Why This Writer Strives to be a Weed

aaa1Certain things seem like a great idea. Never again having to mow the lawn, for example. Lay down some landscaping fabric, plant some shrubs and perennials and throw down some river stone and, voila, a low maintenance yard, which is precisely what we wanted when we landscaped.

I like the look. I like not having to mow. However, I’m not really enjoying the weeds that pop up faster than I can pull them. Dandelions are particularly difficult. The tap root tap snaps off when I try to uproot them, they grow in rock-solid clay and with little water. They keep coming back. Over and over and over again. Dandelions will still be here, long after other plants have succumbed to the elements.  aaa8

 Their heartiness has earned my respect.

The hours I spend pulling weeds, has given me plenty of time to reflect and philosophize. I’ve decided that, as a writer, I should strive to be a dandelion. The writer’s life, at least, this writer’s life is no place for delicate tropical flowers that can only bloom under ideal conditions. I need to be hearty and tenacious and annoyingly persistent. I need to bloom in drought and bad soil and when homeowners try to rip me, root and all, from the ground.

Dandelions may not be the loveliest of flowers, but they persist. That’s what I want to be—the one who persists, the one that keeps going despite set-backs, rejections and disappointments. The one gardeners may get irritated with but have to admit—that’s a plant I can respect.aaa7

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Potential Ax Murderers, Judgement and a Flock of Teen Girls

Wow, the past two weeks have flown by. I’m tired, but in a good kind of way.

aa1On June 12, I was all packed up and excited for my first writers’ retreat in almost a year.  After a knock at my door, I opened it to find author, Christine Steendam, someone I’d only met on Twitter and Facebook, on the other side. She looked trustworthy, so I grabbed my luggage and hopped into her car along with comic author, Andrew Lorenz. It occurred to me that I was violating every warning I’d given my kids about meeting up with people they met online. I chuckled as I told them, “I hope you’re not ax murders.”

aa2We drove out to the middle of nowhere to this trailer where we’d be staying along with another author, A.P. Fuchs and his wife. Yes, this could be the den of ax murderers and there did happen to be an ax, but it was beside a wood pile. My head remained intact, and I got to know a fabulous group of writers. Oh, yeah, and I got some writing done too. I didn’t quite make my 15,000 word goal, but I was pleased with my 13,000 words. I’ve since finished the novel I worked on at the retreat for a total of eleven completed manuscripts.

aa7At the end of May, I had the privilege of judging my first short story contest. I’d entered plenty of writing competitions, but this was my first time on the other side of the competition. What an enlightening experience! I judged the teen category and let me tell you, the future of writing is bright. The Writers’ Collective Gala was held on June 16, where I had to honor of handing out awards to these very talented young people. I also received my own award–an honorable mention for my short story, Bread for Five.

A few weeks ago, I’d been invited to speak at a teen girls retreat through Living Bible Explorers. This past Friday, I journeyed out to their camp to share during four chapel sessions. I’d chosen the theme The Fault is Not in our Stars–Bible Women with a Powerful Purpose. I spoke on the daughters of Zelophehad, aa3Rahab, Ruth and Esther. The camp is still under construction, so there was no electricity and no plumbing. Nothing like going without those things for the weekend to make me appreciate them when I got home.

aa5It was a huge blessing to get to know the ministry leaders and the girls. I’m told the retreat went well, and I’ve been invited to return in the future.

I have one more event to prepare for this week–my first school visit! The mother of one of my readers contacted me a couple of weeks ago to tell me that her son enjoyed my book so much that he decided to use it for his end of the year language arts project. She also asked if I’d be willing to stop by his class for his presentation and share a little about the book.

So, as I wrap up a busy two weeks, I take a deep breath and reflect on all of it with thankfulness. Writing is my passion, and it’s taking me so many wonderful places. aa4

No Name Novel

I’m terrible at naming my novels. While some have names for their manuscripts before they noname1 even open a new Word document, I finish them and go through umpteen edits before settling on a name. My first manuscript has gone through four different names and now I’ve gone back to the third.

My eighth novel was originally called Assimilation until its final chapters when I came up with the most awesome name ever. Maybe my book naming woes were over. I was so proud of myself. This was a gooder. It matched the theme and had a deeper meaning that the reader would only catch after reading the book. I called it The Lilith Strain.

noname3It was great until I said it aloud. Go ahead. Say it aloud. Tongue get all tied up and twisted? Mine did. Say it three times fast—The Lilith Strain, The Lilith Strain, The Lilith Strain. Okay, that name had to go. So, now it’s called The Miller’s Daughter, a title I’m not enthusiastic about, so it probably won’t stick either.

I struggled to name my children too. I was more concerned about the meaning of the name and that it didn’t rhyme with any body parts than the actual name. I mean, how could I give my child a moniker that meant smelly haired (Brendan)? My daughter’s name means lion of God. It’s a good strong meaning and nonamesince she bit the doctor on the way out and, in my Demerol induced stupor, I imagined she had a mouth full of razor sharp teeth, it seemed the perfect name

I’m days away from finishing my ninth novel. And it has no title. I’ve tried out several names, but none are quite right. For now I’m calling it the No Name Novel. Catchy isn’t it? Doesn’t that just make you want to grab it off the shelf and take it home?

Obsessive Editing

Just one more edit. Just one more teensy edit. That seems to be my mantra lately. I picasso2contacted a friend who was about to read my manuscript and asked her to delete it because I wanted to edit it one more time. Not a huge edit; I just came off one of those. Just a little edit. A once over to see if the last edit did it’s job. Hmmm. There is such a thing as over-editing, over-thinking and, dare I say, obsessing.

There’s a story told about Picasso and how he would sell his paintings, then buy them back because he, probably after obsessing for awhile, would determine that the painting wasn’t quite done. I don’t know if the story is truth or legend, but I totally understand why an artist would do that.

How I feel every time I send something out.

How I feel every time I send something out.

As I’ve considered my work over the years, it’s clear that I’m a better writer now than I was when I started and I’ll, hopefully, be better in ten years than I am now. Will I look back on my 2014 work and shake my head, be embarrassed at my writing? Since nothing is ever perfect, I’m sure I will. Whenever I send anything off, whether it be to a beta reader, agent, or editor, I get this sense of anxiety. There is a finality to it. Their image of me as an author and my writing will be formed around the piece of work I’ve sent them–AS IS. As exciting as it is to have people read my work, it’s also terrifying. And so, I edit.

I’m editing the piece I have for probably the 25th time. Deep sigh. It’s probably time to stop.

How to Start Your First Book

Back in November when I was at ComicCon, promoting the Manitoba Writer’s Guild, I encountered a lot of new writers and pre-writers (those that want to write, but haven’t started yet). One question came at me over and over. “How do I start?”

Today I’m here to tell you, in very simple terms, how to start.

1.  Write one paragraph describing what your story is about. Just one paragraph, so you know where you’re headed. Keep it simple and open.hiroshima

Three genius brothers stumble upon a means of time travel and accidentally transport themselves to Hiroshima, Japan on July 31, 1945. They have a week before the bomb is dropped to figure out how to get themselves back home.

This paragraph helps you to anchor yourself and keep your story on track. It gives us a loose structure. We know we need three brothers. We know our setting—initially the present and then World War II Japan.

 2.  Decide on a protagonist—your lead character. You will tell the story from their point of view (POV). Notice that the word “character” is not plural. You want to tell the story from five different perspectives? Too bad. This is your first book. My children are pianists—they started with Hot Cross Buns, not Bach’s Piano Concerto #7 and so you start with one protagonist.

But how do you choose? Which time travel brother should be my protagonist? My protagonist should be the character that undergoes the most change. The change could be physical, emotional, spiritual, ideological.

For my time travel boys I’m going to choose the youngest of the three. He’s arrogant, thinks he’s smarter than his brothers, and risks their lives and the time-space continuum when he ventures out on his own. The other brothers will be secondary characters.

3.  What is your inciting incident? The inciting incident is the event that sparks the rest of your story. It’s the kick that gets the ball rolling. It doesn’t have to be a big kick, just one change that will, in the end, change your protagonist’s life. In the hunger games it was “the reaping.” In Twilight it was Bella moving in with her dad. In The Fault in Our Stars it was Hazel going to the support group. In Pride and Prejudice it was Mr. Bingley moving into town.

hiroshima 2In my time travel story the brothers get into a big fight and one of them gets shoved and trips over wires, short circuiting their experiment. Sparks fly and the next thing they know they’re in Japan.

4. Decide if you’re going to tell the story in first person or third person. In first person POV the story is told as though it’s your story. I tripped over the wires. I got transported back in time. First person is limiting in that the story has to be limited to what that person can personally know. He can’t know that his older brothers are scheming against him in the next room. Though it can be limiting, first person draws the reader directly into the head of the main character and gives the reader intimacy and a tighter bond with the protagonist. 

In third person the story is told from an outside POV. He tripped over the wires. He got transported back in time. Though, as a narrator, you could make yourself all-knowing, I still recommend sticking close to your protagonist so your reader can bond with him.

Now start writing. You know where your story begins. You know who you’re writing about. You know your setting. You know your main character and some of your secondary characters. You know who is telling your story.

Griff Karaplis got suspended for cloning the frog he was supposed to be dissecting in biology class. No great loss. His older brothers, Cal and Nate, had been stuck at home since they hacked into the Homeland Security main frame from the school computer lab and implicated Principal Skinner’s cat in a terrorist plot…

This is your rough draft. Don’t worry about Grammar and chapters and if your characters change part-way through. Just write. My first book has been through at least twenty drafts. This is not to discourage you, only to give yourself permission not to nit-pick. Set aside some time every week to write. Keep going and don’t give up.

Any questions? Leave a comment below.

For more on writing visit my children’s writers blog at www.vastimaginations.wordpress.com

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The First Kill is Always the Hardest

The First Kill is Always the Hardest

I still remember the first time I killed someone.death scene 2

Three years ago I was riding in my van on the way to the grocery store and the thought streaked through my mind. What if Mr. X died? My initial response: No! I didn’t want him to die. I liked him. I’d criticized other writers for being too sympathetic toward their characters. Now, here I was, doing the same thing 

death scene 4The thoughts persisted. And I resisted. The more I thought about it, though, the more a necessity it became. By the time I finished loading the groceries into my van, I was plotting his demise. death scene 1

It’s unpleasant to annihilate someone you care about. He’d been with me for two books and I was rather attached—and so was my protagonist. The scene happened to come over Christmas. I put off writing it. I already knew how he was going die, but the act of sitting down and doing it—writing out every detail, watching it through my protagonists eyes, suffering with him and her—was daunting. I decided it was best saved for after the holidays.death scene 3

So, three days after Christmas, I sat down with my computer and a box of tissues and pounded out the scene I’d been dreading. I wept, sobbed, accumulated a pile of waded tissues. I blubbered like sane people cry over real people who pass on. And then, he was gone. We held him as he died. We buried him—my protagonist and I.

I did what I had to do and the story is better for it.

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