Saturday, February 27, 2010

The 1950’s

5 comments
by Hilde Garcia

My next-door neighbor came over today and shared with me two photos from 1954. In the first photo, he posed with his mom our driveway and in the second photo, his mom is standing by her white picket fence in the back yard.

She’s waving in the photo. I can’t believe that’s my back yard. There is a chain link fence there now, and the bushes and flowers have been replaced with red stone pavers.

When I was growing up, I read all the time. I wanted to live in a house with a white picket fence and have my own room. Instead, I lived in a one-bedroom apartment with my parents and my brother and we slept in the living room.

I wanted to grow up and write stories that started with Once Upon A Time and ended with Lived Happily Ever After. I yearned for the nostalgia I read about, the Dick and Jane books, and idyllic YA stories like Anne of Green Gables. I wished for a room like hers.

Here we are, many, many years later. YA is a whole new ball game. No more picket fences and neighbors saying hello. Many of my favorite current novels explore themes like abuse, suicide, sex, drinking and highlight main characters that are left of center, characters that go against the grain.

Edgy YA, that’s what everyone calls it. I thought I would never be able to write that type of story. That’s the thought in the back of my head. And yet, if I follow the advice of write what you know, I should have a best seller.

In my youth, there was abuse. I thought about suicide. I tasted my first beer at 15. I was so scared my mom would smell it on my breath that I didn’t talk the whole way home from the party. My legs were numb and I felt slightly queasy. I remember looking for books that would explain these feelings to me, to help guide me. My parents were oblivious to me needs, just trying to live the American Dream. They couldn’t understand my angst for freedom, my need to explore sex and go out and be a teenager. We might have left Cuba, but Cuba didn’t leave us. I was to be a good Cuban girl. (No drinking, no sex, no drugs).

I decided to write what I knew. Why not? It’s hard, because it’s close to the core. But I found that the YA novels I love the most are the ones in which the author lets me in and takes me on a journey. And when I have lived in his world, I feel good, sometimes bad, but better to have gone on the journey.

Is there a white picket fence in my story- perhaps, but the truth is that my character wants to be heard and has much to say and is finding her way, which is an eternal human condition. That’s a good place to start.

Maybe my earlier life will lead me to a powerful story and maybe my need to write it is so that it will be there for the next person who is exploring and needs to feel reassured.

It may not start with once upon a time, something more like, “I live in a one-bedroom apartment.”

Either way, idyllic is all in how you remember it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Answers to the Last Post

4 comments
by Susan Berger

Once upon a time there was a pair of pants.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Ann Brashares

There was a time once when the earth was still very young, a time some call the oldest days. This was long before there were any people about to dig parts of it up and cut parts of it off. People came along much later, building their towns and castles (which nearly always fell down after a while) and plaguing each other with quarrels and supper parties.
The Search for Delicious" by Natalie Babbitt
(Rachel Brachman gave me this first line. Now I have to go to the library and check it out. I love this start.)

When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of that hurricane and, of course, the fact that he’s caused it.
“Savvy” by Ingrid Law
(I plan to read this one.)

It was bitter cold, the air electric with all that had not happened yet. The world stood still, four o’clock dead on. Nothing moved anywhere, not a body, not a bird; for a split second there was only silence, there was only stillness. Figures stood frozen in the frozen land, men, women, and children.
“A Reliable Wife” by Robert Goolrick.
(Borders is pushing this book as a great read. I can see why)

Lucky Trimble crouched in a wedge of shade behind the Dumpster. Her ear near a hole in the paint-chipped wall of Hard Pan's Found Object Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center, she listened as Short Sammy told the story of how he hit rock bottom. How he quit drinking and found his Higher Power. Short Sammy's story, of all the rock-bottom stories Lucky had heard at twelve-step anonymous meetings -- alcoholics, gamblers, smokers, and overeaters -- was still her favorite.
The Higher Power of Lucky" by Susan Patron
(Another first line gift from Rachel. And, yes, I do want to read it.)

One day, a lion came to the library. He walked right past the circulation desk and up into the stacks.
“Library Lion” by Michelle Knudson, Illus by Kevin Hawkes
These next three are the Rhyming Picture books:
Not last night but the night before three black cats came knocking at the door.
“Not Last Night But The Night Before” by Colin McNaughton, Illus by Emma Chichester Clark

One morning at the breakfast table, when I read the juice box label, (thinking it was tightly closed), my daddy’s pants got orange-hosed.
“I Always Get My Way” by Thad Kranesky, Illus by David Parkins
(Thad is a first time picture book author. It was published in 2009)

When I grow up I’ll live in a tree; Just my cats Quentin, Quigley, and me.

“Growing Up Dreams” by Susan J. Berger, Illus by Samantha Bell
(Ok I used one of my own. It will be published this year as an ebook and a print book and, I believe also as an ipod application here is an illustration from the book)

Things could always be worse. That’s what my grandma says anyway whenever something really bad happens. I’ve always thought that was a pretty good way to look at life. But lately I’m not so sure, because I don’t think things can get any worse.
“My Life In Pink and Green” by Lisa Greenwald.


On February 7th I heard Michael Reisman and Ben Esch speak at The Flintridge Bookstore and Coffee Shop “Writer to Writer” event. Their topic was writing for boys and what kinds of books interested boys. It was a delightful seminar.
(These next first lines are dedicated to them.)

1. Being dead was colder than Mark expected.

2. Look, I didn’t want to be a half blood. If you’re reading this cause you might be one, my advice is: close the book right now.

3. Monday 9:28 AM “What the hell, Dixie?” A piece of paper slammed against Dixie’s computer screen eclipsing the game of Ski Free he’s been playing for the past hour.

4. “I am such a coward,” Ben said to himself. “When someone pushes ahead of me in line at the bakery, I don’t say anything. When I wear my favorite pair of flowered overalls, I’m scared of being laughed at. And when I hear strange noised at night, I’m afraid it’s a spook under my bed. I need help.”

5. Here is a story that’s stranger than strange. Before we begin you might want to arrange: a blanket a cushion a comfortable seat and maybe some cocoa and something to eat.

6. Once upon a time in the Wild Wild West, there lived a rancher and his wife. Every morning just as the sun was coming up, the rancher saddled his horse and fed the cattle, while his wife baked biscuits. Biscuits with butter, biscuits with honey, biscuits with jelly…Yes those breakfast biscuits were as plump as pillows, soft as clouds and tasty as a big Texas barbeque. (I am now officially hungry.)

7. One hot summer morning Peter Pig woke up and thought of a new song.

8. The story I am about to share with you takes place in 1931 under the roofs of Paris. Here you will meet a boy named Hugo Gabret, who once long ago, discovered a mysterious drawing that changed his life forever.

9. I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on my skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink when the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

10. Look around you. What do you see? If you’re inside, you might see walls carpeting, furniture. If you’re outside, you might see grass, buildings, sky. But the world is a lot more complicated than it seems.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Four Tips to Punch Up Your Word Power

1 comments
by Kris Kahrs

Four Tips to Punch Up Your Word Power

--It’s Alive!: Language is a living thing because the people who use it are living. Like all living things, as it grows, it changes, so it doesn’t look or sound the same from one century to the next. The speakers of a language themselves change words and how they are used. It’s easy to wring hands over our misused native tongue, but if language doesn’t evolve with the people who speak it, we would all still speak the first language invented.

Words are frequently corrupted through mispronunciation and mis-usage. Current corrupt pronunciations of “sword”, pronounced as “swored” and “comptroller” as “comtroller” are common. In the future, these mispronunciations may well become standard.

An example of contemporary mis-usage is the confusion of weary and wary. It is not unusual to hear speakers in conversation or the media say they are “weary” of trying a new item, when the context of the sentence indicates the speaker means either “wary” or “leery”, and has confused them into one word meaning “tired”.

What all this means for writers is that it’s o.k. to create new words while writing. In fact, writers are responsible for creating quite a few new words. William Gibson coined the terms, cyberspace and microsoft among others. People create new words everyday, mostly by accident, but that’s how language grows. “Incenting” wasn’t a word until business writers needed a verb in the early nineties that described motivating people with an incentive.

A YA writer will benefit from listening to high school age speakers for up-to-the-moment vocabulary, idioms and usage. Writers of historical fiction can get a feel for period dialog either through reading appropriate periodicals, letters or books or, if writing about a period of antiquity, studying the linguistics of the language at that time. Challenge: Historical fiction writers read up on Grimm’s law. Named for the older of the Brothers Grimm (of the fairytale fame), it is an elaboration of the first systematic sound change discovered in linguistics.

--Le mot juste. Creating powerful, expressive writing is, much like selecting the right tool for the job, finding the words that create a sentence Gestalt. The words of a sentence Gestalt create more impact, more emotion, more enlightenment together than they do apart. Hear the difference in these sentences: “an eye for an eye and soon the whole world is blind” and “hitting someone doesn’t do any good”. The meaning of both sentences is largely the same, but the former, a quote from Gandhi conveys the eventual folly in repaying an act of violence with violence.

Exercise: Read Winston Churchill’s speech to the House of Commons delivered on the eve of World War II. Here’s an excerpt. “This is no war of domination or imperial aggrandizement or material gain; no war to shut any country out of its sunlight and means of progress. It is a war, viewed in its inherent quality, to establish, on impregnable rocks, the rights of the individual, and it is a war to establish and revive the stature of man.” He sums up in 2 sentences why Britons are fighting. The first sentence says what the war isn’t. The second sentence says what the war is. Churchill’s word choice is precise. Even 70 years later, these words are eloquent, simple, clear.

--Listen to the sound of words: rhyme, alliteration, rhythm, onomatopoeia. Every chosen word offers the reader potential sensory transport. The sound transport of a word can be especially fun to play with for a writer. Exercise: Experiment with the assimilated foreign words in English. What is more ear-catching than the shooshing and shushing sounds of Yiddish words like schmaltz, shmata, schlemiel, schlep, kvetch. Sometimes, English doesn’t have the right word and needs to borrow one that sums up an idea that takes a whole sentence or phrase to convey. For instance, Schadenfreude, (also a whole lot of fun to say, like its Yiddish cousins above), means to take pleasure in another’s misfortune. Exercise: read any book by Dr. Seuss. Notice the “mouth feel”.

--Get Back to the Roots: The English language is roughly half French and half German depending upon who was invading Britain at a given point in history. Word roots can tell you anything you want to know about a word. It’s called Etymology. Etymology can be fertile ground for a writer. Let’s use Etymology to help us choose a name for our characters. Names typically have meanings associated with them, such as, “Susan”, is generally believed to come from the Hebrew word for Lily. The current trend in child naming extends to using last names as first names, such as “Cooper”, “Chandler” or “Sawyer”. Using Etymology, the writer discovers that these last names were created to indicate a person’s profession. Knowing this, the writer may have second thoughts about calling a 5 year old character a Barrel-maker, candle-maker or someone who saws wood and may opt for a name that reveals more about the character’s intrinsic qualities instead. Resource: A Brief History of English by Richard Lederer.

We all agree. Language is probably one of our best inventions. It doesn’t matter if it’s English, Swahili or Mandarin; prose, poetry or song lyrics. The right words at the right time have the power to incite people to action; move audiences to tears or transport a child to a world down a rabbit hole.

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Confessions of a Derailed Blogger

6 comments
by Hilde Garcia

January 27, 2010
Things to do, laundry, dishes, bills, write my blog. I will get to my blog tonight.

“Mommy!” My son yells. I break up an argument between my twins. There’s a knock on the door. Now what? My neighbor brings back my dog, Buddy.

“Thanks.” I didn’t even know he was missing. Oh crap, the pasta is boiling over! Saved the pasta! It is cooling. I sit at my desk. Five minutes. Let me start my blog.

“AHHHHHH.” I hear a loud crash and a scream. My daughter has fallen off of the chair. Do I dare ask what happen?

“Victoria try to fly, mommy.” Well, that answers that. Ice pack on boo-boo.

January 28, 2010
Finally, laundry is done, dishes are done, kids and hubby are sleeping. I am not too tired. I sit down to write. This is so exciting.

“Mommy.” I hear a whimper. I ignore it. It gets louder. I stand very still. Oh please, just go back to bed. You never wake up, why now? I find myself pleading to the air.

“MOMMY, my ear, help me!” I go to the bathroom. My son is screaming, holding his ear and crying. My son never cries, not even when he got three stitches on his chin when he was one and not even when he knocked out his front tooth when he was three.

Doctor Mom knows this is one of those bad ear infections that needs an ER visit for the right combination of drugs that will calm him down and shut him up so he can go back to sleep.

I take him to the ER. I figure, an hour tops, in and out. WRONG. Three hours later, drugs in child, child sleeping, very tired me at my computer.

January 29, 2010
“Honey?” I feel a hand on my shoulder. I open my eyes and wipe the drool on my desk. I see my document before me- six pages of the letters SHSHSHS. My face has bumps on it. I look in the mirror. The keyboard indents my right cheek.

January 31, 2010
I haven’t written in days. I feel like a loser, but I have such a good idea for a blog post… if I could only find a moment to sit down at the computer for five minutes.

February 1, 2010
I have to get the birthday Thank You cards in the mail, finish the digital calendar for the family before the year is over, bake a cake for hubby’s birthday tomorrow and the laundry is back on my bed. If I don’t fold it, I’ll just end up sleeping on the couch.

Who am I kidding? This blog post is not going to happen today.

February 2, 2010
“Honey, I have to work late,” says hubby. Great. I’m on duty all day and I have to pull overtime with no pay. I’m too tired for the whole bath time routine.

“Ok, kids, time for bed.” I grumble.

“What about our bath?” My daughter asks. Seriously?

“You look clean enough to me.” I say. I mean, who is going to know?

“What about story?” My son asks. Not tonight, kiddo.

“Daddy will read you two tomorrow.” Music, lights off, kiss, bye. I am outta there.

FINALLY TIME TO WRITE.

Instead I get an email from the preschool telling me about a disgruntled parent’s issue.

Now what?

I have to deal with it because someone decided to leave me in charge of the school.

My brain is going to explode.

The board meeting is tomorrow. I have paperwork to prepare. Tonight is my night to write. Instead I’m mad, so I clean the house, do the laundry and detail the bathroom.

February 3, 2010
Morning. My eyes are raw from lack of sleep. I deal with the school situation, then deal with the new families who wonder what is happening. I then chair a board meeting. I then drink a glass of wine and take a Claritin D and go to bed and sleep- finally, after 36 hours.

I will write tomorrow, now that everything and everyone is on track.

February 4, 2010
I wake up at 3:30am, screaming,, internally of course, only crying on the outside. I hold my ear. I’m doubled over with pain. There is no justice. An hour later, I’m in the ER. No sleep yet, just lots of drugs. Childbirth wasn’t this painful. I have an ear infection on my eardrum, which is about to rupture. Go figure.

I sleep for 24 hours. I’m in a cloud. The laundry piles up, the dishes join the laundry, and the dog ate his bed. My kids have wrecked the house. There is no writing for me today. But neither will there be any housework.

I’m on strike. I lie in bed and stare at the ceiling and dream of things to be written.

February 5, 2010
Desk clean. House clean. Laundry done. Bathroom doesn’t smell like pee. Kids are at school. Hubby is at work. Roommate, who lives in the garage, is on three errands. Dogs are taking a nap. No noise, no paperwork on my desk. Thank You cards and paperwork for school done. Critique group meets tonight. I have my blog post, Confessions of a Derailed blogger. I might even have time to revise my chapter.

What would happen if I don’t show up at school to pick up the kids? Would they wait for me? Should I wait for them to call and say I forgot to show up? Would my kids hold it against me that I forgot to pick them up? I mean they are only 5.

I’m writing. Do I really want to get up from my desk and go anywhere? No. I am afraid I won’t find my way back to my computer.

But I have to go and pick up the kids and dog food and make something for dinner and I should start another load so it is done when I return and oh brother, here I go again.

NOT!

February 7, 2010
I’m back on track and here’s my blog.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Answers to My Last “Great First Lines” Post

13 comments
Here are the answers to my last “Great first lines” post and, of course, ten new lines.

1. Five little puppies dug a hole under the fence and went for a walk in the wide, wide world.
The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey - Illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren

2. If I could give you just one word of advice, it would be…well, an incomplete sentence. Besides being grammatically iffy, I’m sure you’d agree that a single word of advice is rarely of much use.
A Whole Nother Story as told by (the one and only) Dr. Soup



3. Bliss to you. Bliss to you! Is me who is dog, Trixie Koontz, happy dog.
I, Trixie Who is Dog -Dean Koontz Illustrated by Janet Cleland
(I had to use this. Dean Koontz normally writes some of the best first paragraphs around. Treat yourself to an hour in a bookstore or library reading them. This is the only children’s book I ever saw by him)







4. Sometimes you wake up and the world is just plain different.
Witch and Wizard by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet
5. It is universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Graeme –Smith

6. I didn’t always live here, and by “here” I do not mean the La Brea Tar Pits where I am writing this down in a notebook –I mean Los Angeles. When I was a little kid, I lived in Chicago.
The Neddiad by Daniel Pinkwater (I loved this book. He has a sequel coming out)

7. That summer, let’s see, I’m still living in the basement, my own private down under, in the little room Grim built for me there.
Freak, the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick











8. 12th day of September- I am commanded to write an account of my days; I am bit by fleas and plagued by family. That is all there is to say.
Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman (This one is one of Hilde’s favorites.)

9. Sometimes extraordinary things begin in ordinary places.
The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty Birney

















10. It was the middle of August 1966, and me and Wayne and Dad and about two hundred people were sweating and stinking in the auditorium of the Sand Mountain High School, home of the Mighty Mighty Miners.
Down Sand Mountain by Steve Watkins

Here are the new first lines. Some are from favorites. Some are from new books. Three were given to me from Rachel Brachman, a new member of our critique group. The rest I found in the bookstore. Did you ever browse the bookstore or library and fall in love with an author’s first line?

1. Once upon a time there was a pair of pants.

2. There was a time once when the earth was still very young, a time some call the oldest days. This was long before there were any people about to dig parts of it up and cut parts of it off. People came along much later, building their towns and castles (which nearly always fell down after a while) and plaguing each other with quarrels and supper parties.

3. When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of that hurricane and, of course, the fact that he’s caused it. (Having read that, I HAVE to read this book.)

4. It was bitter cold, the air electric with all that had not happened yet. The world stood still, four o’clock dead on. Nothing moved anywhere, not a body, not a bird; for a split second there was only silence, there was only stillness. Figures stood frozen in the frozen land, men, women, and children. (This is actually an adult book, but wow, what a beginning!)

5. Lucky Trimble crouched in a wedge of shade behind the Dumpster. Her ear near a hole in the paint-chipped wall of Hard Pan's Found Object Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center, she listened as Short Sammy told the story of how he hit rock bottom. How he quit drinking and found his Higher Power. Short Sammy's story, of all the rock-bottom stories Lucky had heard at twelve-step anonymous meetings -- alcoholics, gamblers, smokers, and overeaters -- was still her favorite.

6. One day, a lion came to the library. He walked right past the circulation desk and up into the stacks.

The next three first lines are from rhyming picture books. Two were published in 2009. One is coming out in 2010. One is from a first time author. None of the three were illustrated by the author. This is for those of us who still love to write in Rhyme. There is hope. Rhyming books are still being published.)

7. Not last night but the night before three black cats came knocking at the door.

8. One morning at the breakfast table, when I read the juice box label, (thinking it was tightly closed), my daddy’s pants got orange-hosed.

9. When I grow up I’ll live in a tree; Just my cats Quentin, Quigley, and me.

10. Things could always be worse. That’s what my grandma says anyway whenever something really bad happens. I’ve always thought that was a pretty good way to look at life. But lately I’m not so sure, because I don’t think things can get any worse.