Saturday, April 19, 2014

April Showers: Language and Style

I'm continuing my journey of what waters my writer's soul. I love to read books and I'm touching on a few books this month that have added creative water to my work. This week I'm going to chat about Kathi Appelt's TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP.  This one fun read and has a swinging beat. In this story Bingo and J’miah, raccoon brothers are on a mission to save Sugar Man Swamp. Two things standout for me in this book -- language and style.

I love the language here. There is a rhythm in the cadence of the language that reminds me of music. Here's a bit of lyricism : "Nosotros somos paisanos. We are fellow countrymen. We come from the same soil." This bit gives me a good chill. I also love that the language uncovers place. For example: “They say that lightning never strikes in the same place twice, but the same is not true for courage. As it turns out, when courage strikes, it almost always begets more courage.” The choice of begets here coupled with lightning puts me in mind of an old time southern Gospel preacher. I also get some Texas swing and Texas drawl on every page. I kept smiling with each twist of phrase. Specific word choice creates universal appeal. It makes the language breathe. Check the similes in your book. Watch out for the cliches. Do better.

The style of TRUE BLUE SCOUTS is all about the southern storytelling tradition with the Texas tall tale tradition mixed in.  Multiple story lines weave here, and reminded me of a great uncle of mine who was a master basket weaver. He knew just how to bend a strip of bark or a stalk of sugar cane into the perfect basket shape. Appelt jumps from head to head: raccoons, a rattle snake, humans,feral hogs, the Sugarman and more. She captures in her word basket the need to save our natural places, the preciousness of the world around us, and what exactly it means to be a hero. Style has a job, and in this case it's to bring everyone around to the back porch for a stor, to take the chills, the laughs, and riotousness and learn something too. Think about your style and do more.

I hope that you put you best efforts into the language and style of your work this week. It might just transform into something bigger than you thought it could be. I will be back next week with more April showers. I hope you return too.

Also please consider checking out my upcoming ebook PLUMB CRAZY from Swoon Romance. Thanks!

This week the doodle is on a egg. Here is "Spidey Egg."

Here is a little quote for your pocket.
I admire people who dare to take the language, English, and understand it and understand the melody. Maya Angelou

Saturday, April 12, 2014

April Showers: Book HEROES

I've been so busy this week.  I went to San Antonio and signed at The Book Festivals of Texas booth at the Texas Library Association's Annual conference. I also shared the news of my upcoming YA Rom-Com PLUMB CRAZY. Best of all, I spent a few days with some true heroes this week -- water for my soul this week.  I'm chatting about that.

I trekked across the great state of Texas with Kathy Whitehead, and truly felt like I had magically been transported to a Porfirio Salinas' painting. Here's a link to "Springtime in Texas" by Salinas. It makes me want shove my WIP in a corner and spend my days painting the world around me.

The wonderful DannyWoodfill of The Book Spot  in Round Rock, Texas was the bookseller for the Book Festivals' booth. Oh, independent bookstores fill me with happy feelings of freedom of speech. I also feel this happiness that someone is spending his life investing in the future, in his community and ultimately our whole county by adding fabric to the community. How? Who supports local authors? Who understands the specific needs of a local reading community? Who creates a hub for creative folk within a community? Who can guide a non-reader into the world of reading? (So huge!)  I hope this makes you want to drive over to your local independent and buy some books!

Big shout out for Tabatha Perry. She heads up the Montgomery County Book Festival. Again another cultural investment maven! A real hero! Here's an interview with her. How does she add to the fabric of our community? Who supports local writers? Who will create communities of readers who have a wide vision of the world through reading? Who will light imagination fires in the minds of teens?  Yes, Tabatha Perry! Books saved me as teenager. I have no idea how I would have survived those years without books. I wish there had been book festivals when I was a teen. 

Finally, I'm not forgetting the army of heroes, the Librarians of Texas!!!! Yes, these folks are the best ever. I am at war with Texas. Why? This stuff: Why do we need librarians in elementary schools? Let's save money in the budget and do away with those librarians.Why do we need any librarians at all?  Here is my why....we must facilitate life-long learners, an informed global community and all-access educated citizenry.

This apparently means little to so many Texans. Here is a link to Texas Literacy facts. Understand me. I love Texas. I'm a generational Texan. This is my home. But this galls me: Football is the important thing. I know this is not a popular stance, but I don't seen giant shining libraries across Texas. I see football fields, really fancy ones. I'd like to see a huge library as the fabric of community in every small town in Texas. I'd like to see a big staff of librarians stamping out ignorance that is choking the people of my state. 

Don't believe me?  My hometown football field: Waller ISD stadium (accommodates 10,000). My hometown library: The Melanee Smith Memorial Library (no words for how much I treasure this place as teen). The library doesn't have a website. Just a page.  There is one librarian.

Do me a favor  -- visit your local bookstore, your wonderful local library, and/or a local book festival, and thank important heroes in our world.

I will be back next week with more April Showers.  

Here is the doodle: Girl in Bluebonnets.

From a Texas gal I like, a quote for your pocket.

The library card is a passport to wonders and miracles, glimpses into other lives, religions, experiences, the hopes and dreams and strivings of ALL human beings, and it is this passport that opens our eyes and hearts to the world beyond our front doors, that is one of our best hopes against tyranny, xenophobia, hopelessness, despair, anarchy, and ignorance. Libba Bray

Saturday, April 05, 2014

April Showers: Water for the Creative Soul from Wesselhoeft

Hi folks, beautiful springtime is here in College Station, Texas. Blankets of bluebonnets, evening primrose, and Indian paint brush are splashed all over the county like a color-crazed artist needed to spruce up the dull browns and greens. So uplifting.

I begin my April Showers series. This is all about what waters my creative soul.  I'm going to discuss the juice of some recent reads. First up comes enrichment from Conrad Wesselhoeft's new book Dirt Bikes, Drones and Other Ways to Fly (HMH).  Here's a short synopsis from Amazon: Seventeen year-old dirt-bike-riding daredevil Arlo Santiago catches the eye of the U.S. military with his first-place ranking on a video game featuring drone warfare, and must reconcile the work they want him to do with the emotional scars he has suffered following a violent death in his family.

This is one kinetic read. Here are two techniques in this book that will open your eyes as you create your own work.

1. Leverage language. This is something that Wesselhoeft always does and this book is no exception. Here in the middle of of bruising narrative, high flying action, and heart-rending despair is a peppering of poetic beauty. Phrasing elevates this story --- "book of Job lousy year," "Something rises in me -- something halfway between a fist and a sob" and "the thing about a journey -- it pops you into focus and sweeps the mess of your life under the rug if only for a brief time." Shy away from bland word choice as you create your works, and you will add brilliance to your stories.

2. Say something. Dirt Bikes... is stitched together with  references to Mozart, Rossini, Martin Luther King, Buddha, Paul of Tarsus, Marcus Aurelius, Emerson, to name a few, and more obscure voices, like John Gillespie Magee, from his poem "High Flight." 
For I have danced the streets of heaven,
And touched the face of God.
Wesselhoeft is circling the idea that "Character is forever." Our choices will scar the world or uplift it. He digs deep into the idea of oversoul from Emerson. Oversoul is the river voices from each soul running together to make an ocean of soul stuff. Wesselhoeft uses many voices within this story to reflect this. Climb on the shoulders of giants as you write and say something. This is the oversoul of fiction.

I have at least a dozen pages of notes of  the lessons I learned while reading this book. I hope you realize that you are in  the battle of literacy as you create your books.  Do whatever it takes to widen the world, to stir up empathy, and a develop a continuing legacy. Use choice language and consider Rodin's "Thinker" at the gates of hell. Be that thinker at the gates. Write stuff that will make a difference.

Thanks for dropping by! I will have more showers next week.

Here is a doodle. "The Wind"

And finally a quote for your pocket.

What lies behind us, and what lies before us are but tiny matters compared to what lies within us. Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lucky Serendipity: Happy Trails

Hi, folks! I'm continuing my series for the month of March. In honor of Saint Patrick's Day, I'm calling this series: Lucky Serendipity. I have tripped across many moments in life that really direct the whole of my writing future. I call these moments: lucky serendipity. I'm cheating a little this week because these are beautiful trails of lucky serendipity.

Once upon a time I really wanted a writing group, not just my Star Trek fanfic group, but one that wrote original stories. In college, I had my friend Susan Melenkevitz. We would dream about becoming new millennium writers and discuss how we really should go to New York and write for David Letterman. We read each other's poetry. But that was the extent of it.

Then of course, I found SCBWI and met once a month for occasional critique with Kathi Appelt, Donna Cooner, Debbie Leland, and others.  When I moved to Washington, I didn't know anyone. Nope, no one. I'm not exactly sure how I was invited into my first bi-monthly critique group, but I was. We met at a library branch. My son, J4, was a newborn and I'd take him to group. We annoyed the librarian because we would stay till past closing time. She would place this tape recorder on our table and play Roy Rodgers' "Happy Trails to You." I still smile about that.

This group included: Cathy Benson, Marion Holland, Conrad Wesselhoeft, Shelley Seely, Louise Spiegler, Megan Bilder, Susan Greenway, and a few more. Oh, I learned how to draft a novel here. These were my "million words" days that led to viable works. I learned the craft. There are no words to my gratefulness to this group of writers. We met for about twelve years.

Somewhere in here, I realized I write in multiple genres and that is sort of rare. I branched out for critique of shorter works. This led me to the Larry's Market group and Vijaya Bodach, Allyson Valentine Schrier, Kevan Atteberry, Lois Brandt,  Jen Heger, and more. Here, I learned the energy aspect of writing. I wrote boatloads of stuff for tiny paychecks with the most vibrant go-getters I've ever known. I learned the words "do it." Oh, so helpful.

In my last year in Washington, I was asked to join the Diviners. This group was like the icing on my Washington critique cake.  Holly Cupala, Peggy King Anderson, Katherine Grace Bond, Judy Bodmer, Dawn Knight and a few more. This group is so aptly named. Here, I was guided into a world of the ephemeral and the divine.  I moved beyond craft and energy and found indefinable art in my writing. I began to feel, dare I say it, worthy.

Life happened and I moved back to where my dream started. I found my critique group on the first day back at the local Barnes and Noble: Kathy Whitehead, Shirley Hoskins, Andy Sherrod, Ellen McGinty and Liz Mertz. This happy trail was about sharing all the good things I've learned. It's about ultimate confidence that we start here and we will find success. Magic. I've seen this work too many times by now to doubt it. .

Oh, yes, as usual, I have multiple projects and I need a group that reads out loud. This leads to Robin Cox, Kathy W. and Susan Haven, who is, btw, Susan M. from my college days. This is about dreamcatching. Nice, here we are in a group of new millennium authors.

Thanks for dropping by for Lucky Serendipity. I hope you find as many wonderful creative folk on your journey. Next week I will be back with more inspiration.

Here is a doodle: "Barnyard Stack."

A quote for your pocket:
Ezekiel 37: 5-6 "This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath[ enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord."

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Lucky Serendipity: Patricia Lee Gauch...

Hi, folks! I'm continuing my series for the month of March. In honor of Saint Patrick's Day, I'm calling this series: Lucky Serendipity. I have tripped across many moments in life that really direct the whole of my writing future. I call these moments: lucky serendipity. So here is the story of one of those moments.

Some years ago I had cancer. I went from a furiously busy life with four kids to run after, a huge volunteer gig, and a busy writing life, to a life that came to an absolute standstill. Into the hospital I went, weeks of bed rest to follow, and then a much slower life after that. I felt like a miserable fly caught in a spider's webbing.

Each day while recovering, I cheered myself up by doing something I hadn't had the chance to do when I was so busy. Some things were simple like enjoying the sunrise or doodling for several hours straight. One of those things was to apply for a scholarship to the Chautauqua Writers' Workshop put on by the Highlights Foundation.

I received the scholarship! A few months later I was heading to Chautauqua to meet my mentor of the week, Patricia Lee Gauch. (She still offers workshops, but they are often hard to get in.)

Those few hours chatting  and then a flurry  of emails with Patti transformed me as a writer. They taught me to trust my writerly bones, to trust what they are telling me, to trust my energy and passion.  A book is a terrifying leap. For me not every book I've attempted has worked out.  You may simply fall, dust yourself off, and leap again.

Patti validated my writing faith -- that if I keep showing up at the page somehow a viable book will appear. Patti's mentoring sent me on a journey of paring down what my character really wants and sticking like glue to as many pages as I need to tell the story. 

I've covered the some in my blog before. Here is the link back to my travels back in 2005.  Here is a link to a class I took later from Patti Gauch when she visited Western Washington.

I hope that you consider liking my upcoming book on Goodreads, PLUMB CRAZY from Swoon Romance.  My pretty cover is in the sidebar.  I'll be back next week with the last of this Luck Serendipity series.

The doodle. Look, you found a four leaf clover! How lucky!

Finally a qutoe for your pocket. 
Poets know the power in the concrete object, but I say the prose writer, knowing these elements and using them, brings a resonant power and authenticity to narratives of all kinds. Patricia Lee Gauch