Saturday, March 26, 2011

Exercise 2: Your own worst enemy

Your Own Worst Enemy:

My writing exercise for today has to do with internal conflict – specifically, what does your character do to him/herself that keeps the character from getting what he/she wants. What flaws does your character have that keeps him/her exciting to the reader.

For example, Harry Potter’s life would have been much less exciting (which would have been nice for him, even if the books would have been not nearly as fun) if he’d just gone and told Dumbledore what was going on in his life on page 10 of the story, instead of at the end of the story. But Harry is distrustful. He doesn’t always turn to adults or his friends when he has problems. He broods, keeps his mouth shut, breaks rules, and then goes and gets into serious trouble.

In A. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, Sherlock is supremely confident in his abilities. Normally this is fine (other than the fact he alienates everyone around him but Watson), but occasionally he trips himself up with it. In A Scandal in Bohemia, Holmes is outsmarted by Irene Adler because he underestimates her intelligence. He tricks her, but she tricks him right back and gets away with the photograph he’d been attempting to reclaim from her.

A few more examples of character flaws that drive the plots of many stories:

•Too much curiosity (the babysitter who opens the basement door after hearing a strange sound and AGGHHHGGGGHHHH!!!)

•Inability to commit to what the character wants (characters who can’t quite follow their dreams, or who fall in love but can’t proclaim themselves and drive the object of their love away, like in when Harry freaks out in the movieWhen Harry Met Sally).

•Inability to commit to a course of action (Hamlet is the classic example here)

•Huge blind spots (such as not realizing the one they love is no good for them, or seeing an enemy as a dear, dear friend, or thinking “nah, there’s probably nothing in the basement…)

•Carelessness with own life/friends/happiness (Character who takes unnecessary risks, who take the people who they care about for granted, who can’t keep their mouth shut when it would be better to).

•Thoughtlessness about consequences (characters who think that sleeping with the bridesmaid on the night before their own wedding is an awesome idea). Characters who are late for important appointments (i.e. he’s on the top of the Empire State Building waiting for her, she thought she’d stop off for coffee and then ran into a friend and was two hours late). Characters who let people down.

•Characters who lose faith (The team is assembled. The heist is perfectly planned, then one guy starts to wonder if this is what he wants to do with his life.)

And of course there’s jealousy, low-self esteem, past trauma, anger issues, unrealistic expectations, general ignorance about a situation, desire to be something that one is not, and on and on and on and on and on.

FOR EXTRA CREDIT: Figure out how you (in your real life) are your own worst enemy, resolve your issues, and live happily ever after. Hooray!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

How to Build an Author Website

Hello Cruel World,

Okay -- it's been busy around here. I had to do author photos and then go through another set of revisions. There was a nasty batch of flu making the rounds too -- it got my husband first, then me, then the kid. I can't remember the last time I was that sick.

And somewhere in all of that, I decided to build a website. And if you ever need to build your own author website, here is a handy guide to how I did it.

1. I start by searching web for cool author template. Find one I love. Purchase and download it.

2. Discover that I am much too stupid to use purchased template. Much.Too.Stupid.

3. Find a free template on my mac on program called iWeb. It has a book on it. So um....guess I'll use that one.

4. Discover that I am not too stupid to use iWeb. But just barely.

5. Mess with website as a way of using the obsessive, panicky energy I have stored up while I wait to hear what my editor thinks of my revisions.

6. Obsessively purchase photos on to fancy up the website. Stop when I realize I'm on the verge of spending $17 for a picture of fig newtons.

7. Start to obsessive plan to buy fig newtons, drive to lake (one hour away) and take pictures of them for my website with the lake in the background and thus save myself $17.

8. Consider the cost of the fig newtons, gas, and time involved in this plan. Re-evaluate.

8. Realize I am too lazy for this plan and that $17 is a completely reasonable price for a picture of fig newtons.

9. Admit I have a problem. I don't need a fig newton picture. Feel proud of decision to have no fig newton pictures at all on my website.

10. Go out the next day, buy fig newtons, take picture of them in my backyard, put picture on website (where they are small and barely noticeable), then eat fig newtons.

11. Admit that I'm still obsessive and have a problem, but I also got to eat fig newtons, so all is good.

12. Upload the website. It doesn't upload correctly.

13. Cuss and scream, re-read uploading instructions, do everything exactly like I'm supposed to.

14. Website still fails to upload.

15. Repeat process over and over again at least 126 times and have no luck.

16. Mysteriously, on the 127 time, the website loads perfectly.

17. Spend the next hour being baffled and thinking about how to justify buying more fig newtons.

18. Publicize website. It's, if you're interested.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Author Website

Hello Cruel World:

Alrighty, I have an announcement to make. I know have an author website. It's at

Sunday, February 27, 2011

How do you know when you're done?

Hello Cruel World!

After receiving what I can only call truly awesome revision notes from my truly awesome editor, I am currently working on printing out what I hope is close to being a finished revised draft. This is not to say it will be the final draft. Undoubtedly, there's still work to be done.

How do I know I'm close to finished with this particular draft? Well, I've addressed all of the issues brought up by my editor. I've reread it myself and found places I think could be stronger. I'm made my poor, beleaguered husband read it for me looking for typos, logic gaps, and places where I didn't actually finish cutting stuff I meant to.

But most importantly, the printer broke. I don't know why, but this always, always happens when I'm finishing a draft -- and the problem usually fixes itself right afterwards. I've had the feeder tray stop feeding, the ink cartridge suddenly start making crazy lines on the page. I've had it print gibberish. I've had it skip random pages. I've had it print the first 30 pages over and over. I've had it turn each printed page into an exquisite curly-cue and sent it flying to a random spot in the room.

This time, the printer jammed, and when I went to unjam it, I accidentally pushed the button that exists for no other reason than to make the side of the printer fall off. As far as I can tell, this serves no functional purpose, but the printer won't run until its side has been put back on. Putting the side back on is approximately impossible. It involves much swearing, banging, threatening, looking on-line for new printers, and brute force.

But, I finally got the side back on -- and it has now started printing away happily (although I should note that it is currently in the process of reprinting the first 60 pages and I don't know why). Tomorrow, I am sure the printer will work as perfectly as always.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Hello Cruel World:

I have a confession. I love the Dunning-Kruger Effect. It is one of my very favorite pieces of scientific research. Since learning about it, every academic event I've attended has gone from being a borefest of pontification to a source of endless amusement.

Want to know more? I won't pretend to be an expert (because if I do, and if you know about the Dunning-Kruger Effect, you'll think I'm an idiot.) So instead I will refer you to my husband's blog and his very funny cartoon.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Exercise 1: Kill your Darlings for Fun and Profit!

So here in my life in Santa Fe, I've been extremely fortunate to be involved in a writers' group that's been meeting for over ten years (I've only been involved with it for about 5 years, but still, that's a long time). Before that, I was involved in one via the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, which was also awesome, and which I dearly miss.

But as part of my current writing group, I have to come up with some type of writing exercise every few months or so. Initially, I was not at all excited about this. It seemed like a horrible chore that I would suck at (and I hate sucking at things publicly).

However, it turns out that writing writing exercises doesn't actually suck (I may suck at it, but that is for others to decide). Thinking of an interesting writing exercise turns out to be a really valuable way to think about the process of writing in general. Specifically, it makes me think about what I need to think about (if that makes sense).

And because my blog is generally lacking in content (ahem), I thought I would start posting some of mine in an attempt to fill things out.

Exercise One - Kill Your Darlings for Fun and Profit:

The revision process is hard. One could say it involves surgeon-like precision, ninja-like patience, and the complex-reasoning skills of a scientist who reasons with complexity. Or, more simply and less glamorously put, it involves taking out the stuff that isn't working and replacing it with stuff that is.

However, in this writing exercise, we're going to do the opposite. Look at your work in progress. Find something that you either love or feel is working well. Now change it.

The change can be simple. Take a character that is male and make him female (or vice versa). Take an old character and make him/her young. Change a character's job (instead of being a lawyer, the character is now a travel agent). You can also change a basic attribute (make a character beautiful instead of plain, tall instead of short, blonde instead of brunette, overweight instead of skinny, gay instead of straight). Take important scenes that occur outdoors and put them indoors instead. Now, see how these changes affect the entire story.

Or, for bonus points, think about making a more complex change in your story. Change a pivotal decision at a pivotal moment . Change the location of your story (say from NYC to San Francisco). Have two characters that are in love be just good friends instead. Or you can change the character's past to include something that defines him/her (Now your character is divorced or widowed. Now the character was raised in Germany instead of the U.S. Now the character has an identical twin). Make the character reluctant to do something that they were eager to do before. Change the ending of the story to be the opposite of how it ends now.

The point of these exercises is not to make the changes permanent (although if you find something that's really working for you, then by all means go ahead an leave it in). The changes are just a way of shaking us out of the idea that we aren't in control of the universe of our book. Sometimes, we start to see aspects of the world we create as permanent and immutable because they've been part of the story for so long. It gives us a chance to see what parts of the draft are actually vital to the story, and what parts can be changed. It also lets us explore how what we like best about our story might be the very thing that is bogging it down.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

More :-)

Hello again, not so Cruel World

Okay, because I am still excited...and because I just found this on Publisher's Weekly, here is another article:

Dutton Kids Gets 'Remarkable'
In a two-book pre-empt, Nancy Conescu at Dutton Children's Books bought world English rights to Elizabeth Foley's debut novel, Remarkable. Faye Bender, of Faye Bender Literary, brokered the deal. The book follows a 10-year-old named Jane Doe who is the only "normal" person living in a town called Remarkable that is otherwise full of gifted people. According to Bender, Jane stumbles on a long-buried town secret that leaves her in a position to "decide just how remarkable she wants to be." Remarkable is slated for spring 2012.

Or you can see it for yourself at: