Birds & Blooms Backyard Blunder Contest

Birds & Blooms was the first magazine to pay me for my work ten years ago, and now they have a contest that sounds like fun:

"Do you have a funny birding or gardening story to share from your backyard? We want to hear it! Send us your best "backyard blunder," and the winning story will receive $500.

To enter, email your true story (no more than 400 words) to contests(at) Please put "backyard blunder contest" in the subject line."

Complete rules are here, and $500 will buy a lot of flowers or bird seed! Good luck if you enter!

Dark-eyed junco in pine.

Feed Your Inner Analyst

I once had a conversation with a friend where we were discussing a movie that we'd both liked (the Matrix), but she liked it much better than I did. I really loved elements of the scenery and the premise, but there were glaring plot holes and inconsistencies that pulled me out of the story.

My friend got really annoyed and ranted, "Can't you watch the movie without analyzing it to death, and just have fun?"

There was this awkward silence, and then I laughed and said, "But analyzing it to death is fun for me!"

As a writer and photographer, it's always been really hard to turn off the editor in my brain while I'm reading a book or watching a movie. I fought that tendency for a while, until I realized that it's a really good skill to have. Even while I'm caught up in the story, there's a little Hermes (from Futurama) inside me filing away all the things that worked (and didn't work) for future reference:

And now I've found a writing book that really taps into that habit: Screenwriting Tricks For Authors (and Screenwriters!)by Alexandra Sokoloff

It's full of great tips on crafting characters, plot, etc, and includes fun exercises. You know, my kind of fun, like making a list of your favorite ten antagonists in books or films (she uses films as examples just as often as she uses books), and then thinking about what made you connect to those characters. Not only does it help you find instances where antagonists are done well, it gives you insights into why you might be writing the antagonists that you've put into your stories.

She says, "You need to create your list, and break those stories down to see why they have such an impact on you - because that's the kind of impact that you want to have on your readers. . .there will also always be a few stories on your list that have nothing to do with your dominant genre, some complete surprises, and those wild cards are sometimes the most useful for you to analyze structurally. Always trust something that pops into your head as belonging on your list. The list tells you who you are as a writer. What you are really listing are your secret thematic preferences. You can learn volumes from these lists if you are willing to go deep."

So if you're willing to go deep, check out her book, and its companion, Writing Love. They're on Amazon and Barnes and Noble in ebook form for only $2.99.

This Could Be the Future: No Blog Post Today

Websites and blogs all over the internet are going dark today to protest two bills that would greatly restrict content and freedom on the internet. Since I usually participate in YA Highway's blogfest, Road Trip Wednesday, I thought it was only fair to link to their info on the subject.

Felt compelled to add this from the Oatmeal:

Check Out My Haul!

We had an RTW a few weeks back that asked, "Where do you buy your books?" and I mentioned that we hit the local library book sales a few times a year. And this is why it's worth it for us to go all the way to Sacramento:

64 YA books for $24!!! And yes, those are first editions of The Poison Eaters by Holly Black and Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings by Le Guin, thank you for asking:

And some contemporaries and a few anthologies/collections:

Of course, most of these have library markings (although once the mylar comes off, so do the markings), but that doesn't interfere with reading them one bit. So if you have read any of these, any nominations of which ones should go to the top of the list? If you click on the photos, it opens them bigger and makes it easier to see what's in those towering stacks.

RTW: Whoooo Are You?

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors and followers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on their blogs. You can hop from destination to destination through the YA Highway site and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic: If you couldn't use your own name, what would your pseudonym or penname be?

Well, ahem, Angelica R. Jackson is already a pseudonym, for both my photography and writing. It's fairly close to my real name (close enough to cause confusion, actually, I wish I'd thought that through better), but my real one is common enough that there were published writers out there with the same name.

Back when I started writing as a teen, I created the nom de plum of Nikki Atoll. I have no idea what my reasoning was now, other than I wanted to be closer to the beginning of the alphabet and my maiden name started with a W at the time.

But this post is turning out to be rather dull, so I'm going to add a game I filled out on Facebook a while ago:

Everyone has 7 names
#1. Your name: Angelica R. Jackson
#2. Your detective name (favorite color & favorite animal): Red Raven
#3. Your soap opera name (middle name & street you lived on as a child): Rue Hampton
#4. Your Star Wars name (first 3 letters of last name w/ first 2 of middle name & first 2 letters of first name w/ last 3 of last name): Jacru Anson
#5. Superhero name (color of your shirt & item directly to your left): Brownmulti Wall
#6. Goth name (Black & one of your pets' names): Black Blue
(the actual list had no #7, so I think it was naughty and someone deleted it; I added this one)
#7. Secret name that wizards can use against you: Like I'm going to give that one out!

I love Rue Hampton; I would totally use that as a pseudonym. And if I wanted to be close to the beginning of the alphabet, I could use Jacru Anson. I'd be the suckiest superhero ever with a name like Brownmulti Wall.

What about you--ever put any thought into creating a new identity? Legally, of course.

RTW: Soul Retreat

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors and followers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on their blogs. You can hop from destination to destination through the YA Highway site and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic: Describe your dream writing retreat. Where would you go? Who and what would you bring?

Wait, for a writing retreat, the idea is to go somewhere? But I wouldn't have my books, my kitties, my cozy rooms, my garden, the dusting, my gym bag full of stuff to be washed, the fox scat to scoop up again--oooooh, now I get the concept.

So far, I've never been able to do much writing away from home. Maybe a little poetry experimentation, but not any real work. Because, when we're in those gorgeous places away from home, we're on vacation! And although that means I'm squirreling away all these nuggets of experience into my memory, I rarely put pen to paper while we're traveling.

But if I had to choose, could I put one of these in my garden?

Okay, okay, if I was pried away from my homebase, I'd settle for one of these:

It's big enough for a small writing commune, but still with the potential for coziness! This next one looks like it'd be a little warmer in summer (for those of you who don't know, the California coast, as picture above, is pretty much socked in by fog and clouds for the summer months):

What about you? Where would your dream writing retreat take you? Don't forget to go to the comments on the YA Highway RTW post to see everyone else's answers!

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest Opens Soon

Baseball Clipart Images

Amazon will open soon for entries for the 2012 Breakthrough Novel Award--are you ready? Here are the quick details from their website:

"The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award brings together talented writers, reviewers, and publishing experts to find and develop new voices in fiction. The 2012 international contest will award two grand prizes: one for General Fiction and one for Young Adult Fiction. Each winner will receive a publishing contract with Penguin, which includes a $15,000 advance.

Open submissions for manuscripts will begin on January 23, 2012 and run through February 5, 2012."

One of the most important components of your entry is the pitch, and I thought I'd round up some web pages with useful advice on pitches, and the related query summary:

Have to start out with Pitch University; so much good stuff squirreled away in the articles and case studies!

Nathan Bransford has many concise, helpful blog posts on crafting a pitch, but his post on "The One Sentence, One Paragraph, and Two Paragraph Pitch" handily combines his advice in one place.

The Absolute Write Water Cooler forum has a Query Letter Hell section in Show Your Work, and it is a crash course in what works and what doesn't in a query.

And see that blogroll I have in the sidebar? Hit all those blogs and do a search for "queries" and "pitches", and you'll find a gold mine of information from agents, editors, and writers. Even doing a search on Google will yield some worthwhile sources.

Good luck to those who enter--and even if you don't enter, it's a great excuse to polish your pitch!

(clip art source)