Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Ten Reasons Why You Should Go on a Writing Retreat

  1. To start a new project.
  2. To complete a project.
  3. To recharge your writing batteries or find your Muse.
  4. To relax or rest. To catch up on your reading. To gain a fresh perspective.
  5. To reward yourself for what you’ve accomplished so far.
  6. To be alone to write.
  7. Or, to be among fellow writers with whom you can discuss ideas, get feedback, or bask in the support of like-minded people.
  8. To evaluate your skill, your projects or your deadlines.
  9. To organize your manuscript(s) and prioritize.
  10. To write in a focused space without the interruptions of your daily life.
Friday, April 27th, 2012

Writing Prompt – Poetry

e.e. cummings poem - To be Nobody but YourselfApril is National Poetry Month. How did we get to the end of it without having a single poetry prompt?

I like poetry, but I’m not a good judge of what makes a poem good. I prefer the Dr. Seuss rhyming kind to free verse — and I think anything “… bouncy, flouncy, trouncy, pouncy,” is, of course, “…fun, fun, fun, fun, FUN!!!” *

I like Shakespeare’s sonnets, e. e. cumming’s clever words (more for how they’re laid out on the paper than anything else), Shel Silverstein, and Dante. I like dark and angsty, abhor maudlin and sentimental, and enjoy a really good sci-fi poem which makes me think.

My favorite poem is Invictus, by William Ernest Henley, introduced to me by my best friend in high school. (Hi, Charlie!)

I’d much rather a friend introduce me to a poet than to find him on my own: it’s both a ringing endorsement and a shared memory…

How do you like to find your poetry?

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write a poem about:
    • a family secret
    • an old love
    • a weird fact or obscure trivia you know
    • a cherished memory
    • your favorite food

  • Write a poem at least 50 words long using only one-syllable words. Mix it up and try using only two-syllable words or three-syllable words.
  • Randomly pull 10-15 books off your shelf and write down the titles. Use as many as you can in a poem.
  • Write a structured poem using a structure you’ve never tried before: haiku, sonnet, sestina, villanelle, etc. Here’s a link to 12 kinds of structured poems and how to write them.
  • Write a poem in which the form contradicts the content.
  • Write a poem that starts with a one word title, has two words in the first line, three in the next, and continues by adding one word per line.
  • Poetry through reduction: take a piece of junk mail and cross out some of the words to create a poem. Start by eradicating some words, see how it reads, then whittle them down more and more until you have a lean, focused poem. Do the same with a page of text from your favorite author, a newspaper article or a magazine essay.
  • Write a poem based on a famous work of art, a photograph or snapshot, or the view from your window.
  • Journalers and essayists: What is your favorite poem? Why? Or, turn it around: what is your least favorite poem and why? Or, write about types of poetry? What is your favorite type? Least favorite? Cite examples to back up your statements, or write snippets of your own to do so.

If these aren’t enough, here are a few other prompts I’ve written which touch on poetry:

Good luck!

* Words from the Disney Tigger song.

Friday, April 20th, 2012

Writing Prompt – Lions and Tigers and Bears (Oh, My!)

Cover of Dr. Seuss's If I Ran the ZooI’m heading out today for some research at the Baltimore Zoo.

I LOVE the zoo. It’s been a long time since I’ve been, and I’m really looking forward to it.

My favorite: the snakes. But I also like the primates, too. And the giraffes, and the hippos. The lions, the tigers…

Oh, who am I kidding? I love it all, but especially, the snakes.

I’m sure you can imagine where today’s prompt is going? You guessed it: it’s about zoos and animals.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Imagine visiting a far off planet. [Class M, if you will.] and you find the most unusual animals. Write about which one is your favorite and why. How do you have to care for this animal? How does it live? What does it eat? Could you bring it back to earth? How would you manage that?
  • Me, Tarzan. You, Jane. (I really mean that the other way around. But if I’d written it that way, it wouldn’t have been half as effective!)
    Imagine you — or a character in one of your stories — has been raised by animals. Describe life with these animals from early infancy on. Caveat: you can’t choose apes. Bonus points if you don’t choose wolves.] 
  • If you’re journaling, write about the best (or worst) time you ever had at a zoo.
  • Another journaling prompt: write about an encounter with an animal that really sticks in your memory: have you ever been bitten by a dog? How about peed on by a toad? Tell us what happened.
  • If you’ve never had an encounter with an animal…pretend. What would it be like to be a veterinarian? A lion tamer in a circus? A scuba diver who investigates invertebrates?
  • Write about your encounter with an imaginary animal, such as a unicorn, a dragon, a werewolf or the phoenix.
  • Imagine you are the one locked up in a zoo. Someone cares for all your needs. People stare at you all day. How do you feel? What’s the best part? The worst? In an animal zoo, the animals are given toys and their special habitat to make it more palitable to them. What does the zoo provide for you?
  • What if you could understand the language of the animals? What would they say to you from behind their bars at the zoo? Do they like being there? Do they want to return to their natural habitats? What do they like or dislike about being in the zoo?
  • What if all the animals in the world were locked up in zoos? Keeping pets is forbidden. Only farm animals are “free.”
  • What if only all the “frightening” animals are collected and locked up? Which animals would those be? Why?
  • Pretend you are Dr. Seuss’ character Gerald McGrew. Like him, what would you do, if you ran the zoo?

Good Luck!

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

New Podcast Available – Hear Me Read

Cover of Bad Ass Fairies 3: In All Their GloryThe new Broad Universe podcast is available, this one focusing on “changelings and transformations.”

BroadPod “Rapid Fire Readings” feature five or six authors reading for five or six minutes each from their work.

Authors included in this month’s podcast are Carol Berg, E.F. Watkins, Daniele Ackley-McPhail and Anne Wilkes, and of course, me. I’ll be reading from Selk Skin Deep.

Selk Skin Deep was published in Bad Ass Fairies 3: In All Their Glory (an anthology of stories about fairies, which harkens back to their roots. You’ll find no Tinkerbelles in the bunch).

Selk Skin Deep was inspired by the true-live tragedy of the explosion on board the U.S.S. Forrestal, an aircraft carrier which exploded off the coast of Vietnam in 1967. My story is about Cade Owen, who joined the U.S. Navy trying to alleviate the boredom from his nearly immortal life. Cade is a selkie – a shape shifter who is both man and seal. In Selk Skin Deep he learns about sacrifice, and what it means to be human. It’s my tribute to U.S. Service Men and Women.

Listen to the Broad Universe Podcast here.

If you’re not into podcasts, I’ve made the first five pages of the story available via PDF. Here’s a link to the Selk Skin Deep excerpt.

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Writing Prompt – By Any Other Name…

Movie Poster for the Movie HeidiNames are important.

They provide identity, reveal the culture or interest or nature of the namer.

They’re a source of embarrassment. Or pride.

They can cause all kinds of conflict.

I went to school with a woman whose grandmother had strict policies for naming the kids in the family. When her daughter was pregnant, she demanded the child be given an ethnic name.

Many arguments ensued, with my friend’s mom steadfast against the idea, but the grandmother eventually got her way. Little wonder that our professors were often surprised when Heidi’s name was called from the roster and a black woman responded to the question.

Well, the grandmother never stated what kind of ethnic name she wanted.

In my latest manuscript, both main characters are saddled with untenable names. The girl is named with a religious moniker — thanks to the nuns at the Catholic hospital where she was born, and the male lead is given a “family” name.

(I can hear a lot of folks groaning now.)

My first beau had such a name, and it caused him all kinds of embarrassment. Luckily for my character, like my boyfriend, his embarrassment is a middle name…

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • You have moved to a new county, and the laws state you must change your first name if you want to reside there permanently. What do you change your name to? How does this new name reflect who you are?
  • Write about name-calling.
  • Someone is saying your name…
  • Some to the fascination of a name surrender judgment hoodwinked. ~ William Cowper
  • He was also known as…
  • My grandmother called me by this name.
  • Write a story about a culture who believes names are all-powerful. Children are not named at birth, and choose their own when they are ready. They never reveal these secret names. How do people refer to each other? How do they choose the ‘names’ they go by in every day life?
  • A name is a kind of face whereby one is known. ~ Thomas Fuller
  • Open a phone book at random and drop your finger down on a name. Write about that person or business. What does the name inspire?
  • I do beseech you, (Chiefly, that I might set it in my prayers,) What is your name? ~ William Shakespeare, the Tempest. Act III, Scene 1.
  • Write the essay (or a journal entry, or a letter to your children…), “I was named this because…”

Good Luck!

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Gearing Up for a Writer’s Retreat

My face-to-face critique group and I are headed into the mountains for a four-day writer’s retreat at the end of the month. We’ve rented an 8-person cabin in a West Virginia state park and hope to get tons of writing done.

My list of writerly “to dos” is growing as the days go by.

Initially, my goal was to write 3,000 or more (no less!) words per day for each day we’re there. It doesn’t sound like much, but we can’t check in until four and must leave by ten, so it’s not really four full days. Maybe I should break the word count down hourly…

But now I’m toying with adding some “housekeeping” and “task” stuff to the list, like re-formatting some stories — whose rights have reverted back to me –for publishing on Amazon, Nook and Smashwords. Or updating the bibliography on my Web site. I could kill a full day doing that.

This retreat is different than our last. For one, we won’t be staying in a monastery.

This means (first and foremost) that we’ll be able to talk to each other. It’s tough for a bunch of writer friends not to discuss their work, but we managed. This time we’ll be able to chatter all we want. So I’m hoping not only for some writing time, but some critique time.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to go away and bring back some polished writing?

I’ve starting packing my boxes to take with me, and making lists of things not to forget.

For writing, I’m taking both my novel work in progress and two short stories I’ve started. I’d like to finish the shorts and grow the novel by a third, but I’ll be happy if I can add 12k of words total.

Before I go, I’ll clean off the desk and empty out the mailbox. I’m sure there’s at least a dozen things I’ll add to the list.

If you’re interested in how I’ll go about preparing for a writer’s retreat (and ranking how I’ll choose items to work on), read this post I made before the last retreat. (There’s no sense re-inventing the wheel.)

Anybody else out there take trips with their critique group? I’d love to hear how you pull it all together. Do you schedule the time or just wing it? Do you do free-writing exercises, or only work on stuff you hope to market? Inquiring minds want to know!

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

Happy Easter!

Easter EggsHappy Easter!

We spent the day yesterday doing ‘Eastery’ things, including dying eggs and watching an Easter Egg hunt.

My sis made a fabulous coconut cake and we’ve already busted into it this morning. (I’ve also been into the potato salad. Shh, don’t tell Mom.)

We had Easter Dinner last night, so this morning we’re having a huge breakfast before everyone gets on the road to drive home.

Hope everyone has a terrific day!

Friday, April 6th, 2012

Writing Prompt: Food for Thought

One of the big criticisms of fantasy fiction is ‘dining’ scenes. They often become the joke of the story, and it’s those scenes that are discussed as clichéd in reviews, no matter if they’re a key scene that the entire plot hinges on.

Three dwarves walk into a tavern…

See what I mean? Hard not to make a joke out of it.

But I’ll argue until I’m blue-faced that dining scenes are necessary to make the fiction realistic. And if you want to argue some more, I’ll state that these scenes are just as clichéd, if not more so, in other genres:

  • the engagement announcement made at dinner (in any genre)
  • the discussion of other worldly food (especially those slimy, living foods consumed by bug-like creatures) in science fiction novels
  • the ‘let’s have a polite chat over dinner’ (but you know someone’s going to get killed) in a western or gangster story
  • the cozy, steamy, dinner for two which escalates into a torrid love-fest of unusual positions and food in usual places

Your job with today’s prompts is to create a scene, a poem, a short story or vignette that is about food or dining, but isn’t clichéd.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write about one of these things:
    • hunger
    • simple dishes
    • eating alone
    • forbidden fruit
    • temperamental chefs
    • eating alone
    • a family meal
    • a holiday dinner
    • family recipes
  • Someone yells from off in the distance, “Come and get it!” You hear the klaxon sound of the triangle, bell, or digital tone if you happen to be aboard ship.
  • These are the ingredients…
  • Use the five senses (taste, touch, smell, hearing, sight) in your writing, but focus on one of them; for instance: the smell of fresh-brewed coffee; the site of lush, colorful fruit, the taste of something hot and spicy, salty or sweet; the sound of crunchy cereal, or fries sizzling in grease; the feel of salted nuts or buttery popcorn when you lift it out of the bowl…
  • “Sustain me with raisin cakes, Refresh me with apples, Because I am lovesick. ~ Song of Solomon
  • The refrigerator’s full, but there’s nothing to eat…
  • The cupboard is bare…
  • A pie eating, ice-cream eating, hot-dog eating, you-name-the-food-eating contest at the local fair
  • Write about the guy standing on the corner who “Will Work for Food.”

Good luck!