Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Favorites: Wonderfalls

Hubbles and I sometimes take forever to get through our DVDs. We were given a set this past Christmas, and only just got down to watching it a couple of weeks ago. But boy, are we glad we did.

The series is Wonderfalls.

It's from 2004, it has Lee Pace in it (along with a bunch of other delightful actors), it's set at Niagara Falls, it's about a girl who hears inanimate objects talking to her, and it's hilarious. Like all excellent quirky offbeat comedies (remember Lee Pace's other vehicle, Pushing Daisies?), it got canceled.

We're five episodes in, and we love it. You might too. Check it out!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wisdom on Wednesdays: Finish the Book

FIRST: GUYS!!! There are less than 15 entries to WIN signed copies of BEFORE I FALL and DELIRIUM by Lauren Oliver! Your odds are pretty good, so GO HERE to enter.

Okay, now that you're back, we can talk about writing. And one of the most important things you can do - in fact, maybe the single most important thing you can do - is finish your first draft.

I know how tempting it is to go back and revise what you've written, instead of forging ahead into the next chapter. I know how easy it is to think that if we can just write the perfect outline, maybe we'll only need to revise our rough draft once before it will be ready for publication. I know what it's like to be cruising along, words flying from your fingers, when that little internal editor pipes up and says, "You know, you really needed to mention this back in Chapter Three for it to make sense here," and I know what it's like to want to go back RIGHT NOW to Chapter Three and stick it in.

Don't do it.

Finish the first draft.

Make a note of all those things that crop up - maybe in the margin, or maybe in a balloon, or maybe in a separate document. Wherever works for you. But don't let anything stop you from getting to THE END.

What stops you from finishing your manuscripts?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Writing, DIY Style

FIRST: If you haven't entered yet to win signed copies of Lauren Oliver's BEFORE I FALL and DELIRIUM, go HERE to do that now.

Writing is a lot like DIY. Yo get an idea to insulate your attic, and you set about doing it. Maybe you even check out a few websites and ask around just to make sure you have a good idea of how to go about this new project. You gather your materials: insulation, vapor barrier, tape. A mask and goggles to protect your face and lungs. And you start sticking that stuff in there. But pretty soon, you realize your hands are itching like crazy, and you'll never be able to use these clothes again. Plus, without staples, the vapor barrier won't stay up. So, you go off to gather more materials: gloves, protective outer clothes, heavy duty staples and stapler.

You wrestle for a while with the insulation and vapor barrier. It's hard to juggle it all and get it in place - this stuff is way bigger and harder to manage than you thought it would be - but you get there, slowly but surely, with lots of breaks to hydrate and cool off, and after a while you can see that you're making progress. Then your neighbor comes over to check it out, and HE says you needed to put in something between the insulation and the wood to leave a void... Dog doodles. You didn't think about that.

So you rip out everything you've done, and cuss and stomp around and cuss, and you put some gloves on over your itchy hands and you start over. And after a reeeeaaaaaallly long time, at last, you put in the final piece! You staple in the final section of vapor barrier! YES! Time to hit the showers!

But when you step back to admire your work, you see that the insulation is sagging in a few places, and there are gaps. Maybe your neighbor points out a few to you, and maybe he brings some string to run along to hold everything in place. There's more cussing. You feel like you're ready to rip your hands off by now, they're so itchy and sore. But you go back over the whole thing, ripping off that vapor barrier, filling in the gaps, taping everything back up again, and finally, after a lot of work, a lot of sweat, a lot of advice from others, a lot more work, some cussing, and about 4x more time than you thought it would take, you have something to show for it.

Yeah. Writing a book is just like that.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Favorites: Winnie the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh...

FIRST: Have you entered yet to win signed copies of Lauren Oliver's BEFORE I FALL and DELIRIUM? Go here to do it now...

I love Winnie the Pooh.

Actually, I should clarify: I'm not a fan of any of the TV series, or the "New adventures" spin-offs. I'm talking about the original Pooh - the books by A. A. Milne, and the classic "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh," a compilation of three shorter Disney films about Pooh's adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood. I grew up laughing at Pooh's quirks, Tigger's exuberance, and Rabbit's inattentive bossiness.

So, you can imagine how excited I got when I saw this trailer:

I couldn't wait to share this with my kids, and they, fans of the original classic that they are, couldn't wait to see it. So we went this week, and let me tell you, it did not disappoint. The animation is perfect, the humor is clean and pitched perfectly at the intended audience, and, most importantly to me, it is true to the original stories. There were no explosions, or high-speed chases, or war-machines. This movie is innocent - the way most children, in their hearts, really are. It finds its way through moments of joy, and fear, and laughter, and loneliness, as honestly as any little girl or boy left to his own devices with a handful of stuffed animals would, without the stuff and fluff of hyped-up battles and souped-up guns. My boys - especially my 8-year-old - giggled and guffawed through the whole thing.

My kids did notice a few differences: this film's Rabbit wasn't at all the same as the original one, being much more actively bossy and much less likely to slump against the wall moaning, "Why, oh why does it always have to be me?" They re-used the old joke about Pooh misinterpreting "issue" for a sneeze, but this time the characters got pretty deeply into explaining what they really meant. Everyone was a little more wordy than before, and as a result, the film lacked some of the subtlety of the original.

But that didn't take away from its appeal - a truly "G"-rated movie for the young children of the 21st century. And if the other animated movie released this summer by Disney is any indication of where things are headed, it may well be the last one ever. Better see it while you can.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The 200-Follower Celebration Lauren Oliver Giveaway!

I know last week I promised you an extra-special giveaway if I reached 200 followers, and when I promise, I deliver. I was going to do a vlog, but... I don't know how. It's a caveperson thing. I'll learn, eventually, but in the meantime, you'll have to live with just pictures. And no voiceover. Boo.

ANYWAY - back to the giveaway! Which is extra-awesome, because the prize is double the size.

So, a while ago, I went to my local bookstore to see the lady who wrote these:

Lauren Oliver's NYT Bestselling Books

And she very kindly did this to them:

Lauren Oliver's signature in her books.

And I'm giving them both to one of you.

Pretty great, huh? And doubly great, because not only are these books incredible, but they're by an intelligent, thoughtful person. I love it when I love a book, but love the author even more.

The Rules:
  • Be a follower of this blog. (+1)
  • Leave a comment on this post right here. (+1)
And, that's pretty much it! Each person gets a minimum of two entries. But if you want extra entries:
  • BLOG about it (+5)
  • LINK to it in your sidebar (+5)
  • TWEET about it (+1)
  • MYFACEPLUS+ about it (+3 for each of those)
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, leave me links in the comments section so I don't have to spend hours on the Web searching for your MyFacePlusTweetLinkyBlogs. I get enough screen time as it is. I'm starting to turn an interesting shade of flourescent. My husband is a little wierded out.

This giveaway will remain open until Midnight on the night of July 31st, when it will close and I will do a lot of math before handing over the result-choosing of ONE WINNER to RANDOM.ORG.

And I'm sorry, but these are chunky (meaning HEAVY) books, so I have to limit this one to the US and Canada.

Are you excited? Because I am SO excited to be able to give these to you!

Happy entering!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wisdom on Wednesdays: It's the Little Things

It's summer. And where I live in Southern Ontario, it's sweltering. And sticky. And we're all losing patience with one another.

It's on days like this that it's important to remember to appreciate the little things: a monarch butterfly kissing the flowers by the porch; happy children; a joke well-told.

Because really, when we look back, we realize it's the little things we love that shape our lives, and shaped ourselves.

What little things have you appreciated today?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Writing Craft: Parents in Picture Books, and WINNER!

First: the winner of TOOTER'S STINKY WISH according to RANDOM.ORG (shocking to see me use electronics like this, I know, but all those slips of paper just take too darn long to cut out) is:

*throws virtual confetti*

Congratulations, Swaty! You didn't have an email attached to your profile, so please email me (you'll find my addy right up there under my picture in the corner) so I can send you your prize. Be sure to do it soon, though - within the next two weeks at the latest - or I'll have to draw another winner.

ALSO: We hit 200 followers! WOO-HOO! I know I promised you an extra-special giveaway, so keep your eyes peeled for the announcement of that later this week. Probably on Friday, since I have a post planned for Wednesday, and Friday is a good day for that. But I might do shout-outs on Friday, so maybe there will be a special extra post tomorrow or Thursday. We'll have to wait and see. But it will be extra-amazing, so you don't want to miss it!

And now for today's topic: parents in picture books. Or rather, the absence of parents in picture books.*

Basically, they're usually not really there. And when they are there, they're not instrumental to the resolution of the story.

We all know that this is not the way things go in real life. We all know that moms and dads know what their kids are getting up to even before their kids do. (I can smell a plot hatching from a mile away, and I can see a lie coming before my son even opens his mouth. He thinks I'm psychic. I'm going with it.)

We all know that parents either stage things, or interfere with things, or subtly guide their kids. We all know that when we let our kids choose what to eat for breakfast, we're not really giving them real responsibility, because the choices never include things like fudge sundaes or jellybeans.

But here's the thing: the kids don't know that. 

Picture books, like all books for kids, are about giving them independence and power. If you want your picture book to be effective, if you want to connect with your child reader, it's a good idea to keep the adults out of the problem-solving process. Remember that this is the child's world we're entering, and in the child's mind, he is the ruler of his domain.

Can you think of good picture books that are examples of this? How about books that exemplify the opposite of this?

*Except in cutesy concept books about Mommy being magic or a special day with Daddy, but those books aren't the books we're talking about. There's nothing wrong with those books, but they're mostly concept books and that's not what we're tackling here today.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Flash Fiction: Ali Cross' INDEPENDENCE DAY Blog-Hop!

FIRST: This is your last chance to enter the giveaway of TOOTER'S STINKY WISH, by Brian Cretney, illustrated by Peggy Collins, and signed by both of them! Go HERE to do it!

And now, today is Ali Cross' Independence Day Blog-Hop! (Ali is a ninja of awesome: always positive, always supportive, and lots of fun. To visit her dojo, go HERE.)  The challenge was to write a 250-word-or-less flash fiction piece for the prompt: "It's Independence Day, and something unexpected happens..."

So here's my entry:


This is it: my own personal Independence Day. The day I strike out on my own, forge ahead into the great unknown, cut the umbilical cord. I'm movin' out.

I reach for the last box of books, but Dad puts a meaty hand on my shoulder. "Let me get that one, son."

"That's okay, I can do it." I can do it all myself. Ever since Mom died, Dad's been watching me like he watches the sky on a day when the air is heavy with the anticipation of rain. He's been waiting and waiting for my dam to burst and let everything out, but I'm going to prove that I'm okay. I'm ready to go it alone.

But Dad already has his strong arms wrapped around the box. I follow him out to the car, slamming the door shut behind me. It flexes away from its frame as I kick the doorplate with my heel. "Hasta la vista, Baby."

I head for the rusty Mustang and my vision tunnels in on my dad, crumpling over sideways, the box crashing to the sidewalk, its contents exploding out and littering the ground. I run to him, grab his wrist, stare into his blank eyes, shake his chest. My First Aid training evaporates, and I am alone.

I can't do this myself.


So, that's my entry. I hope you enjoyed reading it. To read the others, just follow the links in the nifty linky-list below, and feel free to join in the fun by adding your own entry to the mix. Happy reading!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wisdom on Wednesdays: On Finding Our Calling

I was struck last week by just how much my son loves making art.

He hates piano practice; it takes him easily three times as long as it should, because every time he gets assigned a new piece to learn he complains that it's too hard and moans and chokes and gets all worked up and says he wants to quit. Then he learns it and by the next lesson he enjoys playing again - at least, until the next new piece. We won't let him quit; we think it's good for kids to learn that sometimes, we have to work hard to get good at something. Besides, he doesn't really have to work that hard; he's actually naturally quite good at it. But it isn't his calling.

Ditto for dance classes, which we are letting him quit even though he said performing was better than he had thought it would be, because his expectations of what performing would be like were pretty low to begin with. And he dislikes the challenge so much, he doesn't even bother to practice between classes.

But not so for art. No matter how hard it is, he keeps re-doing it until it's just the way he wants it. He enjoys the process.

I am not a great writer. This does not mean that I never will be, but I recognize that I am not now. I am good, but not great. But when I am immersed in the act of writing, that doesn't matter.

Finding your calling isn't about being naturally good at something.

Finding your calling is not about enjoying the result of having learned something and gotten good at it.

Finding your calling is about enjoying the process of learning something so much that it doesn't matter how bad you are. It's about enjoying the act itself so much that no matter where you begin, you will keep doing it until you get better. It when we love not the results, but the process, that we know we have found our true calling.

Have you found yours?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Writing Craft: Rounding Out Your Characters, Part Five

FIRST: Have you entered my giveaway to win a copy of TOOTER'S STINKY WISH, signed by BOTH the author Brian Cretney AND the illustrator Peggy Collins? GO HERE to do it if you haven't.

And now back to our regularly scheduled Monday programming.

So far, we've covered rounding out our characters by:

But I'm no expert, and I'm sure there are a bazillion ways to round out characters that I haven't thought of or tried. So, what's one way you like to round out your characters? Maybe we can all pick up some new tips from each other.

Happy Monday!

Friday, July 8, 2011

The "The Blog Is Back" Giveaway!

You guys stuck with me while I was on a brief it's-summer-and-I-don't-know-what-to-do-with-my-kids hiatus, and to make it up to you I promised you a giveaway today. So, here it is! Because when I make a promise, I deliver.

SO. Remember when I told you my crit buddies Brian Cretney and Peggy Collins had a picture book coming out a while back? Well, I went to the amazing TOOTER'S STINKY WISH launch party - seriously, they had a children's band and a real live (de-stinkified) skunk and everything - and I GOT THEM BOTH TO SIGN A COPY OF THEIR BOOK! A book signed by both the author and the illustrator is a rare thing, folks. And I am offering it to you! Just because I like you, and you guys rock.

So, here's the skinny on the stinky.

1) Be a follower.
2) Leave a comment on this post by MIDNIGHT ON FRIDAY, JULY 15TH for one entry.
3) Tweet, blog, Facebook, etc. for one extra entry each (up to three extra entries), but please leave me the links in the comments.

And that's it! I'll randomly pick a winner out of a hat and announce it in my post on Monday, July 18th. And if I get more than 50 entries, I'll throw in an additional prize of a stuffed skunk. A toy one. Not a real one. That would be gross, and not a very good prize at all. But a toy skunk is nice and soft and cuddly, and you know you want one, don't you?

Also, if I hit 200 followers, I'll do another giveaway! Which will be so awesome and amazing, it will make your monitor explode. I promise. Because I have planned my 200-followers giveaway, and I have some amazing books waiting for you.

Happy contest-entering!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Wisdom On Wednesdays: Let's Go Outside

FIRST: my sincere apologies for the recent absence of internet presence, and deepest gratitude for your patience with me and for sticking with me anyway. The first few days of summer vacation are always a little hectic back here at my place, while the kids and I figure out a new sleeping/working/yardwork/playing/getting-the-heck-out-of-the-house schedule that keeps us all happy and semi-well-rested I'm back now, and to reward you all on Friday, I'VE GOT A GIVEAWAY COMING UP! So remember to come back, okay?

NOW. This week's wisdom. I saw on the news last night that doctors are prescribing walks in the park as stress relief.

Do you know what this says to me? This says that a number of people have become so disassociated with the real world that they don't even remember how nice it can be to go for a walk.

As writers, it's easy to get sucked into the computer bubble. We write on our laptops, whose screens, let's face it, are sucky in natural lighting. Then we read blogs: agent blogs, writer blogs, editor blogs, writer beware blogs... And we blog, too, and Tweet, and MyFaceSpaceCreate-friend, because that's how we keep in touch with agents in New York and San Fransisco and writers in England and Australia and Iceland and all over North America. We're supposed to do these things. It's how we educate ourselves about our industry, and it's how we develop and maintain relationships with people who do what we do and understand why we do it. That's important stuff!

And let's not forget our critique groups, which are both essential and increasingly internet-based. It's a wonder any of us get out at all. It's a wonder we haven't all developed the bio-luminescent glow of a deep-sea creature.

And yet! And yet, getting out of our houses and into the fresh air is important. It's important for our physical health, for our mental health, and for the creative process. I've had more manuscript ideas and epiphanies since my kids got out of school and forced me out into the real world than I've had in the past year, except for last summer, when I had just as many.

So, for the sake of your sanity, your blood pressure, and your manuscript, go outside and take a stroll. Do it often - every day is good, but more than that won't hurt. We're all in danger of being the guy I saw tonight on the news, but I bet our work-lives and our life-lives will both be better if we don't let it happen.

See you Friday!