If you’re following me on Twitter or Facebook, you might have already seen these questions: What do you look for when you find a pet? What draws you to pick a certain one, like a cat vs a dog vs a turtle vs an ant farm vs a tarantula?

I found some interesting information on what your pet says about you. ABC  Even the name can say something about the person who owns the pet. Jezebel

Most of that pertains to dogs and cats, probably because most people own one or the other, or both. I tend to disagree with the inherited name meaning the owner is too lazy to change it. Perhaps it’s better to let the pet retain its identity through a change of home. Of course, some people also rename children when adopting them, so perhaps we think of a lot of things as needing change when entering our home.

It’s something to take into account when fashioning a character who has a pet. Right now I am working with a teenager who has a pet cat. He doesn’t have a very unique name for her because that isn’t in his character. His best friend is constantly pushing her name for the cat – a Shakespearian character she thinks has a beautiful name.

Somehow it also reminds me of another story that pops into my memory here and there, an urban fantasy where some of the species kept humans as pets. What would that say about those types of people? Partly, they feel humans are less intelligent if they can be owned. They were also able to enforce their will through magic.

What is it about a pet that makes a human a good or bad one? I haven’t dug into that part yet – my focus centers on a character who is half-human and only has a peripheral view of the pets themselves. But now it makes me want to.

Drat. I didn’t need another distraction from my novel rewrite! That’s why I’m going to have to be prolific – I just keep getting great ideas.






Writing about Writing

How many stories do you read about writers? About the writing process (but in a fictional setting)? About getting writer’s block?

All right, I’ll admit Misery is staring down at me from the top shelf, but other than that, how many of them do we read from big-name authors? Feel free to put them in my comments.

TV and movies admit there are blocked writers, but the conflict of the story line does not revolve around the writer and whatever tale is attempting to come out. They’re more often trying to understand something from life like relationships or another facet of work – like digging deeper when a report doesn’t make sense.

So why does it seem amateurs often write about writers writing? Is it the write what we know thing, where that’s all the writer has figured out? Or is it more about trying to explain away the obsession of writing to those unafflicted with the disease?

Sometimes a writer is a perfect choice of protagonist to find out certain stories and the things behind them, but if we get too bogged down in the actual writing we will miss the fun conflict of the real story.

A book I grew up with that had a writer at the core was Harriet the Spy. She was never lost for words, however, which ultimately got her into trouble when her notebook was taken and read by her classmates. Even though she wanted more than anything to be a writer and those notes were how she worked on her craft, I’m sure far fewer adolescents reading the book would turn the next page if she agonized over whether to use chartreuse, lime green, or that icky green from the crossing-guard’s jacket. I wanted to keep reading because Harriet kept getting in trouble and trying to do something and her observations provided me more information about the story as it unfolded.

Well, it might also have to do with liking writing and also conspicuously carrying around a notebook – but who knows?

Take another look at that drafted novel with the writer at the center who chews on his pencils or crosses out word after word in her notebooks. Are you giving the reader a plot point? Is that word going to be important later? Or are you filling space that could otherwise be used to tell a compelling story that will keep your reader turning page after page? Don’t be afraid to cut out the boring stuff, even if it means you don’t share with your reader the perfect torture of finding the correct word. If they’re writers, they already know. And if they’re not, they don’t care.

I know it’s heartless, but I’m a writer and I still don’t care about another writer’s search for the right words through writer’s block or whatever. I want a story with conflict and all the proper words thrown in without hearing about how the writer got there. I struggle enough with the correct thing to say on my own, thank you very much. Tell me how much you want to hear that here, too.

P.S. For anyone who is a blocked writer out there – the writer’s block links all point to fun links to help a writer beat the block.

To Critique

Sometimes the deadlines just make whooshing sounds as they go by. I had a personal goal to try to get the notes made on a story for a critique partner today. I’m not sure I’m going to make it because my schedule keeps changing. [Seriously, who would drive 4 hours away for the weekend and not leave at naptime if given the choice with a rowdy toddler? However, naptime is generally when I catch up with all my personal goals.]

I read the story and enjoyed it. I marked a bunch of places where I want to make more comments. I’m close, but I’m also afraid if I don’t finish it before I leave for the weekend that I won’t work on it when I’m away, and it’s always good to give it back to someone on a weekend, especially if that other person has a day job.

On the other hand, I really don’t want to rush it. I want to take some good time to dig into the story and tear it apart the best I can to help the author make it awesome. That does take time. It really help that I’ve marked the places to comment, but on the overall I keep losing my train of thought. No excuses there – it’s an off week around my house and I’m doing good for what I’ve managed for the week.

Just don’t check it against my to-do list. That thing always spirals out of control with the number of things that need to be done. It’s like that old saying, “Man may work from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done.” Not that it’s necessarily man’s work versus woman’s work, but somehow the domestic chores are never completed.

Probably because they get in the way of the writing.

I’m sure that’s not true for every household. Not everyone is a writer tucked away masquerading as a housewife. (Or not, I have too many part-time jobs for that as discussed previously.) But there’s always something.

I’d much rather critique a story than do the dishes, which is why my sink is piled high again. And while I catch up with them, I’ll be trying to get my larger comments in order to type in before I leave, if I get a chance.

Sometimes it amazes me how many ways we try to critique stories. Most of the groups I have attended take the position of reading the piece aloud, or part of the piece during each meeting, and then taking notes or simply remembering the parts to critique. The turnaround is immediate and there is often little time to think. It took me a long time to get accustomed to the process, and listening actively for that amount of time can be a challenge.

I’ve also had trouble not grimacing when someone makes up a word like “scramblingly.”

Over time, I have learned a bit more from dealing with people online for critiques. Somehow the written word comes through very well and there is plenty of time to figure out exactly the parts that need to be tweaked. It’s also easier to take larger chunks at a time without worrying as much about the time requirement for the room.

There are groups out there who hand out pages each meeting, take them home, and discuss them at the next meeting. I haven’t been part of that to see how it works, except for the Summer Writing Festival, but I’d like to see more of that in action. The other issue with some of that is finding people who are good at your genre and also local in geography. The in-person group I attend now has very little experience in speculative fiction, as well as a few other things like poetry and children’s literature.

What do you do to critique? How do you manage to get around the daily obstacles to get it done? Is it in person? Is it a group? Do you find people online? How have you worked with others within your genre and outside it to make the best of the criticism you receive?

Robot or Guru?

This doesn’t seem like something that can be easily confused. It’s a natural assumption that a robot wouldn’t pass a Turing Test [test your human/robot knowledge here], but how many humans interact the same way – especially in an online setting? When we remove the body language and tone of voice, we lose a great deal in our abilities to communicate. Add on top of that the pressure of being professional and trying to sell a product, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who runs into questions.

I read several different sources when it comes to writing, publishing, and the great ways to get your name out there. I ran into one this week that said (paraphrased) to channel everything you post on a social network to be focused toward your product/platform. I’m struggling with this – because while I do not post whatever I had for breakfast or every stop I made on my day of errands, I have heard from more sources that it’s good to have a dose of color in the blend of blogging and social networking.

That dose of color means part of my personality. Maybe not all of it. It depends on your audience and your platform, I’m sure. What I do know is that I appreciate knowing that there’s something behind the screen that isn’t simply parroting something at random intervals, and I believe that there are a lot of people out there that share my views.

I know I can link my Twitter and Facebook and blog and LinkedIn and a bunch of other sites together so when I post to one, it posts to all of them. Sometimes, when I see fifteen posts in a row about the same thing from the same person (yes, that has happened before) I wonder if each site pulls from the other and cross-posts to the rest in loops. Or if the person forgot all the sites were linked together and posted to all of them. Or if it’s really a person at all. So, while I will link a few things, I make sure they don’t go more than one direction. I’d rather spend a little more time posting, possibly catering to different sites, than look like a robot.

My other assumption is that if I only talk about my (published) book, my writing, and my platform – I’m going to bore everyone into blocking me to stop the madness. I’ll talk about my projects, especially if I hit a milestone like finishing a rough draft or finally figuring out how to fix a plot hole. Those are things meant to be shared. But if I also mention that I have a family and a job(s) and life outside of writing, I’m guessing that might be interest to some who venture here. The blog, the social networks, and all the other stuff are extensions of my bio, which doesn’t just include my publishing credits. I am a person and I’m not afraid to share that.

Found, via Twitter, a perfect quote from someone I admire: “Use your blog to connect. Use it as you. Don’t “network” or “promote.” Just talk.” NEIL GAIMAN

My question is to those of you who search online for authors of books you read (regardless of genre): What are you looking for? If you run into an author online, what makes you want to grab that book and read it? What would disappoint you if you did or did not find it in the search for that author?

Name Trends

Searching for a name for a person is a little different from deciding a name for a character. I suppose many of the principles are the same, but it still feels different.

A baby give the challenge of being an infant through an adult with the name chosen by the parents. Adding to the difficulty, they both have to agree. [I suppose there are ways around this, but we’re pretending to live in a world where we’d like peace among both parents.]

In a book, it’s nice to pick different names. Some stories have requirements – like historical fiction – where it’s better to choose a name that might have been heard of during that era. Example: A novel set in the 1940’s would not feature a Braeden. The name has become popular for many boys since 1995, however, so a contemporary children’s book could easily have a character with that name.

An author also might choose a name she didn’t like for a character she didn’t like, or to show how it didn’t suit the character if she did like the guy. The beauty of names is that the possibilities are infinite, and the importance behind choosing the correct one for the character depends entirely on what the author wants to say. Would Isabella Marie “Bella” Swan be the same person to us if we knew her as “Izzy” instead of “Bella”? What about “Marie”? How about if we changed her name entirely to Meredith Sue Peregrine?

Then would Meredith be the #1 name on the list for the Social Security Administration’s most popular baby names of 2010 instead of Isabella? Would Jacob be the top boy’s name? If you’re curious, one series of books – no matter how popular – can do all of this on its own. [Twilight was released in 2005, and the name Isabella had already inched into the top 10 in 2004.]

One thing that makes books so much easier to give the characters a name is that I usually don’t have to worry about a childhood nickname and a grown-up profession and all the time in between. An author can write in the cruel naming twists that kids in school somehow figure out that are much worse than the ones found in Don’t Name Your Baby. I’m not knocking the book; I own it. It’s really much more about humor than what to seriously not name your child. My husband often jokes about Harry Potter by calling him Harry Potty. Somehow these kinds of insults never come up at Hogwarts or the public schools he attended before that.

The other reason it’s so much easier to name a character in a book is that the last name can change if you want. If you find the name Parker and love it, you can find a last name to put with it. You can bend the rules of what to name boys or girls. Remember A Boy Named Beverly?

There are a lot of names on this unisex name list. There are trends where some go more toward female and or more toward male, more popular or less popular in general. Some names seem to morph from one category to another.

What do you name the children, then? Something you can stand to shout at the top of your lungs several times a day for years on end, something you think the kids won’t twist into a bad word, and something you hope the person your child grows into will fit and appreciate. Yeah, that’s easy. And it’s a bonus if every other kid in the class doesn’t have the same name, too.

Why is all this on the top of my head? If you noticed yesterday’s Silent Sunday post, you’ll notice my daughter is checking out a secret in the ultrasound.

Silent Sunday

Silent Sunday

Balance versus Focus

Sometimes, it feels like the two are definite opposites. I’m curious how other people handle the many irons in the fire. Do you follow one, the most important, and let the rest fall as it will? Do you just not worry about it? Do you manage to keep each one just far enough from the flames to keep it from burning?

I’m struggling with my goals for the school year and where to place the emphasis. I always have too much going on to just let one thing be my entire world. Funny how easy it is to roll with the school year for goals when I tutor students. It’s nice to have the summer, then get back in gear for fall.

Writing Habits

A writer is one who writes. For many, it becomes an ingrained habit with practice. Somehow it starts with an innocent scrap of paper to overcome many notebooks and writing files. Even through the rest of the activities of writing and life, writers are encouraged to write every day. Sometimes they’re called morning pages, but not everyone manages to get them out every morning.

Do you write at a specific time every day? What do you write? Do you consider blogging writing? Do you just work it in when you can in your day, or do you allot specific time to do it? If you miss that time, does your day feel off? Under what circumstances can you not write and still consider yourself a writer? How many missed days before you feel like it’s too far out of your niche to pick up the pen again?

Morning pages happen in the beginning of the day. One big reason behind making them morning pages is the parts of your day that are prioritized are more likely to happen. For many it’s far too easy at night to say, oh, I’ll do it tomorrow. After work and family and all the other commitments, it can just be too much. If there are reasons you allot a different time of day to writing, it has to be a priority in order to make certain it gets completed. Since my toddler is much more of a morning person than I am, my pages tend to be during naptime.

I consider blogging separate from writing. I struggle to always turn out fiction, though. Sometimes I make it about fiction or my goals, especially if I’m deep into rewriting something and the distraction to write something new will carry me away from the project that needs to be finished. But I know I have trouble finishing projects. It’s why I have rough drafts lying around taunting me to polish them. One day I’m going to catch up – I swear…

All right. Not today or anytime soon.

I miss writing when I haven’t for a space of a few days. It doesn’t happen often. Rarely a few other priorities try to raise their ugly heads and get some attention. I hate it when that happens.

How sacred is your writing? Do you maintain morning pages or some other form of daily writing activity? I’d love to hear what you do to get back on track when the inevitable derailing occurs.

What About School?

There are so many things about school that people love or hate. But one thing that seems to come up more often are the different options about schooling.

I went to public school, as did many of my peers. It’s something we have in common. We expect certain things, whether included in anecdotes from way back when or while reading a fictional story. I’ll admit I open-enrolled to a different school than my assigned choice based on geography after a move during high school, but that seemed the best choice at the time.

Open-enrollment is still a good choice for many students, and they’re choosing it more often. Another choice families are making is to move to the school district where they want their children to go to school. We did take school districts into consideration, though the final three choices of houses when we looked (three years ago while pregnant) all ended up in one school district. Luckily, we didn’t mind that district at all. The elementary school is visible from my house, which we didn’t know when we purchased it.

Some students go to private schools. I’m not sure how they view charter schools, if they’re part of the private phenomenon or something else they haven’t figured out a good word for yet. Private schools often tend to be based on the same principles as public school: learning from a desk with a teacher, though they do their best to make it better than what someone gets in public school – or at least to try to make it seem that way to be worth the cost. Many of the private schools in my area are religious-based. In addition to the regular subjects, students are also taught their particular religion.

Charter schools started in the 1990s and has several success stories. Instead of the usual teacher, desks and books – they try learning in different ways. Some of them incorporate radical learning methods to make things more interesting and fun for students. I remember a few in Chicago with great results teaching kids discipline through yoga.

There are also choices to not attend a school, but to learn from home. Home school options are many and varied, incorporating almost everything from guided learning in the real world to workbook packets to study from at the kitchen table. One of the newer catch words is unschooling. Many times the question for these children is socialization, once the question of whether their academics were up to snuff, and home schooling associations exist to associate with other children. Unschoolers are often out in the world with people of all ages (or that is the premise of unschooling) to learn from everyone and work with all kinds of people while they do it.

Theories abound on the best way for a child to learn. Many burn our public schools in recent years and worry about the state of education. Are you worried about your kids? Do you think I’m worried about mine? While the answer is probably yes to both questions – also consider this from an author’s standpoint. I write books for young adults. There are so many options for education and learning, and at some point all of those will enter into books.

Is your heroine the kind who was unschooled? Is she struggling with certain things, either as a student or as an adult who never got into the subject because she was never interested in it? Did your hero have issues with public school and rebel against all authority figures? Is your private school student the only one in her class who didn’t go Ivy League when her charter school sister made it?

Maybe all the different kinds of school can be shown in both good and bad lights in fiction, and it’s up to the author on how the characters need it to be for the story. There is truth and there is an ability to push it only so far for believability.

I’m thinking of exploring all of that, somehow. How does school affect your YA protagonist and the other characters in your stories?

Silent Sunday

Silent Sunday

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