Thursday, March 31, 2011

It's Goof-Off Day!

Fellow writer Tabitha Olson gave me this award. Thanks, Tabitha! The idea seems to be to post with it a list of pet peeves, which strikes me funny in conjunction with a "beautiful blogger" award, and I really don't feel I'm one for pet peeves in general...except maybe in language usage. So here are some language bugaboos that bug me. May we all not commit them today. :)

1. "It's not that big OF a deal." I don't mean the sentiment, I mean that OF in there. I see this construction in print all the time now. I suppose requesting to lose the "of" is futile, but, well, it is "that big a deal" to me.
2. "Orientated," unless you're British or Canadian. We U.S. of A-ers should be saying "oriented."
3. "Jew-ler-y," same disclaimer (British/Canadian spelling is jewellery). It's JEW-el-ry.
4. "New-kew-ler" as a pronunciation for "nuclear." Please, say "new-KLEE-er."
5. "REE-lit-ter" as a pronunciation for "Realtor" (which is also, unless things have changed, supposed to be capitalized). Say "REE-ul-ter."
6. Should of, would of, could of. Nope, it's should have, would have, could have. Despite what the pronunciation of contractions such as should've and shoulda would lead us to believe.
7. "In so." Strictly a regionalism (I think), this phrase occurs in remarks such as "Great weather we're having, in so?" or "Please turn out the lights when you leave, in so?" It's an expression asking for agreement and I suspect it's a short form of "isn't that so?" During my childhood, my dad pointed it out to me as a local expression that wasn't standard English ("It's not for educated people," is what he meant, but he was very kind about getting this across) and I dropped it from my vocabulary like a hot potato. Thanks, Dad. :)

What did I miss? If you're longing for a chance to play "language police," go to it. :D

Monday, March 28, 2011

March Critique Giveaway Winners! says the winners of this month's critique giveaway are: Mary Witzl and Amie Kaufman!

Here's the procedure. Email me at marcia at marciahoehne dot com:
  • The first 1000 words of your magazine story, chapter book, mid-grade novel, or YA novel pasted into the body of the email.
  • Be sure to tell me the genre of the material (one of the above four).
  • Put "(Month) critique winner" in the subject line.
  • Deadline to submit is April 20.
  • When I receive your email, I'll acknowledge receipt and let you know when you can expect my response.
Congratulations to Mary and Amie, thank you all so much for stopping by and entering, and by all means enter again next month! Wishing you all a great day in the world of books...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

March Book Pick -- Sugar and Ice by Kate Messner


Claire Boucher loves three things: her family's maple syrup farm, math, and figure skating. And something happens to her that so many kids, in their heart of hearts, dream about -- she gets Discovered. A world-class coach originally from Russia is looking for his next star, and suddenly Claire is training at the Lake Placid Olympic Training Facility on full scholarship.

And do her parents say, as she fears they might, "Nope, the commute is outrageous, you'll have no time for homework, and what about chores?" They don't. Not for a moment. They say to both Claire and each other, "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we'll make it work if it's what YOU/SHE want(s)." Whereas Claire had been prepared to say, "No thanks, it won't work for our family," and walk away. Do I LOVE the integrity and emotional health of these people or what?

Commitment of course involves sacrifice. Claire soon learns that when you train at this level, you live the sport. Practice times, and the days per week she's expected to show up in Lake Placid, increase. Homework -- including her math project on Fibonacci numbers--is a catch-as-catch-can proposition. And some thing simply change. She's far less available to her best friend. She doesn't have time to just skate on the frozen cow pond anymore. She can't join the school MATHCOUNTS team. She misses many aspects of the maple farm, and misses coaching the tiny beginning skaters she loves. Yet she loves Lake Placid, too, and despite normal nerves and uncertainty, proves that she belongs there. She finds a support system in the way that the other skaters handle studying. She makes wonderful new friends, including cute Luke who shares her enthusiasm for Fibonacci and helps her explore the theory that a skater's approach to a jump is a Golden Spiral.

And she makes the Mean Girls mad. Because she's the best. And Luke likes her. And Coach likes her. And they get Very Mad Indeed.

Claire is just a delightful character, as are her parents, her skating cousin Charlotte, and her friends Tasanee, Luke and Abby at Lake Placid. The skating coach is tough but human. Even the mean girls are more than one-dimensional, as we get to see inside the family problems of one and the family figure skating legacy of another. SPOILERS:  And in the end, the one who challenges Claire most directly for top spot is also the one to show the most decency.

Claire learns a lot about whom to trust and that "the kisses of an enemy may be profuse," as Proverbs says. She also learns specific, helpful things about mental challenges that readers can apply to most any pursuit. But the issue that lingers long after the story ends, is this: Just what IS our responsibility to our talent? Though she must struggle and work hard, Claire clearly has what it takes to reach national and perhaps Olympic level. Does this obligate her? She has left a full, rich, and varied life behind to pursue skating with her whole being -- is that what one must do when the talent level is there? Should we be frustrated with people who have abundant talent yet walk away? (I think of so many parents and teachers who bemoan "gifted kids" who won't "apply themselves.") I don't think there are easy answers to these questions, and that makes this story excellent for any kind of discussion group.

And that's not the end of the fun. Tasanee, Claire's good skating friend, loves to read (and finds time for it!). Her genre of choice is popular paranormal YA. If you know that genre, you'll have fun figuring out which titles and authors she's reading.

Enough talk -- If you like excellent contemporary MG, get a copy of Sugar and Ice and, like Tasanee, start reading. :)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

March Critique Giveaway

It's critique time. Enter to win! Here are the rules and caveats:
  • I will critique TWO manuscripts each month. By "manuscript" I mean the first 1000 words of a children's magazine story, chapter book, mid-grade novel, or YA novel. Please, fiction only. No picture books or easy readers. No poetry.
  • Enter the drawing by commenting on this post AND stating that you wish to enter. This frees you up to comment, ask a question, or just say hey WITHOUT throwing your name in the hat.
  • For an additional entry, become a follower, and tell me so (or that you already are one).
  • For additional entries, post links to this contest and give the URLs.
  • You may enter one ms. per month. No one person can win both critiques in a single month.
  • Include your email in the comment. But if not, be sure to check back to see if you've won!
  • Enter now through Sunday March 27.
  • Any story that you plan to enter in an ICL contest is ineligible. Since I am an ICL instructor, I cannot edit stories that you intend to enter in an Institute contest.
  • My critique is only one opinion. This business is SO subjective. Any suggestions I make that resonate with you are yours for the taking. Compare mine with those from other beta readers, critique partners, writing teachers, etc. Even if specific suggestions vary, when two or more critiquers pinpoint a certain passage or aspect, there's probably a need for revision there. Yet don't feel you must take advice you don't agree with. In the end, it's your story.
  • Winners will be announced Monday, March 28.
So if the above sounds good to you, let the entering begin!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Soapbox Series #3 (or Reading, 'Riting, Ranting) -- "I Don't Have Time to Write"

You know those pet topics? The ones people raise over and over again, the oft-voiced misconceptions, the FAQs, the "if I had a nickel..." comments, the remarks that make you want to wax eloquent? Most any human endeavor offers them, certainly every profession, and writing is no different. This irregular column covers such topics that I find commonly raised by aspiring writers, acquaintances, those closer than acquaintances, or people who are simply fascinated by what writers do, and allows me to rant -- er, expound -- on them. Today's "if I had a nickel" comment is: "I don't have time to write," its variation, "I'll write as soon as life settles down," and its question form: "How do you find time to write?"

I got this question once in the supermarket cereal aisle. I was a little surprised at the source. She'd been a high school classmate; extra-curricular list as long as your arm; took every college-prep class offered; played two musical instruments; and went on to become a teacher, wife, mom, and volunteer. I expected somebody this savvy, and with this much energy to burn, to know better, I guess. I opened my mouth, and this is what came out: "How do you find time to work?" I was gratified by the understanding that lit her face. She got it. She made time for her profession, and all the commitment and dedication that implies, and I made time for mine.

But she's rare, plus we were comparing career time-slots in each of our lives head-to-head. The question seems more of a quandary when you already have a day job, when a crisis hits, or when you're an at-home mom wondering how to fit in even a bathroom break. It's tempting, in these cases, to feel that the only difference between you and a writer is that the writer has hours of empty time to fill and you don't. Or, in a slightly less arrogant vein, the writer lives in a book-lined study with a cup of tea, a cat, a view, the scent of lilacs wafting in on the breeze, enchanting tales spilling from her tranquil  brain, and nothing but the soft clack of keys to punctuate the idyllic silence. While you live in kid-screaming, traffic-honking, clock-watching, boss-yelling, errand-running, TV-chattering, phone-ringing, head-pounding, meeting-cluttered, double-booked chaos.

Which uncovers one huge misconception: That writers live in a bubble, and until we can become Bubble Boy/Girl, we're stuck. You'll write when the kids get older, you say? What -- you think it gets easier then? When they need you to take them to the mall, help choose their high school classes, practice driving, talk late at night, apply to colleges, visit colleges, apply for financial aid, plan weddings -- and then it's "Hello Grandma" and there you are with little kids again? Now what -- do you wait for those kids to get older too? And the foregoing represents only the parental curriculum; what about the parental extra-curriculars? What if you can't say no to the barrage of requests to coach sports, chaperon field trips, teach Sunday School, direct the choir, be the team mom? What if (gasp) you homeschool? Why would the kids getting older magically uncover any writing time? Especially when your parents are now older, too? As are you.

Writers write, publish, and smile through their promo events with life in all its messy glory seething behind the scenes. They do it with cancer and other serious illnesses or conditions--their own or a family member's. They do it with crumbling marriages, wayward kids, threatened foreclosures, and ongoing legal hassles. I'll be honest: Some of them do it through situations that would knock the pegs out from under me. They do it through neutral or happy times, too: moves, weddings, births, remodeling projects, job changes. We can't predict whether or when many of these things will happen. Every time one of them occurs, will it be a roadblock that makes you say, "I'll write as soon as life settles down"? If so, you won't sustain enough forward momentum to really, in the end, be a writer.

We all find time for what we really want to do. Making time to write (or do anything else) is about choices, and it's about plugging time leaks. I've long believed in scheduling my time on a week-by-week basis, and I strongly recommend the book 168 Hours: You Have More Time than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. She advises this: Every time you say the words "I don't have time," substitute "It's not a priority." Then examine how you feel about that. If it's not a priority, then indeed, don't make time for it. But if it is a priority, there's no sensible next step but to do just that. Yes, if you are a writer, you do have time to work, nurture a family, exercise, eat right, sleep enough -- and write.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

More Writer's First Aid: Getting the Writing Done--Book Two, by Kristi Holl

Quickie Question: What's THE MOST important factor in a would-be writer's success?  

Talent level? High-concept story ideas? Those matter, no doubt, but publication doesn't always go to the most talented or most commercial. Mastery of craft? Well, yes, but what enables us to stay the course long enough to even begin to achieve it? Having time to write? Nope, you're getting colder. :) If you're thinking along the lines of perseverance, you're getting warmer, but I'd like to state it this way: The single greatest aid to your success as a writer is creating a writing life that works for you. In her latest book, More Writer's First Aid, Kristi Holl, the author of almost 40 books and a writing instructor for over 25 years, helps you do just that.

If there's one thing Kristi knows, it's that dreams, broad goals, and well-laid plans are one matter; but working through the daily grind, interruptions, fears, procrastination, illnesses, vacations, disapproving family members, computer crashes, Facebook addictions, job demands, and too-frequent trips to the fridge are quite another. Too many days of the latter, and we won't accomplish the former. Too many days of the latter...and that becomes our life. The writing doesn't happen. But it doesn't have to be this way.  For those bugaboos that are usually our first snares--no matter how long we've been writing--there is first aid.

In a conversational, writer-to-writer style and short-chapter format, Kristi discusses many aspects of enjoying the writing life, good work habits, a writer's emotions, and home and family concerns. For example: Did you know that procrastination is a cycle? I never thought of it that way, but the good news is that cycles can be broken! Kristi shows how. And though it may be no surprise that lots of time gets eaten up online, if we can control even one aspect, such as compulsive email checking, we'll gain not only time but sustained concentration. “If the average e-mail checker takes 64 seconds to recover her train of thought," Kristi writes, "I'm guessing that the average creative writer takes longer than that. For fiction especially, you have to take time to re-enter your pretend world. You have to re-immerse yourself in your characters, the setting, the problem, and the emotional place in the current scene.” Italics mine, as I couldn't agree more!

Do you need "permission" to write what you love, what you're passionate about, instead of what you think will sell and bring in an income to "justify" your writing? You'll receive that encouragement here. Do you need to make time to write with preschoolers underfoot--or college kids home on break? There's a whole chapter on writing during the various stages of parenthood. And, sometimes, we all need to weather things much tougher than mountains of laundry, phone calls bugging us to chair this or that committee, or friends who don't get why we don't just quit already. For those hard times, there are chapters titled "Writing Through the Storms of Life" and "Writing After Major Losses." 

More Writer's First Aid: Getting the Writing Done, Book Two is available NOW in e-book format through Kristi's website (a more colorful .pdf version) and on Amazon Kindle (black and white version for Kindle, iPad, Blackberry, etc.). Having this book at hand is like having a good writer friend right in your own office.