Archive for May, 2010

We’re in Indiana visiting family but I wanted to write about something cool that happened before we left Alaska.

A couple days before leaving Alaska we took a hike on a trail that borders the back of our property. We wanted to check the remains of a fire that had burned just a half mile from our house while we were away on a river trip over the weekend. But before we got to the burn we saw this young bull moose just off the trail.


I was so focused on getting to the burn that my wife, Dana, had to tap my arm and say, “look,” or I would’ve missed him.

I was interested in the burn because the MC in the story I’m writing spends a lot of time in a place that has recently burned.

I stomped around in the burn, watching the way the ash puffed up from my shoes.

Then I inhaled deeply through my nose trying to experience the smell, and ended up in a sneezing fit.

I put my hand in the ash. It was still a little warm, and was neither as dirty nor as fine as the ash from my woodstove.

Hands-on research. It can’t be beat. You feel it, smell it, taste it, or hear it.

Last year I tried to set a space blanket on fire but all it did was crinkle and melt so I had to change that little detail in my story. I was hoping it’d burst into flames. The label said, “flammable.”

Have you done hands-on research for your stories? Did you find out anything unusual? Did you have to change your story based on your findings?

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A couple days ago we put our boats in the Clearwater, a friendly little spring-fed river that S-curves its way through the spruce forest.

After eight miles, the Clearwater flows into the Tanana River, which is a highway of suspended silt, a major tributary of the Yukon River, and wide enough that we could paddle side by side with our friends and talk.

We try to do this float every year and always stop at the same south facing bluff and go for a hike to see the first flowers of Spring.

Pasque Flowers

I searched for an Eagle’s nest I remembered seeing on the bluff a few years ago. I knew the nest had fallen because I hadn’t seen it last year. I thought I’d find the remains, a big pile of sticks on the ground, but instead all I found was this.

The fish head was so dry that it had no odor. And it’d been there a while, probably several years, because there was moss growing on it.

Back on the river we encountered lots of ice still holding onto the bank on the north side.

I knew it wouldn’t be getting dark until August so I didn’t bring a watch. We were paddling from one point to another and it’d take however long it takes—that’s River Time.

I think the same is true when you’re writing a book. You might have word or page-count goals, but it’ll take however long it takes and hopefully you’ll enjoy the journey along the way.

We’re hopping on an airplane in a couple of days, bound for Indiana and then New York City. I’ll still be online much of the time and hopefully working on my new WIP, too. I have a general outline, and am 17,000 words into the first draft.

What are you up to this week? Do you get much writing done when you travel? I hope I will.

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I lucked out and got one of the last seats available to an amazing play called Alice in the Underground, written by Cassidy Phillips with help from teens in the Street Advocacy and Outreach Program (SOAP) in Fairbanks, Alaska.

SOAP’s mission is to provide protection and support for teens who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless.

Many of the actors in the play have been or are homeless. They delivered poetic, gut-punching monologues about living with meth-addicted parents, being abandoned at truck stops in the middle of nowhere, and spending nights under bridges when the temperature was twenty below zero.

I spent most of my teaching career working in a small school for at risk teens and what I heard and saw on stage Friday night rang true.

I had many students who were homeless. Some got kicked out of their houses, others fled from abusive situations, and some ran because it was the best choice they could make at the time given their specific circumstances.

I have lots of great memories of connecting teens with books, taking them camping and ice fishing and bowling. And I have a slew of memories of breaking up fights, being threatened, meeting with angry parents, and occasionally dealing with weapons and drugs brought to school. But the first image that jumps into my mind when I think about my former job is greeting each student as they walked through the door and just trying to meet them where they were.

One of the actors last night said something like: When you see one of us on the streets just remember that we’re human, just like you.

Here is the quote, compliments of Security Guard in the comments below:

“As the warm sun returns and the ice breaks keep in mind the winter. Keep in mind my story. And when it is cold and you see me alone wandering the streets remember me… Remember that I am living and breathing this cold air with you.”

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First off. Thanks to everyone who entered my contest. The winner is Christine Fonseca. I’ve got a copy of The Chosen One ready to mail to her.

Last week I spent an evening paddling an inflatable kayak down Goldstream Creek.

The optimal time to float Goldstream is just after the surface ice breaks up and the creek is high, basically two to three feet of water flowing over ice that has yet to melt. It’s a fun little crash through a tunnel of brush.

Just three miles down the road from Goldstream is O’Connor Creek.

What you see in the photo, taken the same day as the other photos, is called overflow ice. When O’Connor starts to freeze up in the fall there is enough pressure in this small stream that the water is forced upward through the ice. The water flows on top of the ice that’s already formed and then refreezes. This goes on all winter long if the air temperature is cold enough, which is not a problem here. Ice forms several feet thick and spreads out thirty or forty feet across, all from a trickle of a stream. 

O’Conner breaks up differently than Goldstream. I’ve seen ice in O’Conner Creek at the end of June. Here it is in May.

Seeing these two creeks, so different yet they share the same valley, got me thinking about setting and how authentic, specific details can bring a work to life.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of beta-reading one of Terry Lynn Johnson’s WIPs. She uses specific setting details to continually drive the story forward. One of the many ways we get to know her MC is through her physical, psychological and emotional responses to her setting.

My mantra when I revise for setting is: “Sparse but specific.”

I just sent my newest WIP to my agent and am starting a new novel. What are you working on this week? And, do you have any favorite writing mantras?

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I first met Carol Lynch Williams in 2007 at the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference she organizes every year. After the conference Carol and I continued our friendship via email and it’s still going strong today. She’s always there with a kind and encouraging word, or a joke. And now, by a stroke of luck or fate, we are agency mates, and call each other cousin. I’m looking forward to the next family reunion.

Carol is the author of more than twenty middle grade and young adult novels. Her most recent is The Chosen One (2009 St. Martin’s Press).

 The Chosen One grabbed me around the throat and wouldn’t let go. It’s an edgy, poetic, page-turning YA novel with a killer voice. It’s one of those books that keeps you up way past your bedtime. I read it in one fell swoop and then was sad that it was over. I wanted a sequel right away.

 From the jacket flap of The Chosen One:

Thirteen-year-old Kyra has grown up in an isolated community without questioning the fact that her father has three wives and she has twenty brothers and sisters, with two more on the way. That is, without questioning them much—if you don’t count her secret visits to the Mobile Library on Wheels to read forbidden books, or her meetings with Joshua, the boy she hopes to choose for herself instead of having a man chosen for her.

But when the Prophet decrees that she must marry her sixty-year-old uncle—who already has six wives—Kyra must make a desperate choice in the face of violence and her own fears of losing her family forever.

Carol published her first book, Kelly and Me, with Delacorte in 1993 and is still going strong. She is a four-time winner of the Utah Original Writing Competition and winner of Nebraska’s Golden Sower Award, and a 2009 recipient of a PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship.

Her newest book, Glimpse, will be released in June by Simon & Schuster. Glimpse is about two sisters. One has tried to kill herself and the other is trying to figure out why.

To learn more about Carol, stop by her blog and say hi. Or better yet, attend her Conference.

I’m giving away a copy of The Chosen One. Leave a comment between now and noon est. on Thursday and you’ll be entered in a random drawing.

Amanda Bonilla over at Swords, Boots and Shadows is reviewing Silver Borne by Patricia Biggs. And, if you click on Recommended Reads you’ll get links to over sixty other blog reviewing books today thanks to Elana Johnson. But first remember to leave a comment so you’ll be entered in the give away!

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