Thursday, February 26, 2009

Reading List Update

Reading list update time! I did pretty good this two books and a friend's manuscript (which I am totally counting because it is an AWESOME book...just not published yet - and yes I've read it before but this was the REVISED version.......oh okay fine, I won't count it, but only because it was a second read) :D

Anyhow, here are the new additions.....

11. Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline Cooney - enjoyed it! It's about a young princess hostage who witnesses the beginnings of the Trojan War.

12. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead - loved this one! It was very similar to P.C. Cast's and Kristin Cast's Marked series (or their series is similar to VA) but not so similar that it was like reading the same book. I very much enjoyed it and will be starting the second book in the series, Frostbite, today.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Work In Progress Wednesday

Okay, my awesome friend Elana "borrowed" this idea from another awesome friend of ours, Kate...and I'm just tagging along :D

So, updates on my WIPs. Well...the current fiction WIP, SAME MISTAKE, (which I am tentatively calling a YA urban fantasy - Elana you know the basic storyline, whatcha think?) is very slow going. But, I did carve out a nice size chunk of the beginning at my weekly write-a-thon group (thank you so much Kristal for coming up with the idea for the group!). I would like to be further along with it, but along with the beginning, I also had a nice brainstorm session with the always fan-freakin-tastic Elana and now have a really nice idea of what will actually happen in this book. So that's good.

On my non fiction WIP, I was actually able to make it to the library today and get several ridiculously large books that I need for research. Since I thought I might have to do an inter-library loan to get these, I am pretty happy right now. I will have to do the loan thing for several other books, but I am excited that I can get started on the three books they had. So all good there too.

I'm actually keeping up with my How To Tuesday entries (which, quite frankly, I am SHOCKED about - and also really enjoying, so again, all good) :D

I am also thinking of trying article writing again. I have several in mind, a few dealing with my daughter's preemie birth, and a few along more literary/educational lines. I'm pretty good at that kind of thing, so if I can discipline myself enough to get some written, I might be able to sell a few....maybe :D

I know, I know, right about now you are thinking....

Anyhow, that is what is going on in my writing world at the moment. Hopefully next week, I'll have an awesome word count to post for you :D

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How To Write a Ballad

Today we are going to tackle ballads. At one point in history, ballads were a court, town, or village’s favorite form of entertainment. A balladeer would travel from place to place, singing his (almost always “his”) songs of love, intrigue, murder, danger and tragedy. You could think of him as a really popular reporter, who put his stories to song. As time went on, these songs evolved into poetry.

As far as rules go, ballads are fairly easy.

1. Rhyme scheme
The ballad’s rhyme scheme is abab or abcb.

2. Structure
The ballad is usually (but of course, not always) arranged in four-line stanzas.

3. Content
The subject matter is usually based on recent events, supernatural happenings, love stories….think of todays tabloids….juicy tales of love, passion, death, hauntings, political intrigues, conspiracies…that sort of thing. I would like to note, however, that despite the “rules,” you should write what you feel like writing. If you want to write a ballad about the peanut butter sandwich you had for lunch, go right ahead! (I suppose that could be considered “recent events,” if you want to be a stickler for the rules) :D Also, “regular” speech (popular terms and lingo, which will vary, naturally) is generally used in this form (see the example by Brandon Marquis at the end of this post).

4. Meter
In general, for a ballad, the first and third lines are iambic tetrameter and the second and fourth lines are iambic trimester. (For a definition chart, see my book So You Have to Write a Poem, info below)

In other words, the first and third lines should have eight syllables following an unstressed/stressed pattern, and the second and fourth lines should have six syllables, also following an unstressed/stressed pattern.

And there you have it…the ballad. These can be quite fun – my brother recently wrote one for his high school English class about Michael Phelps and his current troubles. I hope he doesn’t mind me posting this, but it is an excellent example of a modern ballad.

The bad decisions that we make
Can follow us around.
Just ask the famous Michael Phelps
He’s always smoking down

He earned eight medals, solid gold,
He won them in a race.
But look at him, where is he now?
A terrible disgrace.

He was a hero for us all,
At least he used to be.
Now on Kellogs and the rest of them,
His face we’ll never see.

Though even fallen as he is,
I know he’ll pass the test,
And rise once more in victory
And beat all of the rest.

By Brandon Marquis

Well, this concludes poetry month. There are so many forms of poetry to explore, I’m sure a few will pop up every now and then. But for now, join me next Tuesday to learn how to write a research or term paper.

For more detailed examples and step-by-step instructions on how to write ballads and several other forms of poetry, check out my book, So You Have to Write a Poem!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Blog Chain - The Pain of Being One of My Characters

Blog chain time once again. This round was started by the totally stellar Leah (and major MAJOR congrats to her…she just signed with Rosemary Stimola and we are all just busting a gut excited for her!!!)

Carolyn posted a truly awesome answer before me, and Sandra will come up with something equally fantabulous next.

Leah would like to know:

What do you do to amp up the conflict? What pins do you stick in the little voodoo dolls? How do you torture your characters???
Okay, when I first read this topic, I thought, “Oooo, yeah, I torture my characters all the time! This will be easy!”

Upon thinking about it more, I don’t think I do this on purpose (most of the time). But it tends to be the drama, the conflict, that drives a story…and you just can’t get that if your characters get everything they want and are happy all the time.

So how do I amp up the conflict, torture my characters? Well, in Treasured Lies, my main character Minuette falls in love, thinks her love might be a horrible criminal, watches her love get shot and thinks he bleeds to death, suffers a miscarriage, is told her love didn’t really love her and because of what has happened, believes it and gets her heart broken, and then just when things start looking up, the crazy villain comes and kidnaps her, beats her, and tries to kill and rape her. Is that torture enough? :D

A wise friend of mine once told me that if I ever get stuck (writer’s block) to just shoot someone. I laughed. And then realized that shooting someone was the perfect answer to the problem I had created for myself. I had written myself into a corner. All conflicts had been resolved and I had nowhere to go and I still had half a book left to write. So someone got shot – instant conflict, instant torture for several characters – instant end to writer’s block.

Stanley Elkin said, “I would never write about a character who is not at the end of his rope.

This is such a great piece of advice…a person at the end of their rope has no where to go but up….but there is always the threat of crashing down…and that makes a great story. If your characters never go through any kind of conflict or “torture,” then you have a story in which nothing happens. A happy person who has everything they want, and continues to be happy with everything they want…Where is the story in that?

Ernest Hemingway, in a book of advice to writers, said that a writer should…“find what gave you emotion; what the action was that gave you excitement.

I LOVE that quote. And it made me think, “What is it that gave me emotion? What gave me excitement?” Sure, I am happy when a character gets the guy at the end, or finds the treasure, or gets to live in the big pretty castle and lives happily ever after. But that isn’t what keeps me reading the story. What keeps me reading, what gives me goosebumps and makes my heart pound, is when the heroine cradles her dying husband in her arms…when she is on the back of a thundering horse, shooting a gun over her shoulder at the villain chasing her….when she made some stupid mistake and screwed up the good thing she had going….THAT kind of stuff makes me want to turn the page.

Did the husband really die? Will she get away? (Or will the retort of the gun knock her on her butt?…because that is always fun) :D Will she be able to fix her mistake and get the good thing going again, or has she just completely screwed up her life?

So, that is what I do to my characters. I give the reader a reason to turn the page, by giving my characters a reason to keep going, giving them something to fix, to resolve, to get over and move past. Death, pain, despair, torture, emotion, threat, danger….these all get the blood pumping, the tears pouring…and make that happy ending all the happier for the mess they had to go through to get there.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Reading List Update

Okay - I think I'll make Thursdays my update day :) So, for this week, I have two books to add to my list....

9. Wolf Wing by Tanith Lee (enjoyed it, but out of the series of 4, my favorite, by far, was book #1)

10. Fairest by Gail Carson Levine
--this is the author that wrote Ella Enchanted - so if you liked the book (or movie) of that, you'll enjoy Fairest (it is Ms. Levine's take on Snow White). I really enjoyed it :)

I have Melissa Mar's Wicked Lovely on the way and have book # 2 of that series on my table (courtesy of my awesome friend Bethany). I am also in a twitter over book #5 of the Casts' teenage vampyre series coming out next week (I believe), so hopefully next Thursday I'll have a few more to add!

Actually, there is another book on my table as well, but I can't remember the title and I don't want to run upstairs to look :D But I'll be starting that one today :D

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

How To Write Haiku Poems

For this week’s How To post, we will discuss how to write haiku poetry. Now, in it’s original Japanese form, the rules are a little more strict. When it comes to writing them in English, there really aren’t any set, conventional rules. But here are the basics:

1. Content – you can pretty much write them about whatever you want. Traditional haiku tend to be more nature-centered, but modern haiku (especially English) is full of political references, romance and every-day life centered issues, as well as the more traditional nature-based poems.

2. Structure – very simple….3 lines, alternating 5, 7, and 5 syllables.

There are more variations on this than I can count. Many modern English haiku writers have anywhere between 10 and 17 syllables in their haiku, alternating them in as many ways as you can imagine (6,6,4 – 5,5,7 – 3,6,3 – etc)….but IN GENERAL, 3 lines of 5, then 7, then 5 syllables.

3. The Cut – many (but of course, not all) haiku include a cut, or pause that divides the haiku and compares two images or expounds on the first image. In modern English haiku, this cut generally occurs at the end of the first or second line and is often indicated by a punctuation mark.


the morning paper
harbinger of good and ill
-- I step over it.
(Dave McCroskey)

Now, in this example, the punctuation comes at the beginning of the third line (no hard set rules, remember), but the cut is followed by a reaction to what happened in the first two lines. How does the morning paper, the “harbinger of good and ill” affect the poet? What does he do? He steps over it.

4. Seasonal theme or word – Traditionally, haiku include a season word, something that indicates in what season the haiku is set. For instance, if you are describing a summer meadow, you could mention a butterfly, or the sun, or blue skies. If the haiku is set in the winter, you could mention snow, or frost, or cold. It doesn’t have to be obvious…most modern haiku, if they include the season reference at all, are quite subtle.

And that’s it! You can now write haiku! Three lines of 5,7,5 syllables…maybe throw in a seasonal reference or cut, and you’ve got yourself haiku poetry.

What haiku can you write? Give it a try and leave them in the comment section! I’d love to see your work!!

Stay tuned next week for tips on how to write a ballad.

For step-by-step instructions on how to write haiku along with several other forms of poetry, check out my book, So You Have to Write a Poem!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

2009 Reading List

Okay, in an effort to broaden my reading horizons (I read A LOT, but I do tend to reread favorites quite a bit), I'm stealing this idea from a couple of friends :D So, along with them, I am making a goal to read 50 NEW books this year. I have read several books already, but many of them were repeating favorites, so I won't include them in my list. Here's what I've got so far!!

1. Marked
2. Betrayed
3. Chosen
4. Untamed (all by P.C. and Kristin Cast)
5. The Memoirs of Helen of Troy - Amanda Elyot
6. Wolf Tower
7. Wolf Star
8. Wolf Queen (6-8 by Tanith Lee)

Hmm, I think there have been a few more, but I'll have to check my shelves to be sure. I am looking forward to reading book 4 in the Tanith Lee series, Wolf Wing, in the next couple days. And Hunted, book 5 in the Casts' series will be out next month. Also looking forward to book 17 (or 18) in Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series, out in June, and of course, the wonderful Jessica Verday's The Hollow, out this fall!! I think I'll head over to my friends' blogs and get a couple good book ideas :D

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

How To Write a Sonnet

Ah, is there anything more romantic than a sonnet? (awww, *swoon*). Be still my heart :D

Okay, sonnets are fairly easy, structure-wise that is. Don’t worry; we’ll keep it simple. Trying to convey the emotion and message that you want to get across is a lot harder than it looks when you have to stick to a structured set of rules. But it is such a joy when you finally get it right!

First of all, there are two types of sonnets; Petrarchan (or Italian) and Shakespearean (or English). So, how are they different?



1. Fourteen lines – usually iambic pentameter (meaning the 10 syllables that follow an unstressed/stressed pattern – see last week’s post for more detailed info).

2. This type of sonnet has an octave (eight lines) and a sestet (six lines).

3. The rhyme scheme of the octave is abbaabba. The sestet has several variations, including: cddcdd or cdecde or cdcdcd or cdcdee or cdccdc.

4. The content of the octave is usually a kind of set-up, the opening statement or argument, the part that presents the problem, the desire, the question, the conflict, the reflection, etc. Typically, the first four lines (or quatrain) present the theme, and the second quatrain further develops this.

5. The sestet is the wrap-up, the resolution, the solution, the comment about what was said in the octave. This is heralded by the volta (the turn, change in tone, imagery or theme), usually occurring at the ninth line of the sonnet.


From the Dark Tower (To Charles S. Johnson)
by: Countee Cullen

We shall not always plant while others reap (a)
The golden increment of bursting fruit, (b)
Not always countenance, abject and mute, (b)
That lesser men should hold their brothers cheap; (a) (the “problem”)
Not everlastingly while others sleep (a)
Shall we beguile their limbs with mellow flute, (b)
Not always bend to some more subtle brute; (b)
We were not made to eternally weep. (a) (further development)
The night whose sable breast relieves the stark, (c) (the volta)
White stars is no less lovely being dark, (c)
And there are buds that cannot bloom at all (d)
In light, but crumple, piteous, and fall; (d)
So in the dark we hide the heart that bleeds, (e)
And wait, and tend our agonizing seeds. (e) (resolution)

If you know a little about Countee Cullen, specifically that he was a black man that lived from 1903-1946, the meaning of the poem is easy to determine. The octave (the first eight lines) show the problem, the opening statement. The sestet (the last six lines) show the resolution, the solution to the emotional statements of the first half of the poem.



1. The form is fourteen lines, usually iambic pentameter.

2. There is no octave/sestet structure, but is structured as three quatrains and one couplet.

3. The rhyme scheme is abab cdcd efef gg.

4. The volta usually occurs at the third quatrain.

5. The final couplet (the gg) is the resolution.


Shakespeare's Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? (a)
Thou art more lovely and more temperate: (b)
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, (a)
And summer's lease hath all too short a date: (b)
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, (c)
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd; (d)
And every fair from fair sometime declines, (c)
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd; (d)
But thy eternal summer shall not fade (e) -----Volta
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest; (f)
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade, (e)
When in eternal lines to time thou growest: (f)
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, (g)
So long lives this and this gives life to thee. (g) ---- resolution

Now, as with most things in life, nothing is set in stone. There are variations on variations, modern tweaks and twiddles…but for the most part, if you follow the elements above, you should be able to write a sonnet of your own.

My own attempt, a sonnet I wrote for a poetry class in my grad school days, about my preemie daughter….

For my Daughter

My gentle fingers on soft tendrils lie.
I feel at fault, though no one is to blame.
I could not keep you safe and so you came.
I live for just a flutter of your eye.
I rock you, baby, watch the hour speed by,
I whisper softly in your ear your name.
Ordeals and pain your spirit cannot tame.
But when it’s time to go I softly cry.

Two months have passed and now you’re safe at home.
My tiny angel cradled to my breast.
All guilt has flown, no time on sorrow spend,
For joy we feel, our hearts on wings do roam.
Your newborn eyes gaze into mine – we’re blest.
My precious girl, my heart you swiftly mend.

Come back next week to learn how to write haiku.

For step-by-step instructions on how to write sonnets and several other forms of poetry, check out my book So You Have to Write a Poem: A Guide for the Non-Poetic!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Blog Chain - Takin' a Step Back

This round the topic was chosen by our wonderful Terri. In the preceding link to this chain, Carolyn tackled the alternative topic that was posted, and Sandra will be up next. Terri would like to know:

Have you ever had anything cause you to step back from writing? If so, what was the cause and how long did it take you to get back into the swing of things? If not, do you have any advice for other writers about not letting life get in the way of writing?

My answer…..yep, yes, yeah, definitely, frequently, more often than I would like, totally, all the time, and FOR SURE!

Writing can be fun. I love it – it’s thrilling to create a world and characters and situations and to see how they all mesh into this wonderful conglomeration of ideas. But it is also work, hard work…it takes time and effort and energy….and sometimes I just don’t have any to spare.

How long it takes me to get back into it depends on what made me step back in the first place. Sometimes Real Life intervenes and I am just too busy with dentist appointments, parent/teacher conferences, sick kids, a neglected husband, and a dirty house to take the time to write. When that happens, I usually just step back for a few days, take care of what I need to take care of, and jump back in.

Now, all this applies to just the last couple years of my life. Before then, I didn’t consider myself a writer. I wanted to be a writer. But I didn’t think I was one yet. I had started more stories than I could count, for as long as I could remember. But I didn’t sit down to write a novel until just before I got married. So writing wasn’t something I really considered as a “must have” for my life. It was something fun I did when I had time. Now, I try much harder to schedule my writing time and I make sure it is a part of my life.

Once I got married, I moved, changed schools, jobs, states, and life got crazy. I didn’t pick it back up again until after my son was born.

Suddenly I was a stay at home mom in a tiny apartment that it didn’t take me too long to clean. So I started to work on my novel again while my son napped. Then my stepkids came to visit for Thanksgiving, I got out of the habit, I got pregnant with my daughter, she was born 2 months early…and before I knew it, two years had gone by. I thought about my novel every now and then. But I didn’t really miss writing.

Then I went back to school and started working on my masters on an accelerated program. I had a month break about halfway into the program, and I was so sick of schoolwork that I wanted to work on something just for fun. I brought out my trusty novel and finished it within the month. And then spent the next year editing…but that is a different story :D

What else will make me take a break for a bit? Sometimes, I get stuck on a scene or a plot twist. When this happens, it may only take me a day or even a few hours before something occurs to me. And sometimes it takes a month or two :D Depends on how bad I’m stuck :D

And then sometimes, I just get tired of it all. Maybe I had just received one too many rejections…maybe I’ve revised so many times I can’t stand to look at my manuscript one more time…or maybe it all just seems like too much effort and not enough reward. When this happens, I might stop writing for weeks. Just recently I went through this for a few months. I spent my spare time devouring every book I could find. I reread my favorite series, I watched movies, I listened to music and chatted with friends, and eventually, I got that itch again…the one that just makes my fingers ache to pound the keyboard. And I sat down one night and started writing again.

I still go days without writing sometimes, due to one thing or another, but I miss writing now…I think about it, I want to do it, and I try harder to make the time. I’m sure another slump will come along, but it too will pass.

Do you have any advice for other writers about not letting life get in the way of writing?

Honestly, no. Because let’s face it…sometimes life IS going to get in the way. There really isn’t anything you can do about it. If writing is important to you, you will come back to it. It might take a few weeks or even a few years before that happens. But if it is something you truly love, eventually you’ll find your way back.

I would advise not to berate yourself for time lost…don’t feel guilty about taking time out of your life to go back to writing, and don’t feel guilty for taking time from writing to deal with Real Life. You may not always be able to juggle Life and writing at the same time. But at some point, if writing is what you really want to do, you’ll ultimately find the time for both.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

How To Write Heroic Couplets

It’s February, Valentine’s, the month of luuuuuv….so let’s talk a little poetry, shall we? This week we will discuss one of my favorite forms of poetry, the heroic couplet. Heroic couplets were once the epitome of poetry. If you had to read Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales….you’ve read heroic couplets. Poets used this form not just for “regular” poetry, but for social commentaries, arguments, political dissertations…anything and everything you could think of was put into heroic couplet form. It’s name was even derived from the distinguished and lofty subject matter often contained in it’s verses. This form of poetry was immensely popular until around the late 19th century. Nowadays, it is very rarely seen, which is, in my humble opinion, a crying shame. So, what are heroic couplets? And how on earth would you go about writing one?

What are they?

Simply put, a heroic couplet is a pair of rhyming lines, usually written in iambic pentameter.


1. Must have pairs of rhyming lines.
This is fairly straight forward. The rhyme scheme would be aabbccddee…In other words, your first and second lines will rhyme, the third and fourth lines will rhyme, the fifth and sixth, and so forth.

Heroic couplets have been historically used for epic poetry. They tend to be very long. But they don’t have to be. A poem can be any length.

2. The meter is usually iambic pentameter.
Iambic pentameter is a pattern of 5 unstressed/stressed syllable pairs.

For example, let’s look at a line from, The Author to Her Book. I will italicize the stressed syllables…

Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain

As you can see, there are five stressed syllables, each followed by an unstressed syllables.

Heroic couplets are usually written in iambic pentameter, but can sometimes be written in tetrameter. Tetra = four….so this would mean that instead of each line having five stressed syllables, they would have four.

For other types of meters and an overview on how to find a poem's meter, check out my book So You Have to Write a Poem (info below).

3.Heroic couplets also allow for a caesura
A caesura is a strong pause that breaks up a line of verse in the middle of the line.

For example, another line from the same poem by Anne Bradstreet…

I washed thy face, but more defects I saw

The comma denotes where the caesura occurs.

There are other exceptions and occasional rules, as well as additions to these simple rules that modern heroic couplets have adapted, but the easiest way to spot (or write) a poem in the heroic couplet form is to have pairs of rhyming lines, written in iambic pentameter.

Heroic couplets are wonderful, beautiful, and memorable….the rhyming couplets and the rhythm of the lines are made to be remembered. Try writing your special someone a heroic couplet poem for Valentine’s Day – or try one just for fun and leave it in the comments section. I’d love to see your masterpieces!!

For more detailed examples and step-by-step instructions on how to write heroic couplets and several other forms of poetry, check out my book So You Have to Write a Poem: A Guide for the Non-Poetic!