Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Let's play Quacky Baseball!

There's a new picture book out just in time for spring training. QUACKY BASEBALL stars a lovable baseball player named Thumby Duckling. Thumby has kindly agreed to sit down for an interview.

*Thumby fluffs his feathers and sucks his thumb*

Me: Thumby, thank you for stopping by. Can you tell us how you got your adorable name?

Thumby: I actually wanted to have the nickname "Butch" but I learned that it's hard to give yourself your own nickname. Others give it to you. In my case, other ducks supposedly caught me sucking my thumb.

Me: Thumby suits you much better than Butch anyway. Why do you play baseball?

Thumby: Baseball is fun. And I love the sounds of baseball - crack of the bat, whistle of the ball as it zooms by, chatter of the infielders. "Hey batta batta" - that kind of thing.

Me: And we can’t forget the hot dogs and peanuts! Thumby, what does it feel like to play in a real game with people cheering you on?

Thumby: Scary and great at the same time. And I don't want to give away what happens at the end of Quacky Baseball, but it was a wonderful feeling.

Me: I agree, Thumby. The ending of Quacky Baseball made me want to stand up and wave my foam finger. Tell us about your teammates.

Thumby: What a team! Take Flakey Duckstein. He twitches. And there's Manny El Pato, who flew in from the Dominican. No one understands him in any language. And don't forget the mighty Medwick Ducky. There's a secret to his name - you could look it up.

Me: Oooh, a riddle in your answer. Nice. *pulls up Google search* Thumby, tell us about the author of Quacky Baseball, Peter Abrahams.

Thumby: He's some sort of writer, doesn't sound very interesting to me.

Me: *gasps* A writer who is not interesting? Impossible! Thumby, thank you for taking time from your hectic baseball season to chat with us about Quacky Baseball.

Quacky Baseball was written by Peter Abrahams and illustrated by Frank Morrison. Please stop by the following blogs for the Quaky Baseball tour.

Monday, March 28 - Megan Frances Abrahams - On Beyond Words & Pictures - interview with Kristin Daly Rens, Senior Editor, Balzer & Bray

Wednesday, March 30 - Corey Schwartz Corey Schwartz - author Peter Abrahams on the genesis of Quacky Baseball

Thursday, March 31 - Diane Browning - Out of the Paintbox - interview with illustrator Frank Morrison

Friday, April 1 - Hilde Garcia Pen & Ink - interview with author Peter Abrahams

Saturday, April 2 - Lori Walker L.H. Walker - book review/synopsis with input from Lori's children

New York Times bestselling author Peter Abrahams has had 25 published novels - three as Spencer Quinn, and 22 as Peter Abrahams. His YA thriller, Reality Check, won the 2010 Edgar Award for best young adult novel. His latest YA thriller, Bullet Point, (Harper Teen) was released April, 2010. Peter also wrote the Echo Falls series - three YA mysteries. The first in the series, Down the Rabbit Hole, was the 2006 Agatha winner for best children's Young Adult fiction, and the next two were both Agatha Award nominees.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Writers: look up and enjoy the view

I live in the mountains of southern California, and I often go for hikes on the trails behind our home. One day I was mid-step when I noticed the baby rattler below my feet. I finished my step and raced down the mountain. I swear, that baby rattler was chasing me (hubby thinks I'm crazy and dramatic, but that's a topic for another day).

Since then, I've kept my head down when I'm hiking. I'm on the lookout for coyotes, bobcats, and the snake who is now probably full grown and wants to kill me (See? I'm not dramatic at all).

Last week I was hiking with my eyes trained on the ground for danger when I realized I was missing out. By keeping my head down, looking for peril, I was ignoring the beautiful surroundings. The rolling green hills, the brand new poppies sprouting through the rich soil, and the breeze whispering through the sage.

So what does this have to do with writing? I tend to obsess over manuscripts, keeping my head down and reworking the words until they're just right. When I do this, I miss out on the view that surrounds me.

Our writing trails may be rutted and rocky, and we'll experience hills and valleys, but sometimes it's too easy to focus on the dirt and miss the wild flowers. A. Victoria Mixon offers this profound advice in an interview: life, have one.

How about you? Do you sometimes keep your head down, working hard, and forget to look up and enjoy the scenery?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Battling Word Addictions

Are you addicted to certain words? Does "suddenly" suddenly appear in your manuscripts? Let us stage an intervention.

I'll go first. My name is Julie, and I have a word addiction. Not just awesome words that leap off the page. No. There are certain useless words that wiggle their way into my manuscripts. A lot. Some of my repeat offenders are: then, only, just, and really.

I don't know of a 12-step program for addictive words. What should we do about those little buggers? I've created a list, and I ran a word search for each one. I was able to rephrase just about everything, making the story stronger. Really. (See? I like that word).

A writer friend suggested using Wordle, where our addictive words jump out at us, all big and bold. Also, WriteWords has a Word Frequency Counter and Phrase Frequency Counter.

My addictive words are weak. K.M. Weiland wrote a great post about Why Vague Writing is Weak Writing.

What are your addictive words? If you have any tips for kicking the habit, please share in the comments.

On a side note, if you write for children or young adults, YAtopia is hosting a pitch contest with agent Ammi-Joan Paquette. Deadline is March 24th, or 150 entries, whichever comes first. Good luck!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What writers can learn from the Elaine Dance

One of my favorite Seinfeld scenes is the classic "Elaine Dance." Believe it or not, writers can learn valuable lessons from these horrific dance moves.

  1. Herky jerky is bad. Elaine's dancing is neckbrace-worthy. As writers, we want our transitions and pacing to flow like graceful ballerinas.
  2. Cluelessness doesn't make problems go away. If Elaine wasn't oblivious to the laughs and stares, perhaps she'd seek dancing advice. Our writing weaknesses won't fix themselves. We must continue learning.
  3. Get out there and have fun. Fear of ridicule shouldn't keep us from enjoying the ride. If we write from the heart, listen to valuable advice, and keep trying, we can boogie our way to publication.

What writing lessons have you learned from TV or movie characters? And if you haven't seen the Elaine Dance, I hope this video brightens your day (it cracks me up every time).

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Scenes from Real Life

For days, heartbreaking images from Japan have lit up our television screens. As writers, we may watch these news clips differently.

With the flipped train, we wonder where each passenger was headed. With each splintered home, we're curious about who lived there. Behind each survivor's weary face, there's an untold story.

When disturbing events unfold, we may think "what if," and imagine characters in a similar situation. How did they get there? What is their home life like? What's at stake for this person?

I've imagined fictional scenes when I watched school shootings, car chases, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes. I've read a few novels where scenes took place around the terror attacks of 9/11.

Over three years ago, when all of California seemed like it burned out of control, my house almost caught fire. Did I write about that traumatic event? It took some time, but yes, I did.

Japan's wounds are gaping and raw. I have no doubt that at some point in the future we'll see stories framed around this tragedy. Writers will likely capture the shock, fear, sorrow, survival, and hope. In the meantime, I'll focus on real life and continue praying for the people of Japan.

How about you? Have you fictionalized a traumatic event, either your own or one from the news?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Writing Tip: Add a "Pet the Dog" Beat

If you're looking for ways to deepen your character, James Scott Bell suggests adding a "pet the dog" beat. In Revision & Self -Editing, he illustrates this screenwriting trick in two ways:
  1. Using a literal dog--Clint Eastwood is playing a cop. He's chasing a killer through dark streets. Bullets are flying. His back's against the wall in an alley when something crashes. He spins and points his gun at a scraggly old dog who has tripped over a trash can. Clint takes a moment to pet the dog. He's shown kindness to an animal in the midst of a shootout. (Is he crazy or something?)
  2. Using a figurative dog--in the movie The Fugitive, Dr. Kimble is in a hospital to gather information about the one-armed man who he thinks killed his wife. Cops are hunting him down. While trying to escape the hospital, he notices a sick boy on a gurney. He checks the chart and realizes the boy's been misdiagnosed. Kimble changes the chart and sees to it that the boy will receive immediate attention. He's taken time from his own troubles to care about someone else. (Now really, would he murder someone?)
Bell says, "A pet-the-dog beat, properly executed, creates great sympathy for the character, while at the same time may add to the suspense."

Have you ever heard of a pet-the-dog beat? Have you used one in your manuscript?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mythbuster: Are Real Writers Glamorous?

I was scrubbing our bathroom when I got a case of the giggles. I was amused by the lofty impressions I used to have of real writers. While vacuuming dust bunnies, I compared myths vs. realities.

Myth: for real writers, words come out perfectly the first time around.
Reality: blog posts by writers, agents, and editors reinforce the truth that there's no such thing as a perfect first draft, or even a perfect finished product.

Myth: real writers make enough money to hire nannies and maids.
Reality: it's true that some writers are rich, but most are not. There are plenty of writers who clean their own houses and mow their own lawns. It's clear we don't write for the money.

Myth: real writers are snooty and unapproachable.
Reality: from what I've seen, writers from all stages of publication are regular people who are generous with their time, information, and encouragement.

Myth: real writers wear black turtlenecks and berets, and sip espressos while spouting big words.
Reality: real writers--they're US. They're hard workers who toil at the day job, then come home and add words to the wip. They write while the baby's asleep. They shuttle kids to and from school. They coach little league and soccer. They work on manuscripts during their kid's volleyball or track practice. They're passionate people who show up at the page, whether they're inspired or not.

Did you think real writers were glamorous? Which writer's myths have you debunked?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Your Story's Soundtrack

Do you listen to music while you're writing? I like silence during my writing sessions. If the hubby and kids are home, I plug in ear buds and listen to instrumental music on Pandora. I have a short attention span, and can't allow words in songs to compete with the words in my head.

But music inspires me, sets a mood, and tells a story. Certain songs capture the spirit of my manuscripts, and would be on my dream soundtrack. I'll always think of my stories when I hear the following songs:

Book #2 -- I Need You Now by Lady Antebellum, and Amazing Grace.

Book #3 -- Back to December by Taylor Swift, and Boys of Fall by Kenny Chesney. If you want to stick around, click below to watch these swoon-worthy videos.

How about you? Do you listen to music while you're writing? And if there was a soundtrack for your story, which songs would be on it?

photo credit

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Chop Chop

I've revised my novel, and now it's in the hands of a talented beta reader who will rewrite it to perfection. No? That's not what they do? Shoot.

From first draft through fourth, I cut 18,000 words. Believe me, those words needed to go. When it comes to slicing and dicing a manuscript, here are some lesson I've learned:
  • Like Hitchcock said, "A good story is life with the dull parts taken out." If I reached a spot in my manuscript that I wanted to skim over, I deleted it.
  • If a scene added nothing to the story, I deleted it.
  • Each character must serve a purpose. James Scott Bell reminds us that supporting characters should be there as allies or irritants to the MC. If not, bye bye. It's also possible to combine characters.
  • Don't say, "She watched him race toward her" when we can say, "He raced toward her." We know we're seeing it through the narrator's eyes. Tough lesson for me.
  • Use strong verbs to cut down word count and strengthen the story. "He was running" becomes "He ran."
  • Keep description to a minimum. I love pretty words describing pretty scenes, but sometimes I get carried away.
  • Don't bang the reader over the head with a point. I'm guilty of this, and don't even notice it sometimes. (Thank you, critique group)
Trimming fat improves pacing. When cutting words, Roz Morris says we must tune in to the rhythm of our story. Slicing and dicing isn't always easy, but it'll make the remaining words more powerful.

Can you add something to the list? What do you slice and dice from your manuscripts?