Monday, February 28, 2011

My Weekend in Arizona

I got back late last night from the ANWA conference in Phoenix, "Writing at the Speed of Life." I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and learned a lot--so much that by Saturday afternoon my brain felt overloaded and rather numb.

The thing I enjoyed most was the association I had with other writers. I loved getting to know my roommates and carpool buddies from Tooele, Karen Hoover and Shari Bird. We had a lot in common and had a lot of fun together.

It was also my first time visiting Arizona and I think I timed my visit perfectly. I left behind cold, snowy weather and basked in the spring-like atmosphere of Arizona in late February. I drank fresh-squeezed orange juice from tree-ripened oranges, listened to the birds sing and even heard someone mowing their lawn. It was the perfect oasis in my desert of Utah winter. I might have to do this again sometime.

So, now I am back at home catching up with everything that was neglected in my absence. I think soon I will go outside and check to see if the bulbs I planted last fall are starting to grow. Spring will come.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rewriting To Greatness

My favorite class at LTUE was Dave Wolverton's class on rewriting to greatness. Here are my notes on the class:

1. Triage Edit. The first pass through Dave says to look for the big things. Look for big problems with your manuscript and decide how to fix them.
A. What do I want to say that I'm not saying well enough? What do I need to add to this story? Do I have the scenes in place that are necessary to set up the message? I may need to add scenes. Are there other things that I need to add? Are my characters well drawn?
B. what needs to be deleted? If you have two characters who are basically identical twins in nature, you might decide you don't need one of them. So, delet all the words that mention the twin you're taking out. You may need to change the  beginning and take out set-up stuff. Eliminate long, descriptive passages that bog down the pace of your story.
C. What has to change? Some scenes will need to be changed because you got a good idea later on in your story writing. So, rewrite those scenes.
2. Consistency Edit. Read through the story and make sure things are consistent. Did I change the hair or eye color? I also look for dropped words, better ways to express myself. I tighten up my descriptions.add similes, metaphors, etc.There will always be "cold" areas where you just don't know what to write and how to fix it; bugaboo areas in your work. As you go along, make a note of things you want to change in a rewrite.

3. Voice Edit. Go through the story and make sure each of your three characters sound differently from one another and are consistent with themselves. Often you'll have to throw away the first part of your story, up to the point where you can hear the characters speaking in your head. Give your characters buzz words--things they always say. If a character limps, make sure you mention it a few times throughout your book. What color does a character frequently wear? This can be a very involved process that may involve research.

4. Descriptive Edit. Do my descriptions involve all the senses? Also, if too much description is there, pare it down. In descriptive passages, look for ways to add metaphors and similes, etc. Make it beautiful and evocative. When you're writing for a contest, if you know the judges, you can win by looking at their writing and write to their tastes. When you write to a wide audience, you don't know their tastes, so you have to write above par on all those levels. Look for ways to improve your story. Look at world creation. Is it different? Does it carry a sense of wonder? Do the characters seem real? How about lovable? Does the reader care about him?

5. Shotgun, General Edit. This is where you look for everything at once. I might go through my manuscript 3 to 4 times before I am satisfied. Every word must be right. At that point, I do a syllabic edit.

6. Syllabic Edit. Hemmingway is known for his short sentences, but he also wrote masterful long sentences. He wrote in monosyllables, which speeds up the writing, makes it easy to understand and allows you to read through it blazingly fast. When you want to speed up your writing, such as for a fight scene, do a syllabic edit. Replace longer words with shorter substitutes. Cut out the word, "finally." You probably just wrote a piece of boring writing before that word. Another word you can cut out is "then." There are a lot of words like that; words you don't even think about but have the habit of using. Sometimes you can cut entire sentences or even paragraphs. It might be brilliant, but if it disrupts the flow of the story, you should cut it out. Make the changes necessary to make the scene work. Don't be afraid to kill your darlings.

7. Line Edit. I sit down, take my manuscript and put it in a new typeface (Palatino size 14, for example), then read it out loud. You'll find dropped words and double words. Things will show up in a new typeface and size. Clean it up.

There are other types of edits you can do. Dave says he generally goes through his manuscript 6 to 7 times; some passages more than that. You can over-edit your writing. Don't take the passion out of your writing. A great story offends half of your audience. You're not going to please everybody. Sometimes we forget this.

When drafting, says Dave, I find myself going into edit mode. To avoid this, I just throw something in and know that I will fix it later. Sometimes you write an entire book and you never feel you got the character's name right. You can use place holders, even ZZZ or XXX until you decide and go back and change it.

Is there a limit to brevity? Yes there is. Sometimes you don't need to cut. In particular, if you want your style to stand out, some characters may speak with a wordy style. English and Australian writers don't try to shorten up their writing like we do here.

How do I keep myself from getting to close to my work? Dave says he sets it aside for a couple of months. He also give sit to others to look at to see if they see the same things he's seen. By the time you've gone through your manuscript 6 times, you hate everything. That's normal.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


I just completed three days of Life the Universe and Everything, a science fiction and fantasy symposium at BYU. This is a great conference. The conference included a gaggle of successful authors all eager to share their keys to the road to success with those of us still in the early footpaths of the journey.

My favorite class was...well, that's a little hard to pin down because they were all so good. Hm. I listened particularly attentively to anything Dave Wolverton, James Dashner and Dan Wells had to say, and they were featured in many classes and panels. They also had genre-specific classes for YA writers, among others, which I found very helpful. There was even a class about plants going to the dark side. As a Master Gardener, that one really got my creative juices flowing.

Okay, I have it: my favorite class was Dave Wolverton's workshop on self-editing. He talked about the 6-7 different edits he goes through before he sends his manuscripts off. This workshop was helpful to me because I was trying to put too much into my first draft. I came to realize that I can add lots and lots of details in the rewriting process.

The only downsides of the conference, as far as I am concerned were a frequently crying baby and the fact that there wasn't a lunch hour. The conference was still more than worth the $25 it cost to attend and I feel I am a better writer for having gone--or will be when I sit down and write.

Next on the horizon: ANWA conference in Phoenix.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Join Me at the ANWA Conference in Phoenix


That's what this year's writers conference is all about.

Yep! All. About. The. Awesome.

The conference is sponsored by the American Night Writers Association, but totally OPEN TO ANY AND ALL WRITERS!

This means you. It's time to come out of your writing closet.

Admit it. You want to be a writer.

Check out the class list below and see if one or ten of these classes are just what you need to jump start your writing...

CLASSES (FEBRUARY 25 & 26--Click on the link at the top of the sidebar for registration and more information)

Friday workshops are interactive and hands-on. Titles of classes that will be presented twice are followed by an asterisk (*).

Writing A Killer Query Letter (Friday Workshop)
Elana Johnson, author of Possessions, and query letter guru
Every submission, whether for a publisher or a literary agent, starts with a query letter. You can craft a query letter that will hook an editor or agent to request more material in just a few steps. Bring your one-page query letter to share, receive feedback, and leave this two-hour workshop with a killer query letter that will generate requests.

Sonoran Desert Tales—Making Nonfiction Fun for Young Readers (Friday Workshop)
Conrad J. Storad, author of Don't Call Me a Pig (A Javelina Story), and Rattlesnake Rules
To become a better writer one must write. Then write more. (Class includes writing exercises, discussion, sharing of exercises, handouts, prizes, and a demonstration of how to present non-fiction to your readers in an entertaining manner. NOT a session on how to get a children's book published. BRING paper and pen or other writing tool from which you can read your class work.)

Pitching to Agents, Editors, and Publishers (Friday Workshop)
Elana Johnson
So you think you want to pitch to an agent or editor? You don't need a 90 mph fastball, just a clear picture of how to talk to another human being about your book. Come learn how to say all the right things in all the right places that will impress an agent or editor enough to generate a request.

Read Me A Story—Reading Aloud to Cultivate the Art of Listening (Friday Workshop)
Conrad J. Storad
The art of listening is an acquired one. It must be taught and cultivated gradually—it doesn't happen overnight.

A Match Made in Heaven: Finding the Right Publisher and Convincing Them It's So (How to Submit)
Kirk Shaw, senior editor at Covenant Communications, Inc.; and freelance editor for David R. Godine, Publisher; Northwestern University Press; and other publishers
Finding the right publisher is like courting a potential mate: both need to feel it's the right move. How does an author narrow down all the possibilities to find the best option for her/his manuscript, and then go about proving she/he is a fine fit for the publisher?

Unlocking the Mystery of Writing YOUR History: Discover Your Roots and Strengthen the Branches of Your Family Tree
Carolyn Murphy, Phoenix Genealogy Examiner for, and founder of
Explore a wide-variety of easy tips and tools that make it plausible to integrate Personal History and Family History writing into your already busy schedule. Writing Personal or Family Histories can seem mysterious. Where do I begin? What do I do? How do I maintain my motivation? The task may seem mountainous—too big to undertake, too daunting to attempt to explore. The good news is that, in today's world, there are time-saving ideas and tools that simplify the challenge. Unlocking the mystery is simply a matter of gaining knowledge, "zeroing in" on choosing a specific task (whether large or small), working it into your routine, then maintaining your commitment and momentum.

The Three P's of Publishing, Promotion, and Publicity; or How to make Your Writing Pay, Pay, Pay! *
Cecily Markland, owner of Inglestone Pubishing, editor of The Beehive Newspaper, and a published author
So many choices, so little time? Learn the practices, principles and important pointers for publishing smart in today's market. Discover how to map out a publishing plan, decipher the pros and cons of the various publishing options, and create a publicity program that pays off.

Avoiding Childish Mistakes When Writing for Children
Kelly Sonnack, agent from Andrea Brown Literary Agency
What are some of the mistakes writers make when writing for children, and how can you avoid them? What are the things that make editors and agents cringe and stop reading? Kelly will discuss the pitfalls to avoid when writing your children̢۪s book.

Ten Tips for Terrific Talking: Dialogue and Humor *
Janette Rallison, national YA author
Good dialogue advances your plot, reveals characterization, adds tension, and can enchant—or if you do it wrong—bore your reader. Learn ten helpful techniques for doing it right. But wait, there's more! Come to Janette's class and you'll receive information about humor at no extra charge! Some rules and restrictions apply. Void where prohibited by law . . .

How to Start a Book and Get it Finished
Laurie Schnebly Campbell, author of Believable Characters: Creating with Enneagrams and noted teacher of online courses
For writers anywhere in the process from imagining a book to completing the final chapter, this class looks at how, when and why to start writing, roadblocks and solutions along the way, and what to do after reaching The End.

Barnes & Noble: Who Are We? *
J. Paul Deason, Community Relations Manager, Barnes & Noble
Barnes and Noble's roles in the book world, and the changes in book publishing. Avenues to take to get your book published and out there.

Write What You Know: Gleaning from Reality to Make Characters Breathe *
Angela Morrison, author of YA novels Sing Me to Sleep and Taken by Storm
Gather, delve into, and create, using Angela's favorite techniques to turn what we know, love, learn, and yearn for into living characters to populate our scenes.

Beginning Songwriting For The Versatile Writer In You
Chava Cannon, award-winning singer-songwriter and member of BMI
Calling all story-tellers! Did you know that songwriting is story-telling set to music? After this 1 hour class, you too will have the skills to write a song. You will learn basic song formatting, do's and don'ts, and how to get started. Pre-requisite: NONE. No musical skill required, just the willingness to step outside the "Novel" box. Come join in the FA LA LA and add songwriting to your resume.

Perils of Publishing: Extreme Makeover—Editing Edition
Kelly Gottuso Mortimer, agent and owner of Mortimer Literary Agency

Block-busting: Putting the Joy Back in Writing
Laurie Schnebly Campbell
At some point, almost all writers suffer from the inability to tell the story they want. Part of writer's block is a lack of joy in the process, so counselor Laurie Schnebly Campbell looks at the causes—including exhaustion, boredom and fear of success—and the benefits of this block. Take home new awareness of what works for you, and renewed inspiration for returning to the craft you love.

Write What You Live
Chris Stewart, best-selling author of The Great and Terrible series, and other books
There are a couple of things you really can't fake your way through, like rock climbing, flying airplanes, surgery, and yes . . . writing. That's why it's so important to write about the things you really know. The things you really feel. The things that matter to you most.

Kirk Shaw, Kelly Sonnack, Kelly Gottuso Mortimer, Cecily Markland, and J. Paul Deason

Hope you're as excited about the conference as I am!

Please copy and paste the above conference promotion. If you do, you can enter a contest on Valerie Ipson's blog at

Friday, February 11, 2011

Book Review: The Upside of Down by Rebecca Talley

I thought I'd post my book reviews in the main part of my blog and then transfer them to the side bar when I make my next post. So, here goes.

From the back of the book:
"Natalie Drake certainly has her hands full raising a large family, dealing with her difficult mother, and maintaining a relationship with her rebellious teenager. Just when things seem to be going smoothly, she finds out another unexpected surprise--she's going to have to have a baby. Faced with so many challenges, Natalie must learn to trust in a plan that isn't what she imagined and discover that every situation has an upside."
 As the  mother of seven children myself, this book really resonated with me. I could tell that Talley had really been there and done that in mothering a large family. Her descriptions of the mischievousness of her two youngest children had me laughing and nodding in recognition of days gone by when I had the very same experiences with my own small children. I imagine some readers would think the scenes are exaggerated. I'm here to say they are not.

I found the writing smooth and very readable. I also found the characters to be, for the most part, believable. I will say that the husband was a little too good to be true, and always seemed to be the strong one who said the exact right thing at the exact right time. I would have liked to see just a teensy bit of weakness in him too. It would have made his character a little more real.

I also had a little trouble believing that Natalie would really be so naive at her age and mothering experience to believe that anything she prayed really hard for would happen. It seems to me that by the time you have seven children, you've pretty much figured out how prayer really works. But, I'm speaking from my experience. Perhaps other women would be like Natalie. It certainly did not ruin the book for me.

I kind of liked that (slight plot spoiler here) the teen-aged daughter's issues were not resolved at the end of the book. If they had been, I think it would have been just a little too icky-sweet, too unrealistic. The daughter exercised her agency, as they will do, and everyone is just making the best of it. That felt very real to me.

So, good job Rebecca Talley. Thanks for a good read.