Thursday, April 24, 2008

Look closely

Nestled beneath the protective canopy of these daffodils hides a most egg-cellent surprise:

A perfect nest.

Were it not for our next-door neighbor, who happened to spy Mother Mallard at work, we would have missed the clutch completely. Inspires this writer, and begs a question: how many treasures await discovery beneath the landscape of our fictional worlds? If the nest beneath the daffodils is any indication, a rich bounty might be found, if we take the time to seek it out. Re-visioning anyone?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hatching eggs and ideas

A wild mallard dug a nest between our daffodils yesterday. She laid three perfect eggs. S & E feel as if they've won the lottery. If all goes well, they will be proud aunties in about 28 days.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Writing What You Know

Write what you know. Time and again we hear this advice from editors and published authors. Makes sense because the more you know about a subject/experience the more specific you can be about its ins and outs and little quirks, providing details that create a rich and authentic story for your reader.

As a writer mom who's been playing nursemaid for far too long, I've had plenty of time to think about the relevance of this advice for a project I've had simmering for quite some time. One of the undercurrents of the proposed work-in-progress is the fact that the MC's sibling is chronically ill. Since I love and care for a child with special needs, makes sense to draw from my experience in order to breath life into my story.

Here's a sampling of what I know about being a writer mom to three active girls, one with significant special needs who insisted on getting sick again this week:

*Setting the alarm to keep track of giving the next med has become second nature to me.

*I can tell by the sound and type of cough when E's running a fever.

*I know the phone numbers of the bus company and school attendance office by heart.

*The truancy officer doesn't call anymore to ask why our daughter has missed so much of the school year.

*I know by the sound of the breathing treatment when it's complete. (A very useful skill when doing one in the middle of the night.)

*The gatekeepers at the doctor's office know us so well now that they put me right through to the physician after they hear E's name.

*Though I would never walk away from our situation, I can sympathize with those people in the world who don't have enough resources, family or friends to draw on in order to take care of themselves and their loved ones, and who, after months without hope of ever feeling "normal" again, might consider leaving rather than muscling through another day.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Writing Contests, Judging, and Learning the Craft

A fair amount of my uninterrupted time this week has been devoted to judging entries for the 2008 Four Seasons Writing Contest sponsored by Windy City Romance Writers prior to the announcement of winners at the Spring Fling Writers' Conference later this month.

Each entry must be assessed for presentation and mechanics, and strength of its craft in the following categories: hooks, setting, characterizations, plot, conflict, dialogue, narrative, pacing. Specific guidelines are given for critiquing each element. Judges are also expected to assign a score for overall impression, and to rate how likely he/she would be to read the entire manuscript, and purchase the book in the store if it were published.

The majority of the entries in my stack show promise, but need more revisions before they're ready for an editor's eye. Two are outstanding. I've already made a note of the titles in hopes of seeing the books on the shelf someday.

I'm also intrigued by the judging process because of how much it's informed my own writing. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Judging the entries feels very similar to the work we were required to do in the Vermont College Writing for Children MFA program.

I used to joke about the fact that I earned a degree for reading books, and while the statement wasn't totally accurate (reading was only part of the degree, and reading critically is a a lot harder than it sounds) there's wisdom in including the approach in the degree program. Learning to read critically not only taught me how to identify what works and what doesn't in a published piece of writing, it trained me how to read my own work with an editor's ear. It made me more confident about the critiques I give to my fellow critique group members. And it prepared me for judging writing contests like Four Seasons.