Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I did it. I just signed up for NaNoWriMo. It's not just talk anymore. I actually have to write a 50,000 page novel in November. What on earth was I thinking?

The moment I clicked the button and made a commitment, all of my plot ideas, character outlines, etc. fled my brain. They're gone. I can only hope they'll come back over the coming weeks. Tentatively at first, I'm sure, but then with greater purpose. I really hope I won't be so distracted by travel and jet lag that I'm not able to bring them back.  Because, really... I'm kind of freaking out right now.

But I did find this great site on How to Win at NaNoWriMo. I've done step 1, now I need to do something else for today until I can work on step 2. I sure hope my muse decides to make an appearance on November 1.

* * *

In WIP Wednesday news, I'm plodding along with Trifocal (73% done at this writing). Still not sure if I'm going to finish in the next week, but I'll try.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? What progress have you made with your current WIP (or WsIP)?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Piecing it all together

I'm single-parenting this week while Beloved Husband attends a conference.

First and foremost, I have to say that I have the utmost respect for single parents. Honestly, I don't know how they do it every day. I love spending time with my kids, but it's hard to give them the attention they want (and need) when I need to feed them, keep them in clean clothes, bathe them, and teach (my day job).

And then there's what I want... to spend quality time with my kids and quality time writing. Trifocal is nearing the end, and I want to get 'er done before I start traveling next month week. Gah!

So how is it possible to do anything writing-related? Well, Trifocal might be on hold for a bit, but... I started doing a bit of research for NaNoWriMo by collecting inspirational photos from magazines.

Jennifer Daiker at unedited does character collages, and Tera Lynn Childs did a vlog about character collages at WriteOnCon last month. And they got me thinking (yep, it happens sometimes)... not only can I do character collages to better understand who my characters are, I can also find great images of locations or events that I might incorporate into a story.

So this weekend, we pulled out the last two years' worth of National Geographics and went to town. I cut out anything that I thought might come in handy at some point in the future: scenery and people for my novels and cool animals that might make good subjects for a non-fiction PB. The kids got to tear out anything I didn't want that interested them (which, for the oldest, was just about everything... I listened to a constant stream of "Oh, wow, look at this!" for over an hour).

The result? I have a little box filled with inspirational bits and pieces to post on my magnetic board, so when I get back from my travels, I'll be ready to jump into NaNoWriMo. And I got to spend quality time with my kids. Win-win situations don't get much better than that.

If you have a family, how do you carve out time for family and writing?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Writer's Platform-Building Crusade

Rachael Harrie over at Rach Writes has started a Writer's Platform-Building Crusade. Those who are interested in building their platforms and paying it forward to help others do the same are encouraged to join.

Why? Because so many of us are in the early stages of building our platforms. Because we could all use a little support from one another. And because it's a great way to get to know new people in the blogosphere. To be honest, my favorite thing about blogging is the connections I have made with other bloggers (not to mention the amazing information they publish every day). So I'm in.

Want to join us? Here's what you need to do:
  1. Follow Rach Writes
  2. Comment on her Inaugural Writer's Platform-Building Crusade post
  3. Write about the crusade on your blog and link back to said post
  4. Spread the word (on Twitter, she's @RachaelHarrie and the hashtag is #WPBC1)
Welcome to my new followers and fellow crusaders! Thanks for participating in my suffering for art poll (which is still going, please vote over there to the right if you haven't yet--it's functional now, or at least was at the time I wrote this post).

* * *

On a separate, yet related pay-it-forward note, don't miss the first monthly followup to WriteOnCon this coming Monday, September 27. The amazing organizers will have a live event with Jessica Sinsheimer (Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency), Roseanne Wells (Marianne Strong Literary Agency), and others to be announced.

WriteOnCon, 9:00pm EDT Monday (or 3:00am Tuesday, my time—thank goodness for archives!)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Suffering for Art

Last week, Mercedes at A Broken Laptop wrote a post about the migraines she experiences, and how they hinder her ability to write. As I read the comments, I was struck by the number of people who mentioned that they also experience migraines, and I got to wondering: just how many of us suffer for our art?

It's entirely possible that headaches (including migraines), arm, hand, shoulder and back pain have nothing to do with our creative efforts. But then again, it's entirely possible that they do. I have trouble with all of the above (except migraines, and for that I am extremely grateful), and since I started writing in earnest, I've found that they've gotten worse. Yoga and trigger point therapy are the only things that keep me functional.

But what everyone else? I'd like to see how common this is. Please vote in the poll to the right (I *think* you can enter more than one response) and we'll see just how many of us suffer for our art/passion/obsessions.

Please spread the word about the poll, so we can get as many people included as possible (please vote if you don't experience pain, too!).

If we can collect enough evidence, we might be able to convince conference organizers to include sessions on yoga and pain management. ;)

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Snarwal

This is my scene for the creativity challenge: snarwal, glass box, cavern.

Bioluminescent waves by Jed, Wikimedia Commons

The Snarwal limped into the yawning cavern beneath the ice. With his one good eye, he squinted into the darkness, searching for a glimmer of light.

"Nothing. One hundred years of searching to break the Mer-witch's spell. No caverns left." He slumped against the cavern wall.

The realization that his long, straight tooth would be forever replaced by the twisted, gnarled, useless thing that held him prisoner hit him hard. He began to weep, great heaving sobs that sloshed the water in undulating waves.

After a time, the Snarwal realized that the roof of the cave—the bottom of the ice shelf—pulsed with faint light. Tiny creatures, riding on the moving water, turned on their bioluminescent glow each time the water moved.

Looking around, the Snarwal noticed that the glow brightened further back in the cavern. He limped along, sloshing the water to keep the luminescence alive.

The back wall of the cave was crusted with barnacles. A lone sea star crept across a shelf of open shells. From behind the shelf came a soft glow, much brighter than the one that illuminated the rest of the cavern.

The Snarwal brushed a fin behind the shelf. He'd found it—the box! He tried to lift it, but his fins weren't made for the job. He bashed the coral with his tail, but the coral held fast.

In a growing frenzy, the Snarwal attacked the coral with his deformed tooth. The sea star—now missing an arm—flew out into the water. The barnacles shattered.

The tooth lodged in a crevice. Enraged by his imprisonment, the Snarwal yanked and pulled. The cavern grew bright as violent waves crashed against the icy ceiling.

Crack! The coral shelf broke free. The Snarwal fell backward, the great hunk of coral skeleton impaled on his gnarled sword.

In the open space lay a glass box. The contents shifted: glowing, swirling, shimmering in the fading light of the cavern. Through an opening in the coral, the Snarwal squinted at it, transfixed. He reached out a fin to touch it, waiting for the spell to break. But nothing happened.

Anger coursed through his body. He lifted the hunk of coral and smashed it down on the box.

Instantly, the tiny glowing things swirled around him. The light was too much for his dark-adjusted eye, and he squeezed it shut.

Tingling. Twitching. The weight on his tooth slid away. The Snarwal dared to open his eye. To his astonishment, both eyes opened—fully. Before him stretched a long, straight narwal tooth. The lump of coral lay before him on the cavern floor.

The spell was broken.

* * *

If you wrote, drew, painted, or otherwise created something for this challenge, please post a link to your work in the comments below. And I welcome comments and criticism on mine.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

WIP Wednesday

Today is the day for the Creativity Challenge offering (see the challenge prompts over there to the right), but since it is also WIP Wednesday, I'll post my scene on Friday (it'll be cold, dark, and wet with just a hint of magic, you'll want to check it out).

WIP. Or WIPs (or should that be WsIP?). Either way, I've got more than one. Here's where they stand.

My middle grade mystery, Trifocal, is over the half-way point. To celebrate (and keep me on task), I've put a counter up to track my progress. Let's hope that blue bar grows on a daily basis. My goal is to finish it by the end of this month. We shall see how that plays out, but I'll be traveling a lot in October and won't get any writing done then. Good motivation, at any rate.

I decided 40,000 words was a reasonable goal for Trifocal, and I was thrilled to discover that it fits well within current publishing word counts. See this great article by Colleen Lindsay on genre and word count. I had been thinking 50,000 words would be better, but that turns out to be a bit long for middle grade.

I sent off a magazine article last week, have another in the envelope waiting to head for the Post Office today, and I'm putting together a query for a third. I've done my research and these all fall under "current needs" at their respective magazines, so let's hope the editors like them.

I wrote a new non-fiction picture book about migrating trees. Yep, they migrate. They're just slow. I'll have that off to my critique group at the start of October.

Revisions for my middle grade fantasy are on hold for the moment, in light of everything else I'm trying to do. Whew! I didn't feel as though I was making any progress, but now I do. =)

How are you projects going?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Stormy Memories

The winds picked up outside, but I only heard the growing howl when the air conditioner cycled off. The change roused me from my shallow sleep and I listened, tense, wondering how bad it would get. Then the AC cycled back on, drowning out the noise. I fell into a fitful sleep once more.

Until the house went silent.

The whine of the air conditioner abruptly stopped, the nightlight in the hallway went out, and the house felt like a silent tomb without the hum of electricity. Outside, the winds gusted stronger, and I could hear rain slashing against the windows. How the others remained asleep was a mystery to me.

Hearing someone in another part of the house, I got out of bed.  No need for a robe on a sultry night like this. Or was it morning? I glanced out the window, but it was impossible to tell.

My father-in-law stood in the kitchen. The emergency radio was on, and a monotonous voice recited the counties getting hit hardest, then a rundown of where the tornadoes were expected to hit next. No sign of them in our area, which was a relief.

We'd spent days preparing: stockpiling food, bottled water, batteries. We had tried four stores before finding batteries for the flashlights. The stores had been overflowing with people; like holiday shoppers, they had dashed for the items most in demand.

All the while, the sun had been shining in a clear blue sky that belied the monstrous storm churning in the Gulf. Now we had to hope that the supplies we had obtained were enough to get us through.

Having gotten little sleep, I desperately wanted coffee, but without electricity, there was none to be had. So I took some candles offered by my father-in-law and wandered into the living room.

In the dim light, the trees danced with a striking grace. As one, they leaned far to the left until some of the longest branches brushed against the ground. Then the wind abruptly shifted, and they twisted wildly in another direction. Limbs tore from the trunk to go flying into the pond. The windmill-styled weather vane spun so fast, I wondered if the axle would wear through.

After a while, the rest of the family woke and came wandering into the dimly lit room. The sun was up, now, but we could see nothing more than a dark gray sky.

The winds continued to strengthen, and the windows bowed under the pressure. Light coming through them bent at odd angles and the reflections of the candles swayed under the power of the storm. I wondered how long it would be before the windows broke. And where we would go when that happened.

The rain came in waves, sometimes as a wind-blown mist, other times in a torrent that masked everything outside. The winds continued to howl.

"Mama, come see!"

I left the safety of the couch to approach the window. At the edge of the yard two deer lay on the ground, waiting for the hurricane to blow itself out. They surprised me. I don't know what I thought the wild creatures would do during a storm like this, but just waiting it out--exposed--sure wasn't it.

Behind the deer, the trees  twisted in unnatural ways, bowing to the strength of the winds. And then, without warning, they straightened.

The rain all but stopped, the trees swayed gently in the breeze, and the glass panes stood still in their frames.

The eye was upon us.

Satellite photo of Ike approaching the Texas coast by NASA

Two years ago today, my family and I were visiting my in-laws in Texas when Hurricane Ike hit. It was the only hurricane I have ever experienced, and the eye passed right over us. We spent about 45 minutes in the eye before the force of the back eyewall hit.

Trees were uprooted, cars and homes were damaged, and we were left without power for nearly a week. But we were lucky. We were just far enough inland to avoid the extreme damage experienced closer to the Gulf. The windows held after the wind direction changed. The damage was relatively minor. And for that, I will always be extremely grateful.

What is the most awe-inspiring event nature has thrown your way?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Schooling In

What, you ask, is that? An overgrown carrot decorated by someone with too much time on their hands? A giant candy corn for those who can't wait to celebrate Halloween? A prize for the fastest horse, or simply a wish for good luck?

That, dear readers is a Schultüte. It is THE symbol of the start of school for the youngest students here in Germany. The excitement surrounding the Schultüte is comparable to that of finding a stocking filled with goodies on Christmas morning. Children make requests for certain themes (they come in all sizes, colors, and themes, but not different shapes—they are always, always a cone), and at the beginning of their first year of school, the students are given their Schultüte as a symbol of their transition into the world of learning.

Once upon a time (or so I have been told), they held school supplies. My elderly neighbor told me how she and her friends found farm produce in theirs (they were farmers' kids—they clearly didn't get enough fresh fruit and vegetables at home, it had to come wrapped in a pretty little cone, too). And more recently, toys and candy. Sometimes enough to require visits to the dentist.

The contents are up to the parents, but the Einschulungsfeier (schooling in ceremony) is a wonderful celebration that marks a major turning point in a child's life. They are no longer learning only from friends and family at home, but they are now embarking on a journey of discovery that will lead them places they never dreamed existed.

I don't even remember my first day of school. It blends in with all of the others. But to honor the occasion with festivities, friends, and family... that's the way to do it, isn't it? To make the transition exciting, appealing, and oh so very fun. To send children into the world to learn with enthusiasm. That's the way to create joyful learners. Perhaps this is a tradition we should celebrate more widely.

If you're looking for Poetry Friday, Anastasia Suen has the roundup this week.

Do you remember starting school? What traditions can you recall?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Assigning Blame

It's all Suzanne Collins' fault. Yep, you  read that right. My muse is missing, and I hold Suzanne completely responsible.

My muse was happily coming up with all kinds of wonderful stuff, feeding my brain lots of lovely ideas. Life was good in creativity land.

And then I started reading Catching Fire. It consumed me. Pulled me into another world, where I worried about Katniss, and Peeta, and Gale. Even when I wasn't reading the book.

Cooking dinner: thought about the wild game Katniss caught.
Heard jays squabble: thought of mockingjays.
Tried to think of my own work: couldn't get the plight of the people in the Districts out of my head.

Suzanne Collins, with her extraordinary ability to transport me to another time and place, chased my muse away. So, really, my lack of productivity must be her fault, right?

Do you think my muse will return when I finish reading Mockingjay? I certainly hope so. I'm off to find out.

What books transport you into another world?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Stolen Moments

You know those moments when you get unexpected free time? When you thought you had one thing to do, and suddenly, you don't? The stolen moments that feel so much more valuable than scheduled free time? Yeah, those.

I have one right now.

I got home with the kids, and they immediately skipped next door to play. And here I am with what will probably turn out to be an hour and a half to myself. It feels different from my alone time during the day, when I've planned out what I will work on, and actually stick to the plan (for the most part).

Because right now, I can do anything.

I know what I should do: research magazines looking for nonfiction science/nature/environment articles, revise my MS, work up quiz questions for my students, write a query letter, work on a new PB idea.

But this is my stolen time. The afternoon sunlight filters through the leaves of the trees outside and my plants have long gone untended, due to the excessive rain we received these past few weeks. This afternoon is the perfect stolen moment, so I'm going to enjoy it outside.

What do you do with your stolen moments?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Poetry Friday: Frost's Mending Wall

I have finally gotten around to reading Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire. (Yes, I know, I should be mocked... send your mockingjays my way).

The image of the walls and fences that separate the people in the Districts is vivid in my mind. Last fall we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and while I am not interested in discussing politics here, the images dovetail with  recent political rallies in the U.S. 

I guess you could say that walls, and the purpose of walls, are fresh in my  mind. 
Mending Wall
by Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors." 

I love the way Frost frames his questions about walls: why have them? what purpose do they serve? But most telling, I think, are the last three lines. "He will not go behind his father's saying/ And he likes having thought of it so well/ He says again, 'Good fences make good neighbors.'"  Do they?

Poetry Friday is hosted by Susan Taylor Brown.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

We have a winner!

Today is the big day. The Pasta Detectives and German chocolate. Five entrants. One winner. And a big thank you to everyone who participated, tweeted, and otherwise helped to spread the word.

I ran twice ('cause I got my numbers screwed up the first time), and both times I got the same person (different number, but this person had three entries; weird).  Clearly Lynda Young is meant to have the book and chocolate. YAY!! Congratulations, Lynda. Email me at anpstevens [at] gmail [dot] com and we can work out the details.

* * *

I finished writing the first draft of my latest non-fiction PB (I did that twice, too, come to think of it), and today I'm off to catch up with the rest of the blogosphere. And do some work for which I will be paid.

Oh, but I sent off the magazine article and have been researching literary agents for the PBs. So I think September is off to a good start!

What are your goals for this month?