Tuesday, August 30, 2011

On Choosing the Right Word

"A van loaded with copies of Roget's Thesaurus collided with a taxi.
Witnesses were astounded, shocked, taken aback, surprised, startled,
dumbfounded, thunderstruck, and caught unawares." --Imprint

Choices, choices, choices. How do you choose just the right word?

Got a favorite thesaurus resource? A few you might find helpful include:

Synonym Finder
The Bookshelf Muse

How much do you depend on a thesaurus to find just the right word--or are you one of those for whom words just pop, hop, materialize, appear, surface, arrive, dance, or leap into your head?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Imagination Gone Wild

"Perhaps imagination is only intelligence having fun." --George Scialabba

I came home one day this week from a morning jaunt (thinly disguised as exercise :-) to an innocent question from hubby: "How was your walk?"

Well, I had rehearsed what I was going to say most of the way home. This is how it went:

"Oh, nothing unusual. Except...well, I saw a cowboy, got accosted by a bandit, was quizzed by a tax collector, and had a four-legged senior citizen teach me a life lesson."

What's that all about, you say? Did my imagination get the best of me?

Or did I run with my imagination?

Imagination: n. "the action of imagining; power of forming pictures in the mind of things not present to the senses...the ability to create new things or ideas or to combine old ones in new forms...a creation of the mind; mental image; fancy.

This is what really happened. At a point, I heard a noise behind me. I turned to see a guy riding a black horse and leading a spotted gray one across the road. Now once upon a time my neighborhood consisted of a few little farmhouses dotted randomly about, but no more. Most have been replaced by newer homes. So where did these horses come from? Where is the barn? Where was the rider going? He was not wearing a cowboy hat.

The bandit? Bandit--the name of a white yappy dog--ran toward me just after the horses passed from view. I swear this noisy thing was going to nip at my ankles. The owner, an older guy who had great difficulty walking, came out and tried to round Bandit up, all the while assuring me his dog would not bite. Yeah, right--did he get Bandit's word on that?

A friend drove up shortly afterwards, slowed down and kept pace with me for a little while. "Say," he said as he kept an eye on his rear-view mirror for any cars that might be coming, "you know your taxes are going to go up." He had noticed we recently had a new patio put in at the back of the house. "You think so?" I responded, and waved as he went on down the road. Not really a tax collector, but curious all the same.

And the four-legged senior citizen? I greeted Cindy who was walking her slow, meandering lab, Cameo. "At least she's still moving," Cindy said of her 17-year old dog. "Ha," I replied. "I think there's a lesson in there somewhere for us, too!"

Don't know if I'll try to weave a story from any of these elements or not--but it was fun to craft a draft in my head and test it out on hubby.

It's sort of like something Thomas Edison said: "To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk."

Or Dr. Seuss--"Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!"

Where did your "thinks" take you this week? Any plans to stir the imagination in a new and fun way in the days ahead?

*photo: sxc.hu/

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Where Writing Begins

"I always tell my writing students
that every good piece of writing
begins with both a mystery
and a love story.

And that every single sentence
must be a poem.
And that economy
is the key to all good writing.

And that every character
has to have a secret."
                                                                       --Silas House

A new week beckons in which I hope to uncover secrets. What about you?

*photo courtesy of  sxc.hu/

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Summer Reading, Writing, and Beyond

"Stories rarely jump onto your computer screen in finished form. They evolve, evolve, and evolve again. That's one of the pains and one of the pleasures, of writing." --Ann Whitford Paul

What are you reading at the moment? For me, it's not YA, and not even middle grade, tho the book I'm now querying is targeted for that age. Nope, I'm reading picture books. Might that have something to do with the company I kept this summer? The trips to our library's children's hour, the books I read to those little ones? Not to speak of the times that three-year old Angelica picked up a book and "read" to me herself--a special experience in and of itself!

But thanks to Carla over at Carla's Writing World, I was reminded of a book on writing I have that got shelved and nearly forgotten: Writing Picture Books, by Ann Whitford Paul (2009). Carla's post prompted me to not only start reading Paul's book, but to pull some of my long-forgotten picture book drafts out of the file to review, reconsider, and maybe--just maybe-- revise and submit.

And so I confess I've been immersing myself in the child's eye view of the world found in picture books, and--happy to say--reworked a picture book manuscript of my own, had it critiqued by my writer's group this week, and now have it ready to go out in tomorrow's mail.

Am I spreading myself too thin, what with querying my MG mss, plotting a second book, and exploring ideas for other things? I don't think so. After all, we writers merely need to look at one example--Jane Yolen, author of over 300 children's books. On her website recently, she wrote:  "This is what I usually have out making the rounds at any one time: single poems to anthologies or journals or magazines, maybe as many as half a dozen. Short stories if I've been asked for them...Picture book manuscripts (as many as 20) going to particular editors who's editing style I admire and who's lists appeal to me. Usually between 3-8 novel proposals...While those take their long winding paths through the thorny publishing woods, I am at work on the books under contract. So I don't have to worry if what I have making the rounds takes its usual snailing way. I always know what my next day's work will be."

"And most important," she adds, "by spreading out the variety of things I can do, I am fad-proof. Yeah--I may not be the latest flavor of YA or kids's books, but at 72 I don't expect to be."

I'm breathless just reading about her accomplishments, her workload, her goals. Makes me want to explore all those subjects and ideas that have held my attention all these years. No excuses now. Age shouldn't stop us, if our creative fires are continually stoked!

So may we continue to play with words, create, open our minds to possibilities, expand our horizons--and write.

How many projects do you have going at the moment?

(p.s. My favorite Jane Yolen books? Take Joy, A Writer's Guide to Loving the Craft, and Dimity Duck, which is a darling picture book!)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

English Lesson

"Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire." --William Butler Yeats

"Homograph"--(n.) a word of the same spelling as another, but of a different meaning and pronunciation.

My mom sent me the following piece that would be terrifically funny if it weren't so true. It has apparently been making the rounds on the internet for years. Maybe you've seen it already. Whoever pieced this together was brilliant. Anyone know the name of the author?

You Think English is Easy?

 1.The bandage was wound around the wound.
 2. The farm was used to produce produce.
 3. The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
 4. We must polish the Polish furniture.
 5. He could lead if he would get the lead out.
 6. The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
 7. Since there was no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
 8. A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
 9. When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
10. I did not object to the object.
11. The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
12. There was a row among the oarsment about how to row.
13. They were too close to the door to close it.
14. The buck does funny things when the does are present.
15. A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer.
16. To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
17. The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
18. Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
19. I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
20. How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

"Let's face it--English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger. English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat...And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese...?

"...In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

"English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

"p.s.--why doesn't 'Buick' rhyme with 'quick'?"

Makes you want to cheer on those who have mastered English as a second language, doesn't it? I for one applaud those in my family who, for the sake of love, not only learned English, but learned it magnificently well. My 2 years of Latin in high school and a year of Italian in college (whissht--gone, don't remember any of it!) pale in comparison to those who have mastered my language.

What idiosyncrasies of English give you the most trouble?

*photo courtesy of sxc.hu/

Monday, August 8, 2011

On Hollow Sycamores, Treehouses and Writing

"There is no revising a blank page. Keep going." --from Naomi Wolf's The Treehouse 

What's the one thing that piqued your curiosity early on and never shook loose? That started a writing dream you can't walk away from?

For me it's the idea of a huge, hollow tree--a sycamore to be exact. A sycamore that, at the turn of the 19th century, sported a hollow trunk big enough to shelter an entire pioneer family--parents and four children--until they could build a log cabin. That had to have been a mighty tree! Upon reading the historical account some years back, the idea for my book took root. And what a journey the writing has been.

For fun, when family gathered last month--some from far-flung places--we trekked to a later version of a hollow sycamore (certainly much younger than the pioneers' tree), located in a park across town. There my dear daughter-in-law and talented photographer (thanks, Suzan!) captured this picture--one proud grandma and grandkids squirreled away in the bowels of a tree. Talk about trying to put yourself in your book's setting!

All of this reminded me of Naomi Wolf's book, The Treehouse, Eccentric Wisdom from My Father on How to Live, Love and See (2005). Though not about a hollow tree, it is about a treehouse, a family's relationship, and lessons passed on to another generation. In Wolf's case, the lessons extended to the craft of writing since her father, Leonard, was a poet and teacher. In her introduction she wrote, "I wanted to capture some of what he taught me about love, happiness, loss, and above all, about the power of the imagination, as I learned from him how to build a treehouse in the woods."

She divides the book into twelve writing lessons:

1. Be Still and Listen... 2. Use Your Imagination... 3. Destroy the Box... 4. Speak in Your Own Voice... 5. Identify Your Heart's Desire... 6. Do Nothing Without Passion... 7. Be Disciplined With Your Gift... 8. Pay Attention to Detail... 9. Your Only Wage Will Be Joy... 10. Mistakes Are Part of the Draft... 11. Frame Your Words... 12. Sign It and Let It Go.

Lots of great writing wisdom in the topic titles alone!

A sample of Leonard's advice that Wolf quotes: "Don't wait for inspiration, but sit down quietly, and begin; once you have gotten to work, shut up, even to yourself, about writers block; use your imagination; and keep working. That is your draft. The first one will always be terrible; don't worry about that; keep working. Cut anything that is not in your own voice or anything about which you do not feel passionately or anything that is not true. If you have taken a wrong turn, go back; that is part of the process. Then edit, edit, edit. Finally, know when you are done. Of all these, 'get to work' is the most important."

All of this in a volume that set out to chronicle the building of a child's dream, that of a treehouse. My pioneer family's dream started with a hollow tree. My dream started with their story.

Where did your writing dream begin?

(p.s. for fun, check out Jess's recent post at Falling Leaflets, where she shares photos of her younger self...reading up in a tree. Hands up if you identify with this child!)