Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Photos

Since I have so much free time on my hands and have been accomplishing my long list of goals so easily, I thought I would add yet another one. 


But even though I really don’t need more goals, I keep saying I’m going to use my camera more often (the Canon Rebel XSI Digital SLR that I bought for the bike trip). So I’m going to try to take a few photos every week and post them on Fridays.

A few months ago I stumbled on a vibrant bicycle parked in front of an ivy covered wall.

I went out yesterday in the snow to find that it was still there. 

Hopefully it will stay long enough for me to finish a full four seasons.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pesky Plot Points

Dear Jillian,

Isn’t this blog supposed to be about writing? Lately you've only talked about teaching and boys with scarves, a topic which you know belongs to Stephanie Perkins.

With all due respect, 

       Your Hypothetical Readers

I know, I know. But thanks to the snow I finally got a chance to get back to my writing. (Remember when I said that I wouldn’t let teaching get in the way of writing? Yeah, that was a good joke. I should have known that it wouldn’t apply to the insanity of the first week.) 

I started with some necessary mid-draft revising and made an important realization: I have a number of needlessly complicated plot points. I imagine it’s because I’m more of a pantser than a planner, so I tend to plow my way through plot problems using a battering ram of words instead of logic. (See – right there I claimed to be using a battering ram to plow, which doesn’t seem very feasible when I think about it.) 

The reason I was doing the revising in the first place was because I needed to fix a major overcomplication that drastically shifted my plot. But as I went through the draft, I kept finding silly little ones. For example, at one point my protagonist is imprisoned and her escape plan requires her to break the routine they've instilled in her and wake up at a certain time. Initially I wrote a whole paragraph about her attempts to train her internal body clock over several days, even though that did awkward things to my timeline. Only yesterday did I reread it and realize that I could just make her one of those people who already HAS a strongly developed internal body clock. DUH. I felt even stupider when I remembered that at the beginning of her story I mention that she’s always the first one to arrive at early morning tennis practice, which would obviously fit someone with a good internal body clock. I really wish my characters would just tell me these things up front and save us both from some very awkward writing.

Best of luck with your own plotting, editing, and battering ram plowing!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Thank You Note

Dear God/Universe/Mother Nature, 

I can’t tell you how much I appreciated the coating of snow that you put down on the roads last night. I wasn’t looking forward to teaching on less than five hours of sleep, especially since there was no way I could finish everything I wanted to do before class. So closing the college was a wonderful, unexpected gift, just like the one you gave me back in high school during that overly ambitious Stranger in a Strange Land essay. You always come through with the best presents. I love the dusting on the tree limbs and rooftops as well; it really freshens up the place.  

With deepest gratitude, 


Thursday, January 20, 2011

And another thing...

I have crazy curly hair that I sometimes try to tame with anti-frizz gel and a diffuser, but we all know who’s really in charge. This morning decided it wanted to be a frizzy mess…with one perfect, spiral ringlet in the front.

I can’t explain it either. 

Similarly, this post will be a random collection of recent happenings and thoughts.

This evening I had my final tutoring sessions with some students who are taking the SAT on Saturday, and one of them gave me a tin of homemade treats!!!! Working mostly at the college level, I’m not used to getting teacher gifts, so I was doubly excited. Though we go to the same gym, so my student should know I don’t need a pile of chocolate covered cookies that are this delicious!

And then I found out that during our tutoring session, a woman had her purse snatched just outside the tutoring center. Boo. I know we're near a bad area of town, but I didn’t think it had reached the point where people were getting robbed in broad daylight. Note to self: Stop taking the sketchy pedestrian tunnel to get from one side of the shopping complex to the other.   

And, finally…I mentioned cyclist Jens Voigt in my last entry. However, I neglected to explain all of the reasons that he’s amazing, so I’m going to remedy that situation right now.

First, he has a Facts page, like Chuck Norris and Mr T. It includes gems like "Sharks have a Jens Voigt week" and "Jens no longer has a shadow because he dropped it repeatedly until it climbed into the Saxo Bank team car claiming a stomach ailment and retired."

But the crazy thing is, his real life stories are just as good.

When a crash totaled his bike during the Tour, Voigt refused to give up and ride in the van. Instead, he borrowed a child’s bike and road it 12km to get to his back-up bike. He also shrugged off the stitches and damaged ribs, saying that last year he was in the hospital at this time, so it could be worse. (Which is pretty much what I used to say about any frisbee injuries that weren’t broken bones.)

And he has something important to teach anyone trying to reach their goals. When asked how he always pushes himself in races and rides through the muscle pain, Voigt had a simple but brilliant answer: 

I say, "Shut up, legs!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Random Leopard Love

This post is completely unrelated to writing. I just can’t help myself. I need to do a virtual happy dance about Leopard-Trek:

Who are those thin, handsome, scarf-wearing, European men? A new band that only the hippest hipsters have heard of? 

Not quite.

Usually they look more like this:

Leopard-Trek is the recently formed cycling team led by the Schleck brothers. Even if you aren’t a cycling fan, you may have heard of Andy Schleck, who finished second in the Tour de France this year. (We’re not going to talk about why he didn’t win right now because this is a happy post.) His brother Frank was injured early in the race, but trust me – he’s just as awesome. They've been my favorite cyclists for the past few years, so I would root for their team even if they were the only members and rode unicycles, but it gets better. 

Also on the team is Jens Voigt, who earned my respect a million times over this year for being an incredible breakaway artist, workhorse, and team player. His talent and willpower and sacrifice are incredible. Oh, and don’t forget Fabian Cancellera, who’s been the world time trial champion four times and is the current Olympic gold medalist. So much likable and incredible cycling talent is on this team, I can barely handle it. 

And even though I sadly don’t know much about the rest of the team members yet, I already like them as a group. They introduced themselves as “a team with soul” that wants to return cycling to a much better, fan-friendly, scandal-free place. Yeah, it’s PR, but the Schlecks and Voigt have earned their honest and fan-friendly reputation, and I really do believe in them.  

I’ve never bought a team cycling jersey before (and a good thing too, since my least favorite cyclist took over the Schlecks’ old team) but I may need to ask for this one for my birthday. <hint hint>


And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to look at more team photos and celebrate like some strange combination of a pumped up sports fan who just found out about a sweet draft pick and a squealing fangirl about to meet her favorite band.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Scowling, Shuddering, and Sighing

Something I didn’t mention in my entry on Incarceron is that the characters seem to scowl a lot. The widespread scowling might be intentional – a way to link protagonists from different worlds  but it's also a reminder of that every author and story has a few of those quirks.

For example, here are some things that my characters like to do way too much in my current WIP:
  • Shudder 
  • Sigh 
  • Suddenly realize something 
  • Find themselves doing something  (As in: Collin found himself nodding distractedly without understanding a word.)
I think the shuddering works given the circumstances, but there are way too many exasperated sighs happening, and all of the suddenly realizing and finding themselves makes it sound like my characters spend most of their time in an inattentive haze. A haze filled with too many adverbs, apparently. 

Thank goodness for revision!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Reading for Writing: Incarceron and Sapphique

Apparently I’m not content to write about one book at a time for these posts; oh well. Here are some writing strategies I learned from these excellent dystopian novels by Catherine Fisher. All of the examples are brief snatches without character names, so there shouldn’t be any real spoilers. 

Pacing of Parallel Plots. Both books switch back and forth between the actions in two different worlds. In the beginning, the worlds get alternating chapters. As the pace of the story speeds up, their sections become shorter and the switches are made within chapters. It’s so simple, but so effective for pacing. Fisher also uses the switches to their best advantage, ending the sections with cliffhangers and often starting the next section with an image/theme/dialogue that crosses over and blurs the lines between worlds. It’s like a carefully edited scene change in film where one image morphs seamlessly into another. 

Twists and Turns. One of the back cover blurbs for Incarceron mentions the “twist ending,” but I actually think the more shocking twists are throughout the story, starting in the opening chapters. Again, Fisher knows her pacing.  

Word Choice. Most writers have heard some version of Stephen King’s quip “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Fisher is great at constructing strong sentences that don’t need adverbs because the verbs and adjectives are so perfectly chosen. 

The overweight visitor “unfurled” from the carriage.  

“A membrane of water webbed her wide mouth.”

“The cold kiss printed under her ear.”

“Every muscle scorched with wrath.”

Details, details, details. It’s all about the little things. Description doesn't weigh down the prose; it just works harder. With one seemingly minor detail, Fisher can give the sense of…

…someone’s character: “Dragging the pack nearer, he took out the bread, tore it open, and tossed her the smaller part.”

… a delirious mental state: “Someone’s hand lay half out of the blankets; he tried absently to make it move, and the long fingers cramped and stretched. It was his, then.”

…the ruthlessness behind the pomp and protocol of the royal court: “Her wig [was] a towering construction of woven hair in which an armada of tiny gilt ships tossed and drowned.” 

Admittedly, dystopian novels with a touch of steampunk will always be an easy sell for me, but I really do think Fisher created an interesting and perfectly paced tale. I learned from it, and more importantly, I enjoyed every second of reading it.