Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Using A Thesaurus

For nearly two years in my writing life, I thought that using a thesaurus meant your writing sounded better and more adult. This is exactly the sort of scene I came up with:
"She manipulated the garment in a cogitative mode.
‘Hmm,’ she vocalised. ‘This attire is verifiably marvellous. What is it constituted from?’
‘From the most meritorious velveteen,’ defined her interlocutor, simpering coincidentally.
‘Is it?’ iterated the party of the first part. ‘That’s felicitous.’
‘Additionally, this specified object has the property of being subdivided in terms of its defining mercantile characteristic, and can be taken possession of for the diminutive quantity of merely a half-dozen currency units,’ the retail employee informed.
‘Exoneration?’ supplicated the protagonist appropriately. The commercial tertiary sector worker eyeballed her perspicaciously.
‘I said it’s five ninety-nine. Do you want it or not?’"

Mine might even have been worse, as I used this technique mainly on poetry. I would write a line like "the red sun sank into the dark blue sea" and then translate it into: "The crimson orb was lowered beneath the indigo billows" (note how the passive voice creeps in).
The Onion had a great article about similar poetry; the poem was called “The Purple Lake of Desolation” and the headline was “Children of Divorce Twice as Likely to Write Bad Poetry.”

Norma Fox Mazer

Norma Fox Mazer passed away 17 October at the age of 78, at her home in Montpelier, Vermont.
I first read her - and her husband's books - through my sister, who had a copy of Silver; it wasn't the sort of book I'd pick up on my own, and at first reading (probably at the age of 13 or so), I was slightly disturbed. By then I'd already read 1984, Flowers in the Attic (and all the other books in the series, as well as the Dawn series and My Sweet Audrina) and Cynthia Voigt's novels, so I'm not sure why Silver should have bothered me at all. Perhaps it was the realism of the book - VC Andrews, especially, was so much of a soap opera that it could hardly count as real, and 1984 felt very adult and political (though the final scene has haunted me to this day). By contrast, Silver was about people my own age, having true-to-life conversations, and the characters felt much more immediate.
Then I read Bright Days, Stupid Nights and I was hooked. Mrs. Fish, Ape, and Me the Dump Queen, Dear Bill, Remember Me?, When We First Met... There are many others I have yet to read; next up on the wishlist is Places I Never Meant To Be: Original Stories by Censored Writers, edited by Judy Blume.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Guggenheim's Fiftieth Anniversary

21 October was the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum of art, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

While visiting Wright's Fallingwater in August, I discovered that there are Lego versions of both Fallingwater and the Guggenheim!

Meanwhile, on the writing front, there's a week left on the Novel Push Initiative, and Rosa's tale is coming along nicely. I've been plotting quite a lot over the past few days, as I try to feel my way deeper into the story. It's all very well for Rosa to be separated from her family, wandering around Spain with a monk and some distant Jewish relatives that she's rescued from the Inquisitors - but where are they all going? And where does Kedi come in? That is the question!

Don't forget to visit All the World's Our Page, where Jen's giving away some brilliant books!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

First Paragraphs

Nathan's concluded his third annual first paragraph contest, and as part of his roundup, he lists the "common tropes that I picked up on:

- There were quite a lot openings with setting/rising suns and characters bathed in red colors, as well as moons and characters bathed in twilight.
- Girls looking in mirrors/brushing their hair/looking in mirrors while brushing their hair
- Holy cow, or should I say Holy Dead Bloody Cow were there a lot of corpses and blood in the first paragraphs. "Blood" was used 181 times, and that doesn't count the euphemisms. Not necessarily a bad thing (and one of the bloody ones made the finals), but wow.
- You wrote a lot of paragraphs in the second person.
- One common trope involves a person who is dying but feels all detached from the experience. Sort of like: "I am dying, but I feel nothing but a bemused disinterest about it. Isn't it curious that I'm dying? I suppose I should be scared right now. This is peculiar indeed."
- Waking up/waking up in a panic/waking up in a burning down house/waking up from a really good dream/waking up from a really bad nightmare/waking up and not wanting to wake up/waking up and realizing actually dead.
- Gripping the steering wheel tightly
- Contemplating the depth of an important moment, especially: "If only this one thing hadn't happened, then everything would have been different." "It was just like any other day, only then this one thing happened." "This was the precise moment when everything changed."
- The pull the chair out from under the reader several times paragraph, like this: "Statement. Well, it wasn't that per se, it was somewhat like this. Or should I say rather more like this. Still, it was indeed kind of like that original statement. Only kind of not really."
- Common phrases: "consumed with fear," "last thing I/he/she wanted/expected, "washed over me/him/her, "top of my/his/her lungs," "farthest thing from my/his/her mind," "(blank) - literally," "they/my mom/my grandmother say(s) that (aphorism).""

I haven't used any of those! Woo hoo! Not in The Face of A Lion and not in Rosa's story either.

Yet, if done well, some of these openings can be really gripping. Who can forget the first lines from Diana Gabaldon's Voyager: "He was dead. However, his nose throbbed painfully, which he thought odd in the circumstances. While he placed considerable trust in the understanding and mercy of his Creator, he harbored that residue of elemental guilt that made all men fear the chance of hell. Still, all he had ever heard of hell made him think it unlikely that the torments reserved for its luckless inhabitants could be restricted to a sore nose."

Monday, 19 October 2009

Have You Read These YAs?

I tagged myself off Jen's post.

I stole this from a blog I ran across tonight...Teen Book Review.
The following list of books teens love, books teens should read, and books adults who serve teens should know about was compiled IN ABSOLUTELY NO SCIENTIFIC MANNER and should be taken with a very large grain of salt.
Put an “X” next to the books you’ve read
Put a “+” next to the books you LOVE
Put a “#” next to the books you plan on reading
Tally your “X”s at the bottom
Share with your friends!

1. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy / Douglas Adams X
2. Kit’s Wilderness / David Almond
3. Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian / Sherman Alexie
4. Speak / Laurie Halse Anderson
5. Feed / M.T. Anderson
6. Flowers in the Attic / V.C. Andrews X
7. 13 Reasons Why / Jay Asher
8. Am I Blue? / Marion Dane Bauer (editor)
9. Audrey Wait! / Robin Benway
10. Weetzie Bat / Francesca Lia Block
11. Tangerine / Edward Bloor
12. Forever / Judy Blume – well, I’ve read other Blume books X+
13. What I Saw and How I Lied / Judy Blundell
14. Tyrell / Coe Booth
15. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants / Ann Brashares
16. A Great and Terrible Beauty / Libba Bray #
17. The Princess Diaries / Meg Cabot
18. The Stranger / Albert Camus X
19. Ender’s Game / Orson Scott Card
20. Postcards from No Man’s Land / Aidan Chambers
21. Perks of Being a Wallflower / Stephen Chbosky
22. And Then There Were None / Agatha Christie X+
23. Gingerbread / Rachel Cohn
24. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist / Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
25. Artemis Fowl (series) / Eoin Colfer
26. The Hunger Games / Suzanne Collins
27. The Midwife’s Apprentice / Karen Cushman
28. The Truth About Forever / Sarah Dessen
29. Little Brother / Cory Doctorow
30. A Northern Light / Jennifer Donnelly
31. Tears of a Tiger / Sharon Draper
32. The House of the Scorpion / Nancy Farmer
33. Breathing Underwater / Alex Flinn
34. Stardust / Neil Gaiman
35. Annie on My Mind / Nancy Garden
36. What Happened to Cass McBride / Gail Giles
37. Fat Kid Rules the World / K.L. Going
38. Lord of the Flies / William Golding
39. Looking for Alaska / John Green
40. Bronx Masquerade / Nikki Grimes
41. Out of the Dust / Karen Hesse
42. Hoot / Carl Hiaasen
43. The Outsiders / S.E. Hinton
44. Crank / Ellen Hopkins
45 The First Part Last / Angela Johnson
46. Blood and Chocolate / Annette Curtis Klause
47. Arrow’s Flight / Mercedes Lackey
48. Hattie Big Sky / Kirby Larson
49. To Kill a Mockingbird / Harper Lee X+
50. Boy Meets Boy / David Levithan
51. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks / E. Lockhart
52. The Giver / Lois Lowry X+
53. Number the Stars / Lois Lowry X+
54. Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie / David Lubar
55. Inexcusable / Chris Lynch
56. The Earth, My Butt and Other Big, Round Things / Carolyn Mackler
57. Dragonsong / Anne McCaffrey
58. White Darkness / Geraldine McCaughrean
59. Sold / Patricia McCormick
60. Jellicoe Road / Melina Marchetta
61. Wicked Lovely / Melissa Marr
62. Twilight / Stephenie Meyer
63. Dairy Queen / Catherine Murdock
64. Fallen Angels / Walter Dean Myers
65. Monster / Walter Dean Myers
66. Step From Heaven / An Na
67. Mama Day / Gloria Naylor
68. The Keys to the Kingdom (series) / Garth Nix
69. Sabriel / Garth Nix
70. Airborn / Kenneth Oppel
71. Eragon / Christopher Paolini
72. Hatchet / Gary Paulsen
73. Life As We Knew It / Susan Beth Pfeffer
74. The Golden Compass / Phillip Pullman
75. Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging / Louise Rennison
76. The Lightning Thief / Rick Riordan
77. Always Running: La Vida Loca / Luis Rodriguez
78. how i live now / Meg Rosoff
79. Harry Potter (series) / J.K. Rowling X+
80. Holes / Louis Sachar
81. Catcher in the Rye / J. D. Salinger X+
82. Push / Sapphire
83. Persepolis / Marjane Satrapi
84. Unwind / Neil Shusterman
85. Coldest Winter Ever / Sister Souljah
86. Stargirl / Jerry Spinelli
87. Chanda’s Secrets / Allan Stratton
88. Tale of One Bad Rat / Brian Talbot
89. Rats Saw God / Rob Thomas
90. Lord of the Rings / J.R.R. Tolkien X+
91. Stuck in Neutral / Terry Trueman
92. Gossip Girl / Cecily Von Ziegesar
93. Uglies / Scott Westerfeld X
94. Every Time a Rainbow Dies / Rita Williams-Garcia
95. Pedro and Me / Judd Winick
96. Hard Love / Ellen Wittlinger
97. American Born Chinese / Gene Luen Yang
98. Elsewhere / Gabrielle Zevin
99. I am the Messenger / Markus Zusak
100. The Book Thief / Markus Zusak X+

I have to say, this is the most subjective list I’ve seen in a long time. What on earth are half these books doing on this list? Why is Camus on there and not, say, Joyce, Hemingway or Orwell (all of whom I read the year I was 13)? Not to mention, where are the Canadians? Jean Little, Kit Pearson, kc dyer, LM Montgomery, etc.! What about Madeleine l’Engle and Susan Cooper? Those of us who read VC Andrews only did so because we were teens when the books were coming out – I certainly wouldn’t recommend her (or her estate's writers) to anyone! Where’s Stephen King? I Am the Cheese? The Rats of Nimh?

Has anyone read any of the books that I haven’t marked with an X or a #, and would you recommend any of them?

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Why I Write Longhand

I tried composing on the computer tonight. It worked, I got 404 words out of it and the beginning to one of the most important scenes in Rosa's story.
And yet.
I spend way too much time changing words and erasing and retyping to fix typing-related spelling errors. I can't touch type, though I type very fast, so that might have something to do with my preference as well. I find I pause much more often when keying in words than I do when gliding along with a pen (which has to be a - shameless plug coming up - Pilot G-TEC-C4). My thoughts seem to flow from head to hand much more smoothly when using a pen.
There's also the ever present internet danger when using the computer - I stopped writing at least three times to research something on the spot. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as it saves work later, but it also leads to quick-research, not a detailed exploration. The story definitely shouldn't be entirely based on Wikipedia, that goes without saying.
Oddly enough, the type of paper doesn't make much difference to me, though I do prefer ruled paper.
How about you? Pen or keyboard? Lined paper or freeform? Leather bound books or Word2007?

In other news, I'm managing to keep my head above water in Kait's 250 words a day challenge!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

A New Nathan Contest!

Nathan Bransford The Agent is hosting the The 3rd Sort-of-Annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge. Enter before 4pm Pacific time and then see if any of the close to 2,000 (!) entries grabs your eye...
As if you didn't need more incentive, but here are Nathan's statistics regarding the last two contests:
"The person who thought of the last contest we had (Be an Agent for a Day), is now a client of mine: hello Jim Duncan! Also, the person who won the contest before that (The 2nd Semi-Annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge), is also now a client: hello Natalie Whipple!
We've also had three finalists, Stuart Neville, Terry DeHart, and Victoria Schwab go on to be published/soon-to-be-published authors respectively."

Monday, 12 October 2009

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Am I A Writer?

Tagged myself, off Michelle!

Which words do you use too much in your writing?

Too many little words – "and then", "he realised" "at that moment", that sort of thing. My characters also have a tendency to grin a lot, unless I rein them in. I once made an Excel chart by using the search option in Word and tabulating the results of my overused words – lots of "so" and "the next day" came up.

Which words do you consider overused in stuff you read?

I haven't had this problem in any books that I've enjoyed. Usually, if a book is badly written, it's not so much a matter of repetition as a certain tendency to wander all over the place.

What's your favourite piece of writing by you?

This is going to sound ridiculous, since I’m most proud of my current novel The Face of A Lion (agent hunting as we speak!) but the stories I always remember are the one I wrote in first grade, about a boy named Aldo, the one I wrote in fourth grade, called The Strange Girl (about a new girl at a school) and a short story/prose poem I wrote about 15 years ago called Eyes of the Sky, about a couple walking down the street... I think I’ve posted that one on the Forum; I’ll try to find the link.

What blog post do you wish you'd written?

I’ll echo Michelle: “Anything funny.” Or something educative and fun, like a Miss Snark or Nathan Bransford post.

Regrets, do you have a few? Is there anything you wish you hadn't written?

Oh no, not at all!

How has your writing made a difference? What do you consider your most important piece of writing?

I hope readers enjoy the stories. I hope they learn something, anything, even if it’s just a word they’ve never seen before. I’m not sure if important is the right word, but the most complete and fully edited novel I’ve got is The Face of A Lion.

Name three favourite words

These change all the time. Right now I’m into bizarre, blatherskite, wariangle and moose. That’s four, I know.

...And three words you're not so keen on

Suck, Abitibi-Temiscamingue and... well, there are others but I seem to have thankfully blocked them out of my brain

Do you have a writing mentor, role model or inspiration?
Oh my. What brilliant writer isn’t an inspiration? But I love the clarity and density of writers like Dickens, Tolkien, Sayers, etc.

What's your writing ambition?

To publish! And then to be able to start thinking beyond that, once I do...

Plug alert! List any work you would like to tell your readers about.

Glad to!
See this post for a list of YA authors from the Forum
Go read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series and An Echo in the Bone, and Joanna Bourne's The Spymaster's Lady and My Lord and Spymaster, if you haven’t already done so
Check out Silent Women by Ingrid Berzins Leuzy
Follow the links on the right to other writers’ blogs, to see what they’re up to
Travelling to London? Check out Marsha Moore’s 24 Hours London
And if you’re an agent, let me know, and I’ll send you the first 10 pages of The Face of A Lion!

Do the tagging thing.

Anyone who’s reading, you’re it!

Further rules from Michelle: If you have time to do this meme, then please link to my original [and here], then link to three to five other bloggers and pass it on, asking them to answer your questions and link to you. You can add, remove or change one question as you go. You absolutely do not have to be what you may think of as a "published" or "successful" writer to respond to this meme, I hope people can take the time to reflect on what their blogging [writing!] has brought them and how it has been useful to others.

Monday, 5 October 2009

12 Things My House Is Overrun With

A non writing post! Tag yourself if you wish!

Courtesy of Adventures in Chaos:

•Travel brochures
•Books I haven't read yet
•Glasses and mugs with logos on them (such as Wintzell's Oyster House)
•Cat hair
•Hand lotion
•Rag ends of wool skeins that remind me of items I've knit in the past
•Knitting patterns
•Itty bitty scraps of paper with scribbles on them of dreams, story ideas, things to do, etc.
•Aluminium foil balls (in other words, cat toys)
•Framed photos and art - none of which has been hung on the walls

Thursday, 1 October 2009

How Many Whiphands Does It Take?

I've signed up for another accountability challenge! This one starts today and runs until the end of October (before which I'll have to decide whether I'll participate in NaNoWriMo this year. I might, but then, there's going to be another house party over on the forum...) and is hosted by Kait, from Mission: Accountability.

The daily goal in Kait's Novel Post Initiative is a minimum of 250 words every day! Watch our progress on Kait's blog, and here!

Perhaps by the end of the month I'll have a title for the story, and can stop calling it "Rose in 1492, featuring Kedi", or variations thereof.

Books I'm Reading and Finished Books

  • Alexandria by Monica Byrne (short story)
  • Testament of Experience by Vera Brittain
  • Zoom sur Plainpalais by Corinne Jaquet
  • Sophie's Choice by William Styron
  • ***Reading At Intervals***
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw
  • Burning Sky by Lori Benton
  • 12 Anne and Avonlea books by L. M. Montgomery (skimming/reread (this was free on Kindle!))
  • Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford
  • Istanbul Noir (Akashic Books anthology)
  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien manuscripts edited by J. D. Rateliff
  • The Jerusalem Bible
  • ***Finished Books***
  • Hermit Crab by Peter Porter (poem)
  • The Hidden Land by Private Irving (poem;
  • The Little Turtle by Vachel Lindsay (poem; reread)
  • Dear Mr Henshaw by Beverly Cleary
  • My Own Two Feet by Beverly Cleary
  • Managed by Kristen Callihan
  • beta read! (JB)
  • The Making of Outlander by Tara Bennett
  • The Children of Men by P. D. James
  • A Daughter's A Daughter by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie)
  • A Girl From Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
  • Sunlight by Margaret Rucker (poem; floating in a cocktail glass)
  • Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
  • Preface to The Hobbit, by Christopher Tolkien
  • Ilk Defa... by Beste Barki (essays)
  • Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers (essay)
  • The Moon and I by Betsy Byars
  • The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
  • Rogue Warrior by Regan Walker
  • Beauty and the Beast by Villeneuve
  • Black (what was this? I don't remember!)
  • Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
  • Thomas the Tank Engine by Rev. Awry (26 book collection)
  • beta read (Born to Run by RB)
  • The Little Turtle by Vachel Lindsay (poem; reread)
  • The Kraken by Alfred Lord Tennyson (poem)
  • Android's Dream by John Scalzi
  • The Mysterious Tadpole by Stephen Kellogg (reread)
  • Yashim Cooks Istanbul by Jason Goodwin
  • Miniatures by John Scalzi
  • Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
  • Kitty-in-Boots by Beatrix Potter (illustrated by Quentin Blake)
  • All or Nothing by Rose Lerner (short story)
  • Merry Christmas, Emily (board book)
  • Extra Yarn by __ and Jan Klassen
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Outlandish Companion II by Diana Gabaldon
  • The Outlandish Companion I, Revised by Diana Gabaldon
  • MacHinery and the Cauliflowers by Alistair MacLean (short story)
  • The Dileas by Alistair MacLean (short story)
  • The Gold Watch by Alistair MacLean (short story)
  • betty, butter, sun by Monica Byrne (short story)
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay by J.K. Rowling
  • The Very Cranky Bear (Scholastic)
  • various haiku by R. Wodaski
  • ongoing rereads of most board books listed last year!
  • see the 2016 list and statistics at
  • see the 2015 list and statistics at
  • see the 2014 list and statistics at
  • see the 2013 list and statistics at
  • see the 2012 list and statistics here
  • see the 2011 statistics on
  • see the 2011 list at
  • see the 2010 list at
  • see the 2009 list at
  • also in 2009 at
  • see the 2008 list at
  • also in 2008 at
  • also in 2008 at