Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Writing A Novel - Zen

Zen is defined as the "teaching that contemplation of one's essential nature to the exclusion of all else is the only way of achieving pure enlightenment." A writer's essential nature is to write, sure I know the Zen Buddhists have much deeper essential natures in mind when they are teaching, but today, right now, let's talk about a writer's zen. It happens only one way: with the words.

So much of this month's theme has been devoted to a reiterating theme: just do it. Writing a novel is not easy, it is not always fun, but if you are a writer, or more specifically, if you are a novelist, then you owe it to your essential nature to just do it. As you do it and when you have reached the finish line you will have experienced writing zen.

I have typed one phrase over and over this month: "I am no expert," and this is true. However, I can say this, I have now finished two novels. I have journeyed from the first glimmers of an idea through to the end of a plot.  Today I wrote over 15,000 words in order to complete my first draft of a still untitled work that may go nowhere. It's finished. I reached THE END. I even did it in time to be validated as a "WINNER" of this month's Camp NaNoWriMo.

Right now I am experiencing writing zen. It is beautiful because it is the path to enlightenment. There were many times in this month where I wrote myself into a corner, where I felt blocked and where I thought I had just picked the wrong story to write, but because of two challenges - this A to Z Challenge where I had to face the facts about the art and work behind writing a novel, and my commitment to the CampNaNoWriMo Challenge - I didn't allow myself to give up. I knew at every difficult turn that I was, even then, experiencing the writing zen.

And now, as I sit here reflecting upon the conclusion to my tale, I am still thinking about conflicts I can amp up, characteristics I can add to characters and themes I can enhance. This too, this "I'm never really done" syndrome is also part of the beauty of writing zen.

Embrace it all. 

Write your words, my dear writers. Your readers are waiting, and your essential nature wants to be embraced. Enlightenment awaits us all.

Happy writing! 
Thanks for reading!
Stay tuned for next month's devotion to reading!!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Writing A Novel - YouTube

I love YouTube. After a long day of writing and reading, sometimes I just need to let people talk at me. It doesn't always have to involve goats sounding like humans, cats doing cat-things, or auto-tuned remakes of a clip of the news from somewhere in the world. Many times I let YouTube inspire me, remind me why I'm doing what I'm doing and show me that I am not alone.

I figured, since we are nearing the end of a very intense month, that you too might just need someone to talk at you. Here are some great YouTube videos to help you stay inspired.

Ira Glass says, "Fight your way through that."

Jack White says, "Inspiration and work ethic ride right next to each other."

John Green says, "Books are made in revision."

(*The long one*) Neil Gaiman says, "The problems of failure are hard. The problems of success can be harder."

I can go on here.There are so many great people sharing great things on YouTube. Happy viewing!
Thanks for reading!

Do you have an inspirational, or writer-friendly YouTube video that you loved?
Beyond books, where else do you find your writing inspiration?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Writing A Novel - Xenogenesis

As an offspring of your own imagination, your novel is lathered in evidence of you - who you were, who you are at the time of writing, and the who you wish to become some day. However, if in writing your novel, some xenogenesis does not occur, your entire cast of characters will start to all morph into the same person.

As we write, we must produce characters that are completely unlike us, or the people we based them on. We must create beings that can move forth in a fictional world and have their own ideas, their own voice and even their own individual look. While they may begin as a perfect carbon copy of someone in reality, they must develop into their own unique identity as your story unfolds.

It is my impression that this happens naturally.  As I wrote in an earlier post on character development, I believe our characters develop through the conflicts they face. When we impose new and different conflicts upon characters that make be identical to a real life person, they automatically transform into someone new. However, there are some other things we can do to ensure a complete xenogenesis takes place:
  1. Listen. Always listen when you are with others - not just for the content of their conversation, but its presentation. Who uses "um"? Who uses "uh"? What does it take for someone to drop the f-bomb? What does it mean when someone says "Hi" versus "Hello" or "Yo"? How does an accent or culture affect speech? Pick up little twangs in speech from all over the place to sprinkle amongst your characters.
  2. Look. Examine eye colors - how does one pair of blue eyes differ from the other? Look at style, accessories, hair styles - who carries their cell phone in their pocket, on their belt, in their bag, in their hand? Remember what Forrest Gump said: You can tell a lot about a person by their shoes. Look at people's hands, search for scars, freckles, beauty marks, tattoos and all the other things that make them them - which of your characters needs one of these things? 
  3. Connect. Make connections between the things you hear and see, then connect them to stories. Create back stories for strangers you overhear on line at the grocery store. Day dream of what their day is like and what they will be doing next. This practice will help you bring life to surface details you observe.
Once you have started making connections with strangers, you will start to develop your own internal reference for various characteristics you observe in the real world. When you come back to writing your novel certain features will just become obvious and necessary additions to your own cast of characters.
  • Maybe you don't have a tattoo and never will get one, but your MC has twenty: xenogenesis.
  • Perhaps you are prolific in your use of the f-bomb, but your MC not only avoids it, she apologizes when she slips out any profanity: xenogenesis.
The list can go on ad infinitum. The small changes here and there, combined with conflict, lead to unavoidable xenogenesis. That is, of course, if you pay attention to one other thing: how other people think.

Last, possibly most important step: Talk to people. I don't mean that you should talk at people where you tell them everything going on with you and then allow time for them to tell you everything that is going on with them. I mean you should talk with them. Ask questions, find out other people's opinions, maybe even have a deep conversation asking them why or how they developed such opinions.

The thing is, for true xenogenesis to take place, you character's must think differently than you, and that is the hardest part. Learn from others. Absorb.

Good luck!
Thanks for reading!
Do you think a COMPLETE xenogenesis is ever truly possible? Why or why not?
What are some techniques you use to separate your characters from yourself?

An Open Letter To My Insides

Dear Body,

I am acutely aware of the fact that I have not been the best owner over the course of these 36+ years, however, it would be incredibly unjust of you to try and argue that I have been the worst. The tortures that you have put me through, most specifically in the last eight or so years, seem to be a bit extreme.

I understand that you were upset. Although I am still not entirely sure for what, I listened to your qualms and I offered a number of solutions:
  • Work was too much for you; I stopped.
  • You didn't want to heal the eyes; I took you out of the driver's seat.
  • You decided, all of sudden, that you hated gluten and dairy; I have taken both out of your diet.
  • You seem to hate mornings; I try to sleep through them.
  • Rainy days are a problem; I let everyone know to leave you alone.
  • The sun makes you itchy; I lather you in sunscreen.
  •  Sometimes showers make you dizzy; when you tell me, I don't get in the shower until someone is around to catch you.
I know there are even more negotiations we have made. Some have become so much of my "normal" that I have forgotten that they started because of your complaints.

Here's the deal: this is my life.

Sure, you are my vessel and all of that, but, let's be serious, you've developed some terrible habits. You need to pick up your game here. You need to take the sleep time I give you and sleep. When you take that time to actually sleep you need to restore yourself. When I feed you the fruits and vegetables that I select especially for you, you need to stop rejecting them and, instead, use them.

I am tired. Not just in the physical way you know all too well, but also emotionally. I am tired of your inconsistent, inconvenient temper tantrums. I am tired of your aches and pains that interrupt my thoughts, my actions, my writing, my reading and everything in my life. I am tired of stepping out of life for you.

The fact is, I love you. I mean I really, really do. I can't even imagine where (or who!) I would be without you. And I know 36 years is a hell of a lot to be thankful for, so I don't want you to think, for even ONE moment, that I am not grateful for every single breathing, heart-beating moment you have given me. In some ways I am even grateful for the tortures because they made the other moments glow.

It's just that today is one of those days, yesterday too, I guess, when I forgot about who you really were and I made plans. They weren't big plans. They weren't even the kinds of plans that involve other people. They were just my plans to get things done, check a couple more things off my "to-do" list, straighten up in and around the house, write some more words. I don't have to tell you they didn't get done. I don't even have to tell you why. I just wanted to let you know that I was disappointed.

I was hoping, if I told you, that you might want to surprise me tomorrow...

You don't have to. I understand you have your own issues to deal with. Just do me a favor, rest easy tonight. Enjoy your sleep.

Forever and Always Yours,

Friday, April 26, 2013

Writing A Novel - World Building

In the entire Writing a Novel from A To Z Challenge, this, my post all about World Building, might be my favorite post of the month. The simple reason is: I can take no credit for it whatsoever! In my exploration of fellow A to Z Challengers I stumbled upon Cynthia, fellow writer and SCWBI member, who selected World Building as her theme on her blog Read is the New Black. I can't even begin to give Cynthia enough props for the amazing job she has done all month. I have learned so much and look forward to each post every day as it reaches my inbox.

In each post Cynthia sums up the importance of the world building element of the moment and then provides a number of examples from both literature and the screen where the element was used effectively. So, for a full education on world building at its best, I give you Cynthia's posts. I highly recommend that, while you are checking these posts out, you just go ahead and subscribe to Read is the New Black.
World Building A to Z: Architecture, Ancestry, and the Arts
World Building A to Z: Beauty and Beasts
World Building A to Z: Change, Customs, and Calendar 
World Building A to Z: Diseases and Death
 In her profile Cynthia says that she was a former English teacher, but I am still in awe of the amount of references she can bring up for each post! She has done so much reading and viewing deeply that I can do nothing more than bow to her expertise.

I hope you have found these posts as enlightening as I have. Please comment on Cynthia's blog to let her know!
Thanks for reading!
Is there some element of world building that somehow got missed in this alphabet?
What are some of your favorite literary examples of world building?
Which, of the examples above, had you not thought of before?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Writing A Novel - Voice

Regardless of the point of view you choose to write your novel in - whether it is first person, second person or third person narration - behind every piece of writing you do, there is a voice. The voice you choose can either make or break your novel. It can also, make or break you as a writer.

For every piece I have ever written I have written in a voice that flowed naturally from that story, or situation. If writing in first person, this can sometimes be easier because voice is a direct connection to the character themselves. As you develop the character, their voice becomes clearer and clearer. I find third person to be a little more difficult.

Voice Failure

When I first began writing fiction I wrote in third person and the voice that imposed itself upon my writing was false. I seemed to be summoning up some ancient storyteller of the past, who never "spoke" with contractions and filled her speech with the most flowery language. I realize now that writing in that way was a tool for me, not my reader. At that time I needed to cue up my brain to "transport itself" to another realm, where fictional things happen and the world isn't the one I live in. I don't remember who saw it first, but I remember the comment: "You should use contractions." I thought, But I always use contractions! And then I read over my work. In my lap, that story which had lived forever in my mind, crumbled to pieces. I had taken all the verisimilitude (forgive me, I love this word!) out of my writing! 

The Voice of Rivera Runs Through It
Over the last month I have been thinking a lot about voice while writing my current novel, but I have also been thinking about my voice here on my blog, where I write mostly in second person. I have been wondering if I could pull off a second person novel without sounding exactly like myself. What words or punctuation would I have to change in order to make a clear voice distinction from my own? Then I have been wondering if I have a clear voice hear on Rivera Runs Through It, and then that ultimately leads to the biggest question of all: how different is my writing voice from my spoken one?

The Working Voice 

When I was working, I became sort of (in)famous for my e-mails. From the moment we were all connected by e-mail, I was sending them out - and they were never short.
At the time I didn't realize it, but I was essentially blogging to my colleagues about my teaching thoughts of the day. Was there something new in the curriculum I think we needed to look over as a group? Was there a brand new website everyone needed to check out? Were there conferences or learning opportunities I was excited about? All of these things made it into e-mails. At the time, I developed a helpful, perky, math coach voice. Of course, I didn't realize it at the time, but that's what it was. My boss and I had a snarky-type relationship, so emails just to him were filled with an edge I knew he would appreciate and reciprocate. Any e-mails or letters written to parents of students or to the staff as a whole dripped of professionalism, and communication with my students, well, I think that was always my most authentic voice, closest to how I write here on my blog. Again, none of this was evident to me at the time, but reflecting upon those days with a new education on voice makes it all abundantly clear.

First Lessons on Voice 

If you stop to think of it, we all have different voices we use every single day. My brother and I used to make fun of our mom's "phone voice" - no matter what mood she was in when the phone rang, as soon as she picked it up, she would compose herself and greet the caller with a melodic, "Hello." Within seconds of the phone call we were able to determine who was on the other end simply by the way she changed her voice. When she relaxed her tone, it was a friend or family, then based on the particular language she used we could peel away the clues to discern who it was exactly within a minute. If, on the other hand, she pulled up a more professional demeanor, we knew it was a doctor or another business of sorts. And if she started splurting expletives or dolling out pity (this all depended on her mood), then it was a telemarketer. My mother's voice told the entire story. Voice is that important and that powerful. Reread whatever you are writing right now - what story is your voice telling?

A Final, Funny Voice Reflection

You may or may not realize at this point that I am a HUGE John Green fan. About a year and a half ago, I had no idea who he was. His book, Looking for Alaska was recommended to me on Reddit. I found it cheap in a store, so I picked it up. As soon as I started reading it, I hated it. There was this high school kid narrating using language that was far beyond anything any of my students ever would have been able to grasp. After one paragraph I was put off. I read it aloud to my husband and said, "Come ON! Am I supposed to take this seriously?" My husband, fresh home from a long day of work in front of his high school English classes realized that his teaching wasn't done for the day, "Perhaps the author is trying to tell you something about the protagonist. The kid is smart." Wow... did I feel dumb... and overwhelmed. How much did I just learn about this character in one paragraph? All the information came flooding back to me. I doubted the authenticity of this writing because I could see this kid so clearly and he was so unlike any real life kid I knew. He wasn't unreal, he was unique. That is the power of voice. (Here's my review of Looking for Alaska.)

What books have you read with a strong voice?
Do you have a "phone voice" like my mother did, or do you know someone who did?
How does your POV influence your writing voice?

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Writing A Novel - Ugly Truths

the letter u
Writing a novel can be liberating, for some it is a dream fulfilled. Writing a novel can even help boost one's confidence, but lurking behind all the wonderful things one can say about writing a novel, there exist some ugly truths about the act that simply should not be ignored. In my estimation, these are the ugly truths about writing a novel: 

UGLY TRUTH #1 This sh!t ain't easy.

If you can't get past this first ugly truth, no one will judge you, but, please, don't try to act as if it isn't true! If you walk into the world of writing a novel anticipating some sort of leisurely activity at the helm of your keyboard, I believe you are setting yourself up for disappointment. I am not trying to say that you won't have fun or love what you are doing while writing a novel, I am simply stating that you will be working.

UGLY TRUTH #2 You need more than a month.

Everyone knows that I am a great lover of the NaNoWriMo challenges that gather we writers around the Internet to inspire one another as we go forth and "complete" our novels in the space of one month, but let's be honest, it's not happening. Yes, you can easily finish a first draft in one month, I'll even go so far as to say those who are real pros might be able to complete their second draft, but the whole thing? No way. To fully finish a novel, you need to have others look at, tell you what they think and adjust as necessary. For the sake of their sanity, the process must take more than a month! Which leads me to...

UGLY TRUTH #3 You can not do it alone.

Introverted Writers
Image Source
 The art of writing is attractive to introverts. Why? Because they think that they won't have to bother, or bother with, anyone in the process. This is a misconception. While you may be able to scratch out your first draft behind the closed door of your solitary office on the third floor of an empty house (except for all of your furry friends, of course), to write a novel from beginning to end you are going to need others. This month I've discussed some of these others: your alpha and beta readers and those who will help you with promotion, but there are also those professionals you should turn your novel over to when you are done editing like a professional editor and, if you are so inclined, an agent.

I am absolutely sure there are more ugly truths about writing a novel. Some that come to mind are:
  • You will hear voices.
  • Long time friends may think you've lost your mind.
  • No one will believe you are serious.
However, for now I must face the ugly truth that the more time I spend blogging and online, the less time I devote to my novel! So, I apologize, dear readers, I must go to work!
Thanks for reading!
Which ugly truth did I leave out?
Do you dispute any of the ugly truths I have included?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Writing a Novel - Theme

How did you begin writing your novel? Were you struck by a character whose voice needed to be heard? Did you suddenly divine a story idea that felt unique and timely? Or, are you haunted by theme that is so close to your heart that you felt a calling to present the world with a tale entwined in it?

I think the third option may be what most writers desire, but happens less frequently. Theme is such a huge idea in writing, I believe it is just too big to begin on. At least, for me, it has been. While I can tackle theme in a short story, so far I have been unable to approach the novel in the same way. In writing a novel I have found that the theme reveals itself over time. Of course, because I am the writer that theme ends up being something that haunts me and is close to my heart. By the time the first draft is done, I have a solid idea about which major theme my story is focusing on and then I can go back to refine it.

I think this is another reason why a first draft must be dealt with quickly and without huge "writing vacations" in between its beginning and end. When we "walk away" from our stories, our life throws new and unique conflicts at us, changing our own personal haunting themes.  We must stick with our stories in the same haunted head, or where we began may be in a completely different universe than where we started.

...or at least that's what I believe right now.

What about you? What are your beliefs about theme?
Thanks for reading!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Writing A Novel - Setting

When I think back to some of the greatest stories I have ever read, setting is often a character in and of itself. I'm thinking of places like Hogwarts, Narnia, Middle Earth, The Capitol, Camp Half Blood, the list goes on. Of course, not all places have to be magical, mystical or fantastic - with the right author any "ordinary" setting can also be brought vividly to life on the page like John Green's Amsterdam in The Fault In Our Stars, or San Francisco in Cory Doctorow's Little Brother. The setting in a novel gives your story a solid foundation, a stage on which to be performed, a backdrop for your readers to envision. Sometimes, when writing your novel, the characters and their conflict take up so much of your focus that setting, unfortunately, falls into the forgettable background.

What Builds A Memorable Setting?

To ensure that your setting makes a true impact, you must build it with the very tools that we use to observe our settings in our own reality: the five senses. As you take your characters on a journey through conflict and drama, what do they see, what do they hear, feel, and taste? Describe them so that your readers experience the same.

I can't think of Hogwarts without remembering the tastes of Harry's first meal in the great castle, feeling the stairs moving beneath the characters' feet, or seeing all of the moving portraits the walls. Narnia brings chills as I remember the snow behind the coats in the wardrobe. Middle Earth harkens back so many sensory memories from the taste of lembas bread, the sound of the Horn of Gondor, the feel of the grass in the Shire and the smell of the seemingly endless pipe smoke. In the Hunger Games the setting is rich with coal dust, make-up, costumes, mysterious animals with growls, buzzes and eyes of terrifying familiarity.

The key with building a memorable setting into infuse these tasty little morsels just enough that they compliment your story without over powering it. I think of setting as the spices in our meal - if you balance out those flavors appropriately, you will take your story from bland to lip-smacking good, but if you put too much, your readers will be running for the hills looking for something to wash its memory away.

Set Your Scenes In Draft 1.5 
If you did not plot with setting in mind, then you should probably run through your first draft as quickly as possible and, before you commit yourself to second draft work, you should write draft 1.5 - the one where you pour through your story looking for the opportunities to spice up your scenes. Take that scene where your character turns away in anger and describe what she sees. Rewrite the flashback scene where your protagonist's grandmother imparts some life lesson so that it takes place in the kitchen, over a fully stocked stove - describe the smells, the sounds and the actions. I think, when your story is done, it can be easier to find the right places to add your spice to maximize its effect.

When I Write With Setting In Mind

In a post I wrote earlier today called Earth Day 1997 I wrote with setting in mind. I had a specific memory I wanted to reflect upon (since Earth Day is very important to me), but since I knew I was going to write about setting in this post I tried to use it as a focus for myself. What do you think? I tried to use my senses to bring the story to life. Could I have been more descriptive about the details of the physical places involved, sure... but I did have a story to tell that I didn't want bogged down by the mundane. It's a difficult task to take on. As I have written many times this month, I am no expert, but I'm practicing!

What are some memorable settings from your reading life? 
Are there any authors whose settings you particularly respect?
In your opinion, is there such a thing as "too much setting"? If so, what qualifies?
Thanks for reading!

Earth Day 1997

Earth Day
Spring had truly begun and instead of enjoying the rebirth of beautiful weather, for nearly twelve hours we were left with the maddening loop of light music and the pathetic gloom of fluorescent lighting. We were trapped in the high, thick cement walls broken only by the almost forgettable, dwarfed skylight of the Staten Island Mall. As the customers milled in with newborn relief from another winter's assault, they smelled of the grass they had just cut, the soil they spread and the flowers they fertilized. Behind our respective counters of service, we continued to be mired in the same aromas of every season. Bobby, stuck behind the deli counter, wore the comforting cologne of freshly baked breads and bagels; I, on the other hand, could to do nothing to shake free from the coffee grinds that covered me whole (others often talk of their love of these smells when passing them briefly, not knowing the hell of their ever-presence).

It seemed we were doomed, again, to have a season pass outside the walls of our employment prison without our presence. On that day, I felt a fury inside me upon this realization. It was Earth Day, after all, and I deeply believed that On Earth Day one should appreciate nature! The forest green hat embroidered with my store's name on it squeezed a little tighter. The air in the store felt thinner. The hexagonal tile patterns beneath my feet and the endless inventory of chutneys and preserves were dizzying. All the things that I once thought made our store stand out above the rest, crashed down around me in a flood of familiar. It was all a trap. None of it got me outside.

So, when Bobby asked me to go to the diner with him that night after work, I embraced the opportunity to drive across the island with my windows down allowing the wind to blow all the aromatic evidence of our confinement away. And when, after the enchanting date at the diner from another time, he suggested we go to the park even though it was nearing midnight, that's when I knew it was love.

That was the night of our first date. The night of our first kiss. The night neither one of us wanted to trade one indoors for another. It was Earth Day 1997, the night we didn't want to go home. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Writing A Novel - Revision

A couple of months ago I enrolled in an online Revision workshop with a bunch of other people writing a novel over at Savvy Authors. Due to my wonky health, I was unable to keep up with the work all the way through, but even the little I learned from the beginning lessons was invaluable. Cathy Yardley was our instructor and the first thing she asked us to do was to go through our entire manuscript and write our GMCD for every single scene.

This was overwhelming and considerably enlightening. It is the reason that I realized it was time for me to move on to a new novel. Through the GMCD lens my in-expertise was glaringly obvious. I discovered by the end of that process that, while my story was okay, the conflict wasn't engaging enough.

What is GMCD?

If you are like I was when I first started the course, then you may have seen this "GMCD" thing thrown around on the Internet, but you still have no idea what it is. Here's how GMCD works (my cliffs notes version):
  • declare who's POV the scene is in.
  • G - GOAL: what is the goal for that character in that scene?
  • M - MOTIVATION: what is the character's motivation to do whatever he/she is doing?
  • C - CONFLICT: what is the conflict in the scene?
  • D/R -DISASTER?RESOLUTION: what is the disaster at the end of the scene that keeps us hanging on for the next scene escalating the conflict? Or, what is the resolution of the conflict?
This is a labor intensive project to undertake for an entire novel, but looking at your story through this bare bones outline, without all those words and sentences you fell in love with, can truly show you what you may need to work on.

What Did I Learn? 
In each of my scenes my goal and motivation was clear, but the conflicts were oftentimes weak and I think I had more resolutions than disasters. It's just something I have to work on. I ultimately stepped away from that novel because I was too attached to the story as it was. In order to escalate the conflict to the point necessary to hold my audience's interest would transform the entire storyline in a way that I am currently unable to do. Instead, after two years of battling with the same story, I decided to take this newly understood information to help me with a brand new project.

Where To Learn More

I wish I had it in me to go through the entire course. However, all is not lost! Cathy Yardley's two books that review her process, and she has an awesome blog called Rock Your Writing. If you are battling with a project and you are not sure what exactly is missing, I recommend you take a stab at this process to see if it reveals something to you!

Thanks for reading!
What has revision revealed to you?
Do you have a process for revising that has been successful for you?

Friday, April 19, 2013

He's Alive

Never have two words ever brought down such a feeling of relief for me.

He's alive.

Monday afternoon, we were struck with an unexpected and inexcusable violent act at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. It was senseless, violent and earth-shattering.

We were confused, hurting and enraged by the loss of life and livelihoods.

We found out two brothers were to blame. We still don't know why. When one brother was taken out in a gunfight last night I worried we never would. Honestly, we still might not. But there was something else that worried me about his death. I worried we were answering violence with violence. I worried that those larger groups who brought down the terror upon us were going to sit back and say, "Look at them. Look at how easily they kill." And while I know it is not easy for us, and that these are extenuating circumstances, I thought they would use that to rally more "troops."

What can they say now? Will they say we are weak? That we don't know how to fight back?

I think the message here is that we are better than that. We can honor those lives lost by remembering them, helping their families and investigating this case to its fullest to be better prepared against these senseless acts. Revenge does nothing for them, or for us. 

Writing A Novel - Quarantine

If you have been following along with this month's challenge, you probably expected that for my "Q" day that I would be writing about the query process for writing a novel. I thought about it. I planned on it. Then I decided that I had more experience with another "Q" in writing a novel: QUARANTINE.

What I am talking about here is involved in the process of writing. The part where I feel like I can't discuss my story with anyone without possibly contaminating it. I put my imagination into a quarantine.

I realized right away with my first novel how dangerous talking about story can actually be. Immediately after telling someone about the basic premise of my story - a girl keeps getting diary entries from a fellow, anonymous student in her locker - people had a bunch of things to say about it. They were well-meaning comments of interest, curiosity and attempted support:
  • "Ooo! That reminds me of ____" and then fill in the blank. It reminded people of lots of different things. Once they'd tell me that, my mind would work out how it was different. If it wasn't different enough, I would doubt my story and think about changing directions (sometimes I actually would change directions).
  • "Ooo! I love mysteries!" Leading me to think, Is this a mystery? Should it be more sleuth-y? And, in general, second-guess the entire premise of my book.
  • Questions, questions, questions! About characters, about plot, about plot twists, about the ending - well, about everything. While many questions were helpful in helping me clarify portions of my story, but others I just wasn't ready for yet. I started thinking about things before they were developed. It screwed me all up.
There was only solution for novel number two: complete and utter quarantine. To take Stephen King's advice of writing the first draft "with the door shut" to a new extreme. So far, this month, I think it was a very good idea, but only time will tell. It has been difficult in some cases (I usually tell my husband everything), but it's been worth it.

Do you go into a writer's quarantine or do you share as you go?
Thanks for reading! 

Life With IIH - Inconsistently Consistent

What is IIH?
IIH in a nutshell. (source)
Last night was a nightmare. Familiar, of course, but a nightmare all the same. I couldn't think straight, I couldn't see straight, and my head was, in general, uncooperative.Why? you may wonder. The best answer I can come up with is this: This is the frustration of one of my chronic diseases.

If you are unfamiliar with this - and, honestly, I really do wish you are - simply put when you have a chronic disease the best you can hope for is a life that is inconsistently consistent. What I mean by that is this: I don't know when my symptoms will strike (inconsistent), but, unfortunately, I know they will (consistent).  My familiar nightmare.

The worst part about last night was that yesterday was one of those days that I forgot about my conditions. I lived yesterday as close to normal as I have reached in a long while: I woke up relatively early (about 9 am), I wrote a quick post for Rivera Runs Through It, I spoke to my best friend on the phone for two hours, made myself lunch, spent about ten minutes outside with my rooster friend (I haven't written about him, yet have I? Well, here's an old rooster video!), I wrote up a post for StoryDam, I wrote my own post for the A to Z Challenge, I cooked dinner (the challenges began... weakness set in, confusion grew), I found out about HitRecord (more about this later, I hope!), I participated in the StoryDam chat... and then that's when it slammed me, during the chat.

At around 8:30pm last night everything slowed down. The slight tremble of the floor created by my husband walking around felt like an earthquake. My dog's panting for my attention was thunderous. The words on my screen started dancing. I forced my way through the end of the chat, because, like I said, it was one of those days when I forgot how bad it can get. I fooled myself into believing that I am healthy.

And you know what? As bad as last night was. I don't regret it for a minute. If I don't steal those chances to live in the dream, then the rest of my days will be nightmares. I slept until 1pm today - my dog woke me up and I swore it was still morning. I stayed in bed until almost two. I had to. I don't have a headache right now, but it is still spinning. It's not a great feeling right now, but it is familiar. I'm happy my husband isn't home right now, because trying to focus outside myself, on someone else's words, expressions, needs or desires right now is one of those things I can not do. I can hear the words spinning around in my own brain and I can spill them out here in an attempt to empty the insanity into the world to give me peace.

It's that, or sleep.

But I have things to do. I have dreams to live so the nightmares lose their power.
Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Writing A Novel - Promotion

When I picked the theme of "Writing A Novel" for this month's A to Z Challenge, I was thinking of the first stage of writing a novel and all that it entails, but as the month has progressed, I have started thinking more and more about the entire process. One part of the process (that I extremely far away from) that I dread is PROMOTION. While I have gotten into a rhythm with blog promotion - publish article, send to Google+, post to the RRTI Facebook page, send to Twitter and post on my tumblr - I still don't feel ready for what is necessary to promote a novel.

Why Promotion?

Here's why it is on my mind. First of all, as I posted earlier today, over at StoryDam we are going to start doing interviews of the published authors in our community. I figured, These are cool people, I don't like the idea of promotion, maybe they don't either. Let's do a shout out for them! Of course, this is ONE THOUSAND times easier for me to do for someone else than for myself.

The second reason why this is on my mind is because of a strangely wonderful phone call I had last night. A former coworker of mine, Anthony, who I have not spoken to in about five years, called me out of the blue. As we caught up on things, he told me he had just published a book! He is donating all of the proceeds to charity and he said, "I just hope it sells." I thought to myself, I have to help! He needs promotion!

How Can I Do This?

The thing is, I am no expert. I'm just someone who has been on the internet the last couple of years, learning as she goes. So what have I learned? 

The Internet Is Powerful 
One major drawback my friend Anthony has is that he is not on the Internet. Due to his own medical issues, he couldn't even type his own book. So what can he do? Well, step one is getting someone like me to read and review his book. Let the people on the Internet speak for you! (I will be reviewing his book here soon; I read it last night!) 

The Internet Isn't The Only Answer
For the last two years I had the extreme pleasure of going to BEA (BookExpo America) and I am planning on going again at the end of next month (In fact, stay tuned, because I am going to start posting stuff about this year's BEA soon). This is a place for authors. I told Anthony about it and I told him to see if he can get to the Javitz Center, even if only for one day.While this is probably the biggest of its kind, every community has some place where writers and readers congregate - find it!

Talk Is Cheap
The amazing thing about last night's phone conversation was the simplicity of it. Anthony called me because he ran into a mutual friend of ours and my name came up. He was curious about how I was doing. He was laughing when he said, "I wrote a book." He had no idea that I - the person he knew as a math teacher obsessed with numbers, patterns, shapes and all things mathy - had been online talking about books, with plans to roll out a bunch of book reviews in the month ahead. With that mere mention of his book, one that he initially felt awkward about, lead to his book's first read on goodreads!

My Final Thoughts

The fact is, as much as I dread the idea of promotion, I'm beginning to learn that it doesn't have to be complex. And I don't think it will have to thrust me too far out of my comfort zone when the time comes. It is seeming a little less daunting as I look for ways to help others. That's always the way for me, I guess it is part of my teacher-spirit. I learn through lesson planning. When teaching others, I finally understand. (Top secret inside information: that's why I picked "writing a novel" as my theme this month. I figured it would force me to dissect aspects of this journey for my blog readers that I had been ignoring for myself!).
How do you feel about promotion?
What are some promotion tips or tricks you know of?
 Do you feel more comfortable handling your own promotion, or handing it off to others?

Thanks for reading! 


Just A Tiny Promo:
And just in case you don't feel like waiting around for my review of Anthony's new book, here it is: Finding a Path through Difficult Times by Anthony L. Sardella:
Everyone at some point in his or her life will experience some kind of life-changing event. Although there might not seem to be any light when faced with adversity at first, there will be better days ahead. It will take time, patience, courage, and strength to be able to find a path that will open our hearts and allow us to find peace within.

StoryDam Author Interviews

One of the things I love about the StoryDam online writing community is its diversity. Although we are a small community, our expertise spans from unpublished beginners to those who have had multiple books published. We have those who self publish and those who go by what is deemed the "traditional route" to publishing. We , of course, vary in our genres of interest, but also in age and life experience (my Camp NaNoWriMo buddy, BookSquirt - who I met through StoryDam - is a teenager who lives and works on a farm with goats!). For this reason, our Thursday night Twitter chats are always enlightening, offering up a myriad of perspectives on our one common ground: writing.

After about a year of my involvement with the community, the one thing I have wanted to offer up to our community is a chance to really learn about each other and the project(s) we are working on. If you have been in an hour long topical twitter chat, then I don't have to tell you why there just hasn't been enough time to do this yet. So, when Morgan Dragonwillow, StoryDam team leader asked for ideas for reviving the StoryDam website, I proposed that we include interviews and twitterviews of our own community members that have been published. I am excited to say that not only did she love this idea, but before we were done with our conversation, we had our first volunteer, YA author Patricia Lynne,  to be interviewed!

StoryDam Twitter Chat 
Fellow writers, come join the StoryDam community tonight, and every Thursday night on Twitter by following @StoryDam (moderated by the fabulous Tui Snider) and participating in the #StoryDam chat that begins at 8pm EST.

StoryDam Website

Then follow along on the StoryDam website as we bring you more Writing Tips, Writing Prompts, Author Interviews and more. 

StoryDam Facebook Community

If you are a Facebook junkie, like me, then I invite you to join our StoryDam FB group to keep connected with fellow writers online.(While you're at it, you should go ahead and like the Rivera Runs Through It FB page, too!)

Have you joined StoryDam for a chat yet?
Are you involved in another online writing community?
If you had the chance to interview a published author, what would you ask?
Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Writing A Novel - Organization

Last night I sat down to do my writing and was immediately stymied by my own confusion. This is not to say that my plot is convoluted or that my characters are fantastical creatures with unfamiliar powers and design. It was due to a lack of organization (and a thundering headache). You see, I started off this month's Camp NaNoWriMo challenge without a plan, so I have been "pantsing" all the way through. This doesn't have to lead to the kind of confusion I experienced last night, pantsers can be organized too!

For me, this type of organization has to happen in longhand first. I don't know why this is, but if I try to do it on my computer, it just doesn't stick. Here's what I needed to do to get my head straight (and this is why today's post is so late!):
  1. Write down all character names. Since I was pantsing I was making up names on the fly and characters were coming to life right beneath my typing fingers. While I am at the point where I know them all pretty well by their first names, I completely forgot the last names of some of their last names. In my list I included some quick notes on personalities and appearance.
  2. Make character connections. Who's dating who? Which characters are related? Keeping this information handy is helpful as I move forward.
  3. Sketch timeline. I remember having this issue in my first novel. Even with a plot plan, I got down to writing and starting thinking, "How much time has passed in this scene?" In my current WIP time is even more important since a major blackout makes sundown a major factor. 
  4. List locations. This is necessary for world building. While I remembered all of the locations, I wanted to list them and their identifying characteristics. Are these places distinct? Do they have their own personalities? Having the list in front of me keeps that in my mind.
  5. What's Next? While this is a bit like plotting, I am deep enough into my story that some ideas about where I want to go are coming to the forefront. Unfortunately, since I am doing this A to Z Challenge, doing some mega at home spring cleaning and trying to write this novel all at once, if I don't write these ideas down they may be gone for good. I am not 100% committed to them, but I don't want to lose them either.
It's not a fantastic graphic organizer. I'm not even using the full capabilities of my Scrivener software with this (yet), but it is some organization. It was needed, so I could continue my chaotic pantsing. I figure, when I am done with this first draft I will be able to tell which method I like better (my last project was planned first), but, for now I won't judge, and I will try to organize as I go.

How do you organize your writing?
Are you a plotter or a pants-er?
Thanks for reading! 

You should follow the Rivera Runs Through It FB page!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Why Is Everyone Being So Mean?

It all begins with a simple post, like this one:
Funniest part is that it should say "you're"!
I love these, so every time I am on Facebook and I come across one I'm hooked. I read carefully, I come up with my answer, read the riddle again for confidence and then I dive into the comments to see what everyone else got.

And that's when it happens.

Every single time.

The masses disappoint me.

Why does everyone have to be so mean to those who guess incorrectly? Here are some of the statements from tonight's comment section:
  • " It's Mary. You people are idiots. Mary's dad had 5 daughters. It names 4. Mary is the 5th daughter. I just lost all hope in humanity."
  • "MARY...you morons...!!! Read it...'Mary's father...'"
  • "Mary duhhh" (this one might not be malicious)
  •  "Mary... dumbasses"
I won't go on. I think you get the picture. I just don't understand why we feel the need to berate each other in these situations. First of all, these are supposed to be fun. I think everyone knows that this is not what determines whether or not your IQ is at genius level. Secondly, does anyone truly believe that everyone reads their Facebook News Feed with 100% of their attention? But, most importantly, are people not allowed to make mistakes anymore?

This type of behavior - berating others when mistakes are made - is something that I would not tolerate in my classroom. I celebrated mistakes. How do we learn without making mistakes? I read and reread riddles like this one, because, in the past, I was caught by one. I learned from that. I smile at all the people who write "Nunu" as their answer, because I imagine it is their first time seeing this type of riddle. I know they'll kick themselves when they realize why they are wrong and, I imagine that they'll laugh when they realize it, like I did. 

 How are people supposed to laugh when they are being called "an idiot," "a moron," or "a dumbass"?

I don't know if this hits me especially hard because of my history in the classroom. I don't know if it is because I know that this is how children behave before they learn how harmful it can be. And I don't want to berate these people for making a mistake, themselves, in the way they treat people they don't even know. However, I wish that they could learn from these mistakes and not get so twisted because a complete stranger made a silly mistake on a riddle in a Facebook post.

 To love one another is so very simple, I know some day we'll all get it.

Thank you so much for reading!

And just remember...