the adventures--and my source of nature therapy--continued there. Through a school friend, I soon got caught up in an obsession with horses. Her family had kept them sporadically, and she took riding lessons from a stable near her house. Many a Saturday, I trailed her around the barn, soaking up knowledge about how to care for these amazing creatures.

My seventh-grade reading teacher somehow caught onto the fact that I didn't really read for pleasure, though I had no struggles other than a lack of interest. One day during study hall, she called me over to her closet at the back of the classroom. "I hear you like horses," she whispered conspiratorially. "Check this out." She handed me a book with a gorgeous bay mare on the cover. "You want to borrow it?" Boy, did I ever.

I read every horse book Mrs. Brooks had. Over the next two years, I read nearly every horse story my public library had, and there were quite a few. When I finished those, I read other books written for middle schoolers, most notably Madeleine L'Engle's work.

During the same period, I was placed in the gifted program, and our advisor got us playing Dungeons and Dragons as a problem-solving and creativity-building exercise. D&D draws on historic and fantastical lore from many, many sources, which opened up even more avenues for reading for me. And the storytelling aspect of role play also captured my imagination.

Soon I was writing my own stories. Not just short works, but the beginnings of full novels with large casts of characters. The itch to create worlds with words was a natural outflow of many, many hours spent in creative play early on. My writing only grew from there, and my love of reading continued to flourish into an English degree and a career in publishing.

So if you have a reluctant reader in your house, take heart.  Not every writer starts out bookish. Model good reading habits. Keep your home full of books that are cool to look at. Read aloud to this child and as a whole family, enjoying and discussing a book together. Limit TV and computer time. Give lots of outdoor playtime in nature. Be patient for the right opportunity to let your child follow their passions in pleasure reading.

Have you seen other reluctant readers go on to become writers? What encouragement would you give to parents of reluctant readers?

Thursday, January 17

One surprisingly helpful class from my undergrad days was a theatre course I took called "Basic Movement." In it, we learned some of the tools of the trade of acting--stances, carriage, gestures, playing to the audience, and of course, choreographed violence.

An ongoing assignment throughout the semester was keeping a "movement journal," in which we recorded observations about how certain body types move, motions unique to certain activities, and how people express emotion through movement. The goal of all this analysis was to build up our own repertoires of motion, so that we could embody various roles.

I've at times joked here about "stalking" students who remind me of my characters. These motion studies are particularly what I try to do. Once I've found the right body type, I've got the perfect model from which to get the data I need. I observe his stride--smooth, bouncy, swaggering, trudging? What's his usual posture? Is he apt to smile at strangers, or have a more closed expression? How does he hold objects? Ham-fisted? Gently by his fingertips? Loose and relaxed? Precise and uptight?

Emotional exchanges go on all the time on the college campus where I work. Because of that movement class, I now watch for the postures and gestures that make up the physical expression of those emotions. You don't even need to be in eavesdropping range to discern the kind of emotions people are expressing. Their bodies shout them.

A particularly powerful lesson from that class was our focus on the body rather than the face as an expressive vehicle. We had to wear dance unitards to every class, and did most of our in-class exercises and performances wearing masks. In many classes we did charades-like exercises: a pair would act certain emotions toward one another without speaking and in masks, and our classmates would have to guess what we were expressing. Those who'd put in the time researching for their journals usually won big time.

If you struggle with "talking head" dialogue, I recommend spending some time people watching and gathering data on how they move. Watch not only faces, but necks, shoulders, spines, hands, legs and feet. An acting class can be surprisingly horizon broadening, too.

Because this kind of research has borne so much fruit for me, I created a tool to help you create your own movement journal and keep those observations organized, to use in any fiction project, no matter what genre: Emotions in the Wild: A Writer's Observation Journal.

This pocket-sized paperback is easy to tote with you and turn waiting in the doctor's office, carpool line, or checkout lane into rich research time.

Get it here: Amazon (US) / Amazon (UK) / Barnes and Noble / Book Depository (free shipping worldwide)



How might a "movement journal" help your writing?
Thursday, January 17, 2019 Laurel Garver
One surprisingly helpful class from my undergrad days was a theatre course I took called "Basic Movement." In it, we learned some of the tools of the trade of acting--stances, carriage, gestures, playing to the audience, and of course, choreographed violence.

An ongoing assignment throughout the semester was keeping a "movement journal," in which we recorded observations about how certain body types move, motions unique to certain activities, and how people express emotion through movement. The goal of all this analysis was to build up our own repertoires of motion, so that we could embody various roles.

I've at times joked here about "stalking" students who remind me of my characters. These motion studies are particularly what I try to do. Once I've found the right body type, I've got the perfect model from which to get the data I need. I observe his stride--smooth, bouncy, swaggering, trudging? What's his usual posture? Is he apt to smile at strangers, or have a more closed expression? How does he hold objects? Ham-fisted? Gently by his fingertips? Loose and relaxed? Precise and uptight?

Emotional exchanges go on all the time on the college campus where I work. Because of that movement class, I now watch for the postures and gestures that make up the physical expression of those emotions. You don't even need to be in eavesdropping range to discern the kind of emotions people are expressing. Their bodies shout them.

A particularly powerful lesson from that class was our focus on the body rather than the face as an expressive vehicle. We had to wear dance unitards to every class, and did most of our in-class exercises and performances wearing masks. In many classes we did charades-like exercises: a pair would act certain emotions toward one another without speaking and in masks, and our classmates would have to guess what we were expressing. Those who'd put in the time researching for their journals usually won big time.

If you struggle with "talking head" dialogue, I recommend spending some time people watching and gathering data on how they move. Watch not only faces, but necks, shoulders, spines, hands, legs and feet. An acting class can be surprisingly horizon broadening, too.

Because this kind of research has borne so much fruit for me, I created a tool to help you create your own movement journal and keep those observations organized, to use in any fiction project, no matter what genre: Emotions in the Wild: A Writer's Observation Journal.

This pocket-sized paperback is easy to tote with you and turn waiting in the doctor's office, carpool line, or checkout lane into rich research time.

Get it here: Amazon (US) / Amazon (UK) / Barnes and Noble / Book Depository (free shipping worldwide)



How might a "movement journal" help your writing?

Thursday, January 10

Hello, friends. It's a new year, and high time I return to my neglected blog. To help me get over my inertia, I thought I'd respond to questions I've been asked that are writing process-oriented rather than editing-related, and offer some online writing coaching.

Dear Coach Laurel,

I'm looking to write a mini history of growing up. Something to keep memories alive and to share with my mom.  But I can't seem to get started. Any tips or techniques?

Sincerely,
Forget-me-not

---

That sounds cool, and I applaud you. Not many ever take the time, and their life stories are thus forever lost.

I completely understand being daunted by the task. Many people get discouraged about writing, thinking there has to be some secret technique. But beginning an informal memoir project like this is really quite simple. 

Start by considering your most powerful memories--the ones you most want your loved ones to know--and make a list of them. I'd recommend using the jot technique, putting a sentence or two on an index card. You can later sort the cards into chronological order or thematic categories. 

(If you find yourself getting stuck after the first dozen ideas, consider working with prompts like "59 memoir ideas," "drawing from a well of experience," "NYT 500 prompts for narrative and personal writng.")

Next, begin to work your way through your jot-prompts, writing out that memory. Start with whichever memory floods back the most fully when you view your jotted note. Keep in mind that we all gravitate toward problem-oriented stories--what went horribly wrong and how that hardship was coped with.

Tell the story as if you had a kid on your knee, or an old friend across the table, eager to hear about what you did, and what happened next. You absolutely should do that quite literally and record yourself, if that's easiest. Then transcribe your recording. Or just imagine that audience of one as you write, to help you make decisions about what details would appeal most to that person. 

This draft doesn't have to be perfect or even terribly coherent. It's better to write a lot and sloppily than be cramped up with fear about doing it perfectly. My mantra is "You can always fix it later!" Be brave enough to write a super rough draft, let it cool off, then come back to it at a later point and revise. 

Once you have a lot of material, then decide how you want to shape it. Strict chronology is perfectly fine as an organizing principle, though consider grouping material thematically. 

If your goal is simply to preserve family stories for the next generation, don't worry too much about creating a very literary or very sensational manuscript to hook a publisher. (They're mostly interested in celebrities anyway.) Simply tell your experiences as you remember them, with as much detail, humor or wisdom as you can. 

Thanks to print-on-demand technology, it's easy to turn your musings and memories into an attractive book your can pass along to loved ones. 

Q4U: What are some of your favorite memoirs? What might motivate you to preserve your life stories?

Thursday, January 10, 2019 Laurel Garver
Hello, friends. It's a new year, and high time I return to my neglected blog. To help me get over my inertia, I thought I'd respond to questions I've been asked that are writing process-oriented rather than editing-related, and offer some online writing coaching.

Dear Coach Laurel,

I'm looking to write a mini history of growing up. Something to keep memories alive and to share with my mom.  But I can't seem to get started. Any tips or techniques?

Sincerely,
Forget-me-not

---

That sounds cool, and I applaud you. Not many ever take the time, and their life stories are thus forever lost.

I completely understand being daunted by the task. Many people get discouraged about writing, thinking there has to be some secret technique. But beginning an informal memoir project like this is really quite simple. 

Start by considering your most powerful memories--the ones you most want your loved ones to know--and make a list of them. I'd recommend using the jot technique, putting a sentence or two on an index card. You can later sort the cards into chronological order or thematic categories. 

(If you find yourself getting stuck after the first dozen ideas, consider working with prompts like "59 memoir ideas," "drawing from a well of experience," "NYT 500 prompts for narrative and personal writng.")

Next, begin to work your way through your jot-prompts, writing out that memory. Start with whichever memory floods back the most fully when you view your jotted note. Keep in mind that we all gravitate toward problem-oriented stories--what went horribly wrong and how that hardship was coped with.

Tell the story as if you had a kid on your knee, or an old friend across the table, eager to hear about what you did, and what happened next. You absolutely should do that quite literally and record yourself, if that's easiest. Then transcribe your recording. Or just imagine that audience of one as you write, to help you make decisions about what details would appeal most to that person. 

This draft doesn't have to be perfect or even terribly coherent. It's better to write a lot and sloppily than be cramped up with fear about doing it perfectly. My mantra is "You can always fix it later!" Be brave enough to write a super rough draft, let it cool off, then come back to it at a later point and revise. 

Once you have a lot of material, then decide how you want to shape it. Strict chronology is perfectly fine as an organizing principle, though consider grouping material thematically. 

If your goal is simply to preserve family stories for the next generation, don't worry too much about creating a very literary or very sensational manuscript to hook a publisher. (They're mostly interested in celebrities anyway.) Simply tell your experiences as you remember them, with as much detail, humor or wisdom as you can. 

Thanks to print-on-demand technology, it's easy to turn your musings and memories into an attractive book your can pass along to loved ones. 

Q4U: What are some of your favorite memoirs? What might motivate you to preserve your life stories?

Thursday, October 4

Dear Editor-on-Call:

When should you capitalize a noun such as "the Virus"? In my WIP, the characters refer to a virus which ended up wiping out most of the human population. Would it be correct to say "the Virus" when referring to it? If so, when they speak of it as belong to a certain person (the creator) would they say "his virus" or "his Virus"?

--Capitals Conundrum

Dear Cap,

The general rule on capitalization in English is to capitalize proper nouns. In other words, NAMES of specific things.

People and animals
Bob Marley. Billy the Kid. Bo Jangles. Street Sense (racehorse). Tolkien Raintree Mister Baggins (show dog).

Adjectives based on names are also capitalized--Alexander technique, Freudian slip.

Places and Organizations
Seattle. Republic of Congo. Piccadilly Circus. Shop Rite. Grover Cleveland High School. Purdue University. Red Cross. Roman Catholic Church.

Adjectives based on places are also capitalized--French fries, English grammar.

Caveat: some regions are referred to by a directional name, such as "the West." Context should make clear that what's meant is either the geographic region west of the Mississippi or the culture of the western hemisphere (vs. the eastern). 

Titles of artistic works (except the non-leading prepositions, coordinating conjunctions, and articles [a, an, the])
The Mona Lisa. The Marriage of FigaroTo the Lighthouse. "She Walks in Beauty." Terminator. Waiting for Godot. "You Belong to Me."

Trademarked products
Kleenex. Big Mac. Kindle.

Named events and holidays (same rules as artistic work titles)
Cloverdale County Fair. Annual Walk for Peace. Easter. Rosh Hashanah.

Calendar units (for lack of a better category)
Summer. September. Friday.

The category of noun you describe is a thing. It's less common for a thing to be specifically named, unless it is an artistic work, a trademarked product or a copy of a living thing (Barbie, Winnie the Pooh). We more often use generic terms that the grammar gurus call "common nouns": tree, couch, daisy, leopard, skateboard, pork chop, party, secretary, professor, chemistry, sculpture.

You might have only one spleen, but I'm willing to bet you haven't named it. Likewise, diseases are not treated like proper nouns unless they are named after a person or another proper noun (like a place).

Example:
Julie has diabetes, Glenn has Parkinson's disease and their puppy has Lyme disease.
Jared might have irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn's disease.
Baby Miles needs measles, mumps and rubella inoculations.

If you want to give your fictional virus a name that takes a capital, name it for its creator or the one who discovered it: Malfoy virus, for example. Otherwise, refer to it simply as "the virus" and "his virus."

Which of these trip you up? Any follow-up questions on capitalization rules?
Thursday, October 04, 2018 Laurel Garver
Dear Editor-on-Call:

When should you capitalize a noun such as "the Virus"? In my WIP, the characters refer to a virus which ended up wiping out most of the human population. Would it be correct to say "the Virus" when referring to it? If so, when they speak of it as belong to a certain person (the creator) would they say "his virus" or "his Virus"?

--Capitals Conundrum

Dear Cap,

The general rule on capitalization in English is to capitalize proper nouns. In other words, NAMES of specific things.

People and animals
Bob Marley. Billy the Kid. Bo Jangles. Street Sense (racehorse). Tolkien Raintree Mister Baggins (show dog).

Adjectives based on names are also capitalized--Alexander technique, Freudian slip.

Places and Organizations
Seattle. Republic of Congo. Piccadilly Circus. Shop Rite. Grover Cleveland High School. Purdue University. Red Cross. Roman Catholic Church.

Adjectives based on places are also capitalized--French fries, English grammar.

Caveat: some regions are referred to by a directional name, such as "the West." Context should make clear that what's meant is either the geographic region west of the Mississippi or the culture of the western hemisphere (vs. the eastern). 

Titles of artistic works (except the non-leading prepositions, coordinating conjunctions, and articles [a, an, the])
The Mona Lisa. The Marriage of FigaroTo the Lighthouse. "She Walks in Beauty." Terminator. Waiting for Godot. "You Belong to Me."

Trademarked products
Kleenex. Big Mac. Kindle.

Named events and holidays (same rules as artistic work titles)
Cloverdale County Fair. Annual Walk for Peace. Easter. Rosh Hashanah.

Calendar units (for lack of a better category)
Summer. September. Friday.

The category of noun you describe is a thing. It's less common for a thing to be specifically named, unless it is an artistic work, a trademarked product or a copy of a living thing (Barbie, Winnie the Pooh). We more often use generic terms that the grammar gurus call "common nouns": tree, couch, daisy, leopard, skateboard, pork chop, party, secretary, professor, chemistry, sculpture.

You might have only one spleen, but I'm willing to bet you haven't named it. Likewise, diseases are not treated like proper nouns unless they are named after a person or another proper noun (like a place).

Example:
Julie has diabetes, Glenn has Parkinson's disease and their puppy has Lyme disease.
Jared might have irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn's disease.
Baby Miles needs measles, mumps and rubella inoculations.

If you want to give your fictional virus a name that takes a capital, name it for its creator or the one who discovered it: Malfoy virus, for example. Otherwise, refer to it simply as "the virus" and "his virus."

Which of these trip you up? Any follow-up questions on capitalization rules?

Monday, September 10

by guest author Lauren H. Salisbury

Tolkien deployed invented languages to enrich his fantasy.
There’s nothing better than opening a new book and being swept away into an imaginary world. I love discovering fantastical realms peopled by strange races and bizarre creatures. I also enjoy the sense of immersion that comes from comprehensive world-building, one of the hallmarks of my favourite speculative fiction.

Using an original language is often part of this. Just as little details add a sense of realism to a setting, even a couple of words or phrases can make a huge difference to the overall impression of an unfamiliar culture or species. In fact, where there’s no unique terminology, I often feel like something’s missing, which can disconnect me from the narrative.

I wanted my own worlds to be as authentic as possible, so I invented languages for each species. My process was reasonably simple and involved the following three stages:

Sounds

I started with the overall sound I wanted my languages to have, whether to make them guttural, lyrical, harsh or soft. Did I want clicks or glottal stops? Based on this, would they use or omit any specific letters?

This was influenced by the general image I wanted to create for each species. For instance, Esarelians are ambitious and politically astute, making alliances and continually plotting. Baketags are a warrior race with a strict honour code, and Oeals are empaths known for manipulation. I chose soft sounding consonants and glottal stops for the Esarelians while Baketags have hard, clipped sounds, and Oeals use mostly vowels in their speech. This gave me a pool of letters from which to draw when naming characters and inventing specific words.

Grammar

Once I knew what sounds I wanted, I thought briefly about how complex the grammar should be for each language. Things like word length, whether they’d use prefixes and suffixes, whether adjectives and adverbs went before or after nouns. I didn’t want to go too deep into this area, as I only wanted a taste of each language, but it helped me build the words I did need.

For example, Baketag words have only one syllable with adjectives forming suffixes. Their words also join together to form longer single words and don't include articles, determiners, auxiliary verbs, etc. The name Baketag—people (bak), warriors (et), leader (ag)—translates to “people who are warriors under the ultimate leader.” Their planet, Vobaket is “planet of the people who are warriors.”

Specifics – Names and Phrases

With the sounds and basic grammar in place, I was able to create specific words and phrases that would imply cultural references and make each species more authentic. For instance, Esarelian names have two syllables, and the second often denotes class. I was able to play with this principle in the first book, having a character’s suspicions regarding another’s rank confirmed by her name, which made the scene much more interesting and nuanced.

As for the number of alien words I incorporated, that was more intuitive. I started with the names of the main characters, a handful of animals and plants, some foods, and a phrase or two that would fit the story or act as a species’ motto. After that, I added more as I needed them. For Conviction, this included an Esarelian game of strategy and a term for suspected assassination.

I only use alien words and phrases where they’d appear naturally, and I’ve tried several means of explaining their meaning. These methods range from a simple definition following the term, i.e., “As the Ra’hon, the ultimate leader, of the largest known Empire, Ashal needed to…,” to an integrated explanation. Here’s an example from Conviction.



I also found that having a clear idea of their language influenced the way I wrote the narrative in scenes from their viewpoint. I avoided contractions and stuck more rigidly to grammar rules than I did in scenes with a human viewpoint. This reflected their formal speech and helped distinguish them as an alien species.

Several readers have specifically mentioned the way I balance the alien and familiar in my novels, and including parts of their language was one of the main ways I accomplished that.

I hope sharing my process has shown that constructing languages doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated to be effective. However, I’m by no means an expert, and I highly recommend reading around the area, especially if you want to invent more than just a few phrases and names. There are a lot of great resources out there, but a good place to start would be the Language Creation Society at conlang.org.

Thank you for taking the time to find out a little bit about me and my writing, and have fun!


About the Author

Lauren H. Salisbury was an English teacher for sixteen years with an MA in Education. She is now a writer who dabbles with tutoring and lives with her husband and a room full of books in Yorkshire, England. She likes to spend winters abroad, following the sunshine and becoming the seasonal envy of her friends. When she’s not writing, she can be found spending time with family, reading, walking, crafting, or cooking. The Legacy Chronicles is her debut series.


Email list sign-up form: http://eepurl.com/djCo0z

About the Book

Conviction
The Legacy Chronicles 2
Christian speculative fiction

Can two people with opposing principles overcome their differences to be together?

Than has spent his life ostensibly having fun while secretly fighting for his people’s freedom. A member of the underground resistance, he is only ever serious around his comrades and his family. When an injury forces him to step down from active duty and his reluctant nurse sparks his interest, Than finds himself in uncharted territory. The fascinating woman will have nothing to do with him.

Menali’s past has taught her to keep her head down and trust that God has a reason for allowing the human race to suffer on U’du. When Than explodes into her life, he refuses to take no for an answer and challenges all of her preconceptions. He soon has her re-evaluating her priorities and wondering what life with someone like him would be like.


The Legacy Chronicles available here:

Conviction: http://a.co/doeQtkg

Giveaway

Use the Rafflecopter below to enter Lauren's giveaway, a Conviction swag bag, which contains character pictures, a themed greeting card, a cross stitched bookmark, a stone necklace and a signed print of the passage it's taken from.


a Rafflecopter giveaway


Q4U: How have linguistic details enhanced your favorite spec fic books? 
Any questions for Lauren?

Monday, September 10, 2018 Laurel Garver
by guest author Lauren H. Salisbury

Tolkien deployed invented languages to enrich his fantasy.
There’s nothing better than opening a new book and being swept away into an imaginary world. I love discovering fantastical realms peopled by strange races and bizarre creatures. I also enjoy the sense of immersion that comes from comprehensive world-building, one of the hallmarks of my favourite speculative fiction.

Using an original language is often part of this. Just as little details add a sense of realism to a setting, even a couple of words or phrases can make a huge difference to the overall impression of an unfamiliar culture or species. In fact, where there’s no unique terminology, I often feel like something’s missing, which can disconnect me from the narrative.

I wanted my own worlds to be as authentic as possible, so I invented languages for each species. My process was reasonably simple and involved the following three stages:

Sounds

I started with the overall sound I wanted my languages to have, whether to make them guttural, lyrical, harsh or soft. Did I want clicks or glottal stops? Based on this, would they use or omit any specific letters?

This was influenced by the general image I wanted to create for each species. For instance, Esarelians are ambitious and politically astute, making alliances and continually plotting. Baketags are a warrior race with a strict honour code, and Oeals are empaths known for manipulation. I chose soft sounding consonants and glottal stops for the Esarelians while Baketags have hard, clipped sounds, and Oeals use mostly vowels in their speech. This gave me a pool of letters from which to draw when naming characters and inventing specific words.

Grammar

Once I knew what sounds I wanted, I thought briefly about how complex the grammar should be for each language. Things like word length, whether they’d use prefixes and suffixes, whether adjectives and adverbs went before or after nouns. I didn’t want to go too deep into this area, as I only wanted a taste of each language, but it helped me build the words I did need.

For example, Baketag words have only one syllable with adjectives forming suffixes. Their words also join together to form longer single words and don't include articles, determiners, auxiliary verbs, etc. The name Baketag—people (bak), warriors (et), leader (ag)—translates to “people who are warriors under the ultimate leader.” Their planet, Vobaket is “planet of the people who are warriors.”

Specifics – Names and Phrases

With the sounds and basic grammar in place, I was able to create specific words and phrases that would imply cultural references and make each species more authentic. For instance, Esarelian names have two syllables, and the second often denotes class. I was able to play with this principle in the first book, having a character’s suspicions regarding another’s rank confirmed by her name, which made the scene much more interesting and nuanced.

As for the number of alien words I incorporated, that was more intuitive. I started with the names of the main characters, a handful of animals and plants, some foods, and a phrase or two that would fit the story or act as a species’ motto. After that, I added more as I needed them. For Conviction, this included an Esarelian game of strategy and a term for suspected assassination.

I only use alien words and phrases where they’d appear naturally, and I’ve tried several means of explaining their meaning. These methods range from a simple definition following the term, i.e., “As the Ra’hon, the ultimate leader, of the largest known Empire, Ashal needed to…,” to an integrated explanation. Here’s an example from Conviction.



I also found that having a clear idea of their language influenced the way I wrote the narrative in scenes from their viewpoint. I avoided contractions and stuck more rigidly to grammar rules than I did in scenes with a human viewpoint. This reflected their formal speech and helped distinguish them as an alien species.

Several readers have specifically mentioned the way I balance the alien and familiar in my novels, and including parts of their language was one of the main ways I accomplished that.

I hope sharing my process has shown that constructing languages doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated to be effective. However, I’m by no means an expert, and I highly recommend reading around the area, especially if you want to invent more than just a few phrases and names. There are a lot of great resources out there, but a good place to start would be the Language Creation Society at conlang.org.

Thank you for taking the time to find out a little bit about me and my writing, and have fun!


About the Author

Lauren H. Salisbury was an English teacher for sixteen years with an MA in Education. She is now a writer who dabbles with tutoring and lives with her husband and a room full of books in Yorkshire, England. She likes to spend winters abroad, following the sunshine and becoming the seasonal envy of her friends. When she’s not writing, she can be found spending time with family, reading, walking, crafting, or cooking. The Legacy Chronicles is her debut series.


Email list sign-up form: http://eepurl.com/djCo0z

About the Book

Conviction
The Legacy Chronicles 2
Christian speculative fiction

Can two people with opposing principles overcome their differences to be together?

Than has spent his life ostensibly having fun while secretly fighting for his people’s freedom. A member of the underground resistance, he is only ever serious around his comrades and his family. When an injury forces him to step down from active duty and his reluctant nurse sparks his interest, Than finds himself in uncharted territory. The fascinating woman will have nothing to do with him.

Menali’s past has taught her to keep her head down and trust that God has a reason for allowing the human race to suffer on U’du. When Than explodes into her life, he refuses to take no for an answer and challenges all of her preconceptions. He soon has her re-evaluating her priorities and wondering what life with someone like him would be like.


The Legacy Chronicles available here:

Conviction: http://a.co/doeQtkg

Giveaway

Use the Rafflecopter below to enter Lauren's giveaway, a Conviction swag bag, which contains character pictures, a themed greeting card, a cross stitched bookmark, a stone necklace and a signed print of the passage it's taken from.


a Rafflecopter giveaway


Q4U: How have linguistic details enhanced your favorite spec fic books? 
Any questions for Lauren?