Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in Review

Remember childhood?  That was the time of lingering afternoons, when a few hours were forever.  Enough time to conquer the playground, the world, and still fit in an afternoon snack.  Those were the days…

Now time flies and I don't like it one bit.  Can you believe it's 2013?  *shudders*

Well, before I officially welcome the New Year, I guess I'd like to look at my personal 2012.  I'll try to stick to writerly things, though of course I'll throw in some extra!

I finished the first draft of a WIP.  Hoorah!  My first middle grade book, which was a drastic change from my other work.  But it was so much fun to write, that I might just have to stick to kid's lit all the time.

Returned to WIP #2, which I had deemed a "drawer book."  I cringed at the sight of it, and then rewrote the first chapter for kicks and giggles.  Got some positive feedback, so now I'm seriously considering revamping the whole thing.  Should I?

Returned to WIP #3.  Started seriously revising that.  Chop chop chop!

Started my blog!  Oh my goodness, I've learned so much from reading other writers' blogs.  The internet is an amazing tool.

Headed down to the great state of Texas to see some awesome friends, who also happen to be my #1 beta readers.  I owe them for breaking me out of my writing-oriented shyness, so thanks guyssssssss!

Finished revising WIP #3.  There were some major revisions in terms of plot, character, overall writing style, etc.  However, I came to the conclusion that this book will always be a "drawer book."  I needed to write it, revise it, everything (it was great practice!), but I don't think I'll ever attempt to get it out into the world.  And frankly, I'm okay with that.  It needed to happen, but now it's done.  Hoorah!

Finally time to revise WIP #1.  But goodness, was that a first draft!  Revise revise revise, chop chop chop, cut a character, add another, scratch that, GAH.

Joined a writers' circle that meets weekly.  Though the meetings are often unproductive (we spend a lot of time catching up on each other's lives), the group provided me with some excellent friends and beta readers.

Finished those revisions on WIP #1.  Wiped off the sweat, sent it out to beta readers.

But what's this?  PitchMas and Pitch Wars?  Unfortunately, I can't wait for the beta readers, so it's off to the contests.  With PitchMas I got some requests (yay!), and with Pitch Wars I'm fortunate enough to be an alternate!  Hoorah!

So, what has 2012 taught me in terms of writing?  A lot.  But here are the three big lessons:

1.  Let your work marinate - I made the mistake of jumping into revisions right after I finished my first drafts, so I didn't have fresh eyes.  I couldn't see the problems that were blatantly obvious when I looked at the work seven months later (and in some cases, a few years).  Writing takes patience, so just wait.

2.  Never give up - I had all but lost hope on WIP #2, but after looking at it again, I'm really excited to rework it!

3.  Confidence! - I guess this isn't really a lesson, but 2012 gave me much needed confidence in my work.  I found a great writer's circle, got lots of positive feedback, and made ripples in PitchMas and Pitch Wars.

My goal for 2013?  Keep writing.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Beauty of Spontaneity

I just booked a spontaneous trip to Rome.  And I mean spontaneous.  Impulsive.  Spur-of-the-moment.  Probably crazy.  I didn't have any reasons for doing it, and though I can tack on the merits of such a trip, they're all afterthoughts.

But that's all right.  I love a good adventure.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Favorite Books This Year

The Shelf is a special bookshelf in my room which holds only my all-time favorites.  There aren't that many (maybe about ten, tops) because I'm extremely selective about which books get to live on The Shelf.  Some long time residents include Tess of the D'UrbervillesOne Hundred Years of Solitude, and Water for Elephants.

Because of the selectivity, it's not every year that a book gets added to The Shelf, but this year, TWO books made the cut.  These are books that blew my mind, that haunted me long after I read the final sentence (and to a certain extent, still haunt me).  So, applause for:
  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell - I read this book during the summer, and my goodness, what a book!  It's funny, tragic, heartfelt, romantic…And mmm, Rhett Butler.  I'd sure like to meet him under the mistletoe :)
  • Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner - It's not an easy read, nor are the characters particularly likable, but the story is absolutely mind-blowing.  More than once I shot up and started screaming "WHAT?  WHAT?"
Hmm, I'm sensing a theme here: both my additions are about the South during and after the Civil War.  Both involve struggling families, ruthless gentlemen, unfortunate marriages…Should I be concerned?  Nah.  They were both great, that's all.

All right, time for some honorable mentions.  I loved these books--and I mean really loved them--but even so, they didn't quite make it onto The Shelf.  Some of them are still under consideration for the honor (it takes me a long time to decide), so one day, they could be.
  • The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  • No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories by Gabriel García Márquez
  • The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke (re-read) (under serious consideration)
  • Holes by Louis Sachar (re-read) (under consideration)
  • Native Son by Richard Wright
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (under consideration)
  • The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
  • The Fault in our Stars by John Green (under consideration)
Hoorah!  Goodness, I love to read.

What were your favorite books this year?  Of all time?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Hobbit and the Importance of Characters

Last night I went to see The Hobbit.

Woot woot!  I'm super proud of myself because it's the first full LOTR movie (it counts as LOTR, right?) I've seen.  I saw most of The Two Towers, but never finished (I know…I should be ashamed of myself.  Trust me, I am.)

I read The Hobbit for the first time recently.  I mean, very recently.  As in I finished it today.

But when I went to see the movie, I was only 2/3 finished--and I had been reading the book for months.  That's a really long time.  Granted, I read dozens of books simultaneously, but normally it doesn't take me that long to get through a book.  But no matter how I tried, I couldn't get into it.  And I totally understood why:  the characters fell flat.  For the most part, they were just names.  No personalities, no backstories.  I didn't care about them, so even when they were in mortal danger (which was most of the time), I was bored.

But then I saw the movie.  And loved it.  Because the movie had characters, and I grew to care about them.  And not just the standard three (Bilbo, Gandalf, and Thorin), but the others, too, my favorites  being Fili, Kili, and Bofur (who, until I saw the movie, I hadn't been able to tell apart).  They weren't just names anymore; they had unique personalities.

Today I sped through the rest of The Hobbit (the book, I mean), tackling the same number of pages it had taken me months to read in a couple of hours.  Why the difference?  Because I took the characters from the movie and transferred them to the page.  Now I cared.  I actually got teary when *SPOILER ALERT* Bilbo learns that Fili and Kili died.

Long story short, character development is critical.  You can have the best plot in the world, but if the characters are boring, then it'll be a struggle to read.

What were your thoughts on The Hobbit?  Book and movie?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"Children's books shouldn't sit still and behave."

I stumbled across this gem today:

Children’s literature is a place of great experimentation. Like children themselves, it can be hilariously playful and deeply serious. It isn’t content to sit on shelves and behave. It is inquisitive, exploratory – and difficult to categorise. It tells tales of rabbits and ducks, of vampires and zombies, of ordinary kids in ordinary homes, of love and death, and explores the most profound, joyful and troubling aspects of human experience. It experiments with narrative and form, with the shape of the page and the shape of the book. It is where literary culture is constantly renewed. We overlook this world at our peril. It is, and always will be, at the heart of our cultural life.
David Almond, Children’s books shouldn’t sit still and behave.”

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Happy (Belated) Time Traveler Day

Happy Time Traveler Day?  (Well, I guess it's a little belated, since it's now past midnight...)  Anyway, according to my wonderful in-the-know friend, December 8th is Time Traveler Day.  Which is freakin' awesome.

I love the idea of time travel.  If I could have any superpower, I would choose that one, hands down.  No flying, no invisibility, no telepathy, but time travel.  I tend to have a write of stories based on time travel.  At least three, and I won't be surprised if more crop up.  Like a lot of writers, I write stories that I would want to live, and I would love to journey into the past.

The first place I would go?  That's really difficult, but I'd probably choose Paris in the 1920s (basically I'd like to be Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris).  The '20s seem like they were a lot of fun, not to mention I'd love to hang out with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Eliot, and the like (especially Hemingway).  I'd also like to see regency-era Brazil (obviously. My fascination with Brazil is pretty apparent in my previous posts), Jamaica in the latter half of the 17th century, and Boston/Philadelphia/Williamsburg during the American Revolution.

Back to writing:  my favorite book that involves time travel is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  I love that book for a lot of reasons (namely, Sirius Black, Lupin, and an abundance of Snape), but the part with the time turner is wonderful.

Your turn:  Do you have a favorite book/movie that involves time travel?  If you could visit any time period, which would you choose and why?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Thank goodness I got a Twitter...

For the longest time I avoided Twitter.  With Facebook, Tumblr, and a blog, I really didn't need anything else to distract me from what's most important:  writing.

Turns out, Twitter is great.

Not only do I get to read some great advice from literary agents, editors, and authors, but I can find out about contests I never would have known existed.  Like Pitch Wars and PitchMas, both great ways to try to get a manuscript noticed.

So here's to Twitter.

P.S.  Follow me @SamBFarkas :)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Poetry in Prose

Again I'm deviating from my series of "The Story in History" posts, but I really want to write about poetry, so I'm going to do just that.

Poetry and I have a complicated relationship.  I always appreciate it, but I only sometimes love it.  Most of the time I read a poem, think "That was nice," and never think of it again.  But occasionally, I'll read one that literally leaves me shaking.

My all-time favorite poem is "Where the Sidewalk Ends" by Shel Silverstein:

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins
And there the grass grows soft and white, 
 And there the sun burns crimson bright,
 And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

And so on.  I love this poem because I always associate it with a place from my childhood, which all poetry begs the reader to do:  create her own meaning.  When I read about the place where the sidewalk ends, I'm seven-years-old again, throwing my backpack on the ground and sprinting after my friends to a field beyond a wrought-iron fence.  We've done this so many times that we know exactly where the bent bars are; we squeeze between them, and we're momentarily free from "the place where the smoke blows black / And the dark street winds and bends."

I'm also a huge fan of T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."  You know, "Let us go then, you and I / When the evening is spread out against the sky."  It's a beautiful, tragic love poem with quite a few lines that just pack a punch.  The one that comes to mind is "Do I dare disturb the universe?"

Gosh, I wish I could write poetry.  Unfortunately, I don't.  Not often, anyway.  About once a year I'll get inspired, but otherwise, I'm a prose kind of gal.  Yet, I have various poems hung up on my walls, not only because I think they're beautiful, but because as a fiction writer, I can learn something from them.  Someone once told me that "All good poetry should tell a story, and all good stories should sound like poetry," and that really hit home.  I'm not saying that writers should fill their work with purple prose.  That's a big no-no.  But beautiful, poetic sentences aren't off limits.  And not all poetic sentences may seem like poetry at a first glance.  After all, if you take one line of poetry, it's not obvious that it's from a poem.  Let's take the above example:

"To cool in the peppermint wind"

That's a poetic phrase, but it's also a phrase that could be put into prose without turning it purple.  "Peppermint wind" is much more poetic--and descriptive--than "wind" or "icy wind" or "refreshing wind."

It was Christmas in Williamsburg, which meant that the carolers were out--fur muffs, top hats, and all.  They stood directly across from Wythe's, which had started to display freshly-dipped caramel apples in the window.  Seven dollars each, and almost worth it.  But I had come for hot cider, so I ducked against the peppermint wind and strolled on until the carols melted away like hard candies on my tongue.
"Peppermint wind" goes along with the holiday feel, and since a lot of the paragraph focuses on sweets, it fits right in.

Do you have a favorite poem or poet?  Favorite line?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Ferguson Publishing Seminar

I was supposed to continue my "The Story in History" series of blog posts today, but inevitably, I fell behind.  Those posts will continue tomorrow.

Right now, I'm going to talk a little bit about the Biennial Ferguson Publishing Seminar, which I was fortunate enough to attend last night and today.  The Ferguson Seminar is a special event designed to inform students at the College of William & Mary about careers in the publishing industry.  A whole bunch of speakers were lined up to visit the College, but unfortunately, Sandy interfered, and only a few could escape New York and make it  to Williamsburg, VA.  Even so, it was a very informative seminar, during which we got to hear from author Susan Choi and vice president of Penguin Press Scott Moyers, among others.

They all touched upon a variety of subjects, but what struck me most was their emphasis on networking.  Each one of the speakers stressed that making connections was crucial in both getting the attention of an agent, as well as entering the industry as an editor, publicist, sales rep, etc.  That's why it's more important than ever to join a community of writers, whether online or in person.  So, keep blogging, friends!

I could talk a whole lot more on this subject, and maybe I'll hit on it later, but for now, it's a Saturday night, and I'm done.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Halloween Ghost Story

I like ghosts -- and that's because I one hundred percent believe in them.  Not that I've had many supernatural encounters, but I've heard enough stories from friends and family to trust that there are spirits we cannot see.

I had a lot of ideas for a Halloween related post (you don't need me to tell you that YA books are the home of the paranormal), but I decided to simply tell a ghost story.  I heard it a few years ago, and I find it very haunting -- but that's probably because I pass by the place in question all the time.

The Ghost of Tucker Hall

Tucker Hall is an academic building at the College of William & Mary.  Like all the old buildings at the College, it was built in the colonial style, with impressive brick facades and unused chimneys.  Inside, there is a grand staircase flanked by two arched doorways.  It used to house the English department, but if you duck through a gap in the wire fence, you'll see that it hasn't been occupied for years, except to host drug deals or Greek hazings, as evidenced by the crushed cans of Natty Lite that litter the stairs.  No one is 100% sure why the school shut down the building, though most point to the ghost.

Many years ago a girl was studying for finals on the third floor.  She was so stressed that she went into the bathroom and committed suicide, but to this day, she hasn't left.  Since then, there have been several deaths in that very same bathroom.  It happens like this:  she appears behind you in the mirror, looking like a normal corporeal student, and she'll politely ask you how exams are going.  If you say they're going poorly, she will let you be.  But if you say they are going well, then she'll possess you and force you to kill yourself, but before you go, you'll write something on the mirror for others to find.  And you'll write it in your own blood:

."She made me do it."

Tucker Hall has been closed for several years now, but occasionally a light appears in the window of the third floor bathroom.  Sometimes it isn't a light at all, but a strange greenish glow.

There is very little evidence that the deaths happened, nor is there much evidence of supernatural events at all.  The only hard evidence comes from this article.  Who knows?  Maybe the ghost will show herself tonight on Halloween?  (Let's just hope she isn't as violent as the rumors say she is).

Sunday, October 28, 2012

November is Coming...

...and that means that a lot of writers will be participating in National Novel Writing Month, more commonly known as NaNoWriMo.  As exciting as that is, I'm actually going to sit this one out.  Though I would love to jump headfirst into literary fun, I just can't bring myself to set aside my WIP for a whole month.  Not when I'm so close to finishing it.

But even though I won't be writing a NaNo novel this year, I'll still participate in whatever local events spring up.  Forums, write-ins, parties, whatever!  Should be fun.

Best of luck to all participants!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Inevitable Post: E-Readers

It was inevitable.  A post about e-readers.

I'll say flat out that I don't like them.  You know, for the usual reasons:  I like the feel of a book, the smell of a book, the sensation of turning the pages, having well-stocked bookshelves, etc.  Then there's my greatest fear:  what if the e-reader were to run out of batteries in the middle of the climax?  I'd probably throw it at the wall, and then I'd be in big trouble.

But I'm considering buying one.  I don't want to, but I might have to.  It's either e-read or don't read, and I'd have to choose the lesser of two evils.

You see, two days ago I found out that I'm going to Spain for six months.  I'll be living in Seville (or Sevilla) in the southernmost autonomy of Andalusia.  It's a beautiful city that dates all the way back to the Roman Empire, and frankly, I can't wait to live there.  While Seville will be my "home base," I plan to travel all over the place:  France, Greece, Morocco, Italy, and Turkey for sure, but also perhaps Germany, England, and Portugal.
From the top of La Giralda (2009)

Back to the e-reader issue:  I can't bring a whole library, and I'm afraid I won't have access to many of the books I'll want to read.  I'm not against reading in Spanish (in fact, I hope to read in Spanish), but 1)  If I purchased the books, I'd have to be careful about how many I could bring home with me, and 2) Will there even be Spanish translations of recently published works I want to read?  Forget finding English versions.  And what if I decide to go on a backpacking adventure?  Then I really won't be able to bring a lot of books.  So the question remains:  should I get an e-reader?

I don't know, but I still have two months to think about it.  Gosh, two months!  That's not long at all.

The city of Sevilla, taken on my last trip to Spain (2009)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Birthday Books!

Another photo of His Holiness (I actually took this one):

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama on October 10th,  2012.
I was lucky enough to attend a special Q & A session with His Holiness directly after his speech to a much larger audience.  It was a much more personal, laid-back experience, and it was awesome.

It was also my birthday.  Unfortunately I didn't get any birthday blessings from the Dalai Lama, but I did get books.  Lots and lots of books, which is fantastic.

These five, as well as Stephen King's On Writing, Cassandra Clare's City of Bones, and Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle.  Quite a varied collection.  I already finished Stardust (and for the first time in my life, I thought the movie was much better), and now I'm debating what to read next.  Hmm...I recently finished J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy, which was phenomenal, but so gritty that I'm not yet ready to reenter the real world.  So, I think I'm going to go with Smith's I Capture the Castle.

I love new books.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama at the College of William & Mary.
What an amazing opportunity!  Today I got to meet His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama when he came to speak at the College of William & Mary, in Williamsburg, VA.  Often viewed as the world's most important peace leader, he is the author of 72 books, winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, and leader of the Buddhist world.  I'm still in awe after hearing him speak on compassion, common humanity, and inner beauty.  What an honor!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Work vs. Aromas

Usually, when I have a lot of work, my thoughts go something like this:

Wow, I have a lot of work.  Well, if I get this much finished by 3:00, then I'll go to Aromas.  I'll still have loads of work, but at least I'll be at Aromas.

Aromas is a little coffee shop a few minutes from my home.  Not only is the coffee excellent, but the soft music and dark paneled walls create a serene atmosphere that makes me bubble over with happiness.  So it's great to reward myself with a trip to Aromas -- though, admittedly, it's not great to reward myself midway through my work, especially because my work would continue at Aromas.

Which means I'd ruin the sanctity of the place -- and yes, to me it's a holy place.  Normally I'm there for my personal life -- to meet up with friends, to sip coffee while perusing a good book, and most frequently, to write.  These pleasant activities have turned Aromas into a safe haven, if you will.  So when I sit down with a whole bunch of spreadsheets, that's bad.  Really bad.  The very presence of "real work" chips away at Aromas's sacred nature.  But I really wanted to go to Aromas, so I went anyway -- and as expected, those spreadsheets didn't stay out too long.  I surrendered, and settled back with a book instead.  Lesson learned.

Do you have any "sacred" places?  Favorite writing spots?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Goin' Patchy

So I've been absent from the blog for a long while -- and unfortunately, I predict I'll be absent for a bit longer.

For the past two weeks I had been losing vision in my left eye.  Not too concerning, at first, since it wasn't consistent:  some days I dealt with strange shadows, but on others I could see almost perfectly, so I avoided a doctor until Friday.

On Saturday I rushed to Richmond, VA, for emergency surgery.  Turns out I could've gone blind if I waited too much longer.

The wonderful doctors saved my vision, but it won't entirely return for a whole year.  So for now I'm stuck with 20/70 vision in my left eye -- and that's with glasses.  Frankly, my vision in that eye is so wonky, I have to wear an eyepatch to keep it from interfering with my right eye.  Otherwise it'd be like going through life wearing only one contact -- and when your prescription is in the double digits, that's more than uncomfortable.

So, eyepatch it is.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Writing Schedule?

A few days ago, I crashed headfirst into chaos -- a good chaos, but chaos nonetheless.  In short, I'm busier than I've been in months; every free minute is precious.  So for the first time in my life, I'm going to implement a writing schedule.  Well, not exactly a schedule, but a checkpoint:  a 750-word daily minimum.  It's not a lot, but I know I'm not going to have a lot of spare time to write -- and it's better than nothing.

What about you?  Do you stick to a writing schedule?  What do you think about a daily minimum word count?  In what ways do you make time for writing?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Query Contest at Unicorn Bell

So, Unicorn Bell  is hosting a query workshop/contest that lasts until the end of August!  They've been posting sample queries, advice, etc. and this week begins the actual workshop.

Originally I had planned to submit a query for THE LOST FIGUREHEAD, but I realized that probably wouldn't be a good idea.  As much as I'd love to, there's not a chance I'm going to have the manuscript ready to go by the end of August.  So instead, I submitted my query for THE REFUGEE.

If you have a finished manuscript, head on over to Unicorn Bell for their School's In Query Contest!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Living my own story

So I've been absent for a long time!  You know, thanks to the usual offenders:  work, household chores, a few birthdays, etc.

It's so easy for life to get in the way of writing.  Sometimes, I get bitter about it.  My fingers itch to rumble over the keyboard, so I stay up till dawn -- which makes me even crankier the next day, especially because most of the time, those extra hours produced one measly paragraph, which I'll probably delete later anyway.  (I don't work well after midnight).

But then I consider:  Yes, sometimes life gets in the way -- but honestly, that's OK.  Because every once in awhile we need to step back from our work and live our lives.  Our real lives, away from the computer.

For writers, it doesn't take much to get drawn into our own worlds.  That's fine, but when we do it for too long, we might miss out on a lot of rich, tangible experiences.  Like throwing yourself off a giant sand dune.  Or playing cowgirl in Fort Worth, Texas.  Or joining up with the friend you've known since preschool to attend bartending school together -- just for kicks and giggles.

Jockey Ridge in Kill Devil Hills, NC.  Yup, I rolled down that monster.

So am I upset that I wasn't nearly as productive as I wanted to be this summer?  No, not really -- because I've had some pretty spectacular adventures within the past few months, and I'm grateful for every one of them.

It's great to write, but let's not forget to live our own stories.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Excuse me while I sob

The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, has been pushed back to Summer 2013.

Well, at least now I can focus all my excitement on Les Misérables.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Write Club

I'm vacationing in the Poconos now, so this will be a short post.  I'd just like to announce that I've signed up for Write Club, and though I'm not sure if I'll be submitting a 500-word sample, I'll definitely vote.  Essentially it's a contest:  Two pieces of writing matched up against each other, and the readers vote for their favorites.

Just so you know, I made a dumb mistake.  I didn't read the Q&A section before I signed up, so I accidentally put my pen name as my real name.  So on the list, I'm Sydney London.  Which means that can't be my pen name anymore.  Oh well.  My bad.  That's what you get for not reading everything before you click.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Oh, I've been such a misbehaved writer.  Yet another weekend away from work.

This past week marked the 100th birthday of the Deal Fire Company, so I attended their celebratory banquet for firefighters, friends, and family.  It was just off the beach, so if you snuck along the dunes and squeezed through a hole in the fence, you could reach the ocean.  Baked clams, oldies music, the rhythm of the waves...What's not to love?

The Triangle Factory fire, 1911.
When a good friend invited me to come, I was absolutely thrilled.  It sounded like a good time, sure, but  the fact that it was in honor of the Fire Company made it that much more enticing.  Fires and firefighting have always intrigued me.

But don't worry, I'm not a pyro.  Far from it.  Fire is perhaps my greatest fear.  Not candles or bonfires, but inescapable infernos.  The kind that turn homes to ash or destroy miles of forest.

And then there's this one.  New York, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.  I can't think of an event in all history that intrigues me more, which is odd, since I usually prefer maritime history.  Who knows?  Maybe, in a past life, I died trying to escape these flames.

Now, to link back to writing...

Writing is one of the ways I confront my fears; that's probably why fire often makes an appearance in my work.  Especially the Triangle Factory fire.  I'm not sure why it's therapeutic, but if I had to guess, I'd say that when I'm writing about it, I have control over it.

But fears aren't all that pop up repeatedly.  Thinking of the stories I've written, as well as those I plan to write, I can easily pick out common images and themes.  Of course they don't appear in every work, but still, they show up in quite a few:

Fire.  Time.  Golden Retrievers.  A cemetery next to my elementary school.  South Jersey.  Sailing.

Do you find that common themes pop up in your work?  What are they?  What about fears?  Does writing help you face your fears?  How so?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Just got back from a weekend getaway at the Jersey Shore!  Not exactly the Bahamas, but as long as I've got sand under my toes and an ocean in which to cool off, I'm happy.

Angel figurehead on the prow of a ship.
Normally I'm very productive when I go to the shore.  I spend the day tearing through beach books, and then, late at night, I open up my computer and work.  But not this weekend...

Which means I have a lot of catch-up work to do.

But in the meantime, I thought I'd stick with a beach theme and post the first 500 words of THE LOST FIGUREHEAD, my middle grade fantasy which features pirates and, of course, beaches.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Reverting to Childhood

I finished the first draft several months ago, and since then it's been marinating in my desk drawer.  Stewing so that when I finally came back to it, I'd be able to see it with fresh eyes.
So now that I've finished Revisions #37 (Okay, hyperbole, but whatever...) and The Refugee is off to some wonderful beta readers, it's time to move on to the next project--a middle-grade fantasy called The Lost Figurehead.

The Thief Lord, by Cornelia Funke.
Because thieves fascinate me...
And now the time has come.  Sort of.  First I have to do what I should have done before I even started, and that's read.  Read, read, read!  It's been ages since I last read a middle grade book, but now that I want to write one, it's time to crack a few open.  Okay, not a few.  A lot.

So, after raiding my family's bookshelves, here's what I've got on my reading list so far:

  • The Thief Lord, by Cornelia Funke
  • Holes, by Louis Sachar
  • Hidden Talents, by David Lubar
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket
  • Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling
  • Percy Jackson, by Rick Riordan
  • Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke
  • Dogs Don't Tell Jokes, by Louis Sachar
Any suggestions?  I need a lot more!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Beginnings and Ends

Yesterday was a very strange day for me, and here's why:

1)  The first 500 words of THE REFUGEE were critiqued on the wonderful Aimee Salter's blog, and I received some fantastic advice.  I've got some polishing to do, and I'll be undertaking that soon.

2)  I also passed the climax of THE REFUGEE.  Granted, technically I passed it a year ago, but as I'm rewriting the whole bloody book, it's a huge milestone.  I'll hopefully finish sometime this week, then it's off to some beta readers!

But first, I have to go revise the beginning.

Sometimes I feel as though I'm working in this gigantic loop.  Naturally my writing improves as I get deeper into the novel, so that by the time I'm finished, I look back at the beginning and think it's trash.  So of course I have to start over again, and so on and so forth.  One of these days I just need to be done with it.

Though I've tried that too.

For awhile I loathed THE REFUGEE.  Absolutely hated it.  I wanted to forget about it, and start something new.  Something fresh.  But then I mentioned it to a friend, and they told me it sounded like a cool concept.  So I took it out of the desk drawer, and started to revise.

Still hated it.  Back in the drawer.

Then came another friend, and another bit of encouragement.

This has happened so many times, I've lost count.  And now I finally haves something I'm satisfied with.  Something I'm serious about.  But I'm also drained, and though I look forward to some fine-tuning, part of me wants to move on.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Narrative Biographies

Recently I finished reading The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain, a narrative biography of Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway's first wife.  Of course, it was largely fictionalized, as most narrative biographies are, but it still made for an interesting read, and got me thinking of other people whose lives were just too darn fascinating for a standard biography.  People who lived a compelling story, and whose lives would make a damn good book.

I compiled a short list of whom I would want to write about, if I were to write a narrative biography:

  • Thomas Jefferson - Sure, he wrote the Declaration of Independence, but what about his time in Paris, during which he fell for Maria Cosway?  How about his flight from Richmond, with Benedict Arnold on his heels?  And then there's the story of how he broke his wrist, and could never play the violin well again?  Whether you love him or hate him, there's no doubt that Jefferson lived a life fit for books.
  • Anne, Mary, and/or Deborah Milton - The three daughters of seventeenth-century poet John Milton.  Because Milton was blind when he wrote Paradise Lost, he dictated it to his teenage daughters (the oldest, Anne, was only 16 years old when he finished), who wrote it all down.  Now that must have been an interesting experience.
  • Gilbert du Motier, better known as the Marquis de Lafayette - A young aristocrat who directly disobeyed his king by running off to America to fight, and in doing so became like a son to George Washington.  If that weren't enough, he played a crucial role in stirring up the French Revolution, and he witnessed the Napoleonic Era--though he spent quite some time in a French prison.  Now that's fascinating.
  • Pedro I of Brazil - When Napoleon's armies invaded Lisbon, the royal family escaped by fleeing to Brazil, then a colony of Portugal.  Pedro was nine years old at the time, so he spent his teenage years away from home, in a strange and wild land--at least, compared to Europe.  Then much of Latin America was going through a period of unrest, as various colonies called for independence.  Pedro grew to sympathize with the Brazilians, and eventually decided to remain in Brazil as its ruler, rather than return to Portugal with the rest of his family.
  • Herbert Hoover - Herbert Hoover belongs less in a book and more in an off-Broadway orphan musical.  Only unlike Annie and Oliver!, the story of Herbert! starts in tragedy--and ends in it, too.  Orphaned at age nine, Hoover grew up under unusual circumstances, became America's favorite humanitarian during World War I, then President of the United States--and a short while later when the stock market crashed, Public Enemy #1.  Unfortunately for him, he'll always be remembered as "That guy who botched up the Depression."  A sad orphan story indeed.

Who would you want to write about?  Who would you want to read about?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What sound does a wad of mail make as if falls from a letterbox?

Answer:  flumppf

At least, according to, a dictionary of "onomatopoeia and words of imitative origin."

I've always been pretty bad at onomatopoeia.  Sounds like bang and clang, tick-tock and clackety-clack I can handle just fine, but when sound descriptions get complicated, I get buried in a jumble of letters that remind me of this:

So, once I got stumped on how to describe shuffling a deck of cards, I looked up an onomatopoeia dictionary!  Not perfect, but definitely helpful for the onomatopoeia-challenged, like me.  Some interesting sounds?

  • vwomp or floovb - the bad tire of a car
  • kish-kish - ice skates
  • nnneeaoowww - a propellor plane
  • schhwaff - a flying arrow
Do I agree with all the sounds up there?  No, but it's a good place to start.  And what did I finally choose for shuffling cards?  Thith-thith-thith-thith.

What are your thoughts on these imitative words?  Do you like them, or do they drive you crazy?  Any interesting sounds that deviate from the usual bams and thuds?

Sunday, June 3, 2012


I've never really had difficulty coming up with titles for my work, but The Refugee (a working title) is driving me mad.  For years I've been trying to think up a better one, and I've decided that the best route would be to pull a line from Dante's Inferno--like Steinbeck took The Grapes of Wrath from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and Hemingway took The Sun Also Rises from Ecclesiastes.

But it's not as easy as I expected.  Most every line I consider sounds like the title of a sappy romance, not a time travel thriller.  Like "Breathe with the Soul".  Great title--for a romance.

Some others I've considered:

  • Honorable Enterprise
  • The Deep and Savage Road
  • Smoke on Air
  • Runs among the Lost
Right now, I'm torn between Honorable Enterprise and Runs among the Lost...But I don't really like either of them.  At all, actually.

Oh well.  In the words of Scarlett O'Hara, "I'll think about that tomorrow."  (I just finished Gone with the Wind, and I'm still on a reading high).

Speaking of book titles, this is awesome:  I especially like the last one :)

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Best Christmas Ever

Two of my favorite books of all time.  Two promising movies, starring about two dozen wonderful actors.  One day.

Yup.  I'm fidgeting in my chair like a two-year old right now, I'm so excited.

The first is The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo di Caprio as Jay Gatsby and Toby Maguire as Nick Carraway.

The second is Les Misérables, with Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Samantha Barks, to name a few.  I squealed when I saw the trailer today.

And, if I'm not mistaken (which is very possible), they both come out on Christmas.

So Santa can wait.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"Until you've lost your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was or what freedom really is." - Rhett Butler

500 pages into Gone with the Wind, and Rhett Butler is well on his way to becoming my all-time favorite literary character.  Not because he's handsome and charming and smart, while also being the epitome of Southern bad-boy (though all these things help), but because he's entertaining.  Every scene in which he partakes in dialogue, I end up laughing out loud.  His blunt, sarcastic comments keep me turning pages way faster than any of Scarlett O'Hara's wild whims.

But, I'm not so sure if he's earned the title of favorite character.  I can hardly choose a favorite book; selecting a favorite character is ten times harder.  Still, I have a list (though they're not ranked in any particular order), and Rhett has now joined the ranks of:

  • Dr. Livesey, the cool-headed, doctor who's kind yet still badass enough to fight pirates in one of my favorites,  Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.
  • Javert, the inspector who devotes his life to arresting Jean Valjean, but eventually has a change of heart, in Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo.
  • Uncas, literally the last of the Mohicans, in James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans.  He doesn't talk much, but his daring deeds to rescue the damsel-in-distress speak for themselves.
  • Severus Snape and Sirius Black, both bad-but-actually-good wizards of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.  Pretty self-explanatory.
  • Elizabeth Bennett.  Again, self-explanatory.  Strong despite hardships, smart and tactful, with a good heart.  The famous heroine of Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen.
  • Jay Gatsby, the wealthy former bootlegger of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.  To be played by Leonardo di Caprio in the upcoming movie (SO EXCITED).
  • Colonel Aureliano Buendía, the amateur alchemist-slash-war hero of Gabriel García Márquez's A Hundred Years of Solitude, who somehow manages to appear in practically every one of Márqeuz's works.
And plenty more who have earned my favor -- which I don't bestow lightly upon literary characters.  Several months after finishing the books, I'm still debating whether to give the honor to The Hunger Games's Haymitch Abernathy.  I like him--I like him a lot (especially when played by Woody Harrelson)--but I'm not sure if he has earned his way onto THE LIST.

What about you?  Who are your favorite characters of all time?

Monday, May 28, 2012


"I love deadlines.  I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by." - Douglas Adams
So as usual, I planned to be much more productive than I actually have been these past few weeks--which is why I promised a short story by the end of May.  Five pages.  Single spaced.  Not too difficult, right?  Well, it wouldn't be, if I hadn't forgotten about it until tonight.  And if I had the slightest idea what I was going to write about.  Because I don't.  At all.

So, that leaves about 74 hours to brew up a plot, birth some characters, and polish it all into a nice shiny story.

And after two hours of hitting my head against the keyboard, here's what I've got so far.

"Your mother is gone, Bea.  She...she didn't make it."

Well, that deadline might just whoosh by.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Book Stalking

Check this out!  If you love creeping (and who doesn't?), this is an interesting way to see what people are reading around the world.

Yet another way to get distracted.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Super Villain? Or Super Author?

After a few weeks, I have finally seen The Avengers.  What took me so long?  Because I didn't want to see it until I watched all the movies leading up to it:  Iron Man, Captain America, etc.  And for some reason, I just stubbornly refused to watch Thor.  I just wasn't into it.  Probably because, of the gang, Thor was the only one about whom I had no prior knowledge whatsoever.

So when I finally watched it a few days ago, I really wasn't paying attention.  Instead I was on my computer, working on revisions, checking Facebook, Tumblr, the usual.  Until I realized that this guy--

Loki, from Thor and The Avengers

--is also this guy--

F. Scott Fitzgerald, from Midnight in Paris
My reaction?  "THOR'S EVIL BROTHER IS F. SCOTT FITZGERALD!"  At that point, I was a goner. Sorry Tom Hiddleston, but since Midnight in Paris was the first movie I saw with you in it, you will always be F. Scott Fitzgerald to me.  Even when you're trying to take over Earth.

Though honestly, if Fitzgerald were trying to conquer the world, I think I'd be okay with that.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Thermostatic Neck Frills

I just looked at my very first draft of THE REFUGEE...and cringed.  Though I also broke into a fit of mild hysteria when I read this:

"Have you tried the thermostatic neck frill yet?"

According to Wikipedia, "Neck frill is the popular term for the relatively extensive margin seen on the back of the heads of reptiles with either a bony support such as those present on the skulls of dinosaurs."

But what I meant was a ruff, such as one typically imagines as essential to Shakespeare's get-up.

Hmmm...Quite fashionable.  A thermostatic (temperature-regulating) ruff would be kind of awesome, actually.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

My Three Favorite Things

Hemingway editing on his boat.

My three favorite things:  Hemingway, writing, and boats.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

We all do it...

What do we all do?  Psychoanalyze.  Our families, our friends, ourselves.  Especially ourselves.

So why not psychoanalyze characters as well?
A very useful website to help writers combine psychology and fiction.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Recreating this in my garden...

At least, I would if I had a garden.

"Never was a story of more woe..."

Supposedly the House of Montague, in Verona, Italy.
"...than this of Juliet and her Romeo" (V.III.309-310).

Arguably the most famous closing lines in the English language, they're also the reason I was left unsatisfied when I first read Shakespeare's classic tragedy.  To me, Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet are weak characters.  Cowardly characters, to choose death as they do.  Frankly, their stupidity makes me angry! (And don't get me started on Mercutio's death!)

Which is why I started to write Curiosity, a retelling of the play (as if the world needs another one of those.  Once we start making movies like Gnomeo and Juliet, we know we've exhausted the story).  More than anything it's may way of coming to terms with a frustrating finale.

An excerpt:

Supposedly the House of Capulet, in Verona, Italy.
I reach out, wrap my fingers around the handle.  It turns easily; I push open the door just enough for my body to slip through, and close it gently behind me.  Soft morning light pours forth from the window, ripples over the floor and spirals around the balusters of the bed, bathes the silver candlesticks in golden warmth.  The walls have faded to yellow cream, and in the sunbeams the dust floats fairylike, and the corner-spun cobwebs sparkle.  It seems no one has entered this room for ages.

I wonder...I run my fingers through a sheet of dust that blankets a wooden dresser.  They skim the edge of a piece of parchment, trace the cool glass of an empty inkwell, finger the ruffled down of a quill.  I blow, and the dust rises in a cloud, but the paper bears no name.  But maybe...All of a sudden it hits me.

This is the room of Romeo Montague.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Una fascinación con ladrones (A fascination with thieves)

Damaso and his wife, Ana, from the 1965 movie, En este pueblo no hay ladrones.
Thieves are sexy.

There is something extraordinarily romantic about their characters when it comes to literature, but I can't quite place it.  Because frankly, if someone tried to rob my house, I'd punch him.

I got thinking about thieves in literature after finishing a collection of short stories by Gabriel García Márquez, a Colombian author most famous for his novel A Hundred Years of Solitude, or in Spanish, Cien Años de Soledad.  Of all the stories, the one that most stuck with me was called "There are no Thieves in this Town" ("En este pueblo no hay ladrones"), which *SPOILER ALERT* begins when Damaso steals the billiard balls from the pool hall, and ends with their return and his capture, while wrongly accused of stealing two hundred pesos as well.  Even though he's not an especially sympathetic character, I found myself rooting for him and his wife, Ana.  And frankly, the final passage left me shaken:

     "What do you have there?" asked Roque.
     Damaso stepped back.  "Nothing," he said.  Roque reddened and began to tremble.  "What do you have there!" he shouted, stepping forward with the bar raised.  Damaso gave him the package.  Roque took it with his left hand, still on guard, and examined it with his fingers.  Only then did he understand.
     "It can't be," he said.
    He was so perplexed that he put the bar on the counter and seemed to forget Damaso while he was opening the package.  He contemplated the balls silently.
     "I came to put them back," said Damaso.
     "Of course," said Roque.
     Damaso felt limp.  The alcohol had left him completely, and there was only a gravelly sediment left on his tongue, and a confused feeling of loneliness.  "So that was the miracle," said Roque, wrapping up the package.  "I can't believe you could be so stupid."  When he raised his head, he had changed his expression.
     "And the two hundred pesos?"
     "There was nothing in the drawer," said Damaso.
      Roque looked at him thoughtfully, chewing emptily, and then smiled.  "There was nothing," he repeated several times.  "So there was nothing."  He grasped the bar again, saying:
     "Well, we're going to tell the Mayor this story right now."
    Damaso dried the sweat of his hands on his pants.
     "You knew there was nothing."
     Roque kept smiling.
     "There were two hundred pesos," he said.  "And now they're going to take them out of your hide, not so much for being a thief as for being a fool."

Rarely do short stories stick with me like that, and this one got me thinking.  Namely, as I've already said, about other literary thieves.  Some of my personal favorites include:

  • Jean Valjean -- Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
  • Long John Silver -- Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • The Artful Dodger -- Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens
  • Robin Hood - Various
Any others?

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Earlier this year I vowed to myself that I would have a functioning blog by the end of the summer.  But, as I'm quickly learning, I'm more technologically incompetent than I thought--so we'll see if that happens.

I've been reading more and more that all writers should have a website of some sort, and as an aspiring author, I'm going to give it a try.  I haven't quite worked out what I plan to post, though most likely summaries, first pages, maybe even a sample chapter or two, as I attempt to break into the published world.

A little bit about my work:  I dabble in quite a few genres, including historical fiction, mystery and suspense, fantasy, young adult, middle grade, poetry, and short stories.  I've been writing for a long time, and as I settle down for extensive revisions, I have started to give serious consideration to submitting my work for publication.

Well, that's all for now!  Off to bed!