Listen. Think. Speak. Write.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Spirit of Christmas ... Eve

I've always preferred Christmas Eve to the actual day.  One of the best things about holidays is the whole notion of "tradition" something I adore. Growing up, we spent Christmas Eve with my mom's side of the family: Grandma Pauline, Aunt Jeannie, and Uncle Butch. We ate overcooked ham, so dry you needed a steak knife to saw through it and opened loads of presents bought with money saved all year in the Christmas savings club at the bank.  Of course, back then, I never appreciated the value. I just loved the presents … and the people, two of whom are no longer with us.

That tradition is long gone, but we've forged new ones. Candelight service at church, going out to dinner at the Olive Garden, and driving around to look at Christmas lights.   As it always was, the day is about family, perhaps even more so than Christmas day, which dawns with chaos.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Believing is Seeing

Yesterday, Grace stood next to me in the kitchen.  Every few seconds she laughed inexplicably. I raised my eyebrow at her.  She laughed again. As I stirred her Ramen, the nervous laughter disappeared.

"Mom, is Santa real?"

Quick.  Hit the stop button. Rewind.  Anything that would take me away from that moment. I was not ready.  Everything in her face told me that every possible cute answer I might give was going to fail.  Still, I threw a Hail Mary.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ideas can be overwhelming.

It's the first Wednesday of the month, and I haven't participated in Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writer's Group in a while, so I decided it was time.

The biggest fear for so many authors is writer's block.  What do you do when you're stuck?  For me, another problem hits me hardest.  What to do when you have too many ideas and not enough time to develop them?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Writing Conference Debriefing

A couple of weeks ago, I attended my second writing conference, and I promised I would process that experience here.  I'm going to walk through some lessons I've learned and offer advice based on my very limited experience.

Conferences have cultures.
It probably shouldn't have come as a surprise to me that writing conferences could have such different feels to them, but it did.  It probably stood out because both conferences were SCBWI regional events and within the same general geographic region.  The first conference I attended a year ago was a full weekend event, including two nights, which afforded a significant amount of time for socializing.  I interacted with agents and editors in that informal environment, and I even made friends in the process.  However, I might argue that the sessions were also looser as a result, with less emphasis on the information and more on the networking.  The second conference was very much the opposite. The schedule was packed. If I hadn't been meeting up with a friend from the previous conference, I don't know that I would have talked with anyone there.  However, the sessions were stronger, and I felt like I learned more throughout the one day than I had in the entire weekend the year before.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Some good news on the writing front.

I have exciting news to share. I've had a piece published in a small literary magazine called, The Corner Club Press. In a world where rejection reigns, I'm so grateful for successes of any size. To write something and have someone like it enough to want to share it with others is a truly joyful thing.  This short story titled, "More Than a Little," will publish in another journal later.

I'm always hyper-critical of my own work, so I take no offense if it isn't your cup of tea, but if you have a minute, and you'd like to check it out, it's available for free reading.  This journal is newer, and I thank the editors for their support and interest. 

Now, excuse me while I do a little happy dance before moving back into my self-deprecation mode.

Monday, November 14, 2011

When losing is winning

For the past couple of weeks, I'd set the alarm at five to push through as many words as possible in hopes of once again successfully completing NaNoWriMo. I'd looked forward to receiving that "winner" badge all year, and I'd known what novel I'd write for ages.  My daughter had been begging for a sequel to last year's Nano Project.  All was going well.  Technically, it still is.  I may not have been 100%  happy with my plot, but I was on target to "win" a week early.  This was a huge accomplishment in and of itself because I hadn't been writing much, and I was pleased I could still produce something ... anything.  Plus, I found new ideas crept in when I wasn't looking, and I drafted another "Potential Projects" list.

Then, I went to an SCBWI-IL event, Prairie Writer's Day, and I had a wonderful experience which is going to make me a loser.  I sat through two sessions where first pages were read and editors/agents reacted.  I was fortunate enough to receive honest and useful feedback from Molly O'Neill and Stacey Barney. During another insightful session Ms. O'Neill read pages from some of the work she's edited and then followed up by reading from first drafts which authors were willing to share.  Suddenly, a lightbulb went on, and I knew what I had to do with both of my completed projects, including the one I claimed I was about to trunk--and it involves a re-write. I knew it was coming; I just didn't have a vision.  Until now.

So, I've decided to put my 25K+ Nano words aside in an effort to capitalize on my motivation and capture the flowing ideas on paper. 

Have I mentioned I'm competitive?  I don't like failing Nano.  But at the same time, I know that this is absolutely a winning situation.  So, I accept my Loser Trophy with pride as I set my sites on a new goal. 

Sometimes changing course mid-stream is the best thing to do.  Any experiences where changing goals worked out in your favor?  College major?  Career?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Guest Post: Susan Kaye Quinn: Write First, Then Outline

It's a Virtual Launch Party for Susan Kaye Quinn's  Open Minds!!!

Write First, Then Outline - Wait, That's Backwards?
by Susan Kaye Quinn

Drafting my paranormal/SF teen novel Open Minds (Book One of the Mindjack Trilogy) was hardly a straight-line process. When I finished (the second time), I took a break from the story and worked on other projects. I had a nagging sense that the story in Open Minds wasn’t quite right. It had all the elements of right, but it wasn’t really there yet.

So I embarked on a self-directed study of the craft of storytelling. I read bestselling novels, studying them and analyzing their structure (see my analysis of Hunger Games). I started reading books on screenwriting (see my review of Robert McKee’s Story), discovering that screenwriters were like novelists without all the words. They had worked out the art of storytelling, beat by beat and had no problem with owning the ancient formulas for telling a story. One of my greatest insights on how, in the right hands, storytelling formulas could produce a masterpiece that was anything but formulaic came when I saw the movie How to Train Your Dragon. It was based on a book that was almost completely unrelated to the movie. In other words, the screenwriters had taken a character or two, the setting, and completely rewritten the story. It was a middle grade animated kids movie about dragons and I cried repeatedly, cheered, and saw it about 5 times. 

I'm not even a fan of dragons (*ducks from fruit thrown by dragon lovers*).

But that movie was brilliant! And armed with Snyder's Beat Sheet and McKee's insights into moving an audience, I could finally see why. It wasn't a lightbulb going on, it was an entire outdoor stadium lightbank blasting my mind.

So I outlined what I had of Open Minds, realized it was a hot mess, recrafted a new outline and got busy with writing. There were still several drafts ahead of me, but finally I had the writerly tools I needed to carve out the story that Kira really deserved.

What had come before was just the beginning. I soon realized that not only had I forgotten to write the second half of the novel the first time around, but there was, in fact, a whole trilogy to this story. I am now writing Closed Hearts (Book Two of the Mindjack Trilogy)—after a flurry of hyper plotting—and will be writing The Third Book Which Shall Remain Nameless after that.
And this time, I already know how it ends. :)


When everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep.
Sixteen-year-old Kira Moore is a zero, someone who can’t read thoughts or be read by others. Zeros are outcasts who can’t be trusted, leaving her no chance with Raf, a regular mindreader and the best friend she secretly loves. When she accidentally controls Raf’s mind and nearly kills him, Kira tries to hide her frightening new ability from her family and an increasingly suspicious Raf. But lies tangle around her, and she’s dragged deep into a hidden world of mindjackers, where having to mind control everyone she loves is just the beginning of the deadly choices before her.

Open Minds (Book One of the Mindjack Trilogy) by Susan Kaye Quinn is available for $2.99 in e-book (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords) and $9.99 in print (Amazon, Createspace).

The Story of Open Minds (linked posts)



Susan Kaye Quinn is giving away an Open Books/Open Minds t-shirt, mug, and some fun wristbands to celebrate the Virtual Launch Party of Open Minds (Book One of the Mindjack Trilogy)! (Check out the prizes here.)

Three ways to enter (you can have multiple entries):

1)      Leave a comment here or at the Virtual Launch Party post

2)      Tweet (with tag #keepingOPENMINDS)

Example: When everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep. #keepingOPENMINDS @susankayequinn #SF #YA avail NOW

Example: Celebrate the launch of OPEN MINDS by @susankayequinn #keepingOPENMINDS #SciFi #paranormal #YA avail NOW

3)     Facebook (tag @AuthorSusanKayeQuinn)

Example: Celebrate the launch of paranormal/SF novel OPEN MINDS by @AuthorSusanKayeQuinn for a chance to win Open Books/Open Minds prizes!


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Nano Plotting and Life Stages?

I love all the blog posts about NaNoWriMo strategy. Twitter is abuzz. Kick off parties are scheduled. Writing buddies are connecting. My favorite post of the week was one by Martha Alderson on Lia Keyes' blog. How to Plot Your Writing Time During the Month of November looks at how to plan word count goals around the Universal Story/major story development points. Based on her book, The Plot Whisperer, Alderson offers excellent advice for writers. 

But enough about writing ... for now. What does this have to do with life stages? I love stories. I adore a great story arc. I get so excited to teach storytelling in Public Speaking class and to watch students come alive. Our lives are filled with so many stories. Some we tell frequently. Others we guard.  But looking at the concept of a Universal Story with its five parts, I started thinking about one's entire life as a story. Anderson divides the story into these components:

Energetic Markers

End of the Beginning Scene

The Halfway Point Scene

The Crisis

The Climax

My heart sank. I'm at roughly the halfway point of my life story (I hope). The crisis yet to come? What the heck?  I though my beginning scenes were pretty full of them. But then my heart climbed back into its rightful place. The climax doesn't come until the end. Of course! I drill in my students all the time how important it is to wrap up quickly after the climax because you just bore your audience after that.  Now, I'm smiling. I've been feeling old. A little washed up. Wondering what's left.  Oh goodness, look at that.  I'm still in the rising conflict mode.  That's scary and thrilling at the same time.  There's still so much story to tell, and clearly, the moral still awaits discovery. 

Yesterday, when I went for volunteer training at a local nursing home, a man in a wheelchair greeting me with, "Hello, young lady."  Perspective. A good time to take stock of where I am in my story.  Where are you?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Liebster Award

I'm very excited to announce that Gail Shephard has bestowed my little Vociferous blog with a Liebster Award, which is designed to honor up and coming blogs with fewer than 200 followers.  I love Gail's blog, and I'm really looking forward to getting to know her better.

A fun aspect of the award is that I get to pass it on to five other blogs that meet the same criteria, and I really enjoyed thinking about which bloggers give me the most joy each week.  I think other writers, in particular, will really love the perspective they bring, so be sure to check them out.

1. From Prose to Pulp where J.S. Schley gives amazing tips and reading picks.
2. In Which I battle Words, where Ang Helm takes you on her writing journey.
3. Victim of Writing, where Tiffany Garner shares her honest thoughts.
4. Story Gems where Marlene Cronkhite, my long time critique group partner posts samples of her writing.
5. The Ink Pond, where Tia Svardahl always keeps me motivated.

Awardees, you get to pass the award on now!  Have fun!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


The leaves here are  past peak and falling fast. Winter waits in the wings. I feel its presence in the wind as it steals glimpses from behind the curtain. As I walked past the thermostat in the house this morning, I did a double take. One degree away from turning on the heat. I greeted the obvious metaphor with a laugh. Yes, when it gets colder, we must turn on the heat. Feel free to take a moment to groan, and then join me in the next paragraph.

I feel it on a personal level. Life has grown a little stagnant, frozen. It’s pretty common at my age. It’s not that life doesn’t present plenty of challenges and opportunities to learn, but I spent more of my days reacting than acting. Time to seek positive change, to figure out how to thaw, so to speak. I’m going to start volunteering more, for example.  I sent in my application yesterday. It's just one little thing, but I'm going to add more.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

In Training

This is my first post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. I'm really loving this resource.

It is almost impossible for me to believe that it’s less than a month until the next NanoWriMo. Blogs, Twitter feeds, etc. are all starting to buzz.  The goal is to write at least 50K words of a novel in one month.  The last two years I was anxious for November 1st. I knew what I was going to write, and though I’m something in between a pantser and a preparer, I had my outlines under way at least. I met the goal with no problems and even had days to spare.

Friday, September 30, 2011

What's in your trunk?

I am close to putting my first novel away in that proverbial trunk.  It's had a good run.  The concept has been met with enthusiasm, including plenty of requests to read more material, but despite many edits, I'm not sure it's there. Since I can't wrap my head around what "there" would be at this point, it just might be time to tuck it away.  I'm not alone.  Plenty of writers have done the same and have lived to blog about it.

I enjoyed reading these two perspectives on lessons learned from their trunked novels.

Friday, September 23, 2011


An measure of interpersonal communication satisfaction I use in class asks people to rate how comfortable they are in various communication situations. One such situation is giving feedback to a friend who has asked you to read his or her writing.  Do you see where this is going?

But we'll get to that in a second.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


"It's just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . ."

Last week, I finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.. I know. I know. I should have read it years ago.  For some reason it never rose to the top of my to be read pile, but I was determined. Something told me I had to read this book.

This was my very short review on Goodreads

I am sure I should attempt to give some kind of detail here, but I've spent the last few days immersed in the most masterful use of words I think I've ever read. I have no idea how a review could possibly convey what I feel right now.

Unquestionably, this book now ranks in my top five reads of all time.  

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Choose active over passive

The other day my four year old asked my husband, “What do you live for?” I heard him answer, “I never expected that question from you so soon.” Then he called out for me, “How would you answer?” I’m not sure it was truly a deep existential question from her perspective, but of course, we answered as if it were.  I provided a laundry list of beautiful things I’d experienced that morning. He talked about joy and family.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been questioning whether my time spent writing/querying/etc. is worth it. It’s a hobby, right? I even wondered about reading. Why do I love getting caught up in other people’s stories? Why spend hours living through someone else? 

The short answer is I learn from reading. Writing teaches me, too.

This morning I wrote a letter to Grace—I keep a file for each kid on my hard drive filled with life lessons and observations.  I closed the letter with this:

Try new things. Love some; hate some. Laugh a lot. Cry when you need to, and even if you just want to. Run, walk, dance, sing, read, write, watch, listen, smile, yell. Fill your life with verbs. Make them active verbs.

Ah yes, writing teaches me how to live. And living teaches me how to write.  If you need a little inspiration, here's a list of active verbs. They might come in handy for writing ... or living.

For fun, what's your favorite verb?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Judging a book by its cover

I’ve been so jealous of friends who that their hands on ARC’s, and I recently won a copy of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. I won’t do a full review here, though I’m trying to put one together for Goodreads.  My head is still swimming a bit. This morning, I sit here staring at the cover, and I can’t help think about the old phrase, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” I wonder what prompts me to buy a book.  Not when friends have recommended or it’s a choice for a book club, but when I’m browsing, and I just can’t stop myself from clicking buy. I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I fall for a great hook and a good cover every time. 

Here’s the copy from the back of the book:

Mara Dyer doesn’t think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.  It can.

She believes there must be more the accident she can’t remember that killed her friends and left her mysteriously unharmed. There is.

She doesn’t believe that after everything she’s been through, she can fall in love. She’s wrong.

And the cover … it’s really lovely with amazing subtext.  

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Knowing versus Believing

How will I know? How do you know? Songs and movies all ask the question which implies a simple answer.  Betty Everett and Cher said, “It’s in his kiss.” According to Whitney Houston, you’ll feel shy and week (need to resist conducting critical analysis of those lyrics right now).  

I’m less concerned about the asking the question that begins a relationship; instead, I’m focusing on the end.

“How do you know when something is finished?”

Monday, August 8, 2011

A great opportunity!

If you've got a full manuscript, you might want to check out this micro synopsis contest! I like this agent a lot, and he seems really responsive, so have at it.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Time of Your Life

Time is what we want most, but... what we use worst.  ~William Penn

I am completely stealing this week’s blog from my fellow writer and motivational partner, Tia. She wrote a great piece about the value of time. I admit that I am a little obsessed with time—just ask my kids how often they hear, “Hurry up, we’re going to be late,” even though we pretty much never are.  

On the first day of public speaking every semester, I ask students who the best and worst speakers they ever saw were, and I put a list of characteristics up on the board.  I never name names on my worst, but I tell them the worst thing you can do when speaking to me is waste my time. I cannot stand when people read me a handout, for example, when I could just as easily read it myself.

That isn’t to say I don’t throw away plenty of hours even in a single day, but such a priceless commodity commands more respect. Sometimes, I even wonder about the value of my writing time. If I didn’t write, I’d have more time, for sure, but how would I spend the “extra” time if not writing? Of course, perception matters.  Another person could perceive everything I do to be a waste of time and vice versa.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Everyone's a critic. Be more responsive to it.

Everyone faces criticism; it’s one of life’s inevitabilities. School, work, relationships, and of course, fellow drivers all like to let us know we’re doing something wrong. Not all criticism is the same.  Sometimes, it feels more personal, but other times, you simply care less about the message being given. When teaching complaint behavior in Interpersonal Communication, we note that complaints regarding one’s performance and personal characteristics are harder to accept.  For example, if I say, “You didn’t do the dishes,” that’s less problematic than “You suck at doing the dishes” or “You’re a messy person.”

I find that once I’ve proven myself in an area, I’m less apt to be ruffled by negative comments.  I’ve been teaching a long time.  That does not mean I’m a perfect teacher, but by and large I know my strengths and weaknesses.  I don’t worry that negative feedback there will throw me off balance or call into question my choice of profession.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Parenting and Writing, Birds of a Feather

Today is my daughter’s tenth birthday. I’ll spare you the complete emotional melt down, but please allow me one moment of freakout.  HOW IN THE HECK CAN SHE BE TEN? SHE WAS JUST BORN YESTERDAY! Whew, okay, I feel better, now. Here we both a decade ago--ah youth. 

Everyone either knows or has read about how motherhood changes a person—how much your life revolves around that little dependent being.  How your self-esteem suddenly deflates when a baby doesn’t sleep or swells when she can write her name.  

This week, a friend reminded me of a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I’ve only had a brief chance to peruse it, but I was struck by how her writing lessons mirrored parenting lessons—perhaps some lessons are just generally important in life.

She writes, “Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it.”  I laughed a little at this one.  I’ve written plenty of things that turned out to be pure crap, but I didn’t know that at the time.  Likewise, a select few things haven’t been all bad, but I didn’t realize it in the process, either.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My Favorite Books So Far This Year

As crazy as it sounds, we’re half way through the year.  Do you need a second to process that?  A good time to assess progress in various areas.  Since I’m smack dab in the middle of what I’ve deemed “the best summer ever” I’m staying light this week. 
I glanced at my list of books read so far in 2011, and I decided to share my top three. By walking through why I enjoyed these novels, it gave me a chance to reflect on some things in my current works in progress that may need tweaking. Heck, it might also add to your summer reading list.  It probably won’t surprise you that they are all YA.  I’ve listed the books in the order I read them. Now, of course, I'm behind in reading and writing, and I'm anxious to put these lessons to work for me.
Tricia’s Top Teen Picks

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Shelly Watters' 1st Page Contest

I am posting the first 250 pages (a prologue procedes, but I typically do not include it in queries) here for critique as part of Shelly Watters' First Page Contest. Feel free to critique away.  I am open. 

Title:              FIGMENT
Genre:            Middle-Grade
Word Count:  60,000

Friday, June 24, 2011

How to win when you lose

At some point I’ll get over my need to post about failure and rejection—most likely after a little success. For now, the topic is still fresh in my mind.  I’m constantly trying to put perspective on both life and writing failures. 
I have already admitted to being a goal-setter and a list-maker.  I probably still have notebooks somewhere in the attic detailing everything I planned to accomplish in my life.  I am also just a teensy bit (read enormously) competitive. My biggest competitor is myself. As I mentioned in another post, I set arbitrary goals for myself, which are often a little unrealistic, and I’m a damn sore loser.  
Last weekend I competed in my first 5K race. In the days leading up to the big day, I kept shrinking my goal time, and I increased my desired placement in my age group from top 10 to top 5. I failed.  I ended up 6th. 
This weekend my daughter competed in her dance nationals.  She might be slightly (read almost exactly) like me. When she missed one move in an otherwise spectacular team performance, she cried in the dressing room after. However, she did teach me something as well. She never told me what her goal was for her solo (and yes, of course, winning isn’t the most important thing, and the emphasis is on fun, but remember she’s like me—goals and competitiveness are in her blood). After she received a platinum rating and a 4th place ranking, she was so giddy and such a natural high, I never would have guessed she had actually failed her goal. It turns out she was going for 3rd.  One away, just like me.
One person’s failure is usually someone else’s success. No brainer, right?  If someone else wins, I lose.  It’s more than that, though.  Other people are out there setting goals. Whatever I achieve that I perceive to be a failure might be exactly what another person would have considered success. 
I still believe in the goals, though.  I will continue to set them to high.  I will probably fail a lot as a result. Disappointment will follow.   Maybe I can teach my daughter not to be so hard on herself and maybe I can learn to find joy in the failure, too.
If you need some inspiration, here’s a little bit of Shania, just because I love her.  You watch.  I’m going to go run because next year, I’m going for top 5.
Today is Your Day