Unlock the Muse – October 31, 2018

National Novel Writing Month begins tomorrow! I’ve been busy with research, world-building and outlining. I haven’t accomplished as much as would have liked, but I have made progress. This will be my ninth NaNo, and the first time I’ve worked so hard to be prepared. So why do I feel so completely unprepared?

Here’s your writing prompt for the week:

Start with: On the morning of January 18, 1995…

If that date doesn’t amuse you, choose another date at random. Or pick one that’s meaningful to you. Now, what happened that morning?

With all the NaNo prep going on, I haven’t had time to pick up a new writing craft book lately. So I’ll send you instead to the official NaNoWriMo blog site. Here you’ll find all sorts of great tips for writing in general and NaNoWriMo in particular.

I’ve been reading the classic American novel, Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Don’t worry if you’ve had a bad writing day, because in the immortal words of Scarlett O’Hara:


Whether you are participating in NaNoWriMo or not, what are your writing goals for November? Happy writing!

Please consider sharing a link to your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!

Unlock the Muse – October 24, 2018

October is a busy month for me. Planning a birthday party, visiting a pumpkin patch, choosing costumes, participating in a 24-hour read-a-thon, preparing for NaNoWriMo… The list goes on. While some of the interruptions life throws out are avoidable, others aren’t so optional. The best we can do as writers is to take what life throws at us and incorporate it into our work. Life experiences are what makes our fiction authentic.

Here is this week’s writing prompt:

With pen and paper in hand, visit a popular bookstore. Sit at a table or in a comfy chair, and write down snippets of dialogue you hear as people walk by. Don’t look at their faces, just keep your head down and write.

If the bookstore doesn’t work well for you, choose instead a local coffee shop or café. Maybe a university setting is more your speed, or a government office open to the public. After you’ve spent some time at your chosen location and have a good selection of dialogue, go back to your usual writing space and try to imagine what those people look like. What do they do? What are their goals? Can you create a logical conflict?

Again, I haven’t started a new writing craft book yet. My focus lately has been on world building as I prepare for NaNoWriMo next month. I found this excellent resource on the subject that offers tips for creating imaginary worlds as well as alternate reality and real world settings. 

World building is a potentially overwhelming task, but it doesn’t have to be. Take it a little bit at a time and focus on the parts that are most vital to your characters and plot.

It’s time to play! Here’s the roll of the dice from Rory’s Story Cubes, Voyages edition:


Choose just one image, or use them all and create a narrative. Or work on your world building skills and create a world where all of these things make sense together.

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing a link to your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!

Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-Thon, October 2018: The End Results

I participated in my second Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-Thon this weekend. I did my best to read for as much of those 24 hours as I could, read as many pages as possible and have fun along the way! I followed along with the hourly blogs and tried to keep up on Goodreads. It was a lot of fun.

One thing I didn’t do was try to post my progress along the way. So, I’ll share my responses to the three surveys here. I also have my final stats for the event ready to share.

The highlight of the event for me was all the time I got to spend reading with my boys. My youngest read aloud to me a collection of Mo Willems Elephant and Piggie books – 300 pages of delightfully funny dialogue between unlikely friends. My eldest read Tornado Slim and the Magic Cowboy Hat, by Bryan Langdo, to both myself and his youngest brother. Later, I allowed him to stay up late and read with me until he fell asleep.

Aren’t they adorable?

Boys reading

Opening Survey:
1. What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
I did my reading from the beautiful state of Oregon on the West Coast of the United States. The morning dawned cold and foggy, but it warmed up nicely by mid-morning football/soccer games. My primary reading spot was the couch in my living room with my snugly blanket and surrounded by all my books.

2. Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
I’m probably most excited about Assassin’s Quest, by Robin Hobb. I’ve been reading this series along with another group on Goodreads, but I’ve fallen behind because of other reading commitments (I’m looking at you, Popsugar!). I’m hoping to spend a little time with this book during the read-a-thon.

3. Which snack are you most looking forward to?

4. Tell us a little something about yourself!
I might have a book problem. Despite shelves overflowing with unread books, I can’t stay away from the library book sales, the half-off book sales, or any other place where books are sold.

5. If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today?
This is my second read-a-thon, and the only thing I’m really doing different is that I have fewer books on my TBR. I didn’t choose books exclusively for the read-a-thon, but rather I’m just continuing with the books I’m already reading.

Mid-Event Survey:
1. What are you reading right now?
After brief forays into Dune (audio) and Zenith (ebook) and reading with two of my sons, I am about to return to my primary reading goal of the day, Gone With the Wind.

2. How many books have you read so far?
I have read parts of three books so far (Gone With the Wind, Dune and Zenith) and my children read aloud to me six books: Today I Will Fly!, Watch Me Throw the Ball!, Can I Play Too?, Let’s Go For a Drive, I Really Like Slop! (by Mo Willems, read to me by my 6yr old) and Tornado Slim and the Magic Cowboy Hat (by Bryan Langdo, read to me by my 8yr old.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
I’m still looking forward to Assassin’s Quest, by Robin Hobb. Maybe I will hold that in reserve for a few more hours and see if I can get further on Gone With the Wind before I switch it up.

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
There are always interruptions in the life of a mom. Two of my sons had games today – one is playing flag football (his team lost) and the other is playing soccer (his team also lost). This outing took up four hours of read-a-thon time, and I just had to let it go. The kiddos will always be more important than the books. (Sorry, books!)

Once I returned home from the sports activities, I got to single parent two of the children while their father squired the third off to a classmate’s birthday party. I used this time to read with my boys (see the above answers!). Literacy is important to me, and I’m so proud of the progress my kids are making into their own reading success!

5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
I can’t say that anything has surprised me thus far. Well, maybe this delightful quote I found on page 116 of Gone With the Wind:

The dim room with towering walls completely filled with dark books depressed her. Large numbers of books always depressed her, as did people who liked to read large numbers of books.

I couldn’t help laughing at this in light of large number of people reading a large number of books today! The only thing I find depressing about a large number of books is the lack of adequate time to read them all.

Closing Survey:
1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
I guess that would be hour 22 (2 a.m. my time). The words were swimming across the pages and my eyes no longer wanted to stay open.

2. Tell us ALLLLL the books you read!
I made progress on Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, Assassin’s Quest, by Robin Hobb, Dune, by Frank Herbert and Zenith, by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings. My 6yr old son read to me Today I Will Fly!, Watch Me Throw the Ball!, Can I Play Too?, Let’s Go For a Drive!, I Really Like Slop!, from an Elephant and Piggie Biggie combined book by Mo Willems. And my 8yr old son read aloud to me Tornado Slim and the Magic Cowboy Hat, by Bryan Langdo. When I put my kiddos to bed, I also got to read aloud bits from Eragon, by Christopher Paolini and The Tiger Rising, by Kate DiCamillo.

3. Which books would you recommend to other Read-a-thoners?
Whether it’s the books I’ve listed here or something else, what I’d recommend to any read-a-thoner with children is to just dedicate an hour or two, more if there’s interest, in reading with or listening to your children read to you. It was my favorite part of the read-a-thon!

4. What’s a really rad thing we could do during the next Read-a-thon that would make you happy?
I don’t know that I have any suggestions. There is a great mix of activities and conversations so everyone can participate the way they want to. I love how flexible the event is.

5. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? Would you be interested in volunteering to help organize and prep?
There’s a very good chance I’ll participate again. I would still like to see more progress on my reading. But I need to just face it, I’m probably the slowest reader ever. As for volunteering, I love the energy that the hosts provide for this event, and to be honest, I don’t think I could offer that same level of enthusiasm. At least not at this time. But let me take this opportunity to give a HUGE thank you to all of those responsible for making this event so great!

Final Event Stats:

  • total time reading: 12 hrs
  • time spent on blog, Goodreads and Twitter: 2 hrs
  • real life interruptions: 5 hrs
  • sleeping: 5 hrs (started late, and quit early)
  • total pages: 184 (+ ebook and audio) + 6 pictures books
  • books read/listened to during readathon: 12

(Gone With the Wind, Assassin’s Quest, Dune, Zenith, Eragon, The Tiger Rising, Today I Will Fly!, Watch Me Throw the Ball!, Can I Play Too?, Let’s Go For a Drive!, I Really Like Slop!, by Mo Willems and Tornado Slim and the Magic Cowboy Hat, by Bryan Langdo)

If you participated in the Read-a-Thon, how did you do? Did you meet your goals/expectations? What was your favorite book?

Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon, October 2018: The TBR

Back in April I participated in my first Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon. While I read a lot, I didn’t manage to read as much as I’d hoped. I made big plans for myself and created quite an ambitious reading list. Too ambitious, as it turned out. I’d expected as much, but it was my first readathon, and I wanted to be prepared.

I signed up to participate in the next Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon which takes place on October 20 (today!). In my time zone, it begins at 5:00 a.m. (Yikes!)

As I said, my reading list last time was far too ambitious. I knew it would be, but I had no idea what to expect of myself, or what it would be like focusing on reading for twenty-four hours straight. I learned a few things from the experience, and this time I intend to do it a little different.

This time, I’m just going to plan to read whatever I’m already reading. I’ll have a book in each format – a print book for my main focus, an ebook for while I’m out and about and an audio book queued up for when my eyes get tired. Then, just in case I finish whatever it is I’m currently reading in any given format, I’ll have a back up ready to go. Finally, because on a day devoted to reading, I should be able to track all the reading I do, I’ll also have the books I’m currently reading aloud with my sons.

My list therefore, looks like this:

Current print books:
one With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell (102 of 1024)
Assassin’s Quest, by Robin Hobb (180 of 757)
back up: Ship of Magic, by Robin Hobb or Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

Current ebook:
Zenith, by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings (31% complete)
back up: On Two Feet and Wings, by Abbas Kazerooni

Current audiobook:
Dune, by Frank Herbert (12 hrs 12 min remaining)

Currently reading with my sons:
The Last Battle, by C. S. Lewis (71 of 211)
Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card (142 of 368)
The Tiger Rising, by Kate DiCamillo (14 of 128)
Eragon, by Christopher Paolini (111 of 497)

It still looks like an overly ambitious list, but I’m not holding to any illusions that I’ll accomplish nearly so much. I’ll be reading around football and soccer games, necessary household chores and hanging out with my sons. Maybe we’ll see how many of their picture books we can read in an hour!

To make the readathon more comfortable, I’ve staked out my reading corner with a cozy blanket, a candle for atmosphere and a reading companion. Along with my books and a cup of coffee, I’m all set!


Are you taking part in Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon? What are you planning to read?

Unlock the Muse – October 17, 2018

There is this magical moment that happens every fall. Time is moving inexorably forward, so steadily that sometimes it’s easy to not notice its passage. But every fall, the leaves on the trees turn color. They change from green to golden to fiery red and orange. Then, they begin to fall. They fall and fall and fall. Yet still, the trees appear as fully covered in leaves as the lawn.

Then one day I drive by a familiar stand of trees and realize they are all bare. When did this happen? Weren’t they full of leaves just yesterday? This is the mystery of time. It passes whether or not we stop to notice.

This same magical moment is true of a novel. Diligently put in the work day after day, and then there will come a moment when you will look up and realize, it is done.

Speaking of stopping to notice, here is this week’s writing prompt:

Go to the mall and people watch. Home in on one person. What do you think this person does for a living?

There isn’t much of a mall in my neighborhood anymore. If you don’t have one, don’t worry about it. Choose a busy coffee shop, a community park or sit outside the city hall. Just be careful not to get yourself arrested for loitering, lurking or just looking creepy.

I haven’t picked up a new writing craft book lately, though I have several I could start reading. However, since I haven’t started something new, and rather than returning to the same book yet again, I went looking for something different.

For a writer, being good at observation is critical. But in the day to day busyness of life, it can be all too easy to get caught up in oneself and forget to pay attention. I know I’m not always the best observer. This article from lifehacker.com offers some fun ideas to help improve your observation skills, such as watching people in crowded places, assigning yourself a scavenger hunt or taking a “sound walk.”

Observing is useful, but the critical thinking that follows is what can help you come up with new ideas and learn more about the world around you.

So, go explore your world with your eyes wide open. This will enhance your creativity and spark new ideas to fuel your writing.

This past week my eldest son asked me why we say “you’re welcome” in response to “thank you.” I didn’t have a ready answer for him, so I thought it would make an excellent discussion for this week’s vocabulary session.

It does seem strange if you stop and think about the words, that “you’re welcome” should be the proper response to gratitude. You are welcome. Welcome to what? Other languages, such as Spanish and French, use different phrases that translate into some form of “it is nothing” or “my pleasure.” These phrases certainly make more sense. According to this article, the usage of this phrase in the English language may date back to Shakespeare’s day.

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing a link to your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!

Annals of the Western Shore Trilogy, by Ursula K. LeGuin: A Review

I chose to read Voices, book two of the trilogy, Annals of the Western Shore, by Ursula K. LeGuin, for #39 on the 2018 Reading Challenge, a book that involves a bookstore or library. I had this book on my shelf already, a random purchase from a random used book source. Based on the description it involves a library. It is, however, the second book of the series so I had to read the first one before I could read Voices. In the end, I decided to read the entire series, and I’m glad I did.

All three of these books – Gifts, Voices, Powers – are written as a first person recollection. It is three individuals telling their own story. LeGuin is a master storyteller, and each book is beautifully written. These books are interrelated, but not all one story. They could each be read as stand alone novels and not lose anything.

Gifts tells the story of Orrec, a young man from the Uplands, a rural society divided into fiefs. Each fief is governed by a family that has an inherited “gift” of one sort or another. These gifts define the families and set them apart as rivals. Orrec is the son of one such gifted individual and the book takes him on a journey of self-discovery that ultimately leads him away from his own people.

Voices is the story of Memer Galva, a “siege brat” who has grown up in a home with a secret, hidden library. Her city of Ansul was overthrown by an invading army seventeen years before the story opens. The conquerors have set about destroying the written word, seeking a source of power they believe to be demonic. Memer’s story is also one of self-discovery as she must come to grips with her own place in her city and in its struggle for freedom.

Powers tells of a boy, Gavir, a slave raised and educated for the purpose of teaching members of his master’s household. When he is betrayed by the very people with whom he placed his trust, Gavir goes off on his own journey of self-discovery. Ultimately, Gavir returns to the people from whom he was stolen away as a babe, only to find he doesn’t belong there either.

These books are full of beautiful description and a wonderful sense of place. They are not high on action, however, so they do at times feel a little slow. LeGuin’s characters are compelling and interesting, and I enjoyed reading their stories. The third book, Powers, received the 2008 Nebula Award for Best Novel. Overall this series is great and well worth the read. Personally, Voices was my favorite of the three, but they are all good.

Unlock the Muse – October 10, 2018

The days are getting shorter, and night falls early. I don’t like the idea of driving to work in the dark every morning and driving home in the dark every evening, but I do appreciate that the darkness makes my children sleep longer in the mornings.

Your writing prompt for this week is as follows:

Think about your most emotional moments. Write about how you could use them in your work.

The loss of a loved one. The birth of a child. That horribly embarrassing moment when you were in high school. Powerful emotions evoke powerful memories. Even if the personal memory itself doesn’t fit into your work, try to capture the essence of that emotion.

There is little that is more frustrating as a writer than to have a flash of brilliant idea only to lose it before it can be committed to paper. Different writers deal with this in various ways. Some keep a notebook handy at all times, others might used their phone to save a quick note. Anne Lamott in her book, Bird by Bird, uses index cards that she carries with her to jot down that moment of insight or interesting observation. She says:

Sometimes you’ll sit down or go walking and your thoughts will be on one aspect of your work, or one idea you have for a small scene, or a general portrait of one of the characters you are working with, or you’ll just be completely blocked and hopeless and wondering why you shouldn’t just go into the kitchen and have a nice glass of warm gin straight out of the cat dish. And then, unbidden, seemingly out of nowhere, a thought or image arrives. Some will float into your head like goldfish, lovely, bright orange, and weightless, and you follow them like a child looking at an aquarium that as thought to be without fish. Others will step out of the shadows like Boo Radley and make you catch your breath or take a step backward. They’re often so rich, these unbidden thoughts, and so clear that they feel indelible. But I say write them all down anyway.

Find a method that works for you and write down those beautiful goldfish before they can swim away.

It’s grammar week, and again I refer to Strunk and White’s, Elements of Style. Rule #6 of their Elementary Rules of Usage is:

Do not break sentences in two.
In other words, do not use periods for commas.
ex. She was an interesting talker. A woman who had traveled all over the world and lived in half a dozen countries.

In this example, the first period should be replaced by a comma.

It is permissible to make an emphatic word or expression serve the purpose of a sentence and to punctuate it accordingly:
ex. Again and again he called out. No reply.

It’s important to understand the rules of grammar, even when writing fiction. Use the rules to your advantage like in the above examples. Break the rules when it’s advantageous and works well for your writing. But for the most part, follow them. Poor grammar will interrupt the flow of the narrative and distract the reader.

Happy writing!

Among the changes I’m contemplating for the new year is posting on a new day. Rather than Wednesdays, I’m considering Tuesdays for this post instead. It’s a small change, but potentially significant as I hope it will help me spread out other posts throughout the week. As always, I’d love to hear from you!

Please consider sharing a link to your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!

Unlock the Muse – October 3, 2018

Here it is, another Wednesday. Due to some schedule changes this week, I’ve enjoyed a couple of days off from the whirlwind sports routine. I should be working on my villain. I should have had this post written earlier, but I’m once again writing it at the last minute.

Here is this week’s writing prompt:

Autumn is here. Write a list-poem about what this season evokes for you.

This is my favorite time of the year. Temperatures are moderate. Leaves are changing color and falling to the ground. They make a delightful crunchy noise when stepped on. There are birthdays and pumpkin patches and Thanksgiving.

I wanted to find something that spoke about writing through exhaustion and burn out because that’s where I’m at right now. In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott doesn’t speak about exhaustion. But she has a wonderful chapter on writer’s block. Here is some of what she shares:

The fear that you’ll never write again is going to hit you when you feel not only lost and unable to find a few little bread crumbs that would identify the path you were on but also when you’re at your lowest ebb of energy and faith. … Things feel hopeless, or at least bleak, and you’re not imaginative or organized enough to bash your way through to a better view, let alone some interesting conclusion. … We have all been there, and it feels like the end of the world. … The word block suggests you are constipated or stuck, when the truth is you’re empty.

Anne suggests getting out of your own way. Take the bad days and commit to writing just 300 words of whatever. Write them, then let them go. Let your subconscious mind fill again with all those things that make you a productive writer. Then get out of your own way and let your subconscious work. When the well is again full, the ideas will flow once more.

October is the time of spooks and villains. I’ve been working on building the villain for my novel series. In honor of the season, I’ll ask this question: What is your villain most afraid of? Why?

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing a link to your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!