Sunday, November 2, 2014

Your character did WHAT?

Writers can harvest ideas at the drop of a pick axe, right?  As soon as we sit down and touch our fingers to the computer keys, those brilliant ideas just spill out onto the page like giant raindrops . . . right? 

Yesterday, I gave a mini workshop on grabbing onto ideas and putting them into a story. 

I explained that you must make the reader fall in love with your character from the very first second, so that they will cry right along with your character when bad things happen, and cheer for them until the very last page. 

A woman sat in front of me, listening intently, with a pained expression on her face.  

Great, I thought.  My talk must completely stink, and she'll be heading for the door at any moment.

But she finally raised her hand tentatively.  "I have lots of ideas," she said. 

"Do you write them down?"  I asked.  "What's the idea that is closest to your heart?"

She hesitated for a moment, then went on to talk about her characters and her setting.

"Does your character have a problem?" I asked.

The pained expression soaked into her face again.  "I don't want to give her too much of a problem.  I would feel too bad for her."

"It will keep your reader turning the page," I explained.  

Then, as if the Writer Fairy had cast her magic wand, in walked my friend and author-extraordinaire Eric Luper.  "You have to do it," he said.

We tag-teamed the poor woman, trying to convince her that the worse things got for her character, the more her readers would want to--and have to turn the page.

I hope she is home today feeling truly bad for her character.  I hope she is crying sloppy tears as she harvests her ideas and makes her character's situation almost untenable -- almost.  Then I hope those tears become joyful ones as her character climbs out from under the heavy rock pile.  

Now I'm going to go and try taking my own advice.  The character in my WIP had better be prepared, because things are going to get ugly . . . 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Contemplating the Strange and Creepy

I have a love-hate relationship with things that are strange and creepy.  I am both intrigued and terrified in a can't-quite-pry-my-eyes-from-it way.

The dark always held the top spot on my kid fear list.  When I was five, my dad tried really hard to dispel it.  He took me out to the front yard and pointed out all the familiar landmarks. "See."  He nodded at our maple tree by the curb.  "That's the same one that's there when it's light out, isn't it?"

But I wasn't going to be fooled.  Those tree branches were spiky in the dark. And what was that moving in the top leaves??

I clung to him so tightly, he probably still has reduced blood flow to his arms.

Being afraid of the dark and having a longish list of ThingsIAmModeratelyTerrifiedOf is like a badge of honor for a fiction writer.

Many of us writer and artist-types, if we are willing and able to admit it, have items on that childhood list that quite smoothly carried over into adulthood.  For example, how many of you still . . .
. . . (casually, of course) check behind the shower curtain before you brush your teeth at night?
. . . take more than the required leap to get into your bed?
. . . wonder if that Trick-or-Treater at your door dressed like a character from The Walking Dead might actually be a real zombie whose only day to roam the neighborhood freely is October 31st?

The fact is, we are looking for the strange and creepy.  We yearn for it in a way, because we are on a quest for the hidden story behind just about everything . . . the what might be.  The possibilities are endless.

So all of you scaredy pantses out there be proud.  There's a novel waiting for you .  You just have to venture out into the strange and creepy dark and grab it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Safer Than Bungee Jumping

My cousin talked me into it on an unsuspecting Seattle summer evening a year ago.  

It truly did sound like a good idea -- an adventure -- safer than bungee jumping and way more enjoyable than that thing that everybody seems to be doing; the run through the muddy jungle where you get electrocuted and chased by zombies.

My cousin took me out to her car and lifted up the back hatch to show me.  It was shiny and looked like something Batman might keep in the Bat Cave.  
"See my new bike?"  She said it slyly as she so smoothly sunk her lawyerly hooks in.  "You have one, right?"

Then she stood back and let the sparkly newness surround me, biding her time before she settled into her matter-of-fact voice.  "We should sign up for the STP," she said.

Before I could fly back to the East Coast and pump up my tires, I had agreed to it.  Two hundred three miles over two days from Seattle to Portland.  The closer it gets, the farther that distance seems.

And then she fell.  My cousin had a nasty crash on her new BatBike and she's out of the ride.

But I have a plane ticket and training under my belt and a shiny new BatBike of my own.  I can't stop now.  My Summer Fun will continue.  

Because look at what waits for me at the finish line in Portlandia:

And the Mothership:

 And they'll all be there, too:

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Serendipity ... or ... What are the Chances?

Today is my day to post over at Smack-Dab-in-the-Middle, so to save you a click, I'll be cross-posting here:

I am a definite fan of book trailers.  In our digital media-rich world, it's important to use anything we can to get kids to pick up a book.

The strangest thing happened yesterday.  I was getting to work on this month's Smack Dab blog post which happened to be about book trailers (!), when I saw a tweet from library media specialist, Lori Kirtley, with a link to a book trailer that she and her fourth graders had done for my first book, ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER.  It took serendipity to a whole new level.  Seriously, what are the chances of that happening?

I direct messaged Lori to get permission to post it, so here it is:


Thank you, Lori!

In making the video for my second book, A FINDERS-KEEPERS PLACE, I called upon cheap child labor, also known as my daughter, Holly.  She has a cameo in the video, but she may not appreciate my telling everyone.  Also, she may be huffy about her paycheck which is apparently still "in the mail".  Please click below:

Book Trailer for A FINDERS-KEEPERS PLACE by Ann Haywood Leal   

Monday, April 14, 2014

I Have Only Three Words: Escape, Lost, and Urgent ...

What do those words have in common?  I can't say!  I want to, but I am of Irish background, and something very terrible could happen if I give too much away.
Holly Schindler

Something I can say, is that I was thrilled to be asked to blog hop with the wonderful Holly Schindler.  
Please check out her blog HERE.  

Here are Holly's questions for me:  

1.  What am I working on now?

I am a little superstitious about giving too much away (must be the Irish in me!).  I am actually working on two things right now.  The first is a middle-grade novel with an unusual setting.  It has been both the most difficult thing I've ever written and the most fun.  The second is also middle-grade, and I'll only give away two words:

"escape" and "lost".

2.  How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Hmmm... very good question.  My first two books have been realistic fiction about pretty serious subjects.  Of my two current works-in-progress, the first probably pushes the realistic part of realistic fiction, and the second includes a lot more humor.

3.  Why do I write what I do?

I am on a constant quest to write the book that would make my twelve-year-old self race to the shelf in the library.  I would love to give my readers that same urgent "can't-wait-to-get-my-hands-on-it" urgency.

4.  How does my writing process work? 

I usually start with a setting ... then I wait for the characters to show up.  I try to drop myself right into the setting and imagine what might have happened there.  Who lived there, and what might have gone wrong?

Please don't forget to visit some of my fabulous author friends at the next stops on the tour:

Jolie Stekly:
Jolie Stekly is a freelance writer and novelist, teacher, fitness instructor, and former SCBWI co-regional advisor of the Western Washington chapter.  She now directs the fall retreats for the region.  Jolie is a member of  "Team Blog" for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and was awarded SCBWI's 2009 Member-of-the-Year.

Deborah Lytton:

Debby Lytton is a writer and actress who grew up in front of the camera, beginning her career at age six when she was discovered by a Hollywood agent.  Her acting credits include five years on the hit daytime soap opera Days of our Lives as “Melissa Anderson."  Debby is also an attorney and most importantly, a mother of two. 

Debby's debut novel JANE IN BLOOM (Dutton Children's Books) was honored by the Missouri Association of School Librarians with Third Place in the Truman Awards (2011-2012) and was chosen by Chicago Public Library as one of the Best of the Best Books of 2009.  JANE IN BLOOM was also selected by the Kansas National Education Association for the 2010 Kansas State Reading Circle Catalog.