Tuesday, March 31, 2009

My Favourite Part of the Book - The First Kiss

So I'm a little over half-way in writing the first draft of the new WIP (since I've only put in about 10,000 words onto computer screen and the rest is in long-hand I'm guestimating I'm at the half-way point here) and I just finished writing the first kiss scene between my heroine and hero. And I am pleased. Thank God. Because if I wasn't pleased I'd be stuck. Until I got it right. Until I believed that what just happened felt natural and not awkwardly set up just because there's a romantic sub-plot and I have to throw in a kiss at some point. I need to believe that at that particular moment, for those particular two people, a kiss happened because it was emotionally honest and right for them at that time.

As you can see I'm very persnickity when it comes to getting that first kiss scene right.

Now, I know not all YA books have to have a kissing scene in them - many don't. Whatever works for a writer's story. But in MY books they are a must. I love me a romantic sub-plot. For me, a first kiss between the main character and the love interest is nothing that can be skimmed over, nor jumped in too quickly, nor delayed for too long. It must happen at the right time, with the right level of intimacy, and with the right reactions before and after the kiss from my main characters. No matter what the main plot is, no matter what sturm and angst might be happening to my main character there must be a love interest and there MUST be a first kiss scene and it must further - if not the plot - then the emotional growth of my main character.

So, I've established that I like first kiss scenes. The question is why? When there are so many scenes in a book that are necessary and integral to the plot and the emotional development of a character why is that first kiss so important to get right?

For me, I think that it boils down to how vulnerable and exposed we are when we kiss someone for the first time. And, as teenagers, first experiences are so intense that in young adult books a first kiss is amplified in terms of emotional depth and importance even further. Layer on that any confusion about how the main character might feel about the person they're kissing or anticipation or fear - whatever the emotion is it is usually intense and, as a result, makes for intense reading. And intense is always good - at least for me.

So, if I have any words of advice (not that I have any right to give advice but it's my blog so I'm giving it out for free) if you have a first kiss scene planned, please give it the same thought, time and importance you'd give to a scene where there is high drama or conflict, or an action scene, or a stunning revelation. A good first kiss scene - if written well - can give a reader all of that and more. But, more importantly, a good first kiss scene should leave a reader with that squirming, butterflies-in-the-stomach, about-to-jump-off-a-cliff feeling that you had when you kissed someone for the first time and didn't know what was going to happen next.

It should leave you wanting more.

So, tell me, what's your favourite part of the book?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Quiet before the Storm...

For the first time since I can remember, I have the house to myself for about two hours. The kids are all out, hubby with one of them, the dog is collapsed on the kitchen floor after an all day work out at doggie day care and I. Am. ALONE.

It is a treasure not to be tossed away. Quiet. Solitude. Heaven.

Yeah, I know. I should be writing, right? Well, it's a weird thing. I'm so used to writing in chaos (subway trains, skating rinks, waiting rooms) that actually writing while there is nothing distracting in my world is a bit ... distracting. Oh, it's not that I couldn't. But I'm cooking a dinner for one. I'll read the paper. Write the blog. All selfish, solitary things that I usually do in rushed-I-only-have-so-much-time-I better-not-waste-it mode.

But for now, in the quiet, I will calm a usually flustered mind. I know the next few days will be busy, after all. Daughter two to have oral surgery tomorrow, hockey play offs, mother coming to stay for a week. All out of the ordinary busy things to take me away from writing. And yet, I don't take this small window of solitude to write when I have the time and the quiet. Because I know I need my mind to calm sometimes. So, when I need the words in those snatches of distracted writing time, they'll be there. Because I've taken the time. For me.

I hope all my fellow writers do the same. The words are always there. Quiet time - REAL quiet time is rare and precious. Enjoy it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Why I write my first drafts in longhand

I'm sure many of my writer friends find it strange, quaint, or just plain bizarre that I write all of the first drafts of my novels in long-hand. Yup. I admit it. I'm a dinosaur. But, like all the so-called rules of writing, how and when you write is completely individual. I mean, it's not like I'm writing with a sharpened quill or anything. I've just gotten into the habit of having a journal that fits into my purse with whatever pen I've stuck into its pages ready for me at all times. Unfortunately, I do not happen to currenly have a life that allows me to sit at a computer for great stretches of time. Heck, I don't even have great stretches of time. I have snatches of time. Like a half-hour subway ride to work and back. Do you know how many pages I can write - in long-hand - on that half-hour ride in? At least 2-3 if I'm in a good headspace. And then another couple on the way home. On average, that works out to almost five typewritten pages once I get it on to the computer. Five pages a day five days a week. It adds up.

Another reason I love long-hand is that I'm more forgiving of myself and my writing when the first draft is in long-hand. I can scratch out or scrawl something that I know I can fix later. I don't feel the need to self-edit like I do when I'm typing into the computer. That comes when I'm transcribing my first draft long-hand on to the computer. That's when I do some revision and cleaning up. Essentially that's my second draft. By the time I have the complete novel transcribed into the computer and I read through it again I'm basically ready to do a third revision.

The other reason I like long-hand is that I can pull that journal out anywhere. Waiting at the dentist office. Sitting in the car waiting for my daughter to get off work. At skating practice. At hockey practice. When I take the kids to any event that I'm not participating in (hello - rock climbing?? No thanks, Mom will sit and cheer you on and get a couple of pages written on her WIP too) And I love curling up on the couch and absorbing the world I'm creating. Not that I couldn't do it with a laptop. It's just that with a pen and my journal, it's more comfortable and it works for me. Writing at any place and at any time has enabled me to tune out the distractions of the world and tune into the words.

Little by little, scrawled word by scrawled word, I'm building my world. Ink to paper. Keyboard to screen. Whatever works. Whatever gets those words down. No matter how it's done, they all come from the same place. In writing it's not necessarily how you manage the journey it's the destination that's important. Ending up with the words all writers love to write or type ... The End.

Monday, March 16, 2009

March Break Musings and Famous City Attractions

It's March Break week here in Toronto and I'm taking a couple of days off with the kids. Not planning tons of stuff - mostly it'll be about letting the kids usual hectic pace slow down a bit. For example it's almost ten a.m. right now and two of them are still sleeping. Oldest is working at a kids camp this week. Wow. Kind of weird when your baby girl is grown up enough to take care of other people's kids now.

We did go to the Art Gallery of Ontario yesterday and while the youngest was semi-bored the older two liked it and I thought the new Frank Gehry addition (especially his beautiful wooden spiral suspended staircase and arched gallery) was stunning. I can't believe I've lived here over twenty years and this was the first time I've gone to the AGO. I wonder if it's like that for most people who live in major cities with famous places? Since they're in your backyard do you have the mentality of "Oh, I'll get to it another day"?

Although I must say I've seen the CN Tower more times than I can count and gone up to it's Skyview deck enough times to be bored with it (still, you never get tired of standing on that weird window in the floor and staring down thousands of feet below you. Yicky). The Royal Ontario Museum - same thing. Ontario Science Centre - if I have to do another school field trip there I'll pay money NOT to go (not that there's anything wrong with it - I just can't do those hands on exhibits one more time, thank you). Toronto Zoo, well, only been once - it's one heck of a drive out there and during March most of the animals are inside anyway.

What I should do with the kids - especially since it's such a nice weather week - is not just think about the major attractions but wander around the parks and neighbourhoods that we don't get to go to that often. Chinatown, Little Italy, take in a show at the theatre district. I know some people put down Toronto as a cold, kind of snobby place but I really do love it here and I find most people friendly and helpful and the neighbourhoods full of character and charm (well, okay, some neighbourhoods I'd stay away from). But I do want my kids to know the city that is their birthplace and feel comfortable exploring it.

Now, if they would just wake up so I could take them somewhere...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

30 Motivational Quotes for 30 Motivated Days of Writing

I'm about to dive into a new wip that I left idling a few months ago. The manuscript I just recently completed is now, temporarily, on the shelf. And that's as it should be - I knew there was something just not quite ... quite about it. Not quite right, not quite there, not quite something. My agent confirmed it when I sent her both partials and she tagged the one I'd recently started tinkering with again. So now I've got to stop the idling and rev 'er up. So, to get my motor going (okay, I'll stop with the car analogies now) I decided to pull out 30 of my favourite motivational quotes that will help me to write something new on the wip every day for the next 30 days. I'll share them here and hope they provide something to anyone who needs a little push to keep writing, keep following their dream, and keep their faith that one day they'll see their book published.

Without further ado, my 30 Quotes for 30 days of Writing:

Day One
"Don't wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles and less than perfect conditions. So what. Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident and more and more successful.
Mark Victor Hansen

Day Two
"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
Winston Churchill

Day Three
"Never, never, never, never give up.
Winston Churchill

Day Four
"Only as high as I reach can I grow, only as far as I seek can I go, only as deep as I look can I see, only as much as I dream can I be.
Karen Ravn

Day Five
Reach high, for stars lie hidden in your soul. Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal.
Pamela Vaull Starr

Day Six
"Little by little one walks far
Peruvian Proverb

Day Seven
To move ahead you need to believe in yourself...have conviction in your beliefs and the confidence to execute those beliefs.
Adlin Sinclair

Day Eight
"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."
Eleanor Roosevelt

Day Nine
"It was a high counsel that I once heard given to a young person, "Always do what you are afraid to do."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Day Ten
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore,is not an act but a habit."

Day Eleven
"The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person's determination."
Tommy Lasorda

Day Twelve
"If you doubt you can accomplish something, then you can't accomplish it. You have to have confidence in your ability, and then be tough enough to follow through."
Rosalyn Carter

Day Thirteen
"If you can DREAM it, you can DO it."
Walt Disney

Day Fourteen
"I have heard it said that the first ingredient of success - the earliest spark in the dreaming youth - is this; dream a great dream."
John A. Appleman

Day Fifteen
"You are never given a dream without also being given the power to make it true. You may have to work for it, however."
Richard Bach

Day Sixteen
"If you don't have a dream, how are you going to make a dream come true?"
Oscar Hammerstein

Day Seventeen
"A dream is your creative vision for your life in the future. You must break out of your current comfort zone and become comfortable with the unfamiliar and the unknown."
K Denis Waitley

Day Eighteen
"Most people give up just when they're about to achieve success. They quit on the one yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game, one foot from a winning touchdown."
H. Ross Perot

Day Nineteen
"If you want to get somewhere you have to know where you want to go and how to get there. Then never, never, never give up."
Norman Vincent Peale

Day Twenty
"How long should you try? Until."
Jim Rohn

Day Twenty-one
"Perseverance is failing nineteen times and succeeding the twentieth."
Julie Andrews

Day Twenty-two
"When we are motivated by goals that have deep meaning, by dreams that need completion, by pure love that needs expressing, then we truly live life."
Greg Anderson

Day Twenty-three
"Never look down to test the ground before taking your next step; only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find his right road."
Dag Hammarskjold

Day Twenty-four
"You must have long term goals to keep you from being frustrated by short term failures."
Charles C. Noble

Day Twenty-five
"You can't hit a home run unless you step up to the plate. You can't catch a fish unless you put your line in the water. You can't reach your goals if you don't try."
Kathy Seligman

Day Twenty-six
"Crystallize your goals. Make a plan for achieving them and set yourself a deadline. Then, with supreme confidence, determination and disregard for obstacles and other people's criticisms, carry out your plan."
Paul Meyer

Day Twenty-seven
"You have to set goals that are almost out of reach. If you set a goal that is attainable without much work or thought, you are stuck with something below your true talent and potential."
Steve Garvey

Day Twenty-eight
"The tragedy of life doesn't lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goals to reach."
Benjamin Mays

Day Twenty-nine
"Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go."
William Feather

Day Thirty
"Just don't give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don't think you can go wrong."
Ella Fitzgerald

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Facing up...

I've finally gone public with my face. I know in this Facebook crazy world and reality obsessed TV putting your mug out there for the world to see is no big deal. Sheesh, the stuff people post on YouTube and on their personal pages amazes me daily. So I don't know why, exactly, it took me so long to 'face up'. But it took me quite a few months to even put my first post up on Verla Kay's Blueboards even though I'd been lurking for months. So taking about a year and a half to add an avatar isn't so surprising. Still, it's kinda like showing up for school in neon pink pajamas or something after you've been a quiet, stay in the background wall flower for the first few years. Not sure I'm comfortable with being a little bit less anonymous. I know I shouldn't worry. The writers I've met on the internet so far have been amazing and since I know so many of their faces it's only fair for me to step away from the curtain myself now. So, hello there everybody! This is my face. You can't tell but it's blushing. The embarrassment will go away soon I hope.

Now, if I could just figure out what name I will, hopefully, be published under one day I'd reveal that too. But I change my mind daily on that one. My real name is a bit unusual and I've always had issues with it so not sure I'll keep it or use a nom de plume. Then again, the cursed name is like a badge of honour with me now - didn't even change it when I got married. So for all its baggage, I may stick with the damn thing. Sigh. If parents could only understand what trauma they inflict on their children by the simple act of granting a name...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

When books are made into awesome movies ...

What writer doesn't envision their book being made into a movie one day? I know that every time I'm writing a scene I'm playing it like a movie in my head. A good writer creates a movie in each of his reader's minds so it makes utter sense for books to be a resource of ideas for Hollywood. So then why is it such a rare phenomenon to have good books translate into good movies? This has always bugged me enough that I now feel the need to blog about it. Okay, maybe I wasn't that bugged. Maybe I was feeling guilty that I hadn't blogged more than once this week and because what I really want to blog about I can't yet which leaves me thinking that all other blog posts are frivolous. Including this one.

Anyway ... frivolous or not, here're my favourite book to movie adaptations.

I saw the movie the other night and thought, "Wow. What a freaking awesome job of translating a very literary novel into a well-written, well-paced, beautifully acted movie." Those thoughts rarely enter my head when I see a movie adaptation. Usually what I end up thinking is, "Meh. The book was better." I can count on the fingers of one hand the movies I remember blowing me away enough to think, "Hmm. This might be better than the book." Very few. Atonement was definitely one of them. It was the first Ian McEwan book I'd read (I plan on reading more) and I have to admit, I struggled with not putting it down forever in the first fifty pages. It was a tad, um, SLOW. Beautiful writing. No question. But nothing was HAPPENING. A good writer friend urged me to keep going. That I wouldn't regret it. The plot picked up and picked up quickly soon after. Boy, am I glad I did. Fabulous book. Fabulous, frustrating ending. I plan on re-reading it again and, probably because of the beauty of the movie, I'm sure I'll appreciate the slow pace of the beginning much better than I did initially. When I saw the movie I kept thinking, "Oh. Yes. They picked the best parts of the book, enhanced them by casting them with the perfect actors (Hello? James McAvoy? Yum.) and created a heart-breaking, beautiful period piece that made me want to re-read the book again so I could visualize the actors as the characters this time. Kudos to all.

The Silence of the Lambs
A very commercial book which I quite enjoyed. Thomas Harris is another fine writer who can suck you into a nasty character's mind and make him interesting enough to keep you reading. Taut thriller, great plot, great characters. But the movie could have turned into a shlocky horror-fest in less capable hands. Jonathan Demme did an amazing directing job (that basement scene where Jodi Foster is trying to find the killer in the dark? OMG Terror you can feel) but, again, it was the superb casting that elevated this into an amazing adaptation. Anthony Hopkins and Jodi Foster played perfectly off each other. Everything was edited so tightly (I wonder if movie editors are like publishing editors where they suggest ways to improve the movie to the director? Hmm. Must pay more attention to the Best Editing Oscars and go see those movies)

Pride and Prejudice
Okay. I'm cheating here. I'm not referring to the movie but the BBC TV adaptation with Colin Firth. Sigh. I won't gush about how much I love Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Enough has been said about why it is such an amazing book. But I really, really loved the tv series. So much more so than the movie. Jane Austen's language should be appreciated through a leisurely, immerse-yourself-in-it viewing experience which only about a ten hour DVD compilation can do. My daughter was convinced that you couldn't improve on the Kiera Knightly movie. So I forced her to watch the DVD of the tv series. Ahem. Can I just say here that mother's are always right? The Brits are MASTERS at adapting their classic stories into visual art.

I could probably come up with a couple more but, honestly, I really haven't seen that many adaptations that have blown me away to think they're almost better than the book. The Harry Potter movies are just so faithful to the books that they don't really enhance the story, in my opinion (although I did like the Prisoner of Azkeban one the best of the lot). At the same time, I know I won't be utterly disappointed by their adaptation either because the producers know they have to keep the millions of Harry fans content. And when the movies don't include every little detail (which, come on, they CAN'T) I certainly hear about it from my Potter-obsessed daughter, let me tell you. And I do so love Alan Rickman as Snape that I'd see him in a commercial selling dental floss and think it was art.

So I obviously need some other book to movie adaptations to blow me away. Recommendations anyone? Next on my list is No Country for Old Men. I've heard the movie was way better than the book so maybe that one isn't going to surprise me. I haven't read the book yet but I've heard good things. Must get cracking. So many books and movies, so little time...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

On being confident ...


This blog post by J.A. Konrath on the difference between being a confident writer and a delusional one is awesome. I never thought that much about how confidence can be a quiet, not obvious quality within yourself. I have spent countless solitary hours learning and writing. I have tried to connect with with other writers (so I could learn some more) and when I see their talent and experience, my confidence level goes a little like the stock market has lately. But yet, according to Mr. Konrath, the fact that I take suggestions, go back to the writing, do it countless times again, learn from my mistakes (hopefully) and still stick with this job - probably for the rest of my life - means I'm confident that someday, someway I will get published. And that's what J.A. Konrath says is the key to becoming published. Not luck and talent alone. You need to be confident enough to persevere.

I've been writing for six years. I never thought of myself as a patient person but when it comes to my writing, I guess I am. And while I don't think of myself as a necessarily overly confident person - at least with respect to my writing (let's not get into all my writing self-doubts, people) - I guess I am - because I am willing to learn, re-think, re-do, and, most importantly, KEEP GOING. Don't get me wrong, I still need validation - what writer doesn't? I get that from my CP, from my agent and from some really lovely editor rejections. That helps. But true confidence about my writing and my stories? The fuel that keeps my writing engine running? That can only come from me. And the fact I haven't given up must mean I am confident that I have a voice, have a story to tell that will see publication. Because, honestly, if I wasn't confident why would I put up with six years of toil and tribulation and over a million words that have yet to see the light of day? All those hours in front of a computer screen, scribbling in a journal, jotting notes and ideas down in the middle of doing laundry could have been spent doing hundreds of other things. But the fact that I didn't must mean something.

Okay. So, I guess I'm confident.

Or really stupid ...