Friday, June 29, 2012

Research for Results

     Hey Scribblers! This post is for you.
     This may sound obvious to you, but to me it's a fairly recent revelation: One of the best ways to interest a reader in your story is to tell them something interesting--better yet, to help them experience something new themselves. That makes sense: we don't want to read old news. Authors that write beyond the midlist write using the kinds of details we wouldn't have heard before. Details that interest us. I call these "specific details."
     And how to we find such specific details?
     Research makes a good story better. It can even make a prize-winning and/or bestselling story out of a good one. But many of us shudder at the picture of research that sits firmly engrained into our memories: us as students, sucking down coffee at our desks while our backs scream at us for hours of abuse.
     Believe me, I know the feeling.
     But! Research yields specific detail. And specific detail yields interest.
     What would The Help be like without all the period detail? What if Kathryn Stockett had gotten the prejudice wrong? What if what she'd written applied more to a decade later?
     A personal example: Right now, I'm reading a book for research, called The Beautiful Days of My Youth by Ana Novac, which is the diary of a 15 year old Jewish girl who lived through several concentration/death camps. She paints awful pictures of what he life was like by using specific incidents full of shocking specific details. One in particular will probably stay with me for a long time. She and her friend found pebbles in their rationed bread, and afterward spent hours trying to throw them back up. That kind of detail is very specific. Imagine eating pebbles in your bread. How would that feel? That detail puts the reader in her shoes. The writer experienced it herself, which is the most sure way to gain specific details; however, this is not something I would want to experience. Hence, research! It may or may not make it into the story I'm researching to write, but it is the pefect example for our topic, today.
     But research can be fun, not just grueling. How?
     One cool thing about writing, is that you get to write whatever you want. You can pick what interests you, and throw out the rest. That means the research you do will probably be about things that interest you. Right now, I'm reading about the Amish, Tribes of California, and Nazi officials.
     And it truly is interesting! Sometimes, I'd rather read "candy" than "spinach" (novels rather than thick memoirs, "Pretties" rather than "The Nuremberg Interviews"), but I'm always glad I've read up, after I've done the work.
     And there are lots of ways to go about researching, besides reading. Recently we went camping, which was a very fun sort of research (involving friends and s'mores!). Take trips, visit places, and try new things.
     A little about my method, in case you're interested: I get several books from the library, and pick whichever sections pertain to my studies. I then take notes, and turn them back in. Some, I don't end up using. Others, I read completely. I also request DVDs from the library, and take notes on those. Internet searches cover other bases. During the reading and watching, I take notes in a notebook section entitled "research" (5 subject notebook from K-Mart). Then, I let it sit for a month, and stew in my mind. It needs to air out. Later, maybe a month, maybe more, I go through the research bit by bit, picking out what I want to use. You won't use all of it, but the prescious little details you've found add incredible depth to whatever you're writing. Sometimes, visiting a place for research is out of the question, but other times, it's easier and cheaper than you might think. Research that, too!
     Don't be afraid to take some time for research. It could take a little perusal, or a long time of submersion. Dive right in!
     Good luck with your writing, everyone!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Website Review:

     There are lots of great online critique groups and writing communities out there for fiction writers. is more of a "community" than a "critique group," which means it's more about staying creative and having writerly fun than it is about serious business. It is especially geared toward lovers of YA fiction & popular nerdy culture, e.g. Cumberbatch's Sherlock or the newest "books to movies," and toward literary teen girls.

Figment PROS:
  • It constantly offers new writing contests with prizes ranging from exposure, advice or prizes from featured authors.  
  • It also offers regular giveaways (usually books), free writing prompts,  and a helpful, informative newsletter that includes updates on contests, giveaways and upcoming events.
  • It provides opportunities to interact with publishing insiders- popular authors (often YA authors), editors and other literary guests in moderated online events. The guests answer members' questions live. 
  • Members get to read sneak peeks of new, popular books.
  • The site is easily navigable, free to join and continually growing.
  • Stories can be written or copy/pasted into the writer's profile (as opposed to uploaded in a file), which "feels" aesthetically creative.
  • The community is eager, young & encouraging. Members are often looking for new writer friends with whom to exchange critiques.
  • The site offers writing classes.
  • The services to serious writers are limited. If you are looking for serious critiques from equally serious authors, this is not the best place to hang out. The authors are usually beginners, and very, very few offer fabulous feedback. A few do, but there are better place to look for experienced writers and critiques. (I would recommend
  • The writing classes are not free (although everything else I mentioned is).
  • Although a few contests are judged entirely by editors, many are based at least partially on the popularity of the writer or her story. Usually, the contestants are thinned out by popularity and the winners are chosen by editors. Obviously, this favors popularity more than skill, a downside for skilled authors who just don't have time to read through tons of other peer writings, and won't "heart" others just to get more hearts for themselves. The system is designed, of course, to be addictive and to promote activity. Luckily, it's easy to discover the judging criteria--just read the guidelines. 
     Overall, this is a terrific site for young, eager writers, especially teenagers over 13. I say "over 13" because most of the contests require that age level of the participants. The site provided motivation for me as a new, young writer, with its constant inspiration and contests; I still occasionally read the updates and enter giveaways or contests.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Death of the Author

Hey Scribblers!
As promised, guest blogger Teresa Loesch will now share on an important topic for writers: Death of the Author. *applause*

To my fellow writers: have you ever met an Explainer?

If you have, you certainly remember the experience. You read the Explainer’s work, you made notes, you formed opinions. You worked so hard to give them the most helpful critique ever. You cared.

Then you got to class, and some variation of the following conversation took place: (rendered in play format, since Christy mentioned I write them)

[Scene: a creative writing classroom, in the middle of a workshop critique of someone’s work.]

You: On page seven, when your protagonist was backing away from the campfire, it didn’t really make any impression on me. It could have been shorter.

Explainer: Well, that’s actually very important. The protagonist actually has a petrifying fear of open flame. 

You: Oh? That’s not mentioned.

Explainer: It was implied with the shifting shadows in their aunt’s house.

You: Oh, see, that wasn’t very clear to me.

Explainer: Well, alright. If you couldn’t see it…  

You: It could have been clearer.

Explainer: You missed it.

You: …

Explainer: *blah blah blah you read the story wrong and I’m a snob and it’s the way it is because I said so a long speech about the story goes here*

You: …

Explainer: *blah blah blah tons and tons of details and facts and things that weren’t even in the story why are they telling me oh for the love of all things good this is so boring I wonder what’s for lunch later*

You: … Okay, so why didn’t you put any of that into the actual story?

Teacher: Well, time’s up! Next person…

 [End Scene]

The Explainer already knows everything about their story, and if you didn’t get the exact impression that they intended to write, that’s YOUR fault. You’re a bad reader, and you should feel badly about it!

 I am officially making this farce academic with the introduction of today’s theme: death of the author. Not a literal death, but dead to the reading audience. Meaning, the author can’t explain everything away.

Basically, “death of the author” says that anything you want to impart, whether it be theme or detail, important or not, needs to be said in your written work. If you think a story should be sad, it’s your job to get in there and break the reader’s heart. If people who read it aren’t sad, then it’s your fault. I’m going to say that again:

 If the reader doesn’t ‘get’ your story, it is YOUR FAULT.

You should write your story with such clarity that the things you mean to say can’t be avoided without supernatural powers of obliviousness.

To put it another way, if I were talking to you and mumbled in a whisper, whose fault would it be if you couldn’t hear me?

That’s right, it would be my, the speaker’s, fault. If I want people to understand me I should speak clearly and loudly. If I choose not to do that, it’s no one’s fault but mine when no one listens.

If you are feeling guilty at this point… you should. I’m here to tell you that no one likes that behavior, and you could be running off people who honestly want to help you. However, just like any behavior, you can change it starting IMMEDIATELY!

How to Not Be An Explainer:

If you’re being critiqued…

1. Keep your mouth shut. Even if you have an answer for a critique or suggestion, now is not the time to mention it. When it’s actually in the story, perhaps in a direct quote, you can mention it. Otherwise the only words that should pass your lips should be variations on “thank you for your insight” and asking people to clarify their statements. Do your talking in the printed word.

2. Remember that everyone has valid input. People probably aren’t lying to you, so this is insight how to someone other than yourself feels about your work. Accept it, especially when it’s not what you’re hoping to hear. It can hurt to learn something you worked hard on isn’t working, but think how much more it would hurt if no one told you and it just went on being horrible and everyone thought so but YOU NEVER KNEW.

3. Even if something is in the text and you think the person honestly did miss it… make it harder to miss in the next draft, and let it slide this time.

4. If someone is harping on a point that you think you addressed, perhaps not clearly enough, try to politely let them know you got the message and will increase its visibility in the next draft.

5. Whenever the urge takes me to become an Explainer, I remember the irritation they produce in me, and that kills any urge I have to be like them.

6. Any time you spend talking in your critique is time someone could have spent giving advice or, better yet, heaping you with delicious praise. I’d much rather hear someone else praising my work than me justifying myself to the stony silence of irritated fellows.

So, my fellow writers, if you want to keep friends and actually get something of value out of critiques, please, please, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL GOOD THINGS… don’t be an Explainer.

For more information about Teresa, see my last blog post, where I introduced her and her blog (at the bottom).

Friday, June 8, 2012

Library Summer Reading Program

     Ahoy, Library Lovers! Have you ever heard of Super Sign-Up Saturday? It's the first day of sign-ups for both the Young Adult Summer Reading Program and the Children's Summer Reading Program, and it's tomorrow! Sunday, June 9th. Teens going into 6th-12th grade can sign up for the teens program at the Lakeport Library. Children of pres-school-6th grade can sign up for the children's program. 6th graders get to choose which they'd be more comfortable attending. Super Sign-Up Saturday events will be going on for both the teens and children from 10AM-1PM (yes, there are prizes).
     This post is mostly about the teen program because that's what I'm involved in, but the Children's program has been running for years--it's a definite favorite! This year's teen theme is "Own the Night."
      What events will we be having this summer? A photography class (this Tues June 13th @ 6:30PM ), a night-photography contest to win a digital camera, a night field trip to the observatory (Wed. Aug. 1st from 8-10PM), a steam-punk craft (Sat. June 23rd from 2-4PM), and a fancy wrap-up party celebrating the teens (Wed. Aug 8th from 6-7:30PM). At this party, we'll also have a cupcake decorating class! (Can you guess who pushed for that idea?). There are other events going on for teens, also, and they will be happening all summer, so get your teens to the library on, or even after Super Sign-Up Saturday to sign-up of or just for more info. There are prizes for everyone who signs up, as well as prizes for teens who read 3 or more books at the Young Adult level of reading. A drawing will be held for another digital camera, as well; any teen can enter the drawing by signing up for the program and turning in short book reviews. The best way to try to win is to put in a review a week.
     The Library also hosts monthly events and displays for people of any age.
     If you want more information about either program, call the Lakeport Library at (707)263-8817, check out their website here, or visit at 1425 N. High St. Lakeport, CA 95453.
     Next week on the blog, we'll have a special guest blogger: Teresa Loesch, a Creative Writing Major at San Francisco State University, will be writing on a very important part of writing craft. Several of her plays have been chosen out of large pools of contenders, and performed at Mendocino College. You can also check out her blog, She reviews free kindle ebooks and short stories.  And, you know, she's just a rad person to know. Come back and Enjoy!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Summer Reading List

     I always end up surprising myself with what I end up reading, so making a list is still fun! And sharing/exchanging lists is even morefun, so I hope you'll share your lists and recommendations with me :) First I'll share my reading plans, then I'll give a few recommendations of great books I read this year! Here's what's cooking at the moment:

What's on My List?
  • The Beautiful Days of My Youth by Ana Novac.
               -I'm reading this one for research purposes in my novel, but also because historical reads are growing on me! If you are at all interested in studying the Holocaust (cheery, I know), this book may be a good pick.
  • Jersey Tomatos are the Best by Maria Padian.
               -I've already begun reading this one (as you can see if you look right...a little more...yep, on my bookshelf!). It wasn't part of the plan, originally, but the voice caught me up instantly. If you've read any of my book reviews, you know voice is a big factor in whether I like a novel. Plus, it pairs a dynamic, athletic duo in the package of two best friends--a tennis stud(ette), and a ballet star. These contemporary teens will have you laughing and longing to play, too.
  • The Notebook by Nicolas Sparks
               -Saw the movie. It = <3. I may finally get around to reading the book. Woo Hoo!
  • Pretties by Scott Westerfield
               -Thanks to a good friend of mine (Thanks Cora!), I picked up the first book of this series, called Uglies. I also ended up studying it for a plot program I've been working. It was a great read, especially with its rousing plot. I reviewed it on Goodreads, if you would like my whole opinion of it.
  • Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
               -This book popped up in several places, boasting high ratings and recommendations. Despite its rather boring cover, I picked it up enthusiastically. So glad I did! I'm working my way through it slowly to pick up every gem of knowledge I can.

My Recommendations (if you're interested! :)
  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater.
                -Did you see this coming? Yeah, I figured. If not, read my rave review. Two reasons to read this mythical beast of novel: (1) It's a Teens Top Ten Pick, & (2) it won the Printz Award.'s fun without being forgettable. Perfect for summer! This book is going to hit it big, folks. You'll be right on board with the market if you read this now.
  • The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright
                 -Or, really, this whole adorable series. If you have kids, this is clean, brilliant fun from the 1940s. Mona, Rush, Randy and Oliver are the perfect kids for your children to follow around--not to mention dear father and Cuffy, the housekeeper.
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore
                 -For the Fantasy enthusiasts. This summer is prime-time to read Kristin Cashore's fantasy books because the long-awaited next installment, Bitterblue, has come into the world! Novels by Cashore are slow in coming, so Bitterblue requires celebration--besides the fact that both of her previous novels are fantastic.
  • The Hobbit by You-know-Who (a.k.a J.R.R. Tolkien. Wow. Look at all those periods.)
                 -Know why this is a timely book to read? Because the movie is coming out on December 13th this year. This is the last summer to read the series and be ready for the movie! Enjoy this classic.
  • Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L'Engle
                 -This book deserved much more than a simple review (which you can see by clicking on the book's picture in the bookshelf to the right). In this age, when faith and art seem at opposite ends of the spectrum, we need a readjustment. This book provided that, for me. I can't recommend it as highly as it should be recommended.

     I wish you a grand summer filled with books! And now, I am about two begin my next NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) adventure: Camp NaNoWriMo (the same noveling adventure, but set in the summer). Check it out, if you want inspiration! If you want to know what NaNoWriMo is all about, click my "Useful Websites" label, and scroll to the bottom the of that page. There's a post on what it is, and why it's useful.
     See you next week!