We saw this nature show on Alaska once, filled with incredible scenery and footage of amazing wildlife. Wildlife surrounded by seething clouds of mosquitoes. After the program, there was a "making of" feature that showed what the crew had to go through to get those shots--it cemented my belief that I am not nearly dedicated enough to make it as a real nature photographer.

Well, we had a little taste of that last Sunday when we went to Wright's Lake in the Sierras. In order for me to take any pictures, my husband had to stand behind me and flail like he was having an attack of jazz hands. The skeeters weren't so bad if you kept moving (walked the loop in record time), but if you stopped even for an instant they were on you.

I think if I'd had a magnifying glass, I would have seen little cartoon mosquitoes with jackhammers and pneumatic drill bits--they even went right through my bicycle gloves. Hubby had a tidy little row of bites on his neck, between where his collar ended and his hat began.

The irony of the whole thing was that we went up there to scout for a future canoeing trip. Wright's Lake has all these marvelous channels to take a canoe (as in the photo above), and now that we have a Highlander we can rent a boat. When we got there, absolutely nobody was out on the water, they were all huddled in their cabins. We thought it might have to do with the looming thunderclouds, but the real answer became pretty obvious.

October might be better for the mosquito problem, but the water will be freezing if we fall in. That sounds like it could lead to more hilarious hijinks for the blog.

First Ever Road Trip Wednesday

Every Wednesday, YA Highway does something called Road Trip Wednesday: they post a question or writing prompt, and people answer it on their own blogs. I'm a RTW virgin, but no more!

What's the best book you've read this month?

I finally got around to reading Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr. It reminded me of Lips Touch: 3 Times by Laini Taylor, but only because they both deal with the fae and temptation (and they're well-written).

I picked up Wicked Lovely on the way to a doctor's appointment, and it was a perfect fit. It engrossed me enough that I could tune out all the office/waiting room chatter, and then distracted me while I waited for the radiologist to come back (much better than just sitting there worrying!) So double duty, mission accomplished.

Runner up book for this month:
Fat Vampire by Adam Rex

Love the True Meaning of Smekday, so when I heard Adam Rex had another YA book coming out, I was counting the days. This one is a little Christopher Moore-esque--but that's a very good thing indeed! I should be so lucky as to be compared to CM someday. The highlight: teenage awkwardness compounded by newly-undead status.

I'm about to start on writing another novel (YA contemporary fantasy, working title Crow's Rest) so that means I won't be reading much fiction for a while. I'll be on the lookout for some good non-fiction though.

7/31: It's still technically July, so I want to add another book, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood. This one is like The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and Jane Eyre rolled into one, with a dash of Lemony Snicket's sensibilities. It also brought to mind an old Gothic I loved, On the Night of the Seventh Moon by Victoria Holt. I can't believe I have to wait until March 2011 to read the next adventures of the Incorrigibles!

Tease from Ch. 3

Kind of a low-key section today, featuring an early conversation between Isabelle and Duncan (the Love Interest). The rescue ship is nearly to Jamaica, and Isabelle is worried about finding a way to support herself and Sonia, and a place to lodge, while they wait for word from the States on the sinking of the Empyreal.

"If you go to Antigua, my mother sometimes takes in boarders," Duncan said. "She can be very flexible about the rent."

She would have to be, since I had no money and little chance as yet of making any. "I should like to meet her," I said, "but I'm not sure how we'd even get to Antigua from Jamaica."

"Can you swim?" He sounded reasonable, but there was that mischievous light in his eyes again.

I had to smile. "Not well enough for that, I'm afraid. Besides, aren't there large fishes in these waters?"

"That depends on your meaning of large—there are certainly large whales, but they eat creatures small as your fingernail. To see a big fish, though, you should've been there when I caught the biggest grouper ever seen in the West Indies. I was just a boy and it outweighed me by fifty pounds —"

And so I was treated to an account, illustrated with gestures, of his ultimately unsuccessful encounter with a giant fish. At one point, another crewman walked by; he must have recognized the story.

"The big fish story. May the Lord have mercy on you, Miss—he's not even halfway through."

I laughed, but the crewman's comment only earned him a scathing look from Duncan as he continued. By the time he was finished, I had gotten into the spirit of the thing and he accomplished his mission of making me forget my cares momentarily.

Unsympathetic characters

A friend of mine recommended I check out "Nurse Jackie"; we like a lot of the same shows so I added it to the Netflix queue. I watched the first disc last week and we had a discussion about whether we could actually like the main character.

I don't think it's too much of a spoiler if you've never seen the show to say that she's a nurse with a prescription drug addiction. In the first few episodes you see her doing "Scrubs"-like activities (standing up to bad doctors, finagling extras for patients--just trying to make a difference) and also trysting with the hospital pharmacist. In between, she's taking drugs in every possible form.

Through all that, I didn't exactly identify with her but I did have sympathy for where she was coming from (high-stress job with impossible hours, along with severe back pain). That is, until she goes off shift and heads home . . .to a husband and two little girls.

That cast a whole new light on her relationship with the pharmacist for me: was she screwing him just for the drug access? How can she possibly reconcile the "work Jackie" with "home Jackie"? It was so off-putting that we had to think about whether we were going to keep watching. There are some real laugh-out-loud lines in the show, good writing, so we'll give it another chance.

But it made me think of the line between an unsympathetic character and a villain. I've posted my prologue that features a mean schoolteacher, and I've been surprised at how much of a reaction she's stirred up. Miss Bonney is a fairly minor character in my mind, but she's definitely a villain.

I also have my MC abandoned by her traveling companion, and I had a hard time striking a balance with Mrs. Jensen. She's a charming woman and Isabelle genuinely likes her, so how is this woman able to just walk away when Isabelle is left penniless? Mrs. J is definitely a pragmatist above all, but she's also ended up being kind of a Dickensian character.

Anybody else have trouble finding that fine line between a well-rounded character and one whose flaws outnumber their virtues?

Teaser Tuesday from Chap. 2

I was planning on posting the results of another exercise from the dialogue and POV class, but there wasn't anything else I was very excited about. So this is from Ch. 2 of my novel, Those Lost at Sea and Drowned. The women have barricaded themselves in their cabin, but Isabelle emerges to see what the crew is up to. . .

At this point I was so nervous that I no longer felt hungry, but my friends were expecting me to bring back some food. After tying a loose knot to hold the boat canvas, I snuck down to the galley. The cook snored in the corner, his head lolling side to side with the motion of the ship. I quickly grabbed bread and cheese, wrapping it in a bundle with a few boiled eggs.

As I reached for a large meat knife, the ship rolled heavily and I bumped a pot. It crashed to the floor, the clang waking the cook. We stared at each other, and he opened his mouth to call an alarm.

"Oh, please don't give me away," I whispered.

He licked his lips as he considered.

"I won't," he said, "as long as you're nice to me, girl."

I backed away at his approach, which only made him more eager.

"Now, now, you wouldn't want me to holler and bring some of my friends running," he said.

I shook my head and stood rigidly as he pinned me up against the wall. I gagged as his foul breath enveloped me, his hands squeezing my breasts painfully. He shifted to unbutton his trousers, and I twisted from his grasp. Grabbing the bundle of food, I ran from the galley.

"Come back anytime, and bring the other gals." His voice chased me. "We'll have us a party."

Slush Pile Hell

Kristin at PubRants posted a link to the Slush Pile Hell blog and it's just too funny not to pass on.

June 17th is my favorite!

Memoir (and) Contest and Submissions

The literary journal, Memoir (and), is offering a $500 prize "to the most outstanding prose or poetry memoirs—traditional, nontraditional or experimental—drawn from the reading period."

That means that all regular submissions are eligible for publication and the prize. Deadline is August 16, 2010. They consider poetry, prose, graphic memoir, and photography, with 1st through 3rd prizes in prose/poetry, and separate prizes for graphic memoir and for photography.

And no entry fee! Good luck!

I've come a long way, baby

My Texas nieces were in town last week, and the older one (12) is crazy for Twilight--partly because that's what her peers are into, but also because her mom has only let her read the first one. That makes the other books forbidden fruit, but I happen to agree that the later books are a little too mature for her.

But I did lend her a copy of an older vampire YA book I have, The Silver Kiss by Klause, and my niece said it gave her lots of ideas for a story she's writing. She asked me about when I first started writing, and I laughed sheepishly.

My first book was written (and illustrated) for a school assignment in 5th grade and was called Camilla, the Unicorn at the End of the Rainbow. Keep in mind, I skipped a grade so I was only 8.

When I started my first novel at 11, I stuck with the unicorn theme and added in some flying horses and shapeshifters. They were battling some bad guys called the Undergods . . .need I continue?

I don't think I've featured any unicorns in my stories since about age 15, but I do continue to write a lot of fantasy. And historical fiction, which I think requires a heavy dose of fantasy since most historical conversations and events were not documented word for word.

Anyway, my early attempts at writing were overwritten, cliched, and funny only to me and a few friends. I'm a firm believer that one of the best ways to improve your writing is to write. There is a lot of bad writing that you have to get out of the way, to experiment with and then discard.

Hopefully, I'm at the point where I'm striking gold more often.

Teaser Tuesday: A Little Exercise

I'm in the midst of a dialogue and point of view writing class with Naomi Williams and I thought I'd tease today with the results of an in-class exercise.

We were talking about the part that tense (present tense, past tense, etc) has to play in POV. The assignment was to share a true story (but it didn't have to be your own experience) and start out telling it in past tense, and then move into present tense. I immediately thought of this story, because it is still so vivid in my mind all these years later. Some details have been changed to protect the shamefaced.

In this assignment, we could choose to tell the story in past tense and then retell it in present tense, but Naomi told us to switch tense after five minutes of writing, right when I was going into dialogue. So I chose to make the dialogue in present tense and leave the exposition in past tense.

And I hope I don't have to keep posting warnings or disclaimers for my posts, but this does have some scatological crudeness in it.

I saw part of this play out, or I might not have believed the rest. Me and Joe were working the checkout near closing time, and the store was quiet even for a bookshop.

Then a girl came in, set down her duffle and struck up a conversation with Joe. Her accent struck me immediately: French with a nasally undertone. I stifled a grin; Joe wrote comic books, and the sexy villianesses or tramps often sported a Pepe-le-Pew dialect, so I knew she had his attention.

They left together, every fantasy he'd ever had about exotic foreign women writ large on his face. The next morning, he gave me the dirty details:

"She says right up front that she needs a place to crash, and she's willing to share my bed for the night. I take her back to my apartment and ply her with frozen burritos and St. Pauli Girl beer.

"The whole time we're eating and talking, there's this weird stench in my apartment. We both comment on it in passing. I check the garbage can, run the garbage disposal, sniff the refrigerator--nothing.

"It's not til I go into the bathroom to rummage for a condom that I see it, a giant turd that's been stewing in the toilet since this morning.

"I flush it (three times) and I feel like I have to say something about it when I go out. So I do, and I follow it up with "I understand if you don't want to stay now . . ."

"And, unbelievably, she does."

A note: when they left together, I genuinely expected his story the next day to include, "And when I woke up, she was gone, along with everything of value in my apartment."

Good Guys vs. Bad Guys plus a contest

YA Highway has a guest post by Courtney Allison Moulton on crafting well-rounded characters, specifically male ones.

My comment on the post mentions that I had a hard time with creating realistic male characters at first. They were either unredeemably evil or saintly good. Truthfully, both types make for boring reading.

Some good conflict comes from characters doing something unexpected, but still in keeping with their background and experiences.

At the end of the post, you'll find details on how you might win a copy of Angelfire.

Point of View

I start my creative writing certificate this weekend with an intensive course on dialogue and point of view. I feel fairly confident about my dialogue (I used to think dialogue was my weakness, so I worked on it) but I have a confession about POV: I nearly always write in first-person for fiction.

First-person has even crept into my articles occasionally, but only if the magazine's guidelines state they have a conversational or folksy style. Gardening magazines seem to like first person, for that "chatting over the fence" feel.

Anyway, one of our assignments is to bring in 250 words of our own writing--not a polished piece, but one that we feel we are having trouble with. That will definitely mean one of my third-person pieces (I've never tackled second-person). I'll probably bring in one of my picture books since the sample only needs to be 250 words.

And I'm a little bit nervous, which I haven't felt about my writing in a while. That means I'm being pushed out of my comfort zone, which is a good thing!

Anybody else venture out of their comfort zone, and if so did you discover a talent you didn't know you had?

Teaser Tuesday (Part 4 of 4)

And now, the conclusion of "Never Buy Another Self-Help Book Again!™," my short story. Some sexual language in parts one and three, so skip those if you're put off by that sort of thing.
Part One
Part Two
Part Three

I was still on the phone with Tammy when Steve came back in the door. He looked upset, so I got off the phone quickly. It turned out he wasn't mad at me; it was the cruise people.

One of the kitchen workers was diagnosed with hepatitis and all the passengers had been exposed to it. The cruise line was going to cancel the trip and give us vouchers for another ship, but the passengers raised such a stink that the new plan was to bypass Catalina and just cruise on to Mexico. Since we were going to be stuck on this ship together, Steve and I called a truce and tried to get along.

I thought we were doing fine until my phone rang at dinner. Before I could even find out who it was, Steve snatched it out of my hand. He ran over to the rail and pushed the talk button before he threw the phone over the side. I didn't say anything, though, because I hadn't heard him laugh like that for weeks.

Steve suggested that maybe he could do the planning from now on, and I agreed. I said I didn't care what we did, as long as it was spontaneous. He wasn't sure what I meant by that, so I told him all about the article I'd read and how it gave me the idea to plan this cruise. He goes, "Let me get this straight—the author says that to be spontaneous you have to make plans in advance?" I ignored his smart-ass comment for the sake of our truce.

The next day was better between us, but then the captain announced that because of the hepatitis we couldn't go to any of the cities we planned. One little coastal village was willing to overlook the chance of infection for the chance at some tourist dollars, but they would only let us anchor offshore, and we would have to go to town in lifeboats.

The first day in the pueblo we went to an old colonial church and then got something to eat from a street vendor. I ordered a burrito, but I got some kind of tough, grilled meat. The second day we went to a religious art museum, and that about covered the points of interest in town.

We did a lot of walking in the park instead. At first I was really bored—I mean, when you can start to tell the pigeons apart, you’ve spent too much time watching them. I kept wanting to pick up the remote and change the channel.

It was good in one way, though, because Steve and I talked and listened to each other better than we had in a long time. I rediscovered that in his way Steve is kind of wise, like Yoda but without the funny voice.

Steve told me there wasn't a self-help book in the world that held the secret to perfect happiness and that I would have to find it on my own. He even made a joke about how much money we would save by me giving up my habit of buying every new book that came out. When he put it that way, he almost made it sound like my relying on self-help books so much was some kind of addiction.

That was when I got my best idea yet for a career. I came up with a whole motivational workshop and video series on breaking the addiction to self-help books and called it "Never Buy Another Self-Help Book Again!"™ After we got back from the cruise and I started mapping out my plans for the "Never Buy Another Self-Help Book Again!"™ workbook, Steve seemed really supportive at first. But when he got to preview the finished video and workbook, he totally lashed out.

He had the nerve to say I wasn’t curing people of their addiction to self-help books, I was just regurgitating a bunch of ideas from other people’s books—in video format. And then he topped it off by mocking my workbook, laughing hysterically at the way it’s called "Never Buy Another Self-Help Book Again!"™ and it just happens to be a book. All he had to do was open the cover to see that it’s not a self-help book, it’s an individual-support companion to my videos.

Kristal was there for Steve’s tirade, and she warned me that I needed to get his bad spirit out of my life. So I divorced Steve, but I’m not alone on the road. Kristal quit her job and goes everywhere with me. Officially she's my manager, but emotionally she's my anchor. She even handles all the finances so that my math phobia doesn’t kick in and undermine my self-image. And who cares if we’ve been audited two years in a row—it’s got to be a government conspiracy.

The Importance of Joining a Critique Group

One of the benefits I've gotten from joining the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is connecting with four other members for a YA critique group. We meet every few weeks and are focusing on novel-length works. It's helped get me out of the comfort zone that developed with my book, and gave me that extra little push.

In fact, I wrote an article about our group for the local SCBWI chapter's June newsletter, The Acorn. You'll find it on page 4.

Contests at New Guard Literary Review

Two new contests forwarded to me by Christina Mercer, who failed to post them on her own blog in a timely manner, so that makes them fair game (bwah ha ha):

MACHIGONNE FICTION CONTEST: $1,000 for an exceptional work of literary or experimental fiction. Submit 2,500-5,000 words of prose. Novel excerpts welcomed. JUDGE: Good for the Jews author DEBRA SPARK. Deadline: October 1, 2010

KNIGHTVILLE POETRY CONTEST: $1,000 for an exceptional work of narrative or experimental poetry. Submit up to 70 lines per poem. Three poems per entry. JUDGE: Former U.S. Poet Laureate DONALD HALL. Deadline: November 1, 2010

The New Guard is a newly-formed independent literary review in Maine.