Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprints – St. Patrick’s Edition

Welcome to another Friday or, as I like to think of it, the participatory portion of our blog.

As you may have noticed by the preponderance of shamrock decorations, parades, “Kiss Me I’m Irish” buttons, and grocery store ads for corned beef and cabbage, it’s time for another St. Patrick’s Day.  Although the day began as a religious and cultural holiday celebrating Saint Patrick on the anniversary of his death, it has evolved into a day of revelry that includes copious amounts of food, drink, and goodwill (hopefully).

My own celebration will include the traditional corned beef and cabbage dinner though, frugal Irish girl that I am, I’ll be waiting until Saturday so I can buy my ingredients at post-holiday sale prices.    In the meantime, I think I’ll do a little baking.  What better addition to a St. Patrick’s Day dinner than a Guinness Chocolate Cake.  As a bonus, those 50 minutes while the cake is baking will be just perfect for a little Random Word Improv.

Who’s with me? Continue reading

Kay: Not Dead Yet

“Nuns at a Calder Show, Los Angeles” photographed by Imogen Cunningham when she was 70

I was on public transportation the other day when two women—neither of them young, but both of them younger than I—sat down on the seat behind me. They didn’t hesitate to use their outdoor voices on the train, so consequently I learned that one of them is writing a novel, and the other envies her friend and wishes she could do the same.

However, she said, she’s too old to start now.

For any of our wonderful followers who might feel the same, or who know others who might feel the same, let me first draw your attention to Ida Pollack, who had a book out to her editor for revisions when she was 105. Helen Hooven Santmyer hit The New York Times best seller list and became a celebrity at 88 for her novel . . . And Ladies of the Club. And Laura Ingalls Wilder published the first of the “Little House” books, Little House in the Big Woods, when she was 65 and the last one when she was 76.

Clearly, as long as you’re not dead, you’re not too old to write a novel.

But the conversation between these two friends on the train made me think about the writing life—a slow and often tedious process filled with (sometimes years of) revisions and then years of submitting and rejections before the hopeful author finds the editor of his/her dreams. Continue reading

Elizabeth: What Should I Watch Next?

Spring is just a few days away, though you wouldn’t know it from the recent snowfall blanketing our east coast.  Writing contest season is also in full swing, which means I’ve been spending more time judging other peoples’ writing than focusing on my own these past few weeks.

It’s an interesting experience.

For this year’s Golden Hart, I’m just finishing up a set of “inspirational” entries.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but they’ve mostly been “sweet” contemporary stories (no sex and occasional God references).  Definitely different from the paranormal entries that I judged previously, but it has, as always, been a learning experience.  It seems far easier to recognize what is not working in someone else’s story than it is in mine.  Using the information in Nancy’s recent post on conflict-locks last week, I tried to create a conflict box for each of the stories I read.  No surprise that the stories I enjoyed the most / rated the highest were those that had a clear conflict lock.  It’s a good reminder to me to take a close look at my own stories and make sure I have the conflict locked down.

As soon as I finish the last few contest entries, it is back to writing for me.  Naturally that means I need to watch some television first.

Wait, what? Continue reading

Nancy: Lost in Translations

Did you ever answer the question: What would your favorite reading day look like? I occasionally think about this, especially when I’m having a decidedly unfavorite writing day and all I want to do is escape into someone else’s really wonderful story.

My answer to that question varies, but this is one of my favorites: I’m on a comfy sofa, wrapped in a warm blanket, in an old library with soaring ceilings and thousands upon thousands of books stacked to the rafters. You know the kind of place, where you breathe in the smell of yellowing pages and well-worn book bindings. And seated on an upholstered wing chair across from me is a handsome man, a native Spanish speaker, with a well-trained voice (think Placido Domingo in the heyday of his opera singing career). We’re sipping Cognac. And this lovely man is reading Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s book Shadow of the Wind to me. In the original Spanish.

Yes, it’s a very weird and specific fantasy. But it gets even weirder because, it turns out, I don’t read, speak, or even understand more than a handful of Spanish words.

That’s the beauty of books in translation. We don’t have to be fluent in another language to luxuriate in amazing storytelling by authors like Zafón or the author who started me down the path of love of modern Spanish literature, Gabriel García Márquez. And because I love so many of these books in English, I can only imagine how beautiful they must sound in their original Spanish. If you’re not already a fan of Spanish books in translation, come hither and let me try to convert you by recommending a few of my favorites. Continue reading

Jilly: Dunbar’s Number for Writers and Readers

How many authors are on your mental auto-buy checklist? How many are on your keeper shelf? And how long have those authors been at the heart of your reading universe?

I’ve been noodling around with these questions for some time—a couple of years, probably—ever since I first read about Dunbar’s Number. If you’re not familiar with the concept, Wikipedia describes it as a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. Or, to put it crudely: there’s a limit to the number of people your brain has space for.

Dunbar’s Number has been around since the 1990s, but I came across it when I started writing fiction with an eye to publication and realized that meant I’d have to get to grips with social media. If you’d like to know more about the idea in the context of online relationships, click here for a Youtube link to anthropologist Robin Dunbar’s 15-minute Tedx talk: Can The Internet Buy You More Friends?

If you’d prefer the short version, it goes something like this: we humans maintain social relationships at various levels of intimacy, and the number of people we have the capacity to manage at each level is more or less predictable.

  • We have a very inner core of intimate friends and relations, people we would turn to in times of deep emotional stress. Typically there are about five of them.
  • We have a group of best friends, people we know well, confide in, trust, spend time with. That group would likely be about fifteen people, including the inner five.
  • The next closest layer, good friends, would be about fifty people (including the first fifteen);

Continue reading

Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprints – Celebrating Women

Another week is coming to a close, bringing with it the start of Daylight Savings Time in many parts of the US this Sunday.  Fortunately I’m kicking off a 3-day weekend, so I’ll have plenty of time to make up for the hour of sleep I’ll lose when the time “springs forward” early Sunday morning.

With dry weather and sunny skies predicted for the next week or so, my 3-day weekend is likely to include a fair amount of yard-work as I attempt to reclaim my backyard from the jungle of weeds that are attempting to take over, thanks to all of the recent rains.   Regardless of whatever else I have planned, my weekend is also going to include plenty of writing time.

The last few weeks have been crazy busy with the day-job, which means I’ve had very little time or inspiration available for writing.  Watching the news coverage and reading posts about this week’s International Women’s Day marches and celebrations, however, has sparked lots of ideas that I can’t wait to get on paper, so I’ll be starting off my day with a little Random Word Improv.

Care to join me? Continue reading

Michille: Solving Problems

Challenge

© Niserin | Dreamstime.com – Solve The Problem, Think About Solution, Challenge Concept. Photo

It’s time to get back in the writing saddle (or office chair). I had a brainstorm last night as I was drifting off to sleep on one issue, but I have several other problems that need solved before much more writing happens. The 40,000 words I have thus far, even though they’ve been edited, are essentially first draft words. There are great gaping sections of narrative, long sections of dialogue with little blocking or emotional undercurrents, and some obvious holes where I haven’t figured out what will happen next to inform the end of the scene (so it rolls over and plays dead). That draft was about story structure and it got the bare bones on the page. Now I need to flesh it out. Continue reading