Saturday, April 30, 2011

Z is for ... Zamboni

Well, of course it is, Kris, you say to yourself. You're a huge hockey fan and it only makes sense that you'd talk about the zam.

Sure, but have you ever thought of the zam as a metaphor for editing? Probably not.

What does a zamboni do? Thanks to Wikipedia, here's the "technical" definition: An ice resurfacer is a truck-like vehicle or smaller device used to clean and smooth the surface of an ice rink.

If the ice is your manuscript and the zam is your editing skills, you're cleaning and smoothing the surface of your manuscript. Pretty cool, huh?

Maybe not to you, but I thought it was.

I can't believe the A to Z Challenge is done today! Thanks to all the new followers. I'm so glad to have met you and I hope you'll continue to skate by here now and again. I promise not to talk hockey all of the time! And, I'll do my best to visit all of those blogs I joined throughout this month. I'm so happy to have stumbled upon so many cool blogs! It's about time I got myself out of my own rink and into some other "rinks".

Friday, April 29, 2011

Y is for ... Yahoo!

I think writing these days is even easier. With search engines such as Yahoo!, writers can do research in their homes, coffee shops, or even on the beach (if they have wifi). Writers don't have to trudge through books or take road trips to learn about other cultures or places. With the internet at our fingertips, we can discover all sorts of information without every leaving our homes or our pjs.

I've used the internet to research jerseys, exact sizing of ice rinks, hockey practice drills, even brain tumors and hospice care.

What have you researched on the internet for your writing, or are you a hands-on type of writer?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

X is for ... Xtreme tiredness

We are very tired today. Late night hockey game last night and then everyone was too revved up to get to bed, including the new puppy. So today, I'm taking a much needed break. See you tomorrow with Y!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

W is for ... Who, What, Where, When, and Howe

Thanks to my hubby for the idea for this post. I could've talked about the Whalers (Plymouth's OHL team), but this goes much better along with writing. The Howe is an inside joke if you're a hockey fan - I didn't spell it wrong!

Remember back in school when we had to ask ourselves the five questions- who, what, where, when, and how? These questions still apply to reading and writing in a writer's life. We need to know:
  • Who are the characters, main and secondary?
  • What's the story problem/question?
  • Where is the story taking place?
  • When is the story taking place?
  • How is the character going to overcome the What?
As writers, we may not consciously think of these things; we just do it because all of these are elements of writing. I may not make a list like the above, but I do identify all of those issues prior to putting any words down. What about you? Do you list it all out on paper, or do you just make sure to include them in your writing?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

V is for ... Voracious

Voracious: having a huge appetite; excessively eager (thanks to Merriam-Webster online dictionary).

I've often referred to myself as a voracious reader. I've been known to be reading 3 or 4 books at a time. That was before I became an editor. Now, I'm lucky to read one book. I used to plow through a book, no matter how bad the writing or if I'd already figured out the plot half way through. I felt a sort of loyalty to the author to finish reading.

Unfortunately, I do not feel that way anymore.

I get many of my books from the library now. I try to read in multiple genres, and I oftentimes will read debut authors. I don't have the same loyalty to the author now, though. If I'm not entirely captivated by the story by chapter 3, I'm done with it. I sort of feel bad that I've become this type of reader. But I just don't have the time for bad writing.

How about you? Do you continue to read even if the writing is poor or if you've figured the whole thing out?

Monday, April 25, 2011

U is for ... Unique

Authors know that they have to write a good story in order to sell. But there also needs to be something unique about their story idea. I've read that there are no new stories, just different (unique) takes on the same one. Take Romeo and Juliet. How many other books have been written with this same or similar storyline? Here are a few that I can think of quickly:
  • Twilight
  • West Side Story
  • Wuthering Heights
What stories can you think of?What do you do to make sure you have a unique story? As a reader, do you care that much if the story is unique, or don't you mind if it's the same story, different characters/setting?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

T is for ... Time-frame

Another important aspect of writing is determining how long the story will last. It could be a day, a week, a month, a year, or several years. Writing for young kids, though, I think the time-frame should be not longer than a year. Most of the stories I write take place from one week to several months. Most important, though, is that the time-frame should match the storyline. Can a young boy save an entire world in one day? I'm not sure if that's physically possible depending upon what needs to be done. But if the writer makes the events and text seemless, then the reader will believe anything.

What sort of time-frame do you write or like to read?

Friday, April 22, 2011

S is for ... Story Question

Okay, I could've done Sports, or Social Media, or Sticks (like hockey and lacrosse), but I think the most important one is Story Question.

Without a Story Question, an author really has no basis for their manuscript. This is one of the first things that we teach at our writing workshops - Story Question/Problem. What does the main character expect to achieve by the end of the book? If we pose it as a yes/no question, it seems to make better sense to our participants.

Will the girl escape the vampire or fall in love with him?
Will the boy accept being a wizard and survive his first year at school?

Do you start with a story question/problem?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

R is for ... Realistic Dialogue

I was afraid that I had used Dialogue for D, but I'm glad to see that I didn't. Today I'd like to talk a little bit about using Realistic dialogue while writing.

As an editor, I work on a lot of books for kids at our press. I've noticed that many of the authors write like how they speak. This is a problem because their audience is not 30+ years old. In order for that reader to understand and identify with the characters in their children's book, the characters need to sound like kids.

I have this same problem. Or, at least I did. I've become keenly aware of the words I use to make sure that they are representative of how kids speak, think, act, etc. The last thing you want an editor to say is, "Great story, can't connect with the author voice." Which means, the dialogue and narrative are not realistic for the storyline/age.

An eight-year-old boy is not going to say the following,
"Excuse me, madam, but could you please pass to me those scrumptious looking PopTarts?" Correct?

Most likely he'd say, "Hey! Can you give me those PopTarts? Uh...please?"

Have you read any kids books that seem like they've been written from an adult's pov, rather than the kid's because of the unrealistic dialogue used?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Q is for ... Quandary

I'm in a quandary today because I'm not exactly sure what to write for Q. It could be because of these two:
Should I play or should I write? Jack, the older dog, isn't too sure about Hank, the new puppy. Hopefully he'll get used to Hank soon.

I'm also in a Quandary because this isn't working:

Now my cold is pretty much full blown and I feel like I need to sleep 10 hours a day, plus my regular nighttime sleeping. Should I sleep or should I write?

And, it's Spring Break in my house, but we aren't here, so...

Should I hop a plane to a sunny local or should I write?
I think if that were my real quandary, there'd be no question which one I'd pick....write at the sunny local of course!

What's your quandary today?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

P is for ... Playoffs

I can't write about hockey and not include something else about playoffs. Yesterday, we all learned about how the octopus came to be a part of Red Wing playoffs. Today we'll take a closer look at how the Stanley Cup Playoffs are set up. Once again, thanks to Wikipedia for the invaluable information:

The Stanley Cup playoffs is an elimination tournament in the National Hockey League consisting of four rounds of best-of-seven series. The first three rounds determine which team from each conference will advance to the final round, dubbed the Stanley Cup Finals.

The first round of the playoffs, or Conference Quarterfinals, consists of four match-ups in each conference, based on the seedings (# 1 vs. # 8, # 2 vs. # 7, # 3 vs. # 6, and # 4 vs. # 5). In the second round, or Conference Semifinals, the top remaining conference seed plays against the lowest remaining seed, and the other two remaining conference teams pair off (unlike the NBA, for example, where the 1–8 winner always plays the 4–5 winner, regardless of who wins). In the third round, the Conference Finals, the two remaining teams in each conference play each other, with the conference champions proceeding to the Stanley Cup Final.

For the first three rounds, the higher-seeded team has home-ice advantage (regardless of point record). In the Stanley Cup Final, it goes to the team with the better regular season record. The team with home-ice advantage hosts Games 1, 2, 5 and 7, while the opponent hosts Games 3, 4 and 6 (Games 5–7 are played "if necessary").

Have you ever been to a final championship game? It doesn't have to be a Stanley Cup game, but any type of game.

Monday, April 18, 2011

O is for ... Octopus

Back to my hockey theme, but not about writing. Thanks to Wikipedia, here's what we fans in Detroit already know during Red Wings playoffs:

The Legend of the Octopus is a sports tradition during Detroit Red Wings home playoff games where octopodes are thrown onto the ice surface. The origins of the activity go back to the 1952 playoffs, when a National Hockey League team played two best-of-seven series to capture the Stanley Cup. The octopus, having eight arms, symbolized the number of playoff wins necessary for the Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup. The practice started April 15, 1952 when Pete and Jerry Cusimano, brothers and storeowners in Detroit's Eastern Market, hurled an octopus into the rink of The Old Red Barn.[1] The team swept the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens en route to winning the championship, as well as winning two of the next three championships.
Since 1952 the practice has persisted with each passing year. In one 1995 game, fans threw 36 octopuses, including a specimen weighing 38 pounds (17 kg).[2] The Red Wings' unofficial mascot is a purple octopus named Al, and during playoff runs two of these mascots are also hung from the rafters of the Joe Louis Arena, symbolizing the 16 wins now needed to win the Stanley Cup. It has become such an accepted part of the team's lore, that fans have developed what is considered proper etiquette and technique for throwing an octopus onto the ice.

Do you have any sports traditions in your town?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

N is for ... Nemesis

Nemesis (noun): someone or something that continues to oppose you and cannot easily be defeated. Thanks to Macmillan Dictionary Online for that definition.

Almost all stories have a nemesis, that bad guy or thing that our beloved main character can't seem to overcome, get away from, or defeat. One of the most famous of all nemesis of young adult books, I think, is He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, aka Lord Voldemort of the Harry Potter series.

The nemesis (either tangible or intangible) is something that the author needs to take into account when starting a story. In writing workshops, I teach that each story should have a story question/problem which should be answered by the end of the book. If a series is written, there can be an underlying problem throughout all of the books which would ultimately be answered in the last book - look at Deathly Hallows in the HP series. HP's problem (nemesis) is finally taken care of.

But what if the character's nemesis isn't a person? What if it is something out of their control? Both Willy Wonka and Oliver Twist use poverty as a nemesis. Think about it? Would the stories have had an impact if both characters had come from the middle-class?

Which nemesis is your favorite?

Friday, April 15, 2011

M is for ... Music

I have to write with some noise in the background. It can't be the bickering of my kids, the TV at 40 on the volume level, or the dog barking. It can't even be the kids playing mini-sticks or video games. I need music. With each new project, I create a playlist that reminds me of the characters and the struggle in the story. I love creating new playlists and will oftentimes listen to it even when I'm not writing to help keep me in that world.

What quirky things do you do when you write or start a new project?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

L is for ... Laugh

Who doesn't like a joke? What about a funny TV show or movie? I think the same for books that have funny characters. You just can't put the book down because you are so engaged with the storyline and the characters. I love when I laugh out loud while reading and my kids say, "What's so funny?"

I think authors who are able to convey those happy emotions are very talented. Susan Elizabeth Phillips comes to mind, as well as Sophie Kinsella, and Emily Giffin.

What book has made you laugh out loud?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

K is for ... Kooky

Most stories have a kooky character in them. Usually it isn't the main character, but a pretty significant secondary character. When I say "kooky", I don't necessarily mean "funny."

In Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, Silas plays this part. He's mysterious, yet all-knowing. It seems as if he watches over Bod as his duty, yet he generally cares about Bod. He's odd in that he's not the typical ghost who lives in the cemetery - he can leave, where the other ghosts are stuck inside the gates.

Bod is only one example of a kooky character. Can you think of more?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

J is for ... Jumangi

I have to admit that I have not read the book, but I absolutely adore the movie. I've seen it like a bazillion times. Okay, not that many, but I've seen it a lot.

Jumanji was one of the stories that made me realize it's okay to mix fact and fiction. Well, so did this one:

What book inspired you to become a writer?

Monday, April 11, 2011

I is for ... Ice Hockey Mom

Sheri Larsen and I tailgating here at our blogs and talking about being an Ice Hockey Mom (and YES, some hockey parents tailgate before their child's games. I've seen it, have been a part of it (once or twice), and am not ashamed to say it was fun.) Anyway, now I've only got one who plays, but Sheri has practically a whole offensive line (3 +1) playing.

Ice Hockey Moms spend a lot of time thinking, living, worrying, etc. hockey. If our kid isn't on a team, we're trying to figure out which tryouts to go to - don't talk to me during the second half of March or the second half of July. If we're thinking of making a move to another team, those are the months that we're figuring out which tryouts to go to. Once on the team, we can be at the rink up to 4 times a week between practices and games. I have to admit here that my husband takes our son to practices more often than I, and I don't mind it (thanks, honey!) There's always a sense of worry, even before the kids start checking. Hockeyboy has had one hockey-related concussion. The older the players get, the rougher the play. That's just part of hockey, but it doesn't make my hair any less grayer!

I'm proud to be an Ice Hockey Mom and my experiences with it always bleed into my writing.

 Is there a part of you that has become a part of your writing?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

H is for ... Hockey (of course!)

What a surprise, right? Not really if you know me.

Let me tell you a story... I come from hockey players. My dad played, my older sister played, my brother get the drift. None of them professional, although my dad did play on the practice squad for the Red Wings back when Gordy Howe was on the team. Anyway, my nephew started to play and my older son was enamored with watching his games. My husband and I finally relented and signed HockeyBoy up for Learn to Skate-Hockey. Well, it's been years and thousands of dollars since then, and HB is still going strong.

So, I spend a lot of time immersed in youth hockey. We're at the rink 2-3 times a week (sometimes more during the fall/winter season) and we're always researching/talking/complaining about hockey. Tryout seasons are not a fun place at my house.

We also watch a lot of hockey - either Red Wings, Plymouth Whalers, University of Michigan. You get the idea. Sometimes when one of our teams isn't playing, we'll find another game on just to watch. I know, it's a sickness.

It could be worse - I have friends who have 2 or 3 players in their families. Those are true hockey lovers! Although I would love for our other son to play, it doesn't bother me too much that he doesn't. :P

When I heard that whole line, write what you know, it seemed fitting that my main characters would play hockey. I helps that I love the sport and have a bit of knowledge about it.

Do you have central themes that exist in all of your books? Or do you enjoy reading books that revolve around a specific topic?

Friday, April 8, 2011

G is for ... Genre

According to the online edition of Merriam-Webster Dictionary, genre is defined as:
a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.

I think a difficult thing for writers when they start out is to determine what genre they are writing. It seems like an easy question, but I can tell from my own experience that one needs to put thought into it.

When I decided that all those characters that continued to show up in my head needed to go someplace else, I started writing their stories. I knew I wasn't writing romance because there wasn't any hot romantic scenes. I was confused if I was writing women's fiction or literary fiction geared toward women since my stories were character-driven rather than story driven. In the end, I figured out I was writing women's fiction and queried agents who represented that genre. 

But a funny thing happened after securing representation - my agent told me to write something new in a different genre. It wasn't very hard for me to decide on middle grade (it helps have two young sons), although I did try my hand at YA for one manuscript (I quickly learned I didn't know how a YA character spoke or acted). I feel like I've found my voice - although some of those women's fiction characters tend to show up now and then and I have to tell them "later".

Have you ever switched genres or do you write in multiple genres?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

F is for ... Fun

When I originally thought up my A to Z list topics, I imagined that I would be talking about how each character needs to have some sort of fun within the story line. But as the days have gone on and after visiting many blogs, I realized that wasn't really my topic for today.

F is for fun for the writer. If you aren't having fun while you're writing, will your reader?

Now, fun means many things to each of us. I guess my idea of having fun while I write can be any one of the following:
  • enjoying the storyline
  • enjoying the characters
  • not getting an enormous headache after a bout of writing
  • still enjoying the story/characters after I've written 20k words
  • still wanting to write more after I've reached 20k words
  • looking forward to my writing time
  • the fact that the words flow out each time I write
That last one - flowing words - really is my way of knowing how much fun I'm having with a particular project. If the words flow out steadily, I'm completely committed and know I will finish. If the words come out in chunks, well...let's hope it's not a story that an editor has requested a full!

How do you have fun with your writing? What triggers let you know that the fun has stopped?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E is for ... Editing

Many writers tell me that they hate to edit. They love the feeling of getting the words down, but hate having to go through and either take those hard earned words away, or to add more words. I used to feel sort of like this. But once I was hired as an editor, those feelings quickly disappeared. Maybe it was because I was getting rid of other people's words. More likely, it was because I truly saw how the right words make the story flow better.

Here's how I view writing and editing:
The writing is the foundation of the story. Visually, I think of it as a sculpture that's created the more words I use. It's not like I think of the sculpture as a bust or any certain shape other than maybe a large piece of rock. There's dimension to it, but no specific features.

Because each word is so important in a story - even more so in poetry - I have no problem slashing and burning words that I've written. I don't feel like I have to keep them just because they appear on the paper. Editing is carving out the story, just like carving out a shape in the rock.

What's your viewpoint on editing? Do you love it, or hate it?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

D is for ... Danger

Whether you are writing a fantasy, action-adventure, mystery, growing up, or humor middle grade story, there usually is an element of danger in the plot line. It may be physical danger (The Book Thief, any of the HP books, Percy Jackson series), the threat of danger (Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book and the man who pursues Bod), or a fear that has become a danger in the main character's mind (any of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books). Danger always exists.

It is a key element in pushing the main character toward the resolution of their conflict. There has to be some sort of motivation for the character to get through to the end. If there isn't, well, there really isn't a story. Just a bunch of words strung together that somehow was published!

We may as writers (or even as readers) not think of conflict resolution as the resolution of danger, but in most cases it is.

What are your favorite books that have danger as part of them?

Monday, April 4, 2011

C is for ... Character

Undoubtedly one of the most important elements of any fiction writing is creating characters, both the main and the secondary (supporting) characters. Storyline will only take a reader so far. If the characters are not fully and completely developed, the reader will do what all authors DON'T want them to do - put down the book and never pick it back up again.

Here are a few quick examples of how to develop a character:
  • Create a character study which includes simple to complex information about the character. Examples are: name, age, gender, location (where do they live), likes/dislikes, occupation, fears, family members, friends, extra-curricular activities, biggest desire in life (or story), quirky behaviors, etc.
  • Description of a character will only get a reluctant reader so far. Through dialogue and action, characters can reveal much about themselves. Take for instance Willy Wonka. Could you imagine his character as a stuffy, old professor? The story would have been so different if he hadn't had those crazy conversations, ideas, and mannerisms.
  • Relationships with other characters show a lot about the main character. A good main character doesn't leave his best friend behind when there's trouble. Or perhaps, the two characters weren't really all that good of friends if either of them rats on the other to the principal.
 Who are your favorite characters either from childhood or now?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

B is for Boy-Based

Again keeping in line with the genre I write, I thought I'd spend a few minutes talking about boy-based middle grade fiction. Boy-based means that the main character is a boy and the storyline reflects what boys would be more interested in as opposed to girls. But---that doesn't necessarily mean that there aren't any girls in the story.

The Percy Jackson and Harry Potter series are both examples of boy-based fiction. They both have adventures that are geared more toward boys, but both stories also feature girl characters as well.

Why is boy-based fiction so important? There are studies that show a drop in reading interest in boys during the elementary years and reading tests from the U.S. Dept. of Education show that girls score higher than boys at every age. Reluctant readers tend to be boys. That's why Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Captain Underpants series are so popular (and I bet why they were written - to help those reluctant boy readers get interested in something.)

I'm in no way dissing girls. Hey! I am one. But, I've always been a reader. My oldest son is a reluctant reader, and that is why I write boy-based fiction - for kids like him who need to be interested in reading. Because if you can't read, you won't succeed in life.

What's your favorite boy-based book?

Friday, April 1, 2011

A is for ... Adventure

Today's the first day of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Over 950 bloggers have committed to blog each day (Monday through Saturday) about a topic starting with a letter of the alphabet. Since today's the first day, we start at A.

So, are any of you surprised that I chose Adventure for A? I felt like I sort of had to because of the name of my blog. But more so because, for me, adventure is the one of the keys to writing middle grade chapter books. Kids between 9 and 12 are learning to step outside of their comfort zones. They don't always need to hold their parents' hand. They are beginning to believe that there is life outside of their home territory. This is where a sense of adventure truly begins. They are old enough to play outside without having a watchful eye on them, and they are testing their bounds of freedom.

Adventures can come in the way of creating new imaginary games or having the ability to finally ride their bikes around the block with only their friends. Maybe it's being able to go to a laser tag birthday party without their Mom or Dad hanging around in the lobby. Or it could be spending the night for the first time at a school friend's house. Still, an adventure could be the responsibility of now having a cell phone.

Since kids grow and mature at different rates, the word adventure means something different to each age. Because of this, the storylines for kids this age are endless. As long as the writer remembers that life during these years are filled with new and exciting adventures, the reader will most likely come back for more.

What sort of adventures do you remember having as a kid?