Tuesday Toss-Up

What’s on Your Summer Reading List?

book stack
Aaaahhh summer. Sun, sun, sun, lots of sun, sun and more sun.

Sadly, I’m likely to burst into flame if I spend too much time in direct sunlight.

Thank goodness for shade, AC*, hard apple cider and looooong summer reading lists.

 

Here’s what I recently crossed off my list:

  • Stephen King’s The Shining (reread after more than twenty years)
  • Barry Eisler’s Rain Storm (book three of his John Rain series…also known as Winner Take All)
  • Tessa Gratton’s The Blood Keeper (book two of her Blood Journals series)
  • Jim Butcher’s Storm Front (book one of his Dresden Files series)
  • Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes (book one of his Bill Hodges Trilogy)
  • Michael Connelly’s 9 Dragons (book fourteen of his Harry Bosch series)

 

Here’s what’s still on the list:

  • Barry Eisler’s A Clean Kill in Tokyo (book one of the John Rain series)
  • James Rollins’ The 6th Extinction (book ten of his Sigma Force series) and The Bone Labyrinth (book eleven…out later this summer or fall)
  • Tessa Gratton’s Blood Magic (book one of the Blood Journals series)
  • George RR Martin’s Winds of Winter (really, really, really hoping it comes out this year)
  • Jim Butcher’s Fool Moon and Grave Peril (books two and three of the Dresden Files…and every other Dresden Files book…I’m a latecomer to the series but I’d heard much fanfare and book one impressed me much)
  • Stephen King’s Finders Keepers (book two of the Bill Hodges Trilogy)
  • Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter’s Final Cut and Dexter is Dead (books seven and eight of the Dexter Morgan series)
  • Emma Donoghue’s Room

*Prayers going out to all of those around the world suffering through intense heat waves.

What’s on your summer reading list and what are you most looking forward to reading? Have you caught any of the books on my list? What did you think?

Photo Credit
book stack, mine

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The Truth About Your Novel

My name is Sonia and I’m a recovering pantser.

For some folk, writing by the seat of their pants is the only way to fly (The Great and Powerful Stephen King, for example). On the other hand, when I try to fly without a plan, I end up crashing into the side of a mountain. Now, if I’m taking a short trip (flash fiction or short story) I can cruise along just fine. Sure, I might revise a dozen times or so but I can get to the destination without the screaming and flaming debris. For a novel length trip, however, a plan is a must.

Of course, because I have a very thick skull, that’s taken a long time to sink in. Even now, though I lean more towards the plotting end of the spectrum, I’m more a hybrid of plotter and pantser than pure plotter. A plantser, if you will. Or maybe a plotser.

Along the way, I’ve studied story structure and availed myself of Larry Brooks’s (Master Story Structure Guy) story coaching. I’ve had both praise and unsugared criticism from him but I’ve learned a great deal each time. I’ll be signing on for coaching again when I’ve worked out the kinks I can see in my WIP (which will probably be around the same time I write “The End” on my first draft…so much for being an efficient story planner…I really did plan…I just reworked a lot of that plan on the page…at least I’m comfortable with the idea of a radical rewrite).

If you’re working on a novel or just thinking about it, I encourage you to reach out to Larry. You might not love what you hear but, if you let it sink in, you’ll learn something to make your story better.

And, while you’re at it, check out this guest post by Stephanie Raffelock on Larry’s site StoryFix. Her experience was very familiar to me:

After I dried my eyes and dusted myself off from the humiliating encounter with Brooks, I got the gift he intended: the novel is a muti-layered, heavily nuanced form, best not left to writing by making shit up as you go. Respect it. Respect the forms and functions and targets and criteria that apply to any novel in any genre, and have hundreds of years of proof behind them, because every book that’s ever been commercially successful has aligned with those principles.

Read the rest on StoryFix.com –>

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Do You Have What it Takes to Succeed?

When I was a kid, I heard a lot of negative advice about becoming a writer. I heard all about how my chances of being a NYT best-selling author were like a million-to-one. I heard about how many manuscripts were rejected compared to how many published. I heard how writing was a nice hobby but I better have a back up.

Super awesome encouragement. Right?

Now, I’m sure the advice was (mostly) well-intentioned. Folks didn’t want me pinning all my hopes on what seemed to them to be a pie-in-the-sky dream (what is pie-in-the-sky anyway and what does it taste like? Clouds? Mmm…cloud pie. Fluffy. Like marshmallow cream).

All I can say is: good thing telling me no often results in making me stick even tighter to my guns.

Of course, I haven’t published a novel yet. I took a looooooong hiatus from writing starting in college and lasting until a few years ago. Since then, I’ve been poking along. It’s not going as fast as I’d like but it is going.

These days, I generally ignore any unhelpful, negative advice. I believe I will get there (there being a published author, maybe even an NYT best-selling author) if I keep working…even if takes me until I’m eighty (and I really, really, really, really, really hope it doesn’t take that long).

But sometimes the negativity still filters in and I get a little down about my prospects. That’s when articles like the one below really perk me up:

Persistence Prevails When All Else Fails—Being an Outlaster

Monday we talked about The DIP, so it seemed like a good idea to talk about being an OUTLASTER. I had years of honing this skill. Some of you may not know, but I dropped out of high school twice. 

***Note: I am the reason for the current Texas truancy laws 😀 .

Returning to high school and graduating at 19 was seriously humbling. My GPA was so low, my classes (very literally) were one step above Special Ed. When I took my SAT, the scores were so bad, I thought they might check me for a pulse.

Really glad they gave me some points for spelling my name correctly, LOL.

After a year and a half of junior college I won an Air Force scholarship to TCU to become a doctor. Six months in, the school didn’t close when we had a bad ice storm and I slipped and fractured my back…losing my scholarship.

Go read the rest on Kristen Lamb’s blog. –>

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Our Scars Are Our Stories

Do you honor your scars?

We all have scars, some more visible than others. Dog bites. Skinned knees. Surgery scars. Stretch marks. Broken hearts. Cuts and scrapes, physical and emotional.

So often we hide our scars, ashamed to let them show. As if they make us less, mark us down like bruised fruit.

But our scars are part of who we are. Each on is a piece of our story. They are mementos of what we’ve survived, of how strong we are. We shouldn’t be ashamed of them. We should wear them proudly.

This video really touched my heart. The artist creates art from scars, which is not as weird as it sounds. Just watch.

Do you carry your scars as badges of honor or are you still struggling to accept them? How do your scars tell the story of you?

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Why You Should Embrace Your Worst Personality Traits

stubborn or committed?When I was a kid, I often heard how stubborn I was, how rebellious, that I was a moody daydreamer who talked too much and couldn’t sit still. Sounds pretty terrible, right? And I’ll admit I could be a pain in the behind, often to the adults around me and sometimes to my friends.

As hard as I tried, I couldn’t seem to completely squelch any of these traits. I could mostly subdue them but the temptation to give into them sometimes proved too much.

Yet, sometimes my worst traits were a blessing. My stubbornness kept me going when I was tempted to give up. My rebelliousness meant I didn’t blindly follow anyone or anything. My daydreaming and talking too much made me a good storyteller. My moodiness and couldn’t-sit-stillness were harder to see in a positive light but they gave me passion and drive.

I started to wonder if maybe what made these traits bad was the way I looked at them, the words I (and others) used to describe them. Yes, all the traits had a downside but maybe that’s what it was, the downside of a positive trait.

Shoulda been obvious, right?

But for so long, it wasn’t obvious to me.

If I gave them positive names, I could see that so clearly.

My stubbornness was commitment, stick-to-itiveness, and loyalty. My rebelliousness was thinking for myself. My moodiness was passion. My daydreaming was thoughtfulness and creativity. My couldn’t-sit-still-ness was ambition and the willingness to try new things.

Once I saw that these traits were essentially good, that they could go awry but they could also be honed, I embraced them. I began to love them and how they made me who I was. And I vowed to look at others this same way.

These traits have served me well in life. Sometimes they bite me in the butt but mostly they make up what I like most about myself. They’ve carried me through dark times and pushed me into good ones.

And this outlook has also served me well as we’re never really done discovering who we (and others) are.

Of course, because I am passionate and determined, this outlooks is also often put to the test.

When my children came along, I saw many of my “worst” personality traits crop up in them along with a few others.

Did your parents ever tell you, “I hope you have a child just like you,” like it was some sort of curse?

Mine did.

And boy, did that ever come true.

There are moments when it does feel like a curse, when my stubborness stick-to-itiveness collides with my daughter’s epic stick-to-itiveness or my passion locks horns with my son’s passion and the fireworks commence. At these moments, it’s so tempting to revert to the kind of thinking I encountered as a kid, to see their personality traits as all bad, to wish they were easy-going and obedient all the time.  That’s when it’s most important to remember these traits, while they may be in need of a little honing, will serve them well in life…even if it makes me want to pound my head into the wall right now.

Because the way I see them is the way they see themselves

is the way we see the world

is the way I see myself

is the way I see them.

How about you? Did you grow up hearing about your worst traits? Have you embraced them? Are you still working on that? Do you think there are any personality traits that just don’t have an upside?

Categories: Tuesday Toss-Up | 3 Comments

Why the Advice You Hate the Most is Right

May I confess something to you?

No? Well, I’m going to anyway.

Because it’s my blog.

And, also, I don’t have anything else to write about today.

I’m a pantser by nature. I hate schedules. I frequently have no idea what I’m going to fix for dinner before lunch and usually have no idea what my weekend plans are going to be until it’s actually the weekend. I fly by the seat of my pants.

And it works.

Sort of.

There’s a lot to be said for spontaneity. But it often is the enemy of actually getting stuff done. Sure, we might spontaneously decide to do the laundry backlog, start exercising, finish a novel…someday. But something that needs our attention right now is bound to come up, most especially when we’ve spontaneously started a project.

And some things, when left up to spontaneity, get pushed to the bottom of the list almost every time.

Like laundry–who needs to wash socks when you can wear flip-flops?

And novels. Especially novels.

Life’s distractions breed like tribbles the moment you start a novel (the way goodies multiply when you start a fitness plan). And they only pick up steam as you go along.

The solution, of course, is to make time. Set goals and tell people about them. Come up with at least a rudimentary schedule and stick to it. Come up with a system for accountability.

I know this. How well I know this. I’ve had success with this before in both NaNo and ROW80.

And yet, I struggle nonetheless.

Call it a defect of character, a lack of priorities, a distractible mind, or project ADD. Call it fear: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of dust bunnies. Call it procrastination (which itself is probably the nasty afterbirth of fear).

Whatever you call the thing, the end result is the same.

The novel left up to chance to write will not get written.

This is why NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for those who haven’t had the pleasure of being introduced) is so great. You join NaNo, set a goal for 50,000 words for by the end of November, tell the world about it, avail yourself of the NaNo community and write like hell for a month.

This last November, I decided to make NaNoWriMo my spring-board for finishing my work-in-progress. I’d plotted and written part of a previous version of this novel, only to discover the story had mortal wounds. Once I recovered from that unpleasant discovery, I took the opportunity to plot a better story using most of the characters, premise and concept of the previous story. I’d mostly finished when NaNo rolled around.

Perfect timing. A chance to get a solid start (50K words should be half or more of the novel) and form good writing habits. Forcing myself to plan for daily word counts. A deadline hanging over my head. Community support. The thrill of victory should I complete the challenge. What could be better?

And it worked. I won NaNo and formed a habit for writing daily. In fact, daily writing became easier and much more pleasant. I looked forward to the blank page instead of dreading it.

Once I finished NaNo, I imagined I wouldn’t actually have to worry about setting word count goals. I’d have so much momentum built up from NaNo, I’d just keep writing…

Spontaneously.

Go ahead. Laugh now. I’ve earned it.

It didn’t take long for the lack of specific daily goals, deadlines and a system of accountability to show its rotten fruit. My productivity dropped off and I began dragging my feet when it came time to write. Distractions popped up with greater number and increased power. And much of the writing I did do felt off, forced and more than crappy-first-draft crappy.

I hate when they (the ones who talk about goal setting, scheduling, yada yada yada) are right. But I can’t deny they are.

So here I am, back on the wagon, however reluctantly. I’m shooting for 1K words daily and at least 4K words a week (allowing for days off so I don’t go NaNo nuts…those of you who’ve been there know what I’m talking about). I aim to have the first draft complete by February 28.

There and, now that I’ve told you all, I really can’t weasel out of it.

Crap.

But I’ll thank myself when my novel is done. Finally.

I’m finding a few things helpful as I go along.

I use Scrivener (an all-in-one writing software program for writers) and I love having the Project Goals feature visible as I write so I can see my progress.

I have the WriteChain app (an awesome, simple app that allows you to choose your word count and writing day goals and gives you a link for each day you meet your goal) on my phone and I absolutely, positively refuse to break the chain. I’ve got 80 links so far, which includes NaNaWriMo and I stretched the coast days during the holidays.

diyMFA has excellent advice on setting and testing goals for writing (which could apply to any goal). I’m collecting data now for my own iteration process.

And Derek Hawkins has a great suggestion on his blog for keeping yourself motivated (*hint* it can involve chocolate).

How do you keep yourself on track with a big writing (or other) project? What tools and tricks work for you?

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Wishes for You

Christmas Tree

Here are my wishes for you this holiday season:

May you be warm. May you be welcome. May you be full of hope and peace. May you overflow with joy. May you be loved completely and love in return. May you be able to laugh at your mistakes and delight in your successes. Like a child, may you see something new and wonderful in what you see everyday. May you see the goodness in others and yourself. Wherever you are going, may your journey be bright and full of unexpected sweetness.

Merry Christmas!

Happy Holidays!

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Are You Afraid of Falling Through the Cracks?

Facing a Big Project Turns Us into Little Kids Again

…in a Bad Way

pg pier by mike138 on FlickrWhen you were a kid, did you ever walk across a pier, look down through the narrow cracks between the planks to the ocean below and become convinced that, if you made the slightest misstep, you were going to fall through the cracks and drown? Or maybe you crossed a bridge, clinging to the side or staying steadfastly in the middle because it seemed like you might be easily swept over the side and plunge to your death, that you might even be compelled to jump over?

When we got a little older, we realized how irrational, how insane, those fears seemed. We could laugh them off because we knew, duh, people can’t fit through the cracks in a pier nor easily be swept over a bridge. But it seemed so real back then.

I think the same thing happens when we face a huge project, whether it’s getting fit, making a life change, writing a book, joining NaNoWriMo or learning something new. Every step along the path to our goal seems treacherous.

Maybe we can’t even admit we’re afraid.We’re adults. Adults aren’t afraid of falling through cracks in the pier. That’s just nuts.

And sometimes those fears stop us cold. We can’t fight back because we can’t even admit we’re having them. We make excuses. We get busy. We forget. We tell ourselves, “Tomorrow,” and every day is today.

Of course, once we screw our courage to the sticking place or drag ourselves kicking and screaming onto the path, we realize what we realized when we were kids: just keep moving, one step at a time and you’ll make it to the end just fine, even if you have to hold the rail the whole time.

***

What irrational fears crop up for you when you’re facing a big project? How do you handle them? Do you have a funny irrational-childhood-fear story to share?

For all my fellow NaNos, how’s it going for you so far?

Photo Credit:
p.g pier by mike 138 on Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

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Something Borrowed, Something Blue, Something Stolen…

Red RoseToday, I thought I’d share an enjoyable read with you. If you like action, humor, thrills, a dash of romance, and some heavy, thought-provoking content all held together with a thread of hope, you’ll probably love Piper Bayard’s and Jay Holmes’s Spy Bride, part of the Risky Brides set. I had the chance to read an advanced copy (thank you, thank you, thank you, Piper and Jay) and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The story opens with bride-to-be, Sonia Perez (spectacular choice of protagonist names, by the way), shopping for her trousseau with her fabulous mother Kathleen, when a *ahem* fluffy Santa falls from a balcony and squashes a courier (thief?) carrying something very interesting. And everything goes downhill (in a very good way) from there.

I loved that the story was funny and light without diminishing the darker, scarier elements. I may be a bit of a weirdo, but I like my darkness shot through with rays of hope (that’s why I like to write horror). Spy Bride did the trick for me. My only complaint is that I would’ve liked to see the story play out novel-length because I just wanted, well, more.

*Psst* Kathleen is my favorite character. I must see more of her. Soon.

Piper and Jay are running a special Risky Brides event. If you’d like to get in on the action, head on over.

***

What’s your favorite recent read?

Photo Credit:
Red Rose, mine.

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How to Survive NaNoWriMo Without Resorting to Cannibalism

NaNoWriMo is just around the corner and, if you’re anything like me, you’re waiting for it to arrive with a mixture of excitement and dread.

Cake

Cake is a meal. Right?

Most of us don’t really have time for NaNo. We make room by temporarily pushing aside non-essential activities, making a bargain with our families to offset some of our individual responsibilities and planning for the chaos as much as possible. Or we just dive in and hope for the best. Either way, we do it because, if we win, we’ll have most or all of a first draft done. That’s a pretty decent reward for a month of madness.

For my family, meals are the biggest concern during NaNo. While it’s tempting to get take-out or drive-through all month, it’s not so friendly on the budget or health.

Assuming, of course, you can make it to a fast food joint. Otherwise…

So, how do we keep ourselves and our families fed without re-enacting Super Size Me or that Stephen King short, Survivor Type (lady fingers, they taste just like lady fingers. *shudder*)

Here’s what works for my family (when we work it, anyway):

Chicken Stock

Roast up a chicken or two. Eat some for dinner and cut up the rest for sandwiches, tacos, pasta, soup, etc. Throw the bones in a stockpot or a crock pot (I prefer the crock pot because don’t have to worry about leaving the range on for so many hours) along with big chunks of carrot, onion, celery and whatever else you like (if you have the giblets, throw those in there too) and simmer for 6-12 hours.

I like to leave out the salt so I can add whatever’s needed when I use the stock in a recipe.

When it’s ready, pour the stock through a strainer to separate out the bones and veggies. You can separate out the fat with a gravy separator or cool the stock and scrape the solidified fat off the top. Then, freeze the stock in meal sized portions (I usually figure 1-2 cups per person as a recipe base).

Stock is great in homemade soup, curry, chili or in a variety of sauces.

You can also make beef or veggie stock. And, of course, canned stock works in a pinch.

Soup

Our family loves soup. I rarely use a recipe because it’s so much easier to throw in whatever I have. I usually sweat some onions first, pour in my stock, and add celery, carrots, bell pepper and whatever other veggies I have on hand. Then I’ll add meat and maybe pasta. I also add salt, pepper and any other seasonings ( Italian blend, sometimes curry powder, crushed red pepper, etc.) to taste and let it simmer until the veggies are tender.

One of our favorites is sausage and potato soup. I use spicy Italian sausage, lightly browned on the stove top and sliced or diced, baby gold potatoes, onions and any other veggies I have on hand. This recipe usually requires only a little salt and pepper and no other seasoning as the spice from the sausage really infuses the soup.

Miscellaneous Meal Tips

Stock up on your favorite pasta and jars of sauce or make your own sauce and freeze it.

Make a big batch of chili (I like to add lots of veggies such as celery, onion, red bell pepper and cherry or grape tomatoes) and freeze in meal size portions.

Stock up on burrito fixings such as beans, cheese, tortillas and salsa. Burritos are super quick and easy when you have all the fixings on hand. You can even pre-chop and pre-cook any meat, then freeze them both ahead (just be sure to allow for thawing before meal time).

Make a few freezer meals.

Every week, do all y our chopping of veggies ahead of time and stash in the fridge (or you can prep two weeks to a month ahead and freeze). That way, when meal time rolls around, you can just throw the ingredients together and go.

Starting now, make a double or triple batch of whatever you’re making for lunch/dinner and freeze the extra.

Plan a couple of pizza or take-out nights to ease the stress or enlist family and friends to do the cooking.

Shoot for 2000 words every day for 6 days and take the 7th off so you can have time to relax and/or prep for the next week.

***

So this is how I plan to surive NaNo. What’s in your plan?

You might also be interested in:

How Not to Starve During NaNoWriMo

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