Be Your Own Tour Guide – Great History Books for Travel

Notre Dame de Paris, France

Everybody travels differently, which is why I don’t like organized tours. What you find interesting I might find deadly dull. Travel just isn’t one size fits all. Which is why I like to do lots of research on a place before I go. I like to be my own tour guide, so my husband and I can go at our own pace and see what really interests us.

One of my favorite ways to get to know a place before I visit is to read a great history book about it.

I’ve done this over and over again before trips to Italy, France and England. And now, you can check out what kinds of things I like to read in my very own Amazon store. Pretty cool, eh? Please take a gander and let me know if you have any questions.

Click here to check out my History Books for Travel Store!

I’ve got pages for France and Italy, and there will be more to come, probably Bermuda, oh, yes, and Los Angeles. There’s so much great stuff about here that I can’t wait to share with you!

Unforgettable Love Story: Eleanor and Park

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell reads a bit like poetry and is my favorite book of the last six months. It’s set in the 80s. A boy and girl meet on the school bus and don’t speak. Instead they silently bond over his comic books, which she reads over his shoulder. It drew me right in with it’s searing authenticity.

It called forth in me that intense feeling of love, a sharp ache, that maybe only 15 year olds can feel. That’s quite a feat, since it’s been a long time since I’ve felt quite that. I was up until five in the morning finishing it.
I got the book on Audible, which is read by two different readers, male and female, as the chapters alternate beween Eleanor and Park’s point of view. Very effective.
Don’t you want to feel that crazy intense love again, but without actually having to live the agony? 
Wow. Just read it.

LA Times Festival of Books 2014

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
Very worth it to get the Festival Pass to this event! Can’t believe I’ve lived in L.A. since 1992 and this is the first year I went!
The Book Prize awards made me eager to read many books outside my genre (Young Adult Fantasy). Particularly interesting winners were: 
  • for History, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark. To me it is so poignant how each new generation seems to have trouble wrapping its mind around this war, which cost so many lives. I believe my grandfather Kirk Bell, born in 1901, lost all of his older brothers but one to it, and he was the youngest of 17 children.
  • for Graphic Novels, Comics, Ulli Lust’s Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life, which just reminded me of my wild days in college. Ah, the foolish things we did in our twenties. The author was in Germany, so she sent a series of drawings illustrating her excitement at having won. So sparkly and fun! 
  • for Poetry, Ron Padgett Collected Poems. This author sent a video in thanks, and he was so funny and authentic, one couldn’t help wanting to dig into his poetry.

Attendance included a free copy of Susan Straight‘s novel Between Heaven and Here. Straight won the Robert Kirsch Award, which goes to someone who writes about the American West, and her American West is Riverside! Straight was achingly humble in her acceptance speech, in which she talked about stalking my old teacher Joyce Carol Oates (probably for other reasons than those that made me consider stalking her). Straight helped create the MFA Creative Writing program at UC Riverside, which I found on a list of underrated and potentially fully funded MFA programs. Intriguing!
The Eminent Mr. John Green
John Green, Vlogger par Excellence and Author of The Fault in Our Stars, won the Innovator Award, which he so richly deserves. If you haven’t checked out Crash Course or Vlogbrothers you are in for a treat. The man and his talented brother Hank seems to be singlehandedly elevating intelligent discourse all over the interwebs. They are my heroes.
At John’s talk the following day, in which he packed the capacious Bovard Auditoreum, he had only to step out of the darkness onstage to be met by thousands and thousands of teenage girl screams. Go nerds!
Tony DiTerlizzi’s Study for an Orchid Sprite
Saturday I attended a few panels at the Young Adult (YA) stage. At one, Tony DiTerlizzi, co-writer (with Holly Black) and illustrator of The Spiderwick Chronicles talked about deciding what fanciful creatures ‘really’ looked like by studying natural history. Check out his beautiful illustrations!
At another YA Fantasy Panel in the Norris Theater, with Soman Chainani (The School of Good and Evil), Cynthia Leitich Smith (The Feral series), the irrepressibly funny Margaret Stohl (Beautiful Creatures series), the resplendently hot-pink-haired Laini Taylor (Daughter of Smoke and Bone series), and moderated by adorable John Corey Whaley (Noggin), folks were tired and punchy, which made for lots of ribaldry, but still managed to bust out some awesome pointers for the aspiring writers in the audience. 
One 15 year old stood and asked for ADVICE ABOUT BECOMING AN AUTHOR. Laini Taylor said: 
  • finish your novel, beware the ‘slutty new idea’ that tempts you to skip to the next project before finishing this one. She said she was 35 before she finished her first novel, even though she’d wanted to write since childhood. (Um, I’m about to turn 50, people!)
  • don’t have a Plan B because those she knows who invested in one are only doing that now. (Kind of troubling to me, since I’m paying my bills with the plan B, but I’ll be the exception, dammit!)
  • Be able to take criticism (more on this below)
On how to deal with WRITER’S BLOCK:
  • Maybe you are blocked because you took a wrong turn. Time to go back and figure out where, which may involve cutting chapters.
  • Sit down and don’t stop writing until you get down 50 things that could happen next.
  • Turn off all the lights and blast the song Xanadu (yes, that 80s trainwreck of a beloved guilty pleasure film starring Olivia Newton John) and dance around the house
  • Start typing the phone book and you’ll quickly want to write anything else.
  • Have two documents open, the ‘real’ one and one for the crazy ideas.
  • Smith writes one entire draft, then deletes it and writes her novel again. I know! Oh my freakin’ fur! She says it works like a charm.
  • Taylor saves everything she cuts. Be willing to cut.
  • Ask for all criticism in writing, not in person or on the phone.
  • Put the critical missive under a brick for a few days. You’ll need a waiting period to deal with your resistance. Maybe it’s more than just a few days.
  • Deal with your ego, get over yourself, cut, revise and make those changes. This is critical if you want to get published.
Pretty great stuff, I thought!

Just What I Need: Revision and Self-Editing for Publication

Revising a novel is a lonely business. It gets overwhelming.

Last Friday I went to a reading at Skylight Books, a Los Feliz neighborhood gem, and in their sparse but well-curated Writing section, I found James Scott Bell‘s book, Revision and Self Editing for Publication: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Novel that Sells.

In my experience, books on writing can be full of fluff, throat-clearing and nattering to beef up content that might fit into a half-hour PowerPoint presentation. This one, happily, has almost no non-nutritive filler. Mr. Bell’s tips start in the introduction—including a great little exercise on how to sharpen your sense of plot.

Books on writing sometimes contain only uninterrupted prose, paragraph upon paragraph with few bullet points, sidebars, or headings. This one isn’t like that. It’s got headings and bullet points aplenty, so you can read it front to back, or you can scan it for the bit you need right now.

And the prose is beautiful, with lots of varied sentence construction. I really appreciate that. If you can’t write great prose, please don’t try to teach me how to write.

I also love all of the examples from books and movies I already know. And, if you don’t know these examples, Mr. Bell lays out the plot or sets the scene so you will get it.

I was around page 24, and I already felt so grateful that I tweeted the author to thank him. He tweeted me right back. So this guy is also savvy about social networking. A definite plus.

This revision stuff scares me like Mrs. Brody is scared of Quint. There is much to do. I have to delete delete delete sections and stitch the remaining scenes back together in a way that doesn’t leave the manuscript all effed up like the skin of the Frankenstein monster. I can get into a downtrodden frame of mind about it. Mr. Bell’s book tells you up front that this dark mood will come. It gives you several techniques to help combat it, like a little post-it somewhere in your space that says ‘I can fix it.’

Yes, darnit! I can!

I think this book is going to be my best friend as I tromp all Hobbit-like through the revision marshes toward the distant burning mountain of Draft Four.

Hooray, I say!

San Francisco Writer’s Conference 2014 – Day 1

I am dog tired and it’s only day 1. This is intense. Lots of energy. Trying to learn how to pitch your novel rapidfire with only 5 clear bullet points, and networking like crazy, bonding as quickly as possible with folks doing the YA Fantasy genre thing. Many business cards were given, many gathered. Hope to God I can put faces with cards when it’s all done. Already building my YA Fantasy cohort.

Things I learned from the Children’s, Midgrade and YA Pitchathon

Who was there:

  • Natashya Wilson, Editor at Harlequin Teen (Editor of Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series)
  • Laurie McLean, Forward Literary Agency
  • Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, Forward Literary Agency
Gems and Nuggets:

Elevator Pitch:
  1. Just give them enough to interest them.
  2. Four sentences, 25 words or less.
  3. They really like the high-concept pitch, aka, it’s like Silence of the Lambs meets Charlotte’s Web, except good, because that would be sucky and what the heck does it mean, anyway? For this, use movies, books, and even video games that everyone knows.
  4. Never claim your novel is the next Harry Potter.
  5. It should be punchy.
  6. Don’t tell the end.
  7. Only tell the A plot.
  8. A YA Fantasy should be from 85 to 90k words.
  9. Another formula for the pitch “Who fights who to get what?”
Speed Dating:
  1. Your name
  2. Genre of your novel
  3. Title of Novel
  4. Word Count
Query Letters
  1. Don’t make me scroll
  2. First line is your logline high concept, aka Indiana Jones meets The Mummy (The Hook)
  3. Second paragraph is your back of book copy (The Book)
  4. Third paragraph is about you (The Cook)
  5. Another formula to describe the above is the The Hook, The Book, The Cook
Things I learned from Pitchcraft by Katherine Sands, Literary Agent
  1. In any pitch you only have time to cover 5 points, so choose them carefully
Basic Novel Pitch Formula
  1. Place (also time, era, modern day? 1066 Hastings? What?)
  2. Person, for instance, Bill, a 45-year old accountant who has always wanted to be an opera star
  3. Pivot: The dynamic moment that sets the whole story in motion.
General Notes About Pitchcraft
  • Set off sparks
  • Get interest
  • Show, don’t tell
  • Comparisons to other books, for example, “For readers who loved “The Hunger Games and the mortal instruments, my Contempory YA Fantasy pits the heroine against real historical magicians and alchemists who are seeking to use her power to make their immortality permanent.
I also attended a great talk by Rusty Shelton about ‘Discoverability in the Age of Social Media’ lots of great way to leverage social media to build ones brand, even as a novelist.
But as I am now a steaming pile of OMG, I must rewrite my pitch, asta la bye-bye for tonight!

Follow Me and how to Make Every Scene Seeable

Good morning, readers, writers and other word enthusiasts!

First of all, you can follow this fledgling blog at Bloglovin, which is my favorite aggregator. I like the way it allows you to set up lists for your interests, so you can just read the stuff about one topic and save the others for later. Here’s a link: Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Second, I am working with a great writing teacher in Sherman Oaks, CA. If you would like to check her out, she has a Wednesday evening class at 7pm. You can audit the first class and see if it is a good fit for you.

For more info on Claudette Sutherland’s writing class,

I’m thinking I’ll be moved to write a new blog post frequently on Thursday mornings, since I work with Claudette on Wednesday nights. I am learning so much from her. I feel as if I’ve been walking through an old mansion in the dark, and someone just came in with a candle.


Something she talks about frequently is making a scene SEEABLE. Last night she gave me a great rule to write by:

  • Anytime you change to a new setting, make sure we can see it, and we know where and when we are, and who’s there, what’s at risk.
  • You do it with little brush strokes, little pictures, details of the senses.
Here’s an example from my first chapter:

The enormous horned creature crouched in the center of the gold disc just yards in front of Avery, ready to spring. Its mandibles clicked together. White hot liquid churned in its mouth. It shifted on segmented limbs, talons scraping the black floor. 

Sunlight pierced the high narrow windows, struck the beast’s gray glass talons and threw shards of brilliance onto curved stone walls. Light licked along the fine gold lines of the many-pointed shape on the black floor.

Can you picture this scene?
Thanks for reading!

I am a Writer

I’m almost done with my second draft of my first novel, Tigers Slow Awake. I’ve been thinking I should have a blog about writing and process and how the heck do you get from just a few vague ideas to 160,000 words. And how do you get from there to something you actually feel confident querying an agent or editor about?

I don’t know yet what that will be like, but I know I’m going to do it.

I’m writing a synopsis, something like you’d see on a book jacket, something that tells the story and sells it, too. But it’s scary to face the task of putting all my plot in one place. I suppose there’s something daunting about every phase of writing a novel.

I’m using the program Scrivener to wrangle this draft, and although I like it, I find the Compile feature was not at all intuitive. I had to do a deep web search to get it to come out the way I wanted, and it’s still not quite there. I’m so ready for Scrivener to have its own app. Apparently they have been working on that at for more than three years. This is supposed to be the year they get there. I wish them the best of luck! I could really use that app!

And I’m working with a great writing teacher in Sherman Oaks, Claudette Sutherland. I’ve put her website link here. She gives great supportive feedback and I think she’s helping get my prose into line, among many other helpful things!

One thing I’m struggling with is how to inject imagery into the action so the reader knows exactly where they are and can really picture it. It’s quite a discipline to write that way, a good challenge.

Wish me luck! I’ll keep you posted!