Friday, November 30, 2007

7 Days With Shirley Jump, Advice for Anyone Who Wants to Write a Novel

Today's the last day of November, of NaNo, and of our 7-day interview with New York Times Bestselling novelist Shirley Jump. She's shared with us her personal techniques and experiences as a writing mother, and even where she gets her ideas!

In December, we can move forward stronger, more determined... certainly less deterred from our goals by the holiday busy-ness ahead of us.

7. What’s your best advice to someone who wants to write a novel?

There are only three ingredients to help you go from wanting to write a novel to becoming a published author: Read. Write. Persevere. You HAVE to read extensively. Absolutely, hands-down, have to read, read, read. Read everything you can get your hands on, not only in your targeted genre, but in other genres. You have to develop a natural inner ear for the rhythm of story construction, for the beauty of language, for the depth of emotion in scenes, etc. You also have to know what your competition is and be able to recognize their strengths, then apply those lessons to your own work. Then you have to write. Write and write and write and write some more. There is no substitute for sitting down at the keyboard and writing. You can read about how to write, you can go to classes that will teach you how to write, but nothing teaches you how to write like WRITING. Then sit back and look at your work objectively, compared to what you read. Learn from those who are better than you. Finally, persevere. 99% of getting from unpublished to published is simply hanging on past the rejections. This is a competitive, crowded industry. You need to want it badly enough to keep on writing. Oh, one more thing, affiliate yourself with other writers. No one speaks the language of writing like other writers. That will help you through the good times and the bad times and help you decipher the language of rejection and revision letters, and know where to go and how to get there!


Thank you Shirley, for spending 7 days with us here!

Note: Really Something is available now for preorder and Miracle on Christmas Eve is in stores now. (I found it at the grocery store the other day and picked up my copy. I can't wait to settle in this weekend for a good read.)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

7 Days With Shirley Jump, Old Manuscripts Never Die

One of my prettiest friends recommended this author-interview series on a writer's forum yesterday saying, "Shirley makes writing seem so...possible."

I heartily concur. I first "met" Shirley in 2004 after one of my frequent trips to the public library. Every few weeks I would pile an enormous stack of books on the counter with titles like, How to Write a Damn Good Novel, How to Write Fillers and Short Features that Sell, Writing the Breakout Novel, The Joy of Cooking (how did that one get in there?), and Amelia Bedelia Helps Out. All the librarians must have known my secret: I was a writing mother. I would search their faces as they beeped my books through week after week, but there was no sign of either disapproval or discouragment. Thus encouraged (it didn't take much), my rampant checking-out-of books continued.

But it wasn't until I slid How to Publish your Articles from the top of the stack at home and started reading through it that I shouted "Eureka!" (Which, as I learned from Amelia Bedelia, Rocket Scientist, means "I found it!") Quickly, I secured my first-ever writing assignment (college English class notwithstanding)for a local magazine. Soon after that, I Googled Shirley so I could somehow thank her, found her JustWriteIt group, and from there I became Shirley's biggest stalker - I mean fan, her biggest fan. :) I'll admit I was a little bit disappointed to find out she had moved on to fiction, but I hung around at JustWriteIt anyway, to pick up whatever crumbs I could.

And yeah, it got to me. I started a novel. Which brings me to today's question:

6a. Where do you get your ideas? (Just kidding!)

LOL. Ideas are everywhere though, honestly. I wrote about it here if you want the whole long spiel:


See? Shirley's so nice she even answers the cliched questions. And now for the real question - What am I going to do with 85,000 words of crap if they turn out to be crap? Or, to put it another way:

6b. I’ve always wondered about something: You wrote 10 books in 8 years before you had a ‘yes’ from a publisher. What happened to those 10 books? Were you ever able to resurrect characters or scenes from those?

I sold one of them (the 8th out of 10) and that was THE VIRGIN'S PROPOSAL, my very first book. I used seven pages out of the second one to become THE BRIDE WORE CHOCOLATE and reused just characters for THE DADDY'S PROMISE. I don't think I even used a word of the original draft of that book. Everything else was truly hideous. :-) Most of it was so old, too, that it's on those really old, really big floppy disks, too, those kind that went in pre-Windows computers, LOL. What were they, 5 1/4" or something? I don't even know if I could recover them, if I even wanted to. I have a couple of them on my hard drive but they are truly that bad that I'd never do anything with them.

They were practice. A mini college education. :-)


Tomorrow is our last day. Shirley gives advice to aspiring writers.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

7 Days With Shirley Jump - Day 5, Rocking with Hootie

Professional writers don't wait for their "muse" to show up before they sit down at the keyboard everyday. Neither can we as busy parents who are trying to reach a writing goal!

So what do we do? In case you don't know, writers have an acronym: BIC. It stands for Butt In Chair. And it means we write when we don't feel like it.

But so much of fiction - especially romance - is about feeling. Shirley Jump tells us how she switches gears from harried mom to hopeless romantic:

5. Do you ever find yourself in the wrong mood for a scene? (For instance, you need to write funny when you’re steaming mad about something.) If so, how do you handle that?

Oh, all the time! I have kids, LOL. Two dogs, a cat, a husband. Inevitably, someone has frustrated or annoyed me, LOL. But I turn on my iTunes, get the song for that book (most of my books have a song associated with them, or a few songs that I associate with them) and get back in the mood. That really helps a lot.

5b. Would you be willing to share a few of the soundtracks for your books? (What was the soundtrack for Really Something?)

For "The Dating Game," it was Hootie and the Blowfish's Greatest Hits. For Miracle on Christmas Eve, it was Michael Bublé's "Let it Snow." For Really Something, it was Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway." I don't always remember the soundtrack to every book (writing 8 in a year will do that to you, LOL) but will often pull out my favorite artists, like Hootie, to get myself rocking :-)


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I'd asked them to give me 15 minutes (to finish the story I was working on) TEN times until finally I found myself running through the house chasing the loudest one (Hannah, who will now be referred to as The Screamer) in order to put her in her room so I could actually finish my 15 minutes and bake the blasted cookies which at one point had sounded like great fun and were now the bane of my existence.

Not only had they asked me 10 times if the 15 minutes were up yet (this from the Screamer who has not yet learned to count to 60 thank you Jesus and who I was now wildly pursuing) while Henry (now referred to as The Counter) stood at my shoulder counting to 60 over and over again (because he's realized that counting to 60 equals one minute). This activity would be bad enough on it's own for someone attempting to pull words out of their brain in order to create a sentence that makes at least some sense but add to it jarring screeches of discontent each and every time The Screamer interrupts his concentration to query on whether said 15 minutes has passed.

It goes something like this.

"1...2...3...4...5..." the Counter counts.

"Mama, has it been fifteen minutes yet?" screeches the Screamer.

I manage to ignore them until the Counter becomes the Screamer because the original Screamer has interrupted him for the second time in a row.

"I can't count with her screaming," he screams at me.

"I just want to bake cookies," the screamer screams. And well, you can imagine.

Until I've finally had enough because now the Screamer is having a meltdown, just inside the door, because I've taken to giving her the silent treatment. And I'm off stomping through the house like a mama cat whose kittens have outgrown her and are still trying to nurse, with the same look on my face that my grandma gets when the last straw has been broken or ripped into tiny little shreds.

"Mama," the Counter says later, after I've spent 10 minutes chasing the Screamer through the house to no avail. I'd given up, sitting on the couch huffing and puffing like I'd run a marathon. "You know Mama, that when you're mad and you're going to put someone in their room....we always know you're coming."

"You do," I reply, not caring much at this point what they do or do not know as long as it doesn't involve counting or screaming.

"Yes Mama, you might try smiling real big and sneaking up on her," he says matter of factly and I can't help but grin at him.

"You think that would work, do you?"

"Yes, we always know you're coming. Can we make the cookies now?"

When tech betrays you...

I'm one of the list techies (in just about every place I go) cause I've got a no nonsense outlook on working with computers, and for some reason, they LIKE me.
So imagine my surprise this week when I met a Windows system that didn't LIKE me!

My parter and I decided, that to operate effectively, as a student, that a desktop that played possum every time we tried something daring (like, I don't know, loading up a new piece of software) and introduced us to its freinds 'blue screen of death", "more blue screen of death", Cousin IT (a blue screen that gave IT details) and Bob (where the cursor just bobbed there), that we really needed to upgrade. Swapping the downstairs computer for the attic server was out of the question cause my PC (in the attic) is a frankenstein of precariously balanced parts, a power supply that hangs out round and sits on top and six drives that I swap based on what I'm booting up and is older than HIS desktop.
SO I went onto ebay.
Aha, I thought - new PC, we'll get a bargian. And we did, too. The University is giving me a grant for my laptop, so we got a really cheap (top of the range) desktop that we went halfers on.
All good so far, right?
Well, sort of. Parcelforce weren't going to deliver it till Monday, when I should have been out at University, so we wheedled and pled with the local depot, and I gave several winning smiles to get it early, only to discover that its not got enough ram to comfortably run Vista AND everything else I wanted to install.
The Ram is on the way, but I've learned a couple of tricks about Windows Vista. Mainly cause its still doing the best impression of a possum I've ever seen, WITHOUT the Blue Screen of death, and we're doing what's called a 'haha rebuild'.
As in 'haha, you forgot to save the install files, didn't you?'.
So I thought over the coming weeks, I'd do some techie posts. A couple on Vista, a couple on Xp - a smattering on Office (2003, and 2007) and the final couple on some its and pieces I personally believe no writing Mama should be without.
Let me know if you've got any questions, won't you?
Now, I have to go back and beat my eight year old at Guitar Hero 3 - honest, its for an article.

4 Days and she's still here! Shirley Jump, NYT Bestselling Author

Yesterday's post was a nice diversion, taking a peek at two of Shirley Jump's latest novels and easing back into the work mode. But today we're fully back into how to get more writing done when you're a Mama.

I’ve heard Shirley rave about her Alphasmart Neo on the JustWriteIt Yahoo Group. She says she takes it everywhere with her. (It’s lightweight and indestructible because it was made for kids.) Other writers use similar tools (including – gasp – pen and paper) to write, write, write – everywhere.

That sounds great, but I’ve always wondered if writing in bits of time like that would work for me. Of course, I haven’t had the opportunity to try it, because at the pediatrician’s office, I flip through magazines as my dd keeps up conversation (if “I Spy” and “Hey MOM, look at me!” count as conversation). But I hear that one of these days I won’t be so cool, and I’ll likely find myself with a lot of quiet time to write. Which brings me to the next question:

4. When you write *in the car or at the doctor’s office or soccer practice, is it difficult to tie what you’ve written in with what you already have on the hard drive at home?

Not really, because the book is almost always "cooking" in the back of my head. If I know I'm going to have those few minutes coming up, I let the book percolate while I'm heading over to the doctor's office or wherever. That way, when I get there, I know what scene I am going to write, and I can dive right in for those 20 minutes. Do I get blocked? Sometimes, yes. But I force myself to write anyway. I'll do something like have the character open a door or a box or find a picture and see what unfolds from there. Most of my books have a "secrets" theme and when characters find something, there's always a secret unearthed.
*I should note that when I asked this, I was thinking that she must sometimes wait in the car for her kids, and not, as one might think from the way I worded the question, that Shirley zooms down the freeway with one hand typing furiously on her Alphasmart. I'm sure even the busiest authors would advise against that! LOL!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Power of the Press

I wanted to let the readers of this blog know about an issue regarding signing bonuses offered by the U.S. Army. The U.S. offers citizens willing to sign up to serve signing bonuses of several thousand dollars. Recently, the U.S. Army has also been asking soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan to pay back portions of that signing bonus since the soldiers were unable to fulfill their contracts.

Yes, my jaw dropped too.

I wanted to share this with the readers of this blog, however, because one soldier tipped off the media. Several articles later including in places like the L.A. Times, the U.S. Army is now calling this policy "an anomaly" that will be corrected. It is a great example of the power of the press!

I also talked about this issue in my own blog including some personal considerations I have struggled with because my husband is finding himself tempted by the increasing signing bonuses. My blog also includes links to the article with the original story and a follow-up article that offers assurances that this "anomaly" will be corrected.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

"On the 3rd Day with Shirley, Ms. Jump said to me..."

(Sing it with me now!)

I'm in a holiday mood. ;-) We just need to kind of ease back into the work-week after all that Turkey and bargain-hunting. (I promise we'll get back to work in a minute.) Until then, I thought you would appreciate a peek at Shirley's latest, A Miracle on Christmas Eve. Just look at that picture! Perfect for sitting by the fire I mentioned yesterday and reading - after the kids are in bed.

I wanted to make the photo clickable, but then I realized I don't know how to do that. So here it is, less snazzy but still effective: Miracle on Christmas Eve (And for our Canadian Writing Mothers: Miracle on Christmas Eve)

And here's a review that confirms you'll get that warm and fuzzy feeling that is just so appropriate for the holidays. :)

If you're in a different mood, there's Shirley's upcoming book. I've read somewhere (I'm sure of it) that Shirley writes "romantic comedies with heart." This one is more like a romantic comedy with heat! :D

I'll have that picture up every day this week. Not just because he's cute, but also because Really Something goes on sale December 4th. (What a great stocking stuffer for your BFF!) It's available for preorder now. (And, oh Canada...)

Romantic Times gave it 4 1/2 stars (out of 4 1/2). Here's a snippet of their review: “With Jump’s trademark comedic touch, readers are treated to a well-crafted story about what it means to come home to face yourself and your past.”

The story has a great premise. Allie Dean comes back to her hometown of Tempest, Indiana, 170 pounds lighter and determined to "exact the sweet revenge that comes with looking seriously hot." I don't want to mess it up, so I better let you read an excerpt.

3. You’ve said this book is a departure from your usual work. How is it different and what prompted the change?

After my mother died, I found myself naturally delving deeper emotionally for all of my books. I don't think you can go through such a major life upheaval without it affecting you in a huge way, especially in a creative field. When I started writing Really Something, I found myself starting with a funny premise--a woman returning to the town that scorned her, seeking revenge and a hero who is a weatherman predicting the weather with a Magic-8 ball, but when I started to dig deep into these characters, I knew they had big reasons for doing what they did. Duncan, the hero, has been protecting his little sister all his life, first from an abusive father, now from herself, and is desperate to hold onto his job, hence the Magic-8 ball. Allie, the heroine, was teased mercilessly as a child because she was overweight. She felt invisible (the working title of the book had been Miss Invisible) and now the revenge she is seeking is against all those people who tortured her. But she doesn't realize that she is the one who isn't seeing her true self, and that the pain she is feeling is because she has yet to get in touch with what made her put up those emotional walls in the first place.

It was a hard book to write, because there was a lot of emotion in it, and a lot to deal with for all the characters. But it was also fun, because I had some really fabulous secondary characters who were larger than life and who maintained that comedic element that my readers are always looking for.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Day 2 With Bestselling Author Shirley Jump!

At some point, a lot of us realize that being a mom isn't about sipping cocoa by the fire and watching the kids peacefully playing together. And by the time you’ve extinguished Johnny’s hair and removed cocoa stains from the carpet, the job of finishing even ONE novel seems pretty enormous.

Bestselling author and mom of two, Shirley Jump, has written and sold 29 books. I know I can’t be the only one who wonders...

2. How are you able to write so much with kids and a husband who has his own business???? Do you have a maid, a nanny, and a personal chef? An assistant who handles all of your accounting? A ghostwriter?

Oh, how I wish I had ANY of the above! I have no ghostwriter, no nanny, no personal chef, no assistant. Once in a while I hire someone to help with major mail drives, but that's about it. I do have a cleaning service that comes in twice a month and does the big stuff in the house, but otherwise, it's just me. I keep saying I'll get an assistant, but honestly, I don't like having anyone underfoot. When I worked 70+ hours a week at home (just before I sold my first book and I was doing a LOT of freelancing), I had a maid three times a week for about six months and hated it because she was HERE. She didn't bother me, but she was HERE. It drove me nuts.

I write fast. I type at some ungodly speed, and can write a lot of words in a short period of time. Then I'm spent, and just kind of play for the rest of the day, answering e-mail, sending out mail, doing marketing stuff, business stuff (that means all the accounting (UGH) falls to me, too, except the corporate filing; that a pro does) and any other miscellaneous business things. I write between 5 and 20 pages a day, depending on whether it's a good day or a bad day :-).


I like how she says she just kind of “plays” by doing accounting and marketing stuff. I never thought of those as recreational pursuits! (Answering emails, yeah - that can be fun. As long as they aren’t about accounting or marketing!)

Now before I run off to sign up for a class to improve my typing speed, I want to leave you with an extra-credit reading assignment. ;-) Here's another great interview where Shirley answers this question. (I imagine she gets it a lot!)

Have fun! Tomorrow we’ll ask her to tell us more about how she squeezes in writing time.

Friday, November 23, 2007

7 Days With Shirley Jump

She's a Mama with 29 book contracts and counting! New York Times Bestselling author Shirley Jump knows what it takes to have a successful writing career alongside a family.

Like many of us, Shirley juggles her writing career with marriage, kids, and assorted pets. She says she finds time to write by feeding her kids junk food, allowing them to dress in the clothes they find on the floor and encouraging the dogs to double as vacuum cleaners. But don't let her fool you - this is one busy writing mama!

A former journalist and freelance writer with over 3000 articles to her name, Shirley now writes romantic comedies for Harlequin and Kensington. Besides writing novels, she keeps a blog, is generous with author interviews, and she runs a Yahoo group called JustWriteIt for aspiring novelists.

So how does she really do it all? I decided to prevail upon her generosity and just ask! Over the next 7 days, we'll find out what it takes to make it as a writing mother, get insights into the writing process, and find out what keeps this bestseller selling.

Shirley is famous for meeting ridiculously short deadlines, so in honor of National Novel Writing Month, I asked her to share her secret with us:


1. You write books so quickly, it seems like every month is NaNo for you. What’s your process? How do you do it?

Well, not every book goes fast! I have some that can take months, because they're stubborn, others that just seem to stream out of me in one constant thought process. My approach, though, is the same no matter what -- I start with a what-if proposition, and then start trying to figure out WHY the characters are in that position. I never know the end until I get there. I might think I do, but I really don't. I write fast, partly because I want to know the ending as badly as anybody else, and I'm trying to turn those pages and see how everyone turns out.

I write every day, and I think about the books a lot while I'm doing mindless activities like washing dishes or taking a shower. When I'm in the car alone, I'll talk the plot out aloud and figure out the problems that I'm having with the book. I also meet weekly with another writer, and we review each other's chapters and hash out any other issues we might be having. That camaraderie really helps keep me from feeling like I live in a cave :-). The biggest key, though, really is just to show up at the computer every single day.

When I don't feel like writing (and trust me, I have those days like everyone else), I get out of my office and go someplace public, like a coffee shop, and write there. I feel compelled to write, because people are there, and if I'm playing FreeCell, they'll think I'm a slacker, LOL. So I work like a bear and have a lot of espresso. I can get several thousand words written in a couple hours in a coffee shop, all for the price of a couple mochas ;-).


Thanks Shirley! Tomorrow I want to find out how you keep up with the family side of life! :)

New article up... Canadian Health Care

In my never ending quest to opine...

Canadian Brand Socialism: Failing the Sick and Poor

I can't show you my office(s)

I really wanted to show everyone where I work, cause after years of sharing every inch of space I had in my house with two children, several friends and a partner, I've got not one, but two office spaces - one in my attic, where I go to paint, to create and to hang out with myself, and the other in our family dining room - not as solitary, but just as nice, cause its got our book cases, a log fire, and the surround sound music system.
And there's two reasons I can't show em off - one - the attic is up a mountain - errrr...stepladder of mountainous proportions and I haven't been up there since I fell down the stairs and probably more importantly, two, we're reorganizing the house.
My dining room contains more paperwork than I know what to do with, though, oddly, I consider my work 'paperless' - or did till they started insisting I print essays. So there's a swamp of papers, that are going to be prepared for recycling.
In one corner, precariously towering over anyone that sits at the table at that side, is four boxes, stuff to the gunnels with books, note pads, text books, folders, fiction, fact, photography... we moved here over a year ago, but we're still unpacking, as we get rid of things and make space for more. In the other corner, a solidary pot plant stands, looking fairly folorn. We took it off the windowsill to repain the surrounds and its missing being in direct sunlight.

One thing that did occur to me, early on, was that I'm going to have to do something about my office space soon anyway - we're getting a new scanner and printer and there's really NO ROOM for them. So today is going to be spent looking at book cases, and desks and filing cabinets. Once we're all set up again, I'll see if I can share ;)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Sound of Writing

Thank you.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

It takes a lot of wires to go wireless...

Ugh. I can't believe I'm doing this!

But in a way, it was kind of fun. I realized that I like my office, even though it isn't what anyone would consider a dream office, I'm sure.

Hey, another cool thing about posting these pics? Now someone else gets to see my wall of "Awards and Stuff." (I mean, that's why you frame 'em, right? To show someone?)

My office wouldn't fit in one frame, so here is the first side:

You'll see the millions of wires it takes for me to use my wireless equipment. There are some papers on the right hand side that I have to go through. This is what I get for not being on top of it - Heather wouldn't let us clean up first!

DH installed the counter. It's supported in part by a file cabinet you can't see in the pics. But he did a nice job.

Here's the other part that wouldn't fit in the first shot:
Look at my crappy printer/fax machine. One of these days, I'll either have a decent fax, or technology will have sped past this era.

Technology hasn't completely eliminated the need for a typewriter, though. It's still the only way to fill out hard-copy forms. I don't even know if you can still buy ribbons for these, though. I hope mine never runs out of ink!

My office and the space I really use to work...

I have had this office since 1999. It used to be a formal entry way, and the closet was where my desk is now. This office has been well used, and I have written thousands of articles while sitting at this desk using that ergonomic keyboard. The outside door used to be located where the bookcases are now. This is a galley style office, about 8x8 in size. It is located right off my living room. The office is really small for my needs, and the contents have overflowed into my living room. Right outside the door, I have a lateral file to store all of my contracts and clips, etc.

You probably can't read my comments. In the photo at the right, I noted that the wall is ugly right now since I am in the middle of installing corkboard. Eventually the wall will be a huge bulletin board.

The bookcases are a must. They keep all of my resources organized including magazines, and a large supply of books about journalism and writing. One entire shelf is dedicated to my memoir, but it isn't clearly visible in the picture.

Since I purchased a laptop, however, my actual working space has moved to this location:

From here, I can work and be more involved with my family. When I need to spread out or to eliminate distractions, I still move into my office. But when I need to put my butt in the chair and my finger on the keyboards, this is where it happens most of the time.

What would your dream office space look like?

I would like a room that allowed space to have someone come in and sit down (besides just me). And more bookcases. ;0)

Monday, November 19, 2007

My Desk - Heather

I am issuing a challenge to the Mamas on MNABC.

Show me your undewear.

Ok, not really... but almost worse.

Show me your desk. I'll go first.

Let me give you a little tour of The Desk That Shall Not Be Conquered.

1a - My fancy color printer scanner thingy that I had to buy in my last month of writing Rookie Reiner when my daughter knocked over the old one.

1b - The super-fast black and white printer that spit out at least four versions of a 50,000 word book and whose drum is still at 85%.

2 - The November calendar. Strangely blank. Not so strange if you consider that I ripped off "October" just today... um, I'm a little behind. I keep deadlines listed on this sheet, but lately I haven't had very many.

3a - A pile of "to be filed" papers

3b - The little file holder thingies where I can stick more "to be filed" papers and pretend that they are kind of filed.

3c - A pile of "to be filed when the other pile is empty".

4 - Binders for a variety of things: an old photo album from high school, my Pampered Chef binder, my company's record book, blank binders looking longing down at the piles of paper they could be holding if I could figure out exactly how best to use them.

5 - A camera bag with no camera in it because that camera is sitting on my desk next to the lamp. (You can see the strap)

6 - The craziness under my desk. Very tempting to babies who seek to zap themselves. Or turn my external hard drive offonoffonoffonoffonoffon until it has kittens.

7 - Magazines. Waiting to be read. Some are from Spring 2007. *hangs head*. But in my defense I sometimes like to look through magazines to get ideas (no, not STEALING)... for example, I've I'm thinking about an article on horse health, I may look through Self magazine or some human equivalent to spark some parallel thoughts.

8 - I couldn't tell you what is here without looking... it's a place where paper goes to die I think.

9 - Ahhh the bookshelf. Last count, about 800 books. Again, not all of them read. Currently it also serves has holder of the baby products and Fun Toys aka The Books on the Lower Shelves.

So there you go. This is the desk I wrote my first book at. Sometimes I wrote it at the kitchen table on the laptop, but most of it was here... blasting Pink until I was practically a Democrat, cursing photographers who wouldn't send back their permission forms and trying to block the baby from crawling under the desk with my knees.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sharing the Love of Reading

I love to read. I was never that way as a young child, but it was all thanks to my third grade teacher. She held a conference with my mom, to discuss ways to encourage me to read. My parents and my teacher worked together which led me to be a strong reader today.

Now, I share the gift of reading to my son. I am always reading to him. I tell him to "read" to me. So, imagine my surprise when I found out the other night that our town was having a Family Reading Night, sponsored by school libraries and the public library.

My son and I went because hubby was working. We had a surprise visitor--Clifford the Big Red Dog! Instead of my son be excited about seeing him, he turned towards me with a disappointed face saying, "He's not the real Clifford." I was caught off guard because my son is only four *lol*. Yeah, you could see the man's face. I mean Clifford was dressed by one of the public librarians.

Another parent in the audience overheard my son's comments, and said to me first, "How old is he?" I told her four. She continued to say, "Wow, I am surprised he noticed that detail while other children younger and older are running to greet Clifford." She then turned to my son and said, "Honey, Clifford couldn't make it tonight, so he had to send his helpers to come to meet you and the other children." My son looked at her and said, "Oh." That was it. All he said was "Oh."

So every 15 minutes, we went from another room to another room while different educators read to us. It was awesome because my son got to see how people read books in many different ways. Before the night ended, families met in the gym to watch a skit about Junie B. Jones, followed by Juan and the Divas, a performing dance group of our own local librarians wearing fake feather bows and using library carts. They dance to William Tell's Overture and Let's Celebrate!

To top it off, door prizes were given to random winners--adults and children. To my surprise, my son's name was announced as one of the winners. We were expected to go pick up the prize, a book, out the gym doors. My son and I went. My son was excited that he had won a prize. The volunteers couldn't find his poor book. Once they find it, they will send it to the public library for us to pick it up. I explained that to my son. He was a bit disappointed, yet he managed to tell everyone he knew that he had won a prize!

I hate to sound cheesy or cliche, but share the Gift of Reading to your own children.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Time Compression

I have this theory. It's kinda mathy... and I'm not mathy, so bear with me. It's a theory on me and being busy. Ok, maybe it's more sciencey. But I'm reading A Short History on Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson and it's affecting my brain.

We all have a certain amount of time in the day. 24 hours. That time is at a certain level of density depending on what you are doing. The sleeping hours are kind of spongy, not really dense... just there to recharge and re-energize.

Then we get up.

If we go to outside employment, then we start to pack more STUFF into time. We have to get all the work stuff done at work, during those 8 hours we are there. It can be intense, it can spill over. If it spills over it starts to take up space in those other hours, making them more dense, less relaxing.

So we work hard at keeping work stuff at work.

It can be the same if we work at home with kids. Tell me there's no difference between the hour of time right after the baby wakes up and the hour of nap time. That hour of nap time is so densely packed that time actually moves faster... really, it so does.

Sometimes, for people like me, packing more STUFF into your day actually makes you a more effective person. When I'm at work I'm really effective. I check things off lists, I manage issues, I return phone calls so fast people are astounded. It's not because I'm THAT GOOD, it's because I have to be that good because this is the time for WORK. To be successful, I need to keep the work stuff in the work time.

With my writing career, I chip and carve out time during the rest of my non-work, non-sleeping hours. I schedule it in. I plan for dense periods of time. Currently, I'm in list mode. I have made a list of blog posts to do during nap time and I am doing it by sheer will. The baby is sleeping, the boy is playing.

I give myself a mental "let's do this sh**!" and pour a cup of coffee and get going.

The key to scheduling ON time into your day is to schedule some OFF time. I had some off time already this morning. I made pancakes and sang the pancake making song with the kids. I read Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb eleventy times while sitting on the kitchen floor. I made up a new song about my daughter's love for milk.

Last night during my OFF time, I played with my son and took some blackmail video footage. (That's a Facebook link... you may have to be a 'friend' to view it....)

Or I watch TV with my husband. If there's anyone I need to schedule in OFF time with, it's Major Man. He's doing a big share of the childcare while I am at work, and as soon as I get home, he goes to work! So sometimes the only time we have together is from 9-11 pm or until I'm too tired to stay up. Often you'll find us both on our laptops at the kitchen table, sharing our down time with some work time...

I think it's up to each of us to determine what kind of person we are. Do we do better with scheduled time or not? With one too many jobs to do, or the exact right amount, or just enough time to utter the words "I'm a little bored right now"?

So what do you do? Do you over- or under-schedule?

Friday, November 16, 2007

When You Need A Laugh...

When you need a laugh, Amy Mullis is good for it. I don't know how she does it so reliably. She has that Southern gal humor thing going on with just the right amount of silliness.

If you like punny (and I do), check out Amy's blog, Mind Over Mullis. I just had to tell you about it, because it's so much fun to see what inventive ways she's going to describe something next.

Here, I'll give you an example. This is just a random snippet I stole* from her blog:

"Sending that boy back into the house is like watching an Infomercial for the Thighmaster and waiting for plot development."

That mama will get a book contract one of these days. I'll be standing in line to preorder my copy.

*I didn't realize you could LOL at a copyright notice!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Mamas Need Resources!

There are over a bazillion resources for Writing Mothers, both in print and on the Internet. Since I've seen probably half of them (which is precisely 1/2 bazillion), I want to do something constructive with all that time, and pass on the ones that have been the most helpful to me personally.

Rather than waiting until I've compiled a big list, I thought I would just post them here as I think of them, tag them with "Resources" and call it good.

What do you think? Yes? Hopefully you'll find the resource you need, when you need it.

I'm going to start with my all-time favorite. I'm always shouting from the rooftops about this book. It wasn't the first writing book I ever read (how I wish it had been!!), but it was the one that helped me get my first article published. And it is STILL useful, relevant, and gosh-darn it, friendly. Yes, friendly. You'll see what I mean when you get it.


(Here's the link to Shirley's book on Amazon.)

I tell you, this is the best holiday gift I could ever give you. Much better than the green and orange sweater vest I was crocheting for you.


p.s. Shirley Jump is the author of How To Publish Your Articles, and guess what?? She is a Mama with a whole bunch of book contracts! Yes, she went from being a highly successful non-fiction writer to a bestselling novelist with 29 published books! And guess what else?? She's coming to MNABC! That's right - I will get to interview her and will post it here. It's coming soon, I swear! So if you have any questions for her, you can include them in the comments of this post.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Doin the rounds

It was my birthday yesterday, something which I allowed to pass without much of a whimper. Well, online anyway.
Yesterday, I spent most of the day in the local ER cause we thought I'd broken my foot (again). I had planned on finishing up University essays, before having guests round for our horror game and birthday party *thang* that we had planned.
What I learned from that whole experience is one, you can't write with a sore foot, not while you're trying to make sure that other people (some of whom were drunk) aren't bumping it too.
We sorted that out, I came home, finished the essay I'd started before taking out my ankle. Turns out I've probably done nothing more than sprained it. But as the very kind ER doc pointed out, given my last accident, when they thought I'd broken my neck, I have to be very careful to make sure I'm not injured more than I think I am, given the fact that I don't have as much feeling down my left side.
As a writer, this is interesting (well, in my opinion anyway) cause one, it shows accidents happen, even on the most important days of our lives. Its a good thing to bear in mind when building up the 'little slivers' that lead to the major event in our stories. Its their birthday - break their leg, crash their car - let them be rained on going to work.
The second thing I learned yesterday was just because we KNOW our bodies, our minds, and our reactions, doesn't mean we always learn to compensate correctly. I know I'm damaged in my neck, and have less feeling in my left side, but I forget when I hurt myself. So when you're dealing with a character, do we always remember that just because they THINK they are OK, and work well within the boundaries of their environment, HOW do they react when things are thrown off?
It might seem odd, but its the little details that make our stories our own - and though its important to get the big things down, its just as important to build the little things around your characters. Depth is what makes the memorable books stand apart from the ones that are compelling to read, but just don't stick with us, or your readers as well.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Creature of Habit

or unwilling to change....

Last week my laptop computer had issues. Actually, my laptop has had issues for a while, but last week the issues became so severe that impacted my ability to use my laptop. My laptop, by the way, isn't even two years old, but in dog years (or years Linda put on it through near constant use) it is probably ready to retire.

It no longer smells new. The keys are worn. The n-key is grooved from my fingernail constantly stabbing it. On either side of the touchpad, my palm prints have been permanently worn into the computer. And it is less than two years old.

For months, I have had plug-in issues. The cord that charges the battery doesn't connect correctly. This means that it doesn't always charge the battery properly. Last week it became so severe that it would NOT charge at all unless I had one hand holding the cord in a very specific way. I had to apply the constant pressure in order to make the computer work.

I talked to my tech guy about repairing my computer. He looked into it and learned the plug-in connection is part of my laptop's motherboard so just the part would be around $300. Could I live with it? I thought I could until last week.

For the record, it is hard to get any work done on your computer while holding the cord with one hand. I am a touch typist who can type upwards of 100 words a minute, but I can't do it one-handed.

I had options. My husband has a laptop. In real life, his lap top will be a year old in December. In dog years, his laptop still has puppy breath. He uses it at home, and it doesn't even have a lot of programs or files stored on it. He uses it mainly to access his e-mail and to take his online work-related courses. We also own three desktop computers. Plus I have a desktop computer in my office at work.

But MY laptop has everything I need from Acrobat to Indesign to Photoshop to Word to my FTP program not to mention all of my files including my templates and writing in progress and handouts for my classes and all of my e-mail. And it is this that makes me groan about using anything else.

When my computer acted up, my husband offered me his laptop. His is a Sony Vaio and perfectly nice, but it has just a 14-inch screen, and the keyboard is tiny. My laptop has a full-sized keyboard, which was a must for me since when I do use a desktop, I use an ergonomic keyboard with the split-design. I can't type 100-plus words on a teeny tiny keyboard.

So. I searched eBay and found a laptop exactly like mine. I hope to be up and running by the weekend. I look forward to a fully-charged battery and using both hands to complete my work.

Spoiled? Maybe, but I make a living with this computer. I can't compromise.

Mama's Got a Book Contract

Well, after a month of radio silence ... I can finally announce that I've sold my second book (tentatively titled) The Green Stable to Storey.

It was an exciting process. We (meaning my agent and I) started out with a list of six publishers. She sent the proposal to them and we got five responses back in the positive, one in the negative.

From there we pretty much let the dollars fall where they may. We had a dollar figure in mind for an advance and luckily three came around the same. One had a contract clause I didn't like, so we passed on them. That left two...

It's kind of impolite to discuss the specifics. Sort of like saying to your co-worker, "so, how much do you make? Did you negotiate more holidays?" So I apologize for being vague...

But in the end I had a choice to make. One publisher was offering more, but I really had strong feelings of Like towards the other publisher. Plus there were differences in regards to the acquisition fo photos and graphs for the book.

So I chose to go with Storey and I am exceedingly happy!! I feel - down in my toenails even - that I have made the right decision.
If you'd like to be put on a mailing list for The Green Stable, please leave a comment and I'll put ya on the list!
Oh yeah, what's the book about you ask?
It's a horse owner/rider guide to environmental horsekeeping. Everything from how to build a 'green' barn to using enviro-friendly products and practices to being an earthy trail rider.
(Cross-posted at The Writing Mother)

Yes! What he said!

You know the writer's strike going on in Hollywood? Erik Sherman blogged about why we - freelance nonfiction writers - should care.

In his post is this gem:

"Do the web hosting companies provide bandwidth for reduced rates because they publishers are trying to start new types of businesses? Do they get free electricity and computers and storage and software? Nope, they don't - they have to pay for them. But without the content, they have nothing to store, to run through computers, to send over the Internet pipes, and to land in someone's browser."

Right! Amen. And whatever other phrases one would use to heartily concur.

You say you would like to read the post for yourself? I knew you would. So, here you go: WGA Strike, Corporate Control, and Pushing Writers Out

You're very welcome! :D

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Mama will hopefully, maybe be signing a contract soon...

I am not so sure if I mentioned it here, but this week coming up... I may have another book contract.

Actually I have one contract in my hands, I just have not signed it yet.

There's some to-and-froing between two publishers but I do believe I have made a decision. And I promise, y'all will be the first to know.

Or you all. Since I'm Canadian and really don't say y'all that much.

And let me just say POO on the Canadian/US exchange rate. Oh sure, I was all farts and giggles a few years ago when I started writing for US mags. But now I get only about 90% of what the check (or cheque) says. Grumblegrumblegrumble.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Where's the Good News?

Following up from my post the other day about controversial writing. I had another comment on the article.

In short, I criticized border guards because of some poor behaviour of a few. I received this comment:

I could go on forever about all the superb work my fellow officers and I do every day Heather, but that isn't quite the sensationalism you were striving for. So instead I'll just proudly put on my uniform and go to work Heather, and I hope I can stop the bad guy from getting in to your community tonight.

It falls into a common trap. If 99% of a group is doing good, how come it's the bad guys that get the headlines.

The short answer?

That's the way it works.

If we didn't publicize the bad behaviour of a few, then we'd very likely be accused of either hiding something, covering something up or having a strong bias. I kind of thought I was being just the slightest bit brave by criticizing a few people in an organization I think does a pretty good job. But just because I respect 99% of people in uniform, I'm not going to let the 1% go uncriticized.

However, when I criticize the 1% suddenly people assume I'm criticizing the 99%. No, that's not how it works.

Unfortunately, people like the commenter above don't come to news (MSM or not) looking for a headline that reads "Today Everyone Did Their Job and No One Got Hurt". It would be nice if that one popped up, but it never does.

Would an article about border guards doing a great job have made the news? Nope. Because editors and readers would assume a bias. Not every organization has every employee working at optimum status. The fact that you do your job is expected, not newsworthy.

When it comes to anyone in uniform, I admit my bias: I want to follow what they say. I want them to be the good guys. I want them to win.

And that's why it peeves me off when people within their own ranks disrespect their fellow workers. Yes, it does cast doubt on the group as a whole. Yes, I shone a light on that. I want them to pull their bootstraps up and kick the idiots out. Because I expect better.

But no, the good news that no police officers died today or no border guards were injured or no firefighter was killed... those things don't make the news. But they happen every day. And I'm glad.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

When Your Writing is Controversial

I write for a site that has its fair share of controversial articles. And every once in a while one that I put up is controversial. Like the one I put up today.

My article criticized the Canadian Border Services Agency. (As my husband said... good luck crossing the border later this month ;) lol) It's not like it garnered 100 comments, but it did get at least one comment from a superviser with the CSBA. (probably clicking 'flag this person' at this very moment...)

Basically they haven't been allowed to have guns. Now they are being given guns but it's taking a heck of a long time to get 7200 guards certified. (Not all of them will get guns)

To top it off, there are new recruits being incredibly dumb and posting pictures on Facebook of alcohol consumption in uniform.

Anyways... you can read it if you like.

So what do you do when your writing draws criticism?

1. Analyze the criticism to determine a) who it's coming from and b) if it has merit.

2. Find something in the criticism that you can learn from.

3. Do not take it personally.

The third point is the hardest because many critics take things to a personal level. For example, one critic didn't like my tone (sarcasm) and while on one hand I know that it's just the tone I chose to write in, on the other I feel it's a criticism of me as a writer and the tool I chose.

(I'm not a huge fan of sarcasm... but I use it sometimes...)

The first point is important because everyone one has a bias. A quick Google search determined that one of my commenters was a supervisor at the CSBA. I can understand why he'd take offense to my article.

It was about one viewpoint, one opinion.

It goes without saying that many, many employees at the CSBA are good workers. But the fact is, their employer has faced controversy in the last few years and that's what my article was about. The controversies.

After reading the comments, I digested them and responded. I wasn't offended, really, how can you be offended by an opinion. It's an opinion, not an action or a concrete attack. It's just one person's opinion.

Now if I'm totally flagged at the border now I will really be offended. LOL

Please feel free to comment...

(Cross-posted at The Writing Mother)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Feminists could have just stopped like, one or two steps sooner.

Oh, go ahead and flog me with a wet noodle, but I'm only kidding. A little.

Lately I've developed a reminiscence for an era I never experienced (and that probably never existed in reality). After two weeks of tight deadlines and other stuff I needed to do but can't remember anymore, I LONGED for the days when my biggest challenge would have been trying to vacuum in my high heels.

Of course I'm a huge fan of equal rights for women. The idea that women can't do something because they're women is stoopid. But when feminists said we could do anything, did they have to keep talking? Just stop right there: "We can do anything."

But oh no, somebody somewhere started saying we could have it ALL! Not just anything - now we have to do EVERYTHING!

And I don't blame men. It's not their fault they can shoot baskets all day long and still miss the hamper and the potty. That's genetic. What's more, they don't care if we clean up after them or not. That's US feeling like we have to do it. (Yeah, 'cause we don't want to live in a pigsty.)

Disclaimer: Actually, my husband is one of the new, improved kind of men. He made dinner twice last week (without me asking) and bailed me out of a few other things when I had to work. (He is the primary breadwinner in this family, but he's not afraid of a little housekeeping.) Which is great. I am so thankful!

So no, not complaining about him.

I'm just not a multi-tasker. Well, I am for specified periods of time, but then I'm brainless during a short recovery period. That's when I usually look up at the clock and ask, "What can I make with 5 spaghetti noodles and this shiny brown apple?"

I want to be the perfect housewife. I know women who are. Even women who work. (Oh wait. I forgot again that I work too. It's easy to do when there's no steady paycheck coming in!)

Ah, but I'm am so gloriously happy sometimes, though. I would never want to have to choose between all the things I get to do. Sigh. I suspect it isn't the feminists' fault after all. It's me who wants to do everything.

I just wish I were better at it!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Writers in Herds

I had the funnest of times the other night hosting the Calgary NaNoWriMo Kick-Off. Funner than fun.

This is my fourth or fifth year being the Municipal Liaison for the city, for the last couple of years I've had a co-ML who runs the online world while I run the real-life world of get togethers and write-ins.

It works well. I'm definitely an introvert who likes to talk to other writers. See them. Look them in the eyeballs. She prefers the online duties.

So a week before the kick-off I grabbed a press release from NaNo's site and customized it with my information. Then I sent it out to all the major papers and radio stations. I got a few bites. The Calgary Herald Neighbours edition called and interviewed me and also said they'd send a photographer.

Then CBC Radio One called and The Eyeopener wanted to interview me on the radio at 6:15 am (aka The Unholy Hour).

(And, on the same day as all this happened, another writer from the Calgary Herald called to interview me about my essay in Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul... and they sent a photographer to my house!)

Some of the writers in our NaNo group were a little confused as to why I'd invite the media to a writing event. I explained that it was good to get publicity for NaNo for many reasons: to support their young writer programs, to promote writers in our city, to promote literacy, to show that we have a vibrant writing community... and that maybe next year we could get some corporate sponsorship so I wouldn't have to pay for all the darn prizes and giveaways out of my own pocket!

I don't mind, actually, but don't tell my husband!

I got a few items donated, a gift card for a bookstore, a session with a creativity coach, a couple of books.

At the event we had a write-off, to see how many words we could write in 10 minutes. Then we gave out prizes to writers in two categories (newbies and repeating writers) based on content (who has a character who is hearing a voice in his head?) and word count.

Other prizes included 'writer' videos like Stranger Than Fiction, Capote, and The Hours. Books like Writer's Block, No Plot No Problem as well as an official NaNo Novel Writing Kit.

Of course we had the official NaNo stickers too.

I had a lot of fun talking to the group, mostly because they laughed in all the right places. It wasn't intimidating at all, I realized just before we started that most of these people were just like me! Writers here to meet other writers. Some were shy, some weren't (like my buddies, the hecklers!). They did a great job, gave great feedback and contributed to the discussion.

I look forward to the rest of the meetings this month for NaNoWriMo.

Friday, November 2, 2007

October is OVER!


I realize that for most of you, October was over the day before yesterday. But for me it ended when I finally got my latest assignment completed at 3:35 a.m. today.

So before I start November and Nano, I'm taking a nap. Hopefully I'll wake up in time to meet dd at the bus. ;-) (Just kidding. I have plenty of time.)

Sleep well. Er, I mean: Work hard today everybody! Get those fingers flyin'on those keyboards!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

"...until you undo the ribbons you can never be sure."

Happy Nano everyone!

The title of this post came from the "Pep Talk from Tom Robbins" email sent out this morning from the folks at Nano HQ.

It refers to his point that any "rule" of writing can be broken with remarkable success if the writing works.

Here's what he says:

"Ah, but how can you know if it's working? The truth is, you can't always know (I nearly burned my first novel a dozen times, and it's still in print after 35 years), you just have to sense it, feel it, trust it. It's intuitive, and that peculiar brand of intuition is a gift from the gods. Obviously, most people have received a different package altogether, but until you undo the ribbons you can never be sure."

I think that sums up why I want to do Nano this year. Untie that package, folks, and see what's inside!

Just 1667 words a day, and at the end, we'll have a nice gift to ourselves. Whether it's crap or literary genius, we'll never have to look back and say, "I always wanted to write a novel."

Happy Nanoing! :)