Revised BLOG address

September 27, 2009

Thanks to Cheryl, I’m posting a new address for my personal BLOG.  I have no problem with it being shared.

Jack’s BLOG

My Mac doesn’t need all that trash, at the beginning and end, just the URL.  Presume it is required by the PC world?  If you still have trouble try calling me and explaining what I’m doing wrong. I had hope that all WOTJ’s would be able to easily read what few entries have been made to the BLOG.

Patience requested.

Taking the wind from my sails

September 27, 2009

For the past few months, I’ve been focused on one writing goal — to get my latest manuscript ready in time for the Jack London Writers Conference. I’ve polished my novel, written a synopsis, and practiced my pitch. My plan was to launch my manuscript at this conference.

The Jack London Writers Conference is hosted by the Peninsula branch of the California Writers Club (CWC) and held every other year. I had attended Jack London two years ago and it was fabulous — entertaining key-note speakers, great sessions on craft, and lots of agents. There were fewer literary agents participating this time. And yet I’d booked an appointment with an agent who would be a great match for my novel.

Yesterday, I learned that the Jack London Writers Conference has been cancelled – another casualty of the slumping economy and troubled publishing industry. No conference writing contest (which I had entered), no inspiring talks, no networking, and no appointment with that promising literary agent. Rats!

It is doubly sad that this cancellation should happen this year, during the CWC’s centennial celebration. “Sail On!” is the club’s motto. Yes, the CWC will sail onward, as will I. But yesterday’s sad news took some of the wind out of my sails.

Revision: Sentence by Sentence

September 23, 2009

This is a great exercise to strengthen your writing skills a sentence at a time.  The idea is to pick a random sentence and pull it out of context to see what it reveals and how it can be improved.  Here’s the process: 

Either grab the book nearest you or go to your own manuscript:

*Turn to page 56.
*Find the fifth sentence.
*What do you notice about this sentence? 

*What can you do to improve this sentence?

I pulled the following sentence from my novel:  Between Shadow’s Eyes

I’d worn sweat pants to bed, so I only needed to pack a few items and pull on my coat. 

What I noticed about this sentence was that it revealed alot of information:

1).  The reader knows what type of clothing the narrator is wearing.

2).  It is probably nightime.  Not only does the narrator indicate that she has worn sweat pants to bed, but she intends to pull on her coat. 

3).  The narrator is in a hurry.  She doesn’t want to take the time to change and she doesn’t intend to take all her belongings.

4).  It is cold outside since she thinks about grabbing a coat.

How can the sentence be improved?

1).  The reader knows what type of clothing the narrator is wearing, but not the color or condition.  Notice the additional information in the revised sentence.

I’d worn my old gray sweat pants to bed, so I only needed to pack a few items, grab a flashlight, and pull on my coat.

2). It is also possible it is early morning.  By including that she is taking a flashlight, the reader will know it is nightime.

I’d worn my old gray sweat pants to bed, so I only needed to pack a few items, grab a flashlight, and pull on my coat. 

3).  The narrator is in a hurry but we don’t know why.

I’d worn my old gray sweat pants to bed, so I only needed to pack a few items, grab a flashlight, pull on my coat, and sneak out before  Psycho Woman woke up.

4.  The weather is not critical and actually detracts from the main point so that it diffuses the tension.  With the addition of the flashlight, “pull on my coat” is not vital information.

Revised sentence:

I’d worn my old gray sweat pants to bed, so I only needed to pack a few items, grab a flashlight, and sneak out before  Psycho Woman woke up.

Note how the addition of detail, particularly adding the narrator’s motivation, coupled with the removal of extraneous information, increased the tension in this sentence.

Try this with  your own novel or even a published book.  It’s a great writing exercise.





September 22, 2009

Some time ago, at the urging of Cindy Luck, I created a BLOG – my first undertaking in this social networking caper.  Haven’t visited it often but that may change.  Check it out at your convenience. You’ll find it at  Comments welcome.

Doesn’t Everything Die?

September 17, 2009

I have never been a big fan of poetry, which is ironic, given that when I do read it, I tend to love it. How can I not embrace the imagery and the way those lean, clever words make me ponder? Last night at Back to School Night, my daughter’s freshman English teacher read Mary Oliver ‘s The Summer Day ( poets/mary_oliver) to the assembled parents. As a biologist and lover of literature, I cannot believe that I had never heard of this writer. She and I are kindred spirits, yet she unfolds the natural world in a way I have never experienced.

This learned woman who teaches high school English was not a wanna-be biology teacher. She read this poem to us parents, just as she had guided our children through the verses on the first day of school, because of the message in this beautifully written poem. Each stanza draws you in and leaves the reader with a simple reminder: We only get one shot at life. On this night, with a room filled with mothers and fathers, this English instructor closed her book and issued a challenge: Pause and ask yourself a question, not just at weddings or funerals or when you ship your children off to college, ask yourself today this concluding line of Mary Oliver’s poem: Tell me, what is it you plan to do With your one wild and precious life?

After ten meager minutes, I left the room wishing that I could spend a portion of my “wild and precious life” sitting in this woman’s English class. Since that isn’t possible, I vowed to search down and read more Mary Oliver poetry in the hopes that it will make me a better writer. Perhaps, some day as I practice the craft of writing, I too will capture the power of words that will make someone realize that death is inevitable, that every day is a gift, that each moment is an opportunity to reflect on the direction of one’s life. Until then, I offer the best alternative I can think of, which is to pass along Mary Oliver’s poignant phrase: Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Where Do You Write?

September 4, 2009

I am like Virginia Woolf, I do not have “A Room of One’s Own.” As a Californian living in one of the priciest areas, real estate is expensive. Thus, I live in a modest three bedroom, two bath house with my husband and two kids. We don’t have a spare room that I can claim as my writing space. Hence, my computer sits atop the end of my dining room table and this is where I write.

Fortunately, I am a Type A. I can disappear into my story with kid’s running around, the television blaring from the next room, an African Grey squawking in my ear, and my two dogs lying at my feet. With my eldest daughter heading off to college in a few weeks, I will have the luxury of moving my laptop into her bedroom. For the first time in my life, I will be able to practice my craft in solitude.

As I stand on the cusp of that sought after “Room of One’s Own” I’ve dreamed of for years, I’m not so sure a quiet space is a prerequisite to good writing. Moments of inspiration that have shifted the plot of my young adult novel to a whole new direction have occurred because I was in the hub of family activity. Like most things in life, there are pluses and minuses to every situation. Maybe, it doesn’t matter where you write, only that you DO write.

Where do you write? Do sticky notes cover your computer monitor? Where do you find inspiration?

One Approach to Critiquing

September 2, 2009

The Writers on the Journey critique group first formed in April 2006.  Back then, the group consisted of five aspiring authors: Margaret, Fran, Susan, Nannette, and me.  We met at one of Charlotte Cook’s creative writing workshops (Charlotte’s website) and struck up a friendship. Once the class ended, Fran and Margaret proposed that we continue to meet to encourage one another in our writing.

Over the years, the composition of the group has changed as former members left to pursue other goals and new members joined.  If you’ve read our bio pages, you’ll see that we’re a fairly diverse group.  You can’t pigeonhole us by genre, manuscript length, or audience.  In spite of our many differences, we all share at least one common experience.  We’ve all been students of Charlotte’s workshops, and her critiquing philosophy informs our meetings.

Submissions for critique are distributed or emailed ahead of time to give everyone ample time to read.  We read each submission beforehand and come prepared for discussion. We begin by reading excerpts that we particularly liked and thought were well-written.  The critique continues with a discussion of story, arc, and what works in the manuscript.  We follow that with offerings, noting passages that were confusing and giving suggestions for improvement.  Our goal is a balance of honest praise and constructive criticism, acknowledging strengths while encouraging growth.  With each revision, we hope to be one step closer to a polished manuscript and one manuscript closer to becoming better writers.

— Cheryl