Sunday, May 29, 2011

Word for the Week: Story

"People tend to forget that the word 'history' contains the word 'story'." --Ken Burns

The word for the week over my way is: story. As in querying my story, and immersing myself in others' stories in preparation for my next historical fiction book now in the plotting stages.

Story is also a fitting word as we commemorate Memorial Day.

Memorial day was originally set aside as a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. From Memorial Day History: "Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868, by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, and was first observed May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery...Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all."

Think of the stories embedded in all the Memorial Days down through history. There wouldn't be enough history books to hold them.

From Wikipedia: "Begun as a ritual of remembrance and reconciliation after the Civil War, by the early 20th century, Memorial Day was an occasion for more general expressions of memory, as ordinary people visited the graves of their deceased relatives, whether they had served in the military or not."

More stories, passed on generation to generation. Beautiful stories, sad stories. Courageous stories. Hopeful stories. Stories of endurance, love, adventure, sacrifice. Multiplied over and over again. Story is a word that speaks of humanity, and of living life.

  • "You have to understand, my dears, that the shortest distance between truth and a human being is a story." --Anthony de Mello
  • "There have been great societies that did not use the wheel,but there have been no societies that did not tell stories." --Ursula K. LeGuin
  • "Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact." --Robert McKee
 Story happens to be my word. What's your word for the week?

*photo courtesy of

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


"The secret of a happy life isn't buried in a treasure chest--it lies within your heart."--Author Unknown

We went on a treasure hunt yesterday--and ended the evening with far more treasure than a chest could ever hold.

Our granddaughter turned three (where has the time gone??) and to celebrate her birthday, we planned a treasure hunt complete with a treasure chest full of prizes--including bubbles, stickers, and books--for the little guests who had been invited along with the birthday girl. The chest was made out of a styrofoam cooler decorated with shiny yellow paper, ribbon, stickers and fake jewels purchased at the local craft store. Pretty cool, huh?

Since the tiny treasure hunters can't read yet, we printed out photos of the locations where they would find each successive clue--under the watering can, on the front steps, by Grandpa's truck. All led to the final hiding place, under the Colorado blue spruce. Lots of fun--we've probably set a new family tradition, although the idea originated with an activity we did years ago when Angelica's mommy (and my beautiful daughter) was a child, and we organized a treasure hunt for one of her slumber parties. And we wonder where traditions start!

Anyway, watching the children search for the prize made me stop and think about those things in life we celebrate as treasures. My hunt turned up the following quotes:

Home. "The home should be the treasure chest of living." --Le Corbusier

Family and Friends. "Family and friends are hidden treasures, seek them and enjoy their riches." Wanda Hope Carter

Kind words. "Many a treasure besides Ali Baba's is unlocked with a verbal key."--Henry Van Dyke

Children. "When you have a child, your previous life seems like someone else's. It's like living in a house and suddenly finding a room you didn't know was there, full of treasure and light." --Carol Ann Duffy

And, of course:

Books. "There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." --Walt Disney

This is just a sampling. Add to that the joy of writing, the blogging community, and all those helpful writing tips so abundantly available. What treasures would you add to the box?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Does Your Title Raise Expectations?

"Ask your friends what they think (about your title), and then watch their eyes. If their eyes fill with light, it means you've raised their expectations, and they're returning this joy with a tough assignment for you: Write a book as good as that title." --Steven Taylor Goldsberry

I'm excited about being in the querying stage of my middle-grade children's book. I'm excited for the character sketches, journaling, and--yes--daydreaming that I'm entering into for the second book. But I have a nagging question that keeps tugging at the back of my mind. Have I done the best I can on the title of the book now making the rounds?

Does my title convey the essence of the book? Will it help catch an agent's attention, stand out? Is it unique enough? Will it raise expectations for what's between the book's cover?

Knowing that any title goes through many revisions, and most likely will change once it's in a publisher's hands, still--can I make it better now? And if so, how?

From notes I took this week:

Steven Taylor Goldsberry, author of The Writer's Book of Wisdom: "Collect good titles (like good first lines, collecting good titles helps us better recognize what we're aiming for). Practice (writing your own). Stay away from abstractions."
Emma Walton Hamilton, in the blog post, What's in a Title?: "Titles should be catchy, short, appropriate to the material, imply what the story's about, be specific to your book, and be memorable." Some of her ideas include--
           Hidden meaning (revealed in the story).
           Character names.
           Possessive (e.g. Charlotte's Web).
           Memorable line from story itself.
           Something intriguing (e.g. A Wrinkle in Time).

Writers Digest's Jacob Appel's Tips to Land the Perfect Title for your Novel: "Maximize your choices by making a list of at least five different titles before deciding upon one." Also, "don't forget voice and point of view."

Carol Benedict at the Writing Place, How to Choose a Good Title for your Story: "Brainstorm using a key word or phrase that runs through your story...a popular expression related to your subject...a play on words." She also notes, "An effective title should be interesting, convey the tone or central idea of the story, and be easy to remember."

I'm going to take some time here in the next few days to re-evaluate my title along these lines. How about you--any tips for choosing a good title?

p.s. for fun, you might want to put your title to the test. Lulu Titlescorer will analyze it, and rate its chances at becoming a bestselling title. You might be surprised at the results!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Making Progress

"I'm writing a book. I've got the page numbers done." --Steven Wright


Looks like a busy week ahead, but at least I've made this much progress in my newest project!

How about you?


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Writer's Journey, From a Turtle's POV

"And the turtles, of course...all the turtles are free, as turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be." --Dr. Seuss, Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories

I would have seen it this morning on my walk anyway, but twice I was alerted to the little turtle's presence before I got that far. First, by my neighbor Pat, who was coming the other way. "There's a turtle in the road back there," she said. "I'm afraid it's going to get hit by a car." Then another neighbor drove by, slowed down, and told me the same thing. So I was ready. And there it was, moseying across the pavement, head held high, taking the journey one slow step at a time. It was certainly in a precarious situation.

"Come on, buddy," I said, "let's help get you across." And I moved the creature into the grass at the side of the road, marveling all the while at the striking pattern imprinted across the hard shell.

Then, as we writers are apt to do, I considered the turtle's journey--and compared it to the writer's life. You probably already know what's coming, another of those corny analogies. But here goes...

The Writer's Journey From a Turtle's POV
1. You gotta' stick your neck out if you're going to get anywhere.
2. Start. And keep going, one step at a time, no matter how slow the pace.
3. Don't stop in the middle of the road. If you do, you'll never get where you want to go.
4. Stay focused, patient and persistent. A little bit of luck wouldn't hurt either.
5. Let friends pick you up when you find yourself in a tough spot.
6. Remember your pattern is unique, and you add your own little bit of beauty to the world.
7. Catch your breath and rest, if need be, when you get to the other side--especially if you get shook up (think "querying process"!). Then move on to new adventures, the next story to write.

Do you feel like a turtle sometimes? What advice would you give to a writer who's plodding along?

*photo courtesy of

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Tracing Those Creative Sparks

"And so our mothers and grandmothers have, more often than not anonymously, handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see--or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read." --Alice Walker

My grandmother wrote poetry. My mom creates beautiful artwork in quilts. I have always appreciated their eye for beauty--and hearts for good words and stories. Can you trace the seeds of your creativity to a special person in your life?

Taking this opportunity to wish all a Happy Mother's Day! And to tweak the design of my blog a bit, plus introduce myself (finally) with a head shot to my profile. Hello, all. Glad to meet you! (And thanks to my creative daughter-in-law Suzan for the photo shoot she did that day. It was such fun! Love you :-)

*photo courtesy of

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

For Clod, Who Taught Me Something About Writing

"We writers are like horsemen. Some of us climb on one horse and walk it to the finish line. Some of us
trot. Some of us gallop. Some of us are pony express riders, starting on one horse, changing to a fresh one on the way...There are even some who manage three horses. Me, I'm a mule train driver. I hitch twenty-four of those little suckers up to my wagon, crack the whip, and if one dies along the way,
I cut it out of the traces and move on. What matters is the finish line." --Jane Yolen

In college one year, I elected to take horseback riding for a physical education credit. Because I'd had little experience with horses, the grad student in charge that first day paired me up with a horse appropriately named Clod. "Clod," he said, "is the gentlest horse in the stable."

Yeah, right. He failed to mention that the only thing Clod didn't like was to be saddled. The day I was supposed to do that solo, it took three guys to saddle him, he got so agitated. Things only went downhill from there. Almost literally, since it was winter quarter and, where I went to school, there were a lot of  hills on which to slip and slide, and snow and ice to go along with them.

Another thing. "Don't let him wander into the creek," they said. "You'll never get him out." He was stubborn that way.

Oh, dear--what had I gotten myself into?

Well, we managed, Clod and I, to finish the quarter together, even after the day I failed to cinch his saddle tight enough, and it began to slip to the side. And we did it all without galloping--something I told Clod I did not want to do. Ever. Others might think it fun, but not me. But Clod had a mind of his own and on the last day of class, when another rider sped past us, he took off in pursuit. And so...I galloped.

And, once I got over the initial shock, I actually found myself rather enjoying the ride.

When I came across the above quote, the memories came flooding back, and I realized that Clod is an apt metaphor for my writing life. All the elements are there--the idea of trying something new, the up-and-down struggles, the stubbornness and perseverance, the wild ride of it all. I have a little more respect for Clod now. Maybe, in an odd sort of way, our shared experience helped equip me as a writer. You think?

All I know is that I'm holding on to the writing life, and don't want to let go--slipping saddle and all.

Still, don't ask me to gallop!

Is your writing life like managing a horse or two? If so, what kind?

*photo courtesy of