Friday, August 28, 2009

It's Puzzle Building Without a Box Cover

As I start to put (yet again, hopefully for the last time) the finishing touches on my manuscript, I picked up a book I bought recently that is essentially a reference to all things fantasy.

In the introduction, hugely famous fantasy writer Terry Brooks writes about the importance of outlining, so that you can make sure you get your story right. He deemed this pre-writing part as "Puzzle-building without a box cover," and I really loved that phrase.

Because it's true. In all of our stories, we are pulling characters and plot points--the puzzle pieces--out of nowhere and trying to fit them together in a way that makes sense. When it's all said and done, we want to be able to glue those pieces together permanently and frame up that puzzle (or, preferably, to see it on a shelf in Barnes and Noble or Borders). The reason I love the box cover-less puzzle analogy is because it expresses how truly unique and challenging it is to write a good book. Imagine dumping a 10,000-piece puzzle of an ocean full of colorful fish on a table and trying to solve it with no point of reference. Daunting, huh?

You set out to completing it, though, because you've bought the puzzle (thought up a story you can't ignore) and feel it inside that this puzzle will not go away until it's finished. You start the puzzle and it's going great! You get all the outside pieces with the straight edges put together. Then comes the heart of the puzzle, and boy is it tough now.

Don't give up, though, because it's going to be a beautiful thing to see when it's all put together. Sure, there may be times when it seems like there's no way you'll get it done, and that the puzzlemaker must have forgotten to put several pieces in the box. And just when you're at your lowest and ready to tear the puzzle apart, your puzzle-friends will stop by on the weekends and solve a couple of pieces and remind you how awesome that puzzle will be when you get it done.

Kinda like writing. Everyone wants to give up at some point. Heck, J.K. Rowling almost committed suicide at one point. (Literally.) But then your family and other writer friends sympathize and encourage you, and maybe even solve a piece or two of that puzzle, and you keep plodding forward. So stick with it, because that puzzle will be something to behold.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Books I Officially and Publicly Recommend: The Mysterious Benedict Society

I have been on fire recently when it has come to selecting books to read, and have a couple really fantastic books going right now. I believe my streak started when I purchased The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart.

This book is a smart, fun story about four extraordinarily gifted kids who must stop an evil man from taking over the world through hidden messages in the television--basically, television is rotting people's minds.

It takes place in a very Roald Dahl-esque Real-But-Not-Real world (and if you've read any Roald Dahl, you know his thoughts on the television), and the characters are wonderfully memorable. The four kids have such fun character quirks and real emotions that you can't help but be endeared and cheer out loud for them. Along the way, the kids must solve several puzzles and clues to achieve their goal, and you find yourself working out the problems right along with the kids as you read it. The back jacket flap asks in bold, "Are you a gifted child?" From the very beginning of the book, you think hey, I believe I am, thank you very much. It's full of heart, and just a gem of a book. I can't wait to read the sequel, and then the third one coming out in October.

Having said that, I now Officially and Publicly Recommend The Mysterious Benedict Society.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Nice (People) Story

Note: when moving a open trailer full of house stuff, make sure it's all tied down properly. Okay, on with the story.

This last weekend my parents and I helped my sisters move back to school. Per the normal routine, we loaded the trailer we had borrowed with beds, dressers, and the boxes-O-stuff that had been cluttering the garage for the last three months. We cinched everything down (or so we thought) with some tie-downs, and hit the road for the three hour drive. I should mention that my mom drives the car in our family.

Not twenty minutes later, breaking through the road-trip silence, my mom: Ohh shnow-tractors! (Okay, maybe snow tractors wasn't the exact word. But you get the idea.). My dad starts freaking out, "WHAT? WHAT DID YOU DO???" I look out the window and there goes one of the boxes zip-spinning off the trailer and crashing into the center divider.

We're going too fast to turn around, and my dad is bordering clinical insanity in his rantings about our liability, and what if it causes a pile-up? and oh no, they're going to helicopter onto the hood of our car and fly us to jail! He's yelling at my mom to "Keep going! Keep going! We can't stop now!" 

So I guess we had no choice but to press forward and hope that nothing valuable was in those boxes. Maybe we could've gone back, but we didn't. A couple exits down the road, we pulled off and bought more tie-downs so we wouldn't lose any more stuff, and proceeded the rest of the journey rather uneventfully.

Enter Rob and Ria Cross. 

Driving home Sunday evening we were planning on going by the spot we lost the boxes, just to see if they were still there. About five minutes before we got to the spot, though, my sister got a call from United States Swimming. The woman on the line said a guy had apparently found some bins of ours and was trying to get ahold of us (!). Tiffany (my sister) says thanks, and immediately calls the guy. Rob told us to pull off the freeway and wait right there, he'd meet us with the boxes. Let me tell you, we were thrilled (except for my dad, who honestly thought the guy was pulling a sting operation and would be arriving with the SWAT team and handcuffs.)

He pulled up, and was just the nicest guy. Apparently my sister's homework and US Swimming card had survived the box blunder; he told us how he and his wife had sent a Facebook message to every McBroom they could find, but no one responded. They had searched high and low, and all around to try to connect with us. I mean, they spent their entire weekend trying to find us, so that we wouldn't have to go without our two boxes (it turned out to be kitchen supplies, if you were wondering). Eventually, he took the Swim card and called up US Swimming, and that's when the magic happened.

So a big cheers for Rob and Ria Cross, who reaffirmed for me that you still can come across really, really nice people at random.

Monday, August 17, 2009

New Name, Same Look

As you may have noticed, my name has been a rather drab "...Under Construction..." the last few days.

Since my days as a singer in the world of children's books have (for now, at least) come to an end, I deemed it appropriate to evolve my blog as well. So I came up with a new name. I was going to change my temple to a fancy, fantasy-filled design, but it didn't come out looking right. I'm not all that good with that kind of stuff. So the look is the same, but I present to you....

(see title above).

My Personality Test Results

Prior to my business school orientation this Saturday, I was required to take a personality test. Apparently Chapman (my school) will use these results to better craft a program for each of us as students, which I think is really awesome.

Personally, I love taking personality tests/quizzes. I think it's really fun to reflect on the results and whether or not they are accurate, or completely out in left field. This particular test was called the StrengthsQuest evaluation; the results were divided into 34 "themes," that represent you as a person, and you receive your top 5 themes after the test.

My Top Five Themes:

5. Significance: People who are especially talented in the Significance theme want to be very important in the eyes of others. They are independent and want to be recognized.

4. Strategic: People who are especially talented in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.

3. Futuristic: People who are especially talented in the Futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They inspire others with their visions of the future.

2. Activator: People who are especially talented in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.

And Number 1.......

1. Ideation: People who are especially talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.

Overall, I was pretty happy with my results (especially my number one, considering I'm trying to publish a book).

How about you? Do you like personality tests, or do you think they're just a bunch of fluff?

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Query Process: Damaging to the IQ?

According to an article in The Bottom Line magazine: Constantly checking your email--as opposed to checking it once or twice a day at a set time--lowers your IQ by up to 10 points!

I don't know about you, but this does not bode well for me when I've got a query or manuscript out.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Jammin' Out to Ideas

I'm reading a book right now called, "The Imagineering Workout." In it, a bunch of imagineers offer exercises to bolster your creativity, or different ways to brainstorm.

One piece of advice that I thought was really neat (and really well-phrased) was this: "When in the car, don't jam out to tunes. Jam out to ideas!"

Our right-brains love driving. It involves so many meticulous details: check your speed, look in your mirrors, make sure you're not wandering from your line into the car next to you, check your speed again, switch lanes, etc. and so forth. And when our right-brains get so engaged in driving, it allows our left-brain (our creative brain) to drift.

On my drive home from the conference I decided to decompress with a 5 hour Idea Jam-Out, and drove almost the whole way home in silence. And it was awesome! I set my thoughts first on my novel, and my mind drifted all over my plot and the details of my world that I need to get straight before I query again. And then I let my mind just wander wherever it decided to take me. I reflected on the weekend, and where I would go next with all the motivation I absorbed from it. I thought about business school coming up (just found out I'm officially accepted...woo!), and my plan of action for becoming an imagineer.

It really was one of the best drives home from Southern California I've had (and I've made that drive a lot), and was kind of cathartic...who knew silence could be so much fun!

Does anyone else drive in silence, or have any other creative-idea tricks they'd care to share?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

PCPD has returned!

I ran this after last year's conference, but after seeing all the mentions of "conference withdrawal" on the twitter feed of #scbwi09, it seems that PCPD is sweeping the nation once again! So, the "article," updated for this year:


A new disease has spread across the continental United States, and looks to potentially capture the world as well. Post Conference Partum Depression, or PCPD, as it becoming more conveniently known, is a severe form of delusional depression. When asked how such a paralyzing disease could have entered our land, doctors indicated that the bacteria the disease grows from was likely born from a small mass of fun that gathered in the lobby every night at the 2009 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles, CA. Symptoms include spending countless hours cycling through everyone else's blogs to read different spins on the exact same event, refusing to wear anything but blue, making pillows with everyone's faces on them and sitting around in a circle to talk with them, aimlessly wandering lobbies of local hotels looking for fun people to talk to, and culminating in a series of creative bursts of energy. If you or anyone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, I am very sorry, but there does not seem to be a cure for this tragic disease arriving on the horizon of the foreseeable future. The only therapy suggested for PCPD is to continue to keep in touch with other sufferers of the disease. May fortune shine upon you and let the disease avoid your residential area.

SCBWI 2009: An Outsider's Perspective

This year's conference was an interesting one for me. Because of certain extenuating circumstances (interviews to take, houses to look for, upcoming school to pay for) I was not actually able to attend the conference this year. I had to be in the area that weekend, though, so I decided to stay at the hotel and enjoy the social side.

I am happy to say that I had a wonderful time--and kept surprisingly busy!

From what I saw, there was this really cool vibe of openness throughout the weekend. I was only around during the end-of-the-day lobby festivities, but I saw lots of editors and agents interacting with writers, making themselves available. Everyone was so approachable, and genuinely seemed interested in talking to the attendees.

And as Paul mentioned in his recap, who said anything about the book business declining? Everyone really did seem hungry, on both sides. It seemed like every other person I met had either won an award or had an agent/editor pleading them to send a manuscript immediately. You could almost hear the doors opening everywhere you turned.

I must say that I, too, had my own bit of excitement. On Friday I had my interview for business school; not only did it go well, but one of the staff members at the school has a brother who is a Walt Disney Imagineer! For those of you who don't know, it is my ultimate dream to design rides for the Disney parks. The imagineer's sister gave me his card, and let him know I'd be in touch. Talk about an amazing opportunity!

Of course, back to the conference, I can't forget to mention the ever-expanding bank of memories and friends that seems to grow exponentially as each year passes. And this year, between wacked-out Dr. Seuss character look-a-likes, an angry astronaut (Did they remember the theme???), an improvised limbo breakout, some renegade socializing (it was kool-aid, I swear), a KEYNOTE with a twist, several discussions of urinal edicate, Face Up Uno, and the best new YA picture book that needs to be written ("You think you like me in economics class..."), this year was certainly no exception.

I would have loved to soak up all the knowledge that you gain in all those breakout sessions, because it did seem to be quite the year for speeches, too. But considering the circumstances, I was pretty happy just being able to spend the weekend with so many wonderful people--again. So thank you to everyone who was part of the magic that happened at SCBWI 2009. And I'll see you next year.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Another Year, Another Awesome Weekend

And I'm home....and blogging again!

It was great seeing all the old group, and awesome meeting all the new people, too! The best conference I never attended!