Wednesday, March 31, 2010

WWC 2010 Excitement Builds

This year's Willamette Writers Conference will be held August 6-8. The workshop schedule has just been posted, and bios are up for the agents, editors, and presenters.

As a writer of young adult (YA) fiction I am thrilled that Andrea Brown will here this year. The Andrea Brown Literary Agency represents authors of juvenile literature and at least one of its agents has attended the conference in recent years. This year Andrea herself will be presenting workshops and taking pitches.

I met Andrea at the WWC years ago during lunch. One of the reasons I like this conference is because you never know who you will meet between the workshops and pitches. Generally the agents and editors will ask others at the lunch table what they are writing. If it's within his or her area of interest, the agent/editor will usually ask for more detail about your project. If not, they often suggest agents or publishers that may be looking for a work like yours. So -- in addition to purchasing one-on-one sessions with an agent or editor, attendees often have other opportunities to promote their writing.

I also see that an editor from Tor (Stacy Hague-Hill) will be taking pitches. Science Fiction and Fantasy fans will know this imprint.

Mystery readers and writers will be excited to hear that Hallie Ephron will be presenting several workshops during the conference.

Every year I say I don't need to attend the conference if I don't have something to pitch. Then I get the brochure and see the workshops offered and can't wait to go.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday Stills: A Day in the Life

Ed's challenge was to illustrate how we spend a day -- limited to four pictures and no archive shots permitted.

Wednesday, March 24
Somewhere in suburban Portland, Oregon:

First order of this and every day: walk the dog.

Newspaper and coffee before venturing out.

Barn day: groom, tack up, and ride (Phantom looks thrilled).

After dinner it's time to work on my current YA novel.

See how other's met the challenge at Sunday Stills.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Signs of Spring

The great shedding blowout of 2010:

The shedding blade, jelly scrubber, and a nice breeze carpeted the little barn with a layer of white hair.

Too bad there isn't a use for all of this hair -- other than nesting material.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday Stills: The Color Orange

Per usual, I wondered how I was going to meet Ed's weekly photography challenge. Then -- I saw orange everywhere!

So here we go:

Orange extension cord

Zorro and the Orange Traffic Cone (color enhanced)

Source of the Orange Traffic Cone

Orange reflector (Kim's horse trailer)

Orange scissors (Linda's grooming box)

Orange kitty (Scar working the "cuteness" factor)

See how others met the challenge at Sunday Stills.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Enquirer Missed this Story

Cross Country Fence Sprouts Calf Head

Boarders at this Willamette Valley boarding stable say the calf head appeared suddenly and without warning. They had no reason to believe the movable cross country fence was unusual in any way prior to the appearance of the head.

Fortunately, the residents and boarders at this barn indicate their horses are not frightened of the calf head, which is eerily still and quiet. The calf head is not bothered by ropes, despite numerous attempts to elicite a reaction.

The cause of this anomaly is unknown. Speculation includes fallout from the Hanford Nuclear Site far to the northeast, or the now defunct Trojan Nuclear Power Plant some distance to the northwest. Experts have not yet been consulted to investigate this phenomenon.

In the meantime, the boarders remain wary of the calf head and watchful for any changes in its demeanor.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Author Wannabes

Yesterday's Northwest Author Series was a reminder of the various Author Wannabes that I've encountered in classes, at conferences, and in seminars. It's very interesting to consider where the attendees are coming from -- not their residence, but their attitude toward writing.

Some folks can't not write. Whether it's lists, diaries, epic novels, or poetry -- they write. Then there are the folks who suddenly one day get a bee in their bonnet to write a novel. Oftentimes the person has a single story to tell. Sometimes it's the belief that they too would like a million dollar advance for sitting around all day like Stephen King.

The questions they ask in classes or at conferences reveal what category they belong to.

Me -- I've always scribbled. I have started stories all my life. Finished few. I therefore came to the early realization that this writing stuff is hard. I used my writing skills in most every job I had and, although I wasn't writing fiction, I was still trying to communicate clearly. I've kept a journal since I was 18. A lot of venting, tears, boring lists of the day's activities, my observations on the world around me, etc. I've also taken fiction writing courses, read numerous books and magazines about writing fiction, attended the Willamette Writers Conference numerous times, and read the kind of fiction that I would like to write. I understand that to write with the hope of becoming published requires work.

So yesterday, one of the attendees raises her hand and prefaces her question for Naseem Rakha with the statement that she's not a writer, but..."Is it possible for someone to just sit down and start writing and end up with a book?"

Well, if you're Naseem Rakha you can because you've been a broadcast journalist for many years. Which means you've conducted research, organized the material, drafted the story, edited it many times, and ended with a segment for OPB or NPR that has interesting characters, an intriguing situation, and a complete story arc.

When Naseem Rakha sits down to write and write and write without an outline, she is not just putting words to paper in hopes of finding a story somewhere among the hundreds of pages produced. She has already done research on the characters, setting, premise, and anything else that will flesh out her story. Ms. Rakha understands story structure and has already formed in her mind what plot points need to happen when and where.

I don't generally raise my hand at these sessions, but I did ask where Ms. Rakha was in the process of creating The Crying Tree when she took Eric Witchey's course. She was still writing the first draft and unwilling to completely outline her story because that's not how her creative process functions. However, she did apply Witchey's elements of a good scene in going through her first draft as the first step in her editing process.

The non-writing attendee turned to me after I'd made my inquiry of Ms. Rakha and asked how one would approach writing a novel. I suggested classes and writing conferences. "Oh, that's too much work."

"Then you don't want to write a novel."

Because writing a novel is hard work. And just because it sounds to you like Naseem Rakha sat down one day to start writing and ended up with an award-winning novel -- she didn't. She had years of reading, and a career as a broadcast journalist. She took fiction writing courses, and analyzed novels that she wanted to emulate to see what made them work. She did extensive research for her novel, and a lot of thinking about it.

There are a goodly number of Author Wannabes that assume they can take one little course or read a single book about writing and crank out a best seller in a few weeks.

Then there are the rest of us who can't help ourselves. We have to write, we do whatever we can to learn the craft and improve our skills, and we keep doing it. Most of us won't be published.

But that doesn't mean we aren't writers.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Northwest Author Series: Naseem Rakha

"Writing that Works:
Learn from What You Read
and Write What People Remember."

Naseem Rakha is a geologist, journalist, and
award winning author of The Crying Tree.

Ms. Rakha was the sixth speaker of the 2009-2010 Northwest Author Series hosted by the Wilsonville Library. I was very interested in attending her session, since I've heard some of her segments on National Public Radio.

I am further convinced that the methods of writing fiction are as individual as the authors.

Ms. Rakha worked with Elizabeth Engstrom and Eric Witchey while writing The Crying Tree. I've attended sessions presented by both of these individuals at the Willamette Writers Conference and enjoyed them immensely.

She also extensively studied Snow Falling on Cedars (the book as well as the abridged audio version) to examine what worked -- especially since she intended to use a similar "basketed" story structure for her novel.

Ms. Rakha is an "organic" writer who discovers and develops her characters, setting, and conflict through the process of writing. Once she had her entire first draft completed, she made a detailed outline of the document to assure that she was increasing the tension with each chapter and eventually answering all the story questions raised. Her extensive outline was 180 pages long and she estimated that she wrote 300,000 words to eventually end up with a 100,000 word novel.

She described writing as a "dream state" during which the creative mind enters a Theta Wave State. I suppose others would describe it as The Zone, or Flow. That state where the analytical/critical portion of the brain is turned off in order to access the subconscious mind. Ms. Rakha further likened the very beginning of developing a story to peering into a room through a keyhole. One can only "enter" the room to find the extent of the conflict, characters and setting through the act of writing.

That's the writing process that worked for her, and she is applying the same process to her second novel. Her publisher is asking for an outline of the novel before the first draft is completed -- but that's not how Ms. Rakha creates.

I, on the other hand, have found that a general outline guides me toward and away from the key scenes.

Interestingly, Elizabeth Engstrom had her students write four "Anchor Chapters" to develop their novels: the first chapter, last chapter, turning point, and darkest hour before the climax. This sounds similar to Laura Whitcomb's crosshair moments from Novel Shortcuts, Ten Techniques That Ensure A Great First Draft.

Eric Witchey believes in outlining before writing. Obviously, this didn't work for Ms Rakha; however, she applied his scene elements to her outline. That is, for each chapter and/or scene, she outlined the characters present, the agenda of each character in the scene, the setting, the emotions of the characters within the scene as well as the emotion she hoped to evoke in the reader, the questions raised in the scene that must be answered for the reader at some point in the story, and her goals for the scene/chapter.

My interpretation of all of this was taken from Larry Brooks' Storyfix blog. He addresses story architecture and describes the required structure of a sellable story. He used to believe that an outline was needed before writing to assure that all the required elements were present. He now understands that some folks create "by the seat of their pants" without an outline or guide of any kind. However, they still must make sure the basic structure is in place regardless of how the words get onto the page.

Ms. Rakha offered the following guidelines for making novels work:

* Clearly defined conflict
* Powerful, enduring characters with satisfying and congruous arcs
* Escalating tension that leads to an unpredictable yet fully believable and fully realized end
* Provocative narration
* Description and dialogue that support the premise and build tension

I bought a copy of The Crying Tree on the spot, the first time I've done that at the NW Authors Series. The story premise sounds intriguing, the "basket" structure seems like an interesting method of interweaving the story elements, and the setting is in Oregon.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


El Nino conditions in the Pacific Northwest have resulted in unseasonably warm and dry (for us) winter months. Not to mention dramatic weather switches.

I've been incapacitated recently with allergy symptoms. About this time last week I got that little itchy twitch in my nose that hinted at allergy issues. By the weekend I was plugged up, sneezing, coughing, had a horribly sore throat, and puffy eyes. Oh joy. I'm much improved now, although still plugged up with coughing spells that feel like someone is trying to rip out my sternum. Lovely.

Recent temperatures in the upper 50s and record-breaking 60s in February spurred many plants to bloom early. One or more of those plants sent forth pollen that activated my histamines and set up the battle in my sinuses.

Visiting the barn and grooming a shedding horse didn't seem wise -- since a day with the horse can plug me up anyway. So Phantom is getting some time off. I did drop by the barn yesterday to let him free graze. Man, did I make points!

Interestingly enough, after an early taste of spring weather, conditions did a switcheroo, dropping the freezing level on Sunday and Monday to bring snow to the mountains and hills, as well as rain mixed with snow to the valley floor. All a little too late to prevent my allergies, of course.

Ah well -- much less of a hassle than was my broken wrist, and healing way faster. But a strain on the Kleenex supply.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sunday Stills: Numbers

This week's challenge was numbers. Not numbers of items, but actual numbers. So, per usual, I began at the barn. Here is Phantom's stall number:

The following numbers were spotted during Indy's Saturday morning walk on the nearby high tech campus:

See how others met the challenge at Sunday Stills.

Friday, March 5, 2010

One of the Best Parts of Riding

Soaking up early spring sunshine with the Fluffy Puppy almost in my lap and BSing with Kim -- who took the photo on her iPhone.

Whoot, whoot! I can get into my Wranglers without completely cutting off my circulation. Better yet -- I can still wear my 1992 schooling chaps!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Last Chapter

I am, at last, on the last chapter of Legacy, my young adult fantasy novel.

Aisley believes she is a plain Dales girl raised by Mae and Gladwyn on the Isle of Pennleah. She grew up in the town of Feldan at the south of the island where Gladwyn is a successful saddle maker and Mae has a reputation as a weaver of fine woolens. They live under the rule of the Vardienian conquerors that invaded Pennleah from the Continent. Jesper, Baronne de Marmion, serves as regent for Gautier, Duc de Perryn, who successfully quelled the Pennlish to claim the island for Vardiens.

With her thoughts focused on a gown for the upcoming Disciple Day festivities and her best friend's betrothal, Aisley's life is changed forever when two mountain clansmen arrive at Feldan. The elder clansman with the distinctive scar on his cheek has been searching for an infant thought to have died fifteen years earlier. When he claims that Aisley is the only surviving child of a renowned Clan Chieftain, her life veers in a direction that she never anticipated.

After 298 pages and 79,916 words I have, I hope, taken Aisley on an entertaining journey full of unexpected events. I have attempted to show her evolve from a simple Dales girl to the heir of the most powerful clan chieftain of the northern mountains.

Now comes the final chapter and resolution of the story. It's very tempting to rush through it just to be finished with the dang novel. Yet I want to draft a satisfying ending after I've come this far.

The situation is similar to Last-Jump-Syndrome. The rider grooms and braids the horse, dons show duds, warms up on the flat and over schooling fences, and learns the jump course of 8-12 fences. Horse and rider nervously enter the arena. The rider gives the fences one last review, mentally jumping them in order, before urging the horse into a canter. They make an entry circle to set their pace before cantering toward the first fence. The rider's mouth is cotton-ball dry. The horse leaps over the first obstacle, and they are "on course." Each fence or combination of fences makes the rider's heart rise to her/his throat. Each successful completion brings a mental cheer. Then, with only one fence left, the rider has a flash of "I did it!" And that's when everything goes wrong. That brief instant sends the message to the horse that it's finished.

So many lovely hunter courses have been ruined by a sloppy jump or refusal at the final fence. The course isn't done until the final circle when the rider transitions from canter to trot before exiting the arena.

Likewise...I have to keep my legs on, maintain rein contact, and ride past the final fence.

The last chapter.