Monday, October 15, 2012

Riding the World's Shortest Railway

Last weekend, my family and I drove into downtown LA to celebrate my birthday.  I had lunch at Perch, an awesome rooftop restaurant, curtsey of my awesome daughter.  And we took a ride on Angel Flight.

"For just 50 cents (or 25 cents for holders of valid Metro Passes) you can board one of the two orange and black incline railway cars and ride "The Shortest Railway in the World." This funicular dates back to 1901, when Bunker Hill was one of the most fashionable neighborhoods in Los Angeles and the cars, Olivet and Sinai, ferried prominent citizens up and down the steep slope between Hill and Olive streets. The beloved landmark was dismantled for "urban renewal" of the area in 1969. In the early 1990s, the Railway was refurbished and relocated a half-block south, reopening adjacent to California Plaza in 1996. As short as it is (298 feet), Angels Flight® is an essential Los Angeles experience."

To learn more about this historic railway, visit their website.

Monday, September 3, 2012

GUTGAA: Getting to Know Me

Deana BarnhartGood day, friends and cyber-neighbors!

I'm taking part in the Gearing Up to Get an Agent Blog Hop  or as it's fondly called in writer circles, GUTGAA, now happening on the amazing Deana's Barnhart's Blog.  This is a six-week event, culminating in agent pitch contest and a small press editor pitch contest.  So, in the interest of full disclosure, transparency and getting to know me better, I shall now bear my soul.  Well, not really.  I'll just answer a few questions.

-Who are you?

My short bio is to the right.  But I will add, that I grew up in Chicago and currently live on the west coast.  For my day job, I'm a documentary researcher and production coordinator.  I love writing and I love researching and when you write novels, you get to do a lot of both.  Win-win!

-Where do you write? 

Mostly in the tiny cramped little room that used to be our son's bedroom, and is now known as "the office."  It's messy and dusty, filled with bookshelves, my husband's photo equipment, and papers waiting to be filed.  It's cluttered, because to keep the rest of the house clean, we dump all the junk in here.  As usual, you can't see my desktop right now.  My husband's desk, where he makes his own magic happen, is to the left of me.   There's a window to my right that looks out on the path that leads to my front door, where I can watch for delivery people and advertisement flyer distributors.  My family wonders how I can spend so much time in this room, and I remind them that, while my butt's in the chair, my imagination is carrying me off to faraway fantastic places.

-Favorite time to write?

Anytime, really.  My life's too chaotic to stick to any kind of schedule. Morning's probably best--but not too early.  I need to be fully awake before the creative juices start circulating.  But not too late or I burn out. 

-Drink of choice while writing? 

Hot Tea.  English Breakfast usually.  And I like it sweet.

-When writing , do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?

Oh no, I need silence when I write.  Occasionally, I might put on some classical music.  Or my husband plays jazz.  But nothing with lyrics because that's distracting.  It's too hard to write while I'm singing.

-What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it? 

DARKLING was inspired by the characters.  I wanted to write a story about a feisty, kick-ass girl, and a flawed, not-so-heroic hero, trying to make amends, and the story took off from there.

-What's your most valuable writing tip? 
Anything from Stephen King's book On Writing.  He says: Read, read, read.  If you don't have time to read, you don't have time to write.   Also, I like the advice from Ann Lamott who urges us not to be afraid to write shitty first drafts. This is a good way to thwart the overbearing perfectionist in all of us.  The idea is to get started, put the words down, no matter how crude or unkempt. You can always go back and pretty them up later.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Outliners, Outliers and Hitting Brick Walls

So I'm writing the first draft of this amazing story. (Amazing to me, anyway.)  I have wonderful characters, an interesting setting, and great conflict.  Suddenly, as I'm headed to the finish line, I slam into a brick wall going a hundred miles per hour and everything stops.  47,000 words, flowing like smooth honey on a hot summer day, and  I suddenly I've got ice cubes in the middle of a Canadian blizzard. 
Photo by Dan Holm

And I have no idea how to proceed.

A fellow writer once asked me: "how can you even start writing anything until you know how it's going to end?"  But, you know, that's how I roll.  I'm an intuitive writer.  Outlines are an anathema to me.  I shun them as I would a chunk of rotten pineapple at an Hawaiian luau.  When I write, I usually give the idea a little forethought, take a few notes, then plunge right in.  Even though I might end up running myself smack dab off a cliff. 

I can't help it.  It's the way my brain works. I've tried to change.  But when I sit down and make myself try to outline, I come up dry and unsatisfied.  I need to feel the story, be in the moment.  I like to watch the scene play out in my head, hear the characters talk and see them do things I never imagined they were capable of. 

It's my theory that there are two types of writers in the world--the Outliners and the Outliers.  The left-brained Outliners are the ones with the clean desks.  Their pencils are always sharpened and their pen holders are always filled with working pens.  They plan, they plot--they construct character studies until they know what side of the bed each character likes to sleep on and who they voted for in the 1976 election.

Outliers like me, on the other hand, are right-brained and kind of loosey-goosey. Our desks are piled with magazines and old letters and parking tickets we forgot to pay. We make it up as we go along.  We feel our way through a story, groping for plot twists, grasping for meaning.  And basically flail around and flounder until we find something that makes sense. 

Which of these two methods is better?  Well, Outliners are more efficient, I'll give them that. They get through their stories with far fewer dead-ends, much less beating of the chest, and pulling out of the hair. But don't ever let anyone tell you this is the only way to write.  There is no one way to write, and anyone who tells you there is, is blowing smoke up your... chimney.  In reality, every writer has to decide for him or herself what works.  It all depends on what is suited to your own particular flavor of brain.

Now, back to my amazing novel, which I left hanging precariously in story limbo:  I had a breakthrough.  Or at least I've found a useful tool, a writer's-helper, to unclog my stopped up story-pipes.  I followed the recommendations of Talia Vance in her wonderful presentation, The Revsion Checklist.

Yes, Taila's method includes writing an outline, but only after you write the first draft.  It's a way to graphically lay out the story so you can organize your thoughts and see the big picture in front of you. 

Using this method, I came up with a plot twist I hadn't thought of before. It's a small step toward crafting the second half of the book, but at least it's a start.  Check out Taila's great article for more advise on revising and completing your own manuscript "from big picture to small details."

So what do you think?  When you write, are you a plotter and a down-to-the-last-detail planner?  Or do you fly by the seat of your pants?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Query Me This

A month ago, I decided to get serious about querying.  I've struggled with my query letter for years.  Along the way, I had help from my critique group, a kind-hearted published writer, a how-to pitch seminar, my husband, my daughter and at one point, I may have asked the mailman for his advice.  Writing a query is about the hardest writing I have ever done.  Finally, the hard work has paid off and I have a query with promise. 

To my family's chagrin, I'm now spending practically every waking moment on my computer. (Yeah, I mean more than usual.)  When I'm not writing, I'm scouring the internet for likely agents or doing critiques or commenting on other people's posted work.  I'm entering every contest on every blog I can find. 

It is paying off.  I won an honorable mention in the Teen Eyes Query Contest on the Miss Snark's First Victim blog.  I got great feedback and some actual interest from publishers and an agent at  At this moment, my query is up for critique on three different blogs. The past few weeks have showed me what I can accomplish with sustained, focused effort. I've always known this to be true but this has really made it clear. 

Getting published requires a ton of sweat and toil and a little help from your friends.

You can stop by and check out my queries on the these wonderful blogs.

Brenda Drake Writes...Under the Influence of Coffee, currently holding a Query Workshop

The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment, wherein writer Matt MacNish posts and critiques queries and invites his blog followers to chime in.

Unicorn Bell is running a query workshop, with a contest coming over the weekend.

The internet writing community is amazing.  Is there any other on-line community of people that is so helpful, supportive and giving of their time?  I can't imagine any. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Scholastic Book Club

In my grade school days, the Scholastic Book Club was one club that always wanted me as a member.  I love books and the opportunity to pick my favorites was irresistible. Come on.  Who can resist a new book?   I remember reading the short descriptions on the paper order form and getting all excited over a story.

Back then, the books were only about 50 cents. I'd go through the list and tick off all the ones that sounded the least bit interesting and end up with over a dozen choices.  That's when parental frugality would come into play and I'd have to pare the wish list down to three or four favorites. After that, I only had to make sure I brought the money to school and turned the form in on time.  With me, things like that were never a foregone conclusion.

Then came the magical day when the books arrived and I waited for the teacher to call my name so I could claim my stack of crisp, shiny new books.  I'd peek over at what my neighbor's books and think, "Oh, I wish I'd ordered that one too."

I carried those sweet little paperbacks home in my bookbag, tromping through the snow in snowboots and stocking cap, wearing those thick snow pants that make shooshing noises when your legs rubbed together.  I'd read lying on the couch, while sipping creamy chocolate milk from a carton, or while rocking in our huge green vinyl rocking chair--the one that would tip over if I rocked too hard, and I'd end up reading while lying on my back with my feet in the air.  I liked it that way. And sometimes on the weekends, I'd just lay in bed all day and read. Just thinking about the Scholastic Book Club makes me smile.

These are a few of the books that sparked my imagination back then.  They're classics now.  Click the link below to see a lot more books and more wonderful memories. What were some of your favorites?

Nostalgia for the Scholastic Book Club, circa '60's & '70's 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Remembering Dad on His Day

I got my love of books from my dad.  My father, John Taglieri, grew up in an Italian immigrant family during the depression, the youngest child in a family of ten.  His dad, Roger, owned a barber shop on Chicago’s south side.  His mom, Assunta, cared for the large brood.  As the baby of the family, Dad was his mamma’s boy.  Dad loved to read and he loved adventure books most of all.  Tarzan, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, and his favorite, Jack London’s The Call of the Wild.  He spent his summer evenings reading on the porch until it was too dark to see.

Some of my earliest memories are of Dad tucking me into bed, then sitting at my bedside to tell me bedtime stories.  The Three Bears, Hansel and Gretel, The Three Little Pigs, Cinderella.  I couldn’t sleep unless Dad told me a fairy tale.  Lying in the dark, listening to his soft voice charged my imagination and made me love fairy tales and fantasy.  Dad often told me stories about his life too.  About the hardships of growing up in a large family during the depression.  About being picked on by his older brothers.  He told about serving in the Army Air Force in the Pacific during World War II.  He told his stories over and over until I knew them all by heart.

I grew up and started writing stories of my own.   I wrote my fantasy trilogy and let Dad read the first two books.  It meant so much to me when he told he liked them.  Every daughter wants her father to be proud of her.  I was reworking the third book of the trilogy when Dad started fading.  On a snowy midnight, the second day of March, 2007, at the age of 86, Dad passed away, with the extended family who loved him gathered all around.  I held his hand and whispered good-bye.  I think about him all the time and often wish I had the chance to hear more about his life.  I wish I could ask his opinions about the events of the day or hear one of those old army stories one more time.  And I regret that he never got to see how my trilogy ended.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Hunger Games

Husband and I saw THE HUNGER GAMES movie last weekend.  No, I won't be writing a  review.  I'm not the arbiter of What is Good and What is Bad. Being a writer myself, I don't like to pronounce judgements on a work of art that someone just poured her heart, soul and guts into. Although, on the other hand, I don't mind telling you my opinion if I feel strongly about something.

And, yes, I do have a very strong opinion about THE HUNGER GAMES:  I absolutely love it. 

That movie was awesome.  Not perfect.  Some of those shaky cam close ups made me dizzy.  But the film stayed mostly true to the original story and presented the novel pretty much the way I had imagined it.  The actors, sets and costumes were great.  HUNGER GAMES is the biggest YA book to come along since TWILIGHT and HARRY POTTER so I'm happy to see it turned into an intelligent, well produced film.

What I really love about HUNGER GAMES, both the movie and the book, is its strong female lead: Katniss Everdeen.  She's a rich, multidimensional character.  She kills people when she has to. She falls in love when she needs to. She questions the world she lives in. She survives. Writer Suzanne Collins allows Katniss to be who she is. She didn't follow the same old precepts about girls that we've been taught to expect. Yet, she didn't shy away from giving Katniss a nurturing side.

I write YA novels that feature strong female lead characters so it's wonderful to see something like HUNGER GAMES be so successful.  And it's a good sign that so many recent movies have featured assertive girls: WINTER'S BONE, TRUE GRIT. (Another of my favorite novels.)  Maybe mainstream media will loosen up a little and realize that girls in stories can have more than just two dimensions. They can have longings and desires and flaws and goals of their own.  They're not just eye candy for the boys.  And power shopping isn't their only ability. 

I haven't read TWILIGHT yet, but it's on my list. Now I'm thinking I'd better get to it. TWILIGHT has its many fans, but it has its detractors too.  Mostly they complain that Bella's character isn't a strong, independent individual.  I'm curious to see which side I'll come down on.  Although to be fair, I'm not that interested in vampire stories so TWILIGHT has a mark against it already.