Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Having a Summer Romance with Your Writing - Part Two

Last month, on this blog, I declared my intention to have a torrid summer romance - with my writing. I guiltily decided it would be an illicit summer romance: I would cheat on my barely begun book under contract and have a writing fling, writing something just for fun, something just for me.

We're now halfway through the summer, and I haven't done that.

For I decided, full of sheepish apologies, to slink back to my cast-off work-in-progress and find a way to fall in love with it instead. Sure, we had problems, all relationships do. But my book and I had made a commitment to each other. Couldn't we find some way to work things out, so we could stay true to each other, after all?

And we did.

In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard says that when you are stuck in a book and can't force yourself to keep writing it, "the trouble is either of two things. Either the structure has forked, so the narrative, or the logic, has developed a hairline fracture that will shortly split it up the middle - or you are approaching a fatal mistake. What you had planned will not do. If your pursue your present course, the book will explode or collapse, and you do not know about it yet, quite." She compares the balking writer to a construction worker who intuits danger ahead and simply refuses to go out onto the construction site.

Annie tells us,when this hapens, this is what we must do: "Acknowledge, first, that you cannot do nothing." You must analyze your book's structure to find precisely where it has gone fatally wrong: "Something completely necessary is false or fatal. Once you find it, and if you can accept the finding, of course it will mean starting again."

I took Annie's advice and did some hard thinking to figure out just why I was so reluctant to move ahead on my poor abandoned book. I reworked its premise, rewrote chapter one to bring the central dramatic question of the story into much clearer focus, threw away the two chapters after that, and wrote two new ones that I happen to think are pretty darned wonderful.

Oh, book of mine, I love you again! I no longer want to cheat on you with some other imaginary project. I want to spend the remaining days of summer in your sweet company. We emerged from Annie Dillard's blunt, no-nonsense marraige counseling - this thing needs radical fixing, darlings! - and now we can go forward to savor the rest of the summer together.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


Since July is the seventh month of the year, and a summer month as well, today’s post will get you outside and offer some tricks to deepen character development.

S unshine and fresh air are proven to boost endorphins and brain function.  Take your “homebody” character outdoors as you go for a walk and see what happens.  What will he notice or ignore?  How does he react when you remove all the comforts of home and he has to use his wits to survive in a foreign environment? 

E njoy something you’ve never tried before.  Learn exotic dancing, origami, or scuba diving.  Try a new food.  Teach a new skill to someone else.  Was it easy or hard?  Now teach the same thing to your character.  Is she a willing learner or a reluctant one?  How does she react to changes big and small?  

V ary your routine.  Shaking things up in our own world, can shake things loose and get new ideas flowing.  Now turn your characters’ routine upside down.  How does he cope?  Does he fall apart or find inner strength he never knew he had?

E xplore.  Any new place or thing.  A church, cemetery, wooded area, hole in the ground, cave, underneath a bridge, abandoned building, mountain top.  What senses are aroused and what feelings come to the surface in such a place?  Peace, fear, sadness.  What would your character do in such a place?  Chances are, the same character might react differently to being alone in the settings below. 

N otice things you’ve passed or ignored before.  What’s under a rock, hiding in a corner, hanging on a wall?  Be a spy and look for details in mundane things.  Now have your character find a common object that she can use in a surprising way.

Okay…so this is really only FIVE suggestions.  Care to share two of your own ideas for shaking up characters?

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Seven Lines from Seven Wise Writers

from Jody Feldman

Once again, I was fortunate enough to attend the SCBWI National Conference in Los Angeles. The party just ended, but even at this point in my career, I learned so much that should serve to enrich my writing, permanently. Here are seven lines that caught my attention and may inspire you in writing and/or life. (Note that those lines not in quotes may have been paraphrased.)

1.       “You have to dream so big it scares the hell out of you.” –Vanessa Brantley Newton
2.       Diversity in your writing should be “purposeful in its portrayal of complexity.” –Zareen Jaffrey
3.       We have to do mean things to our characters in order to feel their redemption. –Alex Gino
4.       “It’s no laughing matter if there’s no laughing matter.” –Marvin Terban
5.       “Start with a pie in the face, then say something smart.” –Chris Grabenstein
6.       You should be obsessed with your story. It should be waking you up at night. –Stephanie Garber
7.       I think I’m done writing, except there’s this one idea ... –Judy Blume

Monday, July 10, 2017

July Theme: Lucky-7 Challenge
By Marcia Thornton Jones

July. The 7th month of the year.

Lots of things seem to come in sevens. Seven planets. Seven continents. Seven seas. Seven days of the week. Maybe that’s why many consider the number ‘7’ to be lucky. But sometimes, luck doesn’t come with a roll of the dice or the deal of the hand. Sometimes, you have to make your own luck. That’s why I challenge you to make July a Lucky-7 month with this writing exercise.

Don’t have time for ‘something else’? That’s the beauty of this challenge. You do have time because all you have to do is write one sentence a day for a week.

That’s it. Just one sentence for each day of the week.

Have an idea that's been pestering you, but you don't want to neglect your current work-in-progress? This exercise is a great way to explore an idea or genre. Use it to ease into a new story, play around with themes, or to write a poem.

Have you let your journaling lapse, and you’ve been questioning the meaning of life? If so, get in touch with what’s important to you by highlighting each day’s standout event, a lesson you learned, a memory from your childhood, a difference you made in someone’s life, or something that made you feel joy.

Then again, perhaps you’re like me and writing keeps getting pushed to the back burner and you are fairly certain that your muse has packed her bags and boarded a cruise ship for Hawaii without you. Or maybe it's not that you've lost your inspiration, but that the kids are home and vacation plans are cluttering your schedule and the pool keeps distracting you. If, for whatever reason, you feel that something is pulling you away from your writing time and story, then use the Lucky-7 Challenge to at least stay connected to the story you want to write. Try it for a new scene, a character description, a plot synopsis, or a quick dialogue exchange.

One sentence a day.

We can all do this--no matter what life is throwing at us--we can all commit to writing one sentence a day. And you know what? By the end of the week, I have a feeling you’ll be surprised at what you can say in seven sentences. And then you know what you can do? Start over the next week!

Good luck!

Saturday, July 8, 2017


"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men CHARACTERS are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator [The Author] with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

I mean no disrespect to one of our county's most sacred documents. I think it provides a useful metric for writers. Our characters SHOULD have rights. I'm not one of those writers who believes that her characters have minds of their own. But I do believe that if I create them well enough, they DECLARE THEIR INDEPENDENCE from whatever plot I might have planned and the book is all the better for it.  

Let's see whether I gave my most recent character, Clint McCool, these unalienable Rights. 

LIFE -- The scientific definition of life is having a capacity for growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction. We'll skip reproduction (although we certainly hope for sequels and movie rights). But our characters should react to whatever trouble we throw at them. And we hope they grow because of that. Sorry, Clint McCool, but it was absolutely necessary to ban you from the movie set and make you wear a dress. That adversity made you a real hero.

LIBERTY -- the power of choice.  Wait, isn't that contradictory? Didn't I just say that for Clint's own good, he HAD to put on a dress? Actually, at that point in the story, he had the power to choose. But if he wanted to be in the movie, he had to wear the dress. 

PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS -- They need to WANT something and go after it, even if they don't have the best idea of what will bring them happiness. Clint McCool WANTS TO BE IN THAT MOVIE. He nearly destroys it and ruins his friendships in his effort to get what he wants. Until he grows, makes a better choice, and saves the day!

Here he is -- outside of the books! (Jessika von Innerebner, the illustrator of Clint McCool, made that magic possible.) But I believe that together we created an Independent Character.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Firework Scenes by Deborah Lytton: July Theme

The 4th of July has a wonderful tradition of celebration with families getting together for barbeques or picnics and then watching a firework show. No matter where I see fireworks, whether close to home or in an exotic location, one thing is always the same--and for me, it's the best part. It's that split second of anticipation between the sound of the boom and the show of lights. I think we can bring the same fireworks to our writing of a really important scene. We can prepare the reader and create anticipation by setting the stage with dialogue or action. Then we can find the rhythm in our storytelling to let the reader wait for the explosion of emotion that results. Finally, we can tap into that silent acceptance we all experience when the last ember fades into the dark night sky. It is an ending that is complete and final and without the necessity of explanation. It is simply understood, like the very best closure in a firework scene. How can you apply fireworks to your writing today?

Monday, July 3, 2017

7 Audiobooks for a Family Summer Road Trip

WallyWorld, anyone? :)
Some of my fondest childhood summer memories include road trips -- to my grandparents' homes in Florida, or the beach, or the Smokey Mountains.

Back then, I was the one in the back seat reading. I read so many books when our family traveled! I wasn't worried about getting there, or how long it would take... I was reading.

These days, of course, I am often the driver for such trips. And while our kids are very nearly grown, we still listen to audiobooks (or "books on tape" as I still refer to them!). You can go a great many miles with series like LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, or HARRY POTTER or THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA. But sometimes stand-alone titles make the miles click off at a more enjoyable pace. And their relative short-ness of these titles can be better for meeting the needs of a group with assorted preferences in entertainment.

Here are 7 tried-n-true favorites I've heard in the van more than once:

Happy road tripping! Maybe someday one of my own books will be made into an audiobook. How cool would that be?! Meanwhile I am tickled to find LEAVING GEE'S BEND included along with some other exciting titles on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's recommended summer reading list. Yay!


Irene Latham is the author of more than a dozen current and forthcoming books, including two novels for children Leaving Gee's Bend and Don't Feed the Boy. Winner of the 2016 ILA Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, her poetry books for children include Dear Wandering Wildebeest, When the Sun Shines on Antarctica, Fresh Delicious and Can I Touch Your Hair? (co-written with Charles Waters). Irene lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her family where she does her best to “live her poem” every single day by laughing, playing the cello, and walking in the woods. Visit her online at irenelatham.com

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Finding Your Inner Treehouse by Ann Haywood Leal

I wrote a major part of my first novel in sixth grade up in a tree house.  It was a bestseller -- mainly because it was free, and I chose the readers: my mom, my dad, Mrs. Rinear (my sixth-grade teacher), and my best friend, Leslie (who was also working on her first novel).  

Leslie and I wrote for hours in that plywood treehouse with the rope ladder and sliding pole.  We were unencumbered by parents and any distracting influences.  We were free of the kids who thought we were weird for wanting to write and read the summer away. 

In our writing community, we talk a lot about giving ourselves permission to write.  Sometimes we are so tied up with what is going on around us, that we put our own writing on the back burner, carving out minimal time to do it.  This can be so true in the distractions of summer.  There is so much to draw you away -- kids, the weather -- even the warm, inviting dirt in your garden -- or the cool breeze of the fire escape accompanied by a chilled chardonnay and a bag of hot Cheetos.  (Okay, now I'm obsessing over that fire escape scene, and I had to put my head back into this blog post!)
For those of you who are having difficulty fighting those summer distractions, I encourage you to find your inner treehouse.  Climb up that rope ladder and dive back in.  That fire escape will be waiting when you are done.