Thursday, September 29, 2011

Horrible Beginnings

Have you heard about the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest? It's held in honor of Edward Greorge Bulwer-Lytton author of the infamous first line: It was a dark and story night.

Here's the whole thing in it's awful glory.
"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

--Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)
This contest invites writers to do their worst and write horribly bad beginnings. They're allowed one sentence. And boy are there some, ahem, winners.

My friend Angela and I spent a riotous half-hour coming up with something...wrong. At least we tried. Then our line became a few. And the few gave birth to snort-educing laughter, well on my part at least--Angela did not snort because she is way too cool to snort. Just saying.

So, without further ado, here is our horrible beginning:

Bernard pushed open the men’s bathroom door and was surprised to find a female leaning over the toilet, elbow deep in the water. She pulled her arm out to lift the strap of her denim overalls back onto her shoulder.

“Hey baby,” Bernard said, “if you were a booger, I’d pick you.”

The brunette pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose, leaving a brown smear and smiled back, revealing a hole where her front teeth should have been. She dropped the pipe wrench into her bag and replaced the plunger at the side of the toilet. The scent of her rose to meet his nostrils like the green stench of a toddler’s morning diaper. She wiped her dripping hand across the front of her flannel shirt, smudging the name on her badge: Anita P. Oop.

She winked. “Not if I picked you first.”

Now, this isn't for the contest, it's for fun...and maybe for a writing class my friend is taking, but wow, was it a blast to write. The most interesting thing for me was I kept automatically editing it, you know, trimming out excess adverbs and adjectives and stuff like that. I had to remind myself to let them stay. It was supposed to be bad.

I can't tell you how happy that made me. Why? Because I don't think I would have done that a year or two ago. I wouldn't have realized it was bad. Kaching!

Maybe we need to write something bad on purpose to realize that we are all making progress. So, go out and write your own horrible beginning and post it in the comments. I can't wait to snort some more. He he he.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


So, just in case you didn't know, writing is hard. It's lonely. It takes years and so, so many drafts. And it's hard. My friends often look at me and can't understand why I sit at the computer for hours and days at a time. Heck, I don't really understand it myself. But! Sometimes friends provide awesome inspiration.

I recently participated in a novel exchange with three amazing writers. It was fun to wait and anticipate their reactions to my book, but it was even better to read their books.

As I read every story I found myself energized--wanting to write more on my current draft. I wanted to become better, to craft words and worlds like the ones I was reading. Their stories elevated me in a way reading a book off a bookstore shelf couldn't.


Because these women are just like me, ordinary people trying to break into the universe of published authors. And I know them. And they rock. Which makes me believe that maybe, just maybe, I can rock, too.

So, thanks for the inspiration and the hope you gave me by writing great books, and for investing in mine. You all truly do rock. :)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

You've Got What In Your Pants?

My very good friend, Friend A, decided to trim her trees. Now, this sounds like a semi-safe activity. You have the normal dangers: saws, falling branches, allergies to work and tree stuff, and...sweat. But, did you know there are hidden dangers in tree trimming?

Yes there are.

Friend A clipped and sawed, pruned and primped her trees, and the whole time leaves and twigs rained down on her. They pelted her hair, scratched her face, and lodged in her shirt. Yes, down her shirt and into her pants. Have you ever had leafy twigs in your pants? Let's just say, POKEY.

One of these twigs kept stabbing her thigh as Friend A trimmed. She pulled at her pants. Then she pinched at her pants. Then she did a shimmy intended to send the offending twig down to her toes. Nope. Twigs don't dislodge that easily when they are stuck in your pants.

Determined to finish her trimming, my friend sawed and clipped on. But that darn twig kept poking her. Poking twigs hurt, so she pulled her pant leg up and tried once more to get it out. As she rolled her pants up, she saw the vibrant green of a leaf and yanked it out.

Aha! Success.

Well, partly.

Half of it broke off, leaving the poking part stuck in her pants. And suddenly it poked a lot more. In fact it felt a lot like being bit. Repeatedly.

Friend A looked at the half-leaf in her hand. And. It. Had. Legs. The legs, attached to the half-BODY, kicked and squirmed. And the body part oozed yellow stuff.

Let's just say Friend A screamed. There may have been a fair amount of jumping, too. Then she ran into the house and stripped down. The upper part of the leaf bug still gripped her thigh, biting. Biting. Biting.

There was more screaming.

And some slapping.

And stomping.

And a shower.

And shuddering.

And some heeby jeebies.

And one heck of a good story.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, like in life, a good story has twists and turns and unexpected events. You have to have figurative leaf bugs stuck in your pants--or at least in your character's pants. Think of all the fun you can have imagining up ways to torment your characters. Mwahahahaha.

Now, stop blog surfing and go write!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Knowing What You Like and Writing What You Know

Every reader knows what they like. Even young readers know. They might not be able to put it into words, but they know it when they see it. It just plain resonates with them. Let me give you an example that has nothing to do with writing or reading. And yes, it will make sense by the end of this post.

A couple of days ago my hubby and I took Kid A out to eat for her seventeenth birthday. While we were out partying, my sweet neighbor tended our other three children. Now, for those of you new to this blog, my two boys--Kids B and C--are mentally disabled. While they are teenagers in body, they are about eight developmentally and have limited speech.

My friend, who is amazing and awesome, entertained my kids all night. Toward the end of the evening they took an interest in the family portrait hanging in her front room. She had quite the conversation with them about it that went something like this:

Awesome friend(hereafter known as AF): Do you know who those people are?

Kid B and C: Yes.

AF, pointing at herself in the picture: Who's that?

Kids: You.

AF: Right. Who's this?

Kids: Husband.

It went like this through each family member until they reached her super cute teenage daughter. Then it went like this:

AF: And who's this?

Kid C, leaning in closer: Very nice!

I giggled myself silly when I heard this story. What can I say, Kid C knows something good when he sees it. He knows what he likes.

It's the same in a book. It doesn't take a reader 250 pages to decide they like something. Stories don't grow on people like moss. Readers know within the first page or two if it is their kind of thing.

What does that mean for a writer? It means you need to know what you like, too. And then write it. You have to enjoy your own story. If it bores you, it will but the reader into a coma. And just in case you are confused, coma is only one step better than dead. Killing or otherwise maiming/incapacitating your reader is bad.

We spend so much time as writers trying to craft the perfect story, trying to mold it to fit an editor or agent's preference. We try to write their kind of story. Why? We need to be more like Kid C and write the kind of book that will make us say, "Very nice!" That enthusiasm will show in our words, and then someone else might just say the same thing.

Now go have fun writing your kind of story.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Fresh Peach Pie and Joining My High School Alumni Glee Squad

I made fresh peach pie last night. For some things there are words, really good ones, for others there aren't--except maybe yummmmmmmm. Peach pie is what dreams are made from. I know, I ate three pieces. Triple yummmmmmm. It may also be what diets are born from. I'll get back to you on that one.

I also know what breeds nightmares, because I had a real winner last night. In my dream I joined my high school's alumni glee squad. Just so you know, my high school doesn't have an alumni glee squad, probably for a very good reason, but that didn't stop me at two in the morning.

If you like the television show Glee, you wouldn't like this dream.

Why? We couldn't sing. We couldn't dance. We did a synchronized swimming luau musical. The only words I have for this are: What the freak? And: NIGHTMARE!

I told my hubby about it this morning, and he just stared at me for a minute. Then he said, "That is not cool."

See why I married him? He is a brilliant man and oh so right. Cool and a bunch of alumni (you really should read 'old people' here) dressed in swimming suits performing a synchronized swimming luau musical don't belong together. Ever. I Promise.

And even though I've donned a swimsuit in the middle of a crowded Costco, it was over jeans, and I didn't have to dance in it. Or swim up a waterfall while juggling flaming torches and singing in full voice. Those alumni glee squads are hard core. They even made us practice four hours every day so we'd be as synced as possible for our performance.

What does this have to do with writing? It's just proof that all ideas are not good ones. Sometimes we have to let an idea die, think of it as putting it out of its misery. And if any of you are out there thinking that a high school alumni glee club/synchronized swimming/musical/luau/torture group is a good thing, we need to talk.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Word Wars

So, writing is hard. Not like back-breaking, sweat-inducing, chain-gang, sweat-shop kind of hard, just the type that makes you bleed out of your finger tips kind of hard. Sounds fun doesn't it? But that's the thing, it is fun...after you get started. Facing that blank page might just be the toughest thing.

That's where Word Wars come into play. I've been having them with my writing group. What the hey diddle diddle is a Word War? Well! I heard about Word Wars from Brodi Ashton, author of EVERNEATH, and Bree Despain, author of the DARK DIVINE series. They have them all the time. These two writers are geniuses, and they're pretty smart, too. They challenge each other to write for an hour straight, and then they post their word totals on Twitter. The highest word count wins. Viola, Word War.

And it works!

Sitting down to write a novel is daunting. Sitting down to write one scene for a mere hour is WAY easier, and knowing your friend is doing the same thing helps a ton. It also doesn't hurt knowing they are trying to kick your can all over the place, and you better produce words as ammo if you don't want to lose the war.

What do you do to jump start your writing, or whatever you non-writers do to torture yourselves? I'd really love to know how you do it.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

My Grandma's Cellar

It's the end of summer and that means canning. What is canning some of you might ask, it's where you take your harvest and bottle it up. Think of it like capturing summer with it's sun and warmth and plenty in a jar so you can eat it in January. Yesterday I did peaches.

Is there a better way to remember summer? I don't think so.

My peaches went from this:

To this:

Anywho, I talked with a friend last night about canning, and we somehow ended up in my grandma's cellar. Not in real life, but in my memories. My grandma had a real cellar, the kind you had to descend into down wobbly stairs, past the cobwebs and into the earth. We're talking the kind of cellar with dirt walls and support pillars crafted out of wood so old it was probably taken from the Arc.

The place was spooky. Things lived in it. Creepy crawly things.

Whenever we visited my grandma I got the job of retrieving bottled green beans, or pickled beats, or the bottled tomato sauce that we called moon juice because it looked like it belonged on the surface of the moon, all cratered and otherworldly until you shook it up.

Can you imagine me as a seven-year-old trembling my way down those stairs into the darkness armed only with a flashlight and a grandma's request? And then there was the smell, tombish and dank. To me it smelled like spiders, and they glared at me from their webs draped across the yellowed foam insulation that connected the cellar to the house like bloated caterpillars. This was were nightmares came to die.

And food did, too. Grandma didn't have new food all fresh and full of sunlight. She'd stopped canning years before when she realized she wouldn't live to eat what she did have.

Grandma had bottled relish from the dawn of time, stacked on shelves cut into the dirt walls and draped in decades of dust. And she ate it. She ate all of the old stuff down there because after living though the great depression she couldn't waste what she had.

I remember sticking my hand into that blanket of dust and cobwebs to pull out green beans so old they'd turned brown, then shuddering my way up to daylight. I was always sure we'd die from eating Grandma's old food. I'd sit at dinner and pray, never touching my beans, just waiting to call 911 when someone killed over from botulism. No one ever did, but I won't eat old beans. Ever.

So, what does this have to do with anything? I don't know, but I do know that my fresh peaches with all their summer warmth don't belong in a cellar. They belong in steaming peach cobbler and pies dripping with homemade ice cream, devoured in front of a cozy fire as snow falls in drifts. You can bottle goodness--just don't put it in my grandma's cellar.


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