Thursday, July 31, 2008

Things I Believe

The National Writing Project has created and fostered a community of educators and stakeholders that honors the knowledge, expertise, and identity of teachers. The model of teachers teaching teachers is a simple yet powerful demonstration that power in the hands of the common man or woman is not to be feared but celebrated. Incredible things emanate from those who are passionate, empowered, and determined to make a difference in their classes and for their students.

As the Northwest Inland Writing Project (NIWP) looks toward growing our name, expanding our offerings, and building our base of teacher consultants, there are specific 'banners,' if you will, that we need to keep forefront.

1. Honor those who came before us. NIWP has a rich and significant history, with many key people who freely dedicated their time, energies, and resources to making this organization into what it is today. The structures, traditions, and personalities that created and nurtured NIWP have truly left a legacy, and it is important to remember our roots, our history, where we came from, and why we chose the path we're currently walking down.

2. Honor those who currently make up NIWP. Teachers are organizational creatures by nature, understanding how to create concept out of chaos. Our teacher consultants have ideas, desires, and hopes for where we as an organization can go and be: we need to listen to them ... and as a group we need to continue crafting NIWP into what we all want it to be.

3. Honor the nature of change. Nothing is constant. If NIWP wants to remain status quo, then it chooses to be stagnant at best, dying at worst. Sometimes the hardest thing is to stop saying, "This is how we've always done it." Sometimes we just need to open up, listen, and allow ourselves to accept that there are new ways, different ways, maybe even better ways. Without judging or limiting ourselves with fear or uncertainty, we can explore new horizons, and, ultimately, maybe even surprise ourselves.

4. Honor democracy and transparency. The subject of power is a loaded one, but a necessary one. We must model what we preach. If the concept of teachers teaching teachers is truly one we believe in, then we must also believe that teachers are perfectly capable of governing themselves within a teacher organization. We empower teachers to be teacher leaders through the mentoring and nurturing that takes place within the organization, and one of the tools that promotes teacher leadership is transparency. A shared power structure must be transparent in nature; all involved should have access to and a role in developing the structure, purpose, vision, focus, goals, content, and yes, even the budget.

As we look to the future, there are many things I do not know. I don't know exactly where we're going, who's going with us, or how we're going to get there. In spite of this, I'm strangely excited. I trust our Leadership team and Advisory Board, along with the deft and respectful guidance of Rodney McConnell (new director for NIWP), to come together, share our visions, and craft the next stage of growth and development for a phenomenal organization. It truly is up to us, and my heart tells me that we're up for the challenge.

Rock Creek Resort & Writing Project

After twelve hours on the road (we did stop for a late lunch in Butte), the new NIWP director and I finally arrived at Rock Creek Resort, right outside of Red Lodge, MT. We missed dinner, but the evening meeting was held in a room right off a rushing creek. Ambiance isn't necessarily everything, but it sure helps.

Writing resources for teachers and for the teaching of writing abound at the National Writing Project and all of the subsequent sites across the United States.

I'm looking forward to learning as much as I can...stay tuned for updates.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Five Things to Prepare for the Coming Craziness

I'm not here to debate Inflation or the next Great Depression. But I am ready to give you the top five things you should do in the next month. I know this is a writing blog, but it struck me that this is important enough to write about.

1. Prepare your house: store enough food, water, and supplies for a week.

2. Put together a back-pack that you can grab & run with. This should contain emergency supplies, copies of importants documents, and $300 in small bills.

3. Put together a "plan" for meeting up with family if something should happen. If you're traveling, there's usually only one post office per town, so it's a good "emergency" gathering place.

4. Go down to your local coin store and buy what's called "junk silver." You'll pay spot silver price for pre-1964 coins. It may seem crazy to pay over a dollar for one silver dime, but it's far more usable in a crisis than bullion or bars.

5. Continue to invest in gold and silver, especially silver. They both stairstep up. (I've heard that they 'take the escalator up and the elevator down.')

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Worldbuilding with Eliza Wyatt

I'm contemplating a month of worldbuilding with Eliza Wyatt, fantasy 'scribbler' as she calls herself and word-crafter extraordinaire. If you haven't already checked out her blog, you must, if only for the simple beauty of her language. You don't have to like or understand fantasy; you just have to appreciate imagery that sticks with you long after the words are gone. She's funny, too, which is always a plus: Robert Jordan’s work could be used as bludgeoning weapons in the military if they ever ran short. The most important reason to read her blog is the fact that she's penned some gems: any writer of any genre will benefit from her (consistent) flashes of insight.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Hulk and Save the Cat!

I didn't actually yell out, "Save the Cat!" in the dollar theater last night, but I did nudge my husband hard and whisper it. Truly, there was no other reason to have the scene in the movie than to "Save the Cat" as Blake Snyder would call it.

This Incredible Hulk, much better than the last one, was still transparent in its step from beat to beat. (Blake, I have to say, they didn't even try to disguise the seams!) And the Save the Cat! scene was entirely predictable: a girl in the pop bottling plant (where Bruce Banner is hiding out in Brazil) is getting razzed by some hard-looking workers. Banner doesn't want to get involved, but his better nature insists that he intervene. Ta da!! He does something nice, we the audience now like him (and want him to win the day), and the poor pop-bottling girl is, well, kicked to the curb. She has served her purpose, prop that she is, and fades out, no longer needed.

Just an aside: there really was "sex at sixty" like Blake talks about. Of course, for poor Bruce, the attempt was aborted due to his rather pressing need to keep his heartrate below 200...but the scene was still in place. Blake Snyder's book is as revealing as it is addicting: a must-have for any writer of any medium.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Five Top Books for Aspiring (or Established) Writers

Straight from the horses' mouths: last week I was fortunate enough to be in the audience when a group of agents and editors opined on their favorite writing books, offering a coveted glimpse into their messy, chaotic, or serial-killer-neat-and-tidy minds. The truth is, of course, that they're all looking for the next Harry Potter or even A Million Little Pieces (it did sell, didn't it?) with the twist of the century. Well, make it a little twist. Witty and clever, but little. It needs to be recognizable enough that the audience laps it up, buys advance copies, and blogs ad nauseum about the cleverness. Too different, and it's a snoozer. This is all encouraging for those of us who write, of course, because we've all read Ecclesiastes, and it was bloody depressing to realize that there was "nothing new under the sun" way back when we were all starting out. Joy comes in the morning, however, and with it came these book recommendations. I list them here for you: The top five books on writing for writers...

1. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers literally had me writhing. At least my toes curled and I kept saying, "Ouch," as chapter after chapter critiqued yet another one of my cherished writing habits ('Tom Swifties' for one). I have two suggestions for potential readers: (1) bypass "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" completely if you have a delicate ego; (2) if you do read it, stock up on several different colors of magic markers and keep your manuscript nearby. It will soon be streaming with color." By E. A. Lovitt starmoth

2. The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler "As a fan of Joseph Campbell and amateur writer, this book really appeals to me. It is more than just a how-to for aspiring novelists, it is a how-to for life. It is geared toward the writing of novels and stories with human drama and interaction, which makes it a bit more specialized." By Kort Kramer

3. The Sell Your Novel Toolkit by Elizabeth Lyon "Elizabeth Lyon's new book, Sell Your Novel Toolkit, provides a detailed roadmap for producing a well qualified query letter, synopsis and tips to manage that all important marketing strategy." By dhanselmo

4. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott "I'm hooked on Lamott. She slaps me in the face with her startling revelations, nudges me in the ribs with her unpredictable humor, and prods my frozen little writer's hands back into action with warm compassion. This book won't solve the mechanical aspects of my writing, or lead me on the path of structural excellence, but it will spark my creativity, free my characters to be true to themselves, and, ultimately, shake me from my doldrums back into the writing mode." By Eric Wilson novelist

5. The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner
"This book is about what motivates writers (and editors) and gives you some insight on how the system works. Lerner talks about different kinds of writers - some rely on instinct or "natural talent", others are driven by anger, hope, or any other emotion. She encourages writers to be brave, to take a chance, but to recognize likewise if you've gone too far over the edge (it's a cliff, after all!). Lerner encourages writers to do their thing. She oozes confidence between the lines that a reader can't help but be caught up in." By Phome

Saturday, July 26, 2008

RIP Randy Pausch (1960-2008)

If you haven't yet listened to the 'last lecture' by Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch, it's worth the hour and sixteen minutes. Dubbed "Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," it takes you through Randy's own childhood dreams and the idea that you, too, can accomplish your goals. If you hit a brick wall, simply assume it's meant for everyone else...and keep pursuing your dreams. Ultimately, however, the gem you walk away from with is this: be a good person, reach out to others, and your dreams will find you.

Especially poignant is the fact that Randy intended his lecture not only as an inspiration to others but, perhaps more importantly, as a message to his children. He passed away on Friday, July 25th, 2008. Rest in peace.

Team Seattle (AKA: the Fey Fab Five)

Subbing for Yasmine Galenorn at the PNWA, these five pushed it into overdrive and led a fantastic workshop. From left to right: Caitlin Kittredge, Richelle Mead, Cherie Priest, Kat Richardson, and up front, Mark Henry.

Urban Fantasy World-Building

As promised, here are the key points from the Fey Fab Five's world-building workshop. (Ok, they call themselves Team Seattle, but I couldn't resist.) Note that most of these can be used with high fantasy or sci fi as well.

1. Setting informs plot and character development:
* Cake Mix: start with the known world and break some rules (ex: America w/ underground zombie world).
* Scratch cake: build a world of your own, adding rules as you go (ex: Forgotten Realms).

2. Awareness level of audience:
* Closed world: fantasy aspects are secret; only open to protagonist and a few others
* Open world: fantasy completely integrated; everyone knows.
* Inciting Event: something that either opens up the world or closes it off.

3. Role of known mythology:
* Use known myths, tweak, and make your own.
* Do research first so that you know what you're talking about.
* Know your stuff: Apollo could currently be the god of the tanning bed, but probably not the god of dishwashers.

4. Economics:
* Who are the movers and the shakers? Where does the money (or goods/materials) move?
* Who controls what?

5. Limits:
* A magical system must have rules and limits; there has to be give and take.
* Your protagonist should have a fatal flaw.
* There has to be something on the line, so that your audience cares.

6. Consistency:
* There needs to be consistency within the genre that you're working in. For example, magic always has a cost. Or, were-creatures need to be a comparable size to humans. You don't hear about were-ferrets.
* There also needs to be consistency within your own book or series. Think about all the angles, restrictions, etc, before you even begin writing so that you know the limits of your own world.

7. Tropes & Stereotypes:
* Find out the common archetypes or hallmarks of the genre or subgenre you're working in.
* Select one, then put a spin on it.

Friday, July 25, 2008

When Yasmine Galenorn had to cancel her workshop at PNWA (she writes the Otherworld/Sisters of the Moon Series for Berkley), I feared the worst. What dried-up has-been fillers would the conference wizards drag in to save the day? Well, they brought in five fillers, and it turned out to be the highlight workshop of the conference.

World-building with Caitlyn Kittredge, Richelle Mead, Kat Richardson, Cherie Priest, and Mark Henry (don't you love a man with two first names?) was informative, raucous, interactive, and full of messy, synergistic fun. Not previously acquainted with the urban fantasy line, I didn't know any of these chic and possibly fey authors, but I planned on getting to know them asap. After driving six hours home, my first stop was at the local book store.

Tomorrow's post will deal with the points they made in worldbuilding.

You can also catch up with Cherie Priest and many other urban fantasy authors at

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Must-have Book: Blake Snyder's Save the Cat!

Kudos to Blake Snyder who has written the definitive work on storytelling of this decade. Don't get me wrong, you still have to own Joseph Campbell's Hero With A Thousand Faces, and you should still have a dog-eared copy of Christopher Volger's The Writer's Journey. But Blake Snyder is where it's at today. And ignore the secondary title on his book that says, "The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need," because this is a book for anyone who wants to tell a story. Period.

Instead of rushing out to see The Dark Knight like everyone else, I spent the weekend at PNWA. On Sunday, Blake Snyder spoke -- and, frankly, he rocked my world. My first novel flipped open, pages fluttering, all there in my mind's eye. Parts I didn't even know I had floated together, spinning mid-air like some mystical puzzle piece. The scenes I didn't even know were missing snapped into place, perfect fits. I came home to buy the book. (I think every book store was sold out of his books in all of Seattle. I got the last copy available in Lewiston yesterday, and it looks like I'll have to buy Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies on-line.) Ceilyn's Calling will be a tighter, more solid first book because of this experience. And even though I have that exciting agent lure of "Send me the first three chapters and the synopsis" beckoning, I'm taking time out to make sure I've followed all fifteen beats of Blake Snyder's beat sheet. Becoming a master-beater takes time, don't you know.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

BookStop Literary Agency & What They're Looking For

Looking for an agent? The BookStop Literary Agency specializes in children's books (picture and up), middle grade, and young adult. Both founder Kendra Marcus and agent Minju Chang are interested in hyphenated American characters, specifically Asian- and African- and Hispanic or Latino, and anything quirky, unique, or 'smart' will land you their attention.

When Ms. Marcus says, "BookStop is always thrilled to find manuscripts with unforgettable and vivid voices," she means it. They've published a poop book and another about a baby crocodile who just wants to eat a child.

In a nutshell: Kendra knows the voice she's looking for and she's very specific about it. If your story doesn't "sound" like the child in her head, she'll make no bones about it...and spare no feelings. Minju, on the other hand, is soft-spoken and kind, almost apologetic about not wanting to see your work. Although I didn't find anyone at the PNWA conference who had their work requested by BookStop Literary Agency, it doesn't mean they're not "actively seeking." And, after all, I didn't have the chance to talk to everyone regarding his/her experience with this agency.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Royce Buckingham, author of Demonkeeper

I haven't read his book yet, but if it's anything like the man, I'd say it's a real winner. I've put in a hold for Demonkeeper at the library (it's already checked out, don't you know!), and I'll post my thoughts as soon as I've a chance to read it. But this isn't about the book; it's about the man: Royce Buckingham. Doesn't that just roll off your tongue?

I had the chance to run into him at the PNWA summer conference this past weekend, and I have to say: he's the genuine deal. Not only is he entirely delightfully loveable, but he's likeable, which is saying a lot, if you know what I mean. He is sincere, down-to-earth, and real. The story spread like wild-fire when he teared up in a session: in hushed, awed voices, new friends told me that Mr. Buckingham almost broke down when he talked about a couple of fan letters he had received from 10-year old boys. In spite of book deals and a movie deal, he is most moved by the missives of two young fans. In a word, I find I'm impressed. And that, my friend, means a lot in this far too shallow business. It certainly made a fan out of me.

Pacific Northwest Writers Association

For any writer who needs exposure, tips, an agent, or just a shot in the arm, PNWA's summer conference kicks butt. From big name authors to down-and-dirty, roll-up-your-sleeves kinds of workshops, this conference delivers what it promises: a chance to belong to the writing community.

Elizabeth Lyon, author of The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit, offered invaluable advice, going over query letter do's and don'ts. I definitely recommend her book(s). Email me if you want some of her notes.