Nineteen Signs That You Love YA

  1. You know the difference between Veronica Roth and Veronica Rossi.
  2. When you meet a guy, you size him up by his ability to pick a hot best friend that’s full of snark. (Your friends think you should end up with HIM.)
  3. When you declare your team, you don’t mean the Cowboys or Yankees.
  4. When you’re asked to pick a number between 1 and 10, you always say Four.
  5. You can pronounce Tahereh without any help.
  6. Tuesday is your favorite day of the week.
  7. You ask for B&N gift cards for Christmas and birthdays.
  8. If your life were a movie, you’d be played by Jennifer Lawrence or Shailene Woodley. Ansel Elsgort would portray your boyfriend. Or brother.
  9. You think aliens are hot and that Daemon is a perfectly acceptable name for a guy.
  10. You’re not afraid of the zombie apocalypse because you know you could survive.
  11. You couldn’t care less who wore what designer at the Oscars, but are up early on cover reveal days.
  12. Tahereh + Ransom = OTP
  13. You can’t cite a classic work of literature without comparing it to the contemporary retelling of it.
  14. You can find the heart of gold in every bad boy you meet.
  15. You believe everything should come in trilogies.
  16. When you meet someone, you automatically sort them into Houses, Factions, and Districts.
  17. You have a color-coded spread sheet of upcoming release dates (Or is that just me?)
  18. You know how to book shimmy and do so frequently.
  19. You never forget to be awesome.

Happy reading everyone!

GWH 1

How Do You LikeThem Apples, or Michelle Gushes About Good Will Hunting

Today I will be waxing poetic about one of my favorite movies of all time, Good Will Hunting. Please don’t look for a purpose in this. I’m just…in the kind of mood where I have to talk about something that moved me and continues to move me.

My love for Good Will Hunting didn’t start in 1997 when the movie was released. My love for Good Will Hunting stemmed from watching it after Robin Williams’ tragic passing. Because it was then when I saw the movie through a writer’s eyes.

Yesterday on Darcy Pattison’s blog she spoke about the skeleton of a scene being structured to include a beginning, middle, turning point, and end. To illustrate, she used one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies of all time, Good Will Hunting.  See what Darcy has to say here.

Of course, I watched the scene. A few times.  As usual when GWH is involved, I tend to get sucked into with no hope of coming out the same.

GWH 1

This movie, for me, is pure brilliance through dialogue, emotional connections, character development, and of course, performance. Robin Williams won an Oscar for his portrayal of Sean. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck won Oscars for screenplay. Almost twenty years later and this movie is still as gripping as it was when it released. It just gives me…all the feels.

Some facts you may not know because maybe you’re not a slightly obsessive fangirl type.

  • The plot originally revolved around the FBI trying to get it’s hooks into Will and force him to work for them. It had the boys running all over Boston trying to allude them, ala Jason Bourne style. I’m so glad Matt Damon saved that for another movie. The beauty of this story is that is so quiet and so huge at the same time. The characters are real and struggling and the language they use, the words that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck chose speak lyrical volumes. There is just so much packed into each and every monologue.
  • When Kevin Smith was approached to direct the film, he said, “I wouldn’t dare direct this movie, this is so beautiful.” Kevin went in personally to Harvey Weinstein’s office at Miramax and handed him the script, and basically said, “Drop everything you’re doing right now and read this.
  • The scene where Sean (Robin Williams) tells Will (Matt Damon) that his wife used to fart in her sleep was completely adlibbed by Williams. So this face is the face of a writer and actor being completely taken off-guard and still managing to keep it together.

GWH 2

  • The original screenplay was a project Matt Damon wrote for one of his last classes at Harvard. (See, he’s wicked smaht too!) The production company wanted Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio to play Will and Chuckie.  Man, where they wrong about that. I can’t imagine Will Hunting being played by anyone but Matt Damon.  *sigh*
  • The scene where Will meets Sean for the first time is one of the very few original scenes left intact from the original screenplay.  Williams also added a bit of the adlibbing flare he was known for at the end of the scene when he threatens Will and throws him into the wall, practically choking him. Matt Damon had no idea he was going to get physical at that point and was completely surprised. So were the set designers who said they almost knocked the entire wall down because they weren’t prepared for the outburst of violence.
  • The last scene in the movie Sean goes outside and reads a note that Will has left for him. The scene was filmed it multiple times with Williams adlibbing a different line each time. When he walked out and said, “Son of a *****, he stole my line,” everyone on the set knew the take was over.

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Below is my favorite monologue to demonstrate the honesty and lyricism of the film. In this scene Sean is giving Will a choice. It’s such an iconic scene that when Robin Williams died, fans went to the bench in the Boston Public Gardens and left memorials for him. I’ve read there’s a petition to have a bronze statue of Williams placed on the bench.

So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the Pope, sexual orientation, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling. Seen that. If I ask you about women, you’d probably give me a syllabus about your personal favorites. You may have even been laid a few times. But you can’t tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You’re a tough kid. And I’d ask you about war, you’d probably throw Shakespeare at me, right: ‘Once more into the breach, dear friends.’ But you’ve never been near one. You’ve never held your best friend’s head in your lap, and watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help. I’d ask you about love, you’d probably quote me a sonnet. But you’ve never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone that could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an angel on Earth just for you. Who could rescue you from the depths of Hell. And you wouldn’t know what it’s like to be her angel, to have that love for her, be there forever, through anything, through cancer. And you wouldn’t know about sleeping sittin’ up in the hospital room for two months, holding her hand, because the doctors could see in your eyes that the terms ‘visiting hours’ don’t apply to you. You don’t know about real loss, ’cause that only occurs when you’ve loved something more than you love yourself. And I doubt you’ve ever dared to love anybody that much.

I look at you. I don’t see an intelligent, confident man. I see a cocky, scared s–tless kid. But you’re a genius, Will. No one denies that. No one could possibly understand the depths of you. But you presume to know everything about me because you saw a painting of mine. You ripped my —-in’ life apart. You’re an orphan, right? (nodding) Do you think I’d know the first thing about how hard your life has been, how you feel, who you are, ’cause I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you? Personally, I don’t give a s–t about all that, because you know what, I can’t learn anything from you I can’t read in some —-in’ book. Unless you want to talk about you, who you are. Then I’m fascinated. I’m in. But you don’t wanna do that, do you, sport? You’re terrified of what you might say.

Your move, chief.

Feels, I tell you. FEELS.

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Word Flow

Earlier today I told my daughter that I had no idea what I was going to blog about today.

This is the way I approach writing manuscripts as well. I know I’ve mentioned being a “pantser” on this blog numerous times. I’ve tried doing detailed plot outlines, using index cards, making pretty charts on my white board. None of it works for me. For me, the thrill of discovery as I write is the most rewarding part of writing. It’s how I work best and what makes my voice, mine.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t have moments like this when I sit down to write.

freak out

I have those moments before, during and after I write. My Crit partner can testify to that.

Oftentimes meandering down the unknown path yields the best result. But working with only a loose outline when when writing can be frightening. Sometimes you just don’t know what you’re going to say.

Here are some things that I’ve discovered that help me with Writer’s Block or as I like to call it, Writer’s Slow Drain.

  • THE RENAME GAME: I wish I could credit the source of this, but I truly don’t remember. It works though. When I’m stumped for a plot idea, scene, or even brief description, I clear my mind then close my eyes. When I open them, I look around the room (or desk, or Starbucks) and stop on the first item I see, then name it something else. For example, I just called my Yoda figure “apple,” the lightswitch, “cow,” and then the box of thumbtacks, “swing.” I don’t really know the science behind it, but it works. After I perform this exercise a few minutes, I always come up with the next thing to type in the MS.
  • PAPA’S ADVICE: I find that Ernest Hemingway’s advice works for me too. “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.” — Ernest Hemingway
  • DANGLING CARROT: I’ve been envisioning a scene for a while now and once I started getting close to it, I had a hard time stopping my writing sessions. I was so anxious to get to that (kissing!) scene that it dangled in front of me like a carrot. Knowing it was there waiting for me to write it made the words come so much faster. Scenes like this are like rewards—a treat to write once I put in the effort to get to them.
  • HEADLINES: Stuck for ideas? Look around you. Grab a paper (or click on a link to a paper), browse social media, flip the channel. There are a plethora of ideas for your choosing. For example, the scene (aforementioned kissing scene) I just wrote for my WIP was inspired by a photo my daughter posted to Facebook after she participated in The Color Run. No, she wasn’t kissing anyone and no, The Color Run has nothing to do with a space station, but yet that photo sparked an idea for a beautiful scenario that I could put my characters in.
  • MUSIC SOOTHES THE SAVAGE BEAST: I’m not a writer who can play music during writing sessions (I sing along and get distracted!) but I am one that is inspired by music. For EVERGREEN, I listened to a lot of Imagine Dragons, Fallout Boy, AWOLNation and Skillet. It set a dark edgy tone that matched my MS. Now I turn on the Ed Sheeran station all the time, which is coming out directly in my love interest. There’s a sweet flirty thing he’s got going, but it’s a little spicy too. Ed Sheeran is perfect to set that tone.
  • NAME GAME: When my daughter graduated college recently we ended up with multiple copies of the program. I tucked one of those copies on my desk next to my craft books. Now when I’m stuck for a name, I whip out the program. I find it very helpful with names from other nationalities. Those are real people with real names, so I know they work. (I do try to flip some first and last names in order not to copy directly.)

If you’re writing, hopefully these tips will help you dislodge those ideas and get more words on the page.  If all else fails, listen to Daryl Dixon.

Daryl drinkwater

On the days it’s hard to write are the days it’s most important to write.

That’s how you know who you really are.

That’s how you know this is what you’re meant to do.

Wake up.

Get up.

Write.

–Chuck Wendig

 

Looking Back and Looking Forward

My surgery-induced work vacation ends on 1/5/15. It feels a little bit like the end of an era. I look forward to getting back into the day job, but a little part of my writer heart is going to weep that day when it begins to miss sitting down to write whenever it wants.

I don’t typically make New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps like things unresolved. But since it’s that time o’ year, I’ll do another obligatory New Year’s tradition: the wrap up.

My surgery was October 2. Since that day I’ve accomplished the following things:

  • Written roughly 60,000 words for 2 different manuscripts.
  • Read 12 books.
  • Binge-watched three tv shows on Netflix. One of which landed high on my list of all-time faves.*
  • Completely freaked out on my Crit Partner about my WIP and doubted that I could actually write a book.
  • Finished current seasons of five shows I’d DVR’d.
  • Organized my cabinets and pantry.
  • Visited the physical therapist around twenty times.
  • Went back to my WIP and decided maybe I can make a go of this.
  • Watched two movies in the theatre. Loved them both.
  • Got really good at driving the motorized carts at the grocery store.
  • Graduated one kid from college. (Okay, she did that herself, but I helped!)
  • Fell “fictional head-over-heels” for a hot alien.**

Not bad considering a lot of that was done while I was flat on my back. (Or rather slanted at the physican-approved 30 degree angle.)

In preparation for my return to work, I’m heading into the writing cave today. I plan to double the word count in my WIP by the time I go back, so it’s head down, fingers flying, don’t look up until I get there. I will not be deterred. You can tempt me with Walking Dead marathons, Twinkies or hot aliens**, I’m not stopping until I hit my goal.

My best wishes for a safe and happy 2015! See you on the flip side.

*The 100 is the best show you’re not watching. Seriously, it’s ground-breaking, daring, and emotional. I can’t recommend it enough. The writing is great, the actors are perfectly-cast and talented. And whatever you think’s going to happen…yeah, you’re wrong. So many, “Did not see that comings,” I can’t count them.

** My friend and aforementioned crit partner Mandy recommended that I finally make a point to read Jennifer Armentrout’s Lux series. She knows me so well.  I’ve devoured 2 ½ books in less than a week. (And that’s reading only at night after hubs goes to sleep.) I absolutely love it. The MC is great. The love interest is smokin’. It’s got everything I want in a story—emotional romance, gripping drama, plot twists, action, did I mention the romance? If you like those things, get on it.

12 Days

Before the Twelve Days of Christmas

I recently attended my office Christmas party. It was a festive occasion with delicious food, friends and a fabulous entertainer! She sang a song called “The Twelve Days After Christmas” which had us all rolling in laughter.

If you’re not familiar with the song, I’ll paraphrase: Sister-friend is straight fed. UP. with the flock of odd creatures her “true love” sent to her for Christmas. She proceeds to shoot the partridge, chop down the pear tree, make soup out of the hens, drown the geese and ship all those maids, dancing ladies, pipers, lords and drummers back to where they came from.

Well, she kept one drummer. ;-)

It was fun to consider what happened to the poor person stuck with all the clean-up after that many animals and uninvited guests. I never really had thought about it until that party. Which led me to question: What in the world was that guy thinking? (And let’s just face it, it was a guy sending all these things to his true love. A woman would have sent more practical gifts.)

Who would sit around and think, “She’s my true love. I’ll show her by sending her a menagerie of squawking, molting, pooping birds and fifty extra mouths to feed! She’ll love it!”

12 Days

Yeah. Shoulda put a ring on it instead.

When I started thinking about the motivation for this guy, it led me to think about the motivations of our characters as we write. Sometimes I get caught up in the plot of the story, and forget to think about what is driving the events. To write a cohesive story, the characters need to behave and react in consistent ways. That’s not to say you don’t write characters that grow and change. That’s important too.

Looking at motivations and backstory of the characters we write, even if these things don’t make it to the page, helps to write consistent characters. Why does the character feel a certain way? What caused them to be callous, or ambitious, or romantic? What are they thinking when they say and do the things they say and do?

Recently I have been having an issue with the love interest in my current WIP. I like him. He’s fun to write, but he was feeling a little flat to me. I went back and really thought about where he came from, what he had done to get himself in the place he is, and why he’s drawn to the MC. I didn’t really have good answers for all of those questions, so I set out to discover them. When I had those things lined out, he became more “real” to me and I was able to write him as more than just one dimensional.

I know one thing for sure. He would never send his true love a partridge or a pear tree.

The Unsung Heroes of Christmas

It’s Christmas time around my house…and in the stores, and on the television, and the radio, and downtown… You get the idea.

I personally love celebrating Christmas and the real Reason for the Season. I enjoy wrapping up gifts for my family, watching Christmas movies, and decorating with our unique blend of Collins flare mixed with consideration of clean-up after the big day. (In other words, we don’t have a huge tree up this year because decorating it and taking it down are the least favorite of my kids’ Christmas activities. We DO have a tree though.)

With that laziness  conservation of resources in mind, I have been reflecting on the unsung heroes of Christmastime. We all know the big guy gets a lot of love, as well he should, but what about those people who give as much as Santa? What about those who have done something to make everyone else’s Christmas a little more merry? Where are their Christmas cookies and milk?

I give you this list of the unsung heroes of Christmas. These are the folks I am thankful for.

  • The person who first put grid lines on the back of wrapping paper.
  • The parents of all the Pentatonix members. Thank you for reproducing insanely talented children.
  • The turkey executive who decided to insert the thermometer inside the turkey before it came to my house.
  • Mr. Kuerig
  • Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass because please, who still doesn’t “Put one foot in front of the other?” (If you just sang that in your head, you are cool.)
  • The inventor of ear plugs – for Salvation Army workers who ring that bell through sleet and snow and for parents of kids who get drum sets.
  • The designer who first thought to PRE-LIGHT Christmas trees.
  • The workers who willingly work on Christmas Eve, and those that don’t work so willingly but do it to get that paycheck. You should get Christmas bonuses.
  • The music industry guy who said, “Hey, I have an idea. Let’s get David Bowie and Bing Crosby together and ask them to sing a Christmas song.”
  • Snowbird Bob who predicts “Well Below Average Temps” for my area of the South, increasing the chances of a White Christmas this year!

God Bless and Best Wishes for a wonderful Christmas season. May all be Merry and Bright in your house.

Potato Chip Cookies

This year on Thanksgiving, I asked my daughter what she wanted for dessert. I gave her a few choices and she chose Potato Chip Cookies. She chose wisely.

If you’re not familiar with Potato Chip Cookies, the sound of them may seem pretty disgusting to you. (Or maybe not.) I know before I tried one I couldn’t imagine how combining potato chips and cookies, both delicious on their own, would result in anything edible. But because I grew up with a father who ate peanut butter/mayonnaise sandwiches, I decided to give them a try.

Potato Chip Cookies are one of my favorite things to eat and make now.
(Side note to my Diabetic Doctor: These are special occasion cookies for me only! Promise!)

The cookies are made with powdered sugar so you get the almost-too-sweet sweetness and Lay’s potato chips which provide the crunchy-salty counterbalance. Really, they’re the best of two worlds wrapped up in one buttery package.

We were discussing exactly what makes these cookies so good and it occurred to me how easily the answer could be translated into writing characters. For my tastes, cookies that are too sweet are easy to refuse—too much sweetness and you’re left with a stomachache and bland taste in your mouth. And if you eat nothing but chips, you’re going to end up with a dry mouth begging for water.

But put them together in one thing? Tasty goodness.

Characters that are too sweet and perfect are boring. It’s hard for readers to care about someone when they always get what they want or everything comes easily for them. Character development comes from conflict and tension when things go wrong.

“Nobody’s perfect” is a cliché for a reason. It’s true. Even the most likable and charismatic people have secrets or fears or issues of some kind, even if they try to hide them. Writing characters who are too perfect is bland, boring, and just not satisfying.  Like too sweet cookies, you need a little salty crunchy tastiness to shake things up.

Some of the best written characters are deeply flawed. Take Katniss Everdeen for example. When I read the HUNGER GAMES series, I sometimes just plain disliked Katniss. She was grumpy at times, whiny at times, and she really didn’t want to be the hero they were trying to make her into. Yet, I still rooted for her because it was those very flaws in her character that made her relatable. We’re all grumpy and whiny at times just like Katniss. (Even moi.) As I read, though, I wanted things to turn out for her. Not because she deserved it but because she felt like a real person not a character I was reading about in a book.

Another example from one of my favorite recent series, Four from DIVERGENT. I could write twenty blogs on the complexity of Four and the beautiful nuances of his character. On the surface, he’s got it all together. He’s mysterious, tough, cool, almost unreachable. The perfect example of the Dauntless faction. But bite into him (COOKIE METAPHOR!) and you’ll find a scarred guy who is just trying to cope with his situation and deal with his past demons. He’s still likable because he is ultimately kind to Tris to gives her exactly what she needs to survive and he cares deeply about things in spite of what has happened to him. He’s cookies and potato chips.

I have made it a point to put each of my characters through the Potato Chip Cookie test to make sure they have the right balance of sweet and salty to make them relatable to my readers. And honestly it makes them more fun to write when there’s some of both in them.

And for fun, here is my Potato Chip Cookie recipe for you to enjoy! It’s super easy to do and very delish. I was going to take a photo of our cookies to share here, but we ate them before I could snap the pic.

1 cup Salted Butter

1 cup Powdered Sugar

1 ½ cups All Purpose Flour

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

1 ½ cups crushed Lay’s Potato Chips

Powdered Sugar for Sprinkling

—Preheat oven to 350 degrees

—In a large bowl, cream butter and powdered sugar

—Add flour, and beat with mixer while adding vanilla

—With spoon fold in Potato Chips

—Drop dough by spoonfuls 1 ½ inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet

—Bake 15-18 minutes, until lightly colored

—Remove from baking sheet and sprinkle with powdered sugar and let cool.