Thursday, December 29, 2011

Next Year's Words

"For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning."
                                                                                                                --T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

The new year beckons with fresh pages like a new journal. What words will we write? From this vantage point we don't know yet, but isn't it exciting to think of the possibilities?

There are three words for sure that I'm going to start with. In fact, I'm going to write them down on the year's first page, day one, and until they're internalized, use them as constant reminders from January to December. They are:

RELAX. Writing is a gift, not a competition. Time is a gift, not a race. Relish the two, and enjoy the process. Rushing through it all only adds stress and angst.

WRITE. There's nothing new here, although it often seems like we need the reminder. Get words down. In whatever form, every day if possible. Journaling, freewriting, descriptions, prompts, new stuff, revised stuff, fun stuff, serious stuff. Doesn't matter. Doesn't even matter if it's not intended for publication. Just write--practice--and keep the process going. Eventually that which is meant for publication will be published. But you have to write it first.

CREATE. Imagine. Visualize. Stir the pot of creativity and see what comes of it. Seek--and seize--new opportunities and see where they take you. Translate them into words, and keep the process energized. Will I follow my own advice? Well, there's the Photo-a-Day project at Kodak (here and here) that I'm considering doing--taking a photo a day for 365 days, designed to "jump start" creativity. Hmmm, where would that take me? Then there's the possibility (oooh, I'm really saying it, Keith!) of a trip to Spain ahead of us in the new year. Will I jump on that? We'll see. Still, no matter what, be open, receptive, curious--and create.

Relax. Write. Create. Those are my three words. I think they'll serve me well. Looking back over the past year, I see a number of postive things. Queries on my MG novel are out, final rewrites completed, a bilingual picture book (in collaboration with my daughter) on submission, targets set/many met, research, character sketches, a writer's conference attended as well as a literature conference and book fair. A moderate mix of wordplay, writing prompts, right-side of the brain exercises, to-be-read pile chipped away at. Watching the (grand)children grow, and playing right alongside them. If I take my three chosen words to heart in 2012, there's no telling what I'll be able to report this time next year! It's a goal worth working toward, you think?

How about you? What words will spur you on in 2012?

*photo courtesy of

Friday, December 23, 2011

Season's Greetings

"Where there is great love there are always miracles." --Willa Cather

Miracles still abound. May the meaning of the Christmas season touch hearts and spirits everywhere--and shower an abundance of hope, peace, and joy into the fresh new year!

"Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time!" --Matthew 2:10, The Message

Monday, December 19, 2011

If You Have a Garden and a Library, Part II

"And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles."
                                                                                                         --Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
Oh, the mysteries and the miracles of a garden. We were reminded of this when we--daughter, granddaughter, and I--attended a most delightful little play recently, an adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic, The Secret Garden.

My daughter chanced upon the opportunity when she saw a banner advertising the upcoming play, sponsored by a local woman's club and to be performed in a small theater downstairs in a community center. Though the stage was small, and viewers settled into metal folding chairs on three sides of the platform, the performance could not have been any more professionally done. Wow. The acting was fantastic. The setting design, for what space was available, was uniquely done. How else could you represent Mary's bedroom, Martha the maid tending to the newly-arrived spoiled and temperamental child, and a locked gate to a secret garden? Where would Mary find the hidden key? And why was Colin in a wheelchair?

The experience was made all the more rich by seeing it through the eyes of the child with us. "Why is she doing that?" Angelica asked when Mary threw a tantrum. "She found the key in that tree!" she pointed out when Mary discovered the means to enter the garden. "Where's the bird?" she wondered when Dickon's friend the robin sang out. We came away with a sense of wonder--at talent and art, performance and staging, a time-honored story, and an all-round simply fun evening in a garden. Including autographs! What a great memory-maker.

Ah. Cicero's quote again (see part I, here): If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.

Wisdom can be found in gardens, too. Additional samples from Burnett's garden:

~"Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow."
~"It made her think that it was curious how much nicer a person looked when he smiled. She had not thought of it before."
~"Much more surprising things can happen to anyone who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just has the sense to remember in time and push it out by putting in an agreeable, determinedly courageous one. Two things cannot be in one place."
~"At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done--then it is done and all the world wonders why is was not done centuries ago."
~"If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden."
Wishing you gardens and libraries galore in the upcoming new year. May your garden of days bloom, and every morning reveal new miracles.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

If You Have a Garden and a Library, Part I

"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need." --Cicero

We had a splash of a time the other night when we celebrated Adrian's first birthday. At the library.

What better place to take a child, especially to the children's hour where warm, kind, energetic, and book-loving librarians read and dance and sing with the wee ones? What better place, next to parents reading to their children, fosters an early love for books that will then surge through their bloodstreams throughout their lives?

Going to the library is a regular habit for Adrian and Angelica. Mommy takes them to scheduled children's hours during morning times. Daddy takes them on Wednesday evenings to another. That's where they decided to hold the party, since Adrian's birthday happened to fall on the same day. "Why not have the party here?" librarian Miss Amy said. Miss Amy loves Adrian. She loves all the children.

So that's how we ended up having cupcakes, juice, birthday songs, Christmas picture book stories, friends and family, laughter and celebration all bubbling over together in a room full of books.

Even Nelson was there. Nelson? Nelson loves libraries, too. He's a neighbor, friend, and therapy dog who just happens to be very familiar with Adrian and Angelica's library. For he is part of a therapy program where children who have difficulty reading come and him. Such dog reading assistance programs are designed to help children develop reading skills in a relaxed environment. Dogs, after all, make good listeners, are patient, and always give A's for effort. (If you're interested in reading about such programs, check out "Can a Dog Help Your Child Read?" You can find it here.)

Thus it was a special evening. As Cicero said, if you have a garden and a library you have everything you need. And the garden part? Stay tuned. There's a story there, too.

Any special stories, get-togethers, or gatherings that have come your way lately?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

For Connie

May God grant you always...
A sunbeam to warm you,
a moonbeam to charm you,
a sheltering Angel so nothing can harm you.
Laughter to cheer you.
Faithful friends near you.
And whenever you pray, Heaven to hear you.
                                                                                                                     -- Irish Blessing

Words starting with "c" captured my attention on my walk this morning. Have you ever stopped to consider how many sunny, uplifting and supportive words are crafted with the third letter of the alphabet?


These thoughts surfaced following news the other day from my dear friend and writers' group critique buddy, Connie, who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Certainly one of the ugliest, if not most ugliest, c-words ever. If only we could strike that one from our vocabulary.

And so, for Connie and others who may have received not-so-welcome news of late, please know our prayers are with you. May sunbeams warm you, laughter cheer you, and the God of all mercy, grace and comfort be with you.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Mayflower Connection

"Life is lived forwards, but understood backwards."--Source Unknown

Thanksgiving Day is over for another year, but the after-effects still linger over this way. Not just that I'm still working off the extra calories I took in. Nor in the fact that I desire to be more conscious of my many blessings every day, not just one day a year. But also because of a discovery that came to my family following the day of feasting.You know how people claim that their ancestors came over on the Mayflower? Yeah, sure. Didn't everybody's?

In my case they did. Which seems to make my previous post personally a bit more significant.

I've always loved history--people's stories from the past. So imagine my delight when my dad's cousin emailed us the day after Thanksgiving with results of a genealogy search he did--one which revealed that a branch of our family is directly descended from Miles Standish. The Miles Standish of Mayflower claim, and military captain to the first Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. Yep, that one. The line that starts with Standish carries down through the Wheelocks to the Binghams to the Harrises to my dad--and to me and my family then, too.

I think it's exciting anyway. The news makes me want to read up on this guy. I know the name from elementary school history books. Now I want to learn what I can about the man. I've already got a heads-up on my research by checking out Cheryl Harness' The Adventurous Life of Myles Standish and the Amazing-But-True Survival Story of Plymouth Colony from the library.

And I'm visualizing a family tree. Do they make templates that follow lines from six-or-more family branches? For you see, there's Miles Standish on Dad's side originally from Wales, then my mother's ancestor John Young who came from Scotland. My husband's mother's parents came from Poland; he traces his father's side to Germany. My little grandson on one side has maternal grandparents from Brazil and Japan; my granddaughter and second grandson have paternal grandparents in Mexico who trace their lines one direction to an indigenous Indian group and in the other direction all the way back to Spain.

Whew. My head's spinning. But I'm determined. Writing is still my top priority. But mapping out this family tree for my grandkids is formulating in my mind. I'd love to leave this heritage in some kind of visual form for them.

I plan to do just that. But not right away. After all, Christmas will soon be here.

But if Thanksgiving opened up such possibilities, what might come next?

Any family tree stories you have to share?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

"The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving."  --H.U. Westermayer

As we celebrate our many blessings, may gratitude run deep, flow freely, and open eyes and hearts everywhere. Happy Thanksgiving.

*photo courtesy of

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Writers as Sculpture Artists

Illustration of Rodin's The Thinker
courtesy of Microsoft Office clipart

"Writing is not like painting where you add. It is not what you put on the canvas that the reader sees.
Writing is more like a sculpture where you remove,
you eliminate in order to make the work visible.
Even those pages you remove somehow remain."
                                                                          --Elie Wiesel

Thought to ponder: keep chipping a way at those words!

Have a great rest of the weekend...

*p.s. my signed books giveaway is still open.Check here for details on how you can win :-)


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

5 Insights on Dialogue, From a Bird's-Eye View

"The best dialogue counters our expectations and surprises us." --Nathan Bransford

Man, the birds were noisy on my walk the other day. A flock soared overhead, fluttered, and en masse swooped onto one lone tree already bare of leaves--squawking, chattering, talking all at once. I found myself imagining one tiny little guy on an outermost twig, notebook and pen in hand, taking notes. If my imaginary writer-bird were to try to pull good dialogue out of all the confusion, what guidelines would he seek?

Consider the following:

1. The Purpose of Dialogue. Dialogue's purpose is twofold. It: a) reveals character and motivation, and b) moves the plot forward. No aimless chatter here, unless it serves to further the story. Dialogue also helps to establish tone or mood, creates/adds to conflict, and helps control pace. "Dialogue," it's been said, "is all about action and reaction."

2. The Effectiveness of Dialogue. Effective dialogue seeks to achieve a number of goals. It should drive the story forward, add to the reader's understanding of characters, and/or demonstrate the relationship between different characters. According to The Writer's Book of Wisdom, 101 Rules for Mastering Your Craft (Steven Taylor Goldsberry), dialogue should heighten drama, speed the process of discovery, and create tension. Filter out aimless squawking. Zero in on characters and plot, story and conflict--and dialogue will improve.

3. On Writing Good Dialogue. Struggling to make dialogue believable? Feel like you're out on a limb and nothing works? Try this: Listen to how people speak. Keep a journal of overheard dialogue. Read with an ear to how other authors handle dialogue. Also remind yourself to show, not tell...keep dialogue concise... make it flow...use slang true to the era but not stilted. Oh, and a biggie--avoid information dump!

4. On the Formating of Dialogue. Break up dialogue--through action, description, and other story elements. Use tags ("he said") correctly. Punctuate correctly. Keep those little birdies in line.

5. Test Your Dialogue. Read your work out loud. Have someone else read your work out loud. This way you'll tune in to any breakdowns in rhythm, authenticity, and characterization. What you want is for your work to sing. And surprise.

My imaginary writer-bird is sitting on my shoulder this week, reminding me of these things. In gathering the tips, I turned to the following sources and are grateful for the help:

Learn the Elements of a Novel
Novel-Writing-Help Fiction Writing
Nathan Bransford, Author
BubbleCow Copy Editing
Change the World with Words

What are some of  your tips for writing good dialogue?

p.s. My Hundred-Up Signed Books Give-Away is still open. Check it out here, and join in the fun as I inch my way to 100 followers!

*photo courtesy of

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hundred-Up: Signed Books Give-Away

"Story is to human beings what the pearl is to the oyster." --Joseph Gold

I have some pearls to give away.

Three books. Each signed by the author. I think you'll enjoy them, each a different genre and style.

The occasion? Celebrating an approaching milestone: 100 followers. What fun! And what better way to share in the fun than to spread some neat books around. The titles include:

Savvy (2009 Newbery Honor Winner), by Ingrid Law. Goodreads: "For generations, the Beaumont family has harbored a magical secret. They each possess a 'savvy'--a special supernatural power that strikes when they turn thirteen. Grandpa Bomba moves mountains, her older brothers create hurricanes and spark electricity...and now it's the eve of Mibs's big day. As if waiting weren't hard enough, the family gets scary news two days before Mibs's birthday: Poppa has been in a terrible accident. Mibs develops the singular mission to get to the hospital and prove that her new power can save her dad...Suddenly Mibs finds herself on an unforgettable odyssey that will force her to make sense of growing up--and of other people who might also have a few secrets hidden just beneath the skin."

I met Ingrid this past weekend at the OKI (OH/KY/IN) Literature Conference. A delightful lady full of creativity, she's an author who determined she wanted to create a different kind of magic--one akin to a tall tale. She loves to collect words, and make up a few of her own. And quite the success story, when you think that this was her first book AND a Newbery award-winner.

The Tension of Opposites, by Kristina McBride. Goodreads: "When Tessa's best friend Noelle disappears right before the start of eighth grade, Tessa's life changes completely--she shies away from her other friends and stops eating in the cafeteria. Now, two years later, Noelle has escaped her captivity and is coming home, in one piece but not exactly intact, and definitely different. Tessa's life is about to change again as she tries to revive the best-friendship the two girls had shared before Noelle--now Elle--was kidnapped... and tries to balance her desire to protect and shelter Elle with the necessity to live her own life and put herself first. Tense. The constant push and pull of friendship, pain, love, and jealousy is beautifully drawn..."

I met Kristina at Cincinnati's recent bookfair, Books by the Banks. When asked how she got her idea for this book, she said she took the idea straight from newspaper headlines. Another example of how ideas await each of us, if only we keep our eyes (and hearts) open to them.

The Cardturner: A Novel About a King, a Queen, and a Joker, by Newbery winner Louis Sachar. Goodreads: "'How are we supposed to be partners? He can't see the cards and I don't know the rules!' The summer after junior year of high school looks bleak for Alton Richards. His girlfriend has dumped him to hook up with his best friend. He has no money and no job. His parents insist that he drive his great-uncle Lester to his bridge club four times a week and be his cardturner--whatever that means. Alton's uncle is old, blind, very sick, and very rich...Alton soon finds himself intrigued by his uncle, by the game of bridge, and especially by the pretty and shy Toni Castaneda. As the summer goes on, he struggles to figure out what it all means, and ultimately to figure out the meaning of his own life. Through Alton's wry observations, Louis Sachar explores the disparity between what you know and what you think you know. With his incomparable flair and inventiveness, he examines the elusive differences between perception and reality--and inspires readers to think and think again."

Though I've not met Louis Sachar in person, I feel like in reading this book, I've met a writing teacher. He not only wove a good story, he also proved to be a good study in backstory. He's a master at feeding background information bit by bit without allowing it to bog the story down--something that for me can prove to be a tricky balance. The added bonus? If you're interested in learning the game of bridge, this book can prove to be a beginner's guide.

So for the giveaway, the rules are simple--just be a follower and you'll be eligible to win one of these three books. Follow, and leave a comment with an email address where you can be reached. Note your preference for which book you'd like, too, if you want. Oh, and if you twitter or blog about this giveaway, you'll get extra points. When the smiling faces in the followers' sidebar reaches the magical 100, I'll announce the winners, and get the books right out to you.

Thanks for playing along. More than that, thanks for following. I've enjoyed meeting each and everyone of you. Writers--like books--are real pearls!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Proclamation Inspiration

Hear ye! Hear ye! I found this posted the other day at B. Streetman's Vintage Kids' Books My Kid Loves. For the love of picture books--reading, writing, and sharing--and in the spirit of keeping the hands-on PB format alive, I pass it along. Thanks to those who drew up the original draft. A quick review of the authors listed reveals a gazillion of their books I want to get my hands on!

My favorite line? "Picture books look best when their covers face outward."

Happy weekend, everyone.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Writing Inspiration from Aesop's Crow

The Crow and the Pitcher

"A crow, half-dead with thirst, came upon a pitcher which had once been full of water; but when the Crow put his beak into the mouth of the pitcher he found that very little water was left in it, and that he could not reach far enough down to get at it. He tried and tried, but at last had to give up in despair.

Then a  thought came to him, and he took a pebble and dropped it into the pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped it in the pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped that into the pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped that into the pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped that into the pitcher.

At last, at last, he saw the water mount up near him, and after casting in a few more pebbles he was able to quench his thirst and save his life. Little by little does the trick." --Aesop

Doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year? I'm one of those not quite ready for the challenge, but I know many have signed up. I'm wondering how this, the first day, has gone for those brave souls? A goal of 50,000 words in the month of November resulting in the rough draft of a novel is amazing to me, and I admire those who persist--and conquer. Maybe next year for those of us not yet there? Maybe so!

In the meantime, perhaps Aesop's story will serve as inspiration, no matter the stage of writing we're in. If we remember that word by word, like pebble by pebble, the job gets done and the (writing) thirst gets quenched, then we'll see our dreams come true. We just have to be sure to pack a few special pebbles for the journey--pebbles like perseverance, persistence, play, patience, pep-talks, and pick-me-ups. (Throw in some pumpkin pie, and maybe we'll be pumped for the next 30 days!)

Yep, little by little does the trick. Good luck to all in reaching your goals.

p.s. You know, there really is a crow--the rook--that has been known to drop pebbles in a jar to get what it wants? Studies have been conducted that show this to be true. See Connelly do his thing here at Aesop really was on to something.

*photo courtesy of

Friday, October 28, 2011

Lucy Maud Montgomery, on Adventure

"So ran the current of my life in childhood, very quiet and simple, you perceive. Nothing at all exciting about it, nothing that savours of a 'career.' Some might think it dull. But life never held for me a dull moment. I had, in my vivid imagination, a passport to the geography of Fairyland. In a twinkling I could--and did--whisk myself into regions of wonderful adventures, unhampered by any restrictions of time or place." --Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942), author of Anne of Green Gables, from her book, The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career


Like Ms. Montgomery, may our imaginations take us on wonderful writing adventures. Happy weekend, everyone! Got any adventures planned (writing or otherwise)?

Monday, October 24, 2011

G is for Glee (and not the TV Series)

"A child reminds us that playtime is an essential part of our daily routine." --Anonymous

Angelica has one of Alyssa Satin Capucilli's books in the Biscuit series on her shelf, and so she knew Biscuit when she saw him. We were at Books by the Banks, a book festival held here in Cincinnati over the weekend, when what do you know? Biscuit was THERE! And all the excitement of a three-year old was poured into the biggest hug ever. Can we say glee?

What inspiration for a writer, especially those of us who write for children. No doubt, this is now my picture of the week, maybe even my screen saver. Don't you just love it? The glee spilled out on all those around. I wanted to bottle it up and hoard a supply in hopes of dispelling those less-than-gleeful, rather gloomy, times that sometimes manifest themselves unbidden.

And so I play--with words.

Glee... in the the getting to the GLOW. the going...the giving...the gathering. the gumption...and the gratitude.

It's all there, gifts for the gleaning, whether in a child's face upon meeting a favorite book character now bigger-than-life, in the writing--and reading--of books, or in life in general (no matter the grumps, gravels and gripes that garner groans).

Glee is the chosen word of the week over this way. What might your word be? Does it start with G, too?  Any ideas on how you will play this week?

Thursday, October 20, 2011


"Autumn, the year's last, loveliest smile." --William Cullen Bryant

Just a note to thank Debbie Maxwell Allen over at Writing While the Rice Boils for guest-posting me today, sharing a post I did the other day on character names. Smiles, Debbie! And if you haven't met Debbie yet, please hop on over and say hi. Her place is always a treasure trove of writing tips, resources, books, conference news and more.

Speaking of smiles, I'd like to send a few over to WritingNut at Writing in a Nutshell as well, for the shout-out in the recent Pay It Forward blogfest.  And smiles, too, to all the new followers that came over from there. Thanks, WritingNut! 

Speaking of followers, it amazes me to think I'm inching up toward the big 100 followers-milestone. I have so much enjoyed meeting everyone, and being a part of the writers' blogging world. It's a pretty special place. I'm thinking there should be some fun give-away to celebrate. Stay tuned, we're getting close.

And truly, what better choice for a give-away than maybe a book or two? And what better way (for me and others in our area) to select those books ( and maybe get them autographed) than to go to the Books By the Banks book festival here in Cincinnati this Saturday, October 22, from 10-4.  But how to choose--the line up of authors and illustrators who will be there is awesome. It includes Alyssa Satin Capucilli of the Biscuit children's books, illustrator Will Hillenbrand, Kristina McBride, author of the YA novel The Tension of Opposites, and renown music artist Judy Collins who will be signing her autobiography, Sweet Judy Blue Eyes, and nearly 100 others. The day promises to be amazing, with lots of smiles to go around.

Finally, speaking of books and the buying of them--when you buy a book, do you consider yourself a patron of the arts? I hadn't thought about our purchasing power this way until I read Rosslyn Elliott's post this morning at WordServe Water Cooler. You might check out what she has to say in My Reader, My Patron: How Authors Will Survive in the Brave New Publishing World. Great food for thought.

Smiles, everyone!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Kaleidoscope of Words

When you are describing,
A shape, or sound, or tint;
Don't state the matter plainly,
But put it in a hint;
And learn to look at all things,
With a sort of mental squint. --Lewis Carroll

Did you know that all the beauty in a kaleidoscope is made up of just three simple elements? The elements are colored glass, mirrors, and light. Sir David Brewster invented the kaleidoscope way back in 1815, and coined its name from the Greek words for beauty, form, and 'tool for examination.' Hence, the word means "observer of beautiful forms."

Writing, too, is made up of simple elements, the most basic of all of course being words. But it's how we put words together, shake them up, and bring them to light that makes a story. We mix the colors of character and dialogue, the mirror images of patterns and insights, and the light of voice to make it happen. Are we up to it?

Sometimes, like Lewis Carroll says, the effort takes a bit of a mental squint. Sort of like looking through a kaleidoscope, I guess.

But observe, we do--and listen, and take notes, and plot, and describe, and connect-the-dots, and play with words. All to make a better story and, hopefully, in a more beautiful form than not.

What about you--are you looking through a kaleidoscope of words this week?

*photo courtesy of Microsoft Office clipart

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Character Names: Have You Heard This One?

"Always end the name of your child with a vowel, so that when you yell the name will carry."
                                                                                                                                 --Bill Cosby

I recently came across the following statement in a book on novel writing. I'd never heard this "rule" before. Have you? 

"Choose names with long vowel sounds for principal characters, shorter for lesser."

No discussion of why followed. And since I'd never heard this before (and with apologies to the author for not accepting the idea at face value), I decided to put the theory to the test by conducting an informal poll on main character names. I took the names from books I have on my shelf, particularly classics and Newbery award winning authors since they've stood the test of time. Here's my list:

                         Long                                                                            Short
Jo, Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)                                             Scarlett, Gone With the Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
Mary, The Secret Garden (Frances H. Burnett)                    Meg, A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L'Engle)
Andi, Revolution (Jennifer Donelly)                                           Anne, Anne of Green Gables (Luci Maud Montgomery)   
Tilly, The River Between Us (Richard Peck)                        Miranda, When You Reach Me (Rebecca Stead)
Zola, The Unfinished Angel (Sharon Creech)                       Jess, Bridge to Terabithia (Katherine Paterson)
Abilene, Moon Over Manifest (Clare Vanderpool)             Mibs, Savvy (Ingrid Law)
Jethro, Across Five Aprils (Irene Hunt)                                    Kit, The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Elizabeth George Spears)

As you can see, the results ended in a tie.

After this, I went back and checked the last names on the short-vowel list, and found that four of  the seven carried long-vowel sounds, three short. Not quite a tie there, but close.

So I asked myself, do vowel sounds carry that much weight? Or are there other considerations for choosing character names?

Actually there are. One of the best ways is get to know the characters--their personalities, quirks, and backgrounds. This way, the "ear" will be more open to the name that fits. Not only that, but names should be chosen with an ear to historical and cultural accuracy. Also, ideas for names can come from a variety of sources, like baby name books, lists of names popular to an era, movie and tv credits, business directories, old yearbooks, phone books--sometimes even cemeteries. For some writers, the name's meaning is important, for others it is simply a matter of what "feels" right. Yes, it boils down to how a name sounds, but not only because of long or short vowels.

And, unlike Bill Cosby's reason for choosing a child's name ending in a vowel, if we utilize other resources, we'll have no reason to yell. The name will carry itself.

At least that's what I think. What do you think?

p.s. for some good guidelines (not rules!) to aid in choosing character names, you might want to check out these sources:
How To Give Your Character the Perfect Name, Writer's Digest
Name That Character, Top Ten Tips, The Script Lab
Tips for Writers on Naming Fictional Characters, Baby Names
Eight Things to Keep in Mind When Naming Characters, Jody Hedlund
Name That Character, Writing World

*photo courtesy of

Saturday, October 8, 2011

October Morning Gallery

We took a walk this morning, hubby and I, to the top of the hill beyond our house. We do this a couple of times a year, different times, different seasons. Thought I'd share pocket-sized views of October from over this way. It's been a beautiful day.

"Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The poetry of the earth is never dead." --John Keats

"To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more
welcome than the most luxurious Persian carpet." --Helen Keller

"Climb up on some hill at sunrise. Everybody needs perspective
once in a while, and you'll find it there." --Robb Sagendorph

"The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful." --e.e. cummings

"Truly it may be said that the outside of a mountain is good for the inside of a man."
--George Wherry, Alpine Notes and the Climbing Foot, 1896

"Nature is the art of God." --Thomas Browne, Religio Medici, 1635

"Nature is a writer's best friend." --Agave Powers


Have a great rest of the weekend! Hope your pockets are filled with beauty, too.

Monday, October 3, 2011

On Voice, A Quote

"Writing without voice is wooden or dead because it lacks sound, rhythm, energy, and individuality...Writing with voice is writing into which someone has breathed. It
has fluency, rhythm, and liveliness that exist naturally in the speech of most people when they are enjoying a conversation." --Peter Elbow, Writing with Power


I've found this definition on voice to be very helpful--hope it inspires you, too. And now that October is here, my goal for the month is to breathe more life into writing. How about you?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

6 Keys to Opening Up New Possibilities in Your Story

"What makes familiar things worth writing about is that we are able to find a way to see them new, both for us and the people we write for." --Bruce Ballenger

Some years ago we had a mail-delivery problem when a bird built its nest in our mailbox. A problem with a simple solution, it would seem. Just pull the nest out and discard. But when, the next day, we observed how the bird flew down, perched on the box, opened the lid with its beak and subsequently made several trips to deposit more nest-building straw inside, we knew we had to do something. After all, how many times could we pull out the bird's work only to see it come back and start all over? We didn't have the heart for that.

Thankfully, at about the same time, we happened to hear a park naturalist speak at the local library. During the Q&A session, I asked for advice.

"The key," the naturalist said, "is to put a brick in the mailbox. It will change the space so that the bird will want to look for a new home. Hopefully a place that's a better fit for him--and you."

A brick? It was worth a try. And, happy ending, the bird soon disappeared, never again to take up residence in our box.

Remembering the incident prompted me to wonder what keys we writers might use in dealing with some of our writing problems--problems like bogging middles, lackluster writing, stories that seem to go nowhere--or that elusive, "something just ain't working" feeling. How can we change the "space" of the piece so that we look at it differently, see new possibilities? Some ideas:

1. Experiment with point of view.  This is a suggestion made by Ann Whitford Paul in Writing Picture Books. "Rewrite the opening paragraph in your story," she says, "in different forms." In other words, switch things around. If you're writing in first person, change to third--or even second. Single POV? Try multiple. Change your POV character. "While you’re writing these different opening paragraphs," she adds, "be playful. Let your imagination run wild. See how your experiments will take your story in new and surprising directions."

2. "Go Topsy-Turvey." This is how Jane Yolen puts it in Take Joy, A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft. “Writers know that if they turn a picture upside down, the central shapes are better exposed. No longer concerned with the drawing...what comes through is the composition itself." She acknowledges that you cannot very well read a book upside down, but you can look at its composition differently. For example, "Take one of your chapters, and reread what you've written with all the modifiers blocked out. Declare war on adverbs. Change your main character's gender. Turn a prose paragraph into lines of poetry to see how you've overwritten it...When we force ourselves to go topsy-turvy, we can see anew what is on the page."

3. Play "How Many Endings?". This is a personal favorite--an exercise I did that opened up a whole new realm of possibilities in my writing. In How to Write with the Skill of a Master and the Genius of a Child, Marshall J. Cook says this: "Select a finished story—your own or somebody else’s—and play the ‘How Many Endings?’ game. How many different ways could you end that story? Don’t judge, analyze, or otherwise evaluate your endings as you jot them down. And don’t bother polishing the prose. Just capture the idea. When you think you can’t think of any more endings, think of one more." At this point I was sweating, but I did it--one more idea--and it was by far the best.

4. Vary your writing tools. This idea came from the March/April 2011 SCBWI Bulletin, in an  article titled, "Rhythm and Flow in a Writer’s Life" by Pedro De Alcantara: “Writing by hand has a different rhythm and feel from typing at a manual typewriter or at a computer. And writing by hand on unlined pages is different from writing by hand on lined paper. Alternate using pens, pencils, various notebooks, computers, Post-its, and other media. Each writing tool triggers your creativity in distinctive ways."

5. Grab your camera. Bruce Ballenger, in Discovering the Writer Within, proposes taking a series of pictures of an object of choice--making each shot different by varying the angle, distance, lighting. Print the pictures, spread them out, and ask yourself, "Do any of the images help me to see my familiar object in a new way?"

6. Change your space. Again, from Ballenger: "Go for walks, swim, run, go to a movie, read. Do anything but write for a day or so...(and) don't allow yourself to indulge in negativity."

Experiment. Turn things topsy-turvey. Go a step deeper when you think you've given it all you've got. Vary your approach. Play with images. Change your own space to make room in your head for solutions. Just a handful of ideas. When troublesome birds build nests in your head and hamper your writerly deliveries, what are some of the keys you turn to?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Messy Desk Debate

"If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?" 
                                                                                                     --(attributed to) Albert Einstein

This is a true story, I'm not making it up. I found myself drowning at my desk this week, it was so cluttered with papers, folders, research notes, old photos, writing books--you name it, it was piled up. I told myself I knew where everything was, and could find it when needed. But I knew the truth. The messies had gotten out of hand. And so I began a process to clear off my desk--filing, determining what to keep, what to throw away, reordering, prioritizing. (Do I get credit for the fact that my office is very, very small?)

Can you belive what I found at the bottom of the basket? Really, I did not stage this. This is what lay there, staring up at me:

Ummm, should I be embarrassed? I do not know how long this little book has been buried...

There are different thoughts on the subject of a cluttered desk. Some say it's a sign of creativity. Some say it hampers the creativity process. Some say it's a matter of balance. You can check out some of the discussion at:

Time Management Success: "Have You Got a Messy Desk?" Management: "What's Wrong with a Messy Desk?"
Career "Is a Messy Desk a Good Thing?"
Ian McKenzie: "10 Tips to Help Keep Your Desk Clean"

So, what do you say? Can you tolerate a messy desk or do you have to have it cleared off by the end of the day? Me? I'm thinking I'd better study Everything in Its Place. Creeping clutter, at least over this way, has interfered with the creative process--and a new week, a new approach, is calling my name.