29 May 2011

CONduit Day 2

CONduit, Day 2

The best bit of advice I heard today was this:

Be yourself

The guest of honor at CONduit this year was Carole Nelson Douglas. She's written a boat load of books, most mystery, but she's been delving into different genres for the past few years. Her message basically said to be yourself but to always be ready to reinvent yourself as a writer. The business is changing, and new writers need to be flexible and talented. She was hilarious. I might have to go get one of her books.

The accomplishment of the day was this:

Book blurbs for my novel. Check this out . . .

This one is okay:
These are your choices, a psychotic desire to rip people's eyes from their sockets or a dangerous addiction to magic . . . which do you choose?

A guy from my writing group came up with this one:
If you haven't ever tasted eyes, you should . . . they're yummy.
(No, it's not a zombie story, but this one does make me laugh)

Or my personal favorite:
Craving water on a hot day—normal.
Wanting to rip people's eyes out of their sockets—psychotic.
Finding out you're addicted to magic—life altering.
Lysandra Blake's life is about to change forever.

So, there you go.

27 May 2011

Gems from CONduit - Day 1

I've been attending CONduit for probably ten years. In the past I've come, gone to panels, soaked up a bunch of writing tips, left, arrived home, would get excited about writing for a little while before the whole experience wore off and I ended up right back where I started. A but wiser, perhaps, but not much further ahead. Farther? Whichever.

So I figure that I've heard it all. Or at the very least most of it. However, today I found a few nuggets of truth tucked into the panels I attended. I'll share.

On Streamlining Fiction:
If any part of your story doesn't move the plot forward to the inevitable conclusion, cut it.
If you or your alpha readers start skipping to the end of paragraphs instead of reading the whole six lines, you're being too verbose. Cut back
Do your characters learn anything from the scene? If not, cut it.

Ice Cream Characters
Vanilla, to be specific.
As you dig for character motivations, look at what the pressures of their life are. Is it the world around them, an internal debate, family, friends . . . this is what drives the characters.
A succession of “safe” choices by a character (instead of risky, tough or wrong choices) make a vanilla character.
And my personal favorite: beware the vanilla cast!
Someone mentioned roll playing your characters. Uh, who wants to let me pretend to rip their eyes out? Just wondering. :)

Screenwriting 101
I learned a lot from this, but perhaps the most shocking is the following:
As a screenwriter you never, ever put down in words what the character is thinking. You stay out of their heads.
But I'm a writer! I long to dive into people's heads and figure out how they tick.
Oh, and they mentioned that dialogue on the screen is all about what's not being said. I think Robert McKee said the same thing in his book

Tracy Hickman On Writing
I'd seen part of this presentation before. He told us about the 8 archetype characters that are always in a story. Then he told us how to make them complex characters. It kind of hurt my head the way he did it, and I'm still trying to figure out what he meant exactly, but I have to admit that it made me think. Yet another bit of writing craft to learn.

It never ends!

25 May 2011

Not Sure I'd Have the Guts

I heard the most interesting story today. It's a true story. Yes, I know, I'm a writer and should be spending my time immersed in the world of my fiction. However, once in a while I come up for air and to see what's going on in the “real world.”

Tonight, a friend told me this true story. (Names, places and most identifying clues have been edited out because, well, just because.) This person teaches third grade in a fairly mellow, suburban elementary school. My friend had an extremely difficult class this year, and with only two weeks left before summer break, they're about at their wits end. Apparently the class has been horrible since the beginning, and they've only gotten worse.

Well, one girl (my friend described her as one of those kids who will never go bad no matter what life throws at them) did something that I'm not sure I would have had the guts to do in third grade.

Apparently this girl's friend manipulated a classmate into stealing something for her. We'll call her bad girl. So bad girl talked some other classmate into stealing for her. Stealer got caught, bad girl was identified, they both got punished.

My friend, the teacher, witnessed good girl telling bad girl that because of what she'd done, good girl didn't feel like she should play with bad girl. Good girl even went as far as to say that she didn't want to hurt bad girl's feelings, but she couldn't play with her if she was going to do bad things.


She's in third grade. What's that, like 9 years old?

If only we were all so stalwart in what we believed. Let me rephrase. If only I was so stalwart in what I believed.

23 May 2011

The Truth from a Monk

A few years ago I went to China with a boat load of people from United Studios of Self Defense. If I remember correctly there were almost 500 of us. Yes, we pretty much invaded all of the little towns we went to. I felt like I'd reversed rolls and instead of the little Japanese tourists mobbing everything it was us, the big, American tourists. Eh-hem, I mean Kung Fu artists. (haha, yeah right)

Anyway, at one point we got to train with a monk in the Shaolin Temple. Honestly I'd have to say that those two days rank in the top five on my “Coolest Things I've Ever Done” list. I have pictures somewhere, but I think they're on a back up disc. Sure enough, all I've got is the video of our trainer monk doing our form.

Okay, so imagine with me a group of average Americans from Utah and Colorado, trying to keep up with this energizer bunny monk who is trying to teach us a form. Keep in mind that this kid (who couldn't have been more than 17) does Kung Fu for hours and hours every single day. He has no concept that most people can't put their feet up and behind their head.

Now we were eager learners. Our group was the only group of 20 (remember, 500 people here) that got through the entire form. And I think this is probably the reason why.

A few hours after we started, our monk had his supervisor (for lack of a better term) come over and watch us. No joke. The supervisor monk watched us do the first quarter of the form. We finished. He blinked. Then he laughed at us.


Laughed. He laughed, shook his head and walked away.

Okay, I'm sure we looked ridiculous. Probably bordering on terrifyingly horrible. And we probably deserved it. However, we pushed to finished the form before we left. He seemed pretty happy with that, and the next day we got a reluctant nod of “better.”

So, back to the present, Saturday at the Shaolin Summit one of the monks was sitting two rows ahead of me. The others were all practicing, so I figured this guy had to be supervising or whatever. Well, he stood up and turned around and . . .

Holy cow. The supervisor monk from China! I probably started at him for a whole minute trying to figure out if it was him. Pretty sure it was. I totally wanted to text the whole group of people I was with at the temple and tell them that the guy who laughed at us was sitting in front of me. Unfortunately, I don't have any of their phone numbers. My bad.

22 May 2011

Shaolin Summit

Yesterday I got to go to a very cool seminar. The Shaolin Monks from China came to celebrate the organization of the Shaolin Association of something or other. Sorry, all of the amazing chi and awesomeness of the monks made me forget the non-important tidbits of the afternoon.

I've seen the monks three or four times before this, but their skills never cease to amaze me. The demonstrations were amazing. There were two panels. One of them was about being western and being Buddhist and the other was a panel of the Abbot of the Shaolin Temple and five monks.

Here are a few highlights from the panels. What I found interesting.

-Create value in whatever situation you are in right now
-Fully respect your opponent—you need them!
-People want to “see” Most want to find truth in their lives
-Breathing is the best medicine
-When you want to do something, go over it in your head first. Imagine yourself doing it
-In your imagination, anything is possible
-3 minutes of meditation a day will help you
-Your own attitudes and fears are drawn to you (If you're full of anger, angry people seek you out)
-Doing a good yawn and stretch in the morning (breathe and stretch) 10x will improve your health
-Put down your burdens
-Be happy
-Be passionate

The poor translators were having a hard time translating not only Chinese into English, but Eastern philosophy into Western philosophy. I felt bad for them.

I've got a good story about a monk that sat two rows in front of me, but I'll save that for the next post. If I remember.

18 May 2011

Doing My Best to Connect to the Readers

I got this e-mail from a friend this morning. It made me laugh. The laugh morphed into an evil chuckle, and I even steepled my fingers and did the Mr. Burns "Excellent" thing.

I do my best to make my story memorable!

Ok, so I just want you to know that I am blaming you (I can blame you because no one has to be accountable for their own actions any more). Yesterday I was absolutely furious with a couple of these IDIOTS I work with and I just had visions flash through my mind about walking into this one girls cubbie & just scratching her eyes out. Since I've never had that thought before I read your book then I feel it only appropriate for laying blame on you for my vial & violent thoughts.

I never knew I could create vial thoughts. Is this a "talent" I didn't know about? Ooh. I'll need to explore that immediately.

So would this be a good review, or a bad one?

17 May 2011

Catching Fire

It's been a while since I did a book review. Secretly I wish to come up with a totally awesome system to rate books with. Something silly but that will still maybe help anyone who might want to read the book. Reality is that I haven't done it and probably won't for a while unless the fancy strikes me. And frankly, if fancy strikes, then I'll probably go out to a nice dinner.

Back to the book.

I actually loved this one! The Hunger Games intrigued me. This one sucked me in. I listened to them both on CD in my car, and a few times people found me sitting in my car because I wanted to listen to "just one more track."

Here's the inside blurb:
Against all odds, Katniss has won teh Hunger Games. She and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mallark are miraculously still alive. Katniss should be relieved, happy even. After all, she has returned to her family and her longtime friend, Gale. Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be. Gale holds her at an icy distance. Peeta has turned his back on her completely. And there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol--a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.

Much to her shock, Katniss has fueled an unrest she's afraid she cannot stop. And what scares her even more is that she's not entirely convinced she should try. As time draws near for Katniss and Peeta to visit the districts on the Capitol's cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever. If they can't prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are lost in their love for each other, the consequences will be horrifying.

And they were horrifying. Peeta once again rocked the house. No, he's not the toughest customer in town, but he's smart and loyal. I loved the other characters they introduced, and the Capitol did indeed twist and twist things until breathing became impossible. Katniss (who is not my favorite character) was once again dumb, but I have to admit she has courage, and tries to help others.

For whatever reason (and I hadn't heard much about the book) I knew exactly what was going to happen for most of the story. It didn't matter, I still liked it. More than the first one. I'd share my favorite parts, but they'd be spoilers. I don't mind spoilers, but some people do.

13 May 2011

Five minutes of Fame

Here's the link to the first chapter contest that I won. Yay! I'm still excited. The chapter will only be there for thirty days. Then I plan to submit it to poor, unsuspecting agents who don't realize that I'm a dream come true.

Wow, that sounds awesome. I'll have to remember that line

11 May 2011

The Heater Debacle

Our furnace is possessed. People laugh when I say that, but it's the honest to goodness truth! It misbehaves when we're home, works fine when the repair guy comes, and then goes back to it's naughty ways when he leaves.

This appalling behavior has been going on for months.

At first the infractions were minor. The furnace (We should really name him, now that I think about it. Taking the time to yell at something that has a name is infinitely more satisfying then a good cursing out aimed toward the nameless object of “that thing.”) would cycle on, go of after a few minutes and then immediately come back on.

My writing chair (sounds so official, doesn't it?) sits next to the cold air return vent, and just through the wall from the furnace, so I get to hear it all the time. Over the past two or three months the suspicious behavior has increased. But the furnace is smart. It covers its tracks and never does the cycle on, cycle off, cycle on, cycle off then blow thing the first time it comes on. Never.

That's why when I called the landlord about it, and she had the furnace guy come in, he said it was fine.

Yeah, right. Put some effort into it buddy. He changed the filter and called it good.

Nope. Not good. It got worse. On, off, on, off, on, off, blow. Warm air was still coming from it, so we weren’t too worried, but I started to wonder if the crazy cycle would shorten the life span of the furnace.

This is a very important question, because the unit is also our central air conditioning in the summer. No warm air—I can live in a jacket. No cool air in the summer—kill me now.

I've bugged the landlord at least five times on this subject. The furnace guy came in, poked around and called it good. Twice. Then, after we mentioned the burning smell that comes from the thermostat area about once a day, he took the old thermostat off and put a digital one on. Yay!

It didn't work. The furnace wouldn't even come on for me yesterday. Kathryn sweet talked it so we didn't freeze, but then it started to short cycle again and the burning smell started and we turned it off this morning before we went to work.

I'm pretty sure the landlord hates us now. I called them this morning and told them the furnace was still broken. The furnace guy called me back—pissed by this time. I explained the situation and we arranged to meet at 4:15pm at my house.

Yeah, he wasn't happy when he got here. Of course the darn furnace didn't do its little “thing” the first time it came one. Duh, it NEVER does! So I made him wait. I had to be pretty persistent about it. I'm certain he thought I was being a dumb blonde. Little does he know I'm an expert at that, but this wasn't one of those times.

Finally, after thirty minutes of him and his assistant poking around the thermostat,the furnace it did it.

Huh, bad circuit board? I think that's what my dad said the problem most likely was. Should have listened to him. He's a genius.

Here's to dumb blondes and repairmen.

10 May 2011

Those were the Days

I started going to United Studios of Self Defense almost nine years ago.

Wow, I can't believe it's been that long. I did take a year off after I tore my Achilles tendon (because it's pretty much impossible to let that heal up when you're jumping around on it three times a week).

Still almost eight years total? I'm glad I can say I've got a black belt to show for it. A long road, but a fun one! Plus, I love telling guys (when they inquire) that yes, I can kill them. Maybe that's why I'm still single. Who knows.

Back to my point. Tonight Sensei pulled out the very first thing I ever learned about Kempo. It's a grab escape. If someone grabs your shirt or the front of your jacket and starts to get rowdy, you do this move. Well, there are probably a thousand moves you can do, but this one is great. And, as I mentioned, it's the first move I ever learned.

A handful of instructors came to a church activity for the women and showed us some kicking, punching and how to get away from would be attackers. It took exactly two kicks for me to decide I wanted to join. After they taught us this grab escape I was hooked. Doing it tonight brought eight years of wild and crazy memories back to me. Like the fist time I sparred and the fist time I grappled. (The grappling match lasted a grand total of four seconds--I got wasted.) I also thought about the first time I could do ten lunges while touching my knee to the ground. I can still do the lunges, but my knees don't like it much and I like to whine about it. Mostly in my head. Sensei punishes whiners. Trust me.

07 May 2011


A few months ago a friend of mine decided that she would enter the first chapter contest for the writing convention (LDStorymakers) that we went to this weekend. She encouraged me to enter as well. You know how it goes. "You have to enter with me. Don't make me do it alone. Come on, Jo, you're a good writer." Stuff like that.

Well, since I did have a first chapter that had been through the wringer several times I decided to go for it. Why not? I was guaranteed to get at least four critiques out of it, right? Right.

During lunch today they held the award ceremonies. I have to admit that I envisioned what it would be like for the title of my book to come up on the black screen in big, yellow letters. The little thrill that would run through me if my name was read. I thought about how cool it would be to take third place. Or maybe second place. More likely third.

When they started with fourth place I thought, "Oh great, there were enough entries that they went out to four places? And I wasn't fourth place?" I clapped for the woman (because I know her and her story is very cool) and sort of stopped paying attention. Third place-that lemon pie was really tart. Second place-I wonder if they have any more rolls. First place.

Holy freaking cow.

The title New Sight came up on the screen.


My name came up under it. MY name. Then they said it all out loud. Someone probably should have taken a picture. I'm sure I sat there for a heartbeat with a stupefied look on my face. Jaw was probably hanging open as well. No, I know my mouth hung open after I uttered the words, "No way." Good thing no one had a camera now that I think about it. Those pictures are terribly unflattering.

So I won! Wow. Big wow. Still dumfounded. And happy. Squealing inside like a little girl, actually.

The best part? (You thought that was it, didn't you?) The best bit is that later in the day the agent I pitched to yesterday ended up walking into the bathroom at the same time as me. She actually told me congratulations.

First off, she remembered me. Second off, she spoke to me.

Now, if only my entire book reflected the level of apparent awesomeness as the first chapter. And it could still use some work.

I think this one puts aspiring author ahead!

06 May 2011

Day 2-The Day

So today was the day. The really big day. The day I've been writing toward since the LDStorymakers Conference last April.

How did it go? Is that what you're asking? Yes, that's what I'm hearing. Reading. Feeling. Whatever.

Today, at 11:05am I had a pitch session with an agent. I won't say who, because that's not professional or whatever. But let me just say that this agent does a lot of national work, and even a great deal of international work.

Without a play by play, which would be boring (trust me), I'll just say that things went well. I pulled my pitch off without sounding like a total idiot. I asked the agent a few intelligent question about the marketability of my story and the reaction agents usually give to a first time author pitch that includes the words “this is a planned trilogy”. I'm just glad I didn't sound like the dumb blond I pull off so well.

Oh, and the agent said I could send them my query and manuscript. Of course the agent was pretty doped up on Dayquil (spring cold) that they might not remember me tomorrow. Now that could be fun!

The thing that kills me is that the new story I just started is probably more compatible with this agent than the novel I pitched. Figures, right?

Besides my pitch session, I went to a really great character class today. I'm still looking to find/create the system for building stories that works for me. Not a formula, really, but a nice path that I can follow into my ideas and then come out the other end with characters and a good plot. This class had some good suggestions, and I'm looking forward to trying them out!

My mind is on writing overload. Can't wait to see what it feels like tomorrow night. Wait, is it possible to see what it feels like? See feelings? I'll have to work on that.

05 May 2011

Boot Camp-No Push Ups *whew*

Today I attended LDStormakers Boot Camp. This consists of five aspiring authors at a table with a “sergeant”, who is a published author or an editor. I did this last year and they shredded the chapter I brought to little, tiny pieces. Very small. The remains wouldn't even show up under most microscopes.

This year I was more prepared. I signed up to be with other young adult authors. (We write YA fiction, not that we are young adults—but some of us do act like it.)

So I arrive, check in, find my table and sit down. One girl is already there and another quickly follows. Two more ladies arrive and then finally our sergeant. All look like nice people and I'm excited to see what they write and what they think of my story.

Okay, so I said they all looked like nice people. This is 100% true. They are nice. The first story we go over is a contemporary romance. Set in Hawaii, I liked it. The second story we go over is a paranormal romance, set in France. Uh-oh. How did this happen? How did I get put at a table with four—yes all four of them—romance writers?

Huh. When it was my turn to read my stuff out loud I cleared my throat, swallowed and said, “This is neither light or fluffy.” I paused. “Sorry.”

Here's a sample paragraph from my story:

Then she did something she never wanted to think about again. Wendy reached the barricade and risked turning her dim flashlight on. The barricade had been breached. The wood and stones that made up the wall were mostly intact, but there were two holes big enough for a grown man to climb through, gaping open like hungry mouths. Bodies lay everywhere, and she literally had to crawl over her friends—people that helped raise her—to get to the lower gap.

It's dark. Not exactly a boarding school paranormal romance or a walk on the beaches of Hawaii. Er. Sorry ladies. I really think I scared them. However, they gave me great feedback, so that made me happy. And my writing must have improved over the last year, because they didn't completely shred anything but one improbable fight scene. Fine, I can fix that. Even though it might work in real life . . .

Tomorrow I have a pitch session with an agent. I'm excited to hear her feedback on the marketability of my novel and the pros and cons of pitching it as a series. More on that later.

Totally geeking out here!

04 May 2011

Spring has Sprung?

I don't believe it. You shouldn't either, if you know what's good for you. This is Utah, after all, which means the weather could change any second. Oh, look, it just did . . .

The only reason I bring it up is that, well—uh, how should I put this? The other night the temperature was practically warm outside, and our stove and oven got used extensively (Yes, we cook. Not so much me, actually) so the apartment ended up on the upper warm side.

For right now I'm going to give that a silent cheer! Yay for warm! Don't panic, this attitude won't last. Give it 60 days.

As I crawled into bed, I figured what the heck, and I opened my window. Not very far, don't get excited. About an inch—just enough for some air to get through and cool the room down. For the longest time I never slept with windows open, so it's kind of a treat. Especially since we live on the second floor and you can't get to my ladder without being a ninja, Spider Man or bringing your own ladder.

So I snuggled down under only one blanket and went to sleep.

In the morning, it wasn't the cold that woke me. No, no. It was the bird. One bird. One loud, very morning person and happy to let the whole world know about it bird.

I'm not sure what that darn bird was squaking about, but whatever it was, the topic seemed near and dear to it's heart. Perhaps the bird just landed the biggest earth worm in town, or maybe he was trying to impress the ladies. I have no idea. I only know that the bird got going at 5am and didn't shut it until after I left for work.

The same bird was there the next morning too. If it didn't impress the ladies the first time, maybe he should try a different approach. It's no good irritating girls so early in the morning. Someone should tell him.