Monday, December 10, 2012

Pulling the Roof

Forget the rope. Forget the slight ledge beneath my feet. Forget the sinking sky. Monsoon season.

I feel the wind pick up. Forget it. Forget the voice of my belayer, encouraging from above the rock’s craggy roof.

Only twenty feet or so higher, he’s hanging at the belay station. Waiting. For me.

But I’m not here. I couldn’t tell you the last time I ate or showered, or name my favorite band or beer. I couldn’t even give you my full name or date of birth or ethnicity. I forgot all that.

I am the sun hot against the slip of skin exposed at my neck.

Breathing, I place my hands up, touching gray rock. It’s warm and solid, ready for me.

Now, I am my hands and my feet. I am the breath surging into my ribcage. Muscles only, not organs. Not brain. No thought.

Sharp. The fingers of my left hand dig into the small crimp above me, twisting my stance to the right. More breath. Let it go. How can I haul my body weight up on this one arm? Tendons protest. The bones moan their deep, insistent dissent.

My right leg leaps out and up and hooks the hold, level with my reaching left hand. I’m hanging now, as if on a child’s jungle gym. Hanging above a ninety foot vertical drop. The hold is smooth granite, with bits of crystal quartz pressing their jagged pyramids into my thigh.

Forget that you fell last time. Tumbled from this perch with only wind in your ears to catch you. For that second, you were flying. And then the rope at your harness caught and you ricocheted back and found the wall of rock, comforting, indomitable. Nearly cracked your skull.

Go. If you stop too long now, you’ll fall again. Go, damn you.

The adrenaline sickness from a moment ago slowly passes. My gut dispels the ghost of it. Climbing.

I grunt and move. Left hand on the crimp, the barest outcropping ledge of rock, forcing my weight perpendicular, using the torque supplied by my thigh on what should have been a heel hook, if I were taller—to move upward.

“Yeah! Nice,” my belayer shouts from above. I can’t not make it. This is a multi-pitch climb. I have to finish it. I have to pull this roof. New sweat breaks. There’s a hold above my right hand, just out of reach. If I fall again, this heel hook will rip into my thigh. Blood on rock. It won’t be the first time. “Get it, Lora! You got this!”

I spit breath and tears, yelling, “Shut the fuck up!”

I don’t have the mental capacity to listen and be buoyed by the sound of his voice. I have barely enough strength to drown out the internal clamoring of my own paralyzing fear. Of falling again. Of failing. Of breaking down completely.

I forget his words.

The wind has dropped a few degrees. Rain is coming. Rain. While clinging to the face of this rock. Suddenly even good holds will slide out from under fingers. Shoes won’t stick. Chalk will soup and stew, useless at the bottom of my chalk bag.

Fucking move, won’t you!

I am breath. I am muscle. I am sinew. I am fingers, crawling, reaching, right-handed fingers craving, creeping, clawing for the hold just out of reach. The pressure on my left hand is agonizing, a stabbing pain at the joint of my wrist. I am only pain.

My right fingers find a crimp, barely the diameter of a quarter, the width of a playing card. Good enough. Three points of contact.

I lean to center.

Now to stay upright. My core constricts around the breath in my diaphragm. Balance transfers to my leg, weight transfers to the hand above me. Enough to bring my left foot up. Enough to match foot to thigh. Enough to stand.

My breath doesn’t stay in my lungs.

He’s calling congratulations, but I hear none of it. I hear my sobs now, driven by all that fear suppressed until this moment. Now I feel it like icy pinpricks, giant waves of them. It’s all I can do to keep moving. Can’t freeze up.

Blood tickles the back of my knee. I barely feel it.

One hand above the next. Balance and breath. But I’m choking back tears. That he has me on belay from above doesn’t factor in. “Goddammit. Oh God. I can’t—”

“You’ve got it, just breathe. Breathe and feel your pulse.”

My pulse is a mountain lion leaping at my throat. My right hand comes loose. No. I’m slipping. I can’t pull this roof again. If I fall, it’s over. I can’t do it! I will move, or I’ll freeze and be stuck on this mountain forever. That is my reality.

I grunt low in my throat where my heart is crushing my windpipe. I am my hands and my throbbing feet. I am the sound of my curses and the sticky hot chug of my breath. I am climbing.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dear Arizona's Children:

From KVOA news:
"Services for foster kids on the chopping block"
Dear Arizona's Children:

Guess what, kiddos?

You don't get to see your parents today. Or next week. The next time you visit, you'll be in a single, white-walled, sterile office with hard-backed chairs too big for you. No toys. No books. No snacks. You've got 60 minutes for hugs and kisses. Now go play and grow up.

We don't want to spend our hard-earned money on you.




Thursday, November 1, 2012

November Book Review:
a She Reads Pick

Man in the Blue Moon

by Michael Morris

published by Tyndale House Publishers

Michael Morris’s Southern historical, Man in the Blue Moon, paints a rich picture of small town Florida during the Great War. From influenza epidemics and corrupt local authorities to the prejudices of gossiping neighbors and the frenzy of traveling evangelicals, Morris’s tale of one woman’s struggle for her family land and reputation is rooted in vivid detail that will woo lovers of period fiction.

Ella Wallace is at the end of her strength: her opium-plied husband ran off, leaving her with three sons and a mountain of debt on her family property. When a windfall grandfather clock shows up at the port with her name on it, Ella hopes she can manage to keep above water at least till the end of the war. The government is hollering for pine and cypress, both prevalent on Ella’s land. If she has to, she can sell wood. But from the shipment case springs not a clock, but an unlikely young man with demons of his own and a strange talent that will soon have the neighbors buzzing and the sheriff, in the banker’s back pocket, knocking at her door—and shooting at it. When a preacher rides into town claiming her land as God’s sacred Eden, and when old family enemies track down her new clock-delivered field hand and confidant, Ella must dig deep to find the strength and dignity to protect the lives of her three sons, salvage her reputation, and move beyond the emotional toll of her husband’s failings.

Morris employs an authentic sense of claustrophobia in Man in the Blue Moon, derived in part by an enormous cast of point of view characters rivaling those of much longer books. There’s no telling whose perspective might next take center stage, or what new plot thread might suddenly uncoil from an already dense thicket of narrative jungle. Subplots between characters take the spotlight for short stints and then fade into the background throb of nosey neighbor gossip and interior monologue. Even the pacing of the main plot mimics the slow mundanity of rural Southern life.

In that respect, Morris certainly accomplishes a certain realism with structure and style, adding to a chorus of colloquialisms and pitch perfect dialects. His literary flare is evident in striking descriptions of the natural world, and his use of suspense—scene-by-scene—lends a nice sense of movement to otherwise rather stagnating chapters.

Thus, a reader hoping for a quick, mindless jaunt into story or, on the opposite end, one hoping for total immersion and escape might be advised to look elsewhere. Anyone with a hankering for emotional connection to character will find the book delivers little substance to that effect. The novel’s strengths lie primarily in its detail and adherence to historical period.

Overall, Man in the Blue Moon would have been well served by achieving a better balance of fictional elements.

In the mood for heartwarming fiction?  Mosey over to the She Reads Book Club. Each month a lesser-known new release takes a graceful swan dive into the spotlight. This month's selection is Man in the Blue Moon by Michael Morris.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

October Book Review:
a She Reads Pick

Blackberry Winter

by Sarah Jio

published by Plume, a member of Penguin Group

Engaging from the get-go, Sarah Jio’s Blackberry Winter is a delightful mystery, like an elegant, loose-weave scarf. Wrap up in its rich, warm fibers of plot and character and find yourself lost in its love story, walking the snow-strewn streets of Depression Era Seattle, and racing for the nearest modern-day Starbucks or Pike’s Place Market café to learn what will become of a missing boy, a broken marriage, and a family secret, hidden for decades by money and power.

Vera Ray is a 1933 poor working woman with a fiery will and a single wish—to take care of her three-year-old son, born of a Cinderella love that ended less than happily ever after. The week following her son’s disappearance, Vera’s only lead is still her boy’s discarded teddy bear, found in the snow outside their old apartment. Desperate, out of work, near starvation, Vera will do whatever it takes to find him, even if it costs her everything.

Almost a century later, in present day Seattle, reporter Claire Aldridge has a week to cover a rare “Blackberry Winter,” a later-season winter storm reminiscent of the one that blew through in 1933. Not much of a story, she thinks, but she hasn’t been on her game since her devastating loss a year ago, and now her marriage is falling apart. Digging for an angle, Claire uncovers the mystery of Vera Ray’s missing child—and discovers the truth of that story is closer to home than she could have imagined. It might be just what the doctor ordered to resuscitate her career, her marriage, and her spirit.

The book's twin narratives are cleverly, if somewhat predictably, intertwined  Graceful prose is balanced against enjoyable dialogue. Ms. Jio’s Seattle is populated by disarming and sympathetic characters, whose chief failing, perhaps, lies in their having been cast in too perfect a shade of black or white—too good or too bad—to be perfectly believable.

But Ms. Jio’s cozy mystery doesn’t suffer too much from plot contrivance or coincidence, and on the whole, the story’s affect is quite pleasing. A quick read with a lot of heart, Blackberry Winter is the perfect pick for an autumn evening, as the nights grow longer and chillier. Bring out your steaming cocoa, pull up your comfy armchair, and prepare to disappear into the charming folds of this “mystery-slash-love story.”

In the mood for heartwarming fiction?  Mosey over to the She Reads Book Club. Each month a lesser-known new release takes a graceful swan dive into the spotlight. This month's selection is Blackberry Winter.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Triangle light plays on carpet fibers
plays a dappled morning dance of still
shut blinds       and under
softly shut eyelids, a play
of kitty paws

71 degrees. Feels like 68. Wind is
fair, rain unlikely, clear, clear sky
tells a story of Storm run off
with Heat,       left us
for another season

There in the boulder-buttoned wash
trot the merry javelina
tracks.       A yawning stretch,
front-n-center: the absence of sand.       And
under city-jaundiced clouds against changing
night: wordless, the practice of heartbeat
felt in fingers, absence felt
as fullness,       we knew
likely another shift

Half in shadow, a snorting thump,
snout and hoof, then
a sudden stillness       full
on the path before you:
wind scent, wild scent, scent of

and of clay and whiskered milk breath,
curious snuffle,       then kitty paws play dancing,
dabble in drawing a triangle of morning

light under eyelids.

                                                  somewhere, you know, it is raining
                                                  and somewhere not quite time

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Book Review

If you’re ever in the mood for heartwarming women’s fiction, you might want to mosey over to the She Reads Book Club. Each month a lesser-known new release takes a graceful swan dive into the spotlight.

The Meryl Streep Movie Club

by Mia MarchGallery Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster

In The Meryl StreepMovie Club four women come together under one roof for the first time in years to remember the meaning of family and individual strength. After a tragic accident, matriarch Lolly must raise not only her own daughter Kat, but also her nieces Isabelle and June. Love can only go so far across the gulfs etched between these women by loss. Secrets cripple their relationships, and identities are forged not from within but from perceptions about others that may or may not be accurate.

When, grown and each facing choices that could alter their lives, they return to the inn where they grew up—full of regret and nostalgia, and tender moments, too—Isabelle, June, and Kat find they understand each other more than they ever imagined. They’ll need that understanding and newfound trust to see them through Lolly’s announcement. Already what they believed about their matriarch has changed radically: when they learn her secret—her part in the accident of so long ago—they must face their past in light of their own life choices.

We are the choices we have made, a line from one of the Meryl Streep movies they watch and discuss together each week, tumbles through Isabelle’s head. Weeks ago, she caught her husband cheating, but that shock isn’t nearly as surprising as realizing—after all these years—that she can choose what she really wants in life. That she deserves to follow after her heart.

June’s life took a wayward fork long ago in college. The love of her life now, her young son, still can’t fill that hollow longing inside her to find the boy’s father, to give her son a family. Her quest to fill that void spins her in and out of romance and ultimately leads her back home.

Dutiful daughter Kat, a baker with aspirations of touring Paris and of owning her own confectionery located in the bustle and energy of a city that isn’t her hometown, must weigh the comfort of easy love with the emotional necessity of realizing her dreams.

And Lolly, stern, proud, stronghold of the family, must learn to rely on her daughter and nieces, to let them inside her self-sufficient exterior, long enough to receive their forgiveness.

Although Mia March's plot twists and turns are often predictable, even cliché, her characters are full of life and longing and can, if you let them, touch your heart.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Lassoing Love

The last time I sat in this coffee shop, I was braless, wearing a smallish gray cotton dress and pair of petite Australian heels. I was still brimming with the false confidence that comes from having rustled yourself up from sex-exhausted sleep, from the tousled bed of a man who finds you desirable, a man with whom you will not fall in love.

There was the earthy roast of coffee beans. The soap lather smell still fresh on bare shoulders of puffy-eyed patrons.

In the salmon-pink morning light, I wrote, I read. I etched my heart into false computer ink by the divot of  fickle, blinking cursor. Keyboard well-oiled by the pads of my fingers, alphabet well-rubbed, smudged off in places, by my search for more and better words.

Words to disclose the essence of me. Words that, being read, would incite love.

I hoped.

Because that was what was missing from the now clean light of the morning in its desert heat, lapping up dew, fire pendulating on its upward swing.

How love is the clichéd fish that slips from clinging hands.

How love walks between lines and scoffs at ink's multifarious manifestations.

How love isn't among our forced folds of honesty, shook out like discarded bed sheets.

How love is in the letting. Is that not strength?

How love sometimes must not stand on two feet. There is learning to walk and to fall and to be held and to ask for the holding.

How love will not be mustered up.

I sat picking at a white-flour scone, some maple-walnut variety, tipping back espresso with just the right tilt of my body, the way I'd been shown by an Italian lover. Sat there lassoing love.

I think tonight--with chamomile tea and almonds--about how much I love that woman, who sat with such seriousness. How, some months from now, I hope I will love this woman, too.

Perhaps I will know more then. Perhaps less. Perhaps I'll have found love and left the lasso in someone's adobe-walled cottage along with a mislaid toothbrush or orphan earring.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Two Super-Useful Editing Tools

This is the realm of hand-edits, pencil and pen.

I hope this post will offer you two new tools for giving swift and effective feedback

Tool 1: Renumbering

Something's off about the logic or flow of a sentence, paragraph or scene. You don't know what. It may not need a full re-write. It may just need renumbering. I'll offer an example at the sentence level.

Sentence Level:

Original sentence: She removed her jacket and beanie, scrubbing at the itch of dried scalp sweat, and approached the register.
My CP's note in the margin read: "Blocking: Where's her sketch pad now? The clerk comments on it later...")

Reordered sentence:
She approached the register, putting her sketch pad on the counter, removed her jacket and beanie, and scrubbed at the itch of dried scalp sweat underneath. 

How awesome is this tool? 

The fact that you can use it at multiple levels makes it super-handy. I've once had a renumbered scene that went from 1 to 20 and included paragraph renumberings of A, B, and C. Try it! I bet you'll love it. 

Tool 2: Hearts (or "showing the love")

This tool is for stuff that gives you goosebumps, or makes you LOL, or makes you sigh, etc. It's an easy and enjoyable way to give honest, positive feedback.

It's kinda self-explanatory.

Show the LOVE! It's easy!  =D


Side note, my poor car got squashed yesterday... Disaster seems to be in the stars...

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sometimes Stories

Sometimes Stories

are an awful lot
like stained glass windows 

that have been stared at by
a dozen pair of eyes
or more,

 that worn by wind and weather, time,
 mis-memory too,
 merely pieced together lie
 un-storied on the floor

and as it’s hard for sand to turn to glass
 so glass
puts up a sharp-edged fight

against a pair of hands
 come gently sweeping,

all edges turned
 once more
 to catch the light.


I wrote this as a Life Book epigraph. I'd had a particularly tough time sussing out the truth for this narrative. Finally, I settled on telling all the versions available. Sometimes letting the light shine in is itself enough.

Photo thanks to: 

Friday, June 29, 2012

why is it
that all I want
right now
is to be with Nature

to give up the search for words until
the time appointed
for them to search for me

if they so choose


why am I not afraid

Sunday, June 24, 2012

When is WHY where it's at?

Short answer? Always.

This is a writing post about Character Motivation.

If you prefer not to wend with me along the writing way, jump here. You'll find:
A) a cute picture of baby ducks clustered around a momma duck. I phone-snapped them on a day-trip to San Diego with my poet friend, @ColleenRunyan, who blogs poetry. Must-read, take-your-breath-away poetry.
B) a picture of my, er, lower trunk region sporting the vibrant hues apropos to a cautionary tale about wearing sunscreen if you value your skin!

Back to Character Motivation.

I'm currently editing a literary adult book I wrote for MFA on sex abuse.

One of my crit group members is "right there with ya, sista"; she's walked that oogie road herself. Another woman comes to the table full of sympathy and ideas, but she doesn't quite see eye-to-eye. A third crit partner has no idea what my main character is doing. Or rather, more importantly, why.

So my critiqued pages look like this. Chock-full of why's.


This is my crit partner's pervading, ubiquitous question.

Why does 17-year-old Seta drive an hour from school to find a "home away from home"? Why, when she gets there, does she don a new persona, calling herself Sarah? Why does she sit in the Children's section of the bookstore, on a goddamn beanbag of all places!? And why oh why is she trying to seduce this 30-year-old man who looks so much like her biological father?

I've been receiving this sort of feedback for the last 50 pages, while the other gals are gushing.


It smacks me upside the head: This reader doesn't share my associations. I'm a fish trying to describe water to a land mammal. It's innate to me, but she can't understand. These reptilian brain responses are foreign to her, untappable, on the page as they are. I need to tell a little more, not show. I need to "out" my Undercover Oogie. I gotta throw her a frickin' bone.

The problem is, I don't always know why. I just know that Seta has to do what she's doing.

So. Time to roll up my sleeves, snap on the latex gloves, and dig deep.

WHY is where it's at. WHY is the part of character that makes a story relatable. And really, how can you root for a character -- especially a CrAzY(!) character -- if you can't fathom the haphazard way she's bobbing about in the world?

I know now what my story needs: a First Round of Edits that strictly answers the question WHY. Every thought, every blush, finger-tap, shiver, every mote of dialogue, every tongue-cluck, lip-lick, sniff, snort, silence -- every action in this book needs scrutiny.

Why? Because this is a book about childhood sex abuse and a transient lifestyle, both of which have formative qualities on behavior

Perhaps the degree of scrutiny applied to character motivation is directly proportional to the degree of trauma being explored.

Perhaps not.

But I wonder, nonetheless.

With Love and Respect,

P.S. Enjoyed this post?
Consider reading @mooderino's thoughts on character:
"Writing Great Characters"
"What Makes Your Character Think That'll Work?"


<3   San Diego Getaway!  <3

First, the momma. And as we were starin' all enamored from our
hotel window, out toddled Baby 1, then Baby 2, etc, until there were
seven waddlers. And just after I snapped this pic,
the eighth came blundering beak-first into the convocation.

The 1st and 2nd day, I was popping 600 mg of Ibuprofen
every 4 hours, no joke. You'd think a person would learn...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Nature is Kind

Disclaimer: I'm not recommending this book.

Nature -- the psyche, the workings of my logical, emotional, and reptilian brain -- has been kind to me in that my world is merely (mostly) permeated by a discomfiting fog.

In the haze, these passages shone out:

From Steps to an Ecology of Mind by Gregory Bateson:

Strange or unsettling ideas are dealt with as the oyster deals with the bit of grit, packaged in soothing ways, smoothed over.
--"Daddy?" --"Yes?" --"Wouldn't it be a good thing if people gave up words and went back to only using gestures?" --"Hmm. I don't know. Of course we would not be able to have any conversations like this. We could only bark, or mew, and wave our arms about, and laugh and grunt and weep. But it might be fun -- it would make life like a sort of ballet -- with dancers making their own music."
The artist's dilemma is of a peculiar sort. He must practice in order to perform the craft components of his job. But to practice has always a double effect. It makes him, on the one hand, more able to do whatever it is he is attempting; and, on the other hand, by the phenomenon of habit formation, it makes him less aware of how he does it.
Finally, in the dim region where art, magic and religion meet and overlap, human beings have evolved the "metaphor that is meant," the flag which men will die to save, and the sacrament that is felt to be more than "an outward and visible sign, given to us." [Or a ring that joins two lives?? -- My addition).] Here we can recognize an attempt to deny the difference between map and territory, and to get back to the absolute innocence of communication by means of pure mood-signs.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Some of the Skinny, Anyway

What's that? You don't know where, how,
why I dried up,
leaving tweeting, avatars, Gravatars, WIP
madness love and check-ins all
behind? Story of my year, this leaving.

I'm single now.

Well, (soon) not yet officially, mentally but
reeling with the state of it,
with the weight & rate of living it,
a life unhooked from another human being--
no judgement, please, please, I can't take that right now--
& how that unhooking makes
a hook-sized hole, an un-

Gained 7 lbs in 2 weeks, lost 5 in 1,
body wishing for a different addiction,
mind refusing. Sugar sugar, give me speed & clarity & flight. Sleep
is near & far, dream-chalked deep, & in
between it all a scurry
of deeper doubts I can't
begin to enumerate, much less name.

*Hugs* *Love* *Here for you!!* *Proud of you...*
Thanks, I say, & mean it,
but meanwhile, the creativity's
gone (even this form's gone chameleon, (can you guess it?
give you a hint)) heavy from too much sex abuse:
dreaming it, therapy's sift & churn, WIP's big SECRET,
oh, & the dayjob: Life Books (plodding through the pasts
of CPS kids'll sometimes knock
the lifelove out of you).

Just married
7 years with half of that time spent
apart: deployments, TDYs, MFAs,
with church & family the magnetic manacles.

So what's so different now?
Unhooking still hurts, though it was
not you
who asked for it but

I. I. I. Selfish? Scared? Mistake?
How many bites does it take to get to the center
of this spinning
control-less? Where's
the crystal clear?
How many times can I put my finger down my throat?
How many hours will I lie awake
without the slightest hint of

Run a hand down my skin,
breathe in.

Repeat . . .

So that's what up, & feel
free (shouldn't we all be)
to not worry too much,
if you please.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

All the Ugly Bits

Photo Courtesy of Dawn Meehan

I'm guilty of it -- bending into the magnified vanity mirror to squeeze out infinitesimal blackheads, swabbing over blotches with layers of foundation, powdering away blemishes blown into relief by such microscopic scrutiny.

Just in case someone sees me.

Just in case someone out there is walking around with magnified mirrors for eyes.

Like poor Mr. H.M. Wogglebug, T.E. (Highly Magnified and Thoroughly Educated professor of L. Frank Baum's creation in The Marvelous Land of Oz). The poor tiny wogglebug got stuck like that. Magnified a hundred times his original size, all his jaunty arrogance forever on display.


A friend asked me today what I've been reading lately. "Literary fiction," I told her.

Her face scrunched up. "Still the one with the pee baby?" I'd read a passage to her during last week's coffee date -- a most stunning description of a baby covered in her own urine: "a little white sardine still fragrant with briny pee."

I shook my head. "I finished that one. This one's not so magnificently wordified." She gave me a look and I smirked, then grew serious again. "I'm not sure about it yet. Very clever, very smart."

"The style? Like John Green?"

"No, not like him. It's like ... " I pulled the book out and had her read an excerpt. "Do you see? I'm not sure I can like it. It's almost too real."

She handed the book back, nose wrinkled. "It's good but it's sort of mean," she suggested.

"Right? I mean, parts of it are really funny. That bit about tapping out the cigarette ash into her food--"

"Into the rice pilaf."

"Yes, exactly. Not just rice, either, or vegetables. Rice pilaf."

We took simultaneous coffee sips.

"All the specifics," I added. "I think that's what makes it like you said, mean. Maybe even cruel. Fiction looks closely at the world and reflects it back ..."

She was on the same page as me now, nodding. "But this is like putting everything on display. Shining a light on all the ugly bits. It's shocking and so we read on -- and it is real. But too real, and so maybe not really real after all."

"It's a balance, like everything in writing of course," I mused.

We fell into a contemplative silence, and after a minute I started searching on Google Images for a woman's face -- not the glamorized magazine type, but the real self-taken kind -- reflected back too closely in a vanity mirror.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Diagramming Fiction

Ever wondered the difference
 between genre and literary fiction?

Here's a helpful tool I stole from grad school. It's a bit simplistic, but I find it useful as a starting point.

In these diagrams, more weight is given to those elements located at the top of the triangle.

So, in genre fiction, the Plot element seems to be all-important, with Language and Character in hierarchically supporting roles.

In literary fiction, however, Character and Language map the bulk of the story's landscape, with Plot (or more often Conflict) rippling beneath the surface to produce a subtle momentum.

Commercial fiction, or "upmarket fiction," might look like the literary fiction triangle, but with Plot and Character taking the important top-most corners and Language taking back seat.

It's sometimes fun, when entering a new novel or short, to overlay it with the diagrams above, as with an old-school transparency sheet. You'll probably find your triangle needs turning or tilting, squashing, reforming, and/or re-labeling. But once the basic shape of the story comes into focus, it's easier to conceptualize how and to what degree the various elements of fiction fit into, on the one hand, the story itself, and on the other, the larger body of literature.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The 7-7-7 Challenge

The other day I went hiking deep into the flowering Tucson desert with a stranger.

Met @lroseriver in 3D yesterday for 1st time. Hike in Sabino ... on Twitpic
By @CrytzerFry in Tucson 
Although, I'm not sure stranger is the right word. Just because I'd never met the person ... in person ... never seen her face ... doesn't make her a stranger. In today's increasingly unbound culture of connecting virtually with other human beings on this increasingly shrinking planet, I wonder how important "face-time" really is.

I hiked into Seven Falls with Melissa Crytzer Fry, a fabulously creative writer of literary fiction, and a fun hiking companion. She tweets here.

This morning she tagged me.

The 7-7-7- Challenge:
Flip to page 77 of your current WIP.
Find line 7.
Post the 7 sentences that follow.
Tag 7 more writers.

Alas, I'm on page 68 of my novel-length WIP. Thus I'm going to bend the rules a little.

Page 7, line 7, and the 7 sentences that follow:
My WIP is gothic literary YA with a touch of urban fantasy.

Woman Diving into Water, 1867-1870 by Paul Cézanne
Woman Diving into Water, 1867-1870 by Paul Cézanne - Artilim

I touch the spider-cracked glass. You tried to get out.
There’s a knife embedded, hilt-deep in the seat, speared between two bony fingers. Oh, Aaron . . . They say, when you’re possessed, that you know what you’re doing, all of it, and that you remember.
I can’t mourn for him. I did my job. He’s been stranded in the Limen, trapped by his hunger for the life taken from him. Now, he’s free.
The skin-crawl of knowing touches the place between my shoulder blades.

And you're next! My 7-7-7 authors are:
1. Krista Van Dolzer
2. LisaAnn Chickos
3. Kara Lucas
4. Amber Plante
5. Jaye Robin Brown
6. Pat Esden
7. Juliana Brandt

I'd love to read what you're working on! But if you don't feel like participating, please don't fee like you have to. No worries at all, okay? Regardless, sending great writing vibes your way!

And as Melissa's tagger said: "Let me know when your lines are up because I WANT TO READ YOUR POSTS!"

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Next they'll be marrying toasters!


Love At First Sight

Feeding The Ducks
Holding Your Hair Back

Make Me The Happiest Toaster Evahs!


Home Sweet Home

Growing Old

Two consenting adults....

Monday, March 5, 2012

Deep Play (Part 1)

This week I finished reading The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World by Jeremy Rifkin.

The book is shot through a with sense of urgency to break away from an obsolete industrial system that encourages unsustainable growth in all areas of economics and unhealthy competition on levels from grade school classrooms to national GDPs. It urges us away from a top-down ideology that grew out of centuries of struggle with our environment and with each other and toward a reawakening of human consciousness to the possibility of balanced and symbiotic, if not mutualistic, living with the myriad species on our Earth.

I wanted to touch briefly on this quote at the end of the book, wherein Rifkin reveals his vision not only for the practical, tangible sectors of human existence but also for a "concomitant leap to biosphere consciousness."
... We emotionally identify with our fellow creatures to the point of experiencing their being as if it were our own. In short, we empathize... It is our way of acknowledging the mystery of life that binds us together in fellowship on this Earth. To empathize is to affirm another's struggle to be and flourish.
Rifkin suggests that once we, as a conscious human race, have made this leap to thinking "as an extended global family," we will begin to rethink our understanding of "work" and "productivity." We will, in all aspects of our existence, begin to engage in what he and a decade ago Diane Ackerman describe as deep play.

I'll be talking more about this because the idea of rethinking "work" excites me. For now, I'll leave you with this juxtaposition.


Deep play
is "not frivolous entertainment but, rather, empathic engagement with one's fellow human beings. [It] is the way we experience the other, transcend ourselves, and connect to broader, ever more inclusive communities of life in our common search for universality." - Rifkin in TIR

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Excerpt from #MGlitchat Agent Night

My dears,
Life's a bit CRaZy! right now. . .

Art by Andy Cordan

So rather than a more a conventional post, here's a streamlined excerpt from Twitter's #MGlitchat Agent Night. Find the full Feb 9, 2012 transcript for MGlitchat's "Tips From the Pros" series here.

The following tweets I pulled from the original transcript. Take a gander, fellow writers!

Middle grade authors Elissa Cruz (@elissacruz) and Karennina Posa (@karenninaposa).
1. Jennifer Laughran (@literaticat) is an agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc.
2. Joanna Volpe (@JoSVolpe) is an agent with Nancy Coffey Literary.
3. Tina Wexler (@Tina_Wexler) is an agent with ICM.


JoSVolpe: About "scarring" kids with reality. They can handle it better than you think. Better than most adults I know, actually :-) #mglitchat -9:04 PM Feb 9th, 2012 
iteraticat: I totally agree with @JoSVolpe - and I'd add, the best MG books are not "dumbed down" or "babyish". Don't dumb it down! #MGLitChat -9:06 PM Feb 9th, 2012
Tina_Wexler: Research, research, research. Read, read, read. Revise, revise, revise. Oh, and you know, write. #mglitchat -9:05 PM Feb 9th, 2012

Tina_Wexler: When searching for agents, PLEASE note when an interview was given; dated info can be as ineffective as doing no research. #mglitchat -9:08 PM Feb 9th, 2012

literaticat: Also, if you want to know about phenomenal voice & characterization, please read all Casson Family books by Hilary McKay.

JoSVolpe: RT @kellybarnhill: When we write MG, were not just writing for the kid, but for the adult that kid will be.
literaticat: Audience for MG may be 3rd-5th graders even tho characters may be 7th graders. So, I'd just be mindful of that.


Q: What are the smart, brave, genre-defining books out there that we should ALL BE READING? (@kellybarnhill)
A: literaticat: I think everyone should read WHEN YOU REACH ME if you haven't already. Go on. Now. I'll wait.
A: JoSVolpe: The Higher Power of Lucky, Coraline, & The View from Saturday are all genre-defining books in their own right imho
A: JoSVolpe: At least as far as recent titles. If we go back, Bridge to Terabithia (so painful!) or the first Alanna book. <3
A: JoSVolpe: I'm reading The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman right now and LOVING it

Q: Do "quiet" vampire-less, witchless books stand a chance in this commercially driven climate? (@MelissaRoske)
A: literaticat: I don't think "vampireless" and "witchless" = QUIET. The Penderwicks is not quiet. When You Reach Me isn't quiet.
A: JoSVolpe YES. Every editor I know that acquires MG is looking for well-written, meaningful stories.
A: literaticat YOU GUYS. Lots of questions about "is there a market for quiet middle grade." YES, IF IT IS BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN.

Q: A friend suggested I change my heroine from 13 to 10 because younger is selling. Are you seeing this trend also? (@Storiestobe)
A: JoSVolpe: I only suggest that an author change the age of the character if it better fits the tone and sensibility of the book.
A: JoSVolpe: UNLESS it's really a matter of hitting the genre, and a year would make a difference or something.

Q: When an agent says that your MS isn't strong enough for the markt - does that mean the premise, the writing or the plot? (@PippaBayliss)
A: JoSVolpe: It could mean any of those things--depends on the project.
A: literaticat: Couldn't possibly say without looking at the material. Could mean any of those things.
A: JoSVolpe: The "almost, but not quite" issue I say is usually that the concept is GREAT, but the voice is off

Q: Is MG affected by trends as much as YA seems to be? (@elissacruz)
A: literaticat: I don't think so.
A: JoSVolpe: I don't find that it does, actually. I think a lot of MG is pretty timeless.

Q: How edgy can you go and still qualify as MG? (@JoWhittemore)
A: literaticat: Depends - diff houses have different feelings about that - but, I'd say, er... no sex or major cursing for a start.
A: Tina_Wexler: I don't think in terms of content but in terms of how its handled, how its presented, if it fits with a mg voice.
A: JoSVolpe: Kids experience the real world just like we do-you can go as far as it takes to be real to the story and characters.
A: literaticat - yes, what @Tina_Wexler said!

Q: What is a good word count range for ages 10-14? (@Seagulley)
A: KateMessner: Here's @literaticat's recent (and great) post about word counts in kids' books: Tina_Wexler: I'm not the person to ask; the story will be as long or as short as it needs to be to be told and told well.

Q: Is tween still considered to be MG? Like a light romance for the middle school crowd? (@KarenB_Schwartz)
A: JoSVolpe: It actually depends on the publisher...sometimes the terms "tween" and "MG" are interchangeable. Not always tho.
A: Tina_Wexler: I want to like the term tween, but it always seems so...Limited Too to me.
A: Tina_Wexler: I think MG is only going to grow and grow.

Q: Much MG/YA fiction seems to have a "snarky" comic voice. What good examples are there of other kinds of comic voices? (@kingdomofpatria)
A: JoSVolpe: Adam Gidwitz, Brian Selznick, Andrew Clements, Jeff Kinney, Grace Lin, Richard Peck - none of them really snark.
A: JoSVolpe: Neil Gaiman, Beth Wolitzer, Jonathan Stroud, Kate Messner...the list goes on of non-snark
A: literaticat: I actually have a harder time thinking of MG books that ARE snarky than ones that aren't. That is more YA, no? ... (Or maybe people have a different opinion about what "snarky" is than I do.)
A: JoSVolpe: I've seen snark in both boy and girl books, and I'm okay with it! It just has to feel natural, not put on.

Q: How strongly are trendy mss sought? Frankly, I'd rather read just a good old-fashioned story. (@AniProf )
A: JoSVolpe: I look for the writing, the voice and a good story. Trends come and go. Good stories...they last

Q: Series seem to be big in MG. Any tips on how to create a successful series? (@elissacruz)
A: JoSVolpe: To create a successful series, have a plan for the FULL series ahead of time

Q: But what IS that quality which makes a great #mg book GREAT? (@kingdomofpatria)
A: literaticat: It's all about that elusive MG voice, to me. Very hard to nail. People who do? @KateMessner @LaurelSnyder for ex
A: Tina_Wexler: Writers who remember being that age, not just writers who have kids that age.
A: JoSVolpe: For me, great MG voice is such a know-it-when-I-read-it thing. So much easier to give examples than define.

Q: If MG boy book fell in middle of woods but no pub there to hear it, does it make a sound? IE: Present boy book market? (@mswinchell)
A: literaticat: There are NINE HUNDRED BACTRILLION middle grade boy books. Honestly. Look at the NYT Bestseller list.
A: literaticat: Depends. How good is it?

Q: Is fantasy still the going trend in MG? Or is contemporary more popular? (@MelissaRoske)
A: JoSVolpe: Both fantasy and contemporary still sells in MG, I don't see one trend stronger than the other, personally.
A: JoSVolpe: There's definitely a market for MG scifi

Q: How about tips for a successful agent/author relationship? (@restlessbjas)
A: literaticat: Successful author/agent relationship is based (imo) on good communication, transparency, trust.
A: JoSVolpe: Tips for a successful agent-author relationship: be honest & open, read a lot, don't be afraid to talk something out or set aside.

Q: Question: If characters are mid teens in Historical Fiction, but not involved in hot romance, is that more MG than YA? Chains? (@PBWorkshop)
A: Tina_Wexler: If their outlook is teen and the voice is teen, it's YA. Sex, drugs and rock n' roll aren't what make a ms YA.
A: literaticat: Honestly I think a lot of Historical straddles MG/YA - where it lands has to do with tone.
A: literaticat: Anne of Green Gables = the original bad girl of tween lit. #drunk #disorderly #dyedhair #bigsleeves #gangster

Q: QUESTION: How's the market for quieter MG, like LOVE, AUBREY? (@stefwass)
A: Tina_Wexler: Oh, I loved that book. Cried on the subway.

Q: Is there a single element to a MS that will trump any and all shortcomings in your eyes?

Q: What is VOICE? (@_TimothyPower)
A: Tina_Wexler: I think this is when we all start crowing about VOICE
A: JoSVolpe: Voice is much more than vivid characterization--it's the essence of the entire narrative.
A: Tina_Wexler: I think of voice as the words you use and how you use them. As simple and as complicated as that.
A: JoSVolpe: I've been seeing MG voice that sounds like how adults WANT kids to sound, not how they really think, sound and feel
A: kingdomofpatria @JoSVolpe I think it's true: plot is primary, as Aristotle says in the Poetics, we are what we do, and voice comes out of that
A: Tina_Wexler @kingdomofpatria You're right. I should say it's the words your NARRATOR uses/doesn't use, the words that make up their heart

Q: Would you say that there is any room for boyfriend/girlfriend relationship in MG? Not saying sex and romance but "dating"? (@dsantat)
A: Tina_Wexler: I think so. That's when kids turn: your BFF who wasn't into boys is suddenly gah, and how obnoxious--until it hits you.
A: Tina_Wexler Also, they would have to have their parents drive them there (groan), but maybe there'd be some sweaty handholding.

Q: Querying?
A: JoSVolpe: In a query, I do NOT want to see someone just compare it to Harry Potter. If that's the only book they can think of, then chances are they don't really know the genre.
A: Tina_Wexler @JoSVolpe I want to bold and underline and CAPS your answer. NO HP COMPS!
A: JoSVolpe What I see lacking most in my MG submissions is the right voice. Lots of great ideas and even good writing, but the voice is off.

Q: Magic Realism in MG?
A: literaticat: I think @laurelsnyder's beautiful BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX is an example of MG Magical Realism.

Q: On MG in the digital world?
A: JoSVolpe: This generation of kids is growing up with smart phones & tablets. I think they will definitely pick up on ereaders.
A: literaticat: I think lots and lots of kids do not have access to e-readers, and won't. P-books are affordable, they don't break...
A: literaticat: Sure, lots of kids will get e-readers. But access to paper books is still VITAL, or you are cutting poor kids out of the picture

That's all, y'all! Thanks for tuning in :) Remember to visit #MGlitchat's blog for news about upcoming chats.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tag! You're it!

Tags, bloghops, blogfests, interviews, contests! Who knew the blogosphere would be so full of fun and imaginative ways to get to know each other?

I've been tagged over at Jaye Robin Brown's "Hanging on to Wonder" blog, which means I must answer the following telltale (and impossible, Jaye! What were you thinking???) questions.

Photo by Jan Hoffman
1. What is the best meal you've ever eaten - what, when, and where?
Oh my gosh, I've eaten some pretty scrumptious meals in my time. But, so far, hands down: Last year, in LA in The Grove, Ulysses Voyage. You have to do it Connie Srinivasan style, though, which is to tell the server that you will not be ordering. "Bring out plates to share--small or large plates, whatever you love best on the menu, one at a time until we tell you to stop." Paired with several rich and wonderful Greek reds, this meal that started with mouthwatering Saganaki (flaming cheese) and grilled octopus and ended with a gorgeous array of Greek desserts was the best I've ever had.

2. What is your earliest memory?
Oh, tough one! It's vague, but I remember a room--it was a church--dark and twisting--a wall that I wasn't supposed to go beyond. But I did. A corridor full of light. Splashed by mirrors reflecting stained glass windows, perhaps? Red cushions. Another room, darker still and a way that was not out but deeper. . . .

Img by
3. If given your choice of a secret rendezvous with any fictional hottie - who would you choose?
Spike. Absolutely : D

4. What is your favorite joke?
I recently I heard this terrible one on Twitter (via Shari B), and it's my favorite for the time being:
Girl 1: "Someone told me you look like an owl."Girl 2: "Who?"

5. Pick three words to describe yourself (one is just too hard!)
Are you kidding?? Three is too hard! But, I would have to say... Tenacious, Rebellious, Passionate.

And now to tag my own victims!
1. Amber Plante
2. Kara Lucas
3. Charlie Holmberg

Honestly, I think you're allowed to change the questions up, but I adore Jaye's terribly impossible questions and would love to know your answers to them. So.

Tag! You're it!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Coming Soon!

I've been tagged over at Jaye's blog! Answers to her "5 Questions About You" and further tagging, coming soon!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Spider Moments

Courtesy of Directory Journal

I like to think of the brain like a city, crammed full of skyscrapers and towers and slums and alleys, bridges, back yards, and gnarly hedges. Memories take up residence in dark nooks and tend to get shut away and locked up, inaccessible until the barbed wire fence or shiny new apartment complex is pulled or burned down.

Some memories stand like monuments in the city of your mind.

For me, one of these monuments is the summer between 5th and 6th grade.

During the annual house makeover, my older brother landed the lawn work, mowing, and edging. My younger brother had weeds and window-washing.

My mom gave me a broomstick, sans bristle head. "Go clear out the jungle," she said.

On the side of the house grew a grand old oak tree that in years to come would be my best friend and stairway to a reading heaven--a bath mat platform roped over two sturdy top branches; I'd hold the book in my teeth as I climbed up.

But right then, the oak tree was surrounded by a jungle of bramble and overgrown palmettos, vines, and ivy.

Courtesy of EPA
And spiders. Huge nightmare banana spiders the size of your head. My job was to take my broomstick and whack down all the spiders.

Eventually, my mom and brothers stopped work to watch me bravely and repeatedly tiptoe into the infestation, broomstick raised, sneak up on each nasty, spindly-legged bastard, smack its round, segmented body as hard as my little arms could, and then run shrieking.

Spiders, when smacked out of their webs, tend to fall down on the person who does the smacking.

Now, as I contemplate that monument standing tall and proud in the middle of my city, I know this truth: There can be nothing more terrifying in this life than that rain of spiders. I had courage enough then; I'll have courage enough when...


What are some of your spider moments--real or metaphorical? Which memory monuments make your chest swell and fortify you for the future? As writers, how do you go about learning and using these moments in the lives of your characters?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Make the Most of Less Time

The writing tool that's rocking my world.

You've settled in at your computer. Coffee? Check. Cinnamon peach muffin? Check. WIP open and cursor blinking? Check.

You're good to go.

Except you're not. Because now you're staring at the page, rereading what you wrote last, making little grimacing faces (if you're like me) because you can't remember quite where your head was and what's happening next.

Maybe this is the curse of the pantser.

Whatever the case, I realized I needed a tool to practice getting my head in the game faster. A tool to teach my brain how to put on its writing hat as soon as that cursor starts blinking.

Deb Marshall inspired me when she wrote her #wipmadness goal last week: Take full advantage of short chunks of time.

I thought, There's no way. I need at least half an hour just to get in the groove.

Enter the #5minblitz.

Every night, right before pushups and planks before bed, I sit down, open my doc, cursor ready, set my timer, read only the LAST line, and GO!

The first few times, it was like writing blindly in the dark. Now, I'm starting to feel the urge to keep going. But I won't. That's not what blitzing's for. At least not for me. Not yet.

If you're looking to make the most of less time, I challenge you to decide on a time of day for blitzing and stick to it. It literally only takes five minutes. Your writing brain will thank you.

And if you post your #5minblitz word count to Twitter, we will cheer for you!


Come make weekly writing goals with us! We'll help you keep them: Deb Marshall hosts this month's #wipmadness.
Come blitz with us!
Any other writer's brain tools out there?
Links, posts, ideas?
How do you make the most of less time?