Tuesday, December 31, 2013

This year was better than last.

In December of 2012, we were living at my mother's house. We had scrimped and saved to buy a little bit of Christmas and then found out that our ward had donated a Christmas to us.

Nothing like finding out you're the poorest person in the church building the Sunday after Christmas, and that everybody knows it.

My husband had decided to start his own law firm, but didn't have an office or anything yet. So he was answering phone calls in the back room of the retail store he worked at to pay the few bills we had.

I was physically recovered from an especially long and drawn out miscarriage (I watched the baby die over the course of six weeks in a series of increasingly depressing ultrasounds and then waited three more weeks for my body to actual realize it wasn't pregnant and expel the fetus). I was also convincing myself that I was mentally recovered, but in reality it would be months before I was back to normal.

On New Year's Eve, 2012, I finished the first draft of my Snow White retelling and shipped it off to the most patient CPs ever.

I had no idea where we were going to live.
Or if the "law firm" (remember: at the time, the "law firm" was just a cell phone and some dreams) was going to take off.
I was broken and I was scared and I considered myself a complete hack, because that first draft of Snow White SUCKED.

This year?

I am sitting at my kitchen table in a beautiful home. We don't own it, but we pay for it every month, and at this stage of life, that's just as good.

My husband is not home because he is working very hard on a case and he wanted to give his two employees the holiday off to be with their families.

We're on a waiting list to adopt.

My Snow White novel is doing well on the query circuit. Multiple full requests, a couple of R&Rs from agents I respect very, very much. It's close. I can feel it.

I have a rough draft of a Sleeping Beauty retelling, and while it's definitely a first draft, it's about 600% better than Snow White was at this time last year. I also have a synopsis of the coolest story anyone has ever thought of. I'm sorry if you think your story is cool, because when you see this one, you will no longer think that.

I'm working on being humble, guys.

The point of this post is this:

Stuff changes. Sometimes it gets worse. If you had asked me on New Year's Eve 2012, I would have told you that things were going in the wrong direction. But they turned around. And they actually turned around really quickly after that night.

And now things are good. So good, in fact, that I feel like I'm finally stable enough to actually make goals for next year.

See you in 2014. When more stuff will change.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My Writing Process Blog Tour

The lovely Ranee S. Clark tagged me in this fancy-dancy Writing Process Blog Tour. And since the title is self-explanatory, I'm going to jump right in. 


1. What am I working on?

I'm writing a series of fairy tales from the villain's perspective. Right now, WAKING BEAUTY (a flip on Sleeping Beauty) is resting before I dive into revisions. I also got an R&R on SNOW FALLING (a flip on Snow White), so I'm knee-deep in revisions on that bad girl. 

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I'm trying to justify a woman who poisoned her stepdaughter and tried to have her assassinated. What these villains do is truly horrifying (murder, or an attempt at murder, and usually of a young girl) and I am finding a way to make that horrible action seem reasonable. Believe or not, by the time you get to it in SNOW FALLING, you can totally understand why a woman would do that to a young girl. 


3. Why do I write what I do?

This is sort of an extension of the previous question, but by justifying the villain's actions, I'm shining a light on the reasons why we do things. Brandon Sanderson always says the villain is the hero of his own story, and that's what's happening in my fairy tales. 

Instead of writing these as horror tales, I dug deep and thought, "What could make a woman do this? What could make someone think this is okay?" and it turns out there are a whole lot of things that could happen in my life, making me resort to all sorts of evil behavior. 

4. How does your writing process work?
I've written two whole novels, and the third in in first-draft-status, so I feel like I'm still learning my process. But it basically goes like this: 

- Get a new shiny idea. Mine comes in the form of a concept, with the main character becoming clear very early on.  
- Stew about it for forever.  
- Do a little pre-plotting and world-building. I use Dan Wells' 7 Point System, and basically use it for character growth and development. I never have any idea what's actually going to happen in the story - I just know how it's going to affect my characters.  
- Think I'm the shiz for being prepared.  
- Draft. (I draft fast- easily cranking out 7-8k in a day.) I use #WriteClub on Friday nights to make this happen.  
- Let it sit.  
- Cut the first 10-15K words because I started in the wrong freaking place.  
- Revise, mostly for pacing and creating a series of events that makes sense. I use a beat sheet at this point.  
- Send to alpha readers and CPs.  
- Hate the world for hating me. 
- Revise again.  
- Repeat those last three steps a half-dozen times.  
- Cry to Darci Cole and ask her to help me fix all the things.  
- Send to betas. 
- Revise again. 


Now I tag Darci Cole. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Stepping Outside My Zone

I was approached recently to participate in SantaCLASH. Chynna-Blue Scott is hosting a countdown to Christmas in which authors write Christmas-related short stories.

One catch: You had to write in a genre that wasn't yours and you didn't get to pick.

I was assigned to write a thriller.

A thriller. The last thriller book I read was... never. I have never read a thriller, I don't think. The last thriller movie I watched was Jack Reacher and I can't remember being more mad about my $10 ticket in the last decade.

I asked twitter to recommend their favorite thrillers and Dan Brown was overwhelmingly recommended. I haven't read Dan Brown, but I watched The Da Vinci Code and was thoroughly underwhelmed. I don't "get" the genre, I don't enjoy it, it's just really and truly not my thing.

And writing a thriller piece was hard. Like, really HARD. And I'm still not sure I pulled it off.

(This is not a fishing-for-compliments thing, I promise)

But I learned something from the experience.

1. I'm not a short story writer.
2. I'm a speculative fiction novel writer.
3. Writing short stories is a good way to "cleanse the palette"
4. Writing stuff that has nothing to do with your "real" stuff is a good way to "cleanse the palette"

I've stepped away from my novels to write character bios, alternate POV scenes, backstory chunks, etc. I've used these exercises as mental breaks, the palette cleansers of the writing world. They help me get a break from the big project, but continue to write.

Writing this ridiculously bad little short story was even better than those exercises.

I explored new ways of introducing characters.
I came to understand what's really important in setting up tension, especially when space is limited.
I forced myself to create just for the sake of creating - there was nothing to "gain" from this project. It was just something for fun, to be part of the community, but it doesn't further my writing career. (In my husband's words... "Why are you doing this? Other than to make yourself mad?)

But there's a good reason for it.

It helped me clear away my NaNoWriMo hangover, it helped me refocus on storytelling elements without getting bogged down in the love-hate relationship I have with my characters.

And I'm grateful to Ms. Scott for including me in this project. I'm honored to be thought of as a part of this community and I'm grateful for the chance to stretch my literary legs, even if I did so in a very clumsy and ineffective way.

I'm also going to do this more often.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Character Study: Barney Stinson

My friend Samantha asked recently during a How I Met Your Mother binge session, "How do they make Barney so likable?"

And it's a valid question. He's a horrible person, at least on the surface and in the early years. He treats women terribly, he's shallow, misogynistic, selfish, and condescending at best. His only goal in life is to hook up with hot chicks (his words, not mine), and he's incredibly rude about it as he does so.

And yet we root for him. He's one of the central characters on the show, and he's arguably the most enjoyable part of the show.

How do they do that?

Samantha and I came up with what we're calling The Trifecta: he's funny, his back story is super sad, and he grows a lot over the course of the show. I wanted to break that down a little more, see what I can learn from it (since my whole schtick is showing villains in a positive light). Here's what I came up with:

1. Barney is likable because he is funny. 
You could really pick any one trait to emphasize. Funny works for Barney because this is a sitcom. The other characters are funny, sure. But the heart and soul of the show is a pretty schmoopy-love-sick character, and Barney fills in the gaps, making sure there are a lot of laughs, even when the episode is serious.

He's responsible for the catch phrases that made the show famous: "Haaaaaave you met Ted?" "LEGEN-DARY." "Wait for it..." "<fill in the blank> Five!" "Challenge... accepted!"

They gave him one trait that was undeniably positive and it never goes away. He might not be funny to his friends on the show, but he always delivers the laughs to the audience, and that's what matters.

2. His back story is sad. 
You cannot help but feel bad for Barney once you learn his back story. It gets told in pieces, spooled out a little at a time (that's its own storytelling lesson), but each piece is a little more sad than the last.

He was dumped in a very heartless way. He was raised in a broken home filled with lies. He doesn't know who his dad is. He finds his dad and that's more sad than you could ever have imagined. Compared with Ted and Marshall, whose upbringings were hunky-dory suburban blandness, Barney's story is heart breaking.

His story is a little too over-the-top for any other type of story - you couldn't get away with such extreme measures in most stories, but the nearly-slapstick nature of HIMYM makes it work. But making us feel sorry for a character is a guarantee that we will forgive a lot of his abhorrent behavior.

3. He grows. 
No doubt, Barney's character arc is the most dramatic over the course of the show. It's nine years altogether, so everybody changes, but Barney makes the biggest changes, hands down.

By the time we enter season nine, Barney has opened himself up, abandoned most of the childish, hurtful behaviors of the earlier seasons, and just becomes a really stand up guy.

This goes a long way toward making audiences like him. If he were to continue being the same selfish womanizer from season one, we would have grown bored with him long ago. But he doesn't, so we don't feel bad rooting for him.

Because there's a chance he just might become the guy we hope he'll become.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Storytelling Tips from "Melissa and Joey"

One of my guiltiest pleasures is the ABC Family show, Melissa and Joey. It's adorable and funny and just cheesy enough that I can't turn it off. (No, seriously, I can't. I'm completely addicted.) I've been bingeing on Netflix since they added new episodes, and I realized there are a lot of lessons to learned from this show.

Not good lessons, more like a long list of "what not to do" tips.

The writers on this show take a lot of shortcuts. The most generous explanation for this is that they are deliberately hearkening back to the cheeseball nineties sitcoms that created the stars (Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence), but who knows?

In any case, here are the lessons I've been learning from this show:

- People are not plot points.

Or, more specifically, people are not merely plot points. During the first two seasons of M&J, characters marched onto the show, served as a plot point for a single episode (Lennox is thinking about having sex! Joe has a new girlfriend! Mel has an archenemy at work!), and then were never heard from again.


- Characters should grow over time.

Mel and Joe never change. They even make jokes about how they're the same people they were before they were in charge of these kids, and even all the way back to high school. We start to see the slightest inklings of a change at the end of season three, but that's nearly sixty episodes in. That's too far.

- Keep track of time.

There have been sixty episodes to date, over the span of three years. Mel has had approximately fifty new "boyfriends" during that time. First, that's a LOT of sexual partners for that amount of time. It's not impossible, of course, but it's improbable. It's even more unlikely given how much she cares about her political career and she's in a pretty small city. But beyond that, she's a woman in her thirties. She knows better than to think of a one-night-stand as a "boyfriend". Most of these men come and go within a single episode, meaning she starts dating them and then moves on within a week of TV-time.

When they do finally decide to make Mel get serious with someone, she's talking about settling down and having a family after two or three weeks together. It's not true to the character, and it's not true to life (deciding to have a baby together after only three weeks is fast by anybody's standards and would be a shocking revelation on any other tv show), and it's just not fair to the audience.

- Pay attention to where you are.

The show takes place in Toledo, Ohio. This is a city that is warm-ish in the summers, has distinct spring and fall, and a cold, snowy winter. Yet no character ever dons a winter coat, or wears functional boots. Everyone is perpetually dressed as if it's an early spring day: light layers and fashionable shoes. An episode set at "Christmastime" features Mel in a sundress with a light cardigan, no tights, and sky-high stilettos, and the dudes are all in jeans and t-shirts, no jackets.

On a more serious note, the city in real life is ethnically diverse, yet the show is overwhelmingly white. Real-life Toledo is only 64% white, and yet only a handful of black characters have walked through the M&J set.

The real lesson:

If you craft something that is cute enough, or reaches your target audience in just the right way, you can probably get away with making a lot of "mistakes." I forgive this show a lot of its "problems" because I like the stars, I think they're funny, and I like the veritable parade of 90s teen stars that marches across the screen.

We all know books that have been a huge success but have been riddled with problems, things that make most authors tear their hair out.

But you know what? It doesn't matter. You need to strike the right note and understand what your audience wants. Make sure those pieces are right, and let the rest fall where it will.

For me, personally? I'll work hard to make sure I don't fall into the M&J problem areas.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Requerying

If you have agent friends, or agency experience, or publishing experience, I'd love to hear your responses to this. I'm thoroughly confused, and I genuinely want answers. This is not a "complaint" and it's certainly not just a rant.

When is it okay to requery?

Wait.

I want to be very clear up front: I would never requery an agent or editor unless I had significantly rewritten the manuscript, including the query and the synopsis, and let a significant amount of time pass. Six months, bare minimum. Probably more like a year. (I have not been querying long enough, nor have I racked up enough rejections for me to feel like this is an issue yet)

Now that I've cleared that up...

When is it okay to requery?

Lots of agents have interns or assistants who read their slush, and I would guess in these cases they don't read... I dunno... seventy? eighty? percent of what comes through their inboxes. Those interns and assistants probably turn over at a very fast rate, as most entry-level positions tend to do. So, in all likelihood, the intern who sent me a form rejection without even passing it on to the agent last year probably doesn't even work there anymore.

Trends change. Markets change. What felt old or stale last year, might be making a resurgence now. What felt weird and alien last year might feel just quirky enough to work today.

What about all the authors who queried for years with the same manuscript? Or who racked up hundreds of rejections on the same manuscript? Surely they requeried at least some of the people on their list?

When does it stop being "perseverance" and become "super annoying"? Or is a very tenacious author who keeps rewriting just actually a really annoying person?

One agent (who I have a lot of respect for, and I am not trying to insult her style or her methods) said that she is absolutely not a fan of the requery. At all. And she remembered someone who queried her (and got a form rejection, by the sounds of it) six years ago. 

Six. Years.

Granted, I would have written about six more novels in that time, and I probably would have been querying one of those instead.

However.

Lots of people say they go back and rewrite their trunk novels. Is it impossible to requery those... ever??? 

And, truth be told, there are times I can't even remember the substance of a book I read six years ago, much less the content of the back cover blurb. How do agents remember that long?

And if they do, is it really in my best interest to be all, "Hey you rejected this once, wanna have another gander?" Or is mentioning a significant rewrite sufficient? What if they don't remember me, am I only making it worse by mentioning that I queried before?

I'm genuinely confused by this. Please help.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Why I don't talk about writing in "real" life

Friend: Hey, how's that book thing coming along? 

Me: Oh, really great. I just finished edits and now I'm querying. 

Friend: I thought you were editing before? 

Me: Well, I was rewriting last time I talked to you. Is that what you mean? 

Friend: …

Me: Well, I mean, rewriting is major stuff, big changes, and then I had to proofread those changes, make sure everything looks good. 

Friend: Oh that makes sense. … So, is it going to be published? 

Me: I'm querying right now. 

Friend: … Just … like, waiting? 

Me: *stifles a sigh* Yeah. Basically. But I'm starting another book next week. 

Friend: Why next week? 

Me: It's National Novel Writing Month. 

Friend: What?!

Me: It's just an event where people try to write a whole book in November, cheering each other on, competing to see who can write the most. 

Friend: Why November? Just so you can have the book published in the spring then? 

Me: Never mind.  The book is great. Everything is great. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Ungrateful

This post is going to sound pretty whiny at first, but I promise, if you stick with it to the end, it will get a lot better. We just have to wade through the muck to get to the good part.

Our church has a robust charity and welfare outreach program. On the grand scale, the church and congregations do some amazing things for millions of people all over the world. On the small scale, we provide a lot of one-to-one service. We clean people's homes, we help them with rides, find jobs, and all kinds of other little things that make a big difference.

One of the most common "little" things we do is to bring meals to people who are struggling. Maybe they just had a new baby, or mom got put on bedrest, or they lost a family member, or anything, really. We bring hot meals into homes where people are struggling emotionally and spiritually and provide a brief respite from their problems.

This type of service is so common, that I actually think we overdo it. I know people have brought me meals when I definitely didn't need them, but they want to feel helpful, so I accept the "help" and just go about my day.

But for some reason, every time I am asked to do this for someone else, I end up feeling like garbage afterward. Don't get me wrong, I'm not expecting people to be extra gracious. If your sister just died or you just miscarried, you're not always going to be cognizant of the people around you, and I get that. It's fine, and I don't expect anything different.

But I do feel like I at least deserve to not be treated with overt, deliberate rudeness when I've done something nice for someone.

I recently brought dinner to a family. The mother's sister died (the aunt of the children in the home). I was asked by our compassionate service coordinator to bring food for fourteen people (six people live in the house). I made lasagna, salad, garlic bread, and brought some cookies from the bakery. It wasn't fancy, but to feed fourteen people it was still time consuming and expensive.

I want to reiterate here: I did this because it's the right thing to do. I was asked to help, so I help. I don't expect explicit gratitude.

I also don't expect to be yelled at. For the house to be obviously in the middle of a football-game-viewing-party. I don't expect to be belittled for being "late" (I dropped off dinner at 5:45), or for asking for my carrying tray back. The adults in the house (they sent a teen out to get the food from my car) complained loudly about what I brought and how much I brought.

And I felt like garbage. 

All the way home, I cried. My kids were cranky and hungry - we hadn't eaten yet; our dinner was waiting for us to reheat when we got home. And I thought about all the other times this has happened to me, and I always end up feeling the same way.

I took time out of my busy day. I postponed my children's dinner. I tried to do something nice, and there are plenty of days I don't feel like making dinner, but I do it anyway because that's my job.

And then it hit me.

I'm not going to participate in these "let's bring meals to the people who are making lots of demands" anymore.

Instead, I will pick one family to bring dinner to each month. A family like mine, where mom is often stressed out and busy and could really use a pizza night but pizza is too expensive and they just can't imagine packing the kids in the car to go get dinner, so instead they serve cereal because they're exhausted. A family where dad got a new job and is working longer hours and everybody is just tired and cranky. A family without a big, obvious tragedy, but who would really love a night off.

Because that family won't feel entitled to the help; and they won't crap all over me for doing it.

That might sound selfish. But I want to serve. I want to help others, to give of my time and talents and substance. But I really don't want to feel like a loser for doing it.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The 7 Rules of Twitter Pitching

Today was another twitter pitch party, and another day of people everywhere celebrating one another's work. However, it was also a day of people everywhere headdesking as they watch others spoil the fun for everyone.

I'm not the world's expert on this, and I'm obviously not an agent. But I have participated in a few of these, I've read all the rules carefully, and I've gotten a disproportionately large number of requests from these pitch parties. Plus, I'm a total twitter-addict and I feel safe in saying that I understand the "rules" of twitter and twitter parties.

1. Don't tweet all of your successes on the hashtag. 
You can tweet that you got some bites, but don't tweet every single success. One tweeter sent out a tweet every. single. time. she received a request from an agent, and she did it in rapid-fire succession. It looks like you're gloating, and it spams up the tag.

Be excited, tweet off the hashtag (just don't put the # in front of the tag, for example), DM a friend, email, text, call, whatever. Just don't be a Gloaty McGloater Pants and spam up everyone's feed. You're making it harder for agents to see other tweets.

2. Make sure your story, and the stakes, are clear.  

You do not want people to read your tweet-pitch and say, "What?!"
Some examples:

"Joey must decide if his shoes are important enough to stop the war against the elves. #Adult #Romance"

"Teenage witch Angie accidentally invents a new super robot and then falls in love with it. #Adult #Thriller"

These are made-up examples, but I promise you, they are no less confusing than a lot of the tweets I see on pitch parties. Yes, your pitch needs to be catchy, but it also needs to make sense. I promise, something that makes sense will trump a catchy piece of nonsense any day of the week.

Here's an example of what your pitch should look like:

Stakes are clear: girl needs to save her brother and overcome a family curse. The words "quest" and "curse" lead me to believe this is speculative fiction of some kind, though the author goes on to clarify that it's magical realism. It's succinct, it's clear, and it makes you wonder how the problem can possibly be solved.

3. Your category needs to be clear. 
If you're pitching in an all-adult twitter party, then you better be writing adult fiction. If you're pitching in an all-YA twitter party, then you better be writing YA fiction. Same goes for those "children's" pitch parties that accept all PB/MG/YA pitches - don't pitch an adult fairy tale and insist that it's "good for all ages".

DO NOT pitch if you don't meet the qualifications to pitch. Nobody will believe that your 17-year-old protagonist is so mature that she's really a New Adult character, or that your 24-year-old mother is so fun and ironic that teens will love her and you'll sell like crazy in the YA section.

Know your category and stick to it. Another pitch party for your category will come around, don't worry :)

4. Your genre needs to be clear. 
If you genre is not clear in your pitch (more on that in a second) and you have the extra characters, please, please add your genre to the tweet. Abbreviations are fine. Fant = fantasy. UF = urban fantasy. Para = paranormal. R = romance. Thr = thriller. Lit = literary. You get the idea.

If you're pitching genre fiction, your genre should be pretty obvious from the words you use in your pitch. This won't always happen of course, but it should happen more often that it does. Words like "magic" and "sorcery" and the names of fantasy creatures like fairies, wizards, unicorns, centaurs, dragons, and elves tip us off that the story is a fantasy. (If it's not high/epic fantasy, you can specify urban fantasy with a quick "UF" at the end of your tweet). Vampires and werewolves are obviously paranormal, and you don't need to specify it. Time travel, robots, cyborgs, spaceships, and such all signify science fiction. If you use one of those terms in your tweet, you don't need to label the genre, it just takes up characters in your tweet that you can put to another use.

Pitching a story that sounds like science fiction but then tagging it with #Romance doesn't make you sound like a genre-bending genius, it makes you sound like you don't know what you're doing. You probably DO know what you're doing, so make your pitch reflect that.

5. Follow the rules. 
This really should go without saying, but alas. It does not.

If the party hosts ask you to only pitch once per hour, that's your limit.
If there are category qualifications, or genre specifications, follow them. Don't pretend you wrote a science fiction novel when the most "science" in your story is the cell phone your main character uses to text her boyfriend. You're just wasting everybody's time (including your own).


There are unspoken rules in every twitter pitch party:
Don't favorite tweets unless you are an agent or editor requesting work.
Don't post fake pitches unless you tag them #FakePitch. I know. It's fun. But don't ruin the tag for everybody.
Don't post unless you're ready to submit TODAY.
Don't tweet directly at an agent or editor.
Don't promote other stuff on the tag. That's called spam and it sucks. If you have relevant information, post that, but don't post links to your books or promote giveaways or whatever.

6. Support others
Retweet their pitches. Respond to their pitches with a compliment or a question. Follow somebody who made a pitch that you love. Lots of ways to share the love, and support is what makes this community so great :)


7. Make your pitch as "proper" as possible. 
I know. 140 characters is not a lot, especially when some of them are eaten up by the necessary hashtag. But PLEASE make your pitch as clean as possible. Substituting "your" for "you're" just because it's two fewer characters is not acceptable, and nobody will assume you're saving space. They'll assume you don't know the difference.

Use numerals if you have to, but only two describe a number of things. "2" instead of "two" is acceptable, but "2" instead of "to" or "too" is not.

Yes, this will require some tinkering, but it will be worth it. When others are shouting improper nonsense into the interwebs, you'll look a lot better by comparison.

Of course, this is all just advice, and you should treat it accordingly. But, I promise, I'm not trying to sabotage anybody or stop anybody from pitching. Quite the opposite: I want you to pitch, and I want you to do it well. I'd love to cheer you on as you make your way in this messy world of publishing :)

Go forth. Tweet. Pitch. And win the day.

Or something.

Edited to add Rule #8:
Do NOT, under any circumstances, tweet your pitch, and then spend the rest of the day tweeting "Scroll down to see my pitch." Or "Visit my website to see my pitch." No. You play by the rules, and you do not make agents and editors work for the opportunity to see your pitch.

Similar: Do not say "Request my work and then we'll talk about my pitch. It's too complicated for twitter."

Okay. Now you may go forth and tweet and pitch and win.

EDIT: The rules of how often you can pitch have changed. Please follow the new rules on Brenda Drake's profile. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Nicholas Sparks, Sexism in Publishing, and Love Tragedies

I feel like I rag on Nicholas Sparks a lot, and I feel kind of bad about it. He's a person, and he has a passion for writing, and he has managed to make a very successful career out of his passion/hobby, which is no small feat. He's not a bad writer, and I want that to be very clear, right up front.

He's just kind of a douche bag jerk face.

This blog post started making the rounds, in which a writer describes her encounter with Nicholas Sparks at an event. In a nutshell, she asked him if he'd ever been described as a "chick lit" writer and if he thought his career would have gone differently if he was a woman. And he, of course, responded with compassion and understanding, bemoaning the presence of sexism in his industry.

JUST KIDDING.

He didn't do any of that. Instead, he insisted he didn't write "romance" or "chick lit" and that instead his genre was "love tragedy" (more on that in a second) and that women have "for some reason" been unable to break into his genre.

Here are the problems with this situation and how Sparks is a contributing factor:

1. He balks at the idea of writing "chick lit" or "romance" 
The fact that he is so offended  by the idea of writing for women is a huge deal. "What? Me? Write books for women? ICK." is basically what he says here. Notice that he doesn't deny the existence of chick-lit, or women's fiction, and therefore propagates the idea that these categories are completely legitimate.

I want to be clear: There is nothing wrong with chick-lit or women's fiction or romance. I don't love it, it's not my thing (neither is love-tragedy, but I digress), but it's certainly not inferior in any way to any other genre. If you think it is, you can stop reading now because there's very little you and I can agree on.

However. Chick-lit and New Adult are the exact same thing. Except one has been cast as "For Girls Only." The same is true with Women's Fiction and plain ol' Fiction. There's nothing inherently wrong with these categories, per se, but the problem comes in when we start to think of the "girl" books as inferior books, which Sparks obviously does. And a lot of other people feel the same way; Fiction is for men, who like to think, you see. Women's Fiction is for those pesky females who enjoy their feelings and junk.

It's a marketing thing, and I get that. But the more we are okay with people sneering at Women's Fiction, the more we assist in spreading the message that "girl" books are inferior.

2. He insinuates women are incapable of breaking into his invented genre
I don't know what "love tragedy" is and I've never heard the term before. Based on my experience with the English language, however, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say it's a love story in which at least one person dies or is otherwise traumatized. Based on my (admittedly limited) experience with Sparks' writing, that feels accurate.

But that leaves me wondering. Has no successful female author ever written a book that featured people who love each other, but something went horribly wrong for them? I mean, I know about Margaret Mitchell and Daphne Demaurier and Jodi Piccoult, but surely they don't count. After all, that's all Women's Fiction and not at all the same.

3. He invents his own genre
And this is probably the biggest problem of all. By inventing this genre to distance himself from the distasteful reputation of "girl" books, he draws yet another line in the sand of "us" and "them". Just in case any females were to be taken seriously as literary writers instead of girl writers, he's drawn another box to keep them out.

Look, I don't hate Sparks. I don't hate his writing, I can even say I enjoyed the two books of his that I read. They are not bad, and I won't pretend otherwise. Yes, he's formulaic, but there are a lot of writers of both genders and in all genres who are and I don't really care that much.

The problem I have with Sparks' comments is that they are indicative of a pervasive problem in the public's consumption of literature. I don't think it's wholly the fault of publishers or marketers or writers or consumers or distributors or anybody, but rather a lot of people making a lot of decisions based on a lot of things that they perceive other people are thinking or doing. But a lot of women who write literary fiction are shelved with women's fiction, and a lot of women who write fantasy are shelved with paranormal romance because there's a kiss between a knight and a queen and that makes it girly.

And make no mistake about it, Sparks writes Women's Fiction, and you can tell that based on who his fans are. I don't know a lot of men who ooh and aah over The Notebook or A Walk to Remember or Dear John or whatever other romantic cry fest he's churned out. He writes books for women and he makes gobs of money at it and I hate that he pretends women and women writers are somehow beneath him for it.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

We don't need no stinkin' rules.

There are a lot of writing rules out there, particularly for fiction writers. Well, to be honest, they probably exist for other kinds of writers, too, but I don't pay attention to those rules as closely. A lot of these rules make sense and they have purpose, but they're also extremely flexible.

I'm currently re-reading Harry Potter, and I'm about two-thirds of the way through Prisoner of Azkaban. (Why does spellcheck not yet recognize "Azkaban" as a word??? Come on, Google, get with the program.) In two-and-two-thirds of a book, I've come up with some of the most breakable rules in fiction, according to JK Rowling.

Breakable Rule #1. Don't use adverbs. 
JK Rowling never met an adverb she didn't like, and she uses one to describe almost every piece of dialog. I think she uses these to avoid using cluttered dialog tags. You know, instead of "shouted" she uses "said loudly" and instead of  "mocked" she uses "said mockingly." So, potayto potahto, if you ask me.

I counted one sentence with four separate adverbs in it. Part of this has to do with her audience; the early books are intended to be middle grade or early young adult, and kids that age aren't as adept at reading body language. So Snape can't just smile at the kids, he has to smile coldly to get the point across.

HOWEVER: If you're not writing for kids, or if you're relying on adverbs to describe everything, there's a good chance you're using the weakest words possible. To say something fiercely is not as powerful as demanding, commanding, pronouncing, or some other strong-sounding verb.


Breakable Rule #2. If you can't read a sentence aloud in one breath, it's too long. 
I've counted no fewer than four sentences with over one hundred words in them. They're heavily punctuated, and they all make sense, but they are looooooooong. Sentences routinely clock in over forty or fifty words, and will change subjects multiple times as they go. But it works within the voice she's constructed.

HOWEVER: If your sentences sound rambly when you read them out loud, they're too long. Cut. Slice. Punctuate.


Breakable Rule #3. Don't use passive voice. 
Example of passive voice: "While Hermione was checking that the coast was clear..."
Changing it to active voice: "While Hermione checked that the coast was clear..."
Rowling breaks this rule... oh, I dunno, approximately a thousand times in each book. Seriously, almost every verb that could be active is written passively. Harry never ran, he was running. Ron never waved his wand, he was waving it. Hagrid never hummed, he was humming. On and on and on.

The big reason this one can be broken is because the story is so good. If the story wasn't so perfectly engaging, you'd never be able to overlook this one. There's no "HOWEVER" on this one, because you really shouldn't break it. Rowling gets to. She's the queen.


Breakable Rule #4. Don't break POV. If you're in limited 3rd, stay with that character. 
Chapter one of PS/SS is in omniscient third. Chapter two starts in a semi-close-omniscient third in Harry's POV, but it's still not a traditional limited third. Throughout that book, we break POV. The quidditch game when Hermione sets Snape's robes on fire? That's obviously not in Harry's POV. Rowling breaks the fourth wall a handful of times, but then returns to the limited third POV.

Throughout the series she breaks POV, sometimes in a big way. CoS and PoA both start in omniscient third. GoF starts in omniscient, and closes the opening chapter as if it's a dream, sliding awkwardly from one POV to another. HBP has two chapters that Harry knows nothing about, like a double-prologue. The Prime Minister chapter is told in a completely different voice, and then Spinner's End is yet another voice. The POV problems tighten up a lot as the story progresses through the later books, but it's still not 100% consistent.

HOWEVER: If you're head hopping around like mad, it's confusing. If you're going to change POV, make it for a single scene, or a single chapter, at a time. Make the transitions obvious. (No Goblet of Fire omniscient-storytelling-narrator-to-dream sequences, mkay?)


Breakable Rule #5: Show, don't tell. 
BLAH. Sometimes telling is the best way to get through some information. Lots of things happening on Halloween (always)? Turn the page, it's several weeks later, and I'll tell you that by saying "Hermione stayed in the hospital wing for several weeks." Boom. Done. This could have been really boring, and stretched out, or we could have described the weather changing as Hermione stared out of the hospital window or something, but just saying it was the best way to get it done. "The end of summer vacation came too quickly." One sentence wrapped up four weeks of the timetable. We didn't need to see it all, we can manage with just being told.

Rowling also breaks this rule repeatedly when Harry passes out. And he does pass out A LOT. After being attacked by Quirrelmort, after meeting the dementors (twice), etc. Dumbledore sits down and just tells Harry everything he missed. (There's another very famous book series that uses the knock-the-main-character-unconscious-while-we-do-the-complicated-stuff-and-fill-her-in-quickly-after trick, but it's not done as seamlessly, so obviously this isn't a one-trick-fits-all kind of a trick) (I use a lot of hyphens. SorryNotSorry).

HOWEVER: If you find yourself glazing over as you re-read your work, it's definitely too boring, and that's a good sign that you're telling too much. Telling is good for glossing over big chunks of time or information that would otherwise be useless to the story. Use it sparingly. But by golly, you should use it sometimes.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Banned Books Week

I'm not here today. I'm over at Mormon Mommy Writers, talking about Banned Books. More specifically, I'm talking about balancing our desire for uplifting media and the overwhelming need to not ban books.

Please, comment and share.

Friday, September 6, 2013

My thoughts on Syria and all the other wars

Those who hold power - whether it be the real, tangible power of the United States president or the more tenuous power of a popular kid in high school - should use their power to protect and serve those without it. 

No matter how powerful an entity is, they cannot possibly protect everyone who needs protecting. There will always be more to do. More villains to destroy. More poverty to eliminate. More disease to eradicate. More. More. More. 

Since the powerful cannot possibly protect everyone everywhere all the time, they have to make choices. Get involved in some disputes, leave others to work out on their own, mediate, ignore, send troops, send money, give nothing more than advice, watch helplessly from the sidelines. 

I don't want to be the one who decides who gets help and who is ignored. 

In choosing who to help, the interests of the powerful will be considered. Not necessarily because it's important to do so, but because the powerful person is mortal and fallible and it is inevitable. 

All I can do is pray that our leaders act wisely, tread carefully, and listen to the still small voice that will invariably guide them to do what is right. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Trolls I Know

On the interwebs, you tend to bump into a lot of trolls. Some of them are obvious, some baffle me, and some are a weird breed unto themselves. Here, I attempt to break down the different types of trolls I know. You might know some others, but this is the limit of my experience.

The Spoiler Troll - Goes hunting through mainstream sites searching for anything that might be considered spoilers for their favorite show/movie/book and gets super mad when they find what they're looking for. If they were actually concerned with spoilers, they'd just avoid articles and posts about the thing they don't want spoiled.

The Spoiler Troll, 2.0 - This guy goes to midnight showings and releases and plows through movies, DVDs, books, games, anything, just so he can be the first one to tell you that Dumbledore died on page 596. He posts screencaps and pictures of first pages, climax points, plot points, and all manner of spoilers and posts them with innocuous titles so that anybody can stumble upon them.

(Sidenote: Who thinks they could actually finish HBP in four hours? I didn't read it in one shot, but I read DH in one shot, and it took 14 hours. And I'm a speedy reader.)

The Evil Troll - Makes racist or sexist or classist comments just to see who they can enrage. They may or may not agree with the vitriol they spew, but it doesn't matter. They're spreading the hate, and the whole point is to see other people get mad.

The Fake Evil Troll - A variant on the Evil Troll, this person absolutely does not believe the vitriol, but spews it anyway, in pursuit of a laugh or a lot of hits to their site.


The Political Troll - A Tea Party member on the CNBC message boards, or a far-left-wing liberal democrat on Fox News' website. They disagree with every opinion put forth, then drop their "truth bombs" on the unsuspecting public and wait for the fireworks to start.

The Slacktivist Troll - Posts politically driven stories, memes, videos, links, and pictures. Leaves the hate-filled comments, doesn't bother to offer their own thoughts or comments. Often claims they're "just posting information, not saying [they] agree or disagree." Information is invariably outdated, skewed, out of context, or otherwise untrue.

The Devil's Advocate Troll - She disagrees with you no matter what. Takes the opposing view, just to sharpen her own argument skills. But since she doesn't actually believe in her cause, her arguments become circular and increasingly weak. She'll often shift positions to remain in opposition to you, no matter what. This person is the most annoying, to me, because you feel like you're talking to a shapeshifter who can't remember what you were just talking about.


The Angry Troll - He's just mad. Everything gets spun in a negative way. You tweet that you liked a movie? He'll tell you it was pedantic and you are stupid. You post a joke your kid told? He'll say you're boring, lifeless, and a drain on us all with your worthless offspring. Funny video? STUPID. Book review? INSUFFERABLE KNOW IT ALLS. Article about schools in your state? SHOOT THEM ALL.

The Personal Troll - Attacks you personally, for absolutely no reason. Insults your hair, your word choice, your kids, your shirt, the books you like, the people you talk to, and everything you say. Never unfollows you, comments on your blog posts with negativity, and has very little other online interactions besides bugging you all day long.

The Fangirl Troll - Of either gender, this person watches tumblr tags, youtube channels, and hashtags of their MOST FAVORITE THINGS EVER, ready to protect at a moment's notice. The girl who responds to every negative comment on a Bieber video with "no u shut up ur stupid and he is a god and i love his hair". The teen who reblogs every GoT GIF set with a "#If you hate this I will Kill You" tag on it. They seek you out, ready to extol the virtues of their favorite singer/actor/author/person if anyone dares to disagree with that singer/actor/author/person's godhood status.

The Know-It-All Troll - Everything they say is indisputable fact. They don't need to do research. They don't need to read the research you've read. They don't care that you have a degree in this subject, or that you've read more books this year than they've read since they finished high school. They get their news from real sources, like independent news sites that specialize in uncovering the truth. They quote tons of statistics, and they reference obscure facts. Sample quote: "It is a known fact that in 1969 in Brazil, doctors found the first case of AIDS in a gay man who had sex with 474 people, and it was gay sex 83% of the time."

Thursday, August 22, 2013

How I Do It "All"

I kinda hate writing this post. But so many people have asked me the same question, and I feel like a big, fat liar when I shrug and pretend not to know the answer. So I'm answering it. The question?

"How do you do it all?"

First, I need to define "all" for the purposes of this post. I homeschool my three children, one of whom is is autistic. I am enrolled in a graduate program. I write fiction, and have finished two novels. I have a happy marriage that I dedicate time to. I keep a fairly clean home. I am the president of my local congregation's children's program (I am in charge of Sunday instruction for the children 18 months to 12 years old). My husband and I are in the process of adopting, and he just opened his own law practice, so he's not around the home a lot to "help out" with stuff.

That is what "all" means.

Let's be clear: I do not have a job outside the home. I do not have a robust social life. I do not maintain a bevy of intricate hobbies like scrapbooking or card making or anything else worthy of pinterest.

That all said, I do manage to do a lot of stuff, and here's my personal tips on how I get it "all" done. If they help you, great. If not... I don't care. Because they help me a lot.

1. I wake before my children. I get my butt up out of bed at 5:30 every morning, whether I feel like it or not. This gives me the chance to get ready for the day in peace, and when each child wakes, I send him back upstairs to get dressed and start his morning chores. If they wake up before me? It takes me twice as long to get ready, and when I'm dressed, I'm greeted by a living room full of crumbs (because they fixed their own breakfast, see?) and fighting children.

2. I settle for "good enough." There are a lot of little things that go into this, but the over-arching idea is that I never try to be perfect at anything. Ever. I know what's important, I prioritize, and I let the rest go. This idea includes:

2a. I let my children take care of themselves to the extent they are able. They comb their own hair, dress themselves, and make their own beds. They have chores that I do not redo when they are done. Yes. It's sloppy. But they won't learn otherwise, and it frees up an hour or two of my day, every day.
2b. I don't repeat chores. If I sweep the floor at noon, and it looks crummy by five? It stays that way. It gets swept once a day, no more.
2c. I keep frozen entrees on hand and I am willing to buy fast food sometimes. Yes, I try to serve healthful, homecooked meals more often than not, but sometimes the day gets away from me or errands took longer than expected. I shrug it off and move on.
2d. I get dressed as simply as possible. I have fifteen Old Navy Vintage V-Neck T-shirts. Fifteen. Because they always fit, they go with everything, and they can be dressed up or down. Every day I throw one on, shorts/skirt in the summer, jeans in the winter. Done. It's not super cute, but it's good enough.
2e. I do not sweat the small stuff. Kid won't smile for a picture? Fine. Take a picture of him being a grump. My movies aren't in alphabetical order, the toys aren't in the "right" buckets, and the three year old is wearing a costume because it's just easier that way. 

3. I never "wait" for stuff. The 90 seconds your soup is in the microwave? That's enough time to unload your dishwasher. Kids are brushing their teeth? That's enough time to wipe down counters or pick up dirty laundry. I never, ever stand around waiting for something to be ready or done. I fill that time, and my little annoying tasks get completed.

4. I believe in the FLY Lady. Not completely, but a little bit. I wipe down my bathrooms once a day instead of scrubbing for an hour once a month. I spend fifteen minutes de-junking a drawer instead of overhauling the whole thing. Little bits of work make a big difference if they're focused and deliberate.

5. I say no. I turn down anything that doesn't enrich my life. Book club gets boring and judgmental? Gone. Kid's not enjoying his extracurricular activity? Dropped. Lovely girls' night invitation, but I don't have time and it would be more of a stress than anything? No, but thank you for thinking of me.

6. I serve meaningfully. I say yes to service opportunities as much as possible. Sometimes people don't want what I can offer, and I don't feel bad about it. If I can only dedicate an hour to cleaning the church building, I volunteer to do bathrooms instead of vacuuming. Vacuuming takes a lot longer (church buildings are big). I'd rather spend a solid hour doing something right, rather than doing half a job and leaving somebody to do the rest of it, making me feel guilty, and encumbering others.

7. I'm incredibly selfish about my schedule. Quiet time in our house is from 2 - 3 PM. During that time, I write. I do not clean, catch up on phone calls, nap, watch TV, or anything else. School is in the mornings. I don't do morning play dates, and I don't make morning appointments. Ever, unless we aren't doing school that day. If hubby and I have a date scheduled, nothing will make me change it. A kid in the emergency room, sure, but anything else? Nope. Oh, you decided to elope? Sorry, we can't make it. That's the downside of eloping, friend.

8. My kids play independently. I read to them and play board games with them. I snuggle and tickle and do all those mom-things. But when they're playing Darth Vader vs. Superman? I don't need to be involved. They have each other; I lovingly fasten capes around their shoulders and shoo them off to play on their own.

9. I use screens wisely. The TV does not run all day around here. Movie time/ Wii time is earned by completing chores and school work, and it occurs after meals (right after lunch and dinner). During movie/Wii time, I do homework or I blog. The boys are entranced by the screen, so they don't tear the house apart, and I focus.

10. I make exceptions for the things that matter. Making a big, humongous deal out of my kids' birthdays matters to me. So we put stuff on hold in order to make that happen. Being involved in my local writing group matters to me. So my family eats pizza that night so I can get myself ready to go out. These things build me up, make me feel good, and ultimately pay off more than I invest in them.

The stuff that matters to you might be different, and the stuff that's "good enough" for you might be different, too. I have a very good friend who says store bought birthday cakes are good enough, but she spends her time making homemade cards for every special occasion. That's how it works for her. That's her balance.

So that's what this advice comes down to: Find your balance. Not someone else's version of balance. Decide what needs to stay, what needs to go, prioritize, and find a way to make it work. In the beginning, I made detailed checklists and schedules. Once I got into the groove of things, I was able to relax on those a bit (though I'll send them to you if you're interested, if you're the person who benefits from seeing a template, just ask).


Monday, August 19, 2013

Some Writing Advice Sucks

I follow a lot of writers on twitter. I read their blogs. I follow a lot of agents and editors on twitter. I also read their blogs. Lots of people giving lots of advice and I read a lot of it. 

I'm going to say the word "lot" again because five times so far isn't enough. Oops. Six. 

The advice is meant to be helpful, and it usually is. But sometimes. . . it sucks. Especially if you take all the advice and take it all literally. Here are some of the most common sucktastic tips I see: 

1. Cut extraneous words from your prose. 

Yes. I've read really flowery prose. And some of it is really bad. But you can't make a blanket statement about cutting "extraneous" words, especially from prose. Most prose is, by definition, extraneous. It is made up of the words that make us feel and internalize a story. It's not the plot, it's not character, it's not setting. It's the pretty fluff that separates literature from field reports. Let's look at a real example: 

"The power of a glance has been so much abused in love stories, that it has come to be disbelieved in. Few people dare now to say that two beings have fallen in love because they have looked at each other. Yet it is in this way that love begins, and in this way only."

But, you know. You should cut extraneous words. So it should look something like this instead: 

"You might not believe it, but people must look at each other to fall in love." 

BORING. And ugly. And sarcastic. There's probably a book out there where this line would be wonderful, but Les Miserables isn't it. Don't get me wrong, I get it. We all need to edit, and we all need to be edited. But to tell someone that they should cut all extraneous words is really stupid advice. The better advice would be to tell people to make their words beautiful, powerful, and purposeful. 

2. Cut everything that isn't part of your main plot. 

Let's use Miss Watson's claim to fame as the example. If Harry Potter had cut everything that didn't directly relate to the plot, we'd have a middle grade trilogy instead of a septilogy (not a real word, stay with me).  No love stories. No Weasley twins. No SNAPE. Half Blood Prince could be boiled down to about three paragraphs from Dumbledore, since so much of that doesn't really affect the actual, central plot. 

The better advice here would be to cut anything that isn't interesting or able to be resolved satisfactorily. You have a random scene that is fun but doesn't do anything for the story? Cut. You have a scene that feels random but clues us in to something that will become important later? Edit it so it feels smoother, like part of the whole. 

3. Don't use any words "filler" words or verbal pauses. They slow down the narrative. 

Let's look at another direct quote example, yes? Yes. 

“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around - nobody big, I mean - except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be.” 

And if we cut all the verbal pauses and words that slow things down: 

"I picture kids playing a game in a field of rye. I'm standing on the edge of a cliff and I must catch someone if they go over a cliff. That's all I do. I'd be the catcher in the rye. That's what I want to be."

Again, BORING. And voiceless. We lose all sense of his personality. Yes, it's more brief and clear and straightforward. But so far as letting me get to know the character and fall completely into his head, it's useless. 

The better advice would be to, again, make your words count. Don't put them there because that's how you'd say something in real life. Put them there because they bring your character to life. There's a difference. 

All three of these tips have to do with one thing: SPEED. The people giving these tips probably read/write contemporary mainstream fiction. Their books clock in under 75K and are plot-driven. And if that's the case, this advice is really good. If you're very concerned about clipping along at a specific pace, then word economy counts. 

But if your pacing works, your word count is well within acceptable limits for your audience and genre, then you probably don't need to take any of this advice too seriously. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Why Disneyland is Better than Disneyworld.

Disney World gets a lot of attention because it's bigger and newer and fancier and has more deep discounts on hotels and vacation packages. But Disneyland is vastly superior. I will now present you with a highly biased scientific analysis of why this is true.

Park Hopping 

If you want to go from Disneyland to California Adventure, you can do so in about four minutes. You walk out of Disneyland, past the ticket booths, into California Adventure. The gates of the parks are literally less than a hundred yards apart. You can easily go from Disneyland to California Adventure and back multiple times in a day if you want to. And people do. For food, for fastpasses, for shows, the Electric Light Parade, etc.
In that pic, the Mickey face at the top is inside Disneyland, that's the flower garden against the train station. The red lines at the bottom are inside California Adventure. It's zoomed in so far you can see people walking around.

Park hopping at Disneyworld can take 30 - 90 minutes, depending on what time of year/day it is. Seriously. The process is this: walk out of Magic Kingdom. Get on Monorail. Get off Monorail. Get on tram. Get off tram. Find your car. Pack up everything. Drive out to Magic Way. Find new park. Park car. Unpack everything (your stroller, bags, kids, etc.). Get on tram. Get off tram. Walk into new park. That's if you aren't relying on the park bus system to get you around. And if you don't have to wait in line for monorails or trams.

Blue circle is the Magic Kingdom. Orange circle is EPCOT.

Hotel Accessibility
Staying at a Disneyland Hotel (there are only three) means you are within five-minute walking distance to the theme parks. That walking distance is filled with Disney property, so you sort of feel like you're already in the parks. Unless you stay at the Grand Californian, in which you can walk out of your hotel lobby straight into California Adventure. That's, like, a fifteen second walk. (Pro tip: Anyone can walk into the Grand Californian. Go through there to see a much shorter security line to get into California Adventure.)

Staying at a non-Disneyland Hotel doesn't even mean you're far away. Lots of decent, cheap motels are less than a half mile from the front gate. As a kid, we always walked from our hotel into the park. It's completely reasonable.

Staying at a Disneyworld Hotel means you have access to their bus system to get you to the park. During the hour before and after park opening and closing, you'll wait for twenty or thirty minutes to even get ON the bus. Or you can drive yourself, since you get free parking. It's still a ten minute DRIVE. Plus trams.

Staying at a non-Disneyworld hotel means you're "a mile" from the "park entrance." This really means you're a mile from the border of the private property owned by Disney. You're really a twenty minute drive from any park, best case scenario.

Rides
There's no Indiana Jones in Florida. (The closest thing is Dinosaur at Animal Kingdom). In California, the Pirates of the Caribbean is longer and more story-oriented. You sit side by side on Space Mountain. There's no Matterhorn in Florida. California's Autopia is longer and has cars designed for kids to be able to actually reach the peddle. The facades - particularly  in Fantasyland - are more detailed and imaginative.



I'm sure I don't need to tell you that Disneyland is on the left in all of those pictures. 


Park Size
Disneyworld is a lot bigger. The walkways are wider and longer and there is a lot of space between rides. Some people put this in the win column for Disneyworld, but I disagree. Let's just compare apples to apples, and take Disneyland in California versus the Magic Kingdom in Florida. Let's even pick three rides that are in roughly the same places in the parks: Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain.

In Florida, I stop at the Jungle Cruise. I must park my stroller in the stroller parking near the Tiki Room. Then go down some steps to the ride. When I exit the ride, I will go up the steps, walk past my stroller and a street show to get to Pirates. Then I will exit Pirates, go back past the entrance to get the stroller. Walk back past a street show, Pirates, two sit down restaurants, a full store front, several kiosks (depending on the time of year, this number varies), a fast food place, a character meeting spot and walk around the entirety of Splash Mountain to park the stroller, double back and get in line for Splash Mountain.

In California, I park my stroller at the entrance to the Jungle Cruise. When I exit the ride, I am at the entrance, so I grab the stroller, go past the entrance for Indiana Jones* (though to be fair, I'd probably ride that ride while I'm here), park the stroller at the entrance to Pirates*. When I exit, I'm pointed right toward Splash Mountain, and the park is small, kids can walk this far. So you walk past the Haunted Mansion* (again, you'd probably ride this ride) and jump in line for Splash Mountain. The line winds in front of the ride, so there's no need to walk around the whole thing to get on it.

Disneyland is smaller, more intimate, easier to navigate, less easy to lose your kids, easier to let your kids walk 90% of the way. That makes it better. More crowded in peak seasons? Sure. But you shouldn't go to any theme park during peak seasons anyway.

*These rides are all "beyond the berm." Disneyland has a berm built around it to protect it from prying eyes during construction and keep out the "real" world while you're in the park. Space inside the berm was limited, so these rides are actually underground, with 90% of the attraction being underground, beyond the border of the park. So walking past the ride is really just walking past the entrance. In Disneyworld, you have to walk past the entirety of the attraction. 

Downtown Disney
This one sort of goes to Florida. Downtown Disney is enormous and currently undergoing a major overhaul to make it even more relevant. I mean, you can ride a hot air balloon.

But in California, it connects the parks to the hotels. Which means you walk through it every day and there are Disney vendors in the corridor. That means you can buy churros in Downtown Disney.

Which brings me to my next point:

CHURROS.
You can buy a churro in every land, every day of the year, in both California parks. In Disneyworld? Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom sells them, or Mexico in EPCOT. And remember how big the parks are? Yeah. Even if you're in the Magic Kingdom, you're probably really far away from a churro. That's a fail, Disney. FAIL.

Secret Shortcuts
Disneyland has all these awesome shortcuts. One to get out of New Orleans Square without having to go through the hub. One to get out of Tomorrowland during fireworks and parades. Plus the train runs all the time, so you can take the train around the park to the front exit, skipping crowds. Also, the monorail runs from Tomorrowland to Downtown Disney, so you can use it to enter and exit the park directly.

Disneyworld has NONE. The train stops running at sunset and the monorail isn't inside the park. Everyone gets herded through the hub and down Main Street. No exceptions.

(Okay, we once got wheeled out the back of the park to an ambulance when my son had a seizure, but that's not really the same)

Hidden Gems
And this might be the reason I love Disneyland most of all. I mean, a Disney park is a Disney park, and the level of detail is unparalleled, but Disneyland just does it better. Look at this:


That's just on a random post in the railing. And there are little things like this all over the park. In Disneyworld? The rail posts are just rail posts. They're still cleaner than any other amusement park, but they don't have bronze statues on them. Walt didn't have an apartment in Disneyworld (okay, it existed, but he never lived there).

You can't beat the level of personal, intimate details in Disneyland. The park was a labor of love, in a way that none of the others could be, because it was the only one Walt saw to completion.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bookish Questions

Favorite book cover
I know I'm starting this off badly, but I am indifferent to covers. Considering I read mostly science fiction and fantasy, and those books generally have really bad covers, or really cliche covers, or whatever, I'm just not that bothered by them. Seriously though. I throw away book jackets. 

What are you reading right now?
Code Name Verity. I'm about 80 pages in and I think it's good, but I just don't see what the hype is about. I'm assuming there's a twist of some kind coming that will send me reeling. I hope so. 

Do you have any idea what you'll read when you're done with that?
On my nightstand, I currently have Posession by Elana Johnson, Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, Smart Move by Melanie Jacobson, and Felicite Found by Julia King. I have no idea which one I'm going to read next though. 



What five books have you always wanted to read but haven't gotten round to?
Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, Gone with the Wind, Brave New World, at least some of the Stephanie Plum books, oh... I don't know. I have this huge TBR list on Goodreads. But the ones I've "always" wanted to read? I've mostly gotten around to those. 

What magazines do you have in your bathroom/lounge right now?
Since the appearance of the iPhone in my home, I feel no need for magazines. 

What's the worst book you've ever read?
It was a self-published book that I won't name because I it was so terrible it made me want to put my fingers through my eyeballs, into my brain and swirl it all around. (five points for the reference) 

What book seemed really popular but you didn't like it?
I'm gonna go with Wither. Or Catcher in the Rye. That one just does not appeal to me. 

What's the one book you always recommend to just about anyone?
Harry Potter. Next question. 



What are your three favorite poems?
I don't "get" poetry. So, maybe song lyrics are the closest I'll come to being able to say I like poetry. 

Where do you usually get your books?
From the library. Now that we aren't broke grad students any more, I'm trying to buy more books, particularly from indie and debut authors. But the Cassandra Clares of the world? LIBRARY. For sure. 

When you were little, did you have any particular reading habits?
Yes. There was a limit of ten books out at a time from the library. So I would pick a shelf in the "YOUTH" section, grab ten books in a row. Read those. Bring them back. It usually took a week. By the time I started high school, I had read the entire "YOUTH" section and wanted to go to the adult section. My mother did not let me because those were books for grown-ups and who knows what I might have encountered. 

It didn't matter because high school killed my love of reading and I didn't read for fun again until I was 22

What's the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was too good to put down?
I'm a parent of three children who wake every day at 5:00 AM. I don't stay up late into the night. I think the last time I did was . . . Oh! I checked my Goodreads, it was Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi. The first two books, Shatter Me and Destroy Me were also unputdownable. 


Have you ever "faked" reading a book?
Yes. Did you not hear the story about high school killing my love of reading? I faked reading pretty much all books in high school.

(I've since gone back and re-read some of the ones that I felt like I "should" read and in about half the cases, I wasn't missing anything.)

Have you ever bought a book just because you liked the cover?
No. We've been broke for the last several years (law school does that to a family), so all purchases are very carefully planned. 

What was your favorite book when you were a child?
The Hobbit. From the time I can remember, that was my favorite. 


What book changed your life?
I have to go with books of scripture here. I know you want novels, but it's just not true for me. The Book of Mormon really has changed my life. Over and over again. 

What is your favorite passage from a book?
Aw, see, now I feel sort of obliged to quote scripture... 

But I will play the game the way it's meant to be played. 

I feel like I should post a Harry Potter quote, but Tahereh Mafi just slays me with her words: 

"I want to be the friend you fall hopelessly in love with. The one you take into your arms and into your bed and into the private world you keep trapped in your head. I want to be that kind of friend. The one who will memorize the things you say as well as the shape of your lips when you say them. I want to know every curve, every freckle, every shiver of your body. 

I want to know where to touch you, I want to know how to touch you. I want to know convince you to design a smile just for me. Yes, I do want to be your friend. I want to be your best friend in the entire world.
” 


Who are your top five favorite authors?
This should surprise no one. 

JK Rowling
Terry Goodkind
Orson Scott Card
Roger Zelazny
C.S. Lewis

What book has no one heard about but should read?
I wouldn't say no one has heard of this series, but it is definitely under-appreciated. High Fantasy with a sci-fi feel, it's Fred Saberhagen's Lost Swords series. These books stick with you for long, long after you stop reading. So much to think about, so much to chew on. 


What book are you an "evangelist" for?
I'm becoming an evangelist for Mafi. People aren't reading those books, they're being dismissed as "another Hunger Games imitator." And while they share some very superficial similarities with THG, they are so, so, so different, and I really think everyone will love them. 

And, of course, Harry Potter. 

What are your favorite books by a first time author?
Uh, Harry Potter.

What is your favorite classic book?
I don't love "classics" the way a lot of people do. I love the story of Les Miserables, but good golly did Victor Hugo ramble on and on about stuff that didn't matter. I love the arc of the D'Artagnan stories, but Dumas was really a blow hard and his characters are really caricatures. 

I dunno. Does Narnia count as a classic? It's, like, sixty years old and people still love it, so that makes the cut, yes? 

Five other notable mentions?
Books I've loved recently, how's that? Okay, Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan series (a thousand times better than the Uglies series), Kristin Cashore's Graceling, all of Michelle Moran's work, Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn, and Cinda Williams Chima's Seven Realms series. Such an outstanding YA Epic Fantasy.

Please do this. I want to read all about all the books you love. Then leave your link in the comments so I can find you :)