Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Writer's Wednesday:Book Signing for Sonia Gensler and Tara Hudson

Tara Hudson and Sonia Gensler with their debut novels

This weekend was The Inkling's annual writing retreat. I'll write more about it on Friday Favorites, but I wanted to share with you the exciting way we ended our weekend--a book signing! Can you think of a better way to punctuate a writing weekend?

Our fellow member Sonia Gensler buddied up with fellow Oklahoman Tara Hudson to have a signing at the 41st Street Barnes and Noble in Tulsa.  (Note to authors: If you'd like to set up a signing, contact the manager Laura Johnson. She's fabulous!) 

Like Sonia's novel, Tara's debut is a young adult ghost story set in rural Oklahoma. 

And it's good.

Part of the audience enraptured by Tara and Sonia

The turnout for the ladies was fabulous. We saw lots of familiar faces from OWFI and SCBWI conferences.  It didn't take long before both authors sold out.  I'm not surprised, though.  Tara and Sonia gave a little talk at the beginning of the session.  They were charming, poised, and funny.  Who wouldn't want to read their books?
Tara Hudson, Martha Bryant, Brandi Barnett, Sonia Gensler, Sonia's biggest fan, and Garrett Barnett
My mom and I rode to the signing with Sonia, so Garrett and Max came to pick us up.  Even in this pic, you can see that Max can't take his eyes off Sonia.  He adores her.  Even though I hadn't seen him in two days due to the retreat, he rushed straight to me and held up his hands. "Hi, Mommy. Where's Sonia?" 

So, if you're looking for a good YA read and you like ghost stories with a romantic twist, check out Tara Hudson's Hereafter and Sonia Gensler's The Revenant.  Tara's is contemporary and Sonia's is historical. Both will give you chills.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Favorite: The Corner of Nice and Neighborly

People often don't want to get involved.

Whether it's food in a coworker's teeth or a pal's open zipper, many won't tell the individual unknowingly making a fool of himself or herself.


When I was a little girl, I recall sitting in a restaurant when a woman exited the ladies' room trailing toilet paper--with her skirt tucked into her pantyhose.  NO ONE said a word to her, but as she passed tables, EVERYONE talked about her.


Even as a kid it bothered me, so as she sidled up to the salad bar, I told her.  It was the kind thing to do.

 In the last couple of weeks I've seen two random acts of kindness that warmed my heart.

The first one was when I saw 16-20 people all lifting a trailer, working together to re-hitch what had apparently come undone. They were strangers, but someone needed help.

Then yesterday, in the same intersection, I saw a man jump out of his car into four lanes of traffic to shut an open gas flap on the car in front of him. 

How many people would do that?

Have you witnessed someone help a stranger? Do you have insight as to why some people won't even tell a friend when he or she is unknowingly doing something embarrassing?

Journal: Write about an act of "nice and neighborly" kindness.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Writer's Wednesday: Agent Jennifer Laughran's Word Count Sweet Spots

On March 30, 2011, I posted a blog about word count guidelines as provided by agent Elana Roth.

Now, superstar agent Jennifer Laughran has weighed in on her ideal numbers.  Check out the comments on her blog.

Why do I know Jennifer Laughran is a superstar? Because she's my writing pal Sonia Gensler's agent.  Check out Sonia's young adult paranormal The Revenant--released yesterday!

You can buy yours today.  And believe me when I say it's exactly the right number of words.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Toddler Tuesday: Red Lobster and Fork Lifts

"Lobster, please!"

We couldn't believe that's what he wanted to eat.  Max likes looking at them, but I didn't expect him to want to eat them.  We ordered French fries and lobster tail for our little guy.  Of course, when it landed on the table, he thought the tail had teeth and decided he wasn't touching it. After telling him he couldn't have another fry until he ate a bite of lobster, he rethought his decision.  Cautiously, he nibbled a bite off the fork.

And smiled.

Before long he'd forked up all the lobster his dad had pulled out of the tail, dipped it in butter, and plopped it in his mouth.  He even wanted more.

We may have started an expensive habit.

Surprisingly, Max's first experience with lobsters didn't catch the other patrons' attention as much as his language.

The kid is fascinated with machinery.  He grabbed a fork and pretended he was a fork lift. I thought it was clever.  Unfortunately, when he tried to "lift" his dad with the utensil, he said, "My going to fork you up." In his toddler dialect, the "r" is not pronounced. He repeated it many times--with increasing volume--and it was not pronounced ever.

So, to all the people who gave us dirty looks...he said fork. Fork you up. Really.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday Favorite: Miss(ed) Oklahoma

Although she is queen of her domain, my friend Jennifer lives in a neighborhood of princesses and a home of four princes.  When a queen summons, I do her bidding.

She invited me to attend the Miss Oklahoma pageant in Tulsa to support her lovely neighbors. One was contestant Emily Ousley and the other was her "Oklahoma Star," a program in which little girls are mentored by contestants. They were both lovely.

Plus, I saw two OU Tri-Deltas were in the running, so I got all collegiate nostalgic. 

Although we almost missed the pageant.

On the way there, Jen said, "If anyone were with us, they'd kill us."

Yep.  But it was hilarious.

After spending an afternoon with me driving us to pedicures and tea at Dragonmoon Tea Company, Jennifer insisted on driving. She activated her On Star and said, "You have to get this."

Clearly, she didn't yet comprehend the magnitude of my geographical challenges. Like the Bermuda Triangle, my curse soon reached out and grabbed her.  We barreled down the interstate, following the instructions, and encountered a giant "CLOSED" sign plastered across our route.  I laughed at her surprise. This sort of thing always happened to me. She called and gathered new directions. We were to turn on 11th street. Guess what? We were at an intersection where both signs said 11th street. I kid you not. These things happen to me all the time. It's a gift.

The pageant began at 7:30. The rain began at 8:04.  We arrived in the parking lot at 8:08. As we raced toward the Mabee Center, a woman eyeballed us.   I called, "Did we miss the good part?" (Since I've never attended a pageant, I didn't know what that would be, but certainly there is one.)  She encouraged us to hurry because we'd missed the opening number and they were about to announce the top 15.

We never found our seats, but we caught a lot of the show.

In fact, I fear we were part of the show. A pregnant lady in heels.  A tired mom of three under three lugging a good-natured four-month-old. We found seats near her friends at one point, but because Baby J wasn't fond of classical music in the talent competition, we courteously sped out. Let me restate that...Jennifer was courteous. I'm pretty sure I bonked some poor guy on the head with both my purse and her diaper bag.

While watching the swimsuit competition from the aisle, an older gentleman must have been impressed with the soon-to-be crowned Betty Thompson.  He looked me up and down. "Those girls don't understand women don't look like that after thirty."  Hackles raised, I threw my shoulders back and pregnant belly forward.  "Speak for yourself.  After I had my first baby, I looked just like that." I patted my tummy. "You ought to see me next summer when I'm through with this one." 

He had the nerve to grimace like he didn't believe me.

To his credit, I checked myself out in the mirror before I left for the evening and thought remember when someone told you you looked hot, and you knew they weren't thinking you needed an air conditioner and glass of iced tea?

Still... Even queen mothers should be treated with respect or they can be be a royal pain.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Toddler Tuesday: It's Potty Time!

Big Boy Pee Pee Chart

Mommy: Let's go to the potty.
Max: (tilts head in consideration) Naw.  My did that last night.  My do that when I'm bigger.

Stellar mother that I am reasoned, he can just wear his soggy diaper until he can't stand it anymore, and then he'll want to be potty trained.


Pull-ups sagging past his knees, he's still disinterested in an alternative method. "No, tank-oo! My alright.  My okay."

This from the kid who refused to eat as a teeny-tiny infant unless his shirt was clean and dry.

People have shared their tricks.
Put Cheerios in the toilet and let him take aim. Little boys love that. 
Maybe. My kid is fickle.  He mastered sinking Cheerios with his first try and has shown no interest since. In fact, I fear he'd prefer to pluck one out and eat it.

Reward him with stickers. 
Yeah, we've done that for months.  Guess what? Now, he's not a big fan of stickers. In fact, if you take the kid to a toy store, he'd rather take home bandaids.

Ask him what it will take.
One couple asked their son this question, and the darling boy said, "I want a dump truck like Max's."  Three days later, their son had a new toy and big boy underwear.

Although bribery never seemed like a good idea before I was a parent, I'm all aboard the bribery train now. But it's not working.

I've stockpiled treasures so Max can select rewards--dinosaurs, boats, a fireman's hat. At a fundraiser, I won a little bike and a flask. His eyes lit up like Santa made it right in front of him. We thought the bike would be the big prize once he'd mastered the cause.

If you have any suggestions, please share.

I have a feeling the flask will get use before the bike.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Favorite: Keen shoes

A few years ago, a student commented I'd never worn the same pair of shoes twice.  It was second semester. I was no Imelda Marcos, but she was right. Shoes were a weakness.

I lead a different life now.

Heels aren't practical while chasing a toddler or pregnant. Neither are they practical when my office parking lot is "paved" in gravel...but that's another blog.

During this pregnancy, it is not uncommon for me to change my shoes four times a day due to discomfort--and I used to happily teach on concrete floors while wearing high heels.

But I really need comfy shoes to get me through this hot summer pregnancy. 

In my experience, if someone says a brand of shoe is comfortable, it's the equivalent of getting set up on a blind date and having the matchmaker stress what a great personality your date has. In either case, you know the recipient of praise is not going to look good and you don't want it touching you.

A couple of years ago, our family friend Paul recommended Keen. Since the day my husband wore his first pair out of the store, he's rarely donned any other kind while not at work. It's a struggle to keep him from sporting the sandals with socks in the winter. (I told him if it embarrassed me, it will mortify his children, but I think that statement only served as incentive.)

Alas, pregnancy makes you do strange things. I made a list of all the comfy shoes people have praised over the years and sought them in stores.

Only Keen has lived up to the hype. 

In my pregnant discomfort, I acquiesced and bought a pair.  The store was out of aqua, so I purchased the bright yellow. I figured if I was going to wear those shoes, I should be bold and truly own the ugly.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but I love them so much, I think I may buy another pair.

Have you tried Keen shoes? Do you have any other comfy shoe suggestions?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Writer's Wednesday: Forming a Critique Group

Some people think they can write something, never revise it, and others should still want to read it.

That's about the same thing as pooping on a platter and calling it art.

A critique group is extremely valuable to writers who want to improve their skills. However, a bad critique group can be devastating. If you're not a part of one that meets your needs, create your own.
Consider your ideal group.  In your utopia, how does it flow? Go ahead. Close your eyes and allow yourself to look around in your imagination. Experience the perfection.

Consider how you learn best.
  • Do you prefer anonymity or one-on-one?
    • Are you someone who needs to peel the layers of a critique to fully understand it? If so, then you probably need to be able to chat with your group.  On the other hand, if you can take written critiques and they make perfect sense to you, then an email arrangement might be more to your liking.  I've heard of critique buddies who've never met in person.  
  • Do you want to know your writing companions well? 
    • Membership will determine where you meet. If members are strangers, meet in a public place for safety's sake.  My favorite way to compile a group is to carefully select the members from among my friends and acquaintances--people I've carefully identified as having similar goals and energy of the group.  In that case, I prefer meeting in homes on a rotating basis.  It's cozier. Chairs are comfier. There's no time restraints. There's no eavesdroppers. Food and beverages flow.
Consider time.
  • How much time can you dedicate to writing and critiquing?
    • I believe that the most productive critique groups are those in which every member contributes each time.  I've participated in both kinds, and the feedback is different if someone isn't actively a part of the creating process of writing. It's a different zone.  If one isn't in that zone, then the criticism can be a bit detached.  However, since you're creating the group, make up your own rules. Maybe all the time you have to dedicate is once every three months.  That's still something.
  • How often would you like to meet? 
    • Once a month? Once a week?  Quarterly?   My favorite time is once a month.  If you and your potential critique buddies have loads of time and a deadline, then once a week can be exciting and productive, but most people exert a lot of energy just to meet once a month.
  • How long would the meetings last? 
    • Have an outline in mind.  If food is included, allow time for eating and socializing. Will you have guest speakers? Assign speaking/critique time. Will you have an information sharing time where members share contest information, agent updates, writing articles, etc.? Post the times so that everyone knows the agenda. Also, consider limiting the number of pages members can bring to be critiqued so that everyone gets equal time.  Sometimes, storytellers get easily off task and have the entire group laughing about situations that have nothing to do with the submissions.  In that case, set a timer for each entry. Bad blood can occur if someone gets the short end of the time stick because someone talked too much or brought an inordinate number of pages.
  • How are the pieces submitted? 
    • Should they be emailed ahead of time to allow readers to thoughtfully peruse the material at leisure?  Should copies be brought to the meeting and the piece read cold? Should the author read it aloud, should another member read it, or should everyone read it silently? All of these methods have been used successfully. Think about what works for you with time constraints and membership goals.
Consider feelings.
  • What are the rules? 
    • Even creative people need structure to thrive. At your first meeting or in the preliminary discussions, present some ground rules.  Criticism is not meant to rip apart a piece. It is meant to improve.  Knowing what one does right is as important as knowing what one does wrong. Try to first say what you like about the piece, what works, etc.  Follow up with the comments on what needs to be tweaked. Consider the different aspects of writing: plot, character, point of view, theme, setting, conflict, figurative language, pacing, etc. Allow the author to ask for specific feedback.  Sometimes that helps the critics gauge what the writer is striving for and whether or not it's attained.
  • What will make people feel comfortable?  
    • "Breaking bread" is a traditional way for people to connect. I've met in public places like Panera, Books A Million, Barnes and Noble, and Oklahoma City's Full Circle Bookstore. I've participated in potluck dinners and lunches at homes. I also meet with a group that has morning coffee/tea and sweets. The dessert is provided on a rotating basis. By no means am I a cook, but I enjoy food. And, for me, there's something about sharing my writing with people who are also willing to share sustenance. It's like an extra bond of trust is formed. Nourishing the body as well as the writing spirit works for me.
Congratulations on embarking on this endeavor. Ten years into the group I helped start, I realize that the benefits have been more than just writing. My critique partners have not only improved my work, but they've also improved my life--one meeting, one email, one phone call at a time. 
Good luck! 

What are your thoughts on critique groups? Do you have other suggestions?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Toddler Tuesday: childhood summer

My son loves his twin (second) cousins.  They love him, too. It's a win-win.  

At the end of the month, my cousin and her family are moving to Belgium.  "The girls" will soon turn eleven, and my two-year-old son adores them. Perhaps he's young enough to not realize they're soooo far away.  And why should he? We can learn to Skype.   

My husband and I are so thrilled that their family has this opportunity. They are such a good age to see that the world is much smaller than most people suspect.

And we know they'll return as often as they can--after all, we have the draw of my kids and a great-grandma who lives two blocks away.  We hope to travel to Belgium in a couple of years when our children are older (as in both actually born). 

Recently, we gathered for a farewell visit, and my cousin Kathy snapped this photo with my iPhone. The sun was setting, but the kiddos are all looking forward together.  Is there symbolism in this or what?
Although this time in your life is coming to an end, relish the new beginning. We love you all and wish you the best!

Journal: Write about childhood summers or a childhood visit with a cousin.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Friday Favorite: A Novel Idea for Sonia Gensler's The Revenant

Last Friday, The Inklings celebrated our dear friend Sonia Gensler's soon-to-be-released novel The Revenant.

The Revenant is a gothic ghost story that takes place in Indian Territory in 1896 at the Cherokee Seminary, a boarding school for young, mostly privileged, Cherokee women.

Table setting

The girls of the seminary called themselves "rosebuds," so the table was set with red roses, sparkly silver, an Inklings tiara, and the invitation (which showed the castle-like structure of the seminary under construction).
 Lisa made an amazing meal using a family recipe. My mouth waters just thinking about it. 

party favors!
The students in the novel expressed excitement about going into town (now Tahlequah, OK) because of the various items that could be purchased.  Party attendees took home delicacies of a bygone era with stick candy and salted peanuts. The fans and stick candy were purchased at the Murrell Home , another location that served as inspiration for the author.
A photo album to keep pictures from her book tour and visits.

more party favors!
 Shel and her hubby made Christmas tree ornaments with the title of Sonia's book. The best part? She made one for all of us. With the hopes that one day we'll have trees dedicated solely to our critique group's published novels, she also distributed Glamour ornaments. So sweet!

We're so proud for Sonia. Congratulations!
FR: Shel, Sonia, Lisa. BR: Kelly, Karen, Dee Dee, Brandi, Martha
Who will be the next guest of honor at A Novel Idea party?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Writer's Wednesday: Open Mic Nights and Salons

Last Writer's Wednesday, we discussed how my critique group started.  l left you with some questions to ponder as you planned your own writing group.

Whatever format you choose for your writing group, make sure the premise is known by people attending so they don't have to endure something unexpected. If people think their work is perfection incarnate, they won't take kindly to a critique of any sort.  On the other end of the spectrum, some writers would rather pluck their eyeballs out with an ice cream scoop than listen to unrevised work. If you want to improve your writing and/or ultimately publish, then choose a critique group. If you want to have someone with whom to share your work, then you need a different venue.

Again, present your group honestly. I once attended a meeting held under the guise of a critique group. Unfortunately it was really a mutual admiration society of mostly horrible poetry. (Yes, I know. I'm terribly judgmental. So, shoot me.) A woman attempted to escape the room only to discover the doors were locked. She struggled silently with the doorknob before violently shaking it with her tiny body.  Finally, she looked up at the sky in a plea for help, allowing her entire body to slump in defeat. It was agonizingly hilarious because I, too, wanted to escape. For a moment, I feared we were in the plot of a horror story.

Since many hobby writers simply want a place for their creations to be heard, we'll address this sort of writing group first.  There's nothing wrong with this desire. It's natural for writers to want to finish the final step in the wring process by having their work reach eyes and/or ears beyond their own.  

If this is your motivation for a writing group, consider an Open Mic Night. These events are often held in public places.  Even when surrounded by strangers, the atmosphere is rife with camaraderie. Many coffee shops, bistros, and artsy cafes host them. Even in my small town there's a fabulous sandwich/coffee/wine place that loves the arts. They hold events where writers, musicians, and belly dancers(!) perform regularly.

If an Open Mic Night is not already in your area or it isn't set up in a way that meshes with your vision, approach a favorite cafe or bookstore with your idea.  

What's the worst that could happen? 

They could say no and you'd be exactly where you are now. So, pick yourself up like a teenage boy just turned down for Friday night's dance and ask another prospect. Eventually, someone will say yes. Cross my heart. Post flyers. Invite friends. Be clear about what people can expect and share. Stay true to your vision when presenting the structure.  It will most likely grow into something greater than even you could imagine.

If you'd like a more private venue but still want to share (with no threat of critique of the actual work) consider the age old tradition of the salon. Invite friends with similar inclinations over for snacks and the sharing of ideas. Send invitations with beginning and end times. It's a party! Decide if you want to do these once a month or quarterly and do it. Maybe someone else will offer to host the next one so you can focus on your next masterpiece.

Hmmm. I'm so excited about this salon idea that I think it would be fun to have with my critique group. We could take our favorite pieces we've entered in contests or published and have a night of celebration. That sounds fun! 

Next Writer's Wednesday, we'll discuss the various ways to create a critique group.