Friday, October 28, 2011

Nanowrimo 2011: write that novel!

For all you aspiring writers out there, hold on to your hats:  National Novel Writing Month is nearly here!  November is the month where thousands of writers band together and each pledge to write an entire novel in a single month.  There's no one critiquing your work.  You won't get a publishing contract the moment you finish.  There are no judges giving out awards for the best novel.  What's it's about is motivation, and getting your body into a chair and writing. 

The goal is 50,000 words, which averages to about 1700 words a day.  If you're a writer, you know how many words that really is.  Doable, but challenging.  It's only a rough draft, obviously, so the words don't have to be polished.  They just have to be written. 

Regional groups hold local write-ins and other activities, and the website has great forums where writers inspire and word-duel each other.  It's also one of the few places where you don't have to be afraid to ask a questions like "How much does a tattoo cost in Estonia?" or "How many hippo steaks can you get from an average hippo?"  Even better, after you ask such questions, you'll get answers.  Lots of other fun stuff on the forums will give you plenty of procrastination excuses, but don't forget that the whole point is to work those fingers on the keyboard.    

So, if you've never written a novel but always wanted to, or if you've published sixty-two of them, join us for National Novel Writing Month at  It's free, it's fun, and it's yours if you choose to accept the challenge.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pioneer Pass, Arizona

When I was little my Dad took me camping a lot, and my favorite place was always Pioneer Pass, in the Pinal Mountains up a windy dirt road from my hometown of Globe, Arizona. 

Pioneer Pass Campground, near Globe, Arizona
Sometimes it was just the two of us, and he'd make fancy food in the Dutch oven and we'd go looking for deer at dusk.  Once we built little houses out of the sandy dirt at one of the campsites, and he figured out how to light tiny fires inside, so when night fell we had our own glowing little village.  He taught me how to pick the best firewood and how to lay a fire and how to light it with my boy scout hot spark. (I always wanted to be a boy scout...if only they let in girls.)

Sometimes the whole family went.  We'd play Rook, a card game I always associate with the outdoors.  We read a lot.  I remember devouring The Black Cauldron there when I was quite young, sprawled on the big boulders that were so fun to climb around on.  I pretended I was Princess Eilonwy, a character in the book, and made up my own scenes around her.  When I try to think back on when I started writing stories, I often find myself there, clinging to a rock and imagining trolls and bandits around me in the woods.

My brother David has always liked hiking.  The mountains rose gently up and up away from Pioneer Pass, and the two of us would climb, climb, climb up the slope slippery with fallen pine needles.  It would look for a moment like we were almost to the peak, and David would call out "to the TOP of the MOUNTAIN!" like a hiker's battle cry.  We'd reach the point we thought was the top, only to reveal more mountain above.  We never did reach the top, but I didn't mind.

Alligator bark, Pioneer Pass, Arizona
My church had group camping trips there too, where all us kids would have pine cone fights and elaborate cross-country games of capture the flag.  We'd use those pine-needle-slick hills like sledding runs.  Once we went on a magical midnight hike, with the owls and other nocturnal birds providing creepy background music.

A butterfly that literally flew into my camera frame, Pioneer Pass

Arizona wildlife:  a sleepy black rattler
When I was in high school, one of those years so dry we were all praying for rain daily, the heavens answered, pouring water for days, flooding low-lying towns and saturating the normally parched ground.  The Pinals, soaking with moisture, finally gave way into mudslides, one of which crashed right through Pioneer Pass, grinding boulders through the campsites, destroying the water system, burying picnic tables in rubble, washing out the road.  I cried.  Pioneer Pass had been such a part of my childhood.  Though the Forest Service slowly began to rebuild, I couldn't stand going back for years.  Finally, Dad took me.

The old-fashioned water pumps are gone.  The sites have rearranged themselves.  I can't recognize where we hung the pinata on one church campout, or where Dad and I made the village of sand and fire, or where I and all the characters from The Black Cauldron fought off the bad guys.  But I remember the feel of it.  The quiet happiness.  The times I spent with my dad.

And at night, in the crisp mountain air, the stars still shine as bright.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Recommended Fantasy Literature for Teens

Enjoyed by generation after generation for its adventure, its grandeur, and its dragons, fantasy can also provide interesting social commentary. Much is written of children's fantasy, but sometimes young adult fantasy slips through the cracks.

For a list of my favorite YA masterpieces, like Hilari Bell's fantastic Fall of a Kingdom, and Victoria Hanley's The Seer and the Sword, read my whole article on 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Recycling Plot Lines

There are only so many plotlines in the world, and stories often borrow elements from each other.  I don't mind that.  Authors reuse story lines because we like them.  I love tomatoes, and could eat them every day of my life.  So I'm not going to reject a meal with tomatoes in it just because it's not original enough.  But some books take this too far.

Recently I read The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.  A young, semi-orphaned, misfit boy, around whom mysterious events sometimes happen, discovers that he's not normal.  He has magic powers.  So he goes away to a sort of school for other people like him, who are divided into different houses.  Once there, he makes friends with a smart, rather know-it-all girl, and a clumsy, somewhat cowardly boy.  He learns of prophecies surrounding him—the Chosen One—and discovers he is the only one who can avert the upcoming doom.  Hmm…  Sound familiar?  Really, Rick Riordan, can't you at least make the male friend the brainy one and the female friend the clutzy one?  Or give him three friends?  Or NOT divide the school into houses?  Or make Harry…um, I mean Percy...less of a misfit to begin with?              

Haven, by Kristi Cook, features a girl who goes to a new school and there meets an incredibly hot guy.  Instant mutual attraction.  All her new friends are like, "What?  He never even looks at girls!"  One day he's perfectly attentive.  The next he disappears for days.  It turns out he's super fast, super strong, and cool to the touch.  Everyone's attracted to him.  He can read minds.  Her blood drives him wild.  Oh, yeah, and he's a vampire.  Kristi Cook, couldn't you at least not make him a mind reader?  Or make him rather warm to the touch?  Or make her blood smell bad? 

Midnight for Charlie Bone, by Jenny Nimmo, is the story of a boy who has unpleasant relatives and magic power, a legacy of his ancestors.  He goes to a special boarding school, finds Ron and Hermione-like friends, and solves a magical mystery.

Of course, I guess none of that's as bad as the book I saw on the shelves in the Czech Republic, showing a boy with a lightning scar, a girl with frizzy hair, and a red-headed friend.  I think it was called Harry Trotter, but I can't find it on the internet.  I find Barry Trotter and Harry Pouter and various other spoofs.  A spoof, I appreciate.  A book that is not a spoof, yet borrows so heavily…that's just sad.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My Cinderella Story

I have a new story published in Enchanted Conversation:  A Fairy Tale Magazine.  Each issue is based on one specific fairy tale.  This issue retells Cinderella, and my story, "Ethereal," appears among them.  If you enjoy it, please add a comment.  Enjoy.