Thursday, February 25, 2010

Look What Came in the Mail Today...

After watching the movie Bright Star, based on a portion of Keats's life, I decided to treat myself to both the soundtrack and a book of his letters to Fanny. *sigh* They arrived today, together. In fact, I'm listening to the soundtrack right now, as I type this.

Here's a sampling of it. What's utterly unique about this is that the soundtrack contains fragments of actual Keats poetry/letters, or lines from the movie (as read by the actor). Random question: Why does EVERYTHING sound better, wrapped inside a British accent? *sigh again*.

By the way, I feel the same way about these wonderful movie tie-ins as I did about Emma Thompson's personal diary of her experience with Sense & Sensibility (which I HIGHLY recommend. That woman is the epitome of wit. Such a fun diary to read!).

Just wanted to share my movie-related "finds" with all of you. May your day be filled with little bits of poetry. Keats, or otherwise...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Great Agent Blog!

I recently discovered this VERY informative blog by agent Rachelle Gardner. She has so much practical advice to give to authors, with an inside look at the agenting process. Fascinating!

Here's the link: Rants & Ramblings

This blog is especially helpful to those trying to get published, or even thinking about getting published. It's like getting writer's-workshop-quality advice for free! Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

100 Posts!!

This entry is nothing more than a blatant, celebratory pat-on-my-own-back for reaching 100 posts. :-)

I wasn't sure when I started the blog back in September how faithful I would be to it, but I find myself loving the process of blogging. And having feedback from readers is so inspiring. I love hearing your stories, too!

*passes out pointy hats and horns; throws confetti all over the blog*

Monday, February 22, 2010

Ode to Keats

I'm devoting this entry to John Keats, that famous Romantic poet.

Last night, I watched the movie Bright Star, based on Keats's love affair with Fanny Brawne. Here's the trailer.

Wow. It was one of those movies that stayed with me for hours, even a whole day after I saw it. The cinematography was brilliant, the acting SUPERB, and the poetry - well - let's just say I could sit and listen to Ben Whishaw (the actor) quote me Keats's poetry for hours on end. *swoon*

What I got most out of the movie, though, was the passion that so many writers possess. Passion for love, for living, even for death. I don't know that writers necessarily feel things more deeply than other "mortals" (lol), but it does seem that way sometimes. Or, perhaps, it's that writers are simply brave enough to attempt to express those feelings on paper.

Witness, for example, some excerpts from Keats's real-life letters of love to Fanny. Then ask yourself how many people in real life can express these feelings quite so deeply as he. Breathtaking:

My love has made me selfish. I cannot exist without you — I am forgetful of every thing but seeing you again — my Life seems to stop there — I see no further. You have absorb'd me. I have been astonished that Men could die Martyrs for religion — I have shudder'd at it — I shudder no more — I could be martyr'd for my Religion — Love is my religion — I could die for that — I could die for you. (Letter, 13 October 1819).

Ask yourself, my love, whether you are not very cruel to have so entrammelled me, so destroyed my freedom....For myself I know not how to express my devotion to so fair a form. I want a brighter word than bright......a fairer word than fair. I almost wish we were butterflies and liv'd but three summer days--three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain
.- John Keats, Letter to Fanny Brawne, July 1, 1819

That movie, Bright Star, touched me so deeply. As a writer, as a human being. I love it when film and literature blend together so beautifully. It's almost magical.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ever Feel This Way?

I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see. ~John Burroughs

I could easily add "and all the books I want to write" to that list. There are some days I look up from my life and realize that, even at the still-sort-of-young age of 39, there isn't enough time. To read all the books I want, to write all the stories I want, to DO all the things I want.

But, what I do have is right now. This moment. So, I shall choose to seize it. To read, to write, to do at least a fraction of the things I want to do. Today. Carpe diem and all that jazz... :-)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Trimming the Fat

An uncharacteristically-short entry today (blame the freshman essays piling up, lol). Yep, another Stephen King quote. It speaks to the challenge and to the main POINT of editing: trimming the fat. Stepping away from yourself and letting the story become the shining star. So profound, so true:

When you write, you tell yourself a story. When you rewrite you take out everything that is NOT the story. ~Stephen King

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Book Snobs...

Great quote by Stephen King:

There are books full of great writing that don't have very good stories. Read sometimes for the story... don't be like the book-snobs who won't do that. Read sometimes for the words--the language. Don't be like the play-it-safers who won't do that. But when you find a book that has both a good story and good words, treasure that book.

There's so much richness in that quote I could discuss (and probably will, in the future), but I'd like to focus on the "book snob" part right now.

Three semesters ago, one of my Creative Writing students raved and raved about a certain book called Twilight. Yes, that vampire young adult book that's sparked a HUGE fan base and movies and memorabilia. Back then, I had never heard of it before. She loaned me her copy, and I read it. And the next one, and part of the next (I still haven't finished Book 3).

I've never met a lukewarm Twilight fan - people are either UBER-fans or UBER-haters of that series. But I, myself, am a lukewarm fan. I'm not crazy about the writing, itself (I think it's too simple and repetitive and could be edited/tightened). But, I do appreciate the story and can understand the appeal of the plot: Vampire meets human girl. Vampire falls for human girl (and wants to eat her). And so on...

More than anything else, though, I love that people are READING. To me, that's the beauty of Twilight. Or Harry Potter. Or Stephen King books. Or any other highly-commercialized, ridiculously-popular, best-selling book. It gets masses of people (many who don't consider themselves "readers") excited about the act of reading, of turning pages. Which, to me, is priceless.

So, even though I teach Shakespeare and Hemingway and Dickinson, I'm certainly not a book snob. I fully respect everyone's right to enjoy any type of book he/she wants to enjoy. And, to WRITE any type of book he/she wants. Because individuality is what keeps the world interesting!

Monday, February 15, 2010

More Good News....

Here's a bonus post I hadn't intended on writing. But I must. You all know that I got the all-clear (no lupus) last week. YAY! Well, the rheumatologist had found "something" in my abdomen during his checkup. BOO! So, last week, off to another doctor, I went. Had 3 ultrasounds, then a CAT scan (wow, was that an experience, lol - I don't recommend it).

Here's the thing. I saw the egg-sized "mass" in my abdomen with my own eyes during the ultrasound. (As I've mentioned before, I'm a Christian and believe strongly in the power of prayer). Well, today, the nurse called to let me know THERE. IS. NO. MASS. It's gone. The CAT Scan was totally clear. Not even a blip on the radar. Wow. Just, wow.

Sure, I could justify this personal/religious/totally-not-about-writing post by saying that someday, I could use this experience (the CAT scan, the nervousness, the test of faith, the thrill of good news) in a book. And sure, perhaps I will - definitely a possibility. But, really, I just wanted to share my good news with the blog readers and give you some hope. If there's anybody out there who's searching right now, or who's seeking a little good news, there's a mighty and powerful God who can handle ANYTHING. Trust me. I've witnessed it with my own eyes these past 2 weeks.

May God bless any of you who have prayed for me or sent good thoughts my way when you first read about my blood tests awhile ago. I soooo appreciate them. And may God bless ALL the readers of this blog. May you find everything you're looking for, and then some. ;-)

Great Advice

I'm taking the lazy way out today (I've got sooooo many freshman essays to grade this week, egads!) and am passing along this link to some great advice. It's a column called "7 Things I've Learned So Far," and has a variety of contributers.

The "7 things" offered by Ms. Geary in that link are both straight-forward and spot-on. And, they each contain good bits of common sense which I think any writer should know.

*rolls up sleeves and dives in to essay stack with poised red pen*

Until next time...

Friday, February 12, 2010


Woo-hoo! No school! We had a VERY-rare Snow Day today, and classes have been cancelled.

What does that have to with writing, you ask?

Well - the novel I just finished has lots of snow scenes in it (Christmas in the Cotswolds). But since I'm fairly-unfamiliar with snow, being from The South (U.S.), I rarely have a chance to do close-up "research" of it. So, last night, I wrote down little snippets of observations that I'll incorporate into the novel. Bear with me - these are just ramblings:

* stark, thin, white branches cut against a black sky
* feathers floating down on the wind
* thick layer of white icing scooped out and layered over rooftops, shrubs, fenceposts
* teeny glittering diamonds set in the snow on the ground
* a noticeable hush that envelops everything - a beautiful stillness the snow carries with it
* my dog, unfamiliar with snow, treating it like some foreign object - sniffing it, biting it, shaking/spitting it out - then, running around in it like a little kid, giddy.
* snow falling like powdered sugar being sifted, dusting all the treetops

Not terribly poetic, but quite accurate, after last night and this morning. How fun, that I got to experience it, myself! (And, that I got the day off! Never a bad thing...)

Edit: Just found a great quote that says it better than I ever could. So lovely:

Winter came down to our home one night, quietly pirouetting in on silvery-toed slippers of snow, and we were children once again. ~Bill Morgan, Jr.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I Miss My Characters...

Has this ever happened to you? After the relief and accomplishment of finishing a novel, after the joy of penning that final sentence, I start to miss it. That daily grind of finding the Muse, of hearing my fingers tap at the keys, of the creative process itself. Mostly, I miss that "world" - those characters, those people I've grown to know so well. I'm not visiting them on a daily basis anymore, and that's a little bit sad.

Now, of course, I'll need to go back and edit the novel soon. But it's not the same. Editing is tedious and time-consuming. Necessary, but not always fun. Or terribly creative. The sad part is this - the story that I've told, in its origin, will not be told again. I'm finished, said all I needed to say. And, even though I'll revisit the characters in future books (because it's a series), it won't be the same. It'll be a different story, altogether. It won't be this story.

I guess missing your characters is a good sign though, right? Perhaps it means that the author has invested so much of her time, herself, into these characters, that there's actually a tiny void when the process comes to an end. Hopefully, that also means that the reader will experience the void, as well (meaning, that they invested in the characters, too, and actually gave a darn about how their lives turned out). In the end, if we didn't care about our characters, it wouldn't be so difficult to read that last page, shut the book on their lives, say good-bye.

So, maybe missing your characters is a positive thing, after all.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Oh, How Far I've Come!

Out of total curiosity this morning, I decided to re-visit one of my earliest novels (written when I was 22 years old - I'm pushing 40 now...).

I knew that in almost-20 years, I had probably improved on things like technique, plot, characterization, dialogue. When I opened it up and started to read, I smiled. And then, I chuckled. SO many things I now know better about were in that manuscript - awful things like telling-instead-of-showing, overuse of the passive voice, and wayyyy too many adverbs. The writing, for the most part, is cheesy. It's overdone. It's melodramatic. But, I remember the plot/characters well, and still think the story has merit. I'm dying to go back and edit the heck out of it, see if I can turn it into something worthwhile.

The point is - we aren't the same writers we used to be. Or, at least we shouldn't be the same writers. Years have a way of not only changing our perspective on things (because of the experiences we've been through - divorce, death of a loved one, health issues, etc) -- but they also have a way of teaching us more about the craft of writing. After attending writers' conferences, being part of creative writing classes, reading "how-to" books, studying other authors/novels, and finally, teaching my own creative writing classes, I really think I've come a long way. It sounds like bragging (and maybe it is, just a little, only in the sense that I'm proud of myself for growing as a writer) - but it's more the realization that time has helped me improve. As it should. I easily see faults in my old writing that I - hopefully - have since conquered (or, at least, nearly so).

Of course, as I tell my students, there's no perfect writer. I will forever be a student of the written word. I will never, ever reach the point where I sit back and gloat, and think I've learned all there is to learn. Ha! No way. But - there is a certain beauty in looking back at our "former selves," as writers, and seeing the progress we've made.

So, my challenge to you readers today: Be brave. Dig deep, way back, and find something you wrote 10, 20, even 30 years ago! And use it to pat yourself on the back a little, to see how far you've come!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Completely Off-Topic. Or, Is It...?

I got good news today - the best possible news. My blood test results came in (they'd been looking for lupus) and the tests were NORMAL. Wow. Amazing.

Now, I don't talk much about my faith on this blog, but today, I will for a moment. I'm a Christian, and had dozens of people praying for me about this lupus thing. I truly believe prayers were answered in this process. Here's a verse that rang true for me today - just wanted to share: "I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well" (Ps. 139:14).

So, back to the blog -- I first labeled this entry, "Off-Topic." But then, I thought about it. Isn't this actually completely ON topic? I mean, real life is full of tragedy, disappointment, joy, heartache, and drama. And as writers, don't we try to capture that real-life "stuff" on the page? I think anything that happens to us in our real life - good or bad - can be used in our writing. Nay, should be used in our writing.

Case in point: Just last night (not knowing my test results and fearing the worst), I wrote the most crucial last chapter of my book. It was a moment when the main character was despondent - when he'd lost all hope - and another character was giving him comfort, trying to tell him all the right words. Absolutely, I was using many of my own fears, anxiety, and emotion in that dialogue. And hopefully, it rang true because of it.

And isn't that half the point anyway? Capturing our own observations about life, about the world, about our own experiences, and putting them onto the page - through characters and storylines?

So, in hindsight, I think this blog entry is quite ON-topic. *changes title and smiles*

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Lofty Goal

So. I've decided that I will attempt to finish my novel. Today. I have about 20 pages left (maybe more), and that's a lot - especially considering that many important ends are being carefully tied together in those pages. Crucial chapters ahead.

I was going to relax, take this entire next week to finish the book, but then I remembered what's ahead of me this week -- more essays to grade (about 150, total, since last week), plus blood test results (for lupus - prayers appreciated). These life events will very likely distract me from finishing my book. So today, while the essays sit "on hold," and the test results are still unknown, I think I shall write. It's a lofty goal, finishing my book today, but I'm up for the challenge. I'll check back in tonight and let you know how I did! ;-)

6:01pm - UPDATE: I wrote 21 pages, nearly non-stop, in about 3 hours' time. The novel is FINISHED. Not perfect, not edited, but it's totally completed. Goal accomplished! :-)

Anybody else have a lofty goal that was important? And did you make your goal? I'd love to hear about it!

Thursday, February 4, 2010


So - I'm on the verge of finishing this new novel (which I started over the Christmas holidays). Up until about a week ago, I've felt inspired, excited, and energized about the whole process. It's actually one of the easiest books I've ever written because the characters are so vivid and the story seems to be telling itself.

Well, I feel like I've hit a wall. It's not Writer's Block. It's more like Life Block. I've had some unexpected health issues this past week, blood tests done and such (no results yet), and that's been a terrible distraction. Plus, I received 110 essays this week to be graded. Fun! :-P

I sat down last night to start a new chapter, and re-wrote it three times. I'm just not satisfied with it, just not inspired. And so, I'm frustrated. With myself, with the interruption of creativity, the absence of the Muse.

I know it will be fine - that despite what's happening, I will finish the book. I will press on. But I wish I could take this "life stuff," place it on a shelf somewhere, and dive in to finish the novel. Maybe this weekend, I can do that. I will try...

Thank you, readers, for listening to my frustrated ramblings. There's no real point to today's entry, and I suppose I've been selfish, just wanting to vent. But I didn't have anything enlightening or inspirational to say. If nothing else, I assume that others can relate to my dilemma - because the Writing Life isn't only full of light and creativity and muses. It's also filled with frustration and distraction. All part of this thing we call life...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Quote for the Day

This is the quote I wrote on the board today at the beginning of class:

"You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you." ~Stephen King (On Writing)

It so eloquently states the entire reason I write. Because I've been "swept away" before, by authors, starting when I was a child and first fell in love with the written word. Now, as a writer, one of my main goals is to do for readers what's been done for me - I would love to sweep someone else away by my words. Let them fall in love with books, with the written word, just the way I did as a child and still do as an adult.

Sure, it's a lofty goal, and I'm not saying I'll ever achieve it. But I agree with Mr. King - you can't sweep someone else away until you've been swept away, yourself. I love the coming-full-circle of that statement. Delicious, isn't it?