Thanks so much for visiting HipWriterMama, my blog about children's books, authors and readergirlz!

It's time for a change. I've decided to focus my attention on my writing blog, www.vivianleemahoney.com. Hope to see you there!


Friday, July 25, 2008

Inspiration in Honor of Randy Pausch

I just heard the sad news that Randy Pausch passed away earlier today. I've decided to repost this, in his honor.

Randy Pausch--professor at Carnegie Mellon University, founder of the Alice Project, author of The Last Lecture--inspired millions and made people believe anything is possible. My thoughts and prayers go to his family.

Please make the time, 76 minutes to be exact, to watch the Last Lecture of Randy Pausch, Professor of Carnegie Mellon University. I know, it's a lot of time. But, even start with 10 minutes. You will see life in a whole new way.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I Can Do Anything You Can Do...Girls Rock on Math!

Math study finds girls are just as good as boys.  Oh, yeah.  

John Green's Awesomeness in a Vlog

How the Vlog Brothers came about, John Green's advice to writers who can't finish anything, brotherhood, book marketing...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Inspiration Monday: Jason Mraz, Make it Mine

This is a great song to listen to on a Monday. No.  Make it every day.  Man, this guy just makes me smile.

So, here's today's inspiration.  Jason Mraz's "Make it Mine."  

Now go follow your dream. You can do it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Writing Tip: In Search of Rare Books for Research

I found a copy of a rare book from the nineteenth century that provides much needed research about the little details for my current WIP. Can you say HAPPY?

I'm a facts type of gal.  Even though my historical WIP is fiction, I still want it to be as accurate as possible.  Otherwise, why go to all this effort to write about a different time period if the reader can't be right there, along with my characters?  

I've been doing most of my research on the web, since I haven't found much in my public library system.  And almost every site I researched, referenced this one particular book, which is apparently a collector's item. Harvard University, which is close by, has a phenomenal library perfect for my subject matter, but sometimes it's nice to be able to reference something at your own leisure.  Plus, after reading Chris Barton's post, I didn't want to spend $50.  I need to buy gas and I have three kids I need to send to college one of these days.  Ha!  As if it would make a difference...oh, well.  Every little bit helps.  But, I digress.

Enter Amazon.com.  Imagine my shock when I discovered Amazon.com had this rare book and I didn't have to pay a fortune.  They sell books published by Kessinger Publishing's Legacy Reprints, which offers "thousands of scarce and hard-to-find books."  

Kessinger Publishing has a printing statement in the beginning of the book:
"Due to the very old age and scarcity of this book, many of the pages may be hard to read due to the blurring of the original text, possible missing pages, missing text, dark backgrounds and other issues beyond our control.

Because this is such an important and rare work, we believe it best to reproduce this book regardless of its original condition."

I'm flipping through the book I just received, and this is definitely a photocopy of the book. Many of the pages are dark, though very readable. And I've already discovered some missing pages--I'm only hoping the pages I really need are here.

In any event, I can't wait to use this to tie up some loose ends in my manuscript.  I'm off to read now!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Jason Mraz Makes Me Smile

I've been putting together a playlist for a manuscript I've dusted off a couple months ago.  Music inspires me and gets me into the groove of revising scenes.  I came across this fantastic song, "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz. I've just discovered Jason's music, and his songs are perfect for my protagonist.  Check out "I'm Yours"--it totally makes me smile.

If you want more happy, listen to Jason Mraz's version of Kermit's Rainbow Connection. 

Have a nice relaxing weekend.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Poetry Friday: The Black Swan by James Merrill

The Black Swan
by James Merrill

Black on flat water past the jonquil lawns
Riding, the black swan draws
A private chaos warbling in its wake,
Assuming, like a fourth dimension, splendor
That calls the child with white ideas of swans
Nearer to that green lake
Where every paradox means wonder.

Though the black swan’s arched neck is like
A question-mark on the lake,
The swan outlaws all possible questioning:
A thing in itself, like love, like submarine
Disaster, or the first sound when we wake;
And the swan-song it sings
Is the huge silence of the swan.

Illusion: the black swan knows how to break
Through expectation, beak
Aimed now at its own breast, now at its image,
And move across our lives, if the lake is life,
And by the gentlest turning of its neck
Transform, in time, time’s damage;
To less than a black plume, time’s grief.

Interesting notes:
The Black Swan is native to Australia.
The Black Swan Theory states a black swan is "a large-impact, hard-to-predict, and rare event beyond the realm of normal expectations."  Check out the book.
Kelly Fineman is hosting Poetry Friday today.  Go over here for a poetry feast.  

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Writing Tip: Critique Etiquette Basics

Unless you've decided to go the professional critique route, if you've joined a critique/writing group, you'll be part of the receiving and giving end of the critique.  Since you've done your research, you know this is a huge time commitment and needs to be taken seriously.  As I've mentioned before, I love the critique process.  It's an incredible learning experience and as with any form of study, it takes time to do well.  Because you wanted to know about this, I've decided to share with you the basics of critique etiquette.  If anyone else has anything to add, feel free to do so in the comments.

If your work is critiqued:
  1. Submit your writing in the best shape possible and if needed, tell your group members what you need help with.          
  2. If you are unable to submit on time, let your group members know and find a replacement, if necessary.
  3. Be prepared for honest feedback and do not take it personally.  Remember the critique process is meant to help you improve your writing.
  4. Thank people for their feedback, even if you don't agree with them.  Depending on the size of your submission, group members will focus on your work for an hour or two.  Be grateful and show it.
  5. Do not argue with what people have written.  Step away from your work and the critiques, if need be, and then reread at another time.  If you have questions about what someone said, start up a polite dialogue.  This is not about winning the argument, but getting your work in top-notch form to submit to an agent or publisher.  
  6. Remember that critiques are offered as suggestions on how to improve your work.  You have the final say on what you will implement in your writing.    
If you are the critiquer:
  1. Spend time to read the submission.  I've read in some groups they recommend you read over the work two to three times.  Once to get the immediate impact of the work and then at least one more time to go over specific feedback on the writing. 
  2. Be honest with grace.  This is not a forum to abuse the writer.  Give constructive criticism with kindness.  Remember, your job is to help the writer achieve his/her vision, not change the story to fit your likes or writing style.  
  3. Give specific examples, rather than only general comments.  "Great job," does nothing, but "I couldn't wait to finish reading this to find out how X character resolved his conflict.  Nice ending, don't change a word,"  or, rather than "Not sure about Z," how about saying, "Develop Z character more.  He is sixteen-years-old but when he talks to his friends, he sounds and acts like he's twelve."  
  4. Be specific about character development, dialogue, setting, POV, and pacing. 
  5. Keep your personal taste out of the critique.  You may not like reading historical fiction, but you can still use your knowledge to offer productive feedback.   
  6. Encourage the writer at the end of your critique.  State what you liked about the writer's piece.
  7. Offer praise.  If there is something specific that wows you, let the writer know.  It helps the writer know what he/she is doing right, as well, they're less likely to change it if they know specifically what you were impressed by.  
  8. Remember other people in the group will benefit and learn from your critique.  Not everyone in the group will "see" the same things and may offer up different feedback.  Study all the critiques.  They will all help you in different ways to strengthen your own writing.
  9. Honor the confidentiality of the writing in the group.  
Every group will have their own set of guidelines, so make sure you know your group's rules.  If you have anything else to add, feel free to do so in the comments.

Once you're in the group for awhile, and have experienced being the giver and receiver of critiques, you'll be able to tell whether the group works for you.  Look at whether your manuscript is improving, focus on the group dynamics, study your critiques you receive and give to your group members.  Ideally, if you're as lucky as I am, you will have a honest, trusting, respectful relationship with your group members.  And your writing prowess will be refined and strengthened.  Yay for FFW (my critique group)!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Writing Tip: Finding the Right Critique Group

If you've decided you're ready to take the plunge to find a critique group, you're ready for the next step.  What's that, you ask?  Now you need to take the time to figure out what type of critique/writing group fits your needs best.  Are you the type of person that works best with face-to-face interaction with other people?  Do you prefer working at your own pace?  Or, would you prefer having the expertise of a professional?  
Face-to-Face Group
In a face-to-face group, you get to meet with your group on a regular basis.  It may be at the library, a school, a bookstore, a restaurant, a person's house, etc.  Each group operates differently.  Some will have the submissions sent to each group member ahead of time and then you can critique it at your own pace, bring it to the meeting and then discuss the work.  Other groups may meet, and the writer will read out his/her work out loud, so the members can discuss the work.  There may also be variations where submissions are handed out at the meeting, the writer reads aloud his/her work, and the group members then discuss.     

Private On-line Group
A private on-line group is usually small and meets on a regular basis via e-mails and whatever group networking system they decide to set up:  ie, Google Groups, Yahoo Groups, etc.  Submissions are posted and the group members post their critiques.

Open Critique Group
I don't know anything about this type of group, so please research before signing up.  Basically, there are groups you can find on-line or even through the magazines, newpapers, etc. that anyone can join and I don't think there are limits to the number of people that belong to the group.  Again, if you go this way, research this very carefully.

Professional Critique (via conference, writing program, editor, professional writer, etc.)
You will need to do extensive research if you go this way, particularly if you decide to hire an individual to critique your work.  I don't know enough about this to write about, and if you're going to pay someone to critique your work, it only makes sense to find out what the person's experience is, interview the individual, get references and find out what he/she will deliver to you, and in what timeframe.

However, I've only heard good things about the critiques offered through the SCBWI conferences and a select group of writing programs.  Just be sure to research and ask questions before handing over your money.

If you know of any other type of group I've left out, please mention it in the comments.

Okay, now you know what kind of critique processes are out there, you need to decide what you hope to accomplish with your writing and what kind of writing you specialize in.  Are you writing non-fiction or fiction?  Picture Books?  MG?  YA?  Are you starting a manuscript and want to learn as you go?  Are you a writer looking to join a group before you finish a project?  (Thanks, Becky for mentioning this.)  Or, do you want to polish up your manuscript before sending it out to an agent or publisher?  Regardless of your writing level, you still need to research where the critique group openings are, find out their requirements, and ask questions to see if they meet your requirements.

Here are a list of places you can go to to find out about critique group openings (geared towards children's books):
  1. Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators
  2. Verla Kay Message Board
  3. Smartwriters.com
  4. Writer blogs
  5. Start your own group
  6. Local colleges and writing programs
  7. Local library
  8. Word-of-mouth
  9. Local bookstore
  10. Writing Magazines
  11. Google search

Any other ideas?

So, you've got one or two or more potential critique groups in hand.  What do you do now?  The answer, my pretties, is you're going to research and ask questions, if need be.  Things that are important to know:

  1. How many people are in the group?
  2. What is their writing experience?
  3. Any published writers?
  4. What genre does the group focus on?  
  5. What type of time commitment does the group require versus what kind of time are you willing and able to put in?  ie: meetings, travel time (if pertinent), reading through the submissions, writing a critique up, etc.? (Thanks Chris and PJ)
  6. How is confidentiality of your work handled?  
  7. What do the critiques focus on?  ie: plot, character development, grammar, writing structure, all of the above or just on one or two areas?
  8. How are members added to the group?
  9. What happens when a group member leaves?
  10. What are the rules/guidelines of the group?
  11. What are the submissions requirements and how are critiques handled? 
  12. If you are going to pay for a critique, make sure you research thoroughly.
Any other pertinent things to think about?
Tomorrow I'll discuss critique etiquette and how to decide whether the group is working for you.  

Inspiration: Dara Torres, 41-Year-Old Olympic Swimmer Breaks Record

Forty-somethings never looked so good. Dara Torres, a nine-time Olympic medal winner, is headed to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.  I know I'll be cheering her on.  

Want some inspiration?  Just watch this video....then get to work.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Writing Tip: Are You Ready for Critique?

Last week, I wrote a post on critiques.  Since then, a few readers have e-mailed me with questions so I've decided to expand on this topic in a few posts and share what I've gleaned from my experience.  Keep in mind this isn't the absolute word on writing groups or the critique process, but I hope this will help you as you figure out what works best for you.  

Okay.  So.  You've finished your manuscript and are ready to take this to the next level.  Finished, you say?  Yes.  Finished.  Not...you have this great idea.  Not...you've just started.  Not...you want to learn how to write.  If you want other writers to take you seriously, and consider you to be part of their critique group, be committed to your writing and finish something.  Know the basics of good writing.  Know how to plot, how to develop characters, how to tell a story.  After you've joined the writing group, then you can bounce off ideas on your new project.  But, first things first.  Prove to your potential group that you can write and will be a productive member, rather than someone who will need a lot of hand holding.

The critique process isn't for the weak of heart.  I'll be the first to say I find it stressful.  When I work on my manuscripts, it is a labor of love.  I pick them apart, agonize over the right words, focus on emotions, themes and plots.  By the time my critique group gets to read my submission, I'm fairly happy with what I've written.  Until, I have to wait for the feedback.  You know how little kids find even sitting still for five minutes to be torture? Well, this is similar to what I experience when waiting for my awesome critique members to read my submission and comment on it.  But...it is so worth it.  The comments are invaluable in the revision process.  As I've mentioned before, there's nothing like a good critique to help take my writing to the next level.  

So, how do you know if you're mentally ready to hear or read words about your writing? I would suggest you evaluate how you handle suggestions from other people in other areas of your life--whether it be about work, a hobby, etc.  Are you the type of person that will take feedback and turn it into "Let Me Run Out And Get The Champagne, I'm on My Way to Greatness," or are you a "They Just Don't Get Me, I'll Show Them," or are you a "Woe is Me, I'm Never Gonna Make It" type of person?  Or, are you a "Hmmm.  Let Me See What I Can Do With This" type of person? Personally, I believe most people will have all of these reactions at one point or another during the critique process, but the person who will get the most out of all the feedback is the one who will work with the comments--no matter what it is--and handle the critiques with grace. 

To recap, here are the steps I think are important when deciding if you're ready to join a writing critique group.  If you have any other suggestions, feel free to add them in the comments!:
  1. Finish your manuscript.
  2. Understand plot, character development, good storytelling.  Know good writing.
  3. Be mentally prepared to hear the good and helpful comments about your writing.
  4. Know how to be graceful when a critique member offers helpful suggestions about your work you may not like or agree with.

Tomorrow, I'll discuss tips to help you find the right critique group.  

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Stephenie Meyer's Mesmerizing Twilight Saga

I first read Stephenie Meyer's books, Twilight and New Moon over a year ago.  These two books totally sucked me in, and I found myself entranced by Stephenie Meyer's plotting.  Since then, I've read the third book in the series, Eclipse and need to read the final book in the series when it comes out.  I need closure.   

Breaking Dawn will be released on August 2, 2008, and in case you're curious, here's a sneak peek into the first chapter.  Now check out the four-city concert tour to promote the book.

I have to admit, I've been intrigued by Stephenie Meyer's career.  It's hard not to be, when her first book, Twilight, flew up the charts, with devoted fans anxious for more.  If you're curious about Stephenie Meyer,  read this recent article from Entertainment Weekly's website.

As you may well know by now, Twilight is being made into a movie, due to be released December 12, 2008.  Check out the Twilight movie website for cool pictures of the actors all dressed up in their roles, some videos and production information.  

EW reports that one of Stephenie's fans approached her at a book signing.
''Are we going to feel complete at the end of Breaking Dawn?'' she whispered pleadingly. Meyer handed the girl back a signed book and smiled. ''I can't really answer that question for you,'' she said, her voice both cheerful and firm. ''But I felt closure.''

Uh-oh....I'm a huge Edward fan and am rooting for him in Breaking Dawn.  What about you?  Edward or Jacob?  

Friday, July 11, 2008

Poetry Friday: Dear Doctor, I Have Read Your Play by Lord Byron

I just received an e-mail from a loyal reader who read this recent post and wanted some more information about the critique process.  I'm not sure I'm the best person for this, but I'll give this a try.  I hope to have something up early next week.  In the meantime, I thought you'd find this poem by Lord Byron amusing.  Have a great weekend!

Dear Doctor, I Have Read Your Play
by Lord Byron

Dear Doctor, I have read your play,
Which is a good one in its way,
Purges the eyes, and moves the bowels,
And drenches handkerchiefs like towels
With tears that, in a flux of grief,
Afford hysterical relief
To shatter'd nerves and quicken'd pulses,
Which your catastrophe convulses.
I like your moral and machinery;
Your plot, too, has such scope for scenery!
Your dialogue is apt and smart;
The play's concoction full of art;
Your hero raves, your heroine cries,
All stab, and everybody dies;
In short, your tragedy would be
The very thing to hear and see;
And for a piece of publication,
If I decline on this occasion,
It is not that I am not sensible
To merits in themselves ostensible,
But—and I grieve to speak it—plays
Are drugs—mere drugs, Sir, nowadays.

Under the Covers is hosting Poetry Friday today. Go over here to read some more poetry.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Gabe Schwartzman: Seventeen-Year-Old Brews Biodiesel

All I can say, is this is one environmentally-friendly way to respond to the growing fuel costs. Check out this article about a high school senior.  If you'd like to learn how to make your own biodiesel, start off on YouTube or Google.

For a photo of Gabe Schwartzman in his basement lab, go here.  Photo credits to The Washington Post.

What were you doing at seventeen?

Edited to Add this YouTube video: Check out how articulate Gabe is in his interview...

Writing Tip: Critiques: A Role Reversal of Sorts

Yesterday, I set foot for the first time on the well-heeled grounds of an exclusive country club. And it wasn't because I'm a member, thinking about being a member, or knew any members.  My eldest daughter had her first summer swim meet there.  She got 2nd place in the freestyle.  Wahoo!  

But, I digress.  The country club experience was something else, from the long drive past the manicured golf course, the visual impact of the club house mansion (for lack of a better word), the walk past the indoor and outdoor tennis courts, the Olympic size swimming pool, and the staff, who were more put together than I've ever been since I left the business world and stayed home with the children.  I bet you're now wondering how polished the members were.  

Have you ever watched "What Not to Wear?"  I looked like a major Before, compared to the elegant women who graced the pool area.  I'm not one to compare myself to others, or wish for things I can't have.  In fact, I'm pretty comfortable with myself.   But for a moment okay, two...I remembered what it was like in high school, a bit insecure and wanting to fit in.  

I never knew bathing suits, beach coverups, beach bags could be so, well, so coordinated with children's swimming attire--I'm talking about matching colors/shades and incredible patterns with a richness found in luxury magazines.   I never knew women's hair, in sweltering heat, could look so fresh and fluffy.  I never knew elegant dresses were acceptable bathing suit coverup wear.  

Of course when I got home, I had to schedule a haircut.  It had been a few months since my last haircut, and it was time to fix the situation.  I also had to go and look at clothes yesterday morning.  I despise clothes shopping, but just had to take a look.  You know, just for a peek into a wardrobe beyond my casual mommy attire.  

This whole experience made me think about the critique process, especially since right now, my critique members have my latest submission to read through.  I've mentioned this before, but my critique group is Awesome, with a capital A.  They have fantastic insight and a great sense on how to strengthen my work.  

Writing the manuscript is somewhat like taken a ride down a long road, taking in all the sights and showing what it's all about.  There are all sorts of highs and lows when writing, and the final thrill is getting to your destination, in this case, the finished manuscript, the Before.

Then you get to the nerve-wrecking part...the critique process...where, if you're like me, wonder whether your underwear is showing and if people are rolling their eyes, or worse, laughing.  

The critique process is when I feel the most vulnerable, but, it is also one essential piece to my writing.  In my case, I have seven other people who read through my work, and as a labor of respect, they show me where things could be cut, added to, redefined, or, and this is where I do my happy dance--what works well.  Yes, there are times the feedback leads me on a downward spiral when I see how much more work I need to do, but for the most part, I find renewed enthusiasm for my project, as I decipher my critiques and figure out how to utilize them, and work through the Makeover.

Ultimately it is your choice how to incorporate the critiques into your writing.  Sometimes you may be so in love with what you've written, it's hard to change it.  Then there are the times where it will be so easy to cut everything and start over.  Or maybe a few words will enhance your section and you're good to go.  

In any case, it gives you a chance for a role reversal of sorts.  Rather than looking at your work through your own eyes (or character's viewpoint), you have the opportunity to look at this through the readers' eyes.  And if anything, isn't that what you want, to create a piece of work that the reader will enjoy?  

Now go work on your revisions.