Archive for the ‘QueryTracker Chain’ category

Matters of the Heart

March 27, 2009

Jessica Verday started the QueryTracker Blog Chain topic this week.  To my delight, it was a creative writing project rather than our usual fare of personal writing process disclosure.  

She began the assignment with a poem written by Stephen Crane she discovered quoted on Kate Quinn’s blog.

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter-bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.”

                                          -Stephen Crane

The challenge Jess assigned was to write a short story–in my case, very, very short– 250 words.  The only stipulation was that a heart must be a feature somewhere in the story.  The post preceding mine is Terri Rainer’s. Thank you, Terri, for suggesting the title for my little story.




The Offering

Crimson drops splatter the stark white surface. He blinks back tears and consciously slows his breathing to keep his hands from shaking. So much at stake. No room for error. No, this won’t do at all.

He realizes he must apply what he knows about her in order to succeed.  She loves the sunshine and is afraid of dark places. Her favorite color is green. Yes.  That’s it!  The answer was here all the time. He washes his hands and the swirling water fades from red to pink to crystal clear. He has removed all evidence.  She will never know. 

 Barely able to contain her excitement, she peeks under the lid of the box.  She reaches in and wraps her fingers around his gift.  One of many, but it caught her eye. This heart wasn’t like the rest of her offerings.  It was misshapen, as if hacked out in haste.  Ripped out, perhaps?

She glances across the room at him and he lowers his eyes.  She loves his shyness.  After turning the heart over in her hands several times, she examines the others in the box.  His heart is by far the best.   Her favorite.  It is crafted from green construction paper with “Be my Valentine” penned in black crayon.  Although his name isn’t on it, he’s the only person in second grade who knows her favorite color.  Her own heart feels pinched as she holds his and watches him pick red tempra paint from under his nails. 


Heather Dyer is next in this chain.  Click here to read her story.  


Embracing a Stranger

February 17, 2009

dollThe QueryTracker blog chain topic this time was begun by Leah Clifford.  Before I address the topic, I want to congratulate Leah on signing with Rosemary Stimola of the Stimola Literary Studio.  Leah received four offers of representation from literary agents for her young adult urban fantasy, REAPERS.  Way to go! 

Jessica Verday’s post preceded mine.  Leah’s topic for this round was:

What do you do to amp up the conflict? What pins do you stick in the little voodoo dolls? How do you torture your characters?

Far more interesting than Leah’s choice of topic to me was the information presented with it.  Here’s the passage that made me grin: 

I kept imagining the look of complete horror on the faces of some of my fellow blog chainers.  These girls are nice…sweet…moms and teachers and doctors!  And not only do I love to make them squirm…I’m hoping to make them stretch.  

Now, that is what I want to write about, not how I torture my characters.  Writers torture characters to give them depth and interest.  What I do as a writer to amp up the conflict is contingent on the plot–do I kill off an entire family, do I subject the character to sexual or psychological abuse–all answered by the needs of the genre and story.  

Why a story topic is chosen and to what extent a writer tortures a character is a whole different matter.  

Billy Joel wrote a song long ago called “The Stranger.”  Though I find some of his stuff hokey, the lyrics of this song are on point:

Well we all have a face
That we hide away forever
And we take them out and
Show ourselves
When everyone has gone
Some are satin some are steel
Some are silk and some are leather
They’re the faces of the stranger
But we love to try them on

You may never understand
How the stranger is inspired
But he isn’t always evil
And he is not always wrong
Though you drown in good intentions
You will never quench the fire
You’ll give in to your desire
When the stranger comes along.

When preparing for acting roles, I was occasionally called upon to embrace the darkness in myself that was relevant to characterization. This is similar to characterization in writing–a multi-dimensional character reacts to and from suffering.

Being an acting teacher, I’ve learned even more about “the stranger.”  I was trained in the Stanislavsky Method of acting, which requires pulling up and examining memories of real life experiences to lend credibility to a role.  I teach Method acting to some of my older teen and adult students.  The reason I wait until they are older is that it requires some life experience and emotional maturity.  An actor has to face his/her inner demons in order to utilize the technique in some cases.  It is not uncommon for  young actors to break down because they have recalled and applied an experience to character development that is too painful or raw.  

Here’s what I’ve learned from my own troubled childhood, crazy youth and have witnessed during the cathartic revalations of young actors:

The people who seem most benign are often the ones who burn the hottest.  I kid you not.  The social mask is sometimes so effective, it fools even the wearer.  The people I’ve met with the most tragic or alternative pasts are often the ones who present the most socially acceptable facade.  It’s the quiet ones who surprise and delight me.

I remember going to a play that had some extreme sexual and violent content and looking at the audience in horror.  The audience members were primarily over 70  years old.  I thought, “They are going to be so offended and outraged.  Why are all these seniors here?” Then it dawned on me; the young do not corner the market on sexuality, deviance and alternative views.  These people had not only been young once, they had the experience to know what to do with that knowledge.  Hmmm.  An “ah ha” moment. Something to look forward to!  Once again, the social facade was in complete opposition to reality.

Why do we as writers torture characters?  Freud and Nietzsche have lots to say about it, but I’m not going to go academic on you.  I’ll venture to propose that it universally has something to do with that “stranger” Billy Joel sings about.  It is the same reason we slow down to look at car wrecks or read the gory details of a rape or murder trial.  We don’t want to live or deliver this torture, but we are fascinated with human suffering and how others deal with it.  We love the potential for darkness.  We love characters who are broken.

May not the claims of tender-mindedness go too far?. . . . Is the last word sweet? Is all “yes, yes” in the universe? Doesn’t the fact of “No” stand at the very core of life? Doesn’t the very “seriousness” that we attribute to life mean that ineluctable noes and losses form a part of it, that there are genuine sacrifices somewhere, and that something permanently drastic and bitter always remains at the bottom of its cup?

William James–Pragmatism and Other Writings.

 Leah’s question is intriguing. I’d love a show of hands. Who was horrified and who squirmed? I bet the answer would be surprising. Mwa ha ha!  

Now pass the pins for my voo doo doll, will ya?  Kate is up next.

Nuh Uh. I’m Not Swimming in that Pool.

January 20, 2009


“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.  Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”  Helen Keller

“Optimist: Person who travels on nothing from nowhere to happiness.”  Mark Twain

The Query blog chain topic was started this round by the always hilarious and clever  Elana Johnson.  Jessica Verday, author of  THE HOLLOW, posted before me and Kate Quinn’s post will follow.  The topic is:

When you’re in a pool of writing funk, how do you get out? 

nscn16lWell, anyone who knows me is aware that I’m an optimistic fool.  Rarely have I submerged completely in the funk pool.  My outlook is more like a fountain of hope.  Sometimes the fountain runs dry.  No life-saving device necessary for me–I acknowledge the suckitude of my writing (which is, at times, significant), distract myself with something less stressful and soon the crisis abates.  

It’s that half-glass full thing I try to maintain at all costs.  It works for me.  

Now, I’m not talking about ignoring the problem; I just acknowledge it and give myself time to cool down  and come up with a solution.  The pool of writing funk is so insidious, you find yourself drowning before you even know you’ve fallen in.  My strategy is to try to stop myself before I get my feet wet.  When I reach a block, I take a shower, pull weeds and work in the garden or spend time with my kids.  Music often provides the stimulus to stay away from the funk pool and move past my block or self-doubt.  

What makes me happy?

Elana provided a second part to her post topic.  She wanted us to include things that make us happy to add to her arsenal of funk pool shields.  Sorry, Elana, but the thing that makes me laugh the most is my kids.  You can’t have them, but here are some pictures exemplifying why they make me laugh.  They are witty, adorable and twice as smart as I am.  So much fun.  The ultimate comedy routine.  They have a thing for hats, mud, and silly hair styles.  They also are experts at hiding rubber roaches in places you’d never expect!  Now that the twins are 11 and Hannah is 12, the scope of their humor has expanded to the point it borders on being a riot.  I promised them I wouldn’t post current photos and embarrass them. (Shhhh.  I’ll do it when they aren’t looking.)  Here are some older photos.  Yep.  They make me happy. 


Ghosts of Manuscripts Past, Present and Future

January 8, 2009

Time for another Query Tracker Blog Chain entry.  The topic this time was started by Abi.  The post immediately preceding mine was Jessica Verday’s, whose book, The Hollow, comes out in October, 2009.  Kate will follow my post. 


The topic is:

– What writing related things have you done in the past?
– What WIPs are you working on now?
– Do you have anything brewing for the future?
– Are you setting any writing goals or resolutions for 2009?

The Ghosts of Manuscripts Past were primarily young adult projects.  In the past two years, I’ve completed three YA projects.  I’ve also written a couple of children’s early picture books.  

The Ghosts of Manuscripts present are more varied. I’m working on a co-authored time-travel romance and two paranormal romances.  I have a children’s non-fiction working as well.  One of my favorite current endeavors is contributing to the QueryTracker Blog.  


Though slightly scary, my Ghosts of Manuscripts Future aren’t nearly as terrifying as the specter that haunted Scrooge. I expect to complete the three romances and begin a new YA that has been rumbling around in my head. 

My resolution for 2009 (in addition to helping Tiny Tim) is in the blog post immediately below this one.  I only have one resolution this year:  To use my time more wisely.   Gotta go write!  

Wishing everyone a productive and blessed 2009.

Jingle Bells and Gratitude

December 17, 2008

Because of the Christmas holiday, the Query Tracker Blog chain gang is taking it easy this round and not assigning a topic.  I’m first in the Jingle Bell Chain.  Ack!


As the holidays approach, many of us turn inward and examine our lives to date  and consider our dreams for the next year.  

I am one of the most blessed people I know.  I have a dream family, own my dream home, and live a dream life.  I am able to stay home and do the things I love the most.  I spend time with my adorable (don’t tell them I called them that–they hate that word) children and I can read and write without interruption for hours at a time.  

My adorable (He doesn’t mind the word) husband is a criminal defense lawyer and has often warned the family of the dangers of online friends.  He sees real life examples of online relationships taking dangerous or deadly turns in his job.  For the first year I wrote, I avoided all social networking sites and forums.  Online life was a waste of time and dangerous.  Certainly, my husband knew what he was talking about.  I mean, you never really know who that person on the other end of cyberspace is, do you?


 That all changed one day when I received an email out of the blue from a writer who was a member of the QueryTracker Forum.  I had used the QT main site to track my queries to agents, but wasn’t aware there was a forum on the site.  She had read my interview with Patrick McDonald and had contacted me to let me know that I was the topic of conversation on one of the threads over on the forum.  She invited me to join them.  Well, what the heck?  Someone was talkin’ about me?  Online?  In the black hole of anonymity and misinformation?  Gah!

I checked out the forum and fell in love instantly.  Not only with the forum, but with the people on it.  Struggling aspiring authors just like ME!  A whole community of people helping each other out and propping one another up.  Dang.  I’d done this alone for a whole year.  

Looking back, I don’t know how I did it without my online friends.  I had a large group of age-specific beta readers, but thanks to my online connections, I now have a crit group.  Smart, driven women who want this as much as I do and are willing to work just as hard for it.  I’m still wary and keep in mind that people are not always who they hold themselves out to be online, but I’m solid in my assessment of my online writer friends.  My ever-skeptical husband has even softened his stance and asks me how some of my online friends are by name–a big breakthrough.  

The downside?  Well, unfortunately, I’m addicted to my online life, which is the only negative to my discovery of the secret world of writers.  It takes great restraint to not surf the forums all day meeting fellow writers all over the world.  Despite this ultimate test of my self-control and discipline, my online connections have made me a better writer, and in some ways, a better person.  

So this Christmas, in addition to the usual gratitude for my family and real life friends, I am grateful for my online friends.  Especially my darling friends on the QT chain gang.  


Archetype is next in the chain this time.  Head over and check out her Jingle Bell post.

Freud or Just Fun? Wish Fulfillment in Fiction.

December 8, 2008

The Query Tracker blog chain had made it back my way again.  The topic this time was picked by Sandra Ulbrich Almazan:

What is the role of wish fulfillment in fiction? What personal wishes do you want your stories to fulfill? Are they the same ones you want to read about? 

The first thing that came to mind when I read this topic was the story of Pygmalion and Galatea.


If you are not familiar with the story of this sculptor who fell in love with his creation, Google it.  Fun stuff.  Truth is, I don’t fantasize about meeting any of my characters and I’m not sure my writing is related to personal wish fulfillment.  

In his book, The Interpretation of Dreams, written around the turn of the 2oth Century,  Sigmund Freud proposed a theory of dream analysis.  He believed analyzing dreams would open “the royal road to the understanding of unconscious mental processes.”


Am I boring you yet?  Hang on, I’m not through. Stifle that yawn, you’ll have ample opportunity to use it later in this post.  

Freud believed that dreams were expressions of “wish fulfillment.”  Through dreams, Freud proposed, man was unconsciously attempting to resolve conflict.  His theory was far more complex than I am willing to discuss (because it will take forever, I don’t remember all of it,  and it will bore you to tears) and involved the preconscious censorship of information before it is relayed to the conscious mind.  

Shut up with the babble and tie this post to the topic of wish fulfillment in writing, Mary. 


Perhaps books we choose to read or write function as dreams do in Freud’s theory regarding wish fulfillment.  Maybe we are drawn to topics and characters that allow us to work through unresolved conflict.  If that is the case, I’m troubled by some of my choices.  Aren’t you?  

Well, I’m not buying into the wish fulfillment theory in writing wholeheartedly.  That might be a small part of it, but I think in my case, it is something else.  I don’t look to literature for wish fulfillment.  I write and read because it is a fun escape.  Even dark, thought provoking books are fun for me.  I love reading.

I had a vivid imagination as a child.  I would get so lost in my make-believe world, my mother would have to shake my shoulder to pull me out of it.  In looking back at my privileged, but troubled childhood, I realize my intense fantasies were escapism, not wish fulfillment.  

My characters are not extensions of myself.  They do not fight my inner demons.  They do not accomplish my dreams.  

I write because I love writing.  Hammering out a rough draft of a novel is one of my favorite things in the world.  I look forward to writing (not editing) in the same way I anticipate a vacation.  I am going to start my new novel and rewrite an old one beginning December 16th, and you would think I was about to go on a cruise from my level of anticipation.  I can’t wait.  

I’m sure that it gratifies all readers to experience a story in which  the characters are familiar or accomplish goals to which the reader aspires.  But the topic was:  How much of a part does wish fulfillment play in fiction?  Much less than escapism and sheer enjoyment in my case.  This isn’t true for everyone as evidenced by my fellow blog chain buddies’ posts (links in right side bar).  I’m aware that there is a lot of myself in my books, so my answer isn’t absolute.  We write what we know.   

The amazing H.L. Dyer’s blog post preceded mine and the lovely Kate Quinn will follow.

Hang In There, Baby.

November 22, 2008



Time for another Blog Chain entry.  The blog chain was formed by a group of friends over at Query Tracker. The links to the other writers in the chain are to the right.  Every two weeks, a member picks a new topic and the chain gang members write an entry based on the topic.  

Leah Clifford’s entry preceded mine.  You should go check it out.  Leah is one of the coolest online folks I know and she has a great post on this topic.  Michelle McLean chose the topic this time and made a terrific post herself despite the pressure of moving into her new home.  The topic is:  

Share a favorite poem, quote, joke, anecdote, or anything of the sort that deals with writing, writers, the publishing industry, or the other strange and unusual tidbits that belong to our little world.

Honestly, at this point, I have one favorite quote on writing. It is by Richard Bach, the American author who wrote Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”

That’s it, kids.  That’s the shoe that fits me best right now.  I’m wearing it well, don’t ‘cha think?  How’s that for brevity?

Next in the chain is the amazing Jessica Verday, whose book, THE HOLLOW, is coming out with Simon & Schuster in 2009.