Monday, May 24, 2010

Reading Like a Writer

I've noticed a subtle change lately in the way I read. I've always been a voracious reader; it's not unusual for me to finish 2-3 books in a weekend.  But now, I read differently.  I pay attention to the language used, I analyze the characters, and I critique the plot.  Who knew writing would interfere with my love of reading?  Now, I'm not saying it's a bad thing.  It's just different.  

Does it make me a better writer?  Definitely.  Whenever I give my high school students a new writing assignment, I provide them with models.  Reading good books provides the same benefits.  We can learn from the experts.  Earnest Gaines, author of A Lesson before Dying, provides writers with sage advice: "The Six Golden Rules of Writing: Read, read, read, and write, write, write."

But what about poorly written books?  Is there a benefit in reading them too?  Stephen King, in his book On Writing, believes that "bad books have more to teach than good ones."  When we can identify the weaknesses in a poorly written book, then we can find out what to avoid or to improve in our own writing.

What do you think?  Is reading beneficial?  Would you spend your time reading "bad books" too?  How has reading affected your own writing?

Be sure to comment on my 100 Follower Contest here. It ends at midnight (MST) on May 31st.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Interview: Author Sara Zarr

In a single week, I got not one, but two opportunities to meet Sara Zarr, a young adult author who writes realistic fiction.  She has published three novels: Story of a Girl, Sweethearts, and Once Was Lost.

First, Sara spoke to a group of teachers from my school district.  She was very personable and willing to answer any questions about her books, her life, and her writing/publishing experience.  Sara explained she writes realistic fiction because she believes that the genre allows teens to make connections to the characters in ways that help them adjust to their own adolescent experience.  

The second time I met her was when she signed a book for me at the Children's Book Festival at the Provo Library, an event celebrating reading and Utah children and young adult authors.

Out of the kindness of her heart (and a little bit of Leatherby's ice cream), she agreed to do an interview on my blog!  Check out the interview below:

How would you describe your most recent novel in 140 characters or less?

Fourteen days of youth group, mini-trucks, record heat, local news, and crime in a small town!

What was the hardest part of becoming a published author?

The hardest part on the journey was having patience and faith that it would eventually happen. Once I arrived, the hardest part was realizing there is no such thing as arrival. It's just forging ahead on the same path, passing through different cities and countrysides with different companions... Like a lot of people, I thought being published would change my fundamental identity and writing would magically be easy and I'd never be insecure again. Haha! 
What was the most rewarding part?

Knowing that something I wrote moved other people and mattered to them, that I made a connection. 

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Be patient and diligent. Don't fret over how much talent you may or may not have. Work hard and put your all into making your writing the best it can be. If you're spending more time researching markets and reading agent blogs than you are writing, change that.

If you could have lunch with any author, dead or alive, who would it be?  Why?

Oh, I'm sure my answer would change every minute. There is no ultimate person for me. Right now I'm in a Wallace Stegner phase and would love  to resurrect him for a conversation. He just really seems to understand himself as a writer, and goes deep into that.

*  *  *

Thank you, Sara, for answering my questions!  I will be in her morning workshop at the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference this summer.  Although I'm intimidated to share my own writing with this award-winning author, I can't wait to learn from her!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

BLOGFEST: Let's Talk

It's been awhile since I've participated in a blogfest, so I've decided to jump back in and participate in the Let's Talk blogfest, hosted by Roni Griffin at Fiction Groupie.

Below is an excerpt from AGAIN, my YA paranormal.  Enjoy!

[Excerpt has been removed to protect my work.]

Monday, May 17, 2010

My First Contest

The most amazing thing happened on Friday: exactly four months after my first post, I hit 100 followers!  (Thank you Kaylie for being #100!)  I never imagined that so many people would be interested in my blog, especially within such a short time frame.

To thank everyone for reading and commenting on my blog, I'm hosting a 100 Followers Contest.  Based on posts from across the blogosphere, it seems that people prefer simple contests.  Since I, too, like to keep it simple, my rules will be short:

1. You must be a follower to enter the contest.
2. You must enter a comment to this post.  Share with us a piece of writing advice that you've learned. 

Although I'm not requiring that you post this contest on your blog, I'd appreciate it if you'd spread the word.  

Entries will be accepted until midnight (MST) on May 31st.  I will use to choose one winning comment.  The winner will receive a $20 gift card from Barnes and Noble.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Page-a-Day Challenge

To jump-start my summer plans of being a full-time writer, I have joined forces with other bloggers to complete a Page-a-Day Challenge.  Initiated by

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Arrival of Summer

Summer.  I can nearly taste its arrival.  Blame it on the nasty weather we've experienced lately or the huge stack of essays on my desk I need to grade, but until today, summer seemed more like a dream than a reality.  

The best part?  There are only three weeks left until I get to be a full-time writer.  Well, at least for the summer (the benefits of being a teacher who gets summers off).  This will be the first time that I'll be devoting my summer to writing, and I'm excited!

Of course, if I had my way, this would be my view from my desk:

But since I don't own a private paradise--at least not yet--I'll settle for my humble writing desk.  Besides, how could I write with that outside?  If my full-time writing experience is going to be effective, I have to limit as many distractions as possible.  

I'm curious, what do you do to limit distractions?  Do you set a writing schedule or a word count?  Do you plan your blogging/commenting time?  Do you reward yourself for good behavior?  I'd love you hear your suggestions before I embark on my new adventure.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

In My Mailbox #3

A new week means another trip to the library.  Truthfully, I went last week too, but I never got around to updating my blog because my brain was mush after my Novel Revision Workshop.  So this week, you get two week's worth of books for the meme In My Mailbox, hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren.

Last week's books (I've read them all this weekend and liked them enough to recommend to you):

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen
Heist Society by Ally Carter
Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles

And don't forget this week's books:

Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien
Jekel Loves Hyde by Beth Fantaskey
Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles
Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart by Beth Pattillo

Be sure to check out my Goodreads widget on my sidebar where I rate each book I finish (between 1 and 5 stars).  Like always, if you've read any of these, let me know what you thought about them.  With so many options, I always struggle deciding which one to read first!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

To Be or Not To Be

I don't know why I have such a hard time referring to myself as a writer.  Maybe it's because I've only been seriously writing for less than a year.  Maybe it's because being an English teacher has defined me for so long.  But probably it's because I'm afraid.  Afraid that I'll never be good enough to see my books sitting on the shelves at Barnes and Noble.  Afraid that I'll never be able to quit my day job to write full time.  Afraid that I'll never truly reach my writing dreams from over a decade ago.

Yet, my son has no trouble with it.  I received the best Mother's Day gift from my eight-year-old: the validation that I am a writer!  This is what he wrote in his fill-in-the-blank Mother's Day card that he made at school:

"My mom is a writer and an English teacher.  She likes to read long books and write stories.  She always tries to write 500 words every night."

If my son can call me a writer, then why can't I?  He even put it before my day job!  And I love the word goal that he's put into writing.  How can I not fulfill it when my sweet little boy is watching out for me, making sure that I obtain what I want to accomplish?  

The greatest joy for me will be if I can teach my boys that they can achieve anything they want in life with a lot of determination and hard work.  I will publish books that will sit on book stores' shelves, I will be a full time writer, and I will reach my writing dreams.  Thank you, my two sons, for your belief in me. 

Happy Mother's Day to my blogger friends!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I've Been Tagged ...

Thanks to Michelle Teacress, I've been tagged in a fun blogging game.  Here are the rules: I must answer the following questions five times each and then tag five people to do the same.  

Are you ready?  Get set.  Go!

Where were you five years ago?
1. Living in Midvale, UT, where my landlady charged me $50 for not mowing the lawn in April
2. Desperately counting down the days until my lease ended and I could buy a home
3. Dipping my feet into online dating (yeah, I can't believe I just admitted that)
4. Raising my two young sons on my own
5. Finishing up my second year of teaching

Where would you like to be in five years?
1. Published at least one young adult novel
2. Traveled to Italy
3. Purchased a new house
4. Have an office for writing
5. Found someone to cook gourmet meals for me and my family

What is on your To-Do list today?
1. Catch up on grading (high school and college students' papers)
2. Buy milk at the grocery store
3. Write in my WIP
4. Start reading a new book
5. Stay sane at work (only about 21 days of school left before summer!)

What snacks do you enjoy?
1. Dove chocolate
2. Leatherby's ice cream
3. Gummy bears
4. Junior Mints
5. Chocolate-covered orange sticks (I'm sensing a sugar/candy theme.  Oops!)

What would you do with a billion dollars?
1. Build my own home with a custom library/writing room
2. Buy a vacation home somewhere warm and near water
3. Put money aside for my children's college educations
4. Quit my job to be a full-time writer
5. Add stamps to my passport

Who I've Tagged:
3. Angie Paxton at Answering the What If
4. Liz H. Allen at Writing Mommy
5. Sandy Shin at In My Sandcastle

As my son would say, "You're it.  No touch-backs!"

Monday, May 3, 2010

Novel Revision Retreat

I had the most amazing weekend: my first SCBWI regional retreat.  If you ever get the opportunity to attend Darcy Pattison's Novel Revision Retreat, do it!

In Pattison's book Novel Metamorphosis, she breaks down revision into smaller, manageable chunks like characters, plot, and setting.   At the retreat, she gave us mini-lessons in each of these areas, providing us with several examples from published novels and picture books.  

Pattison is a strong supporter of whole manuscript critiques.  Before the retreat, each participant exchanged completed manuscripts with three others.  We didn't do line-by-line edits; instead, we looked at the "big picture" for inconsistencies, strong and weak chapters, and good examples of characterization, setting, and language.  I stayed with this group throughout the retreat as we discussed each of Pattison's mini-lessons and how they pertained to our own manuscripts.  It was so helpful to receive input from three other people who knew my manuscript.  

Another suggestion that Pattison gives is to use a shrunken manuscript.  She describes this more in her book, but it's a way to visually represent your entire manuscript in about 30 pages to look for places where your conflict, dialogue, and scenes may be weak.  I'm a visual learner, so seeing my manuscript this way was amazing!

I admit that my brain hurt when I left Idaho and headed back home.  But it was a good hurt.  I have so many ideas of how to revise my manuscript.  Now I have a summer project: to make my novel better so I can start querying by the fall.  Of course, there's that other WIP that I'd like to finish.  It's going to be a busy (but productive) summer!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Thank You, Thank You (Awards)

OK, you know you're an official member of the blogosphere when you start to get awards.  In the past week, I've earned two, which really made my week.  Once again, it's the little things that excite me!

My first ever award cam from Angie Paxton at Answering the What If.   Thanks Angie!

I'd like to pass award to these wonderful bloggers:

1. Charity Bradford at My Writing Journey
2. Jennifer Daiker at Unedited
5. E. Elle at The Writer's Funhouse

My second award came from Anne Gallagher at Piedmont Writer.  Thanks Anne!

I'm passing this award onto these fabulous buddies:
2. Crystal Cook at Write Because You Must
3. Roland D. Yeomans at Writing in the Crosshairs
4. Angie Paxton at Answering the What If

Thank you everyone!  I started my blog about four months ago, and I'm almost at 100 followers.  Yes, that's right: a contest is on the horizon!  I'll give you more details when I get a little bit closer, so stay tuned ...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Last Lines Blogfest

Note to self: Do not sign up for a blogfest until after I make sure I have a piece to submit!  I get so excited when I learn about new blogfests that I forget to think about whether or not I will have time to put a piece together.  The Last Lines Blogfest, hosted by Lilah Pierce, was more difficult than I anticipated.  

Some of my best "last lines" occur during crucial plot moments that I'm not ready to share yet.  So, rather than posting a significant cliffhanger moment, I've chosen a lighthearted scene between my main character and her friends.  It's from Again, the novel I'm currently revising. 

[Excerpt has been removed to protect my work.]