Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Baby Stories

Well, if any of you are still following my blog, I am humbled extremely, because I have been a Very Bad Blogger. :(

I do have an excuse, though. My baby arrived on July 6, in a wild crazy Hollywood-style delivery. He (yes, it's a boy!) also brought quite a surprise with him. If you'd like to find out the details, the birth story is here: http://misadventuresandmiscellany.blogspot.com/2011/07/baby-is-born.html and the story of the surprise is here: http://misadventuresandmiscellany.blogspot.com/2011/07/our-super-special-boy.html

I promise to try to find time to blog HERE again soon!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sandbox Link: Harold Camping

Everyone's laughing at Harold Camping, but has anyone considered this angle of the latest and greatest End of the World prophecy?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Stinky Feet: What You Can Learn From Your Character's Shoes

Have you stepped into your character's shoes lately? Have you literally jumped feet-first into an intimate, probably odiferous detail of your character's life?

No? Well, grab a clothespin and some clean socks and prepare to be amazed at how much you can learn from a pair of shoes.

Ready? Okay, open your character's closet and ease your feet into your character's shoes, the ones they wear every day. Are they too big? too small? Let's say you're a woman, size eight, and your character is a woman, size seven. Too small, but never mind, for this exercise they magically fit.

What kind of shoes are they? Flats or heels? (Flats.) Flip-slops, sneakers, or slides? (Elegant leather slides.) Interesting. Go deeper. Sink your feet into the soles. Are they new and stiff, or comfortably worn? (Stiff, hard, and so new they hurt.) So appearance matters to your character, at the expense of comfort.

Now take a peek around the closet. Are the other shoes similar? You're puzzled: all the other shoes are casual ones, well-worn and comfy. Why has your character suddenly started wearing something different?

Kick the left shoe off now, and raise it to your nose. Yes, go on! Ugh. Sulphur and onions! So she's got smelly feet. What's that white poof of powder? Baking soda. So she's aware of the odor enough to do something about it. Why? Does she work somewhere where the occasional whiff of Foot is not acceptable? Is she dating someone, and eager not to offend? Or is she simply very conscious of herself? Is this self-consciousness why she started wearing these shoes in the first place?

There's nail polish on the edge of the shoe. Glittery silver. An unusual color. What made her choose this?

You're curious now. Step out of the shoes, and wait, invisible, as your character comes into the room and steps into them herself. Now, with the magic power of an author, enter your character. Become her, as she stands in those shoes.

Feel how her heelbones crunch against the hard soles of the slides. She's tired and discouraged. Her heels are itchy from the pumice rub she just gave them in the shower. She scuffs one against the toe of her other foot. A flake of polish chips off her toenail. Angrily, she bends over to yank at the loose flap.

You sense someone made fun of the color. A boyfriend?

“Dear mother-in-law.” An angry grunt as the polish is removed. “I can't keep anything of my own, can I? Not even this.”

Wow! Were you expecting that? I wasn't. I thought she was dating, and eager to impress that Perfect Someone. Instead, she's making an abnormal effort to please her mother-in-law, of all people. Why is the older woman's opinion so important? What does that say about Ms. X's marriage? Something's strange here, and obviously, it's crucial to the character.

See how much you can learn from sticking your feet into someone else's shoes? You can do this with clothes too, but for me, shoes work best: both men and women tend to individualize more with shoes than clothing. This is probably the single best way I know for getting to the sole of your character (pardon the pun: couldn't resist) and finding out what makes them tick. It works fantastically for exploring a new character, but try it on your tried-and-true standbys, as well. If you don't know how it feels to stand in your character's shoes, then you don't know your character as well as you should. Maybe none of what you learn will ever fit into your Epic Work, but the details you learn will change how you see your characters, and will give them depth they never had before.

Just...make sure you have a clothespin. Some of the details you turn up might be a little - smelly?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

New blog!

As most of you know I've been debating about whether to make this blog personal as well as writing-themed. After poking it with a stick, hanging upside down to examine it from all angles, and running it through a chemical test, I decided the idea was a bad one.

Problem was, in between a new life in Florida, an ever-increasing snarky view of the world, and out-of-control pregnancy hormones, I still have a lot to say. So, I started a new blog, where I can randomize to my heart's content. (http://misadventuresandmiscellany.blogspot.com/) If you're interested in my rambles, go ahead and take a peek, but if you only stop by here to read about WRITING, then rejoice! This blog's word-themed purity is back. :)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Author Interview: Linda Yezak

It's Author Interview time! Yay! Getting to share cool conversations with amazing and interesting people is my favorite part of blogging.

Today I get to interview Linda Yezak, who just published her first novel Give the Lady a Ride. Linda Yezak resides in the state of Texas, where tall tales abound and exaggeration is an art form. She lives in the heart of a forest with her husband, three cats, four ducks, and a pond full of fish. Aside from being a member of Women Writing the West (WWW) and The Christian PEN, she is a proud member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). Her debut novel, Give the Lady a Ride, was a finalist in the 2009 ACFW Genesis contest, and her work-in-progress, The Cat Lady's Secret, was a finalist in 2010. A self-described nut, she says, "I keep both feet candy-coated, because there's no telling when one or both will land in my mouth."

Candy flavor of choice? "Peppermint. Chocolate melts too fast."

Nina: Welcome to Notes From The Front, Linda! Tell us about yourself!

Linda: How I wish I could whip out some wonderful stories about how fascinating I am, but there isn’t much to tell. I’m a wife, step-mother, grandmother, with a degree in English and a grad certificate in paralegal studies, and now I’m a published author. Although I’m not physically capable of much anymore, I’m game for anything. I love fishing and hunting, canning and cooking, horses and cattle, needlework and baseball. My interests are eclectic. If I were younger, and away from all those who once told me not to, I’d add sky diver and barrel racer or show-horse jumper to the list. Oh well, c’est la vie!

Nina: Give the Lady a Ride is your first published novel. How does it feel to have a book in print?

Linda: Like a ride in a hot air balloon. In the weeks before the debut, I was scrambling to get everything prepped. Attach the flat balloon to the carrier basket, hook up the gas for the burner–or in writer’s terms, get my debut activities lined up, announcements printed and cyber-announcements posted, parties planned, guest pieces and interviews written.

The morning of the debut, I shot heat into the balloon in a glorious sunrise fire-up. Or for me, before sunrise. I was so excited I got up two hours before the sun even thought about climbing over the horizon.

As the day went on, my balloon sailed through the sky, fired by every encouraging comment and congratulatory remark.

And it’s still flying!

Nina: What is your favorite scene from Ride? What makes you like it?

Linda: There are so many it’s hard to choose, but I think my favorite comes near the end, and surprisingly doesn’t involve the hero, but one of the other ranch hands. Throughout the book, a character named “Frank” provides fatherly wisdom to the hero, Talon, about Patricia, but at the end, he shares his wisdom with Patricia too. I’m not going to reveal the scene here, but “cowboy logic” is the perfect term to explain what Frank has to say about Patricia’s ride!

The scene really revealed Frank’s character to me, and I just fell in love with him. I’m going to tell you a secret, because I’m not sure whether I’ll actually write a sequel to Ride, but I started one, and Frank is the hero of that book. I hope everyone comes to love him as much as I do, because if I do write the sequel, I’ll be presenting more of his cowboy logic. (Nina: Sequel about Frank? Oh yes yes!)

Nina: One of the hottest topics in Christian writing right now is how to weave faith into a novel without becoming preachy. I really like the practical down-to-earth cowboy faith you wove into Ride. Was it difficult to decide how much religion to put in the book?

Linda: Yes. Oh, yes. But I’ve never written anything that didn’t reflect my love for my Savior. Even in grad school, for my final grade in my criminal law class, I wrote about the Hebraic penal code (got an A too!).

Aside from worrying about how much religion to include, I also worried about religious views. I want to appeal to a broad audience, but Christians hold diverse beliefs on so many topics. Whether a new convert is sprinkled or submerged for baptism, whether dancing is allowed among the members, and so on. These topics can spark heated debates among the family of Christ.

With the folks in a cowboy church though, submerging is preferred and dancing is fine. Since my hero is a member of a such a church, I hope readers with different beliefs will forgive me if I’ve written things they don’t practice themselves.

Nina: Tell us about other projects you have simmering. Do you have a new novel on the drawing board?

Linda: Of course, I do! The Cat Lady’s Secret is about three quarters done, and I can’t wait until I can get back to it! I’m still working on the elevator pitch, but it goes something like this: Carrying a fish net as she walks around town, Millie is on a mission to catch and rescue feral cats. As she hunts, she learns of people's needs and wishes--and all these are fulfilled. But what will happen to the town's benefactor if the journalist dogging her trail reveals her identity?

Nina: Thanks so much for coming! As a wrap-up will you give us a teaser from the book?

Linda: Patricia felt her vertebrae jar each time she pounded on Tandy’s bare back. It took all her will power not to hold on with both hands . . . Cowgirl? She didn’t think so.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Questions, Questions!

Spring comes. The snow melts. The birds sing. Rain is followed by the promise of sun. And my curiosity, tingled out of winter dormancy, is busy asking questions.

So! This blog post will be about YOU, not me. I’ll ask the questions, you’ll answer them. Then I’ll post again, this time with a compilation of your comments, and my own. Please spring right in, let your ideas scatter like rain, and your creativity bloom!

What season of the year are you most creative as a writer?

Do you generally find books, movies, or music to be more inspiring! (List examples!)

Is Absolute Quiet a must for you while writing, or do you work better with background noise?

Everyone has things they care about deeply, and much of the time, these fuel our writing, whether subtly or directly. What makes your heart leap and your blood boil – and have you put this into your creations?

What part of writing do you hate most? (everyone hates something!)

Name a few favorite words and/or phrases.

Would you say writing engages your mind or your body more?

There’s nothing in the world to compare with finding that perfect turn of word or phrase. Tell us about the latest one you found.

And finally – what project are you working on right now?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Favorite Fictional Romance?

Assignment: Come up with a Valentine-themed blog post! Result: one author with a headache!

Don't get me wrong. I love romance in real life. But I'm not the biggest fan of romance writing. And usually, when I do like a novel with romance, it’s a dysfunctional romance that may or may not end well. Not appropriate for Valentine’s Day! However, my all-time favorite fictional romantic couple do get together. Most of you have read or at least heard of them: Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane.

I love Lord Peter and Harriet’s relationship. They originally meet with Harriet on trial for her life, accused of murdering her fiancĂ©e. Lord Peter sees her in court, is immediately attracted, and sets about proving her innocence, in the course of which he manages to fall in love with her.

Harriet, on the other hand, not only has sworn off any romantic relationships, but because Peter saves her life, her (very British) pride won’t allow her to care for Peter back. Thus begins a famous literary chase which spans several novels as Peter doggedly pursues Harriet (and the occasional criminal), eventually becoming successful in Gaudy Night.

I love Peter and Harriet’s relationship. Probably the most obvious reason is Sayer’s brilliant characterization. In Peter and Harriet she pairs two extremely intelligent, independent, proud and reserved people who on first glance are clashing opposites. Sayer also succeeds in creating two equally interesting characters. Contrary to most romantic stories, where if one character evaporated the story would flop, Peter and Harriet are equally fascinating.

Then there’s the dialogue and scenarios, which range from hysterically comedic to thoughtfully poignant. In scene after scene Harriet and Peter spar with subtle wit, making every interchange great fun to read.

And finally, there’s the romance. It’s not overt. It’s very British, very subtle. And yet Sayers manages to explore the ins and outs of every romantic relationship. She shows the darkness and the light that enters into any couple’s lives, and she challenges the conventions of typical romance. In short – her brilliance in literary romance is a constant inspiration. I’ll never be that good, but I’ll definitely try!

Who’s your favorite fictional romantic couple? Why do you like them?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Writing As Therapy?

How many of you have used writing as a form of therapy?

My guess is 99% of you raised a hand and said "I". The use of writing as a means of channeling grief, depression, or other emotions is amazingly widespread. Most contemporary authors admit freely to using writing as therapy. A few bold ones manage to turn therapy into glossy-covered bestsellers, but for the most part, those scribbles stay buried in some obscure drawer or cached in a remote corner of cyberspace.

Authors are not the only ones who use writing for therapy. Ever since the ability to write became common, people who experience traumatic events often find solace by writing. Whether it be a war, natural disaster, or simply the death of a loved one, the result is the same. Ordinary people who have never written before pick up a pencil and begin.

The poems of the first and second World Wars have been a fascination of mine for years. Our written record of these wars is vast - some of the greatest writers of the century detailed every event as it happened. More intriguing to me, though, are the thousands of poems and short stories written by soldiers and their loved ones. Many are anonymous. Most were never intended for public view. Few are written according to good writing standards. Yet they're filled with humor, pathos, resignation, bravery...

All the histories written about the wars record what happened to people. The poems and stories record who those people were.

What is it about writing that helps people deal with grief, anger, and frustration? For myself, it allows me to see things clearly. When I'm upset my emotions tangle into a knotted mess that would traumatize a psychoanalyst. I can't understand myself! Always I end up with a chewed-off pen and a scrap of paper, scribbling down verse, scraps of ideas, fragments of sentences. I allow myself to spill over onto the paper, not holding anything back.

Hours later, relieved somewhat by the "public privacy" of expression on paper, I read through the jottings. And an odd thing happens. What made no sense in my mind gradually takes form before me. I can isolate the problem, figure out the cause, approximate a solution. Perhaps most valuable, I can perceive the melodrama. Being able to laugh at yourself does wonders for your sanity.

I'm sure not everyone feels this way about writing. The best part about it is that words, like people, can become anything. All I know is that if I ever get shipwrecked alone on a desert island, forget the coconut trees. I'll be hunting papyrus and a cuttlefish. :)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Best Novels Of 2010

A recent perusal over my fiction shelves reminded me that I had not yet completed a "Best Novels Of The Year" list (a necessary deed once a year)! There's no time like the present. Unfortunately, I had shockingly little time to read this year, but in the time that I did have, I found some jewels. In no particular order...

Enemy Brothers by Constance Savery. Possibly the best book of the year. A beautiful YA story of a young Nazi taken in by an English country family during WWII, the novel filled my heart. The writing is marvelous, brief prose that evokes an amazing range of emotions, and the characters are fantastic. This will become a regular read.

The Empty Crown by Rosemary Edgehill. Actually three novels in one, The Empty Crown combines a snarky (and secretly lonely) New York librarian with an elf king on a mission who becomes stranded in New York. High fantasy with an active sense of humor. Anyone who loves books, history, or random facts will love this.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. This is technically a re-read, but I got so much out of it on the second go that it deserves to be listed. For anyone who (gasp) hasn't read it, it's... impossible to describe. Read it. Card's ability to tell stories of chilling despair, soaring hope, and unflinching truth through the eyes of children boggles my mind.

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper. I enjoyed all the books in this series, but this one stands alone. It takes the basic premise of any fantasy (an unwilling young hero on a quest) and turns in into a modern, dark, frightening story of good and evil, written by a master wordsmith. This is one of those YA novels that defies age limits.

Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers. Another re-read, by my reaction to reading this was so dramatically different the second time that it needs to be listed. Sayers is a literary genius, and I believe this is one of her best. Here plot and character entwine perfectly. Although the mystery is central, the heart of the novel is the relationship between Harriet Vane and Lord Peter, and the surprises they discover inside themselves as they challenge evil. I discovered a few surprises inside myself while reading this one.


I also discovered Agatha Christie and her brilliant, timeless studies of human character, all wrapped up in witty entertainment, and as usual, read Chesterton, both fiction and nonfiction. Reading Chesterton, I know, will be a part of every literary year for me. :)

Another novel I loved this year was Day Of Ashes by Kelsey Kline. It didn't make the list simply because it's author stubbornly refuses to complete and share it. She should be warned... dreadful things happen to such persons.

What are the best novels you read this year?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

In Search of a Dream

Is the presence of longing inside a writer’s heart essential to writing fiction? Is the faint melancholia created by things we wish for, dream of, what puts the magic into make-believe?

Those questions have been prodding at my subconscious for some time now. The prod turned into a painful jolt when, after a summer of not writing fiction, I attempted my third NaNo in a row – and did not complete the required 50,000 words.

To tell the truth, I completed barely 5,000 words. I still don’t know quite what was wrong. I sat at the keyboard for hours. I allowed myself to leap between plots. I allowed myself to write endings before I wrote beginnings! But nothing worked. Words appeared on the screen, crafted strings of emotionless sentences, crisp-edged two-dimensional characters without character.

The spark wasn’t there.

At the time I attributed it to lack of time, to the stress of everyday life, to pregnancy hormones. Yet none of that ever affected my writing before… (okay, I haven’t been PREGNANT before, but you know)

Now I’m wondering if my life has become a little too full. Instead of a rather uneventful life that I spiced up by constantly spinning tales of adventure and romance, I started to live all those things I dreamed about. Now, I have a husband (who I’m very much in love with), a baby on the way (who is wanted very very much), multiple jobs, college, travel… I don’t have time to dream!

And is that the problem?

I pose the question to you all reading this. Has this happened to you? Do you think writers’ best work is influenced by what’s happening (or what’s not happening) in their lives? Or (as many great writers believe) should good fiction be utterly unconnected to circumstances in writers’ lives?

Share your thoughts, please! I’m eager to read them!

(oh yes, and if anyone has suggestions for how to overcome a fiction dry spell…please do not refrain from suggesting!)