Monday, July 30, 2012

New Book!

I started writing a new book today!  I finished the outline over the weekend, and today I started the manuscript.  It's exciting.  And distracting.  So this is it for my blog post today :).

I'll see you Wednesday with a new Charity of the Month.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

An Odd Surprise

Netflix created an original show last year.  They called it Lillyhammer.  It's about a mob boss who goes into witness protection and gets relocated to Lillehammer, Norway.  He CHOOSES to go there because of how beautiful it was during the Olympics.

The surprise, for me, was how well written the show is.  The acting is kinda cheesy, but in a good way.  The show is supposed to be funny.  And the production quality is professional!  It looks like a real TV show.

I only watched the first episode last night, but I wanted to watch more.  I abstained so that I could continue to watch it with my wife.  But I was tempted to simply watch all of the episodes in one sitting.  And that doesn't happen very often.

So if you have Netflix, go check it out.  If not, go get Netflix and check out the show!

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Decision on Computers

I love my Mac.  And I need a new computer.  So logically, one might assume that I'm going to buy a new Mac when it comes time to replace this worn down machine of mine.

Sadly, I can't do that.  You see, for much of what I do, I NEED a PC.  I need to format all of my manuscripts in MS Word or they don't look professional when agents open the files (to be fair, I've only had a handful of partials requested, but they looked professional!).  I COULD use MS Word for OS X, but at the same time I COULD us sewing shears to cut up chicken for enchiladas.  "But Giles," you say, "what about Pages?  That's a GREAT program, and you already use it to write ALL of your stories!"

Alas, when exporting from Pages into .doc formatting, headers, margin, line number, and even page breaks get adjusted and moved around to make it look like a deranged monkey took over the project before sending it to agents.

So here comes my decision.  Since I NEED a PC, and I'm trying to save money for my future, I've decided to buy a PC and not a Mac.  It makes me sad, it really does!  I already have a copy of Windows 7 Pro that I COULD use to dual-boot a Mac that would run OS X AND Windows, but it's still about the cost.  When looking over the technical specs of a PC vs. a Mac, I can get equivalent hardware for half the price.  And the PC (laptop) would STILL have a larger screen!

But even if it wasn't about money, I'd still be getting a PC.  As a pre-published author, I need to streamline my process, and taking an hour or two to sift through a manuscript that's been transferred (whether it's via thumb-drive or e-mail) from my Mac to my PC is simply a waste of time.  Since I work nearly 40 hours every week, I don't have a ton of free time at home.  So I need to do whatever I can to make every minute count.  By writing directly in MS Word on a PC, I'll probably halve the time it takes to prepare my manuscripts for my critique group and any agents who show interest.

And with Word on the Windows side, that would make my Mac nothing more than an expensive music library.  And let's face it: iTunes works on PCs, too.  And so does Star Trek Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Guild Wars 2.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Guest Blog: The Wifey

Due to the fact that my eyes are wonky (dilation for my eye exam), my LOVELY wife has agreed to fill in for me.  This is turning into quite an astounding week for my wife.  I think I may owe her more than a $5 bottle of wine…

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“MISS!” a student yelled across my classroom.

“Yes?” I replied.

“How do you spell ‘immediately’?”

“I-m-m, and the rest is in the dictionary.”

“Aww, come on Miss,” she whined, “How am I supposed to look up a word in the dictionary if I don’t know how to spell it?”

“Use your phonograms of course.”

What then followed was the most impressive, dramatic, and exasperated sigh you have ever heard come out of a twelve-year-old girl.

Ahh, phonograms. What is a phonogram you ask? A phonogram is a letter or combination of letters that represent a sound or sounds in a phonetic language. Up until five years ago, I was under the distinct impression that each vowel in the American English language had two sounds: a long one and a short one. Why? Because that was what I was taught. If you were raised in the phonics swing of the education movement like I was, then you were taught that the letter ‘C’ sounded like the first sound in “cat” … but then so did the letter ‘K’. The letter ‘G’ sounded like the first sound in “goat”, but then you were confronted with the word “giraffe” and, by golly, it should have started with a “J” because that letter made that sound. Confusing? Definitely!

Then in 2007, when I began my first teaching job, my world was turned wonky. I learned that ‘A’, ‘O’, and ‘U” have four distinct sounds, ‘I’ has three, and ‘E” has two. (At least they got that one right!) The letter ‘C’ has two sounds, and yes, one of them does sound like a “K”. The letter ‘G’ has two sounds, and again, yes, one of them sounds like a ‘J’.The sad thing was, I wasn’t the only one in the room to which this was a revelation.

I teach in a school that has a very large population of students who are learning English as a second language. I watch their struggle as many of them walk in the door on the first day of school knowing very little of our language. My heart breaks for these students who, for many of them, have just come into the country and can barely ask if they can use the restroom. This is why I am a firm believer in teaching students all 71 phonograms of the American English language.

Thankfully, I work in a school who believes this as well. Our Kindergarteners will have learned half of those sounds by the end of the year, and our first graders will have mastered every one of them by the end of their year. As a result our “babies”, as I call them, have the ability to decode almost any word you place in front of them with a teacher’s help.

“But,” you may be asking, ”What about sight words? Some of them do not fit into the rules!” You’re right, they don’t. Words like “the” and “of”, should probably be taught by sight. However, a child can only memorize so many words before their brain will begin to see patterns in spelling that will mislead them. For example, it is easy for a student to memorize the word ‘read’, but eventually they will be confronted with the word ‘read’. If they understand that the phonogram ‘ea’ has three different sounds, they can use those sounds to understand the difference between “I will read a book” versus “I have read a book”.

I was once told that if you can spell a word, you’ll always be able to read it. However, just because you can read a word, does not mean that you will be able to spell it. I know The Husband has talked before about the importance of grammar and the structure of writing, but don’t forget the extreme basics of our language: the sounds that create it!

Monday, July 16, 2012

My AWESOME Wife

My wife is AWESOME.  You see, on our way home from San Diego we stopped at Vegas for the night.  The minute we got into the hotel room, my glasses broke.  First off, my wife braved the unfamiliar city of Las Vegas to help me get tape to keep the earpiece on well enough to see while we walked down the strip.

Unfortunately, the glasses didn't sit straight on my face.  That meant I couldn't see well.  Which made it dangerous to drive.  So my awesomely stupendous wife drove the ENTIRE way from Vegas to my home in Denver in ONE DAY.  Thirteen hours behind the wheel while I can't see straight, and my glasses are making my eyes water.

I heard stories of women in the pioneer days surviving great odds that destroyed big, strong men.  They made it through long journeys with the stamina and willpower it takes to give birth while their husbands wussed out under a fallen log, or something.

Long story short, my wife is awesome, and everyone should know it!  Give her a HUGE round of applause because I wouldn't have made it home without her!  :D

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Guest Blog: Hanna C. Howard on Her Process

I wrote about my writing process a while ago, and you can find that post here.  But Hanna C. Howard has a very different process, and I thought it would be helpful to share that with you today.  She's been kind enough to write a post describing how she writes.  So say "hello" to Hanna, and absorb some wisdom!

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When Giles asked me to write about my writing process—from conception to final edit—it did not at first occur to me to quail. Of course! I thought robustly. I’ve done it enough times, it ought to be easy enough to discuss.

Ought to be.

Weeeelll, we all know that sometimes the things that ought to be easy are really nowhere near that. When it came down to writing this post, I realized that my “process,” as it were, is really just a mixed up series of fumbles in the dark that somehow, inexplicably, lead to a finished novel.

I’ll explain, but be forewarned: these steps are not to be undertaken by the organized, the sensible, or the timid of heart. For anyone who likes to begin massive undertakings with a Real Plan in mind, this strategy will undoubtedly cause considerable distress.

How to Write a Novel the Hard Way 
by Hanna C. Howard

Step One: Find or Formulate Your Idea


This step is all very well in theory. Ideas are a dime a dozen, after all. But I tend to turn starry-eyed and dreamy here, and before long my mind has given itself over to visions of glossy hardcover books on the bestseller shelf at Barnes & Noble. So Step 1.2 would be: Get a grip on yourself and start thinking how such an idea might turn into a story that works.

Step Two: Outline Your Plot

At this point it is absolutely necessary for me to delude myself into believing that the elements I have imagined up so far do in fact make my story work. I suffer from Extreme Illogic, but I can’t let that disability entangle me so early in the game, or I’ll never get anywhere. So, pretending that my ideas are infallible and nothing short of genius, I proceed to a rough outline of the story, which begins in great detail, and quickly tapers to vague approximations as I realize that I must get to know my characters before I do anything more.

Step Three: Do Character Studies

I usually abandon the first plot outline midway because I am too excited about my character studies to focus any more on the plot. This is much the easiest step in the process, and it can go many different ways. The simplest is this: Open a fresh word document for each of your main characters. Either from your own mind or by means of the Internet, compile a list of personality and history questions to apply to your characters, and then answer them according to each. You may go into as much depth here as you wish, and if it helps you, go to Google or Pinterest and find a photo or portrait to represent each character as well. Insert these pictures into the corresponding word documents. You can refer back to these studies later, to see how much your characters have defied you and become their own people, no matter what you may have said about them in the beginning.   

Step Four: Write or Intricately Outline Your First Draft

This step varies depending on whether you are a Plotter or a Pantser. If you’re me, it varies depending on your mood and level of inspiration. While I do like to have an idea of where I’m going, I also like a fair amount of free-writing, so often I use this step to outline in a bit greater detail before delving in to the actual draft. I mentioned before that I tend to abandon stages halfway through; this is another step that frequently suffers my caprice. Typically I begin an outline that is extremely detailed, and carry on with such impatience that I sprint-outline into a kind of mental fog that even I can’t pretend is clearheaded genius. I defy my plot or character befuddlement (invariably a result of a lack of planning) by ceasing the outline in favor of an actual draft. For the rest of the first draft, I switch between the two, sometimes taking grudging breaks to work out the problems too big to bluff my way around.

Step Five: Revise/ Write Your Second Draft

This step is very painful. To spare us all, I won’t say much about it, except that it is the one that most often causes me to question my sanity. (“Why the bloody hell did I think that made sense??”) This stage is also very time-consuming, as you might often find you need a break from it in order to patch up your battered self-confidence. If your brain does not explode before you finish, you may advance to step six.

Step Six: Swallow Your Pride and Give it to (a) Reader(s)

Depending on your preferences, you may choose to give your manuscript to between one and one-hundred readers; although the experience of letting one-hundred pairs of eyes anywhere near a MS so young and tender would be well beyond my personal ability to bear. I learned with my last book that my lucky number is somewhere around three. More than that and I start feeling like a boggart confronted by a crowd—which person should I listen to?—and end up with a disjointed and thoroughly not-my-own MS that gives me a headache just to think about.

Step Seven: Fix It

If, at this point, you can take some time away from the book, do. Time helps. I am very, very bad at taking time away unless I have quarreled with the MS in question, and so I tend to throw myself into revisions without thinking them through completely. This usually leads to another trip through the land of Dense Mental Fog. Once I struggle out of it, I often elbow my way to the end of this revision and tell myself it is ready for querying.

Step Eight: Polish to Perfection

Or, if you’re me, query, get rejected, and realize that you still have more work to do. Then do the work, and FINALLY (with the levelheaded consent of your most trusted reader) advance to what I consider the best step of all: Polishing. This involves making your MS shiny and glittery and gorgeous. It is sentence-tweaking, and diction-changing, and generally beautifying the prose. But as someone once said, there’s no point polishing a turnip, so make sure you’re MS’s structure and foundation are sound before you start making it pretty.

Once you’ve done all this, you will have in your possession a completed manuscript. Of course, there’s  no knowing how long it will remain “completed,” because an artist is rarely satisfied with his or her work—and agents are hard to seduce—but you will at least have a very good and sound foundation to build on. And if you can manage it without becoming ensnared by mental fog, faulty logic, and emotional exhaustion… well, I’ll try not to hate you too much.

Monday, July 09, 2012

5 Movies Every Writer Should Watch

I wouldn't call these the top five movies of all time, but if you want great inspiration for great story-telling, you should watch these movies:

 Brave: I know this movie JUST came out, but it was GREAT!  The dialogue, emotional connection to the protagonist, and the pacing of the story are textbook examples of how every writer should plot their books.  If you haven't seen it yet, go out and watch it as soon as possible!
 Finding Forrester: This is one of my favorite films.  I saw it right when it came out on DVD, and it's actually the first movie I ever OWNED on DVD.  If you don't know, this is the story of a young man in the inner city who is struggling to get out of his neighborhood.  With the help of a Pulitzer Prize winning agoraphobic, he sharpens his craft and gets the chance to make something of his life.
High Fidelity: What Top 5 list would be complete without this film?  It's a movie based off of Nicholas Hornby's book by the same name, and it's about a record collector/record-store owner who is learning to cope with the fact that every girl he's ever been with has rejected him.  It's funny, geeky, and it's filled with quotable lines!  And it's my favorite movie of all time.
Lucky Number Slevin: This is a great movie, with plot twists that would make O'Henry's head spin.  A classic case of mistaken identity drags Slevin Kalevra into a gang war between to crime bosses who are desperate to keep their cold war from escalating.  Don't stop watching, though: you'll never see the end coming!
Ocean's 11: I love this movie.  I love the dialogue, the pacing of the plot, the unseen movement of the players in the story.  It's a great model for any writer who wants to see how a clever, intriguing mystery should be plotted out.














And that's it.  There are many more movies that can be inspirational to the writer's mind, but these are the top 5 that I recommend.  What about you?  What movies inspire you to write?

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Guest Post: Angela Brown on Motivation

Today I'd like to welcome Angela Brown to High Aspirations.  She's been kind enough to fill in for me this Wednesday, and she's going to discuss why she writes!  So thank you, Angela, for celebrating your Independence Day with us.  And to my delightful readers, feel free to say "Hi" in the comments :).  And Happy Independence Day!

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Every job is NOT for every person. Picture this job description:

Must be willing to dedicate all manner of ungodly hours towards writing stories, alpha
and beta critiquing that make each story bleed red ink until repeat revisions and edits
make it pristine, online and in-your-face networking, idea generating at the drop of a
hat, handle multiple rejections before getting the story to the readers then handle the
roller coaster of positive-lukewarm-and-down-right-could-you-hate-me-more reviews
by complete strangers with no concept of the sacrifices made to get the story to them.

Yeah.

Sound appealing?

Maybe so. But that job description above? That's what I'm really aiming for.

Serious. That's what I want to do most. It's the job description for - wait for it...

Writing!!

Reading captured my interest at an early age. I was a Judy Blume kid. Then Tolkien
stole my heart. Escaping into other worlds, running off on some whirlwind adventure,
those were things that soothed me, excited me. I did some writing and journaling
from elementary on up through high school, but got caught up in a lot of life as I got
older. I returned to writing with semi-seriousness around 2006. Even attended my
first Agents and Editors Writers Conference in Austin, TX that year. The last few
years I've gotten ultra serious about it.

It's been difficult, sometimes discouraging. But when I cut off my delusions
of grandeur, trimmed away the idea of an easy road to publication and asked
myself, "Why the dickens do I do this?", my characters answered for me. They
reminded me of the joy I experienced as a reader. Times I cuddled up with a good
book and refused to go to sleep until I devoured the last word. Then they reminded
me that they have stories to share. Some reader out there might find their tale
enjoyable, delightful, maybe even heart-breaking. But the reader won't get to find out
if I don't write it.

So I write. I write because my passion for storytelling won't let me do
otherwise. Working to make writing my livelihood is a HUGE motivator, especially
with wanting to upgrade from "full time employed single mom with a dream"
to "single mom and published author". But it's my passion that sustains me.

I write YA fantasy/sci-fi. My current WiP is a byproduct of April's A to Z blogging
challenge, an upper YA paranormal romance titled NEVERLOVE. Currently, I'm in
the "Must be willing to dedicate all manner of ungodly hours towards writing stories"
section of the job description.

And I'm okay with it.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Charity of the Month: The Salvation Army

This month I'm featuring the Salvation Army as the Charity of the Month.  As you know, my state is burning, and by clicking here, you can help provide relieve for the hundreds of men, women, and children who lost their homes to the fires spreading through the state.

Thank you for your generosity.  I'll see you on Wednesday!