Friday, February 26, 2010

Writerly Weather

Since I'm taking a break from revision I might as well make it a big one. It's a perfect day to capture something we in California are beginning to cherish--RAIN. A week ago Cheryl Herbsman let me expound on how weather affected my writing, so this is kind of a follow up to what I said on her blog.

Today is a perfect indoor writing day. I've banged out twenty pages on a new WIP and am feeling smug. Please allow me a bit smugness. It will vanish when I REWRITE those twenty pages next week.

I also poked my nose out the door to inhale the smell of fresh rain. Thought I'd share a bit of it with you, so here 'tis.

 For me this is absolutely a perfect day. For my--semi-wild, but wanting attention anyway-- cat, it isn't so hot.

Happy end of February. I'm taking off for San Francisco tomorrow to watch the dragon dance in the streets. I'm a tiger and this is my year to celebrate. I'll try to capture some of the sparkly splendor of the Chinese New Year parade to share next week.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sunshine Award_Yippee!

Is this a perfect spring-is-almost-here award, or what? I'm so excited (about the award and spring too) that I'm passing this on to some very lovely bloggers and writers that I enjoy and appreciate.

Nan Marino needs this bit of sunshine. She's had snow for long enough. 

Kelly Polark gets it because she is sunshine.

Bish Denham has to share this award because she brings a lot of sunshine into my life with her posts.

Mel Higgins always deserves sunshine, so she's getting more right now.

This is the sunshine year for L.K. Madigan when it comes to awards, so I'm giving her one more.

Suzette Saxton always leaves a bit of sunshine when she visits here, so I'm sending some back.

Donna McDine writes what inspires her, so I thought some sunshine would promote more of that.

Thanks to Stina Lindenblatt for this wonderful present. I needed a boost and you gave it to me at the perfect time.

If  you want to pass on this beautiful award it's simple:
1. Copy the first image of the daisy and put it into your blog post about the award.
2. Pass on the award to any blogger you want to.
3. Link the nominees in your post.
4. Comment on their blogs and tell them about the award.
5. Say you kind of

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Interview with Kim Derting

I'm taking a spring break from revision and featuring a debut YA author today. 

As some of you know, I'm a 2009 Debutante, and throughout 2009 this community has supported the debut authors as their books became available. We're still blogging about these new authors and their novels because some were pushed into 2010 for release. 

Today we have  Kim Derting, the YA author of, The Body Finder. 

 Here's what Kim's debut novel is about and does it sound gripping.

Violet Ambrose is grappling with two major issues: Jay Heaton and her morbid secret ability. While the sixteen-year-old is confused by her new feelings for her best friend since childhood, she is more disturbed by her "power" to sense dead bodies—or at least those that have been murdered. Since she was a little girl, she has felt the echoes that the dead leave behind in the world... and the imprints that attach to their killers.

Violet has never considered her strange talent to be a gift; it mostly just led her to find the dead birds her cat had tired of playing with. But now that a serial killer has begun terrorizing her small town, and the echoes of the local girls he's claimed haunt her daily, she realizes she might be the only person who can stop him.

Despite his fierce protectiveness over her, Jay reluctantly agrees to help Violet on her quest to find the murderer—and Violet is unnerved to find herself hoping that Jay's intentions are much more than friendly. But even as she's falling intensely in love, Violet is getting closer and closer to discovering a killer... and becoming his prey herself.


Kimberly lives in the Pacific Northwest, which is the ideal place to be writing anything dark or creepy...a gloomy day can set the perfect mood. She lives with her husband and their three beautiful (and often mouthy) children, who serve as an endless source of inspiration for her writing.

Kim stuck around to answer some questions.

Q: Of all your favorite books, which one do you wish you had written?

A: You mean, besides Harry Potter? Haha. No, really, I love the HP books.
Her storytelling and plot structure abilities are amazing.

But besides those, I'd say either Accordion Crimes by Annie Proulx, or
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. Those are two books that made me just
want to quit, because I could never even approach the level of talent
and skill needed to write like that.

Q: What fictional character do you wish you could be?

A: Anne of Green Gables. No question. *happy sigh*

Q: After chocolate what do you eat to make the writer-block pain go away?

A: Four ounces of wild Alaskan salmon lightly seared in lemon-pressed
olive oil, then sprinkled with sea salt and organic parsley and served
on a bed...

Seriously. Starbursts and Doritos. Pound-bags of each.

Q: Actually, I loved the salmon idea. Next time I hope you'll tell us something about how you revise or some nitty gritty details about your revision of The Body Finder. See you again, I hope and thanks for stopping by.

Be sure to visit the Author Web site and look for her book at Amazon


Thursday, February 11, 2010


One thing's certain. A sparkly turn of phrase turns into a cliche almost before the ink dries, and that's  simply because those sparklers are so good at what they do. They express the idea immediately and well. I guess that's why a writer's work is never done. We are always scouring for a way to express something in a new way.

I don't know about other writers, but sometimes I yearn to be able to stick "drunk as a skunk" or "wise as an owl"into a story. They're so simple, so visual. Alas, I know better, so I have to scramble to create new ways to show my reader the guy coming out of the bar or the wisdom of my wonderful grandfather character.

Richard Lederer once did this game in Writer and I thought since the weekend is coming up you'd take a few minutes to dump the cliche and create something fresh, something so good that it too will become cliched after your book is published.

Here's how it goes: Complete the cliche then come up with a fresh and unique way of expressing the idea. While the cliches are four words, you don't have to stay with any word count. Your phrase just has to convey the idea and do it well. Do as many as you'd like or just hope some other talented writer will leave a comment with something spectacular.

1. clean as a _________

2. sharp as a _________

3. poor as a  _________

4. bald as an _________

And BTW when you're revising, dump those cliches before you sub to an editor or an agent. I hope this little game will hone your cliche detection on that WIP. Good luck.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Tricksters

Erasing the "blah" words always perks up your prose, and if you read one of my previous posts I told you about some of my "blahest" words. There's another group that I call the tricksters. I have to be careful because in the heat of writing I often forget about these fellas and blush when I revise and find I've misused them. I'm supposed to be a professional. :)

I try to excuse these errors by rationalizing that these "tricksters" are often ones undergoing change because of popular usage. I admit to being the kind of linguist that errs on the side of "describing" what's going on in our language, but like William Safire, I kinda want to hold to some standard of "good" English. I don't want to be a language snob, but I definitely don't want to be a language slob either.

Here's my short trickster list:

Any more/ anymore:
Oh dear.  It's clear that anyone, anywhere, and anybody always have a single form, but why do we have two choices here? It's all about meaning.

Something in addition:  I don't see any more milk in your refrigerator.
An adverb that modifies a verb: I don't see milk in your refrigerator anymore.

So like Safire wrote, " . . . you can't just use 'anymore' in any way." Clever man.
Pity the poor second language learner of English.

Further/ Farther:

The simplest way to keep these guys straight is to use farther only when you write about distance, real and metaphorical. The rest of the time go with further. I love it when it's simple.

Don't go one step farther or you'll fall off the cliff.
Don't go one step farther with your plan to defeat me.

I want to go further into that discussion with you.

Less has pretty much taken the job of fewer. I seldom hear anyone make the distinction between them, but just in case there are a few writers who want to know I'll give the old rule.

If you can count it, use fewer. If you can't, use less.

He drinks fewer glasses of wine than I do. (So true.)
He has less wine stored than I do.  (Rats!)

Past/ Passed:
With past you have a preposition that shows location. He walked past me.  That's in the past.
With passed you have a verb of action. He passed me.

I won't go any further into these tricksters. Let's just say that there are fewer problem words and less hassle than this post leads you to believe.  Get past these and you'll have passed the revision test.  You won't have to worry anymore about any more words. Well, almost.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

About Those Weak Verbs

Tuesday I went on and on about weak words and among those I targeted for the eraser were the BE verbs. I did mention that you can't eliminate all of those guys, but I thought I'd go a bit further before leaving this revision issue.

Here's a well-known opening to a book that's been around quite a while.

It was about 11 o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.

Did you recognize Raymond Chandler and his hard-bitten detective story, The Big Sleep? Did you also notice all those BE verbs? Hmmm. What's up with that? The rest of the book has much more punch and sock and zoom kind of verbs. Do you suppose there was a reason Chandler lulled the reader with that string of hammocks: "was wearing," "was neat," "was everything" ???

I'm thinking it was to heighten the contrast. Notice his line, "I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it." That really stands out after his gently swaying description of the day and of his appearance. You notice the irony in that sentence and questions start popping. "Who is this guy?" "Why would he say he didn't care if someone knew he was neat AND sober ?" Then Chandler puts in the zinger sentence at the end that makes you really pay attention. Four million dollars? Wow!

In this same opening he make that old BE verb earn its keep. Notice how he uses amplification (repeating a word for effect).  In this single paragraph Chandler uses "was" five times. Excess or effective? Guess we'd have to vote for the latter in view of his success at luring readers since 1939.
So, yes, dump the lazy BE verbs, but don't dump the opportunity to use them when you need them to make a point or you want those ACTION verbs to really stand out.

Now I gotta go zap some prose. If you have some other good examples of how to use BE verbs to enhance your writing style. Share them here. I'll appreciate the ideas and so will other readers.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Those Unnecessary Words

I've been totally focused on a major overhaul of a manuscript this past month, and sharing some of that focus on my blog has helped me through the process. I'm winding down, but before I move on I have a couple of final revisions.

First, I'm scouring my 70, 0000 words to see which ones I don't need. What I've discovered while doing this hunt for unnecessary words in the past is this: I usually find a better, more interesting way to phrase something when I discard them.

One of the most frequent culprits I like to root out is any form of the BE verb. Of course, you can't get rid of all your Be verbs, but some you can. Here's an example of what happened during a revision session.

"By eight the kids were finally in bed."

"I tucked the kids into bed by eight."

I liked the word tucked. It was more visual and more active. I felt it helped characterize my protagonist too because tucking conveyed caring, something I wanted the reader to know about this person.

Here are some other examples of what can happen to sentences when you're able to delete those am, is are, was, were, be, been verbs.

Paloma will be tried today at ten a. m. (Ho hum.)
Paloma's trial begins today at ten a.m. (Much more to the point and active.)

Mr. Polk was against the wall, his hands overhead. (So? What's the point?)
Mr. Polk cowered against the wall, his hands overhead. (Now I can see Mr. Polk and I know something scary is happening to him.)

I was so scared, listening to the gunshots coming from outside my apartment door. (Really. Let's talk about it over at lunch.)

Crouched and shaking behind the sofa, I cupped my hands over my ears to muffle the gunshots coming from outside my apartment door. (OMG!)

There is another of those words that can trot off to the trash, thank you very much, and that's because where there's a there, there's a BE verb on its heels.

There's something evil in that house. (Blaach!)
Evil lurks in that house. (Euuuu!)

Also THAT clauses can really drag down a story, so I reduce them by deleting the head word, THAT.

I knew that he wanted a cat.
I knew he wanted a cat. (Easy peasy change and nobody will miss that THAT.)

Just Just Just Just Just

I read a novel not so long ago that just about drove me nuts. Just because things were just supposed to be happening at every turn in the story, didn't justify (sorry) the use of "just" every other paragraph. I was just so fed up by the second chapter that I just picked up my pen and started crossing out one "just" after another. Since I've read that novel, I've just edited out "just" every time I use it.

Even is even beginning to annoy me. It's not quite as irksome as "just," but just about. I take out a lot of EVENs and after I've done that I don't miss them.

I have a few more words that don't make the cut, but this post is long enough already. Maybe you have some favorite unnecessary words you'd like to share with us?