WFMAD Day 26 – Wild Spirits Soaring

Two quick reviews for you: Reading Rants weighs in on FORGE and WINTERGIRLS reviewed in Colorado.

How did your writing go yesterday? Mine floooowed. Like creekwater after a thunderstorm. Sugar pouring from a blue china bowl. Like round hips swaying under a loose skirt to a hot salsa trumpet.

Seriously. It was that good. It was hard to come back to the real world and do things like eat. Run. Brush teeth.

As the sun started to set, the Muse returned. Much to the dismay of my chickens, she arrived in the shape…

….of a large, hungry-looking








She watched the very well-protected henhouse for a while




then took to the air






and flowed





back into the Forest.



It was breathtaking. Especially for the chickens, who, I am happy to report, escaped disaster. For the moment.

Ready… “O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,” Henry V, William Shakespeare

Set… make sure any rodents or poultry you care about is under roof. Then turn off the damn phone.

Today’s prompt: Make a list of ten animals that could be your Muse. Circle the one that evokes the strongest reaction in you; positive or negative.

Write a scene in which you or a character has an interaction with this animal. At some point in the scene, the animal does something to change your emotional reaction to it. Either you first find it cute, and then disgusting. Or at first frightening, and then enchanting.

After the emotional switch, you get to ask the animal three questions. What will you ask? And what are the answers?

Scribble… Scribble… Scribble!!!

WFMAD Day 25 – great books to read & vote for

First – congrats to my friend David Macinnis Gill on the publication of his new book, BLACK HOLE SUN!!

I got to read an early copy and here is what I said about it: “Black Hole Sun grabbed me by the throat and didn’t let go until the last page. In the best tradition of Heinlein and Firefly, Black Hole Sun is for readers who like their books fast-paced, intense, and relentless. Buy it, read it, pass it on!”

I hear Mockingjay is awesome, too.

Yesterday was the first day in a long time I was able to write for hours and hours and hours. It was heaven. Am trying to sneak in even more writing today!

But first, a short speech.

Teens! Parents! Teachers! Librarians! Friends! Romans! Lend me your ears! (no, wait…. wrong speech…)

(here it is)

The voting is now OPEN for the YALSA Teens’ Top Ten “teen choice” list! Click through and vote for up to three of your favorite titles! Voting is open Aug. 23 through Sept. 17, 2010. Winners will be announced in a webcast at during Teen Read Week, Oct. 17-23.

(And if one of those titles should happen to be, um, I don’t know, like maybe WINTERGIRLS, that sure would make my day!)

Ready… “I’ve been doing scriptwriting for 27 years and books for maybe 10 years now. I think I started the first Gregor book, Gregor the Overlander, when I was 38. I’d be clicking along through dialogue and action sequences. That’s fine, that’s like stage directions. But whenever I hit a descriptive passage, it was like running into a wall. I remember particularly there’s a moment early on when Gregor walks through this curtain of moths, and he gets his first look at the underground city of Regalia. So it’s this descriptive scene of the city. Wow, did that take me a long time to write! And I went back and looked at it. It’s just a couple of paragraphs. It killed me. It took forever.Suzanne Collins in an SLJ interview

Set…. Less than a week of WFMAD left – can you stick with it?

Today’s prompt: Identify your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. Which is easier for you – plot or character? Dialog or description? Writing about sound or writing about smell or taste? First person or third person POV? Skimming the action along quickly or slowing down to savor the smallest and most significant detail?

Once you have identified what you are good at and what you are not quite good at yet but will be soon, you are going to develop a scene. First pass, use only only your great tools. Revise it using only your soon-to-be-better tools.

Need a scene? How’s this: your teenage character comes home hours after curfew. Everyone is sleeping. Except the skunk that is eating the garbage in the kitchen.

Scribble…Scribble… Scribble!!!

WFMAD Day 24 – molding characters from clay and pencil shavings

I received this request from a reader last week.

“Thank u so much for the prompts!! could u mayb please write abt how u get to know ur character? & the charcters devlpment?”

There are oodles of places where you can find lists of character traits that you might find handy when you are trying to make up a fictional person using nothing more than your pencil and the wet clay of your imagination. They tend to look something like this:



High school & reputation

This summer char. has been..

Next year char. will…


Loves –


Is afraid of

Worries about


Physical quirks, nervous habits

Fav. Phrase


Best quality

Dares to





[note – I wrote that list and have used it many times]

But for me, a list like this is just the starting place. It is my introduction to the character. If you never explore your character beyond what is in the list, you tend to wind up with a person that is shallow or one-dimensional.

That’s why a lot of my writing prompts have you take your character and put her into situations to see how she will react. There is so much about writing fiction that happens at a subconscious level that you can rely on your imagination to supply you with answers as long as you have the courage to ask the questions.

Here are some questions that I am asking myself about a character today:

Why did they wait so long to get her the car?

Where did she live before the move?

How did she try to avoid having to move?

Who was the last person she felt was a friend? Where is that person now? What happened between them?

What if she deliberately takes the wrong turn? How long before anyone notices? Will she tell them it was on purpose? Why or why not?

As I scribble the answers to my questions, doors open in my mind and I find new paths of the story I am trying to tell.

Ready…. “It might seem that the writer needs a gift of mimicry, like an impersonator, to achieve this variety of voices. But it isn’t that. It’s more like what a serious actor does, sinking self in character-self. It’s a willingness to be the characters, letting what they think and say rise from inside them. It’s a willingness to share control with one’s creation.” Ursula K. Le Guin

Set….. turn off your preconceived notions about your character, along with the Internet and phone

Today’s prompt: Fill out the list of characteristics above. Then write ten questions about your character’s actions and motivations for the actions that you don’t have answers for yet.

Bonus points: answer your questions.


WFMAD Day 23 – right to speak, right to read, right to write

Saturday’s post on the censorship issues surrounding the Teen Lit Fest In Humble, TX led to a wonderful series of comments and ongoing discussion. Thanks again to everyone who has chimed in.

One reader wrote in with a link to a censorship lesson plan for 3rd – 5th graders.

Janni Lee Simner wrote about the difference between a boycott and a strike and came to the conclusion that the authors who pulled out of the book festival were closer to workers striking because of working conditions instead of participating in a boycott. I agree; it’s an important distinction.

This strike would have the most impact if the financial loss suffered by the festival organizers put a severe hurt on the decision maker(s). Or if they decided never to hold the festival again because of the hullabaloo. This would be awful for the readers in the Humble, TX, but I really doubt it would affect the decision makers. Their full-time job is supported by tax payers.

Unless and until the citizens of Humble rise up and holler about the decision to cancel Ellen’s appearance, and the subsequent pulling-out of the other authors, I don’t see how this strike can affect change within the festival or community at the heart of it.

However, Matt de la Peña made an excellent point in his comment to my post on Saturday. Matt wrote:

“If all the other authors (myself included) had chosen to attend the festival it could certainly have lead to a healthy discussion about censorship within the context of one group of people.

But by NOT attending the festival (creating awareness) my hope is that it prompts this same conversation among MANY groups of people.”

That seems to be working, at least in the blogosphere. The crusty, cynical part of me worries that a discussion of intellectual freedom on blogs written by and read by lovers of YA fiction is a classic example of preaching to the choir. How do we engage in conversation with the people who disagree with us?

Striking workers can refuse to do their jobs until working conditions change. As Janni points out in her post, censorship qualifies as a working condition for writers.

One of my concerns is that a strike like this forces the decision makers underground. Instead of inviting someone who might be controversial at all, they simply won’t issue the invitation in the first place. They’ll stick to authors who write books that deal with situations that don’t make censors break out in hives. And the censors will win again and the readers will lose.

But doing nothing isn’t exactly an option either, is it?

Perhaps our community should start talking with regional and national groups of school superintendents. Maybe with the help of NCAC? (If you haven’t checked out their Kids Right to Read Project yet, do it today.)

What do you think?

Ready… “One often hears of writers that rise and swell with their subject… How, then, with me, writing of this Leviathan? Unconsciously my chirography expands into placard capitals. Give me a condor’s quill! Give me Vesuvius’ crater for an inkstand!” Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Set… turn off the phone and Internet. Put on some music, if you want. Loud or soft; your call.

Today’s prompt: Have you drawn a map for your story? Do you know what the layout is of your character’s neighborhood? House? School? Mall? Draw what you know first….THEN (brace yourself, here comes the fun part) fill in things that you don’t know. Like, what three uses is the guest bedroom put to? What happens in the basement? Above the garage? Who lives past the bus stop? Who works in the store next to the theater? What impact do these folks have on the life of your character?

If you are responding to prompts from your own life, draw a map of your world when your were 5, or 10, or 15. As you draw, keep a notebook to scribble in, and write down memories of the places. Seek the most precise details that you can remember. If you can’t remember, make it up. You are a writer, after all.

Scribble… Scribble…Scribble!!!

WFMAD Day 22 – indie love & flap copy


Thank you to everyone who chimed into yesterday’s discussion about the most effective ways to deal with censorship. I really appreciate the obvious time and thought that went into your comments.

I’ll post more on this tomorrow, including a link to a lesson plan from a teacher who has put together a unit on censorship for grades 3 – 5. If you have classroom ideas or if you talked about these ideas on your blog, leave me a note in the comments section. I’ll try to include links to everything you tell me about this.

Now on a different topic….

Our president and his daughters supported an independent bookstore this week. Yay for them!! I did, too, and started my Christmas shopping. The independents in my area seem to be doing great, I am very happy to report

When was the last time you shopped in your local independent bookstore? Do you know where it is?

Ready…. “If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”  Toni Morrison

Set…. if it’s not raining where you live, go for a walk before you write. If it is raining, go for a walk anyway. I dare you to do this without an umbrella. I dare you to let the rain fall on your head.

Today’s prompt: Create the flap copy for your book. Doesn’t matter if you are writing fiction, non-fiction, or memoir. Write the two or three sentences that convey the essence of your story in a way that will convince someone to read the entire book.

This can be incredibly hard. In fact, I can’t do it in the earliest draft of my book. This is usually because I haven’t yet fully figured the internal journey of my main character. Take a half dozen of your favorite books off the shelf and read the flap copy to learn how the book was distilled into a few lines. Does that flap copy do a good job of it? Would you have written it differently?

(If you are totally stuck and can’t figure out how to write the flap copy for your story, rewrite the copy for a book that you love.)

Then go back and try to do it for your own work.

If you are still stuck, ask yourself this: What does your character want? What is the most basic driving desire that compels your character through your story? What stands in the way of that desire?

Scribble… Scribble…. Scribble!!!