Archive for writing

Emulating the Greats—plans for 2011

There’s a quote from Anne’s House of Dreams that has amused me since I read it.

The trouble with Mr. Howard is that he’s a leetle TOO clever. He thinks that he’s bound to live up to his cleverness, and that it’s smarter to thrash out some new way of getting to heaven than to go by the old track the common, ignorant folks is travelling.

This can be applied to the publishing world, too, I think.  There are some people out there (I know, because I’ve run into a few of them) who think that the book they’re writing is so clever, so ingenius, so new, that agents and publishers will fall at their feet with offers and contracts the moment it’s revealed.  There may be tips and tricks to learn how to write better and how to self-promote, etc, but they don’t need these things, because they’re already inalienably brilliant, and their brilliancy shines from the very first sentence of their very first query letter, etc.

I am not, nor ever have been of that school of thought.  Well, no, I lie… maybe I was when I first started writing at the age of twelve, but a friend glancing over my work and reading the first paragraph or two aloud to my intense mortification proved me otherwise.  For me, the mantra has always been learn as much as you can—read the best books, and now that it’s available, the best author blogs that you can.  Find out what they did, how they think, and what the publishing world has taught them, etc.

And okay, part of this is because I’m a fangirl. What? I am.  So when I find an author I’m intolerably excited about (like Maggie Stiefvater, for example) I go looking up their blogs and things.  In Maggie’s case, I stumbled on The Merry Sisters of Fate, a blog where she and Brenna Yavanoff and Tessa Gratton each write a short story a month, offering them up as free reads.  Maggie told me herself how much this has helped them all in their writing, and just recently posted on how going through the “complete process” of writing a story as often as possible has taught her so much.

I have to admit, free reads are something I’ve been interested in for a long time.  My dear Wren & Marnie were an experiment between free read and blog fiction, which sadly combusted in my face, and I’ve offered a short retelling of Rapunzel, with the intention of making it more of a habit, but always failing to do so.  I think, though, that this has been because there has never been a deadline, or a concrete goal in mind.  So now, I have one.  Well, maybe I should say we.

Starting in January, Isabelle Santiago and I are going to be posting weekly fiction at Tales From the Hollow Tree.  That means two stories by each of us each and every month.  This is going to be a big challenge for us, but something we’re really set on doing.  It will mean stretching out of our comfort zones in a lot of ways, but we’re going to have fun and play with short fiction as much as we can, and we’re very likely to be including alternate POVs or teasers from our WIPs (of course!)

I’m really, really excited about this, and so is Isabelle.  I just hope the Merry Sisters of Fate don’t hold it against us.  After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?  Right?

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Mixtape Muse?

I’ve had a strange idea in my head for a while now to put my entire music collection on my media player and press shuffle, and then use the first ten or fifteen songs as inspiration to a totally new work.  Basically writing a story around fifteen random songs.  The events in the book have to follow the mood and dictation of the songs—meaning if it ends on a downer song, the story is going to be a tragedy.  I tried doing this, and the first time turned out so bipolar that it wasn’t worth keeping—it also included Altered Images “Happy Birthday,” from the Gilmore Girls soundtrack, which I couldn’t bare the idea of listening to over and over again, and so while I wrote up that playlist, I pretty much ditched it immediately and tried again.

The next list actually turned out kind of interesting… it strays a little bit by the end of the fourteen songs that I let play, and I may not use all fourteen, but I do like the idea of trying to write this story, entirely dictated by music.  Here are the tracks I came up with, along with a few lyrics that caught my attention.

1. The Rasmus – In the Shadows

“No sleep until I’m done with finding the answer”

“They say that I must learn to kill before I can feel faith, but I would rather kill myself than turn into their slave”

2. Jackson Browne – Somebody’s Baby

“She’s got to be somebody’s baby. She must be somebody’s baby.”

3. Relient K – Faking My Own Suicide

“’cause I know you love me, you just haven’t realized.”

“they’ll hold a double funeral, because a part of you will die along with me.”

4. Sondre Lerche – It’s Too Late

“I try to set an example for all the people who try to blame their luck.” “Time won’t wait ’til it’s too late to tell you who you were.”

5. Sarah Slean – The Score

“This time the pleasure’s all mine – I’ve got your number, I know the score.”

6. Lucinda Williams – Blue

“I don’t wanna talk, I just wanna go back to blue.”

“Blue is the color of night, when the red sun disappears from the sky.”

7. The Fray – How to Save a Life

“You say we need to talk – he walks, you say sit down, it’s just a talk. He smiles politely back at you, you stare politely right on through.”

8. Emilian Torrini – Ha Ha

“’cause it’s long gone down, you’re still hanging around, it’s not over ’til it starts again.”

9. The Eagles – I Can’t Tell You Why

“weren’t we the same two people who lived through years in the dark?”

10. Ben Harper – In The Lord’s Arms

“Tonight is in the Lord’s Arms.”

11. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – At my Door

“I’ll never see it ’til it’s at my door, ’til it’s at my door it will be ignored.”

12. Lostprophets -For Sure

“if I could I’d stop the time and ask you for a clever line, just because I know you won’t give it to me.”

13. Switchfoot – Company Car

“Mike was right when he said I put up a fight to be someone, a fight to be me.”

14. Sarah Slean – Mary

“She’s looking up enough to the galaxy. A fateful boattrip ‘cross a northern sea…”

“Oh Daughter, this is how she became”

So it still looks a little fractured, sure, and a bit darker than what I’m used to writing, to be honest… but I kind of like that.  Maybe I’m crazy and this won’t work at all, but that’s not really a bad thing if it doesn’t—it’ll still be a heck of a writing exercise.

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1000 Words a Day Initiative!


I’ve decided I’m doing NaNoWriMo.  (That’s National Novel Writing Month, in case you don’t know).  50,000 words in one month.  Really the idea is to write a 50K novel in one month, from beginning to end, but I never quite play by those rules.  Instead, I use it as a means of boosting my daily output and holding myself accountable.  The problem is, NaNoWriMo starts November 1st, and that’s a whole two weeks away.  Meanwhile, for the first time in some time, I have a little bit of the freedom required to really start tying myself to a daily word count, and I wanted to take advantage of that.  By chance, just as I was starting to hear the first rumblings of NaNo chatter online (I would have forgotten it entirely until October 28th or something, if it weren’t for Twitter) I also re-stumbled across the 1000 Words a Day Challenge, presented byInkygirl of, an online comic/blog about writing.

This, as it so happens, was exactly what I was looking for.

I know what you’re thinking.  I do.  “Gee, Lisa… why couldn’t you just decide to write 1000 words a day on your own?”

Well, I already sort of had.  Is the badge really going to hold me accountable to this?  Maybe not as much as I’d like.  But that’s why I’m writing this post, a manifesto if you will.  Now that my life is (somewhat) reasonable, I hereby declare that I will do all that I can to write a bare minimum of 1000 words per day.

Why?  Because forcing yourself to write is one half of the battle sometimes.  Because the more you do write, the easier it is to write, even though as writers, this pertinent fact seems to slip through our fingers like sand the minute our back is turned. I’ve already seen proof of this.  I started this challenge on Thursday (the 15th), and subsequently started a folder titled “The Experiment,” wherein I will keep a document of the words I write every day.  My first day wasn’t so good—I only managed 566 words.  I’m not too upset with myself for this—my grandmother was in the hospital and I was trying to straighten the house up for her coming home.  The second day, almost as busy, though, I ended up with almost double that number of words.  It may have taken until one in the morning, but it got done.

Today it’s half-past six and I already have well over 800 words.  Of course I’m including this post in that number (I reserve that right!) but by the end of the night, I probably won’t have needed to.

It’s a simple, almost silly thing, but it’s gotten me done with one chapter in my novel, and well on my way through another, unsticking me when the only real reason I was stuck was because I was letting myself be.  The truth is, if I’m ever going to make it as a writer, I can’t afford to let myself be.  And it’s about time I got that through my stubborn little head.

Besides.  I’ll be writing over a thousand words in November anyhow, right?  That’s the objective, at least.  This is just gearing up for it.

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Cut and Paste time!


No, I’m not indulging in my craftier side—though I am a crafter at heart, but that’s a whole other story.  No, dear readers, I am sitting here looking at a printed out copy of my YA fantasy manuscript, the one I seem to have hit a brick wall on, and I’m getting creative.

You see, I’m what a friend of mine once called a “chronologically sporadic” writer.  Some writers are very talented and know how to craft a story step by step, starting at the beginning and working their way in a straight and steady line to the end.  I have never been that kind of writer.  Generally, I write the prologue or first chapter, even up to the first several chapters, all in one go.  It’s not that I putter out after that (though that happens occasionally) but really rather that I get distracted by other scenes I know are going to happen down the line.

You know how they tell you that a story should have rising action, falling action, and major and minor climaxes throughout?  Picture that diagram that they show you in your mind, the one that looks a bit like a mountain range of ups and downs.  You know what I’m talking about.  The beginning of a story has to start with something happening, some incentive to get the story going and get the reader interested.  That’s the first slope leading up the first mountain, right?  If you were a chronologically-minded writer, you would probably follow going up that first incline by going down the next side, and so on and so forth.

Me?  It’s like every time I get to the top of that mountain, the fog rolls in down below, and then all I can see are the very tip tops of the summits (or climactic scenes) as they stretch before me.  The valleys, those imperative valleys, are covered up for the time being.  Now, with determination and work, I can clear that fog away and see how to get from one summit to the other, it just takes work, and a lot of paying attention to what my characters are trying to tell me.  But in the meantime, I can see those summits in perfect detail, so I write them down, get them taken care of.

What does this have to do with cutting and pasting?  Well, the problem with writing things in this “chronologically sporadic” way, is that sometimes, so far as actual documents go, the scenes get all mixed up and out of order.  I think that’s the major block I’ve had with this story lately, I just don’t know exactly which parts I’ve written, where.  I have whole bits of writing, from a few lines to a handful of pages, that I need to reorganize.  I know where they belong in the story, but in the document themself, they’ve gotten lost.  So I’m going to spend the next few hours—or days? (hopefully not!)—cutting this manuscript up and putting it in the order it’s supposed to be in, so that I can gather my wits and see what parts really do need to be filled in.  Wish me luck!

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Hello, Lover


No, I’m not talking about the typewriter (though I wish it were mine!), I’m talking about that feeling that you get when you start a brand new project, when the spark of a new novel presents itself to you, all shiny and tempting.  I was lightning-struck with an idea this morning, and though I really shouldn’t be starting something new right now, I also don’t think that writers can afford to put ideas like this on the shelf when they come to you as clearly as this came to me.  (Am I even being coherent here?  I can’t tell at this point.)

Actually, this project isn’t entirely brand new to me, because it’s a reorganized version (read: butchered, beaten, and brought back to life version) of an older project of mine that simply wasn’t usable.  Really very little has been salvaged but a basic idea and a few scenes and character traits, plus a twist or two.  Everything else has been wiped clean and made new.  It’s a beautiful thing.  Especially beautiful because this has the potential of being an ensemble-cast series, something I’ve been wanting  to find a way to do for some time now.

I won’t say more than that just now… I don’t really know much more, and I don’t want to jinx myself by talking about the project too much, but know that it is distracting me and I’m really enjoying the distraction.  That should suffice.

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Soundtrack to a life story.


If you’ve ever talked to me about writing, then you know that I’m a big advocate of the story soundtrack.  It’s one of the first things I do when I’m trying to get my head into a story, developing the characters and the world.  Some songs are so tied to stories and characters in my head that I can’t listen to them without being momentarily transported into a certain scene, or feeling that a character has.

You get a little dependent on these soundtracks, so, when you transfer to a new computer and suddenly your playlists don’t work anymore… well, things get a little messy.  And guess where I am.

So at the moment I’m trying to reconstruct the soundtrack to my main project at the moment, a sort of Young Adult fairytale fantasy.  A soundtrack that had nearly a hundred songs on it.

But on the positive side of things, this is giving me the chance to not only re-evaluate the music I’ve selected for this novel (a lot of Badly Drawn Boy, Nickel Creek, Feist, stuff that brings open countrysides and beautiful expanses to mind), meaning I get to throw out the duds that didn’t really fit the story, the ones I’ve left on out of laziness, but it also means I get to add some fresh new things into the mix, new stuff, like Vienna Teng, who I’ve recently fallen completely in love with.

This song, in particular, just crystallizes everything my main character is.

Vienna Teng, “The Tower” (or listen to it at

I need not to need
I’ve always been the tower
But now I feel like I’m the flower trying to bloom in snow


I love that last line above especially, because I think that’s just where my character is.  She’s very used to having to be strong and seperate, but when major events and uncovered secrets change everything for her, she not only has to learn how to depend on others, but she really steps into her own for the first time, definitely “trying to bloom,” because there’s that yearning there, too.  Just a perfect song.

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Wren & Marnie

Lauren “Wren” Sterling and Marnie Jacoby have grown up together.  They’ve been through it all – growing pains, family problems, gaining and losing friends, fighting over boys (though they deny that) and various jealousies (though they’d rather not acknowledge them).  They’ve been through thick and thin and survived it all.  But can their friendship survive college?  Seperate colleges?  When neither one of them are particularly adept at technology, and are morally opposed to things like Facebook?

Can the distance bring them closer together, or will it just tear them apart?


So, I’ve mentioned, I’ve linked, but I haven’t really talked about Wren and Marnie yet, or their Guide to World Domination.

Wren and Marnie are really, for lack of a better term, an experiment.  An experiment I have to admit I’m really enjoying.  It’s a free read, but instead of a .pdf file for you to read all in one gulp and be done with, it’s actually an on-going thing, updated on Mondays (by Wren) and Wednesdays (by Marnie).  It’s my own little foray into the small and innocuous world of Blog Fiction.

Why do it this way?  Because really I think blog fiction is fascinating.  It’s almost the hybrid offspring of orignial writing and fanfiction—something I admit to knowing more than a little bit about.  Don’t try and hide from it, fanfiction is just a part of the culture these days, and the idea of turning an already-established story into something original is as old as Shakespeare or Pushkin (who are both guilty) and even older!  But the thing that makes today’s fanfiction so interesting, in that people are studying it and writing dissertations about it, etc, is that the stories themselves are entrenched in this community atmosphere that connects the author and reader directly.  In the case of serial works, posted part by part, readers’ comments can even help to shape where the story might be going, because the internet makes it possible to give the author direct “feedback” immediately after reading, so instead of hearing a distant, well-formed review of a work as a whole, readers give to-the-point responses, usually full of emotional reaction.

Blog fiction makes that sort of  interaction possible in a non-fanfic environment, and interestingly, even goes a step further.  Because blog ficiton is basically a normal blog being “written” by a fictional person, readers can, in the comments, interact with the characters themselves—because the characters run the blogs, not the authors, or at least that’s the illusion meant to be created.

Blog fiction itself is such a new format that it’s in its own experimental phase.  Anything and everything goes, pretty much, and that’s really part of why I’m so interested in being a part of the development of this genre.  Wren & Marnie’s Guide to World Domination is my own contribution to this growing medium.  As you can probably guess from the title, this fictional blog is actually being written by two seperate fictional characters, in a more or less epistolary format.

It’s really a very simple concept – two girls dealing with the pressures of college, and the (sometimes scary) freedom of being away from everything and everyone they grew up knowing.  They both want to keep their friendship alive, but it’s difficult, because through this shared blog and each other’s letters, they’ll come to realize that they are two very, very different people.

Wren is type-A personality, studying Classical Theater and Dance at the prestigious Raeburn Institute in Montecito, California, with a minor in World Literature.  Back in high school she was a big fish in a small pond, best at everything, valedictorian, etc, etc.  Here at Raeburn she’s nothing special, though.  She’s finally in the company of the equals she’s always wanted—but can she stand to be little more than a face in a crowd?  She’s working harder than ever to get ahead, but at a high cost, maybe too high.

Marnie hasn’t been able to keep up with Wren academically since high school, at least.  And she’s okay with that, or she’s decided to be.  Her higher education is quite a different thing, too.  Marnie is going to Brenton College in Seattle, Washington.  Brenton is a small, out-of-the-ordinary liberal arts college, with a focus on creative learning and the production of art and literature, where the students have as much say in the curriculum as the professors, and even organize and teach some of the classes themselves.  Competition isn’t really a part of the package.  Much of it Wren can hardly comprehend. Marnie’s schedule is much more open and flexible than Wren’s, also, which is just as she would have it to be.

Similar interests growing up have led Wren and Marnie to become two very different individuals with very different lives.  Now the question is – can they look past their differences and still be the friends to each other that they each secretly—desperately—need?

And the wonderful thing is, I don’t know any better than you how this will turn out.  And neither do Wren or Marnie.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

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