Thursday, July 21, 2016

Revenge of the Bad Sentences




I’m revising a draft, 7th draft to be exact, which means examining the details on the sentence level. The initial edit phase was more developmental, where I fleshed out scenes and moved things around. By the sixth draft I performed major surgery, extracted a few teeth, sucked out the fat (erroneous back story) and the manuscript is now thinner. At this point I’m stumbling my way line by line through myriad band sentences. Like this little gem:

Peri hands me a napkin and wipes her own hands.

What do I mean here? On what does Peri wipe her hands? Her dress? The grass? The back of her hand?

On the surface this sentence looks complete. It has a subject (Peri) a verb (hands) and an object (me.) The problem lies in the second half of the sentence. The subject is still Peri, the verb is wipes, but the object (her own hands)is too vague.

When I wrote it I pictured her using her own napkin, but I didn't mention this to the reader. It was clear as dry inside my head. Unfortunately most of you are not mind readers.

This is not the worst sentence I’ve ever written. Likely it’s this one from an early draft of my MFA thesis:

A seedless fruit, Columbus discovered pineapple on one of his many voyages.

What do I mean here? What am I implying? This gem gave one of my first readers quite a howl. I’m sure he still uses it as a slide in a lecture on bad sentences.

We all write them. Some of us are just better, or worse at it.

There’s even a contest for the worst opening line of a story.

Have fun creating your band sentences. Feel free to share some in the comment section.




Happy Writing.

Friday, May 27, 2016

What is this thing called dog? by Pablo the Cat



I’m a cat. Cats are not known to work and play with others. Occasionally I will deign to express affection toward the human because she feeds me, cleans my bathroom, and provides a warm lap. I even let her sleep in my enormous bed every night. So why-oh-why did she bring this large spotted animal home with her?

This thing called Luna has been here before with another human who resembles my human. But the creature left with this other human when their time was up. But yesterday my human brought this barking canine into my lair. This dog tried to kiss me when, smelling of the beach and rain, burst through the door. The critter went around my apartment and started sniffing everything, and she planted kisses on MY human, who not only talked to her in the same tones she uses with me, but had the nerve to call this thing “sweetheart.”

Yo. Human! I’M your sweetheart!  How long is this thing called dog staying?

I invent a new game called Snub the Human. Problem is she doesn’t seem to notice. She’s tossing a toy back and forth with the dog.

I miss out on nuzzles and petting. Drat! It’s hard to be a cat.

I stare out the window until dark. The human sits on the couch to watch that show where they sing Soft Kitty warm kitty. Her lap does look inviting. The large canine creature is snoring on her dog bed, so I leap onto my human. I lap her thighs hard with my tail to express discontent. She strokes my fur and calls me “precious angel.”

Suddenly our peace is broken. Luna jumps up and barks at the front door. It’s just Fred the neighbor.

After dark the dog whines. The human asks, “do you need to pee pee?” I envy that she gets to go outside. But not tonight. Haha. It’s raining. I can pee and poop in my climate controlled box. The dog comes back inside soaking wet.

But then my human gives her a rub down with a towel. I see her sneaking the dog a treat.

it’s finally bedtime, where I allow the human inside the kingdom of the queen sized bed.  I wait for her to snap off all the lights and tuck her feet under the covers. I climb the blanket covered legs to settle in for a nap when out of nowhere the dog has the nerve to jump on MY bed and cuddle up against MY human. And my human allows it!

How long is this thing staying?





This is as close as I’m getting..that book between us will protect me.

.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Feeling the Love, and I Don't Need a Map




My plane touches down late at night, or early in the morning to be exact. It’s been nearly a year since I’ve been back to Ohio after moving to the Seattle area. It’s familiar yet strange simultaneously.  At the car rental the desk clerk asked if I needed GPA. “No, I used to live around here,” I reply.

It feels nice to sit behind wheel and know where I’m going.

The next day, or rather later the same day, I drive east to Zanesville, the city I left behind last June. My first stop is to the public library where I had copies of my books sent. When I see the multiple boxes, I immediately know I ordered too many. The more books I ordered the larger my discount. But how would I get the ones that don't sell back to Washington? I head to Staples to mail two of the boxes back, canceling my discount.

I lunch with old friends, where we fall into conversation as if I’d never left. Next I am interviewed by the local newspaper (see link at the end of this post.). I had sent Jennifer an ARC, and it helped she had read my novel.

I need to go to the Dollar Store to buy some mouse and deodorant, but stop by Starbucks on a whim. As I chat with a familiar barista, a voice behind me shouts, “Don't serve that woman in here!” I turn, and my friend Myra is laughing behind me. She buys my coffee, and we sit and chat. The unusual thing here is she’s not surrounded by books and papers, and my laptop is in the trunk of my car.

I dine with another friend, and later, we meet up with my old book discussion group.
On Friday, I was supposed to give a presentation, but it was cancelled due to AP testing, so I’m relieved to have free time to spend with friends. The weekend breezes by with meals and coffee with old friends, signing books for many who pre-ordered copies. (My friend Cindy S and I correct a crime of punctuation.)


On Monday I crash the semi annual meeting of library training. Trish, the facilitator, knew I planned to stop by, but she didn't tell my colleagues. I step inide and it seems they are on break. I spot Becky, my former assistant, at a front table. I approach and indicate the empty chair next to her. “Is this seat taken?” I ask. She doesn't look up immediately, but when she sees me she breaks into a groin and we hug. We end up having a three hour lunch before I head to Columbus for my first official book signing.

There’s a critical scene in BREAKFAST WITH NERUDA that takes place in The Book Loft, where my reading is being held. I had a small but appreciative audience, including a couple of fold chums I had not seen in person in twenty years. (Yeah, this pic didn't save right.


Tuesday morning I meet with yet another friend before heading to Maysville High school to talk with students, reconnect with former colleagues, and sign books. My friends Myra and Cindy had arranged a nice luncheon for a couple of classes. Here I am with a couple of fans.


The last stop on my whirlwind Ohio tour is the John Mcintire Library in downtown Zanesville. The turnout is excellent, with the audience comprising of friends and former students and colleagues. (This photo of Jackie Kaser and I shows up correctly in my files, but not here, so you have to tilt your head to the right. )



I spend the night in Columbus because I have an early flight. I leave Ohio again with mixed emotions. It’s as if I belong in two places now, yet I’ve always felt at home in the world. Maybe a life of living on the move enables me find comfort where I set my hat.


I’m back in Washington now, where I make my home. Pablo is glad to see me. Usually he ignores me as a cat is wont to do, but he’s been at my side since I walked in and dumped my bags yesterday afternoon.


http://www.zanesvilletimesrecorder.com/story/news/local/2016/05/07/former-teacher-hopes-reach-young-readers-novels/84066952/

Friday, April 15, 2016

Who’s Watching the Kids?





As I dressed for a downtown event I felt nervous. Not because I had to face Seattle traffic; I was taking the bus. And not because I had not been to The Women’s University Club before; I Googled the directions. What elevated my nerves was I was meeting my editor, bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard, for the first time. I’d met plenty of famous writers before at countless workshops and conferences. But even though Jackie and I had physically not met, we knew one another through our writing, and that kind of intimacy has higher stakes.

I was greeted by several of the club members, all pleasant and friendly, and I felt immediately at home. The Women’s University Club was founded in 1914 “to form a closer union of university women in order to promote outstanding educational, cultural, and social activities.” It’s housed in a beautiful brick building with elegant decor.

After being invited to a cup of coffee, I followed two members downstairs where the reading was to take place. Within a couple of minutes Jackie arrived, we hugged, and started chatting like old friends. Knowing a person through his or her writing is a similar to picking up an old friendship with someone you haven’t seen in years; you’ve already established common ground on a deep level and you know where to fill the gaps. She was easy company.

Jackie autographed books, chatted with club members, and began her talk. Jackie told us a couple of stories about how her first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, and her current novel, Two If By Sea came to be. After her first novel came out twenty years ago, she received a couple of phone messages from Oprah Winfrey. She ignored them, believing they were from a friend playing a prank. Luckily Jackie answered Oprah’s third call, agreed to be a guest on the show, and propelled her writing career.

She also discussed balancing being an author, going on book tours, and editing the Merit Press, a YA imprint of FW Media. After she read a passage, Jackie’s friend and fellow writer Martha Brockenbough joined her in a lively dialogue about women and our place in the literary canon. Both authors made the point that when they tour, someone from the audience invariably asks, “who is watching your children when you travel?” Jackie and Martha agreed nobody ever asks a male author the same question.

Why does a writer’s gender matter? Jackie and Martha pointed out that for women writers there’s a belief that we should stick to romance and “chick lit” topics. There’s a perception that female authors can’t successfully write about politics and war, or as Martha referred to as “dick lit.”

Women in literature have historically taken a back seat to men, with their work often designated as “chick lit.” Some writers, such as George Eliot and James, Tiptree, JR., hid their gender through a pseudonym, and contemporary authors J.K. Rowling and J.A. Jance, use gender-less initials. But are stories limited by gender? Why should an author’s sex determine what kind of story he or she should tell?

I’m grateful that Jackie and the team at Merit Press did not hold my gender against me and chose to publish my book. Because my novel has a male protagonist I considered using a pseudonym or initials because clearly, I’m not an eighteen year-old boy. Yet the book isn’t about me; I’m just a channel for these imaginary friends’ voices.




Happy Writing.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Let the Birth of the Book Begin


 There's another giveaway!


http://bit.ly/1S2ObH8

After years of slogging away on my writing, logging in the ten thousand hours plus, the tectonic plates have shifted and added to my day are online interviews and public appearances. I'm still working on another novel, but progress has slowed.

When the book tour commences my goal is to post a daily diary much like I did when I drove across the country with cats. No cats allowed on the tour. Otherwise my blog posts will be even more sporadic than they already are.

Meanwhile, enjoy this lovely reveiw. This is important for two reasons: 1, it's written by a teen, the audience for which I write, and 2, she gets my book.

http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2016/03/book-review-breakfast-with-neruda-by-laura-moe-reviewed-by-teen-reviewer-lexi/

Be sure to enter the Goodreads giveaway.

Happy Reading (and Writing.)

Friday, March 25, 2016

Drawing on the Write Side of the Brain



The light hits the model’s back and highlights his bronze skin and sinewy muscles. He balances precariously on one foot and stretches his arms upward.  After a minute, the timer buzzes and he changes the pose. I flip to a new page in my newsprint tablet and quickly sketch.


I’m a writer, yet I’ve begun drawing again, which cross trains the creative centers in my brain. Most writers I know do other things. Some are daredevils who climb mountains, others play baseball, and some are musicians. Many regard writing as a ‘hobby,’ but for those of us whose job it is to write, we find other outlets.

I don't like the term hobby. It implies something of little importance, a lightweight activity to do in one’s spare time, an accessory, something expendable. An activity which captures one’s focus and critical thinking is not lightweight. Earning an income is necessary for paying the bills, but pursuing activities that engage one’s creative centers are crucial for survival. That engagement in rock climbing, bicycling, drawing, or fantasy football will manifest itself in other ways. Overall, pursuing a variety of interests makes one a more fully educated person.



Schools across the country made a huge mistake by eliminating “shop” and ‘home ec’ classes, and art, music and drama are facing the same fate. I’m glad I received a ‘renaissance’ education where learners were exposed to multiple sectors. By the time I was in high school I knew that while I was lousy in math, could sing well enough to be in choir, and afraid of shop tool, I was good in art, reading and writing. While the law forced me to stay in school, Art and English classes gave me motivation to accept the rest.


Algebra was a foreign language, yet my artist’s eye helped me understand basic trigonometry. Studying art history opened the door to knowledge of history in general. If you want to understand a culture or time period, study its art, music and literature.


I hadn't mean for this blog post to become a soap box rant on the state of education. I just wanted to share a few sketches and discuss how visual art helps inform my writing. If any of you writers out there feel “blocked,” get out from behind the keyboard and climb a mountain or sing your ass off. 

Happy spelunking, driving, surfing, swimming, climbing, bowling.... and writing.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

I'm Blaming Rob Lowe




Writing is a weird job. Writers work every day, even though we don't punch a time clock and get far less financial return proportionate to our effort. Many writers, myself included, have preferred windows of uninterrupted time where the work is most productive.

When I still taught full time I had little choice but to work in late afternoon, evening and weekends. Now that my days are technically unencumbered I could write any time in my pajamas if I feel like it. I don’t though.

My best drafting happens when I go off site, away from all the distractions of home. Usually I work in a coffee shop or a bookstore cafe. Now that I’ve lived here in Seattle long enough I've discovered a couple of preferred spots. I look for a table near an electrical outlet, clamp on my noise-canceling headphones, choose a soundtrack, and start pecking with two fingers at the keyboard.

Revision has a different process; I print drafts after the work is “complete” because my eyes get tired of looking at screen for long periods. With paper drafts I don’t need to be next to a plug and I can color code my notations before making corrections on the computer.

Being off site does not guarantee a distraction free environment though. I discovered this today while doing an assignment for a free online screenwriting course. Our assignment was to create a short opening scene, where we post the script, storyboard, or video of the actual scene. I was curious what some of my classmates did and clicked on youtube to view them.

Youtube is crack for ADD people like me. After I watched a couple of  classmate’s videos, my eye trailed to the right of the screen where I noted Rob Lowe was on a show I’d never heard of: The Graham Norton Show. Hmmm. Rob Lowe. What could it hurt?

Graham Norton is a British talk show host and he’s hysterical. He’s one of those guys who pokes fun at everyone, including himself, and he brings out the funny in his guests. I ended up killing a couple of hours watching him interview Will Ferrell, Eddie Redmayne, Jennifer Lawrence (who may have been drunk,) Will and his son Jaden Smith, Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and many others.

Did I waste my time? Well.... maybe. It’s hard to justify watching the show for creative purposes, unless my character is a talk show host or an actor. Norton did show clips of his guests’ upcoming films, so there’s a thin connection to my course. Overall, though, what I got out of watching was two hours of laughs but no writing.


Which leads me to why I’m writing this now. Usually I work for two to four hours a day between 10 am-3pm. It’s now after four. The cat has been fed, the wind is blowing a gale outside so I can’t watch TV (I use rabbit ears,(what is this 1950?) so until I get hungry for dinner, home is distraction free.


Happy (Distraction free) Writing.

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/laura-moe/breakfast-with-neruda/

Monday, January 25, 2016

Why Do I Write YA?





When I still worked as a teacher and librarian it always saddened me to hear students say they hated to read. This was unimaginable to me. As a kid stories sustained me and were often my only friends during my family‘s frequent moves. Books were my guides to the world, a dialogue in an otherwise empty room. They were a message in a bottle.

It’s no accident I became a school librarian, English teacher, and later, a full time writer of YA. The seeds for our identities in the world are planted during middle grade and high school years. It's the first breath of independence from your parents. They may try to imprint their ideas and values on you, but during this time your personality forms its own framework.  You discover what you’re good at, what you suck at, who your friends will be, and if you’re lucky, what inner passions will drive you toward your life’s work.

I didn’t pay attention to the details of my identity, or perhaps I wanted to erase the Book Nerd stamp etched on my personality, so I wasn’t so lucky. Throughout my late teens and twenties I floundered around trying on a litany of college majors and half-assed jobs, and dating guys who, for the most part, were bad news.

Yet maybe I was lucky. These muddy side roads added layers to my experiences. Writers create alone, often sequestered in a small room in the back of their home or in a corner table in a coffee shop, but in order to create authentic work, writers also need experiences. We need to talk to people, work with our hands, know how it feels when someone breaks your heart.

In the late 80s, after finally earning my Bachelor’s degree with enough credit hours to have a PhD, I started writing. I wrote bad stories, wretched poems, and a really terrible novel. Most of that work is hidden in a file drawer. While my early work will never see daylight, to throw it out would dishonor the progress I have made. All writers start out being bad writers. Our work is derivative, filled with cliché, and often inauthentic. We haven’t learned to trust the process, to slice your heart open and bleed into the work. We get better by writing, reading, writing more, writing deeply, reading, revising, taking workshops, writing, writing, writing….

Good writing is driven by passion. I’m not talking about Harlequin romance lust, though many fine writers write romances. By the time I was thirty I realized books and words were my passions, and in quick succession earned a masters degree in library and another in writing. As a certified Book Nerd (aka school librarian and English teacher), my work opened up a new arena for writing.

Everyone has a story and writers are story magnets. If we listen, people strangers  share their heartbreaking, tender, funny, sad, incredulous, and authentic stories. They are my muses.

As a teacher my heart was further broken to hear students groan and roll their eyes when I broached the subject of poetry. To them, poets are all dead white guys who use too much flowery language and write about things that have nothing to do with their lives.

They had yet to encounter Pablo Neruda.

By teaching Neruda’s poems, my students learned “the word was born in the blood.” They were attracted to the violence in how the knife assassinates the tomato pulp and “how the sun floods the salads of Chile, beds cheerfully with blonde onion, “and parsley flaunts it little flags,” the in Ode to a Tomato.

One can't teach passion, yet my fervor for Neruda’s poems elevated my students’ concept of what poetry is, and opened the door to reading and writing poetry. It’s also no accident Pablo Neruda simmers at the root of my novel.

My characters in BREAKFAST WITH NERUDA aren't real (except to my readers and me,) yet their inception comes from an authentic place. My life experiences inform me, and allow my imaginary friends to channel their stories through me.

Digital publishing and social media have allowed everyone and his brother to easily promote their books, so a recent phenomenon for writers is to promote their ‘platform.’ Initially this concept left a bad taste in my mouth, as if I’m a product like running shoes or a bag of chips.

Platform can be defined as what we stand for or what causes we support. I believe in Pablo Neruda, poetry, books, and stories. Stories are the thread binding us together, peeling back the mysteries of our own existence.

Words are my platform.  Happy Reading!!


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Five Reasons Why Seattle Is a Writer’s Haven




It’s no accident Seattle is full of writers, and now that I’ve lived here a few months I’ve narrowed down the key reasons.

The weather is sad. Summer is pleasant, with long days and low humidity, but in fall, winter, and early spring the rain, wind and early darkness are like an Adele song, perfect for crafting serious reflection and sad love scenes. The other day I revised a critical moment where Michael, my protagonist, despairs over his relationship with Shelly. He senses she is moving on. As rain pelts from the pewter colored sky and wind chills the air it’s easy to slide inside Michael’s nadir.

Coffee. During winter, when sixteen hours a day is spent in darkness, the caffeinated warm beverage is a portable happy light. When I was still teaching in Ohio I kept the ubiquitous morning brew on my desk, but I barely tasted it. My morning cup of Joe provided rocket fuel to jettison my night owl body into being awake and functional in the deadly dawn. Now that I am retired and choose my own hours, I savor my coffee at a leisurely pace. It warms my palette and hands and aids the creative process.

Because coffee is a necessity here, coffee shops abound in Seattle. There is a either a Starbucks or an independent coffee shop on each block of the city and its environs, and every grocery store hosts a coffee shop. (Except for WinCo. What’s up with that?) Coffee shops are nirvana for starving writers. We can spend as little as three bucks and occupy space for several hours as we create our masterpieces. Most coffee shops also provide food, plugs and free wifi.

Coffee shops are filled with other writers. Being in the company of writers is essential because we writers tend to live inside our own heads. We tolerate friends and family but prefer to spend large blocks of time in solitude. Yet writers periodically emerge from the darkness to commune with like-minded souls. As I write this I’m sitting across the table from my friend and fellow writer Cat. We ignore one another as we peck at our keyboards, yet we transfer an invisible thread of energy, like musicians jamming together, except our tunes are silent, the notes appearing on the page.

Because writers live near or in Seattle, the Pacific Northwest hosts several writers’ conferences every year, and is home to the Hugo House, which holds frequent readings and workshops .

Seattle has bookstores and libraries. Writers are readers, and Seattle has the largest percentage of library card holders in the nation (80%) along with 1.5 bookstores per 10,000, people. Almost any spot in the city is within a fifteen minutes drive to a library or bookstore.  No experience can replicate a physical bookstore. Even Amazon, the online behemoth, discovered this, which prompted them to open their own brick and mortar store in the university district. Sending a book directly to your device is convenient and cheap, but it doesn’t replace the experience of a book falling open in your hands, emitting its old or new book smell.

Seattle has its drawbacks. It's ridiculously expensive to live here, and unless your name is Stephen King or James Patterson, you ain’t making money off your words, so your favorite stores become Value Village, Goodwill and Grocery Outlet. Traffic is miserable, especially if it rains. There is public transportation, but it hasn't kept up with the exponential population growth. In cities like NYC and San Francisco one is better off without a car, but here, you still need a car. And yeah, the weather often sucks.

I haven't even mentioned the endless distractions, on how a good day it’s hard to resist jumping on a ferry to visit one of the nearby islands, or take a walk through Sculpture Park along the waterfront on Elliot Bay.

One can write anywhere, but I have chosen to write here. As long as I have my writing tools: laptop or pen and paper, coffee, and noise canceling headphones, I’m all set.


Where do you like to write? 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Getting the Details Right




In the manuscript I’m revising there’s a scene that takes place in Seattle’s Sculpture Park. Problem is I had not actually been to Sculpture Park. It’s free and open 365 days a year. Other than revising, I had nothing else on the agenda today.

Initially I planned to take the bus because 1,) my cousin gave me some free bus passes that expire soon, and 2,) driving (and parking) in downtown Seattle is a pain. But it was cold and rainy when I left my house this morning. Not the most ideal weather for an outdoor excursion but I couldn’t revise my scene any further without actually setting foot in the park.

I drove south on Highway 99 to 105th and continued south through Ballard on Holman, which morphs into 15 th St. NW and changes into Elliot Way. Allegedly there’s a parking garage near the park, but luckily for me I couldn't find it. I saved myself 6 bucks by parking at The Spaghetti Factory, which doesn't open until 4:30. It’s located right across the street from the park entrance.

Sculpture Park resembles a boardwalk more than an actual park. It sits right on the seawall overlooking Elliot Bay, adjacent to the Port of Seattle. Today was damp, windy and chilly, so there were only a handful of walkers and runners braving the weather. The surf was high and choppy, and if you stand against the waterfront railing you feel like you’re on a boat. If I were a runner this would be a great place to train. One gets a waterfront view, a few cool pieces of sculpture, and ample leg room.

The sun came out as I began my walk. The entire park is a little over three miles, and I would have trekked the whole thing, but I needed to pee and there were no bathroom facilities, so I only walked about a mile of it and turned around and headed to the Port of Seattle. Because it’s winter, the waterfront on Alaskan Way wasn't crawling with tourists. Last time I was here was in summer and the crowds were so thick it was claustrophobic outdoors.


I dipped inside the Clipper Cafe, used their restroom and sipped a cup of coffee as I watched the cresting waves and ferries arriving and leaving the dock.

I’m glad I made the journey; it will give my scene more authenticity. , even though the scene itself is relatively short, it happens at a critical moment in the plot. Now that I know how to get there and where I can find facilities I plan to return before spring, before the crush of people spoils the view.


 Happy Writing.