To tell a compelling story…

Archive for the ‘fiction’ Category

This weekend, I had the incredible privilege of meeting author Eloisa James at my local RWA chapter meeting. As she spoke, my mind wandered – not in an Oh-not-another-boring-meeting way- but in a synapses-firing-at-warp-speed way. Eloisa admits she is a pantser not a plotter but likes to truly know her characters before she starts a story. Listening to her as well as the members sitting near me reminded me of a blog post (forgive me, I can’t remember whose) where we’d discussed ways to know your characters. I’d posted a comment about one technique I use to get to know my characters: I take them shopping.

Shopping tells you a lot about a person. Does your hero favor designer labels over knock-offs or simply doesn’t care if his clothes come from Armani or Costco? Does your heroine scour the clearance racks or spend outside her budget on whims? How do they manage long lines and crowded parking lots? Are they rude to store employees?

My two teenage sons would prefer to peel the skin off their bodies with a butter knife than go shopping with me. They’re content with any pair of jeans as long as they’re not Rap brands. (Since I twitch and shake when I see a guy with droopy-drawer jeans on, this makes me very happy.) They don’t care much for status labels, either. In many ways, this makes my life easy but since I frequently have to shop alone and return stuff later, it can also be inconvenient.

I jotted down all the ideas I had:

Put him on stage

Is your character comfortable in the spotlight or would he prefer to borrow the butter knife from my sons? Perhaps it’s not a stage but a business presentation. Does your heroine avoid public speaking, practice in front of a mirror for days, or just wing her presentation? Maybe it’s a swanky cocktail party. Does your hero hold up the walls or mingle? Does he work the room or is he busy plotting his early exit? Maybe it’s a speech at school for your YA characters. Gah!

Send them to therapy

What are the deep, dark secrets that haunt your characters? You know, the things that would come up in therapy, like parents that never understood her or expected too much. Did he witness a crime when he was a toddler that still causes flashbacks? Does she have any phobias like Triskaidekaphobia?

Work these into your plot.

Run the numbers

During a break in Eloisa’s speech, one of our members suggested numerology. Take your character’s name and visit a website like this. It may interest you to know that my full name, Patricia Ann Blount, totals 73 and that my soul urge number is 3. Here’s what the site has to say about that:

Word skills may be your thing; speaking, writing, (Hello!) acting, singing. In a positive sense, the 3 energy is friendly, outgoing and always very social.

Most of it is true for me, except the singing part. Dogs howl when I sing. Ears bleed. It’s …not pretty. Use numerology or astrology to gather traits for your characters. You could even use the meanings of names to guide you. I did this in SEND when my MC had to change his name. He chose Daniel because it means God is my judge.

Suffer the bureaucracy

How would your hero fare in line at your local motor vehicles department? What about navigating one of those automated phone systems that have him pressing 1 incessantly? Even the most patient people I know are frustrated by these experiences.

Load up the straws

Ever have a week or month where things go horribly, insanely awry? Not just a bad day, but a continuous string of bad, unexpected and bizarre things? Brakes go one fire on one car just as your spouse takes the other car for the day. Imagine the last time you experienced a period of extended bad luck and put your characters in the same situation. What’s the melt down like? My melt downs involve tears and chocolate. My husband’s involve colorful language and flying objects and credit card bills to replace the things that broke as he flung them across a room. My mother’s were rants accompanied by slamming doors.

Give them the flu

If you have children, think about how they behave when they’re sick. My sons only wanted to be held when they were little. All day. By me and nobody else. Now that they’re teens, they just stay in bed and sleep. There’s a commercial currently on TV that pokes fun at the “man cold” but my point is, you never really know someone until you have to care for them when they’re sick.

Live together

You know the old adage you never know someone until you have to live with them? Imagine your MCs as room mates. Does he leave the toilet seat up and toothpaste globs in the sink? Does she hang panties and bras on the shower rod and spend all her spare money on tabloids? Perhaps she NEVER eats at the table, but only in front of the TV? Does she get up early or stay up late? Does he hog the covers in bed? Can he operate the lawn mower or does he hire someone to keep the grass mowed?

Take a peek inside the bathroom. Does she keep her cosmetics and feminine products scattered on every available surface or hide them neatly away? Is his toe fungus cream sitting on the toilet tank lid?

Armed with a list of traits and characteristics, look for places where conflict can be introduced. Perhaps you’ve discovered your MC is like my sons – he ABHORS shopping, but falls for a woman who is a buyer for a major designer, or owns an antique shop. Or, make the conflict internal – the character who hates to shop must now do so regularly for an ill parent.

Use Eloisa’s Character Bible suggestion to keep it all straight. And then, get to work.

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While waiting for my mother, who was undergoing oral surgery, I spent forty minutes observing the oral surgeon’s office staff working it, if you know what I mean.

The staff, all women in their twenties, and probably all intelligent women under usual circumstances, completely dissolved into four giggling, tittering morons in the presence of a good-looking patient. I sat in the waiting room, hoping the floor would swallow me whole, while the group turned periodontal care into a flirtation. Apparently, the word ‘spit’ is sexy. Who knew?

But I digress. The girls’ antics reminded me of a book I’d just finished in which the heroine couldn’t string together two words in front of her boyfriend’s rockstar dad. This got me thinking… why are women reduced to a bowl of Jello around male coolness? Are we really hard-wired for dumbness or are we just perpetuating the stereotype?

I considered this for a few minutes. Hell, anything to prevent gagging over the floor show. I’m smart. My IQ is higher than my shoe size. I win at Jeopardy often. I have never feigned ignorance of a subject in which I excelled just to please a guy.  While sitting there, patting myself on the back, it dawned on me with all the horror of checking my reflection on a date only to discover I’d spent the whole night with a big ol’ spot of lettuce in my teeth that I’d permitted a character to behave in just this way.

I should be publicly flogged and I hang my head in shame.

The lead character in my current WIP wants desperately to be judged on her aptitude, not her looks. Kind of hard to do when she keeps forgetting how to speak in front of the hero.  Watching the office assistants trip over their own tongues in front of Hot Dental Patient, I vowed to go straight home and revise the entire meet-cute scene.

Phew. That was close.

Where do you find cliches and stereotypes sneaking into your writing? Discuss. I promise not to gag.

My Google Reader contained a cool link on Monday afternoon. Sean Ferrell, a brilliant author and Twitter pal, posted an essay about the many desks in his life. Sean notes he has a desk at work, a desk at home, but writes his fiction on his lap while riding the subway. I thoroughly enjoyed his post because except for one detail, our stories are pretty much the same. I told him this in an email and he said I should put this on my blog, so now you know who to blame (wide grin).

Like Sean, I have a desk at work. Mine is standard cubicle furniture. An L-shaped counter with a bank of drawers at each end, an overhead shelf with a light under it, and in the corner, a slide-out tray for my keyboard. I have two monitors: a flat panel and the laptop’s built-in display. I have an adjustable chair with a Velcro lumbar cushion that I constantly adjust throughout my day. I love this cushion. It helps me focus on the technical writing work I must do at this desk instead of on the pain in my back that results from too many hours spent at it.

The walls are covered in tack surface. In addition to the few dozen pictures of my sons, these walls are covered with company awards and memos, a heart-shaped love note from my youngest that says “Brown-eyed girl” in shaky, kindergarten printing, a sign that says, “This technical writer is powered by chocolate”, and a treasured print-out from the blog of author Jeff Somers, an author I greatly admire and whose books I thoroughly enjoy, because he replied to a comment I’d posted with “Patty-that’s genius!” Beside that is a print-out of a screen shot I took one day after returning to my desk to see several of my Twitter pals discussing someone in glowing terms. “Triple-threat,” one said. “Talent, brains, beauty,” said another.

They’d been talking about ME.

I’m not ashamed to tell you I shed tears that day. I hung up the screen-shot so I’d never forget the emotions those few tweets stirred in me, or forget to thank the kind people who posted them.

On the left side of the L, I have a pair of Slinky toys, the glasses I never wear, a corporate version of a Magic 8 Ball, and a stress ball. When I write technical instruction, much happens inside my head before I put fingers to keyboard. I find playing with toys helps me to focus on these mental tasks. On the other side of the L is an empty candy dish. I ate all the candy that was once inside it and can’t bring myself to discard it… or refill it. Beside my phone is a dainty cup with my name on it. Patricia – Enchanting spirit, full of grace and honor. Hmm. They must have forgotten the chocolate.

Unlike Sean, I do write fiction at this desk, but it’s technical fiction, which is often what the first draft of any user guide really is… until we work the kinks out of a new software product. By the time the software is released, my technical fiction is now technical instruction.

At home, I never had a desk of my own. I wrote on the dining room table, in my bed, on the sofa, on the deck, wherever I needed to be (praise the wonder of the wireless internet connection!). I lust after Twitter pal Tawna Fenske’s desk and love planning where I might, someday (when finances and the planets align) install a dream desk but those are long-term plans. To suit my immediate needs, I spent a wonderful weekend cleaning up my college-bound son’s room to take it over as my private writing office. It has a fairly large Ikea desk that was suitable for the kind of spreading out I like to do when I have a few hours of time to devote to a writing project. Tools like my “master the craft” books, my enormous newsprint pad on which I outline, Post-it notes of scene ideas and dialogue I want to use, cut-outs of celebrities and models who resemble my main characters to “get me in the mood.” It was perfect!

I used it once.

My dad, after a tiff with his fiancé, found himself temporarily homeless. He moved into my son’s room not three days after my cleaning spree and there went my dedicated writing space. As the weeks went by, Dad steadily cleared out a self-storage unit of various furnishings and brought me a desk. It’s gorgeous. An antique French writing desk with a drop-leaf and half a dozen little cubbies to hold Post-its, pens, maybe an emergency pack of M&Ms. I love that, finally, after all these years, I have my very own desk, but you know what? It was never built for a computer, so I find using it for writing marathons to be uncomfortable. Alas, I am still writing on the dining room table, the sofa, my bed, the deck when Mother Nature cooperates, even the kitchen counter while dinner simmers.

Unlike Sean, I don’t have a subway commute. But I do understand the point he makes about making the most of the writing time you have. I wrote my first novel at my son’s hockey games. It began because I’m not a typical sports parent. I hate when the tempers flare and the passion blinds people to the fact that these are KIDS. So, I began sitting outside in the snack bar area instead of in the stands. The rink is around the block from my office, and I used to meet the boys there after work. Since the laptop belongs to my employer, I could not leave it in my car and risk having it stolen, so it came inside with me. Out of boredom, I wrote PENALTY KILLER, a novel about a man found murdered in the parking lot of the local ice rink, after a very loud and public argument with another player’s dad gets him bounced from the game.

Coincidence?

Like most parents, I spend a lot of time driving one or both of my sons to various engagements. I drag the laptop with me because you never know when you’ll have fifteen minutes to wait. I’ve written entire chapters in these chunks of time. In fact, when I do sit down to write for an hour or two, I find myself unable to focus. I think the pressure of a deadline – whether it’s a subway stop or the end of a hockey game – provided that impetus.

Your turn! What’s on your desk?

It’s Saturday as I write this. Saturday, the most wonderful day. I’m not dressed yet, though it’s ten thirty. After a hellish week, I deserve a few hours of unhurried sloth.

I was in a bad mood this week and by “bad,” I mean pea-soup spewing, head-twisting, stab-you-with-a-pencil-if-you-look-at-me-wrong mood. Now that it’s Saturday and I’ve had a few precious hours to decompress, I now know why my mood was so off. But Monday through Friday, I didn’t have a clue.

On Monday, I worked from home to record the narration for a few product videos that were due this week. Usually, this is a fairly fun and easy task but this time, numerous software issues from the buggy operating system produced by a certain mega-bazillionaire who-shall-remain-nameless tortured me, forcing me to repeat work.

On Tuesday, the same day I was scheduled to have a minor surgical procedure, my sister called me at work while I was juggling crashing programs, a conference call, and a problem with our website and said, “Clear your schedule. You’ll have to take Mom to the doctor tomorrow.” Mom lives with my sister in Connecticut. I live in New York. I work full-time, my sister does not.

If you’re reading this and thinking unkind thoughts about my sister, you’ll understand why this unleashed in me a whole new level of desire to do violence. Voo-doo dolls. In fact, I found one online that made satisfying little winces every time I poked it. With a nail gun.

After I’d calmed down sufficiently to discuss the situation, my sister and I arranged a better schedule. My niece is taking state tests all week and the doctor my mother must see is in New York. I am taking Tuesday off to accompany Mom on this appointment. See? I can be reasonable. Really.

On Wednesday, I dragged myself to work because I had to finish the product videos. The row of sutures on my back made driving a torturous experience. I was less than sunny when I arrived at work. I did, however, learn the website issue was resolved.

On Thursday, I was almost done with the videos. I wasn’t sleeping well since the sutures now ITCH like Alien is trying to claw its way free. A kind and unknown soul left a package of Dove Hot Chocolate on my desk. I’m following the Weight Watchers program and have eaten nothing but salad, fruit and yogurt, except for a moment of weakness when a chocolate chip muffin challenged me to a battle of the wills. I lost.

I put the hot chocolate in my desk drawer, vowing to stay on program.

And then there’s Friday. It promised to be a great day! I finished the videos, posted them on YouTube. I caught up with minor tasks I’d let slide during the week. And then I went to my Weight Watchers meeting, where I learned I’d GAINED two @$$%^*@!)*!~ pounds. I returned to my desk in a funk, picking at my boring salad. I checked in on Twitter, saw my son, an Islanders fan, having a public disagreement with a Penguins fan, who then threatened his life.

!?

This, people, this right here, is why there is a waiting period to buy firearms. Forget road rage or even ‘roid rage. Those aren’t rages, they’re tantrums from red-faced tots that only dream of being rages when they grow up beside a mother whose child is threatened. It took time, but eventually, my son assured me he was fine and the situation wasn’t serious. The rest of my salad got tossed into the garbage and I returned to work.

I opened my desk drawer and when I saw that package of hot chocolate, I succumbed, felt the tension leave my bones for the first time all week. After I finished licking the mug, I had an epiphany. During this week of deadlines and frustrations, there was one thing, one critical thing, I had not done.

I hadn’t written a word on Past Perfect. Not one new word. Writing isn’t just this thing I do when the house is clean and the bills are paid and the moon aligns with the stars in just the right way. Writing is an essential part of my composition; it’s an activity that centers me, that fills me with a peace I desperately need to handle all the balls I’ve got in the air. (Go ahead. You may smirk. You know you want to.) When I write, I’m in control of the universe. What happens, and then what happens next – I get to decide it all. It’s an escape from real life and one even I did not realize was so important to my own well-being until this moment.

So. It’s Saturday morning. I’m not dressed yet even though it’s now eleven o’clock. There’s dust in the corner of my bedroom I can see from across the room. The hamper is over-flowing. Housework waited all week, it can wait an hour or two longer while I do this thing I need as badly as I need air to breathe.

Oh, and maybe some chocolate to roll around in, since I can’t eat it.

Please share: how do you make time to write when real life gets in your way?

Hi! This month, the Book Hungry team reviews Jay Asher’s THIRTEEN REASONS WHY.  Lots of spoilers but I think we did a fair job in teasing rather than fully disclosing.  Who’s “we”, you ask? I’m so glad you asked. This month, I have a Very Special Guest blogger, who I shall reveal shortly. First, a brief introduction:

In Jay Asher’s debut novel, a box of audio tapes is gift wrapped and delivered to Clay Jensen, the novel’s narrator. Curious, Clay rushes to his garage, unearths an old cassette player and hears this on the first of the seven tapes in the box:

“Hello, boys and girls. Hannah Baker here. Live and in stereo. No return engagements. No encore. And this time, absolutely no requests. I hope you’re ready, because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you’re listening to these tapes, you’re one of the reasons why.”

Hannah, a high school junior, has not been in school. Rumor has it that she overdosed on pills. There was no funeral.  And now Clay has her suicide “note.” Seven tapes, two reasons on each tape except for the last. “A Baker’s Dozen,” Clay makes a weak joke, shocked that he’s on Hannah’s tragic list.

The novel is chillingly written in both Clay’s and Hannah’s voices – Hannah’s beyond-the-grave commentary is written in italics with Clay’s horrified reactions written in regular font.

Here’s a cheat sheet of the other reasons.

  1. Justin Foley – Hannah’s first kiss who tells his friends a much different story.
  2. Alex Stendall – Writer of a Best/Worst List. Hannah is labeled Best Ass – an unwelcome distinction that has horrible repercussions.
  3. Jessica Davis – The first friend Hannah makes in her new town. She later wounds Hannah deeply.
  4. Tyler Down – Tyler should have been named “Tom.”
  5. Courtney Crimsen –  A good actress who used Hannah for her own schemes.
  6. Marcus Cooley  – The date who stood her up and then humiliated her.
  7. Zach Dempsey – a guy who stole something Hannah needed.
  8. Ryan Shaver –  a guy who stole something Hannah wrote.
  9. Clay Jensen – the narrator. Hannah admits he does not belong on this list. So why is he here?
  10. Justin Foley – Justin’s encore on Hannah’s list is heartless.
  11. Jenny Kurtz –  She did something that caused a tragedy and then covered it up.
  12. Bryce Walker – Um. A scary guy who fulfills everything everyone said about Hannah and she does not stop him
  13. Mr. Porter – Hannah’s Guidance Counselor and English teacher who Hannah saved for last.

I’m excited and proud to introduce you to my sixteen-year-old son, Chris.  Chris read this month’s selection, so I thought it would be fun if he reviewed it with me.  Chris, however, didn’t think that was such a cool idea. At least, not at first.

“Say ‘hi’ to my blog readers, Chris.”

“Hey.” Chris jerks his head in a tight nod of acknowledgment.

“So what did you think of THIRTEEN REASONS WHY?”

“It was good.” He rubs his palms over his jeans and shrugs.

“I thought so, too. But why was it good?”

Chris shrugs again, avoids eye contact.

I shift gears. “You know, it kind of reminds me of something Dad says whenever a plane crashes. (Dad is an aircraft mechanic.) It’s never just one thing.”

Chris nods, and quickly catches my thought. “Yeah. It’s like a bunch of things that all go wrong. Take one by itself and the plane would have been fine.”

“Right,” I smile. “So what do you think about the things that happened to Hannah?”

Chris shrugs again. “They didn’t seem that bad to me. But I guess over time, they all added up. Her impression of herself steadily eroded.”

I stare at my son. “Um. Right. That’s… that’s a really great insight.” I stammer. “Hannah called it a snowball effect in the book.”

“Yeah,” Chris agrees. “Once it got rolling there was no stopping it. There’s no erasing a rumor once it spreads. You either deal with it or it controls you. Most of what happened to Hannah was out of her control, except for the stuff at the end.”

“Do you hear a lot of rumors at school like the one Justin told about Hannah?”

Chris nods.

“Do you believe them?”

“Sometimes,” he admits. “It depends on who’s spreading them. Some guys will go, ‘I hit that’ when a girl goes by and I can believe it because there are girls who actually chase hot guys just so they’ll talk about them that way. They think it makes them popular.” He rolls his eyes.

I shudder inside but say nothing.  Does I hit that mean what I think it means?

“But most of the time, I don’t listen to the rumors.” Chris adds.

Wow. That’s good to hear. I decide to dig a bit deeper. “So for the rumors you do believe… the ones where the girls think they’ll be popular if they let a guy ‘hit that’… what do you think of these girls?”

Chris rolls his eyes. “I don’t want to be near anybody who goes to that much trouble to look good in someone else’s eyes.”

My first reaction to Chris’ words was relief. I wouldn’t want him hanging out with people like this. But then, Hannah crosses her arms in my mind and smirks. “See how easy it is?” She asks.  So I prod Chris a little. “But you can see how easy it is for rumors to hide the truth. You said it yourself; it depends on who’s doing the talking.”

Chris nods. “It definitely worked on her friend, Jessica, the one who believed the worst of her. The rumor was what got the snowball rolling. Then, the best ass – Oops. Sorry.” Chris flashes a grin at me and I wave him on, more interested in hearing his opinions than correcting a minor slip of the tongue. “I mean, being on that dumb list made guys like Bryce think they can get away with anything. And then, what Marcus did…  Hannah knew nobody respected her and pretty soon, she didn’t either. ”

I’m reminded again that it’s not just one thing that went wrong, it’s the sum of many.  “Why do you think Hannah made those tapes?”

Chris has a good answer. A great answer, actually. “Recording the tapes could be stress relieving – it’s one thing to record them but a whole other thing to actually send them. If I received them, I’d be beside myself with grief and guilt. If I hurt somebody, it’s not on purpose. Never my goal. When I put my sneakers on every morning, I prep for a happy day, not to hurt people. If I got tapes from someone who killed herself, I’d be distraught – not enough to totally ruin my life but I’d always second guess my actions, knowing everything I do has a consequence. I’ll always think things through carefully. It would probably identify all my faults and flaws so I could be better. She created the tapes so people would know she really did kill herself because of what they did, in case her death didn’t make the news or was covered up. I think it was a mixture of revenge and also, a hope that everyone would think twice in how they treat the next social misfit.”

A hope…  My jaw is swinging in the breeze when I realize Chris didn’t just read this book, he dissected it, so to give myself time to recuperate and stop the gushing I’m about to do, I play devil’s advocate. “Yeah, but come on. If people are this mean in real life, do you think some audio tapes are really going to make them better people?”

“Yeah, some of them,” he says, and tries to convince me he’s right. “Remember Clay said Justin and Jessica showed up at school looking sick or something? That was after they got the tapes and sent them to the next person. They listened, really listened to them. I think Alex did, too. But I don’t think Courtney would. Pretty sure Bryce wouldn’t.”

“Okay,” I ask the big question. “Why did she send the tapes to Clay?”

And again, Chris has insight that not only stuns me, it fills me with joy. He leans forward, starts using his hands to make a point.

“She knew Clay would be hurt. She wanted to save him from the pain listening to the tapes and knowing what she did caused him, so she tells him he doesn’t belong on the tapes. Because by that time, she’s already made her choice. She doesn’t admit it. She may not even have actually known it, but she was already beyond help. But Clay should have stayed in that room with Hannah at the party. He should have given her some time alone to calm down, and then gone back so that she knew he was there for her. If he had done that, at least two or three of the tapes that came after might not have happened. If that were me, I’d have stayed there until she literally pushed me out of the room and then I would have walked her home, you know, to make sure she was safe since she was so upset.”

I beam at my son.

“What?”

“You make me very proud.”

Chris grins.  (And when I read this post back to him for his approval, he grinned just as I read, “Chris grins” and then burst into laughter that I had him so well pegged.)

He’s satisfied, but I’m not. “I have to admit, I’m angry that Clay didn’t take the tapes to someone NOT on the list, someone like the principal or even the police. What do you think?”

Chris waves me off. “Mom, Clay couldn’t think that far ahead, he was too upset by what he heard on those tapes.”

“I see. You’re saying that’s an adult reaction, not a kid’s.”

“Right.”

Heh. I hadn’t thought of it like that. And now that he pointed it out, I think he has a point. “Okay, overall, you liked the book?”

“Yeah, I liked the book. It was great. It gets you thinking. When it ended, I was sad it didn’t go on. The ending was cool in how Clay ran after Skye. He probably wouldn’t have thought to do that if he hadn’t heard the tapes. They made him reconsider how he dismissed someone who could really use a friend.”

Our Rating:

Two thumbs up from both Mom and Chris. But don’t take our word on it. Go read what the rest of the Book Hungry team has to say by following the links to their blogs.

I flash my son a huge grin. “I guess we’re done. Thanks for helping me review this book.”

“No problem. It was fun. A little Mommy and Me bonding time.” Chris laughs. I can’t help but laugh, too. Because we did a lot more than review a book.

Somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, twitter pal Tawna Fenske just snorted and said, “You said hard. Heh.”

Sorry to disappoint you, but ‘hard’ in this blog post refers to ‘challenging’, ‘arduous’, ‘demanding’, even ‘Herculean.’

And somewhere in New York, author Sean Ferrell just snorted and said, “That’s what she said.”

Difficult! That’s the word, people! I’m talking about difficult writing tasks. For some people, it’s writing sex scenes that fills them with dread, for others, it’s dialog, and for pretty much all of us except the Wonder that is Jeff Somers, it’s writing query letters.

I have a long list of writing challenges that I’ve decided to address as part of my 2011 resolutions.  I’m writing more short stories because brevity is one of those challenges. Writing riveting opening scenes is another one. But this week on Twitter, tweeps Jessica Lemmon (@lemmony), Patricia McLinn (@PatriciaMclinn) and Heidi Betts (@HeidiBetts) helped me analyze a real thorn in my side.

The problem? Describing the silent laugh people do when something is NOT funny. It’s a “Yeah, right” laugh, full of sarcasm but no mirth.  Is it a “snort?” Is it a “snork?” Perhaps it’s a “chortle?” I don’t know and I can’t stand it anymore!

Here are some ways I’ve treated this problem:

  • “You’re right,” she shook her head and laughed once. “You always are, even when you aren’t.”
  • “Yeah. You would think that.” His face warmed and he managed half a laugh.
  • “I love him.” She finally admitted it with a shrug and a soft laugh, a sound that screamed pain.

Why does this bug me so much? I suppose it has ties to my issues with brevity. Why isn’t there a single word that conveys the sort of sarcastic, unhappy, embarrassed anything-but-happy laugh I’ve tried to describe? Why must I use a phrase – indeed, an entire sentence, to describe a single expression?

I’m frustrated. But, as Heidi pointed out, it’s creative writing so we’re allowed to be creative. I’ll continue in my quest to find the perfect way to show the emotion I’m looking for. Meanwhile, are there any parts of writing challenge you?

‘Fess up. I promise I won’t laugh, snort, chuckle or chortle.

On Monday, January 10th, my phone rang.

It was the call every writer dreams of.

An agent offered representation. To me!

The first thing I did upon hanging up the phone was turn to Twitter to post a shouty capitals announcement: I GOT THE CALL!

Was I bragging? No, I was sharing. It’s been a year since I began this blog and slightly over a year since I began tweeting. In that year, I’ve forged connections with dozens of people – writers, agents, editors – people who share my interests in books, in story-telling, in getting published. People who have taught me more than any MFA program could.

I have to thank you for your role in my good news.   From you, I learned how to write killer opening scenes, improve my query letter, and develop flawed characters.

From you, I was exposed to brilliant stories and compelling characters far outside my comfort zone and learned to take risks in my own work.

From you, I learned that no matter where in our writing careers we are – just starting out or multi-published – self-doubt is still a common enemy.

From you, I learned to stop taking life and rejection so seriously and that it’s okay to laugh at ourselves. A lot.

From you, I learned people may be interested in the things I have to say or the stories I have to tell. And then, from a group of Jeannie Moon’s high school students with a passion for reading, I learned there’s no “may be” about it.

From you, I learned to read and review books I might have otherwise ignored. And made new friends doing so.

From Kelly Breakey, I learned to ignore that monstrous self-doubt shouting in my ear and then, kick its ass a few times so I could finish the story I had to tell. SEND collected about two dozen rejections before Denise Little of The Ethan Ellenberg Agency said yes.  I just signed the contract. *happy dance*

Chocolate for everyone! On me.


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Bookmark the new link in case I never learn how to redirect.

Hi! Welcome to my blog. I’m Patty.

I'm a writer represented by Denise Little, The Ethan Ellenberg Agency. I love to tell stories, to boast about my sons, to indulge in a serious chocolate obsession. (I often combine these passions.)

During the day, I write software user guides, but at night, I let my hair down... and write whatever I want. (I know. You expected something else. Sorry.) I'm currently working on a YA story about sexting gone horribly bad called SEND. I use this blog to explore my passions.

Contact me at pattyblount3 at gmail dot com.

You're also welcome to link to, quote, or cite anything you find here. You're NOT welcome to copy it outright for your own use. 'Cause that's plagiarism, no matter what you heard on the internet.

We’re Book Hungry!

My twitta sistas and I were chatting one day a few weeks back and thought, "Hey! We should start a Book Club!" So, we did.

Watch our blogs; we're each posting our reviews blog-fest style!

Kelly Breakey
Abby Mumford
Alyson Peterson
Cynthia Reese
Elizabeth Ryann
Karla Nellenbach
Vanessa Noble

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