Sammy Loses “Crazy Dog”

First off, I’m SO sorry for not posting this weekend. I was even thinking about doing it for the majority of Saturday and Sunday, and then it just slipped my mind at the end there. Feel free to come after me with torches and pitchforks.

(Although I’m likely to give you the face below if you do that,  and I’m pretty sure I can wilt flowers with it, so hey–the decision is yours.)

 

But anyway, onto today’s topic.

For anyone who doesn’t know, I have a dog. And her name is Sammy. And she’s a girl, despite popular opinion about the fact that, at first glance, she both looks and acts like a boy.

Here’s a picture:

Totally gorgeous and feminine, right? I have no idea where people get the idea about her being Samuel instead of Samantha.

So, because of the fact that Sammy is my dog, and she lives with my family, she of course has a lot of health problems. After all, she has to fit in with the rest of us, right? So she’s allergic to a bunch of stuff and therefore requires special food (she’s basically a pescetarian at this point, for anyone who wants to know) (I’m looking at you, Hero). And she had to get surgery done on her eyes a couple years back. And she’s constantly having ear infections. Aaand she has knee and back problems.

Which brings us to this weekend. Sammy aggravated her back and one of her legs while playing Friday night, and by Saturday morning she was in so much pain that I had to carry her into the vet office, because she couldn’t take a step without yelping (and mind you, this dog weighs like 35 points–I weigh 90 and am 0% muscle–it wasn’t the prettiest of sights). After taking lots of x-rays and such, the vet came to the conclusion that Sammy’s resident knee and back problems are a lot worse than we previously thought, and she’s now going to have to be on two different types of medicines for the rest of her life, along with no longer being allowed to run, jump, or play.

Basically: My five year old Beagle just got sent to permanent bed rest.

If you know Sammy–or really, any Beagle in general–you know that “permanent bed rest” isn’t really a viable option.

Last night, just a day after her whole ordeal with the vet (during which they knocked her out and drugged her up and stuck her with acupuncture needles–fun times), she was begging me to play with her like usual. She grabbed her favorite tug-of-war rope and followed me around with it, tossing her head back and forth to try to make it look appealing, and wriggling her butt like a belly dancer every time I so much as glanced out the corner of my eye at her.

And I couldn’t play with her. I couldn’t. Because as much as it hurts her not to get played with, it would hurt her worse if I did play with her. Even without playing with her, she couldn’t make it up the stairs last night because she was hurting so badly again, and I had to carry her up to bed.

Life’s going to be really different for Sammy, now. She’s always been very active, going on long walks with my dad and playing fetch up and down the stairs with me. She’s always up for a game of tug-of-war, or for “wrestling,” or just for anything, really.

Sammy’s favorite thing in the whole world is a game my family calls “Crazy Dog.” It usually happens when there are a lot of people over, or right after she comes home from a walk, or when she’s still wet from a bath. She’ll all of a sudden just go nuts with excitement, galloping around the house–tearing around corners and sliding across the hardwood. She likes it best when someone’s chasing her while she does it, and if she senses that you’re getting tired and thinking of sitting down, she’ll flop over on the floor and stare at you until, coughing for air, you approach her. And then–right as you’re reaching out a hand to pet her–she flings herself up and starts running again. And you have no choice but to go after her again.

She can do that for a half hour straight, and then all of a sudden she’ll just be calm again, and she’ll fall asleep, snoring on top of your feet. She’s never as happy as when she’s doing Crazy Dog.

Sammy can’t do Crazy Dog, anymore. I can’t tell her why she can’t do it, or make her understand. She just can’t. It’s against the vet’s orders to do that sort of activity. (Heck, she’s not even supposed to be doing stairs, only it’s not an option with how our house is set up.)

So obviously, this is a profoundly sad time for Sammy. She can’t understand why I won’t grab her tug-of-war rope when she nuzzles my hand with it. She can’t understand why I won’t chase after her anymore when she starts running.

So much of Sammy–so many parts of her–are made up of the things she does when she’s active.

It’s going to take some time now to figure out who my dog is without Crazy Dog.

If anybody knows anything that would be fun to do with Sammy that doesn’t involve a whole lot of activity (no twisting or jumping or anything else that would put stress on her back and knees), feel free to share your ideas in the comments. Thanks!

~Julia

Well, as far as I’m concerned it’s still Sunday…

It’s 12:15 AM on Monday, but seeing as I’m still up… let’s all pretend it’s still Sunday and therefore the weekend, shall we?

This week has been CRAZY!!! Between working drama camp, going to theatre rehearsals, getting ready for and having my grad party, and going to other grad parties, I’ve barely had enough time to think, let alone sleep or write this blog post. Sorry!

I’m currently sprawled out on my bed in my pajamas, my dog Sammy sleeping on top of my feet, really wishing I could sleep in tomorrow… but I’ve gotta be at work at 8:30 AM. Yaaay. (<– That’s called sarcasm, my friends.)

Sorry this is such a teeny tiny post and it’s coming so late. I’m just too exhausted to do much, right now. And a heads up? This next week is going to be crazy as well, between working at camp and doing theatre and trying to get to 25,000 words in my Camp NaNoWriMo novel (my new, adjusted goal). Plus, I need to start working on my lecture for the lil’ writing conference for teens I’m running this July.

But anyway, I’m about to fall asleep writing this, sooo… G’night, you!

 

~Julia

BONUS POST: Help Save a Life!

Okay, so there are these completely awful “art” students in Berlin who are doing an internet poll right now on whether or not they should use their “artsy murder weapon” to kill a poor, innocent, adorable little lamb. PLEASE HELP STOP THEM FROM DOING IT!! All you have to do is follow the link below and click “nien” as your poll option. Please, please, PLEASE do it — there’s an innocent life at stake!

http://www.die-guillotine.com/#sv_ergebnisse

Thank you!

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday (“On Seventeen”)

Hey guys! I’m back from being sick! (Somewhat. My nose is still running enough to get me a Guinness World Record, I’m pretty sure, and I’m still coughing a lot, but my head’s cleared up for the most part, which is my definition of No Longer Being Sick. Kind of.)

This past weekend was my eighteenth birthday and the state bowl competition for Future Problem Solvers! This was my eighth and final year in FPS, so it was a bittersweet occasion. I participated in team booklet writing and scenario writing — my team got a third place medal for our action plan presentation, and I snagged second place for scenario writing. It wasn’t as impressive of an ending to my FPS career as I would have hoped, but I’m just happy that I got anything. Plus, this way I don’t have to miss any of my friends’ grad parties to go to international bowl.

Meanwhile, I had a really, really awesome birthday, which I’m sure you guys just want to read on, and on, and on about, because my birthday’s just that interesting (not)… but yeah. It was amazing. 🙂 My parents threw me a semi-surprise party, where I already knew about it and who was going, but I didn’t know where we were going, and they ended up renting out a party room at a local movie theatre, where we had dinner and unlimited popcorn and drinks and Wii games and a movie, and ALL KINDS OF AWESOME. I was nearly in tears, it was so amazing, especially because I haven’t had a regular birthday party in like five years. 🙂 I swear I thought they were just going to take us down to our basement and be like, “Little Caesar’s pizza. TV. Done,” so you can imagine my surprise when the secret location ended up being the movie theatre. 😀

But anyway, enough about me — onto writing! (Which, ironically, happens to be about me too.) This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a memoir I wrote last Friday, about my last day of being a minor. It’s a little bit rough — I’m aware of the typos and the occasionally awkward wording — but I don’t have time to go spiff it up right now, because I’m super busy getting caught up on homework and tests I missed last week, along with my AP lit project and getting ready for the spring musical to open this Friday, and basically just trying not to die from this horrendous cold. Sorry! Everything should be settling down over the course of the next couple of weeks, so expect me to be a lot more sane, soon. 🙂

**********

— Taking this down to submit for publication. Sorry! Thank you for the interest! —

In memory of Jesse, who was regularly my pillow, my heater, and my shoulder to cry on.

“I miss you” could never be enough.

**********

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday (“Writer’s Digest Conference NOTES, Part 5”)

You know what’s even better than all of these notes I’m giving you? A CHANCE TO ATTEND A WRITING CONFERENCE YOURSELF!! Writer’s Digest has another one coming up this February in gorgeous San Fransisco of all places, called the San Fransisco Writer’s Conference! Just follow this link to enter the contest!

Today’s WDC notes will be on Making Good Ideas Great by Jack Heffron (not to be mistaken for Zac Efron) and Kidlit Craft and Trends: How to Publish Middle Grade and YA in Today’s Hot Children’s Market by literary agent superstar Mary Kole (I literally almost started hyperventilating when I got to meet her last year — that’s how amazingly awesome she is).

SUNDAY

Making Good Ideas Great by Jack Heffron

  • Write three sentences:
    • In the first one, use a word that is a type of flower
    • In the second one, use a word for some sort of personal quality
    • In the third one, use a word for a concrete noun – some sort of thing.
  • The person who writes the fourth sentence is the creative one. Creativity is going beyond what people are telling you to do.
  • There are no secret formulas in writing. It’s about pushing yourself to go beyond the expectations of those around you. Always be pushing beyond. Never be complacent.
  • Write passionately about your passions. Write about what you love, not what you know. Write about it in a way that feels natural to you.
  • Suspend disbelief. As you’re writing, if you’re going to be open to the possibilities of the piece and your idea – until you’ve written a complete draft – don’t be the editor or the reviewer. Don’t be the critiquer of your work. Let the team that comes after you evaluate your work, is it good or is it not good? Instead, look at the ways of pulling the full possibility out of it.
  • If you’re working on a project and you’ve got a good idea, you’ve got to be there almost every day. If you get away for too far or for too long, you stop believing in it. You’re no longer in that imaginative world. You’re no longer a part of it, so you no longer believe in it. Just keep going back to it, because as long as you do, you’re living in that world. Something completely random that happens to you – a conversation in the grocery store, etc – suddenly can be used in your book. You should see everything as a possibility to add to your book.
  • When an idea is in the early stages and still pretty fragile, don’t talk about it or show it to anyone. Keep it to yourself. Let it grow organically. Talking about your WIP makes you lose it. Keep it to yourself. Keep it internal.
  • Writers groups can be dangerous if you’re showing them things too soon. As much as we’re dying to show people something, as soon as someone tells you what they think of something, you lose a little bit of it. It’s a little less personal. Keeping something a secret makes it gain importance to you; don’t talk about it. Let it reach its full potential. It’ll be very much your world and in that world, happy accidents like conversations in the supermarket that inspire you are more likely to happen.
  • Writer’s Block doesn’t exist. It’s Writing. It’s like love – first there’s the honeymoon period, and then it starts to get tough, and it isn’t until it starts getting hard that you love it; that you prove true love.
  • Having the hard time doesn’t mean the idea’s bad, it means the idea’s asserting its independence. Let the idea talk to you, but keep control. It’s letting you know what it wants to be. There’s a sort of apartness in that process. You have to step back and let it tell you what it wants to be; let it tell you what it NEEDS to be, even if it’s different from your original core idea.
  • Even in successive drafts, it’s important to not be in a hurry; let things develop. Try out things.
  • A good idea that feels like it’s going bad doesn’t mean it’s going bad, it means that it’s blossoming into something deeper.
  • In creativity, the final product is in exploration and execution.
  • Creativity isn’t about one giant epiphany like in the movies. It takes time. It’s very interior. It takes a hundred little epiphanies that involve into something greater. It’s a matter of coming up with an idea and letting it talk to you – you’re more like a scientist than anything else.
  • Don’t see a problem as a problem; see it as an opportunity. “This piece is working well, but where are the opportunities?”
  • It’s never a story about not caring; it’s a story about caring and trying to hide it.
  • If you think something’s taking a weird turn, you think, “I don’t really want to go here,” then you’re probably onto something – writing is an act of courage. You take a solid, workable idea and turn it into something much more powerful.
  • It comes down to the questions that you ask yourself.
  • When pitching, you only have three minutes with any one person. Make those minutes count. Show why the reader should will care.
  • Is it a stupid idea, or do you look at the possibilities of your idea and how to make people care about it? If someone doesn’t care, it doesn’t mean the idea’s not good. It means that it needs to be recast, make it fresh and original, make it organic – you have to bring out the reason for the reader to care, ahead of the plot. Readers won’t care what happens if they don’t care who it happens to.
  • Share human qualities – Figure Skater who died: what does her voice sound like, what did she like to eat, what were her favorite things to do when not ice skating? – make it something other than generic. Let the reader know who these people are. The plot’s just there to let your character shine through. Don’t make your story a glorified magazine article.
  • “The beginning is exciting, but the middle lags” – the problem isn’t the middle, it’s not drawing a connection at the beginning.
  • The reader doesn’t care what happens to you. The reader cares about himself. Make sure you know what the reader’s getting, what expectations you’re creating, and know how you’re telling those truths and how they translate to you and the reader, etc. Make the experience true to the reader and something he can identify with.
  • “Too hate like this is to be happy forever” – Quote by Will Blythe
  • Publishing ultimately is a business. It’s not as much about creativity; it’s about selling books.  By trying to publish, you’re already compromised. You need to write for yourself, first and foremost; focus on the stage you’re in. Don’t worry about publishing until you get there.
  • Get a blank stare from an agent? Do they say “I can’t sell this?” It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, it means they literally CANNOT SELL THIS. If you’re getting feedback like “I can’t sell this,” look at possibilities for making it more saleable.

COMMERCIAL BREAK! Is this not one of the cutest pictures you’ve ever seen?

(Me and Sammy when she was a puppy — I’d just gotten her for my thirteenth birthday, here, after begging my parents for a dog basically since I learned to speak.) (I’m not kidding. I’m pretty sure my first words were, “I want a puppy.”)

Kidlit Craft and Trends: How to Publish Middle Grade and YA in Today’s Hot Children’s Market by Mary Kole

  • Your novel has to have good plot and voice
  • Kids like books that make you uncomfortable because they’re so authentic and true to life (minus picture books like this)
  • Must feel fresh and have a great voice
  • Publishing, and especially children’s publishing, loves categories
  • “good books for bad children” – what children’s books are
  • The only difference between kids and adults is a lack of experience – children are a lot smarter than adults give them credit for
  • Children’s books supporting blockbuster successes is a new thing
  • Right now there’s more pressure on titles to be saleable, have a good hook, and bring in good sales numbers right off the gate. Books used to have the chance to have time – a snowball eventually made a snowman – but now there’s pressure on the first three months before release and the first three months after. If sales don’t live up to expectations, which are constantly rising, you aren’t likely to sell your next work.
  • Publishers don’t like midlist books anymore. They like only breakout books. Breakout Books: Publishers think that they have breakout potential, so they put a lot of pressure on making them breakout from the beginning; lots of marketing and attention. It’s getting very dangerous to try to make a career as a midlist author. Your books need to have lots of enthusiasm about them. (Before I Fall, Matched, etc)
  • Breakout books are generally very high-concept and action driven.
  • Teens like ebooks. In 2011, ebook numbers doubled from 2010
  • Teens are reading ebooks – huge shift toward ereaders.
  • YA is definitely benefiting from ebooks
  • Harry Potter becoming ebooks is going to make a massive move toward ebooks for everyone
  • PB (picture book): 3-5 yrs old on younger end, 5-7 yr olds on upper. Usually under 500 words, 700 max. Tougher market, fewer houses acquiring. Text only, illustration only, or as author/illustrator.
    • Looking for cute, funny, short, and unique stories. Must be engaging for both the children AND the adults. Character driven that can turn into a series (but most pictures from debut authors start out as standalones and don’t develop until later).
    • Rhyming and traditional verse are a really hard sell right now. Bubble, Trouble by Margaret Mahey is good to look at.
    • Avoid: pets, grandma and grandpa, down on the farm, popular fictional characters (Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, etc), Mommy/Daddy loves you, first day of school/summer vacation, bedtime (especially monsters), etc.
    • Holidays are a tough sell, because your sales window is so small
    • Talking objects are a no. Children and animals are a yes.
    • You need mult. hooks or sales points (curriculum books, friendship story, diverse, recipe in the back, etc) – These are hooks. A hook is sort of like a gimmick, but not… gimmicky.
    • A world of questions and big ideas; learning a lot; rely on others for help, information, primal needs, sense of belonging; conflict, animals, friends, adventure, magic, home, imagination; struggle with fitting in, learning new things, parents, siblings, self-expression.
  • MG (middle grade): 8-10 yrs old, 10-12 yrs old. Characters must be 13 or under. Also known as “independent reader” books.
    • 35,000 words average, 60k max for fantasy/scifi – not recommended to go that long, though – this age is still very reluctant to read long books (especially boys)
    • MG is your chance to hook reluctant readers
    • Kids will “read up” so keep in mind that your audience will usually be younger than your protagonist.
    • You have to pick a lane – you can’t have an “older middle grade/young YA/tween thing” – you can be creative, but make sure to fit into one of these categories.
    • Fantasy and adventure rule the middle grade shelves. High concept, action, adventure, and fantasy rule the shelves.
    • Engage your boy readers by featuring sibling or friend groups involving both genders
    • Action/adventure and fantasy work well because MG readers want to live vicariously when their lives feel out of control and their sense of self is still evolving
    • Literary doesn’t sell well – usually only a couple literary books sell well each year (cute friendship novels)
    • Not as edgy as YA; issues usually dealt with secondhand (so sees people doing drugs, doesn’t do it themselves)
    • Very little language and content, become gatekeepers; parents, librarians, booksellers play a more active role for this age range
    • Family, friends, issues of growing up are all good ideas to explore, romance should be sweet (ie: SHRUG by Jenny Han)
    • Your story shouldn’t require a series right off the bat, though they are popular once they are launched (and launched right) – MG beginning to YA finish, like Harry Potter
    • Historical is tough, setting can’t be the plot itself; there have to be things happening on top of it
    • One of the most famous and timeless MGs is Maniac McGee
    • Portrait of a MG Reader: One word: contrasts! You want to belong and fit in, but to develop as an individual and stand out. You want to make big choices but to feel safe. Stuck between childhood and young adulthood. Remember hormones and first crushes, body issues and self-consciousness, self-centered viewpoint and decision-making, actions and consequences. Everything is new to them and this should be reflected in your descriptions of the world around your characters. How do they smell, taste, touch, and experience it.
  • YA: 12+, 14+, or even 16+ for edgiest offerings
    • Length min: 45,000, max 90,000, ultimate max: 100k
    • Taste run from sweet and literary to edgy and sophisticated
    • You don’t have to be edgy. If you’re not naturally edgy and try to be edgy, it comes across as fake; you don’t need to follow the market, do what’s real for you
    • Authenticity and truth is the most important thing – teens have a built in BS-meter
    • Paranormal and dystopian invite readers to live vicariously, flesh out romantic fantasy lives, give them control
    • Dark/death-related worlds and concepts interest teens
    • Other trends: light sci-fi, dream worlds, time travel
    • Romance is always a powerful plot driver
    • Realistic endings, idea of sacrifice and complexity
    • Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher) is a fantastic example of current YA
    • Strong contemporary stories are in vogue a lot – tougher sell at some houses, but other houses are clamoring for them
    • In a trend valley right now, waiting for the next big thing to come through
    • Big concept, voice, bittersweet endings – there need to be shades of grey. You have to sacrifice to get the things that you want.
    • World of possibilities and electric firsts
    • Big things happening all at once: love, heartbreak, end of a friendship, big decisions, bigger consequences, disillusionment, first time they are really tested
    • Over-the-top reactions and lack of coping skills
    • Self-censorship and self-control are issues here
    • Self-centered viewpoint and decision making, actions and consequences
    • If your teen protagonist is too polished or composed, rough up their edges
    • Research today’s market, really pay attention to what successful creators are doing (and check in with real kids! Hahaha) (I laugh because of my age)
    • Tell the truth and be authentic, per Ursula Nordstrom
    • Get in the mindset of your audience, they want to relate to characters and stories that reflect their lives
    • Make your work fit publishing guidelines (learn the rules of the game, then win it)
  • Write Irresistible Books
  • Writing is a journey and every time you sit down to write, you get better
  • Learn to love the process or writing and revision
  • Learn to put a manuscript aside if it has stopped feeling fresh to you, and let new ideas come in
  • Suffer from a wealth of ideas, a lack of sleep, and an insatiable curiosity
  • Chapter books: max out at 15,000 words – don’t get a lot of attention (Magic Tree House) – difficult to sell
  • Fairytale retellings are big right now (so like Cinder by Marissa Meyer)

Only a few more sessions to go over! Yay!

~Julia

Writer’s Digest Conference: NOTES (Part 4)

One of our neighbors went walking through our backyard with her dog about a half hour ago and now my dog won’t shut up about it. It’s driving me nuts. (If you have ever heard a beagle do that half-howl/half-bark thing, you’ll know where I’m coming from.)

In other news, MORE NOTES!!!! 😀 (If you guys are starting to get tired of these, let me know and I’ll lay off on the WDC stuff for a while.)

SATURDAY

Conflict and Suspense: How to Keep Readers Turning Pages in Any Genre by James Scott Bell

  • The movie Moonstruck is fantastic for studying conflict/suspense. Watch it.
  • Unpredictability = good.
  • True character comes out when you’re tested. Every other time, you’re just wearing a mask.
  • Suspense = the withholding of the resolution to create an enjoyable experience for the reader.
  • If a reader can predict what’s going to happen, and it happens, there’s no pleasure in the reading experience. You need to create a suspense that “I don’t know what’s going to happen next” – that’s what’s called a Page Turner
  • “A great story is life with the dull parts taken out” – Alfred Hitchcock. No trouble = dull part. Your job is to have trouble from the very first page, even just minor trouble – you must disturb the world of your characters. You start with page 1, create that sense of trouble, and then go all the way to the end where the trouble is resolved
  • You have to make a lead character that readers care about – if they don’t care, they won’t be engaged
    • Positive lead: the hero; vindicates the values of the community (not just in the story, but in the community of readers) – reader is on your char’s side –
      • can be extraordinary, like Indiana Jones (give him flaws: afraid of snakes, etc)
      • can be ordinary, caught up in extraordinary circumstances (normal guy, convicted of wife’s murder, put on death row; must survive, becomes an escapee, etc) – You want the readers to be asking, “Will he be victorious? Will he support the values?”
    • Negative Lead: does the things we don’t like. Does not vindicate the values of the community. Reader asks, “Will this person be redeemed throughout the story, via the conflict?” Create the anticipation of a redemption (Scrooge – shows an emotion for the first time when he goes back to his childhood with the first ghost, etc)
    • Anti-hero: Americans love anti-heroes. Rebels. Don’t want to be involved with any sort of community; don’t want to be bothered (Rick in Casa Blanca). He gets dragged into a conflict that he has no interest in – gets forced into involvement. What happens at the end? Does he become selfless, does he go back to the way he was before at the end, etc? (Dirty Harry in some cop movie thing – symbolically, throws badge into bag – it’s over) HAVE TO HAVE BONDING EXPERIENCE WITH LEAD CHARACTER
  • The stakes of the story as a whole need to involve death. A great novel is how a character overcomes or comes to terms with death.
    • Physical death – thrillers. The character dies. (Jason Bourne)
    •  Professional death – what the character does for a living is on a line (Silence of the Lambs)
    •  Psychological death – people dying on the inside. Lit fic. (Catcher in the Rye– Holden’s odyssey to NYC) At the end you’re asking, “Has he found it? Will he make it?” – genre romance
      • You have to make the mistakes feel like death to your MC.
  • Open with a disturbance. Chapter 1 is often “Happy people in Happy land” – that’s BAAAD. Readers want an initial disequilibrium, or they won’t care. Readers read because they want to worry about a character. “The cat sat on the mat is not the beginning of the story. The cat sat on the dog’s mat is.”
  • Open with:
    • One line paragraphs. Works especially well in thrillers
    • open with a little bit of disequilibrium. Something is off about the world.
    • Dialogue openings are fine because they’re opening scenes. A lot of writers try to open with description; scene doesn’t actually start for a while. That’s bad. Make sure you have dialogue on the first or second page – that grabs you. Dialogue = action.
    • ALWAYS START WITH DISEQUILIBRIUM, or  the possibility of trouble.
  • Opposition in a novel. Doesn’t have to be a villain. It just has to be stronger than your character and have an agenda. Death stakes – they hold the death stakes to oppose your character. (The Fugitive– Tommy Lee Jones – not a bad guy, but his job is to catch the fugitive, who’s the protagonist).
    • By way of physical or collective strength
    • By way of psychological strength – will of iron, won’t give up
    • Is justified in his mind about what s/he’s doing. Nobody is pure evil; they all think that they’re doing the right thing in their own mind. Every great villain (except for Dr. Evil) is justified in their mind about what they’re doing. They think they’re doing the right thing. Readers aren’t analyzing it – they’re just feeling it. Great villains are those who evoke not just terror, but also sympathy. Reader needs to understand the villain. (Like Alan Rickman in Seminar) (or Hannibal Lector – you’re going, “eat that guy, already!”)
  • The key to scene tension: novels are built by scenes, so you don’t want any scene that drags or reduces the momentum. You want FEAR; the fear factor – fear is the continuum, begins with simple worry and develops to outright terror. You have innumerable things to choose from to create a sense of terror in the characters. Watch out for the sit-down-for-coffee scenes. Create some kind of worry that prevents total communication between two characters having a sit-down-for-coffee scene. A simple bit of worry can create scene tension. The continuum is unlimited.
  • Structure Scenes: a scene is about some character who has an objective; there’s the objective of the story, and the objective of the scene. Trying to get information, trying to find something or prevent finding something, etc. There’s a series of obstacles in each scene that prevents this objective from occurring. Will the character realize the objective in the scene? Then there’s an outcome; they accomplish the goal in the scene or they don’t.
    • In worry novels (thrillers, suspense): You want the outcome to be a setback, or if they accomplish their goal, it leads to future trouble. Never make things easy for your character.
  • Study The Fugitive and The Graduate. Great examples of scene tension.
  • Never dial back your tension – always play it up as much as possible
  • Suspense doesn’t have to be realistic. “We’re not in the business of writing realism, we’re in the business of styling realism.” – Manipulate life, but don’t get caught at it.
  • Remember: “Your first chapter sells your book, your last chapter sells your next book” – Nicky Splain.

That’s it for today! I have an AP literature and composition paper to write so I don’t have a lot of time to be going through notes right now, but I still have another few sessions to go over, so there’ll be more notes this Wednesday (unless, of course, y’all want a break).

Also, my current addiction:

I personally preferred the first trailer to this one (watch it here), but this still looks good. What’s your opinion?

Enjoying and learning a lot from these notes? Click here for your chance to win a free pass to the San Francisco Writers Conference this February, also held by Writer’s Digest!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday (“Dreamcatcher” Excerpt)

My dog Sammy’s currently snoring away on one side of my room while I attempt to do my homework (blargh) on the other, and I’m really, really jealous of her. Just thought I’d share that.

In other news, here’s your Wordy Wednesday! This is the first draft of the beginning of the novel I’m currently writing, called Dreamcatcher.

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      —– [Sorry! Taken down due to the novel now being in revisions!] —–

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… Now, if you could please excuse me while I go back to counting down the days ’til the weekend, I would be much obliged. 😉

~Julia

Merry Christmas!! (And a Book Review.)

Hey, I just wanted to let you guys know that I haven’t gone into a Christmas cookie comatose or anything (though I’m close), because I haven’t posted anything in a few days — In general, this blog is going to be biweekly, with a Wordy Wednesday every (you guessed it!) Wednesday and just a general update-you-on-my-obviously-so-interesting life kind of post every weekend. Every so often, I might do some extra things, but in general that’s how this is going to be. 🙂

In other news, I got some really awesome gifts for Christmas, including a bunch of Glee stuff (it’s my guilty pleasure) and clothes, but also a FOREVER LAZY (which is basically just glorified footie pajamas, minus the feet portion, with socks and a hood and a zipper in the back so you don’t even have to take it off to go to the bathroom) (yes, with all of our modern technology, this was the best we could come up with. Aren’t you proud of society?).

Oh, and I’m sure my mom looked just like this when getting it for me. I’m so positive.

I also got a total pillow. (It works surprisingly well.)

Books I was blessed enough to receive include:

Any opinions on which I should read first?

Now, speaking of books, I wanted to talk about my impressions of the YA realistic fiction novel The Beginning of After, written by Jennifer Castle.

Back a couple months ago, Jennifer did some publicity work with Figment, and I was lucky enough to be one of the people affected by it, meaning that I got a free ARC of the book because one of my stories had similar content to hers and got featured on the website homepage. (Read my story here.)

(ARC picture from Jennifer’s blog.)

The Beginning of After tells the story of Laurel Meisner, a girl who’s pretty much perfectly normal in every way until one night when her neighbor decides to take her parents and younger brother out for dessert after dinner, and they get in a car accident. They never come back. The neighbor’s in a coma, and his wife, Laurel’s parents, and her admittedly sweet younger brother Toby are all dead. Gone. Forever.

This all happens in the first few pages, and then the entire rest of the 425 page book details Laurel’s life after the accident.

As someone who’s experienced grief firsthand — albeit not nearly as horrible as Laurel’s — this story felt especially poignant to me, and I found myself tearing up several times throughout. If you’re quick to reach for the tissue box, you’ll definitely need it while and after reading this one. It touches on all those different questions we’d rather never have to ask: What happens when we’re gone? What happens when our family’s gone, and we’re the only ones left? What happens, what happens, what happens?

I don’t want to give away much of the plot, because the content of The Beginning of After is every bit as interesting as the title, but I do want to say that where a lot of books about teenagers and grief fall flat, this one rings true. Of course there are those moments when it feels a bit fake, a bit forced, but maybe that’s just because that’s how Laurel’s feeling then — she feels fake. She feels forced.

She feels numb.

This book isn’t about death, but rather what happens to those who are left behind in the aftermath. It’s not about grieving, but rather its effects on who we are and who we become because of it.

It’s a story that feels so real, you’ll want to mourn the loss of Laurel’s family right along with her, just because it reminds you how fragile life truly is, and how easily you could lose everything you cherish also.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it an 8.

And now, back onto the happy-cheery-Christmas topic for another couple seconds. 😉 This is basically how my dog Sammy’s Christmas went:

  • Got toy. Liked toy. Chewed on toy.
  • Toy made squeak sound. TOY MUST BE ALIVE!! Must rip toy open and kill it!!!!
  • Toy is open. Toy’s stuffing and squeaker are all over the floor. Toy is dead.
  • Victoriously carry dead toy around for all to see.

It was adorable and frightening at the same time.

So what were some of the things you all got for Christmas? Any funny stories about your friends and families?

Happy birthday Jesus!!!! 😀

~Julia

Update on Zee Cat

For any who don’t know, I’m currently in the process of attempting to publish one novel — which I wrote back in ninth grade for my first ever NaNoWriMo — and attempting to write another — which I began for my fourth NaNoWriMo, last month.

Conclusion? I use all my best ideas on NaNoWriMo. (Not sure if that’s a good thing or not.)

But anyway, I’ve been sitting here all day with Willy beside me, making sure that he’s okay, and attempting to work on writing the-novel-in-progress, AKA Dreamcatcher, and failing miserably at it because I basically have as much focus as a chipmunk. Or Doug:

[Copyright Disney Pixar]

And yeah. I figured I’d let y’all know how Willy’s doing, which currently is to be all stretched out beside me sleeping. (Earlier he had his head resting on my writing notebook and it was the cutest thing ever. You know, until I actually needed to use it.) So he’s doing a lot better than before. Actually eating and drinking and walking around again, although he’s still really worn out from the weekend. (But what can you expect? He’s sixteen freakin’ years old!)

Here’s a pic of the William for anyone who doesn’t know him (which includes 99.999999999% of the world since he’s insanely shy around most people):

(Yes, that “I Think You’re Stupid and I’m Going to Take Over the World Someday” face is his most common expression. Why do you ask?)

Oh, and while we’re at it, here’s my equally evil and overly-intelligent puppy schweetykins, Sammy:

(Don’t let that innocent face fool you. She’s completely diabolical.)

This one time, back when she was still just a puppy, we hired an in-home dog trainer to come in and teach her all those basic commands like “sit” and “stay” and “don’t eat the cat” and all that. She was horrible all through training, never doing what she was told unless the trainer was around (and even then, only about half the time). Then, test day came around. Right before her final exam began, the trainer told us it was okay if she didn’t get a hundred percent because dogs rarely do, least of all beagles.

Well, Sammy seemed to take this as a personal slight on her intelligence, and henceforth went out and completed every command perfectly. The dog trainer was flabbergasted as he handed over her diploma.

He then left the house and Sammy has never obeyed a single command since (except for from my dad, because he gives her bread, which is basically the Sammy version of catnip).

Still want further proof of her diabolicalness?

A few months back, Sam injured her paw and began limping everywhere, so Mom went and made an appointment with the vet to see if anything needed serious medical attention or if it would heal on its own. Promptly after the phone call, she stopped limping and acted perfectly fine again. But Madre didn’t want to cancel the appointment, so she took Sammy in anyway, rather embarrassed as the dog continued to walk around just fine all throughout the vet office.

That is, until the vet came in.

And then, just like she was in a cheesy family sitcom, Sammy lifted up her paw and held it out at the vet like, “Oh hello there, dearie! Here is my life threatening injury, you should examine it accordingly.” (That should all be read in an extremely posh and affected accent, by the way.)

In conclusion, my dog is evil. (But also adorable, so I guess that makes up for it, right?)

Happy holidays!!

~Julia

I am a Crazy Cat Lady

So as a brand new blogger, I feel the need to introduce myself to whomever out there might be reading this (hi Mom): My name is Julia. I am seventeen years old. And I am a crazy cat lady.

Tada.

I say this not because I go around doing this, because I don’t (or at least not in public), but because – now here comes the depressing part where you all go “AWWW! THAT SUCKS!!” – my cat Jesse died a few weeks ago, and now my other cat Willy is really sick with seizures and might not live that much longer.

I found out yesterday night at around 11:00 PM and I’m currently skipping a Christmas party I really wanted to go to because I don’t want to leave him alone, because I have a massive fear of being alone, myself, thanks to an unfortunate zip lining experience in Costa Rica over the summer (word to the wise: don’t take me zip lining ever again, emphasis on the EVER). So while I have a perfectly justifiable reason to leave Willy by himself for a few hours, involving spiced cider and Christmas cookies, I just can’t make myself do it.

So instead I decided to make a blog. (Aren’t you all so happy?)

And yeah. That’s basically my intro post. Let’s recap:

  • My name is Julia.
  • I am seventeen years old.
  • I am a crazy cat lady.
  • And I am terrified of zip lines.

Such pertinent facts. 🙂

… And now that I’ve basically just rambled on and on and made a humungous fool of myself, I’m going to go back to watching cute kitten videos on Youtube.

Byeeee!

~Julia