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