3/27/2012

A to Z Challenge 2012

I did it. I signed up for the 2012 A to Z Challenge. If you're not aware of it, each year bloggers are invited to post (almost) every day during the month of April.

To unify the theme, each day's post follows one of the letters of the alphabet in consecutive order, beginning on Sunday, April 1 with "A". The rest of the Sundays, you can have off.

It's fun to visit blogs and see how bloggers tackled each day's letter theme.

Last year I did posts on Enneagram types and subtypes, which were very popular, and can still be read. (See page bar above with that title.)

This year I've decided to highlight where I live, the Palouse of southeastern Washington / northern Idaho.

I like doing the challenge because it's an opportunity to get acquainted with many, many new bloggers. Last Sunday when I signed up, I was already #1182. Today, just under 1300 have signed up for the challenge.

What does that mean for the month of April? One huge, exciting blog fest. It's a great opportunity to follow new blogs and also to get new followers.  

Arlee Bird started it in 2010, but it's now so big that he has the help of about a dozen co-sponsors. Go HERE to sign up.

It's not too late to join the blogging frenzy that will be happening in just ... five days!

3/25/2012

Flying Adventure: Joseph, Oregon

Hubby and I took our first flying adventure of 2012 on Saturday. We decided to fly to Joseph, Oregon, a tiny, touristy town in Wallowa County, in the Northeast corner of Oregon.


Spring is beginning to make a show in our area, and so the ag planes were out in full force. We made our getaway in between three ag planes (the yellow one) that were buzzing the field. (They were coming in to refuel and reload their planes with dry fertilizer.)



 In a 200 mph airplane, it took us 30-40 minutes to get to Joseph, which is nestled at the foothills of the towering Willowa mountain range.


Still plenty of snow on the Willowas.


This is Willowa Lake. About 10 years ago, we flew into Joseph with our mountain bikes in the back of our other plane (which we sold in 2004), a Maule M-7. We then pedaled from the airport to the tip of the lake where there is a lodge, campgrounds and deer that are so tame, you can pet them! It was an ambitious bicycle ride.


Our current airplane is big enough to hold only collapsible mini bikes in the back. The minis are fine for short treks, but you wouldn't want to ride 25 miles or more, and so riding to the tip of the lake was out.




Mule deer are everywhere.
We passed one lovely, lovely old home whose beauty was so marred by an 8-10' white vinyl fence surrounding it.

We were wondering why the owners had done that, but then we realized it was to keep the pesky mule deer off their property.

Deer are terrible pests where we live, too. People can't grow gardens because the deer come along and eat everything.



There are a couple of exquisite bronze sculptures in town. This one is of Chief Joseph.



















Rodeo plays big in the area, and look at this amazing rodeo sculpture.

Besides tourism, Joseph is a logging and farming community. The town of Enterprise is the county seat, and so the county fairgrounds are not located in Joseph. But we did see a huge grandstand for RODEO.















Most of the tourist traps are not yet open. I'd estimate only 25% of the town's businesses were open on this last Saturday in March.

But Arrowhead Chocolates was open.

They were advertising hot, homemade marionberry scones. Hubby and I decided to have a mocha and share a scone.



The chocolate makers hand dipping truffles.


Arrowhead's mochas are made with the rich chocolate that they use in their candies. You have a choice of dark chocolate, milk chocolate or white chocolate. For milk, you can choose regular milk or chocolate milk.


Here's some of their candies, which cost $1.00 each.

Hubby and I aren't into candy, but we couldn't pass up the hot, homemade marionberry scone.


Here's our mochas and our scone with freshly whipped cream. Hubby wanted to be sure to get his IPad in the picture. The IPad contains, among other things, the sectional charts and airport guides for the entire U.S.

We've been told that all airline pilots are navigating now with the sectional charts on their IPads, which eliminates having to carry around unweildy paper copies sectionals and airport handbooks.




3/23/2012

The Tale of a Manuscript

The end of November, 2011, I finished my second YA manuscript for the second time. It took me about three years to write. (But who's counting?) Actually, it grew out of the first YA manuscript that I finished in 2007, so I guess it took four years of my decidedly limited free time.

Driving home from work one night a day or two after I had submitted it to four editors and an agent, all of whom I had met at conferences, I heard on NPR that West Side Story would celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2012. I hadn't known that. West Side Story lives BIG in my YA manuscript. Woohoo! What luck. I was on the leading edge of something. Bring out the castanets. Cha-cha, cha-cha.

Then I heard, in the same broadcast, that because of the 50th anniversary, Glee was doing an entire season based on West Side Story. Alarm bells. Alarm bells.

I asked Dear Editor (Deborah Halverson) about it. Was my book dead, I asked? "Yes," she said.  Click link for full story.

I have since heard back from the agent, who said she didn't feel the story would be fresh enough to break out into the tough YA market. Not fresh? Just because Glee was spending an entire season on West Side Story? Oh, come on. (Nodding my head in disappointment.)

That caused me a lot of soul searching, as you might imagine. I'd taken a revision course from Holly Lisle who encouraged writers, even before writing one word on a new manuscript, to seek out three alternative markets, in the event that your favored market turned into a no-go due to bad luck, bad timing or whatever. My manuscript seemed to fit well into all of the above.

So I began, in January 2012, looking into the inspirational romance market as an alternative. My guilty secret is that I love those sweet little books put out by Harlequin Love Inspired. (You thought my guilty secret was that I love Harlequin Blaze? or Elora's Cave? Naaa.)

I thought of a way to push my protagonist's story 10 years ahead. My book wasn't precisely a teen romance, but there was a strong romance element to it. I could use a lot of the same story, play up the romance, and maybe sell it to Love Inspired.

I began a serious inquiry into the Love Inspired line. I saw that over the past 15 years, approximately 600 books had been published in the line. I downloaded back cover copy of all 600 books and discovered only ONE book with a story line similar to mine. What luck!

I read the book. Comparing my story to this one, I saw that the two stories, though having a similar theme, were as different as night and day. What luck. No one could accuse me of copying someone else's published book.

I proceeded to read a couple of books on writing Christian Fiction, and specifically Christian Romance, to make sure I would not inadvertently slip any of the taboos into my manuscript. I discovered I could fit into that market seamlessly. I AM the market for Christian Romance. I live the life of what's popular in Christian Romance lines: small town, ranch, cowboy, sense of community, home and hearth, heartwarming and so on. My values fit the values of Christian Romance readers to a tee.

Taking my research a step further, I ordered CDs from last year's American Christian Fiction Writers annual conference, in order to hear about what Christian fiction publishers, particularly Love Inspired, are looking for, straight from the editors' mouths. The CDs came yesterday, I discovered when I got home from work last night. Though tired and hungry, and it was already 7:00 pm, I was so eager to hear what Love Inspired had to say, I delayed making dinner until 8:00 pm, in order to listen to their presentation.

What did I discover? Straight out of their mouths, one of the first things I heard was that they do not like artsy themes: Theatre, music, art. No wonder I'd found only one book in 600 that had that theme. What luck. Shot down again! Fortunately, I had not spent hours and hours re-tooling the YA novel into a HLI. I doubt I have spent more than 20 hours on it.

But they are desperately seeking historical romance manuscripts. My two YA manuscripts were not the first two manuscripts that I had ever written. I have several possibilities waiting in the wings, including historical romance ideas, and so I am immediately dropping all work at revamping my YA manuscript into a contemporary HLI and focusing instead on a historical romance idea. It's the one I began working on in January for that line, after learning that my YA manuscript probably wouldn't sell.

The moral of this story? The moral is NOT to be demoralized. Both of my YA manuscripts still exist. If the time isn't right for them at the moment, it might be in a few months or years. In fact, I am not giving up on either of them, but when I have more time in August, I might just take a serious look at how I might revamp them into something that will work in the current YA market. It would make a lot of sense to see how much I can downplay West Side Story in the manuscript that is currently with four editors. Maybe I could simply change the name of the play and say it was written by one of the high school students, based on West Side Story.

It's important not to write to market trends, but writers do need to be aware of the market. It's also important to keep writing, no matter what. You never know which of your completed manuscripts might be THE ONE.








3/21/2012

YA Book Covers: The Era of the Fancy Gowns


I don't know when it started, but I do know I began noticing it with the release of Wither, by Lauren DeStefano, in December of 2011, published by Simon and Schuster. Maybe it started before Wither, but this particularly beautiful cover, if not starting the trend, certainly took it to the next level.

Wither is a fantastic story, part of the Chemical Garden trilogy. Book 2, Fever, was released in February. I downloaded it to my Kindle and am excited to read it. If you want to know more about the Chemical Garden trilogy, my review of Wither.

But the point of this post is to highlight some of the other lovely covers I ran across just today as I was ordering books for the library. It seems like almost every book cover features a fancy gown. The covers below are from Harcourt's list, recommended for ages 12 and up.









3/08/2012

Signs of Spring: The Wall Rainbow

There are still patches of snow on the ground where I live. When I brushed my teeth this morning, I noticed the sun shining in our east-facing bathroom window, which made me wonder if I should go out and jog before work. Then I saw the temperature was still only 32 degrees. The greater desire to stay warm lured me to my computer instead. (I know: excuses, excuses.)

Later, as I was running out the door to work, I saw another delightful sign of spring: The wall rainbow. Where we live, the sun officially shines only 3 days in 10 in the winter. That number is beginning to increase.

A crystal hangs in a window in my husband's office, capturing morning sunlight, hence the wall rainbow. The crystal is actually 35'  from the place where it makes a rainbow on the wall in the hallway. His office is dazzling with rainbows made by the crystal. His office is also too messy to be photographed!

It's always delightful to glimpse the rainbow. And to know that longer days, sunshine and warmer weather really are on their way. Another month, two for sure, and we'll be into sweater-wearing weather.

And choosing jogging instead of hanging out in front of my computer before work.

3/05/2012

Novel Content-Management Software: yWriter5



A writer friend recently told me about yWriter5, which is software that helps you organize your novel.

I was dubious at first. The "Cadillac" for this type of software is Scrivener, made for Mac users, which left me out. Then Liquid Story Binder was created for windows users, which I bought.

I was never happy with Liquid Story Binder. You can do untold numbers of things with it, including storyboarding and mind mapping and so on, but the software is not intuitive. Even when you've learned how to use it, the resulting products (storyboards, mindmaps) are terribly klunky looking, and moving information around is not easy.

I stopped using it and fell back on my own rather frustrating methods. I've always created my own storyboards in Microsoft Publisher, but that is time-consuming. You can move things around, but in a less-than-ideal way.

So when my friend got excited about yWriter5, I was not at all sure I wanted to spend time learning yet another piece of software that might have a steep learning curve and, in the end, be unsatisfying.

It took me three weeks to finally download yWriter5. I was learning four other pieces of software during those three weeks, one of which is mind-blowingly incredible and has a steep but totally worthwhile learning curve, and is for another post. Once I had finished playing with the other new pieces of software, I downloaded yWriter5 and discovered ...


It is totally intuitive, with almost no learning curve, and is everything I could hope for in content-management software. It was developed by Simon Haynes who has twenty-five years computer programming experience, and is also a multi-published author. His website is full of useful information about the craft of writing, and worth taking a look at. (I've included a link to his website at the bottom of this post.) 


Some of the things I love about yWriter5:

  • It keeps track of word count of individual scenes, chapters and overall project. 
  • There is a place for scene notes and notes about locations and the characters. If you're in chapter 10 and you can't remember the color of a particular character's eyes--just pull up that character's notes. 
  • It will save all versions of your scenes in a neat little package that you can grab whenever you want to look at it. One of my big problems is that I may have re-written a scene 10 times, adding and removing information each time. Then I get to the 11th revision and I realize I need some information that was in one of the earlier versions. It still exists; I never destroy my drafts, but which draft was it? It would take me countless hours to sift back through hundreds of files to find the information. 
  • There is a screen where you can keep track of the scene conflict in a few words. Or if what you wrote was a scene-sequel, it allows you to note the character's decision that will create the next scene's goal.
  • You can set it up to keep track of a daily word quota and project deadline. It will show you how  well you are keeping up with your daily output in order to finish on time. 
  • The notes field can be used, if you wish, to summarize the scene in a sentence or two. If used in this way, yWriter5 will then generate a synopsis based on the scene summaries. (How cool is that.)
  • The storyboard works very well. It looks nice and the scene cards are easily movable. 
  • You can also, very easily, re-order scenes within chapters and chapters within the entire project. 

Even more good news? It's free, however once you've tried it, you will probably like it so much that you will want to give Simon Haynes a donation for creating such a lovely piece of content-management software.

3/04/2012

Cheryl Klein 2012 Revision Workshop: Spokane, WA SCBWI

Four of us from the Moscow, Idaho area drove to Spokane yesterday for a day-long workshop on revision with Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein, sponsored by SCBWI.

The workshop did not disappoint. If Cheryl ever comes to your area, don't hesitate to attend this workshop.

However, in the event that that is not a possibility for you, you can glean 80% of what she had to say from her book, Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults. This is mostly a compilation of blog posts she had written over several years when she was known in the blogosphere as Brooklyn Arden. She drew heavily from it in her presentation.

I would have to say that if you've been studying the craft and techniques of writing for a while, not much of what she had to say will be new to you, however, a refresher is always good.

If you are new to studying the craft of writing, you will probably come away with your head spinning from information overload.

I especially liked her explanations for the numerous uses of BOOKMAPS. She is extremely left-brained, extremely analytical, as you might expect an editor to be.

There was one new piece of information, one missing piece from my "Understanding the Craft of Writing Puzzle" that she did answer for me. I have always wondered where, exactly, a manuscript should begin. She gave the example (which is typical of my own book) of a young adult who is in the process of moving to a new town. Where should the story open? When the young person gets the news that the family will be moving? As the family is on the road, moving to their new home? Driving into the driveway of the new home? The first day of school? A week later?

Her response was a simple, slap yourself upside your cheek and wonder why you never had that figured out before: You begin it where the protagonist comes in contact with whatever your overarching story is about.

If your overarching story involves conflict between two people, your first scene is where those two people meet and conflict. If it's about a mystery, it's where the person who is to solve the mystery comes on scene and gets the first clue or bit of necessary information. If it's a love story, it's when the hero and heroine meet.

The first scene ends where the protagonist is faced with a choice that determines the next action step in the story.
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