Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Rah Rah Day

Anyone want to play a game called Time Travel Over Hong Kong? Sweet. Me, too.
I have a framed quote on my writing desk given to me by the peanut buster parfait of critique partners (sweet, nutty and just this side of heavenly). I love its message, but I'm left with a question:

Every goal that has ever been

reached began with just one

step-and the belief that it could be attained.

When the road becomes

hard to travel and it feels as if you'll never

reach the end...look deep inside your heart

and you will find strength

you never knew you had.

Believe in yourself-

and remember that

I believe in you, too.

~Jason Blume

The question?

Who is this Jason Blume fellow? Is he channeling Celine Dion? Does he look like this when he's in deep philosophical mode?What would any internet savvy girl do in this situation? Google him. Not Sawyer. Wait...
Google Mr. Blume, I mean.
Turns out he 's most likely a songwriter with such gems as Britney Spears's "Yeahea yeahea yea oh"(Dear Diary) and Leslie Mill's (who??) "Every night in my dreams...(Wings)" Holy cow, he is channeling Celine. If he's not waxing poetic on the initial tingles of infatuation he's lifting us up on wings of aspiration rah-rah. If only Mr. Blume could write me a song dealing with the initial tingle of a three-book deal. That would truly be my heart song.
For now, this tiny, framed piece of rah-rah is enough. Thank you, Mr. Blume.
Update: On a completely different rah-rah, the opening to my latest work-in-progress finaled in Leigh Michael and Rachelle Chase's Chase the Dream contest. You can read the opening here. Be sure to spread some Vortex love. I have some fiction hanging out for the world to read.
I know you have a quote near your computer. Lay it on us. It's rah-rah day.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Things Full of Time Travel Awesome

When Publisher's Lunch landed in my inbox last week and informed me that the book I'd just finished, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, was awarded the 2010 Newbery Award, I did the Snoopy Dance. Why, you ask? Two words: time travel.

Already, you know it's full of win for me, but it goes on to incorporate homage to A Wrinkle in Time (quite possibly one of my favorite childhood reads), the $10,000 Pyramid (who doesn't love thinking of words for categories like Things That Are Cracked?) and all the angst associated with sixth grade. Toss in a mind-bending mystery of temporal proportions and it makes me want to kiss the acquiring editor at Random House. Only if he doesn't look like this:

Or this. . .

From the School Library Journal:
(recommended Grades 5-8)
Miranda lives in 1978 New York City with her mother, and her life compass is Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. When she receives a series of enigmatic notes that claim to want to save her life, she comes to believe that they are from someone who knows the future. Miranda spends considerable time observing a raving vagrant who her mother calls the laughing man and trying to find the connection between the notes and her everyday life.

I'm pretty sure that's my life's compass, too. To land in a broccoli patch ten minutes before I left it.

Complete with an awesome diamond-facet description of time theory and enough eccentric characters to put my family to shame, this story explores underlying issues of race and class and relationships we all must navigate in a completely warm and full-circle kind of way.

Score one for time travel fiction.

Miranda's mother prepares to be a contestant on the $10,000 Pyramid game show throughout the novel. In honor of that creative little hook Ms. Stead incorporated into her narrative (and brilliant chapter titles), we'll play a modified blog version of the winner's circle today.

I'll give the clues, you guess the category. Ready....go....

"A cheesy script, Tori Spelling..."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Gift That Is Fifty-One

Not an Amazing Grace arrest, nor a pants split, nor The General's rendition of Pants on the Ground can get me to tune into American Idol this year. How do I know about these things? I Yahoo. A twenty second sound byte is all I need. Trust me on this.

I'm not a huge reality show person, but since season five when Chris Daughtry busted out a Fuel song, I've watched AI. Maybe I've reached saturation point or Adam Lambert's AMA performance pushed me over the edge, but I decided no longer. No longer after I calculated a staggering fifty-one hours I'd spent last season watching the dreams of hopefuls crushed. No longer will Simon's refreshingly honest, but acidic comments gnaw on the vicarious thread between aspiring NY Times bestselling author and AI winner I've spun in my fantasies. I have a rejection pile for that. No longer did I wish to endure updated Barry Manilow tunes. I have elevators for that. No longer did I wish to endure Ryan Seacrest's dramatic pauses. I have dialogue tags for that. No longer did I want to hear "Dawg" in any context. AI, I'm over you.

So with fifty-one non-AI hours this season, how to fill them?

-51 new, more frequent posts. Monday through Friday for four months
-400 well-thought-out draft-two words per hour x 51 = 20,400 (1/4th of a book!)
-51 extra spinning, wait. I'd rather be called "Dawg"
-read 10 books
-bake one hundred and ten Emeril Lagasse Key Lime Pies
-total Wii Sports Resort domination
-blaze an unprecedented trail through my Netflix cache to study plot arcs and arses
-drive to the Time Travel Research Center and back
-give everyone around me fifty-one hours of my full and undivided non-writing attention
-play 200 extended-version laser mouse rounds with the trifecta of kitties at my feet

Are you watching AI this year? What would you do with fifty-one extra hours?

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Doll, A Pimp and a White Cat

Have you ever noticed when you're in high writing gear you observe the strangest things?

Yesterday I was in traffic behind a guy in some kind of Baretta/Starski and Hutch-type car(forgive me, my automotive ignorance is showing)-something in pristine condition for how old it was. Great red paint. Wider-than-normal tires I'm sure he believed capable of smoking any one of us at the suburban stop light. So proud was he of the extra pings the engine made on acceleration. And then I noticed it: a doll hanging from his rear view mirror. Not a blow up doll or supermodel-joke, but one of those four-inch porcelain Victorian dolls with the frilly dresses. Red. To match, of that I am certain.

Now, this could have been his wife's car, but it really screamed male-overcompensation-or-mid-life-crisis. Why the doll? I have no idea, but I'm sure an entire story could be built around it.

Also, yesterday, I stole a couple of hours at the coffee shop to write. Thinking I was thrumming on the right cosmic chord because they were pimping the latest Elvis offering to celebrate his 75th (I thought I was in writing heaven), when I spy-indeed-a pimp. Or, the Sunday morning version. Electric purple three-piece suit with tails, foxy glasses, animal fur-trimmed hat. This dude was dressed for the Lord, his just-shined shoes tapping out Baby, I Wanna Play House. After that, I knew I was in writing heaven. Life was handing me inspiration wrapped in a handsome bow of fashion courage. LOVED it. The next latte is on me, Sir, and you can teach me how to have the courage to go out in public in my ski-gondola-patterned jammie bottoms.
There is another writer with another white cat around these parts (Hi, Rick!). Meet Rocco, the newest feline rescue at Casa Vortex:
Yes, he's laughing with you. I think.

The hunka, hunka burnin' question today: Why the doll?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Float Like a Butterfly. Whiff Like a Bee.

This only remotely has to do with writing, but I've had Spelling Bee on the brain for the past two days. Bear with me.

First, let me lay it all out on the table. I was once a spelling bee contestant. I've been a bee judge, pronunciation diva and coordinator. I've taught English and have been studying the writing craft for a decade. My channel surfing has landed me on the National Spelling Bee, setting a new personal record for number of minutes ESPN stays on the tube on my watch. I am bee girl. Bee woman. Hear me roar. But there are still words I misspell every time I attempt them.

Please tell me you have them, too. Mental hiccups where you might as well be all buck-toothed and four-eyed back in fifth grade (oh wait, that was me...sorry) for all life has trained you to spell these nemesis words. I'm convinced there is a vortex in my brain that spontaneously collapsed the day I learned to spell them-no doubt the same September day red-haired Matt threw tomatoes at me all the way home from school.

Auto correct has become my crutch now, making the abominations even worse when they must originate in cold thought, usually in email when I'm in a hurry and it blasts out to two hundred people. I can hear the tsks. "She calls herself a writer. Pshaw!" I confess them now and plead for mercy next time you read a blog comment or email and I've desecrated them:

Judgment: j-u-d-g-e-m-e-n-t. Judgment.
Definitely: d-e-f-i-n-a-t-e-l-y. Definitely.
Prison: p-r-i-s-i-o-n. Prison.

There. Confessions feel good, don't they? And I didn't even sniff my fingers in a creepy way when I spelled them. While we're in Bee mood, and in honor of the poor girl who had to spell t-u-t-o-r in front of a room of fifth grade boys today, I offer up this spelling bee gem. Don't ever let it be said I am too highbrow.

What words do you consistently misspell?

Monday, January 11, 2010


This past weekend, I had the privilege to open the UPS box containing Golden Heart entries for 2010. I did say privilege. I could be a bit biased. I conduct judge training for our local writing contest, Great Expectations, and I'm not convinced everyone has it in him/her to judge another's writing. Or, the luster from my two previous Golden Heart finals could be blinding me. Quite possibly, it could be the RWA networks I am part of have been buzzing for weeks speculating on the delay in shipping entries this year. But as I sat down at the kitchen table and slid the five-entry stack from the box, it came to me. The privilege part. For that, we have to go back one year.

Same table. Same favorite chair. Identical box. I had read other entries, maybe three, already. While waiting in my car. At a coffee shop. Between appointments. But for one in particular, I remember that chair, the morning sun slanting across the table's oak rings, steaming mug in hand. I read the title. I couldn't believe I hadn't picked it first. Two words, their complete juxtaposition wholly captivating. I dove in.

I can't say exactly when the writer had me. It might have been the first sentence. It might have been a half-page later when I realized this setting was unlike any in romance I'd ever read. I'm sure on the first page I sensed a kinship with her for writing outside the box, writing from her heart, and I know I admired her courage to commit something thought of in romance industry circles as "unpublishable" to paper, an entire novel to completion.

Soon, however, all of that fell away. I was in her world and didn't want to leave. I devoured her entry in one sitting, seemingly at one breath. My steaming mug grew cold, its contents untouched. When I'd finished reading, I walked to the computer, logged into RWA's site and entered a score of 9, the highest possible for an unpublished manuscript.

In March, when RWA announced the Golden Heart finalists, I looked for that two word title before the title of my manuscript. It's hard to explain how I could have been more excited to see another writer's work held up to prestige before my own, but I'd often wondered in the weeks and months after I typed in that 9 if the other judges who had read it believed in it as I did. Had they rewarded courage? Seeing that title, those two words, meant that what I write might have a chance in the publishing landscape, too.

When the finalists introduced themselves, I hesitated. I wanted to send her a private, unassuming email, but I didn't want it to seem look-what-I-did-to-help-you-final. So I stalked her website and blog for weeks. I wanted to know if she had acquired an agent or had contest wins. Did others get her story as I had? Finally, I wrote her. I wished her good luck on placing first, but told her she didn't need luck. She already had a winning story.

At the national conference, I met her in the afterglow of a publishing offer. Moments before, her agent had called her to say Harlequin had offered her a deal and she would be headed to their international markets. She had tears filling her eyes and gave me the most sincere thank you and a hug overflowing with dreams come true. She explained that finaling in the contest was the beginning domino, her open door. That night at the awards ceremony, she won the Golden Heart for her category and tears filled my eyes. Privilege.

She is now a Ruby Sister alongside me. I can't wait to see her debut take flight and read the rest of her story.

And I can't wait to get back to that box.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Some People

Some people think it's weird to celebrate the birthday of a dead guy. If that dead guy happens to be Elvis Presley then it's understandable, if not still weird, to some. Some don't understand why people would want to focus on something positive, like his birth, instead his sensationalized and humiliating last hours. Some don't understand how his music and his campy, feel-good movies can be appreciated by those who had yet to be born themselves. Some won't admit he ever had that raw, unattainable something that made them weak in their knees. Some don't understand how his legacy translates into memories of a simpler time for generations of people who fear those days of innocence will never return.

I know some people. I am not one of them. Happy birthday, Elvis.

I also decided the telephone booth was so squee-worthy and my website was in dire need of updating, so be sure to pop over and check it out. Its simplicity is so much more me. Let me know what you think.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Hero Who Designs Barbie Dresses Is Still Out of the Question

I'm at the point in my manuscript where I know my characters as first-draft acquaintances. Sure, we've shared some flashbacks, seen each other in action under pressure-they from internal and external forces, me from the cruel whip of self-imposed deadlines. But, now, as I'm fully entering what Robert Ray calls the Meditative Draft, our relationship takes on a whole new level of intimacy.

We want our characters to be relateable but we know "normal" or "average" can be the death knell of boring in fiction. For me, it works to focus on their universality. What are the notes of that character that will resonate with every man, every woman, every person in every walk of life? Characters who have lived universal truths of love and loss, beginnings and endings, injustice and vulnerability, are at the heart of the reader's attachment to a story. Beyond that, I give them space to take flight into the quirky, abnormal, extreme or larger-than-life arena that makes them memorable.

Not so long ago it was unheard of in the romance genre to have a nerdy or blind hero, or an overweight or physically-challenged romance heroine, but authors like Vicki Lewis Thompson and Jude Devereaux and LaVyrle Spencer found success in the universality of those characters.

I have a book I use at this stage of writing: Building Believable Characters by Marc McCutcheon. Mark has been my go-to writing guide BFF since I picked up his Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the 1800s. He adds some amazing tools to the writer's toolbox with his reference books. His Building Believable Characters book contains a character thesaurus of not only superficial lets-get-to-know-our-characters physical attributes but goes deeper into personality traits, bad habits/vices, diseases and psychological afflictions, hobbies, patterns of speech and even gestures and facial expressions when the creative well is running dry. It's a great source of ideas to help your character "take flight."

What's the most bizarre character trait or quirk you've ever read in a novel?

Monday, January 4, 2010

On Conspiracies and Feet

What would a Monday be without a link-happy Vortex post? Secretly, I enjoy watching the link-hopping numbers on Feedburner skyrocket on days when I'm too scattered to focus on any one delicious topic. You know me, however. Nothing strays far from true North...uh, true time Except Josh Holloway. And MacGyver. Oh, and that sweet little obsession: fiction writing.

Quite possibly, I'm revealing dings in my pop-culture armor by confessing I have yet to see Avatar. However, I did delight at finding this little sound byte from director James Cameron in which he cautions us against pigeonholing Avatar into any one genre. Genius! From the James Cameron school of genre-identification, I give you the genre for my work in progress:

A-sci-fi-ish exploration of a fantasy-based spirituality set in an alter-historical world of a seaside pier where time travel rules and love prevails.

James would be so proud.

Those of you considering your higher education opportunities for 2010 might want to consider the "Mastering Time Travel" class in New York City at the Shelter Theater on January 31. Apparently, it's the "only place you can learn Time Travel on this Earth." Topics include: How Many Times of Time Travels to the Same Era, Who is Famous in Time Travel (John Titor, anyone?), and Introduction of the Time Machine: How to Use It and Its Miracles. All of this in 2.5 hours! For $125, it sounds like an afternoon full of win for someone seeking enough giggle-worthy blog fodder for all of 2010.

While in New York, why not visit David Anderson's Time Travel Research Center on Long Island? In a two-hour interview on December 23, 2009, Anderson Institute director and physicist Dr. David Anderson outed himself as someone with extensive, first-hand knowledge of the government's top-secret time travel research conducted at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert. This follows whistle blowing in mid-2009 by Andrew Basiago, a lawyer from Washington State, who crusaded for government disclosure that members of the United States Defense Community achieved teleportation in the 1960s. I just got a tingle up my spine, the likes of which I haven't felt since my what-was-I-thinking preoccupation with another David: Duchovny.

Since we're stumbling over preoccupations and no blog post would be complete without some kind of bookends-cyclical-type ending, why not read this superb TV Guide interview with Josh Holloway where he waxes nostalgic on LOST's amazing run coming to an end.

Have a great Monday, everyone!