Kay: What’s onYour Shelf? I’ve Got “Save Me the Plums”

One of the most famous of the Gourmet covers, which many readers hated

I’m in a long-term project to read and give away all the books on my office shelves and then move out the shelves. It’s been interesting so far, since I bought these books over a long period of time, and my tastes and interests have changed. Or in some cases, I was in an airport, and I needed something, and whatever I chose seemed to be my best bet at the time.

I’ll be recovering from surgery for a while, so this is a great time to catch up on my reading. The book I just finished is the new release Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl, a memoir of the time she spent as editor of  Gourmet magazine (she also had been the restaurant critic for The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. As a former small magazine and newspaper editor myself, I was particularly interested in this one. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Pausing for a Moment

Watching the waves rolll in at Venice Beach, CA

Every now and then it’s nice to step back for a moment and just take time to relax, recharge, and breathe.  I did that very thing yesterday at the end of a long day of business meetings.

Lucky for me, the meetings were held in Marina Del Rey, though judging from our windowless hotel conference room tucked away in the basement, we could have been on the moon for all we would have known. Continue reading

Jeanne: 5 Writing Tips from a Cranky Judge

crayon-colored-pencil-150994_640I recently judged in my chapter’s writing contest. My entries were really good–great premises, interesting characters, but writer did some things that pulled me out of the story:

1) If you have your character perform a complex physical action (like cupping his jaw while simultaneously pulling on his lower lip) do the action yourself, exactly as you’ve described it, in front of a mirror. Is it possible? Does it look the way you imagined it? If there’s any doubt at all, snag someone and have them read your text and then perform the action for you. Are you still happy with it? If not, rewrite until it works.

2) We’re constantly told “show, don’t tell” but be sure what you’re showing tells the reader what you intend. “A lick of fire curled through her belly” tells me she’s experiencing a strong emotion, but does the fire represent anger or lust? Make sure that’s clear from the context.

3) Gratuitous prepositions and adverbs. “She sank down to the floor.” You can’t sink up and even if that weren’t true, the floor is a dead giveaway. Trim those suckers!

4) Pronominal reference. I get that all the tutorials on close third POV tell you to minimize using character’s names, but if there are two men in the room and you just say “he,” make sure it’s crystal clear which “he” we’re talking about.

Also, by default, a personal pronoun references the last noun of the same gender. Example: “Marisa didn’t want Leah to go. She would be lonely without her sister.” I believe this means that Marisa would be lonely, but what it says, as written, is that Leah would be lonely because “She” references the last noun of the same gender–Leah.

5) If you’re going to define a new term that’s part of your world building, give us the term and then the definition, not the other way around. Don’t make us go hunting through three paragraphs trying to figure out what you’re defining. There’s a reason the dictionary is written the way it is.

Nancy: Revisiting Story Brain

This week, I’m sorry to say, I’m a bit overwhelmed and a bit under the weather. While I don’t have the energy or mental focus to write a new blog post, I thought I’d share this one that I wrote two years ago, in which I discuss how stories mold our minds and attitudes, and can ultimately change the world.

How Story Shapes Our Brains

How long did the last fiction book you finished stick with you? What about the romance or mystery or classic you read over and over again as a teen? How about the books your parents read to you before you were old enough to read on your own? Turns out, the fiction we read might just be making us more engaged, empathetic humans according to researchers studying the brain through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). We’ve known this for a while now.

In a New York Times article published more than five years ago, Annie Murphy Paul reported: “The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated…Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.” Wow, heady stuff, you authors out there. Continue reading

Justine: Travel Inspiration

I’m currently jaunting about Barcelona on our annual family vacation and whenever I travel, I try to use the places I visit as inspiration for my stories. Today, we visited the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia (Basilica of the Sacred Family), which has been under construction since 1882 (and still not completed). While it’s breathtakingly beautiful, it’s a bit hard for me to imagine using in any of my books, given they take place in the early 1800s. Continue reading

Michaeline: The Parable of the Black Tea

A young lady and gentleman having tea at five-clock.

For a bunch of leaves soaked in hot water, tea provokes a lot of passion, and a lot ideas about “doing it right”. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Green tea, of course, is a fine art in Japan and people study for years to do it right. There are special costumes, special bowls for the tea, and even the tea itself is a special blend, especially powdered for the tea ceremony.

You can enjoy the “way of tea” club in some high schools, and pick up a very esoteric hobby (and possibly a part-time job, as you progress, pick up a teaching license, and start to instruct others in the “way of tea”).

Green tea is green tea; my friend’s friend was doing a ceremony with black tea, and I’d been drinking black tea all my life. My father, in fact, had developed several rituals over the years, which finally settled into putting six teabags (Lipton’s) in boiling water, turning off the heat, and letting the whole thing steep for exactly 20 minutes. Then, the super-tea was diluted with a quart and a half of water, and put in the fridge for the next day’s consumption. (Sorry, Jilly, to describe that so graphically, but that’s how it was.)

Well, we didn’t have to cosplay in frock coats and pelisses for this tea party my friend’s friend was holding, but it was marked by ritual. Water was brought to the correct temperature, pots were rinsed and warmed, and all sorts of rules were observed. And the milk! Oh, so many rules about the milk, now eroded in my mind by contradictory internet arguments about how to serve milk with tea (or tea with milk). This party took place before we got internet, so I couldn’t double check the rules later and preserve them in my memory. All that faffing about did make a good cup of tea, but not a out-of-body-experience-inducing tea. There are only two parts I remember – the water must Continue reading

Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprints

Hi there.  Happy Friday.

This week has swung from oh-my-goodness-I’m-melting to I-need-a-sweater.  Right now things seem to have settled on a perfect balance between the two.  Hopefully that will last long enough for me to enjoy it.

The weather has been the least of my concerns this week – standing upright and moving has been my main focus.  I did a lot of yard-work and furniture moving over the weekend, forgetting that I am not, in fact, Super Woman, and I have been paying the price all week.  It is a mistake I make more frequently than I’d care to admit.

Ah well, this too shall pass.  In the meantime, while trapped flat on my back I’ve have plenty of time to spend brainstorming and dreaming up stories.  I think the perfect way to celebrate returning to the upright and locked position will be to give this week’s story prompt and random words a try.

Care to join me? Continue reading