Guardians of the Language

Well put!

Carla Lee Suson, Novelist

International bestseller, John Lescroartonce said something to a small group of authors that has always stuck with me.

“You are the guardians of the language so choose your words precisely.”

He was talking to a group of about 20 other authors who had submitted three pages of manuscript for his review. The daylong critique felt arduous and all of our manuscripts had a range of faults, some easier to repair than others. In fact, he stated that he could tell from the first page if a manuscript was ready for publishing since most of the editors and agents look for the same thing. I was amazed at how many of us mid-career writers were still making these mistakes. However, the lessons learned that day were not about correct grammar or story elements. They involved the more subtle aspects of good editing that separate excellent writing from everyday dross.

So here are…

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On Reading Excellent Fiction

I just finished reading Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, and it was absolutely fantastic. What a storyteller!

It’s so important to be an avid reader when you want to grow up to be a novelist. When I wrote Past Lives (my debut best selling novel that comes out this summer, have I mentioned it?), beyond the crippling doubt and self hatred that follows pretty much all writers at some point in their lives, I had to find a way to write the book I wanted to read. I reminded myself of this when I’d get stuck and not know where the story should go. When this happens to you, ask yourself:

Where would I as a reader want this story to lead?

Then take it there. Build off the examples of great storytellers that are succeeding at the craft. I learned a lot about how to write sass from Rick Riordan, who sasses his own fan base on a regular basis, but whose characters are the ultimate in relatable. I find that thinking of your own book as a reader of that book takes a little of the pressure off for it to be perfect. You know what you want as the person experiencing the story–and that’s how you should make it. Try thinking about what you want first and what the world might possibly want second, and see how that works out for you.

Maybe this makes no sense, but to me it’s been very helpful in getting that little demon out of my head that tells me I’m not good enough. All of us have the power to tell an excellent story if we can get out of our own heads and just enjoy the experience. I know, I know. Easier said than done. If it were easy everyone would be a best seller, right?

Also a great recent read: Love by the Morning Star by Laura L. Sullivan. Such a cute story! Oh, and the Sweetest Dark series by my name buddy Shana Abe. I hope that my book and those that follow will be half as clever as these ladies have written. There is so much fun to be had in the YA genre.

And there’s my unsolicited advice for the day. Here is a recap, in list form:

  • Because I can’t reiterate it enough, be a reader of your own book! What would YOU want to happen? Cool, that’s what happens then. Good job.
  • Try to remember that writing is fun, even when it makes you want to bang your head against a wall. It’s all part of the crazy genius process. You ARE a genius, even if it’s just at describing Kraft macaroni and cheese.
  • Take advantage of the amazing books already on the market. Those people did something right. Take notes.
  • Please use your magic powers to bring warm weather back to the northeast. That’s right, I heard about your wizard powers. Chop chop.

That’s all for now! As the Von Trapp family would say, “So long, farewell, none of this movie is historically accurate about our family. Goodbyyyyyyeeee!”

Grass–A Tribute

I miss grass. As a result of this, I have decided to write a poem dedicated to everyone’s favorite plant. You’re welcome!

A Few Words For Grass

Firstly, I will not rhyme anything with ass,

I’m glad we got that out of the way, my dear beloved grass.

You, who are walked over and sat on and abused,

Cut down every day, just thoroughly used.

I miss you a lot, and I’m not talking about pot!

I’m talking about you, you green, pointy friend,

Whose usefulness seems to have no end, please come back!

We miss you so very much. Who knew that I would use wine as a crutch

To get through such a winter, so horrid, so bleak

I need you, dear grass, so hurry and peek

through the mountains of snow–tell that sun he must show

through the clouds and burst through, and bring us to you

Our beloved friend, the open field itself, the grass! The end.

The box on the wall

There’s a box on the wall, right above my television. I’ve been staring at it for two years, and never noticed it until now. I don’t even know what it does. Is it something to do with the heat? Monitoring carbon monoxide?

What a parallel to life though, huh? How many things do we stare in the face, day after day, and never really see? Never really understand? Even now, now that the box has caught my attention, I still don’t know what it does. Maybe if I ask it will tell me all the secrets of the universe. We don’t know what powers mystery box has.

The universe is vast, and I’ve watched enough doctor who to know that that box is probably a transmitter box to a mother ship somewhere. Or maybe it’s a load bearing box. Maybe if I move it my entire house will crumble to the ground.

Oh mystery box. Perhaps I’d be pondering you less if I hadn’t had all that pink moscato. We shall never truly know…until tomorrow morning, when/if I ever bother to think of you again.

But I imagine you’re just there for decoration, after all. Every house needs a mysterious wall box. You are welcome to be mine. I shall call you Osirion, and you will be gloriously forever just slightly taller than the television. Congratulations, Osirion!

Postscript: When my husband came up from the man cave I began to read him this entry and he goes, “its the doorbell box,” effectively destroying my flight of fancy. Whatever–it’s probably a doorbell box that is also a time travel machine. Never give up the dream!

Tease Days

Yesterday was our tease day here in New England.

If you’re not from anywhere cold, I’ll tell you what a tease day is. It’s a magical day, usually in March, so this one was early, where the temperature goes well above ten degrees and everyone rolls down their windows and puts on short sleeves and basks in that foreign creature known as the sun. We tilt up our faces and close our eyes and breathe deeply of air that doesn’t freeze our nostrils shut. It’s usually a 6-8 hours period of absolute bliss followed by another month or more of freezing cold.

Such a tease.

Yesterday I brought my baby out into the sun. It was the first time in her life since she’s been cognizant of her surroundings that she hasn’t been rushed to a car for her own good. I don’t think she quite knew what to do about it. I tried to get her to touch snow, but she had no interest. Perhaps she’ll go to college in the Bahamas and lead a tropical life someday. Or maybe she’ll live just down the street from me forever.

Hey, a mom can dream.

February is usually a tough month for me. It’s cold and nasty, and you’re stuck with the knowledge that those conditions will not change for quite a while. There’s a reason we despise Punxsutawney Phil around here, even though it’s not his fault. He seems like a really nice guy. Maybe we’ll grab a beer sometime and discuss all the trolls that hate on him. Good old Phil. The good news is March is just on the horizon—a dot of light on the path to spring. The thing about living in a place like this is that it teaches you on a yearly basis to appreciate when good things happen after struggle. Harsh winters bring a deep love and gratitude for the sun and life that it brings.

And then summer gets hot and we complain about that. We’re Americans too. We love to complain.

So here’s to March, which will hopefully bring many more tease days for us to enjoy as we hunker down and wait out the final days of a snowy, snowy winter. Plus the heating bill goes away. Can’t get better than that!

On Writing Romance

First off let me say that I don’t know how coherent this entry is going to be. Last night Miss Baby took her sweet time going back to sleep after the midnight bottle (when do those end? Please God let it be soon…) and as a result I couldn’t go back to sleep. So as I lay there hitting the brick wall of my mind over and over trying to force myself to sleep, I thought about what I would want to blog about today. Then I posted a poem about bacon. Mmm bacon.

Then I thought about how I could totally write a romance novel…except for the booming part. Whenever I consider writing a sex scene it goes a little something like this:

His palm tenderly caressed her breast, his fingers encasing her puckered, aching…

Oh my god my mom might read this someday. 

Then I picture my mom squirming uncomfortably as she reads her daughter’s sexy words about sexy time, and it stresses me out. Can’t do it. That’s why I write YA. Well, there’s a few reasons I write YA. One is that it allows for sassy, easy to read prose, like this, which is fun for me to write and something I deeply enjoy. Two is that it sells…and I’m a pragmatist. Three is because you can allude to physical things, and write in some solid make out scenes, but generally you don’t find any erotica level banging in YA books. Which is good, because I don’t want my mom reading that. I gotta look out for her.

Still, if I were to write a romance novel, the patterns are pretty simple. I mean, my mom reads a lot of romance novels–that’s how I read a lot of them in my teens and twenties…and sometimes now…whatever ok sometimes a girl needs a break. But since I’ve read maybe one or two (re:countless) romance novels, mostly historical fiction, I can give you a great outline of what would happen:

Hero: Extremely wealthy aristocratic man, probably black haired and green eyed, who is tan but no one cares (even though they so would), who has calloused hands (ahem, not acceptable) and who is ripped like a prize fighter/soccer player hybrid while barely working out (maybe some fencing. Fencing gets you ripped in romance novel land).

Heroine: Quirky, opinionated, beautiful woman with a great personality–usually her beauty is hidden from everyone but the hero, who by the way is well practiced in bed and always puts the woman’s pleasure first, but immediately gives up his womanizing ways upon meeting this lady.

Plot: Hero and Heroine are at odds with one another, and this increases their passion levels exponentially. They are thrown together and must accomplish something secretly, so society doesn’t know that they’re sleeping in the same rooms, but just for the purpose of completing their task…until it goes too far! Insert moment where you think they might not get together, immediately resolve, wedding.

You’re welcome–you’ve just been given the basic outline for every romance novel ever. And they still constantly sell, so really there’s no risk in writing one. Get a good cover artist to spray those abs onto a lord who might box once a week and eats full fat foods. God what I wouldn’t give to live in romance novel universe.

Just work on getting over that hump (ha!) of writer’s block due to fear of parental understanding that you know what sex is, and can write about it really well. I mean based on the popularity of porn sites and 50 Shades, our society is clearly a bunch of pervs. That includes a lot of moms. We can join in that cash cow, right?

Nope. Nope Nope Nope.

On Writing Fantasy

I should preface this by stating firmly and resolutely that I am not a fantasy writer. If I were, I’d be able to write like 100,000 words and still think it’s not enough, because my fantasy world is just so vast and everyone needs to know what forest goes where. And I’d probably have to draw my own map of the world I created and that takes basic artist skills that I may or may not have (See Oxford English Dictionary entry for: not). I salute the fantasy writers who understand the nuances of fairyland and elves and things, but I’m taking my first crack at a fantasy short story, and I was surprised at how easy and hard it was to craft a tale.

On one hand, I don’t want to break the rules. What if my elves aren’t willowy enough? Do my vampires have to be all sexified now that we’re all totally into banging vampires*? So, I chose to have my story revolve around archers, because I can write merry forest people. I live in New Hampshire. We don’t really have the merry thing down most of the time (Have you read the news? We’re buried under a million feet of snow), but I think I’ve got the Robin Hood rules down.

Or maybe I’m just making these rules up because I’m scared of criticism, or of my story not making it into the book. There’s a lot of options here. I’m not afraid to face my real reasons…I put off writing it for like a week out of fear that it would suck. It’s part of the process. I’m a writer that doesn’t drink coffee, so I have to have other epic writerly flaws like procrastinating a little. But, once I sat down to my little blinking curser and a blank page, I found that writing fantasy can be a little easier for one big reason:

You can make up whatever you want.

Oh, you wrote your character into a forest of gold and have to rescue kidnapped people for a price? Well, gold isn’t scarce in this world so it has no value. Ha! Magical forest plus new form of currency. I also thought, you know who gets way too much magic cred? Unicorns. So my unicorn is a grumpy old jerk. Because fantasy lets you make it up as you go. It’s actually really liberating. Hopefully no one clues me into a genre rule where unicorns are only allowed to be nice.

So now my story is crafted, and I’m letting it sit and accumulate awesomeness, so when I come back again and find major plot holes I can hopefully magick up a solution that’s plausible enough for publication. After all, now you are all super excited to meet my grumpy unicorn. I can’t let you down! To be continued….

*not until we’re married, young ladies!

Things I Didn’t Know Were Sacred Before I Had A Baby

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  • Sleep. Yeah, yeah. We heard it all. “You’ll never sleep again!” We believed we would defy the odds. That our strong parenting team would find a way to divide and conquer the dark, tedious nights. That didn’t happen. Babies might as well be trained in water boarding, because sleep deprivation torture is effective, and I’m here to tell you it works! So many curse words live there. So many.
  • Showers. For some reason I feel guilty taking twenty minutes to myself to ensure basic hygiene. There are days when I realize I can’t remember the last time I washed. I’m not saying it’s ok, I’m saying it happens. And it’s gross. Maybe I’ll try to improve on this one, but if we’re being honest showering was never my favorite anyway. Even the baby cries when she has to get out of the bath. It’s cold. And you have to towel off and stuff. So much effort.
  • Alone Time. My husband and I are pretty independent people. I watched Jane Austin movies (ah, to have two hours put together to watch a MOVIE!) and he played video games in his man cave, where I like to leave him in peace. Then Miss Baby came. Have you ever peed with a baby on your lap? Of course you have. You’re a parent.
  • Social Time. I remember getting drunk with my friends. Ah, to be completely out of control in a safe environment. Having a baby is super fun, but babies thrive on schedules. If you’re not free during that 10:30-11:30 time slot where the baby is fed and happy just before second nap, well there’s always a month from now when you are. Maybe this just comes with growing up, too. I tell myself that someday me and my ladies will be rich and successful, and we’ll all head to a Club Med and have a wild party…that will likely end at 10PM. Listen, we’re still 30…we appreciate a good night’s sleep.
  • Affording Things. You know how they say formula is expensive? It’s like, really expensive. And diapers just disappear into a smelly container that weighs three times the size of the baby when you take it to the trash. Then you think, man this baby is going to grow out of this car seat someday and then we’ll have to get like a booster seat and stuff, and maybe she’ll want to be in a dance class and then go to college and oh god where’s the wine bottle?

Now listen. We all have a genetic predisposition to love our babies, so that makes up for basically being tortured by tiny, razor sharp little fingers. Baby fingernails are constructed of fiberglass. We get paid in baby giggles and the occasional smirk. And there is nothing in the world that is better than a baby resting her little head trustingly against you for a little baby hug. So as much as I miss all of those things…and boy do I…I’m willing to give them up for a while if it means having our little nugget.

Until she screams. Then she belongs to her father. And Smaug. Screamy dragon Smaug baby.