Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Blog Me MAYbe: A New Friend

Today is Wednesday for Blog Me MAYbe. That means that it’s May I tell you something about someone else? day.  I wanted to take the opportunity to tell you about someone I met through Blog Me MAYbe. Eliza Tilton. I randomly clicked on her name and found a total kindred spirit. She’s a writer of YA fiction and a gamer (that’s video games, not like poker, folks)! I couldn’t resist the opportunity to do an interview with her.

Me: Welcome, Eliza. And thank you for doing this. Why don’t you give us the quick and dirty guide to you. You know, what do you write, how long have you been writing, what’s your favorite candy… that kind of thing?

Eliza: I write YA, mainly romance but in different categories. My first real novel, not trunked but put aside, is a YA fantasy. My current WIP is a YA contemporary romance

I’ve been writing forever. I used to write tons of adventures in middle school. In the fifth or sixth grade I completed my first book—a 40page pirate adventure, which I still have.

As far as candy, if I HAD to choose only one… sour patch kids FTW! I once ate a pound of them in high school, in one afternoon. Love those things.

Now excuse me while I raid my son’s Easter basket (you can’t talk about candy with a pregnant chick).

Me: LOL! Congratulations!! Your MS & WIP sound cool. I should probably tell everyone that I was super stoked to find out you play/love video games. There are (at least that I’ve met—shout out to my crit partner, Rebekah Purdy though) very few writer/gamers. So, if you HAD to give your top two favorite YA novels and your top two favorite video games, what would they be?

Eliza: Top two? Hmmmmm.

Me: Should I go top five?

Eliza: I don’t know which is harder, the games or books! Yes, FIVE! I can do five.

Me: Okay, Five it is.

Eliza: For five YA books:

Games, this is tough. I think I’ll pick one from each console.

PS2…. I’m going blank on PS2! LOL One minute…

Me: LOL No worries. I can’t even remember a PS2 game. Though I do have to give a shout out for Phantasy Star Online for the Dreamcast!

Eliza: I still have a Dreamcast.

Me: I totally have a Hello Kitty Dreamcast. I loved that thing.

Eliza: Nice! Since my brain is refusing to work… PS3: Eternal Sonata and Dragon Age II.

Me: Okay. Back to business, here. That’s quite a range for books. It seems like you like a darker bent to you stories. Does that play into your writing in some way?

Eliza: Yes. I’m not into funny, chick-lit type stuff. The Iron King has a bit of humor, but it’s more party banter between characters. All of my writing has some kind of dark element, whether it is in a villain or a twisted teenager boy.

Me: Oooh. Twisted teenager boy. That sounds interesting.

For games, I have to ask. Did you like Dragon Age II more than Dragon Age: Origins?

Eliza: YES. There were a lot of great things about Dragon Age, but a few things that dropped the rating: The Deep Roads, the choice with Morrigan at the end and the fact you didn’t get to experience all the results of choices you made throughout the games.

Dragon Age II: I’m on my third play through.

That’s all I need to say. Swoon.

Me: OMG my Hawke is TOTALLY with Fenris. Sigh. He’s the hardest to get. (sorry folks, gamer-talk!) I’m totally (happily) off topic here. On to the next question. So what’s your writing process? Do you belong to a group, or community?

Eliza: I’m a member of YALITCHAT and Query Tracker. Both have been amazingly helpful for different reasons. I met two of my crit partners on query tracker and have had some wonderful help on my queries. YALITCHAT is a great place to meet other bloggers, writers and partake in great contests. They’re having a pitch slam on May 28th.

My writing process is a little backwards.

Me: Love YALITCHAT. I’d love to hear more about how it’s backwards.

Eliza: An idea comes to me, and it can be either the beginning, middle or end. I try to write a quick query or outline. Then I end up writing chapter one, then chapter fifteen. Stories have always come to me in scenes. For example, my current WIP, I had the end, beginning and part of the middle done. I had about twenty pages I needed to write to get me closer to the ending I wanted and I had no idea how I was going to do that, until I had to. Somehow, I always manage to fit all my scenes together to make one story.

I tried writing a book from start to finish… couldn’t do it. I ended up going back to my old ways.

Me: That’s a super interesting method. It sounds really refreshing. Just write what you see and connect it all when you have to. Do you have any writing pet peeves?

Eliza: I’m not a fan of heavy description. I like fast paced novels. Long blocks of description or emotional thoughts make my eyes glaze over. The only downside, I’m always having to add description back into my novel. Where most people have trouble cutting 90,000 words.

Me: That is SO me too! Too funny. I have to confess that I clicked on your name through Blog Me MAYbe because you have one of my favorite names. What kind of names do you go for with your characters? Do you spend a lot of time finding names or researching them? Or do they just sort of come to you when you think of a character?

Eliza: The only name I ever researched was Avikar: YA fantasy. Every other time, the names just pop in my head. Although, I’ve learned to check them. My next project will be a YA futuristic romance. I wanted to name the MC Damien Walters. Then I googled and realized that was a real person!

Me: Oh yes. I wonder what writers did before google.  Do you write to music or silence, or, since you’re a mom, the sound of playing? (I’m only a dog mom, and I often write to the sound of the two dogs mucking about the living room)

Eliza: Depends on my mood. I spend my lunch hour at work writing. If the scene calls for it, I’ll put on Pandora on my phone and listen. Most of the time, I’m just happy to be able to write and drown out any unwanted sounds if I need to.

Me: That’s cool. So final question(s). Do you find inspiration in life or through other books, movies, games, or a combo of all of that? Are there any big concepts that really ground or theme your writing? Like ethical dilemmas, first loves, etc.?

Eliza: Everywhere. I can leave church with an uplifting feeling and ready to write, or I can sit outside on a nice day, enjoying the breeze and feel the need to express it. Other books do inspire me. If I read a book that emotionally gets to me, it makes me want to write.

Two big themes that ground me are: Forgiveness and redemption. I guess it’s because I’m a Christian and am super thankful that God decided to give me a second chance. I love watching screwed up characters get that too. The villain becoming the hero, etc.

Me: That’s very cool. I love when villains become the hero too! This conversation just speaks to what a huge gift writing can be, in so many ways. It brings people from a wide variety of backgrounds to common ground.

Thank you so much for taking the time to do an interview. I feel like I’ve mad e anew friend!

Eliza: Thanks! You too!

It was a completely enjoyable interview, and if you’d like more Eliza, check out her blog or follow her on twitter at @ElizaTilton.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Blog Me MAYbe: Name Match-up Contest

**UPDATE** So I got some emails that eluded to the fact that perhaps I made it too hard to get ALL of the matched names. New plan. The person who gets the MOST matched names wins. Crystal wins for yesterday. Let's see who can win today! If you don't know, guess. You may win. Here are the new rules. At the end of the day today (midnight PST) whoever has either all or the most right wins. If there's a tie, there will be a tie breaker... though, I'm kinda a push over so you may both just get books! See. Even more reason to play.

Today is Monday for Blog Me MAYbe and that means it's, May I tell you something about writing? day.

I always struggle with this topic. As an unpublished-always-struggling-to-finish-a-project-writer I feel like I'm a little unqualified to write anything of substance on the topic of writing. But there's one thing that I do love to talk about. And that's character names. I troll baby name sites so often that you'd think I were pregnant. In fact I get google ads about belly balm all the time.

You know those games where you match the super hero to his or her real world (no, not the MTV series) name? Well, we're gonna play it this way. I'm going to list character names, and you're going to match them with what type of character they are! HINT: they are all YA book characters.

To add that extra incentive, the first person to post the correct order will get a YA book of their choice. Seriously, you get to go to Powell's (my favorite bookstore) and pick out what book you want, and I'll have it sent to you. Sweet, right? So here we go...

1. Sabriel                            A. Hogwarts Student
2. Cassel Sharpe               B. Midnighter
3. Howl                               C. Lioness
4. Neville Longbottom        D. Fairy Godmother
5. Jessica Day                   E. Curse Worker
6. Maggie Winters              F. Necromancer
7. Alanna                           G. Wizard

Please post as follows (note, this is not the right answer!)
1C, 2D, etc...

BONUS: if you can name the books & the authors for each, you get a SECOND book (of equal or lesser value, of course)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Blog Me MAYbe: It's Abhorsen not Abortion

It's Monday for Blog Me MAYbe. That means it's May I tell you something about writing? day. Since I'm permanently stuck on either revisions or creating something new, I thought I'd talk about a series of books that breaks lots of rules, including a could-be confusing name, but does it with style and serious draw.

Now, I will admit. If you're not into fantasy, you will not like the Abhorsen Series by Garth Nix. If you do, they are easily one of the best in young adult or adult for that matter. Though hardcore adult fantasy fans will likely find them too tame.

Before we get to the name, let's start with the rule breaking. We've all been told (over and over, and then have passed on this knowledge as if a badge of honor of having done it ourselves) that you should pretty much never start a story with a prologue. But they work so well to get your point across super fast and tell a lot in a one to two page punch, right? Right. Well, at least in Garth Nix's first book in the series, Sabriel, that's totally true. The prologue works for him.

Most of us have likely been told not to use too many gerunds ("ing" words) because that means you're telling. *gasp* And most times, I'd totally agree with this. I use them all the time, and catch myself often. I almost always find them when critiquing (lol). At first, it looks like there are a ton of them. But here's the trick... he uses them right. Here's an example:
"Feeling relatively warmer, Sabriel resumed climbing up the last, winding portion of the path, where the incline was so steep the pathmakers had resorted to cutting steps out of the granite--steps now worn and cumbling, prone to sliding away underfoot." - Garth Nix, SABRIEL
He's only using them to describe something the MC is doing with the first two. She's feeling and climbing. The rest are in reference to other things. So it's not a sentence full of: She's sitting, thinking of her long lost grandma as she is winding the yarn into a ball. Which would be so wrong to write.

And finally, the title. In fact it's the title of the third book, as well as the series. Abhorsen. It seems a little close to abortion. Doesn't it? In fact I was reading the third book--This was a few years ago--and the edition I have is red. Someone actually asked me if I was reading a book on abortion and what that funny symbol meant. But in the end, it's a whatever moment.  Because these books are so good, that Garth Nix can continue to break every rule in the book and I'll continue to read them.

Do you break rules? Are there books out there that you love despite the rule breaking?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Blog Me MAYbe: A Little Xanax Please

It's Thursday for Blog Me MAYbe and that means it's May I tell you something about someone else? day. Which means that I'm going to chat with my very good friend and fellow writer/blogger, Ron from The Xanax Diary.

Me:  Welcome, Ron.

Ron: I'm delighted to be with you, Miranda. Thanks for inviting me.

Me: Why don't you tell everyone where or how we met?

Ron: Well, I was minding my own business as I crossed a bridge, and you suddenly popped out and demanded a toll! Or maybe we met when we worked together while we were both living in Los Angeles, "a few years ago." It wasn't long after I started that we began to click and became friends. For me (and perhaps for you, too) living in SoCal offered its challenges to a guy who loved Chicago and a woman who was constantly in an Oregon State of Mind. Though we both eventually moved back to our respective "emotional" homes, we've remained close friends. You were an unexpected and greatly appreciated gift from the City of Angels.

Me: You're just as much of a gift... like the kind you give to Goodwill the next day. (kidding!) But seriously. I'm still waiting on that toll.


Ron & I during one of my visits to Chicago
Me: LOL. Let's talk about what you're up to, writing wise. You're about to take a big chunk of time off work. What do you plan to do?

Ron: I publish my blog, The Xanax Diary, weekly. I've always felt a compulsion to write and journal, and started the blog as a coping mechanism to help me deal with the terminal cancer diagnosis of my husband, Ken in 2010. It was also a good way to share how I was feeling without having to repeat the same thing on the phone multiple times during his illness and after to loving family or friends (including you). He died on June 1, 2011. I'll be taking a three-month leave of absence from my job beginning on--poignantly enough--June 1, 2012 to focus on writing.

I wrote a novel for NaNoWriMo in 2010 that is about a dysfunctional family who happen to be witches. I'd like to get a decent draft of--or at least get a better logline for that. I also recently started a series of short stories about a "fallen cupid" that I'm really enjoying. I'm curious to see where these will lead me. I'd like to say I'll be able to write a book about Ken and our experiences over the last couple years of his life, but I'm not sure I have the emotional distance needed to pull that off. But I'm constantly making notes about it. So, who knows? Three months to do nothing but feed the writing beast. I'm excited! (and a little scared.)

Me: I'm excited for you! But not scared. I know you're going to make amazing use of this time. So, If you had to name just three, what are your biggest writing influences?

Ron: Oddly enough, television was probably my biggest writing influence. I watched a ton of it as a kid and started writing some horrible television shows combining my two obsessions: scifi and soap opera, but at least it got me started. Years later, I studied improv at Second City here in Chicago and I learned a lot about writing and "beats" in scenes and how they work to give it "punch" at the right time. In terms of authors, David Sedaris was probably the first author whose books I purchased serially as they were released. I hadn't really ever read essays before I read him, and it really changed my opinion about non-fiction and helped me form my voice. Many of my blogs are a little "weighty" in detailing my life's journey with grief after losing Ken, but I've also written humorous ones, and I plan to write more of them. Life can be some serious business--as you well know, but I think you also know that laughter and humor play a huge part of who I am.

Me: Wow. Those are good influences. And I have for sure blown coffee or pop out of my nose at one of your blogs.

Since I'm sure your sabbatical from work is going to allow your writing career to take off and you'll get to quit and be a multi-millionaire... If we did this again next year, tell me three things you'd like to be true. They can be things that are true now, or things that you hope are true for the future.

Ron: A year from now...hmmmmmm...I would want to be a working, published writer (I don't need to be a millionaire by then because I think it would take a little longer... like a year-and-a-half or so). I would like to have a good draft of a book about Ken and his inspiring attitude, and if you and I are doing this again, I hope it's in person...with Hawaii!

Me: Deal! Hell, let's go now. Speaking beaches...Are you planning any big reads during your time off?

Ron: I don't read nearly enough, and I have a ton of books on my kindle that I want to read. During my sabbatical I plan to make time for it. I just haven't made enough time for it. I'm currently reading Kristen Johnston's (tall blond from "3rd Rock from the Sun") memoir about her addictions, and it's surprisingly hilarious. (I hope it's supposed to be!) Perhaps I'll read a little something you're working on? Hmmmm...?

Me: Oh boy, I hope you're not in stitches over a Mommy Dearest style memoir! And you know you can totally read what I'm working on. On that note, any parting comments for the Blog Me MAYbe readers?

Ron: Blog on, writing brothers and sisters! I think the blogging community is a pool full of brave, talented people. Thanks for including me, Miranda.

Me: Thank you for coming on my blog.

I've included several links to Ron's kick-ass blog, The Xanax Diary. I highly recommend it. And keep an eye out for him, because this star is truly rising.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Blog Me MAYbe: Are you a Panster or a Plotter?

 So welcome to day 2 of Blog Me MAYbe! Wednesday is, May I ask something about you? day.

Especially in the early days of making writing something other than a closeted hobby, I spent a lot of time wondering how things get done. How do people plot entire novels? Personally, I'm 1/2 and 1/2. I start by being a plotter, and eventually become a panster having thrown the original plot out the window about a quarter of the way through.

If you're not sure what the difference is, here's a good explanation from Samhain Publishing.

So... May I ask something about you?


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Blog Me MAYbe: The EDJ That Isn't

Today is the first day of Blog Me MAYbe which means it's MAY I tell you about myself day. First, may I tell you that my blogs will likely always be late on the day of, because I'm on the west coast, and I write them in the morning. So there. There's something. I'm a west coaster!

If you read my previous post this week, you'll know that I've been struggling with my drive for writing after a life altering circumstance. What wasn't in that post, is that I really love my Evil Day Job. Which makes it pretty easy to fall into a 50+ work week pattern. Which makes it pretty hard, at times, to find time to write.

But I'm not complaining. I want to talk about what I do in my other non-writing life. I manage a program for adolescents and young adults with cancer.  Okay, so I'm not going to talk a lot about what I do, but rather why I do it, and why it's important.

Most of us write for this age group called "young adult". Which is up to, what? 21? 25? In oncology adolescent and young adult (AYA) is considered 15 to 39. (Yay! I'm still a young adult!) And you probably think to yourself, wow. That sucks to get cancer at that age (at any age, right?). Well here are some super quick facts about AYAs and cancer:
  • 70,000 (or 72,000 depending on which set of data you're looking at) AYAs are diagnosed with cancer each year.
  • That makes AYAs almost 8x more likely to be given a cancer diagnosis than their pediatric counterparts. (think: A lot of money goes to childhood cancer treatment/trials/etc... the AYA crowd is often forgotten)
  • In the last 25 years the 5-year survival rate for AYAs has stayed the same, while rates for older adults and children have had significant increases.
  • AYAs are the most un/under insured group of Americans, and often do not have access to the care they need at the time they need it most. One patient I know needed a bone marrow transplant (about a 2 million dollar procedure) and because he didn't have insurance the hospital told him he would need to put $250,000 down unless he could get insurance. Sometimes it takes weeks or months to get government sponsored insurance inline if you didn't have it before a diagnosis. That's weeks and months without life saving treatment. (talk about rationing health care...)
Aww. I know I probably made everyone either bored or sad. But let me tell you a few pretty awesome things about working with AYAs. They are the most determined, inspirational, amazing people I've ever met. They get dealt the cancer card, and they continue to live their lives and make the best out of it.

So that's my not so EDJ, and why I love it as much as I love writing.  Below are some resources for AYAs, or places to find more information if you're interested, or just want some entertainment.

My Program!
National Cancer Institute
Oncology Youth Connection
Planet Cancer
The SCAR Project
The Movie 50/50

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Bond Villain, a New Heart, and a Birthday Card

Kings College Hospital

Late last year, the love of my life almost died. It was a strange course of events that came out of the blue, kept us in a foreign hospital for twenty days, and introduced us to an amazing surgeon who looked a bit like a Bond villain but gave him a new heart.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, can put things in perspective like loss, or the realization of the potential for it. Don't get me wrong. I'm thankful for it.

The Bond Villain Surgeon
I thought that with a new perspective a zest or surge of creativity might come. That my love of writing would transcend into this balls-out mission to do it because life is short, and life is precious.

That. Didn't. Happen.

Which left me to consider: maybe I don't really want it. When I lined up all the things that are really important in my life, was writing still there? For months I wasn't sure. I didn't write a word (outside of work stuff and a sad attempt at revisions) for five months. That's almost half a year. That's the longest I've gone without personal or creative writing in my life.

I fell off the critique partner wagon. I couldn't read my friend's stuff with a critical eye when so much of what I knew or what I thought I knew seemed to be in flux. Writing is hard work. It takes dedication, time, and you must love it.

I didn't think I even missed it.

I was ready to acknowledge that writing didn't make it to the line up. That I must not really have wanted it. How could I if on the other side of crisis, the drive was no longer there? I was almost ready to write my critique group and tell them I was out.


But every day as I open my fridge, my hand brushes past a very important birthday card. Probably the greatest birthday card I've ever gotten.

It was a shock, in more ways than one, to even receive the card. Because we'd been gone for so long, the card had gotten lumped in with all the holiday cards and I didn't open them for a while. When I did, I soon realized it was a very unexpected birthday card and inside it said:

I want to see that goddamn 
book on the shelves!
And the other goddamn book!
And the other goddamn book!

I say unexpected, not for the message, but for the sender. Though in retrospect, I shouldn't have been surprised, it was so him. My friend, and literally one of the first two people I trusted to read something of mine, had passed away in June. 

Of course it made me cry when I got it, because it made me miss him. But more importantly it has served as a constant reminder of the amazing and wonderful spirit he brought to this world, and that knowing him is a gift that will last forever. So every time I look at it, I think of him and smile.

The day I was ready to say goodbye to writing the card practically jumped out at me. Okay, it actually did. I knocked it off the fridge as I opened it. When I picked it up it was like he'd reached out to say, "what the hell, lady?" 

Like flashes in a movie montage, I remembered how much joy writing brought me, and how much I loved sharing stories with people. And how having him read them gave me the courage to make it more than a closeted hobby.

That day I wrote 2,500 words.

It's been a long journey from December 9th to now. Filled with all kinds of turns and doubts and love. It took me a while and I needed the help of a very good friend, but writing has once again joined the line up of most important things in my life. I couldn't be more grateful for my life, my husband, and the people who love and encourage me (especially the ones that are not here but never leave). I can only hope to do as much for them.