Friday, January 30, 2009

Everyone's a Critic

A few weeks ago I started taking a writing class with Valerie Hobbs. There are seven of us, including Val, in the class. We meet once a week in her Santa Barbara home to talk about writing, focus on what is important in our stories and critique each other's works.

The critiquing scared me. I've always heard how beneficial it is to have a critique group, but I've never been part of one and wasn't really sure how to find one. The idea of having near strangers read my work and tell me what was wrong with it sounded as terrifying as someone reading my diary over a loudspeaker. I wasn't looking forward to it.

My turn came last week. I emailed everyone the first two chapter of my WIP a few days ahead of time and briefly considered not even going to class. What if they hated it? What if they told me my writing was terrible and my concept even worse? What if I was like one of those people on American Idol who think they can sing but actually sound like a cat falling off the Empire State Building?

I stressed out for nothing. My critique session was one of the best things I've ever experienced as a writer. Not only did I receive positive feedback for my writing (yay!), I also learned what areas were weak in the story. Because everyone has a different viewpoint, I found it interesting to see what people liked and didn't like. My classmates also had some great suggestions for making readers care more about individual characters. Overall, I was very pleased with the suggestions and really grateful for such a positive first experience.

I think looking at everyone else's manuscripts is helping me as a writer as well, because I'm learning to zero in on what's working, what's not working and why. And hopefully I can apply that knowledge in my own writing. I love hearing what other people notice in each piece, especially when it's something I may not have realized on my own.

So, I'm on the bandwagon. I'll probably still one-on-one manuscript reading with certain people, but I really love the group critique. I can't wait for my next one!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Things I Love

Becky Levine tagged me yesterday to list 7 things I love. Number one above all is my husband, but this is a PG blog so I'll leave it at that :^) Here's the rest:

2. Children.
Before I had my own, kids scared me. I didn't know what to say or how to act around them. They were so unpredictable!! They still are. But now I love that spontaneity and that incredible energy they carry around with them all the time. Of course I love mine the best, but really they've taught me to appreciate all children, even the ones that drive me crazy!

3. Words.
I love that 26 letters can form so many words! I love reading words that other people have put together in so many creative ways. I love finding new ways to say things with unexpected words. I love listening to people speak. It's amazing that two people can say the same words, yet give them such a different implication. Words give our lives meaning and help us connect to other people. I LOVE words.

4. Water.
I love the ocean the most, but any large body of water will do. There is something incredibly calming about the sound of waves lapping on the shore. I love to watch creatures swim beneath the surface, see birds diving for a meal. The air feels different, I feel different...Our bodies are more than 60 percent water, so maybe it's an elemental call of the wild for me :^)

5. Music.
Isn't it amazing that 12 notes can create so many sounds? No matter what kind of music turns you on, all you need are a few notes played in a certain order, and suddenly you're transported back to another time. Classical music takes me to lazy Saturday afternoons reading in my parents' family room. Play any 80s radio song and I'm in high school, wearing questionable outfits and bad hairdos! Music touches us all. I couldn't be without it.

6. Working in my pajamas.
I am SO lucky to have a job that allows me to work from bed (and it's legal!). In addition to writing, I do graphic design for local businesses. With my trusty laptop in tow, I spend many lazy morning and/or evenings in bed, fitting work around the rest of my schedule. I love that flexibility and I feel truly blessed to be able to earn money this way!

7. My MacBook Pro.
I can't even imagine life without it! I use it for work, for play, for staying in contact with people, for paying my bills, for listening to music, creating videos, storing photos and do people survive without a computer?!

So now you know the loves of my life...what are yours?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Cow Appeal

I'm not usually a big fan of "I Can Read" books. And I'm not really into talking animals either. But I have to say, the Minnie and Moo series by author/illustator Denys Cazet is brilliant. I'm always amazed and impressed by authors who can pull me into a story with very few words. And when it comes to "I Can Read" books, the vocabulary is VERY limited.

Part of the appeal of these books is the artwork. I'm one of those people who wishes I could draw, but really, I don't have the patience for it. I know enough to realize that even though it looks cute and simple, the artist put a lot of time and thought into the illustrations.

But the words, the words! These cows have attitude. They may not know all the answers, but they won't hesitate to give you their opinion! I've read these books to my kids hundreds of times. I put on my best Southern accent and pull out my vast array of voices (um, that would be about 3!) whenever we read together. But this morning as I cleaned the house, I picked up "Minnie and Moo Meet Frankenswine" from the sofa and stopped to read it by myself. And I laughed out loud. Even without the pictures the story is funny. How does he do that?

I've never seen Denys Cazet listed among the bestsellers or lauded for his beautiful paintings, so I'll do it right here. Even if you don't have children or you don't usually read books from this section, you have to check out some of the Minnie and Moo books. I guarantee they'll make you smile :)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Beautiful Day

I love U2. I've been listening to them since junior high when the album "Boy" came out (tells you how old I am!!).

As a writer, I love words. And U2 has some of the most meaningful lyrics of any rock band around. I'm listening to "Beautiful Day" as I write this post and it seems totally appropriate for this day in history.

No matter who you voted for or what you believe, today is the start of something new. And here in southern California, the sun is shining, I feel hopeful, and it is, indeed, a beautiful day.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Office

My son set up an office for himself last year. He emptied the shelves and restocked them with his favorite books. My husband found an old OFFICE sign which we lovingly stuck on the door. Drew spends hours in there with the door shut, reading and rereading, sometimes even writing and doing homework.

Unfortunately, his choice of office space conflicts with my daughter's bladder. And bathing.

Why he enjoys reading and writing in the bathroom is beyond my comprehension. But whenever he disappears for 30 minutes, an hour, or more, the first place we look is Drew's office. My husband joked that for Christmas we should have bought him a padded toilet seat.

I've always preferred window seats, sofas, beds and armchairs for curling up with a good book. But that's just me. Drew says he likes the bathroom because he can shut the door and no one disturbs him. Personally, that's never worked for me. My children have no qualms about following me into the bathroom and asking for a snack, like I've got a stocked mini fridge by the toilet!

I'm glad he enjoys reading so much. I just wonder have to wonder, why there? Anybody else like reading in the bathroom?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Up in Flames

Well, Christmas is finally over.

I know. For the rest of you, it's been over for at least two weeks. But here in Solvang, the season doesn't end until we've burned all the trees.

Every year the fire department encourages people to throw their Christmas trees on the acreage in front of the Old Mission Santa Ines. Then on the 2nd Friday night in January, close to a thousand of us gather on the lawn to watch our trees burn.

It's pretty frightening to see how quickly an old Christmas tree can ignite! The firemen always pull out a few to show us how important it is to keep them watered, etc. But that's not what we're there to see. We want to feel the scorching heat of a thousand trees burning in our faces.

And believe me, once the trees light up, everyone backs away. The heat is incredible. It feels like you could get a sunburn just watching the flames! Twenty minutes later, the fire dies down and people start walking home, stopping to smile and talk to friends.

It's a unique way to bring closure to the season. I wouldn't miss it for anything.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Still Giving

This afternoon as the checker rang up my groceries, I noticed the black rubber bangles she wore on her right wrist. Studded with silver and brass bands, the bracelets were simple and lovely.

I told her I liked them and she told me the story behind them. Made by women in Africa and sold around the world, the money goes to help families affected by AIDS in that country. Then she took off one of the bangles and handed I to me.

Of course my first reaction was to hand it back. “What? No. You don’t have to do that.”

She pushed my hand away. “No, really. If you like it, take one.”

I realize that this is Solvang where we know the grocery store checkers by name. But still. I’ve never had someone take off what they’re wearing and hand it to me just because I said I liked it!

I decided to take the gift from her. If there’s a lesson I’ve learned during this 29 Days of Giving, it’s that whatever you give away will come back to you in one form or another. She was willing to give me the bracelet and even though I haven’t given away any jewelry (yet!) it’s all part of this circle of giving. It’s amazing and beautiful and I’ve been so touched by the simplest encounters.

It’s just a bracelet. But every time I look at it and wear it, it will be a reminder to me of this 29 day journey, of giving, just for the sake of giving.
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