Monday, December 30, 2013

Surf's Up

Dropping down the barrel
Beginnings should be memorable, epic, legendary. Are you stoked by these epic surfing photos? A storm developing among the cerulean waves adds to the adrenaline rush I gave my protagonist in the opening scene of my new novel Free Runner.

Air time
The story progresses from SoCal to London. In my last blog entry, I presented an argument for Chicago's similarities to London. Now, I direct your attention to Southern California. The raw beauty of the ocean evokes emotions in the caverns of my memories. When I was in junior high, my family moved from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast of Florida. I stood in the knee deep water as if under a magical spell, watching the surfers in the ocean. My Main Character's first love is surfing. Yes, even at the tender age of fourteen, he can participate in the surfing circuit and dreams of attaining pro-status someday. 

The surfer's guide to correct surf jargon can be found in the Riptionary at I posted this on twitter once. I cracked myself up for days. I find surf lingo addictive and fun, especially when used in conversations with my teenage sons. The surfer rides the barrel or the tube with the crest over his head, the high point of a wave. His board is attached to his ankle or calf with a special tubing called a leash. This keeps the surfer and the board connected so they don't get lost at sea.

"The World's 50 Best Surf Spots" is featured on The Pipeline in Oahu, Hawaii--the most dangerous surf locale in the world--sits at the number one slot followed by Jeffrey's Bay, South Africa; Bali, Indonesia; and the Gold Coast, Australia. Number 5 on the list is California. They (meaning some crazy dude out in the middle of the ocean) calculated one wave to be over 25 meters. That's approximately 82 feet. They (the experts) recommend you bring two things with you: a jet ski (to reach those gnarly waves) and life insurance (in case you don't). If any of those spots are out of your reach or out of your budget, you can always try the Maldives or Cloud Nine at Siargao Island in the Philippines. Cloud Nine with its jagged coral covering the shallow waters seems to indicate something different--the amount of trips to the ER, the amount of staples in your head after a visit, or maybe the amount of broken bones a surfer may acquire.

The first chapter of my book transports the reader straight to the MC's world: surfing, sand and endless sun. Forced to exchange his SoCal life for landlocked London, he leaves everything behind and must embark on a journey that will change him forever. I follow Surfing Magazine, Surfing Life and a few SoCal surfers on Instagram for my daily inspiration. Go catch a gnarly tube, avoid Cloud Nine, and always Hang Ten. I know you're anxious to learn how this surfer enters the world of free running and parkour in my debut novel, but you don't have to wait long. Mark your calendars for January 15th--FREE RUNNER's release date.
#amwriting #research #surfing #freerunning #debut #novel #MondayBlogs

Monday, December 16, 2013

Chicago vs London: The Art of Research

Mystic Blue-Chicago
Perhaps the most fun a writer can experience remains only a click away. With the Internet today, there are no limits to an author's passport. Researching people, places and things to add to my new novel, Free Runner, turned into a man-hunt. "Who or what will I uncover today?" My past experience in the classroom also became another source for my research. World History and Geography trumped all other subjects I taught while Great Britain became my most anticipated unit. We also explored Australia, Spain, Italy, France and Greece along with each country's unique foods, quirky customs and weird traditions.OK, I admit, I transformed into a world traveler (in the classroom) and a research junkie. I hosted classroom parties, dressing up in native clothing and sampling exotic foods. I even planned art projects around each country.

It's no surprise that England made the top of my list when prepping for places to put on display in my novel. No, I've never stepped foot in England, Ireland or Scotland. I do have ancestral roots in Ireland. My grandmother was Irish--hence the red hair. I begged my parents in high school to let me be a foreign exchange student to London. That never happened.

I will start with one of the first places mentioned in my novel: the National Gallery. This free museum is located right next to Trafalgar Square in London. The main character's dad lands a photography dream job, working for the Gallery. My first instinct led me to research this place to see if they displayed anything other than famous paintings like van Gogh's Sunflowers or Rembrandt's self portrait. BINGO. Last December 2012 the National Gallery hosted their first ever photography exhibit.This plausible idea for my new novel and the merging of the Gallery's priceless art with photography became the driving force behind Free Runner. The reader will be taken to many more landmarks throughout London: St. Paul's Cathedral, the London Eye and Her Majesty's Theater.

My obsession with all things Chicago (and the internet) helped navigate me around a city--London--I have yet to visit. Chicago boasts many museums as well as theaters: Chicago Opera House, Chicago Theater, and the Orpheum where I saw the Phantom of the Opera years ago. The city even has its own famous Ferris wheel at Navy Pier. Here's a little unknown fact: the Richard H. Driehaus Gallery of Stained Glass Museum and the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows (located next to each other) are tucked inside Navy Pier toward the back and admission is free. Tiffany glass, anyone? I've enjoyed Chicago's view from the John Hancock building and from the upper deck of the Mystic Blue, floating in Lake Michigan right after a storm. The lightning show over the skyline was worth the price of admission.

If you're still not convinced the Windy City is similar to London, think chilly temps and drizzle and join me for a monumental ride of action and adventure, exploring the streets of London, in my debut novel Free Runner.

#amwriting #writetip #debut #novel #freerunning #parkour #London #Chicago

Up next on my blog--researching the surfing scene and the world of pakour/free running.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Wonder Years

Yes, I am referencing the hit eighties TV sitcom, The Wonder Years, with Fred Savage and Danica McKellar. A question keeps popping up lately, "When did you start writing?" And to answer that question, I need to take you back--way back.

The Early Years:
In elementary school I wrote sentences. My teachers encouraged me to practice my penmanship on the chalkboard. I will behave in class was a recurring theme. I wasn't the model child growing up. Please don't ask my mother for details. Because of my silliness, I found myself in trouble more than once. My love for reading started during these early years. I credit C.S. Lewis and his magic wardrobe.

The Wonder Years:
Ahh, yes, my favorite few years of life spent in prison, I mean junior high and high school. It all started with a history assignment--a ten line patriotic poem. It was a breeze. Others needed my help. I felt called to help them. Our eighth grade teacher quit in the middle of the year. The principal took over. I wrote short stories when I should have been taking notes. After I saw Dead Poets Society, my best friend and I formed our own secret society. We penned poems about love spurned, cuddly kittens, Little Caesar's Pizza, and cute guys who worked at the VCR repair store.

The Rest of the Story:
If you thought I was going to use the header--The Golden Years--you're in trouble! After my creative writing class in college, where I learned to eavesdrop on people's conversations, I realized I wanted to become a writer someday. After graduation, job, marriage, kids, job, one more kid, I decided it was time to make that dream a reality. And with teenagers in the house, I needed to act swiftly, before my prime subjects graduated from high school.

As you know from my last blog entry, I was writing a non-fiction piece on frontier photographer H.H. Bennett, the first person to ever take a photograph of something in motion. I'm a bit obsessed with photography and cameras and their origins. I thought this children's biography would be the stepping stone into publishing fiction. Now, I'm starting with my new contemporary action/adventure mystery thriller, Free Runner. And I just received word from my publisher that they are bumping up production of my book from spring to JANUARY!! I'm working on my website and a Facebook Fan page and trying not to panic in the process.

Maybe you will start your writing career earlier than I did. Read those writing craft books and blogs and write everyday. Read books of all genres. Write a story you would want to read. If you are still stuck in the wonder years, take heart, you will graduate, someday.

#amwriting #writerslife #photography #writetip #freerunner

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Inspiration behind My Debut Teen Novel...

Yep, this is the inspiration behind my debut teen novel, Free Runner: my fifteen-year-old son. I must give credit where credit is due.

Here's the back story: Last summer I received word from my editor that the book I was writing for a series would not be published due to the discontinuation of that series. My book on frontier photographer H. H. Bennett would not see the light of day. My dreams of starting small in the publishing world and working my way up the ladder crumbled. So, I did what anyone else would do. I gave up--on non-fiction and went straight to my first love, writing fiction. But wait, there's more.

Let's get back to last summer. I witnessed my son and a few of his friends performing gravity-defying stunts at our prospect-league baseball stadium. My son is not a stunt man nor is he a stunt double. The next day, I watched in horror as he and his buddies were running,  jumping and flipping from everything at a local park. I asked my son, "What on earth are you doing?" His response, "Parkour, Mom. Free running?" He showed me Tempest Freerunning Academy's website on his iPhone. My fist reaction, "You're going to break something." My second reaction, "This is awesome!"

My brain failed to make a connection. My neurons forgot to send me the memo. Fast forward to last November. With spiral notebook in hand, I was jotting down mid-grade and YA lit ideas with my critique group, participating in #PIBOIDMO--Picture Book Idea Month. I don't write picture books, so I was using this month to generate ideas for an older audience. I stood up from the couch, stopped breathing and scribbled Free Runner for entry number 13. Ideas flew out of my brain at break faster than my kids can make a mess of a clean house. The third week in November, I glued myself to the couch and wrote most of the novel. I didn't register for #NaNoWriMo but pretended to be a participant.

The fastest growing extreme sport in the world is the catalyst for my debut teen novel, FREE RUNNER, and my dare-devil of a son. I haven't told him yet about his "inspiration," so if we could keep this a secret.

Look for my contemporary action/adventure/mystery thriller novel coming January 2014! Working on a website, so stay tuned!!!

#yalit #amwriting #parkour #freerunning #freerunner #debut #novel

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Is This Why I Write for Teens?

#amwriting #writing #inspiration #kidlit

Even though I'm long removed from my teen years, I still get the giggles and find myself acting silly with some of my grown-up friends. With three kids of my own, including a couple of teenagers, I look for humor in life's situations. Is this why I write for teens?

The days of my seventeenth year play over and over in my memories, like a song stuck in my head. My senior field trip to Washington D.C. would make for some great scenes in a book: accidentally ordering calamari (a whole squid stared back at me with beady black eyes) at some famous Italian restaurant, arguing with the waiters in Spanish (because, after all, I took two years of that language) only to reorder eggplant on a plate, and an exploding can of Coke in the D.C. airport (right before we boarded our plane).

I think by now, you know I was never a shy kid. Our class visited the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, and we hung out with the Hope Diamond. The 45.52 carats of blue diamond won me over, but my best friend and I soon tired of diamonds and dinosaur bones.

Next, we discovered the Air and Space Museum. These were pre-911 days with minimal security. As the day lagged, the tour guide lulled us to sleep. The fact that we were hundreds of miles from our parents spurned us to jump ship. We skipped the rest of the tour, found the top floor and created our own entertainment. I hopped onto a small stage and pretended to flirt with a mannequin while holding his hand. He posed perfectly for a picture, wearing a space suit.

The entire museum, at that time, sported little white buttons you pressed for an interactive guide--a voice recording telling you more information. I spotted several and kept pushing them. Then I found a red one, pushed it, and read the sign above: FIRE ALARM. Uh, oh. My finger was still on the button, pressing down. Should I let go or keep pressure on it, forever? Where's the panic button when you need one?

The faint alarm sounded. No armed guards stormed the castle, not even a warning shot. A trail of tears, I mean laughter, could be heard all the way to the mall, the Washington Mall; it's just grass really. So, we avoided jail time and off we went to see The Wizard of Oz, I mean Dorothy's shoes from the movie held in the Museum of American History, luckily without being arrested.

If you write for kids or teens, where do you get your inspiration?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

It's not a Competition or Is It?

#writetip #amwriting #conflict #competition

Once again, I remember back to my golden school days spent in private education. I lived for spelling bee's, writing contests, and academic meets. I didn't always come in first place or second. Many white ribbons line my memory box. I was also on the swim team, earning countless colored ribbons over the years. Competition is good for the soul and good for your plot.

A heavy dose of competition is just what this red-headed runt needed back then. Sick of coming in second or last, I kicked it into high gear and won that reading contest in 4th or 5th grade. (competition) The next day, to my horror, the teacher had pinned another student's reading badge to the board for first place. (conflict) I wanted to kick that boy really hard in the shins! He always kicked me in P.E. whenever we played soccer. (more conflict) My teacher kept apologizing for the mistake. I think said boy had enough blue ribbons to decorate an entire soccer field. (more competition) I forgave my perfect teacher, performed a happy dance around the sulking boy and refrained from kicking him.(resolution!)

As a mother, I don't like to see bad things happen to my children. But I also know disappointments, mistakes and suffering can help motivate them to do better the next time. At first, I found it very difficult to include conflict and tension in writing. Once I started, and realized my fictional characters won't feel a thing, it got easier. Insert evil laugh. Now, I hunt for ways to make my characters pay the price to be in my novels. Is there something wrong with me? I keep telling myself not to worry about it. They'll get over it.

Does competition play a big role in your story? Is the clock ticking? (But, please refrain from actually writing "the clock is ticking"!! ) If you are writing for a younger audience (mid-grade/YA), competition is key. Who or what is your MC competing against? Time, a bully, a team, his best friend, an alien world full of, well, aliens? Increase the tension and conflict by adding this element to your novel. The rush of competition will catapult your story forward with nothing better than pure adrenaline.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Napolean Dynamite Inspiration "Yes!"

#writetip #napoleon #dynamite

Several years ago, I watched the comical Napoleon Dynamite movie. Maybe I loved it for all the wrong reasons--like the zillion eighties references: caboodles, side pony tails, moon boots etc. The other night I re-watched the classic movie for some laughs. I got more than laughs. I got inspired. Here are four life lessons we can learn from Napoleon:

1. Everyone loves an underdog. Are you feeling lousy as a writer or a person? Do you have your own personal underdog story? Maybe you're currently feeling like someone threw you under the bus. Napoleon is someone to root for. He's the lonely kid, the physically awkward kid, the poor kid, the socially awkward kid. But he makes a friend, Pedro, and things change. Try joining a writing group or a critique group. Napoleon is a pretty self motivated kid, too. When he's down, he doesn't stay down for long.

2. Get a job. Napoleon's jealousy of his brother Kip (ha!) forced him to find a job. Kip and Uncle Rico were making some serious money. Cut to the farm scene when Napoleon asks the old farmer, "Do they have huge talons?" (Why is that so funny?!) I want to gag when Napoleon drinks the OJ punch mixed with raw eggs. And when the old farmer points, does anyone know what he's saying??  Of course, the last scene is my favorite: Napoleon counts his money (all in change) and says, "Six bucks. That's like a dollar an hour!" OK, on to my point. Yes, get a job even if it's not writing based. You gotta pay the bills or you'll be living like Uncle Rico.

3. You are not "too good" for the Goodwill. When Napoleon and Pedro visit the Goodwill and stop, star struck, in front of the creepy mannequin wearing a pumpkin-colored seventies suit, I died laughing, on the spot, on the floor, rolling around. "That's a pretty sweet suit." Bahahaha! Be thrifty. You don't have to spend a fortune being a writer. You don't have to buy every writing book under the sun or join every book society and coffee club. There are lots of freebies out there. Noah Lukeman offers his book How to Write a Great Query Letter free on his website. Other authors post advice and answer questions on their blogs while writing websites share invaluable articles all the time.

4. Be spontaneous. At the end of the movie, Napoleon got creative. He went out of his comfort zone and faced the music. He even thought of someone else--Pedro. Helping a struggling writer friend find connections and sharing writing articles can help take your mind off of you for awhile (hence my blog). You might have to throw caution to the wind and try new things. You could join Twitter like I did...but that's for another blog post. Unafraid of rejection, Napoleon mastered those moon boots.

Maybe you've gotten a few cynical laughs along the way. Someday, someone will stand up and applaud you, even if it's not Summer Wheatley. OK, remember to get your own tots and vote for Pedro.
(If you haven't seen the movie, you must watch it tonight!)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Mark Twain: An Unforgettable Beginning

Hannibal, MO-Mississippi River

"A strong beginning can define an entire journey." -Noah Lukeman

I've been working on the beginning of my second novel. Beginnings fascinate me. I love to read opening lines, paragraphs and chapters of great authors. Writers spend countless hours, striving to craft unforgettable beginnings. 

The beginning of literary legend Mark Twain's life was quite memorable. Living in Hannibal, Missouri, I have the privilege to walk in Samuel Clemens' footsteps. I thought by now that I would tire of his boyhood town. Instead, I've grown quite fond of this place and the writer's witty humor.

In the year 1839, Twain began his journey to this scenic town located along the Mississippi River. After the family's belongings were packed and loaded onto a wagon, they proceeded to Hannibal. Later in the day, a lone rider galloped over to their former residence in Florida, Missouri (Twain's birthplace). He jumped off his horse, checked the house, to make sure they didn't forget anything, and scoured the outside property. I'm sure he chuckled to himself when he spotted the little boy out back making a mess of mud pies. He picked up the young boy, mounted his horse and returned Mark Twain to his family.

"Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest." Mark Twain

I'm sure Twain loved re-telling the story of his beginning. Maybe his mishap helped him embrace the humorous side of things. We should follow Twain's example and look at the lighter side of life. Work on those beginnings and make them unforgettable.

"There comes a time in every rightly constructed boy's life that he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure." -Mark Twain

#Mark #Twain #amwriting #beginnings #MondayBlogs #writetip


Photos: Courtesy of the writer of this blog.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Mark Twain's Lifelong Dream...To Be or Not to Be a Writer?

On the banks of the #Mississippi, a young boy skipped stones across the #river while he waited for the passing of a steam ship. He longed for the day when he could fulfill his destiny. Mark Twain's greatest dream was not to become a writer. More than anything else in the world, he wanted to become a riverboat captain.

#Mark #Twain arrived in #Hannibal, #Missouri at the age of four-years-old. Can you imagine how many times he told his parents, when I grow up, I want to be a steamboat pilot? With a first rate view from the upper floor of his home, Twain could dream all night long of the boats on the big river. He could walk out his front door and dream all day long of the sun kissed waters. He passed by the river on his way to school, on his way to play, on his way to everything.

The dreams of our childhood linger long in our memories, reminding us of the one thing we wanted to be when we grew up. Those innocent desires shaped us, captured our imaginations, and guided us along the way to adulthood. For Twain, the fulfillment of his lifelong dream came when he reached twenty-two years of age. His four-year riverboat experience enabled him to later write novels filled with youthful characters chasing their big dreams.

Samuel Clemens sported quite the imagination when he thought up a few pen names for himself. I giggle every time I read the names, Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass and W. Epaminondas Adrastus Blab. If you are a literary fan or just a fan of Clemens, you might already know how he came up with his most famous pen name. While working aboard the steamships, he heard the words "mark twain" often. The words literally meant "measure" and "two" or about twelve feet deep. One of the greatest writers of the nineteenth century used a pen name associated with the love of his life--the Mississippi River.

"When I grow up, I want to be a...fireman, ballerina, CEO of Microsoft?" I think back to my childhood. I told everyone I wanted to be an archaeologist. Don't ask me why. I didn't even know what an archaeologist was, but the impressive word sounded important. Deep down inside I always wanted to be a writer. I did share my dream with my grandmother. "That's nice, dear," she responded, patted my head and handed me another pencil and a piece of paper.

For more information on the life of Samuel Clemens aka: Mark Twain visit:

Thursday, September 5, 2013

For the Love of the Game

 Found this little cutie in the grocery store!

Baseball season is in full swing. Pardon my pun. Living in Missouri doesn't make me a Cardinals fan (I've only lived here for five years). If I stood on top of my house, I could view Illinois just across the Big River, but that doesn't make me a Cubs fan either. Although I've been to both stadiums, I've remained loyal to my team since childhood. (You can scroll down to the end to see a pennant of my favorite team.)

A visit to Wrigley Field on one of my Chicago trips
My father loved sports. Basketball, running and baseball were among his favorites. He wanted boys but ended up with two girls instead. My sister and I played many different sports. We were on the swim team, played volleyball and softball to name a few. Every Sunday afternoon our dad would drag us to the park to play a little baseball. He taught us to hit, catch, field and throw. Before long, we grew to love the game. It was hard work, but it paid off in the long run. We got better at the sport, made the team and even the starting line-up.

I think back to when I named my blog, The Writing Game. The word game implies a challenge. The word game also implies having a strategy. Do you have a plan? Do you know the end from the beginning? Here's a challenge from Noah Lukeman: summarize your entire novel using only three sentences. Then try using only two sentences. By the way, this exercise will help you master the perfect query. What about using only one sentence? Now, that's a challenge!

And because I'm new to all of this, I've learned to never use your character's name in a query. If you don't kiss his name goodbye (at least, for the query), you can kiss your chances of getting published goodbye. Save his name for your one-page synopsis. Besides, editors will be reading all about him in your 100,000+ word novel. (Don't worry, my novels aren't that long!) And even then, you should use his name sparingly and his full name only once or twice.

Your protagonist's journey will more than likely take him several different places or directions before he arrives at his destination. Yes, your hero may need to stop that volcano (is that even possible?) or he may need to rescue the fair maiden from alien assassins, but the bigger challenge is adding subplots throughout your novel. Keep those subplots twisting and turning with secrets and surprises around every corner. Remember it's the journey not the destination. What else is going on in your novel? Is he angry at his father about something? Unresolved conflict. Is he getting up the nerve to ask a girl out on a date? Fear of rejection. Is he seeking information about his past? Fear of the unknown.

The word game also implies fun. I thought once I started a writing career, it would be a leisurely experience, like sipping green tea on the shores of my own private island. Seriously, though, I'm in love with the ocean, the sea, the gulf of anywhere. Writing should be fun, but deadlines and editing and more revising can suck the fun out of writing. Always get back to the fun side of the island. Aside from the grueling pre-dawn writing hours, the neglected laundry pile, and the deep-voices of teenage sons in your house asking for more food, writing should remain a fun yet challenging game.

Go Brewers!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

In Memory of Shark Week

If you suffer from selachophobia, the fear of sharks, I suggest you read this article while hiding under your covers. Shark week is a wonderful motivator. Wouldn't you agree? We can face our worst fears, watching 4,000 pounds of Great White slice through the water like a missile and rip innocent seals in half, all from our living rooms. We psyche ourselves up to think we would actually climb into one of those cages in the middle of the ocean and toss bait to a creature who can sense fear. No, thanks! I've seen enough sharks to last a lifetime.

When I turned twelve, my family moved from Illinois to Florida. The white sands of the Gulf of Mexico became my home for over a decade. Sharks remain at the top of my favorite creatures list along with kittens and butterflies. Whether we see sharks or not, they are ever present, swimming not far from us in the ocean. We dive into the cerulean waves, risking our lives as we swim obliviously in shark infested waters. The coast guard says it's never a matter of if sharks are in the water with you. I remember watching them perform practice drills near my swimming spot and thought, Wow, that's comforting.

One morning I woke up and realized I wasn't getting any younger. A part of me was unfulfilled. No, I didn't want to swim with the sharks. Here's the back story. By the way, in your novel, never place back story in the opening paragraph or in the opening chapter. It stops the story when you need it to move forward. Your story should begin with an explosion of action, causing widespread addiction to your novel. Remember to pace yourself; you have the entire novel to pepper back story throughout. 

OK, back to my back story. In my last blog entry, I reminisced of my golden school days in private education. Did I mention during my eighth grade year our main teacher quit? Was it something we did? The same blood vessel-popping principal took over. Nightmare! He taught history like the professor on Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Boring, boring, boring... (Say it like, Bueller, Bueller, Bueller...)I loved History and Geography, and he was ruining it for me. 

I grabbed my spiral notebook and pretended to take notes, but instead, I wrote short stories, mostly mysteries, because I grew up in the Remington Steele and Magnum P.I. days of television. The principal never caught me writing for fun, but he did catch me secretly passing a Skittle to my best friend. He demanded, "Why are you eating in my class?" When I didn't answer him right away, he popped another blood vessel and yelled, "Answer me!" It was impossible with all the Skittles in my mouth. 

Found this little guy "shark bait" swimming in the St. Louis Zoo!
Now I am driven, like a shark on a feeding frenzy, to fulfill my dream of writing. But when I first began this journey almost a year and a half ago, I had no clue where to begin. In the vast sea of writing, I was so far out in the middle of the ocean, I doubt even the coast guard could locate me. Well, I took the risk anyway and started with non-fiction, writing a middle-grade biography for the Wisconsin Historical Society. But after I finished the project, the series was discontinued and I went back to square one. I decided to dive into fiction, my first love. Joining a critique group has been a wonderful and necessary experience for my first step into writing fiction. Reading great writing blogs, visiting websites and pouring over articles and books about the craft continue to sharpen my skills and enhance my knowledge of writing for teens. Having two teenage boys at home helps a little too. OK, it helps a lot!

I encourage you, if you are a writer, don't quit. Take a break if you need to, but come back to your first love. Because in order for you to be a writer, I think you must love everything about writing. You may not like some things. But whether it's researching, editing, or the way the words form in your mind and flow from your fingers to your paper or computer, a writer loves his job! Remember, if you are a writer and you aren't writing, you're just treading water. Watch out for those sharks.

In the news a few weeks ago, I saw a video of a teenage boy jumping out of a boat, into the ocean and onto the back of a whale shark. He said he thought that he may never get another chance to ride a shark. Huh? (Sounds like my fifteen year old son.) CRAZY! RISKY! But if you don't jump into your dreams of writing (or anything), you may never get another chance. No one is guarenteed tomorrow. And remember to keep your hands and feet in the boat at all times, especially if you're a teenage boy. Oh, and I highly do NOT recommend riding sharks. Until next year, Happy Shark Week!!!
A photo from long ago taken off the pier in Destin, Florida

Monday, August 5, 2013

Golden School Days...Filled with Detentions and Demerits

My four-year-old daughter posing for a "back to school" photo.

The annual migration of children heading back to school starts in less than a month. I would like to take a moment and reflect on my golden school days. Do you think I was a model student? Why are some of you laughing? Maybe because you know me too well. I was born in Wisconsin but grew up in Illinois. Being raised in the mid-west, in a middle-class neighborhood, I lived in the middle of the Great Recession. (Notice I did not say the Great Depression!)

I recently came across a writing article that said, "Your protagonist should want something, even if it's only a glass of water." If your hero or main character doesn't want anything, then he'll be wondering around aimlessly in your novel in search of nothing and your novel will be going nowhere fast. I think back to my childhood. What did I want?

This is me heading out the door on my
first day of Kindergarten!
(Is that a 70's haircut or what?!)
I crafted my first novel several months ago and now remain in the editing phase with hopes of moving into the publishing phase soon. When I created my character, fourteen-year-old California native ??? (his name is still under wraps), I asked myself, what does he want more than anything else in the world? And how can I make it almost impossible for him to get? Because we all know we can't make it easy for our heroes to accomplish their goals. Where would the fun be in that?

In my contemporary action/adventure novel, my protagonist lives a relaxed surf's-up kind of life. But by the second chapter, I propelled him straight into a private school setting half-way around the world. As he leaves behind his sloppy surf attire, he must now wear the school uniform, which includes a noose, I mean, a tie. (Don't worry, my novel is not about wearing uniforms!)

I mostly attended private schools my entire life. I hated, despised, detested uniforms. I wanted one thing: desperately to wear normal, cool clothing. Hmm, maybe that's why I love shopping for clothes? Private schools have their advantages and disadvantages. My lack of conformity to the rules earned me many disadvantages like demerits and detentions and left me labeled a rebel. OK, I admit, my fun-loving-disregard-for-the-rules-spirit clashed with many of my teachers. I was young. I included a detention scene in my novel, and of course, it was my personal experience in detention that led me to add this fun chapter!

I longed to be free to choose what I wore to school each day. Let me insert an example here from my eighth grade year. I will refer to it as The Jelly Shoe Incident. My dear best friend (I won't mention any names--she knows who she is!) and I decided to ditch the "black dress shoes only" rule on the last day of school. At that time, the jelly shoe/bracelet craze was sweeping through the 80's. We both decided to wear our new matching jelly shoes on the last day of school.

What are they going to do, give us a detention? Besides, they won't even notice. We got busted the minute we sat down at our desks. The uniform police sent us straight to the Principal's office. We both sat up in our chairs, waiting for the headmaster to hand us our heads on a platter. I had the giggles, which set off my friend's giggles. We got yelled at for our silliness first, then on to worse matters, like our complete disregard for the rules by wearing white jelly shoes instead of black dress shoes. You would have thought we wore swimsuits to class! I think the principal busted a blood vessel in his head that morning when he shouted, "You two better get your dress shoes back on before the awards assembly!"

We left his office and looked at each other terrified. "Did you bring your dress shoes?" My friend asked me, because obviously she didn't bring back-up. I dug around in my backpack and pulled out one pair of black dress shoes. "I guess we'll have to share." I tossed her a shoe and, with one shoe on and one foot barefoot, we giggled all the way to the assembly.

With a harsh hand of punishment, these types of schools often lead children to the exact opposite of what they are trying to accomplish. It's by God's grace I turned into a decent, medication-free, law-abiding citizen. And, boy am I thankful for a wealth of insight into private education, enabling me to give a first-hand account of the fear and the fun they can fuel!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

You Know You Have Boys When...

Devil's Lake Wisconsin

Having a summer birthday rules! As a child I bragged about having a summer birthday to all my friends who had birthdays during the school year. Just think of the advantages: shoes were optional, sleeping in was a requirement, and no homework. My birthday gift last week, a new touch-screen laptop, rates as my top (and only;-) gift. Now, you see my level of technology has risen to new heights...I have pictures in my blog articles! Woo hoo!!

With my new laptop, iPhone, Instagram and Facebook,(is that TMI?) I feel like a teenager. BTW, I am not, because I have two teenagers of my own. LOL!! I'm not making fun of them;-)

As a mom of two boys and a four-year-old girl, my summers stay suspended in a circle of craziness. The above photo reminds me of a rare family moment on our Wisconsin vacation to the Dells and Devil's Lake. With everyone's crazy schedules, it is getting harder to be together as a family. I took this photo right before our entire family hiked the bluffs at Devil's Lake. There was one  exception--our thirteen-year-old ran ahead of the group and took the wrong trail back down. He actually beat us back down the mountain!

"You know you have boys when..." is a great way to begin a blog entry, don't you think? Here are some examples:

1. You know you have boys when...they don't know how to push the start button on the dishwasher, but they have more technical knowledge of their iPhones and computers than an MIT grad.
2. You know you have boys when...your oldest son breaks his arm at wrestling camp, has surgery the next day, a week before your long-awaited summer vacation.
3. ...then asks if he can drive, even with a broken arm.
4. You know you have boys when....their bedrooms look like a tornado dropped in, long after the real tornado (that touched down in our town a few months back) is long gone.
5. You know you have boys when you go grocery shopping one day and all the food in the house is gone the next.
6. You know you have boys get a text at 2 am. from your son, reminding you that he's going to work out in the morning. Isn't it already morning?? And thanks for the heads up?!
7. You know you are crazy take your two teenage boys to the grocery store and by the time you reach the cash register, you realize you have a cart full of Mountain Dew and Oreos.
8. And you know you have boys when...your two boys have multiplied into four or five boys camped out on the living room floor for an X-box all-nighter.

I hate to be that mom who always tells my kids, "I told you so." But when my youngest son went off to summer camp in June, I became that mom. Before he left, he packed his own bag. Throwing clothes, Twizzlers, Gatorade, and a bottle of soap into a sleeping bag, he was ready. I encouraged him to take a suitcase, but he assured me, as he slung his sleeping bag over his shoulder like Santa Claus, that his way was best. Not even five minutes after his arrival, I get the phone call. "MOM! My soap exploded all over my stuff!" (Insert evil laugh from me.)

Has your summer been as exciting and interesting as mine? Could you write an entire novel on your family's summer vacation? Or maybe turn your vacation videos into a short horror flick...

With only a month until school starts, (Yes!) I look back at my beautiful children and thank God I am their mother. With the summer winding down and basketball, wrestling, and football camps almost finished, along with a successful family vacation, I pray my boys have boys of their own someday (insert another evil laugh), so they too can experience the joys of boys and summertime!

...even with a broken arm!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Running and Writing

My hobbies include: running, running my boys to practices, running out of ink on my printer. Being a runner for the past two decades has defined who I am. I run three miles each morning, six days a week for the pure love of running. So many of my friends tell me they hate running. I live for the solace, the adventure, the adrenaline pumping the stress out of my body. What 's not to love?

My father was/is a runner. When I was a young child, I remember my dad running out the door for his afternoon run. I used to follow him on my bike--all three miles--until he left me in the dust. Little did I know, my track star dad's love of running would wear off on me. Now, my two teenage sons are becoming runners. My oldest son loves to play football and soccer, but lately, he's been running with the track team at school and he's not even on the track team.

It never fails when I'm in the middle of my morning run, my mind a million miles away from my writing, an idea strikes me or the perfect word hits me over the head. Running and writing are similiar in nature. Running involves patience. Three miles is still three miles, even if you run faster. Running involves endurance. You may not see results right away, but you will eventually. Running involves self-motivation. No one is going to run for you!

Nikes are my choice of running shoe. With running and writing, you have to just do it. Don't be afraid to take the first step. You have to start somewhere.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Art of Braiding

The art of braiding stories--not hair--is today's topic. A few days ago I reached for the book Crafting Novels & Short Stories. Instead of beginning at the, well, beginning, I opted to skip the norm and go for a different approach. I sliced open the pages of the book and landed smack dab in the middle. Now, that's shakin' things up a bit! Chapter eleven, written by Heather Sellers, explained this concept of weaving the element of braiding into our stories.

The author suggested imagining three photographs lying on your desk. Being an avid photographer, I enjoy the countless photos that line the walls of my home. Each one tells a different story. There should be at least three strands of stories in your novel but never underestimate your reader. They are intelligent, and they will follow your story line. She says, "You can't be confusing, but you can't spell it all out, either."

Three seems to be the magic number here. Three was my junior high volleyball number, is the number of children I have, and is the age of our youngest, cutest and only daughter. Like the layers in an onion, a novel should peel away, revealing other story lines. Sellers says if a story lacks braiding, this is the reason why stories fall flat and lose steam about half-way through the novel. Layering in a novel allows the writer a chance to tell a tantalizing tale or two or three. Don't forget each story line or braid should contain the same elements found in a single story: characters, plot, crisis, resolution. Don't make the elements seemed forced. And always add the element of surprise or discovery!

It's important to remember that conflict comes in two packages, external and internal conflict. External conflict derives from circumstances or things that happen to us, like a car accident, broken curfew, license revoked. OK, maybe I mentioned those three things because my fifteen-year-old son is about to get his driving permit!!

Anyway, let's not forget internal conflict, things that are happening to us on the inside: worry, fear, guilt, or lack of trust. (I am in no way referring to my internal conflict as I sit in the passenger seat while my eldest son drives me around town.)
Don't forget to incorporate braiding into your next novel, and I won't forget to wear my seatbelt.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Three M's of March

The three M's of March are March Madness, manuscripts, and Monopoly. Did you think I was going to give you some savvy, sage writing advice? Don't worry, it's coming. This blog entry resembles a pep talk in the middle of March Madness. Let's take Basketball, for instance. Coaches prepare their teams and pump encouraging words into their players to prepare them for the game. Some coaches speak a little louder than others. Deep down, coaches are incredibly powerful motivators even when they tell you the things you don't want to hear.

If I had attempted a writing career ten years ago, I would have failed immediately. Now, that I am a little older, my level of patience is much greater (so I keep telling myself). I owe thanks to my husband, our two teenage boys and our three-year-old daughter. Thank you, family, for making my life crazy, chaotic, fast and furious. My pathetic pittance of patience has been stretched and flexed over the years. Being a wife, mother and former full-time teacher, I think I deserve the Pulitzer Prize for patience.

You can't get around the fact that writing is patient work. Learning the craft of writing stories, manuscripts or whatever you are writing takes time. Researching the best books and the greatest authors takes time.Then the revising rolls in: revising, editing, revising. This part can take LOADS of time, like my never-ending laundry pile. With two boys in sports, my laundry mat is open 24/7.

Then comes the waiting game or the send off, when you send your manuscripts off to publishers, contests or magazines. I did name my blog "The Writing Game" for a reason. Remember the game of Monopoly? You have to stick with the game if you are going to win. You have to survive landing on boardwalk with two hotels. But the moment you do win, it's an epic, Monopoly win.
-Coach Hawes, signing off. Go write some books or just play some basketball;-)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Books for Boys

When I taught fifth grade several years ago, my classroom was overrun with boys, thirteen to be exact! Needless to say, there was never a dull moment. Thinking fast, I grabbed a book one day and began reading to my students. I always positioned myself a few steps ahead of them. I began integrating storytime into our daily routine. Sound childish? Not on your life! It worked like a snake charmer. The boys especially looked forward to story time.

Now, for the challenge of finding good books for boys. I ran to the library, scoured the bookstores and scanned lists online. I became a book junkie, a book hoarder. I read during my lunch break, at the doctor's office, at the park with my kids.

One day in the classroom I hit pay dirt. One of my male students approached my desk and asked me quietly, "Mrs. Hawes, what are you reading?" Then more questions came, "What books do you recommend?" "Can I borrow that book when you're done?" It was contatgous, like the flu virus in winter. Storytime became the most anticipated part of the school day. We started with Richard Peck's The Teacher's Funeral and laughed our heads off. Frank Peretti's Hangman's Curse came next, and we slithered in our seats at the explosion of spiders. Next, we read two classics by Gary Paulsen, Hatchet and Lawn Boy and learned that anything was possible.

Of course, when I read to my mostly male audience, I always ended the book at the perfect place of supense. (They informed me they were never going to speak to me again.) Sadly disappointed, they returned to their homework, wishing tomorrow would hurry up.By the end of the year, the reluctant readers had raised the bar for themselves and were now reading for recreation. Mission Accomplished.

The two upper middle-grade fiction novels I just completed fall into the category of Books for Boys. Having two teenagers, I still strive to find the perfect well-written novel full of action, adventure and suspense for my boys to read. While the books I've written will appeal more to boys, I believe girls will be attracted to them as well. I want to say a big thanks to that crazy classroom full of boys!

June #IWSG: The Perfect Storm

                                                                Come join Alex J. Cavanaugh and the Insecure Writer's Support Group. We ...