TSS: The Sunday Salon

Happy New Year (almost)!

Last time I posted, I wasn’t sure I’d be up to doing a Sunday Salon today, but I have come through another week, and am able to do it. I can't say I breezed through the week, but I did get through it.

The Christmas holiday was wonderful for us, however on Christmas eve, our power went out for an hour at the same time as I was preparing dinner. My daughter took her kids outside sledding, and I (plus my husband and son-in-law) did what we could regarding food prep. By the time daughter and kids came back in (we have fabulous sledding hills where we live), the power had come back on, and we were able to push food prep back into high gear. The rest of our company showed up, and dinner was delayed by only an hour. (It didn't matter hugely when we ate, but my mother-in-law wanted to attend a 6:00 pm Christmas Eve concert at her church, and we wanted to finish eating in time for her to attend.)

Among other things, I prepared a version of Chicken Cordon Bleu, which was terribly time consuming. It was tasty, also very unhealthy—chicken breasts stuffed with a mixture of cream cheese, bleu cheese, crisp bacon, and fresh basil. Add the cabbage strudel made from Phyllo dough and also filled with cream cheese, Swiss cheese, cheddar cheese and cabbage, besides the broccoli-bacon salad, and it was a fat-filled meal.  

Reading this week: I (re)read The UltraSimple Diet by Mark Hyman. My husband and I plan to go on it, however it's anything but simple, IMO. Apparently, most of our health problems are caused by inflammation. This is a detoxifying diet, geared toward tipping us from away being acidic (as our American diet does to us) toward being more neutral, if not slightly alkaline. I tried it a year ago on my one-week summer vacation from work, and fell flat on my face. After spending a hellish amount of time and effort preparing for it, I tolerated the bland, bland bland diet for only three days before I threw in the towel. The vegetable broth three times a day really did me in, not to mention the morning cocktail of 2 TBSP olive oil mixed with the juice of half a fresh lemon. Oh, and the green tea.

The diet is composed of foods that no one is ever allergic to. After the first week, you begin adding allergy-producing culprits back into your diet, one at a time, to see how you react. You also go without caffeine, alcohol, gluten, dairy products and sugar in all forms. Giving up sugar won't be a problem for me; I hardly ever eat sweets, and don't like sugar much. I won't like giving up beer with dinner.

But my husband is interested in trying it, due to some arthritis-like aches and pains, caused by inflammation. We have made a pact with each other. He said last night that we might want to go on the diet one week of every month. I laughed out loud. Little does he know.

Writing this week: After slavish work on it, and I mean, for the past two months, I have been putting full time work into it, I completed my entry for Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart contest for unpublished writers. I sent in a three-page synopsis, the first 52 pages of the book, and the full manuscript, which weighed in at 65,500 words.

Other news: Last night my husband had a long conversation with one of our flying farmer friends who bought a home in Arizona last year, and is now spending six months each year there, and six months here at home. He invited us to come stay with him and his wife for a week; we can’t do it this year due to other travel commitments--Disneyland with our son’s family late January-early February, and then Orlando in March. But next year for sure. Hubby is so excited, he’s looking into us renting a house down there for up to three months. We could use that as a base from which to explore the southwest in our Vans RV-7 airplane, which he built.

We’re celebrating another Christmas with the other half of our extended family this afternoon, and then we’ll go see Les Miserables with some friends this evening. I’ve heard it is a wonderful movie. 

How was your week? If you comment, you'll notice I've added the Captcha. I've been getting a half-dozen spam comments each day for months now, and am tired of it. Blogger catches most of them, but they still show up in my mail. Also, last year when I posted on Christmas, I was spammed by 75 Muslim websites. I did not want that to happen again this year. What a shock that was to me. 


Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole: Craft of Writing Book Review

Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole

There are so many reasons to read this book by literary agent Mary Kole. If you've been a writer for a while and already know much about the writing craft, you can probably skim that part. But there are so very many more reasons than that to read this book.

If you write for children and young adults, it should be essential reading material. I downloaded it to my Kindle. When I finished reading it, I had left 80 notes. It's that chock-full of specific information.

Here are some of the things that Ms. Kole addresses:

  • Optimum manuscript length for Middle Grade and Young Adult
  • Definition of Middle Grade and Young Adult
  • Age of MG and YA readers, and age of the protagonists in MG and YA novels
  • MG mindset, Teen mindset
  • Popular genres in each category 
  • The distinctions between literary ("quiet") and commercial fiction
  • Definition of "quiet"
  • The definition of high concept (books with an obvious sales hook) and definition of sales hooks
  • A definition and discussion of the Dystopian genre, and why it's so popular 
  • How and why story endings differ between MG and YA
  • Definition of historical fiction (anything set in the 1980s and prior) and caveat: The history must be integral to the story. If the same story can be set in the present, then do so.

She also goes into specific reasons why agents reject manuscripts: How to start well. Common opening cliches to avoid.

Here's a quote from her that piqued my attention on a personal level:

From a craft perspective, here’s why I’m such a stickler for a shorter word count: It’s always easier to add just the right thing to a sleek and streamlined project than it is to cut from an overlong one. A shorter, tighter manuscript often shows me that the writer has many skills in his revision toolkit. An indulgent longer text is usually a red flag telling me that the author is either a beginner or someone who will be especially precious when it comes to revision. I’d much rather work with the former, and I know a lot of editors who agree.

It gratified me to hear this because I have spent a considerable amount of time over the past year studying just this. I played with removing the subplots from my manuscript to see how it read in an ultra-streamlined, almost subplot free version. I discovered how easy it is to excise subplots, and then to drop them back in, judiciously, for a fuller story. 

Among my 80 notes, I also especially liked reading the following:
. . . some editors and agents are clamoring for strong contemporary stories where nobody has any magic powers and nothing falls out of the sky or crawls out of the ground. They (and readers) want real life . . . 
Teens feel everything very intensely, and two things in particular: An interest in romance and darkness.
My story isn't terribly dark, but it is definitely a romance, with all of the genre-specific scenes requisite to telling a romance, and that readers expect to find in a love story. 

Mary Kole works for MovableType Literary Agency, and also writes a popular blog, Kidlit.com.

Again, if you are writing for this market, should you read this book? Absolutely. 


TSS: The Sunday Salon and Fifteen Weird Christmas Books

In lieu of participating in the Sunday Salon today, or mostly in lieu of it, I decided to do something else. So this a kind of bait and switch, because if you want to read about Fifteen Weird Christmas Books and maybe buy a few, click on the link, from Publishers Weekly.

I'm chiming in on the books that made me laugh, that I could have contributed to. Here's the first: The Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book.

Whenever I think of ugly Christmas sweaters, I think of Bridget Jones and her own Mr. Darcy, who wore the most gosh darn awful holiday sweaters, but boy did he turn into a gem in Bridget's eyes. (And everyone else's, for that matter.)

Being a children's librarian for so many years, I needed to be nonthreatening to preschoolers--although my personality is anything but threatening, I think. So I always bought "gaudy" holiday sweaters from Walmart, which became a sort of uniform for me. It started around Halloween and worked all the way through winter.

I put quotes around the word gaudy, because I suspect that many people love sweaters like this. Honestly, I think they're really cute on the right personality. Me, a plain dresser, and someone who hardly ever wears even so small a thing as earrings?--I always felt more than a little conspicuous in them, depending on how outlandish they were, and many were. But kids always warmed to them. Doesn't this one look just like librarian /teacher /Grandma sweater? When I left children's librarianship, I gave a huge pile of them to the Goodwill.

Then there's this book, Scared of Santa, which I have a great picture to share, below:

These are my children. Just look at how the older ones are so amused by their poor baby sister, who is scared to death of Santa.

Anyhew. Are you among the legions who share in wearing ugly sweaters during the holiday season?

Were your kids, or are your grandkids, scared of Santa?

As to the Sunday Salon:
Very briefly, like a shopping list, here's what I did this week: Monday evening, we attended a Christmas band concert in which our oldest granddaughter participated. Tuesday evening, we met with my son and his wife to discuss our upcoming trip to Disneyland. Thursday morning, I met with a friend to discuss blogging. Thursday evening, we were invited to have dinner with some friends. Friday evening, the other set of grandkids came to dinner and spent the night. Sunday morning, we watched our youngest granddaughter perform in a Christmas program. Writing output for the week: 3/4 finished with the book revision. Reading done: Almost finished with Writing Irresistable Kidlit, which I will review.

How was your week?


The Life of Pi: Movie Review

Instead of reviewing a book, I decided to review a movie this week, the Life of Pi, although I’ll state right off that I’ll never be able to do it justice. You'll just have to see the movie, or read the book. 

It’s about a boy, Pi, who lives in India with his family. His father runs a zoo. In his preteen years, Pi isn’t much like other boys, in that he’s deeply interested in philosophy and religion. He adopts Hindu, his family’s religion, but also Christianity and Islam. His father tells him he cannot believe in them all, but he reminds his father that in Hindu, there are something like 30,000 gods, and so why can’t he also believe in these others.

When the zoo closes and his father intends to set up a new zoo in Canada, the family, along with the zoo animals, board a ship. Unfortunately, a horrible storm at sea sinks the ship and all passengers except for Pi, a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and Richard Parker, a ferocious Bengal tiger. Soon all but Pi and the tiger are dead. 

Pi spends the rest of his time (over 200 days at sea) until his rescue, trying to make peace with the untamable tiger, who has pretty much taken over the lifeboat, leaving Pi to spend most of his time in a small, circular life preserver. Pi does manage to establish tenuous dominance over him, but is never able to trust him fully. Though Pi never tames him, he is sure that if it were not for his vicious companion, Richard Parker, he would’ve died. At least he had some company during his travails at sea. 

When they reach land, and the tiger finally crawls into the jungle, and safety, it doesn’t even look back at Pi, who so longs for him to do so.

In the end, Pi is a grown man with a family when an author shows up at his door, wanting to hear his tale of survival, and possibly to write about it. Pi tells him the fantastical story, as well as a second, more likely version. One that may—or may not have been—believed by the Japanese insurance adjusters who didn’t believe the fantastical story. It’s not known which one they ultimately believed, nor does it matter.

The author wants to know which story is true. Pi says they are both stories, and asks if it matters. The man thinks about the symbolism of the fantastical story, and decides that Pi must’ve been the ferocious tiger, and the other animals were humans that, for one reason or another—maybe even that the tiger killed them—did not survive, possibly suggesting that Pi might’ve resorted to cannibalism. [This might be something I read into it; there was no conversation about it in the movie.]

In another vein, I also saw the tiger as a symbol for Mother Earth, which definitely nurtures us, but is always, in final analysis, uncontrollable. We cannot stop her storms or earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and so on, but are always at mercy to her.  

Pi asks him which story he likes better. The author likes the fantastical one. “So write that story,” Pi tells him.

The Life of Pi is probably the most philosophical movie I’ve ever seen. It tiptoes around being blatantly didactic in places, but it was still excellent for so many reasons. I liked the message, or what I took away as the message—

Often, things that happen to us don’t make much sense. That is why we create stories, to give meaning to events. Our attitude toward the happenings creates the tone of our stories, personal or communal. We decide what our life, and its moment-by-moment thoughts, actions, conversations, and events, will mean to us. 

We create the stories about our lives, but we do not create our lives themselves. That’s the work of our Creator. But until we shape a story around an event, it is inherently meaningless. Living without meaning is uncomfortable. Yet that’s what life presents to us, like in the end for example, when the tiger doesn't look back at Pi, after sharing over 200 days with him, lost at sea. 

But we can, and there is a deep need, to create stories--meaning--around around our life's events. That's why everyone is a storyteller, and many of us love it so much that we seek to do it professionally.  

One last word, and I think Pi would agree with this: Because we are free to choose the meaning of what happens to us, why not choose the more empowering one for our stories. So often, we believe things that dis-empower us. In the Life of Pi, the realistic story felt terribly dis-empowering, even shameful for Pi. 

But the choice is really ours. Empowerment. That is a golden word to me. 


TSS: The Sunday Salon

It wasn't a big week for reading. I'm not quite a quarter of the way through Nicole Quigley's YA novel, Like Moonlight at Low Tide, published by Zondervan. So far, it is incredible. I'm not going to have any trouble at all finishing this book!

On Monday, I had a pow-wow with my son-in-law, who remodels bathrooms for a living. He's already remodeled the main floor bathroom, and put a huge, two-person shower in the basement bathroom, which is really more of a farmer's wash-up room. Unless people are living in the basement. But in the 32 years since we built the house, we've never remodeled the third-floor bathroom, and so it is time. I had originally planned to leave in the oversized tub, but I'm afraid now that if we re-do everything else, the tub and tile surround will look like we forgot to update it. So we're going to gut the entire bathroom and begin fresh.

On Wednesday, I went to see the movie, The Life of Pi, with some friends. I found the tiger, and all that it symbolizes, to be absolutely terrifying.

Overall, the movie was not only entertaining (and terribly scary) to watch; it was also thought provoking in a way that movies seldom are.

There were only four people in the audience. I have read only one review. The reviewer liked it, but I am wondering if American audiences aren't warming to what is decidedly an Eastern way of creating stories, and an Eastern view of life in general. Among other things, the ending wasn't wrapped up in a tidy little package like we've come to expect from our books and movies. It was more like real life.

New this week: I bought a Treadmill Desk, or reasonable facsimile, for $50. I can get some exercise and write at the same time with it. But I decided after walking for two hours at a quarter of my normal pace, that this is NOT for me.

I can work on my writing, sure, but I suspect I would've gotten a lot more done, had I been sitting at my desk. AND I would've gotten a far better workout from my typical routine, which I did on Saturday. I propped my Kindle against the Treadmill Desk, bumped the speed to 4.0 and kept it there. That's high enough to keep my heart rate in the middle zone where I like to work out. I read happily for an hour.

On Saturday evening, Mike and I went out to celebrate a holiday dinner with what's left of my original writing group. It's a group I began around 1995. Throughout the years we met, numerous people came into, and later left, it. For a while, it was only group members who went out together at Christmas time.

About four of us were still meeting in 2002, but things fell apart around that time. One of our members got a divorce and left the area. I had started working full time at the library. But three of us carried on with a variation of our Christmas tradition, adding our husbands into the mix.

So that's what my week looked like, reading, socializing and otherwise.

As to my writing, I am plugging away at getting my manuscript ready to send off to the Golden Heart contest. I had turned it into a YA romance, third person, dual viewpoints, and had my critique group read it. Someone in the group thought so much voice got sacrificed when written in third-person, dual viewpoints, that it would be better to put it back into first person. She had read a first person, single viewpoint rendition of it nearly a year ago.

I checked some YA romances and discovered that they are almost always written in first person, single viewpoint, so I spent this week converting the boyfriend's scenes--one third of the book--back into the heroine's viewpoint. Doing that, I discovered they had a lot more to clear up in the end, which this perceptive critiquer had also noted. The "making up again" scene is much longer, much better.

I also dropped about 10,000 words of subplot back into the story, which I had removed when I streamlined it into an all-romance, basically no subplot, version of the story.

All of the critique group members missed the subplots, and thought the story was much fuller and richer with them. So I am adding about 50-75% of the wordage originally devoted to subplots, back into the story.

Originally, there were parts that dragged. I'm not adding those parts back in! :)  Nor the ghost, which just didn't work at all.

I would still like to try having a ghost as a character someday. The ghost was a projection of the heroine's ego, and I was able to find other ways to convey the same information using living characters and situations instead.

How was your week?

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