Friday, December 30, 2011

2012 Goal List

I decided that this year instead of starting with my goals for the past year, that I should just look ahead for the next year. Sometimes it better to look forward rather than behind. There are so many possibilities in goals and that is what I want to see in 2012. Lots of possibilties. 


2012 Goals
  1. Finish revisions on KIN and submit.
  2. Write another novel.
  3.  Submit a short story for publication.
I decided that I want to make writing my biggest priority, and that is what I plan on doing.


Here are the results of my 2011 goals:

1)     Finish the rewrite of Kin and have it ready for submission by the end of the year.
I am on the fourth edits and will be doing major revisions next. I’m proud of what I have done so far with the time I have been given. So, you will be seeing new goals pertaining to this.

2)     Do a rewrite and edit of Beyond the Garden. Start writing book 2 in the series.
I am dragging my feet on what to do with this book. When I was talking to my mother about it, she gave me this look and said, “Don’t you dare change a thing.” If I do work on it again, there needs edits.

3)     Retile and remodel the bathrooms. Retile the laundry room.
We decided against making changes to the house due to some big changes we are planning for 2012 that I can't talk about here right now.

4)     Exercise at least 2 times a week. Find something I don't mind doing.
I did well at the beginning of the year, however, I kept having back pain no matter what I did. I went to the chiropractor and found out that I have disc degeneration in my lower back and arthritis. I am doing my best to find way to help relieve the pain (like getting a different work chair) before adding anything too demanding. Running and jogging are now off the table since it causes too much stress on me. Right now I am focusing on walking and yoga. However, I do love walking, so there is something! 

5)     Draw and paint something that I like.
While in San Diego, I sat in a class taught by my artist friend and did a sketch of two fish. I love it. This is something that I would like to keep pursuing.

6)     Plan a trip to Japan (Kyoto and Tokyo), Disneyland, and New York City.
Went to all of those places, as well as San Diego. I wrote blog posts on each of them. Just click on the cities to read about the trips.

7)     Re-read some of my favorite authors.
Tamora Pierce and Shannon Hale are my end of the year reads while I rewrite.

8)     Write at least one book review a month.
That just didn’t happen. I am thinking book reviews are not a priority for me. Unless I completely am in love with it. 


I think what I have discovered about this year is what I should really focus my time on. As I always say, to keep moving on forward.


Natasha

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

East Coast Side Trip


It seems like an odd thing to go from the West Coast to East Coast in one trip (while being one from the Midwest). We just figured since we are on vacation, why not combine them? We wanted to see our friend in San Diego, but New York City was on our Want To Visit list. It wasn’t that crazy since we have travel quite a bit.

Talking to people about our trip, people were concerned about us getting around the city. I had to laugh and comfort them by saying it will be easy. We visited Japan earlier that year, and with the language barrier and the size of Tokyo, NYC didn’t scare me one bit. I never thought that would be possible, but it is the truth. 

Here are some of things we saw in New York City:

We liked eating here so much that we ate at the Peace Cafe twice! Tasty vegan food.
Check out their website.

The 9/11 Memorial was so strange. It was so quiet even though there were drummers
at Occupy Wall Street. When looking at the water, it is like people walking.

30 Rock! My favorite building in NYC.

On top of 30 Rock. Yep, that is the Empire State Building.

A collection of The Legend of Zelda in the Nintendo Store. It is my husband's
favorite video game series. I walked down the aisle at our wedding to
the orchestrated theme song.

Went to the amazing Jim Henson exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image.

Love, love this park. We ate some scones we bought at the Peace Cafe
and relaxed here before heading to Barnes and Noble.

Caught Terry Pratchett at the Tribeca Barnes and Noble. 

Related blog post:
West Coast Side Trip

Natasha

Thursday, December 15, 2011

2011 Favorite Books: Daughter of Smoke and Bone, The Night Circus


Daughter of Smoke and Bone 
by Laini Taylor

“Love is a luxury." 
"No. Love in an element."

An element. Like air to breathe, earth to stand on.

I hadn’t read any of Laini Taylor’s books before, but after this one, I wanted them all. I surprised myself since I had grown tired of the contemporary paranormal/fantasy/andsoforth that has taken over the shelves of YA. This stemmed from reading a few books that I didn’t enjoy as much as I had hoped, but also learning more about my own preferences. I am now taking more caution in more reading samples before I buy or borrow them.  

I will admit that the beginning of the book wasn't the strongest part, but the thing is, that is the weakest that we see the character. There is so much ahead of her that she doesn’t even know. Curiosity of Karou is what drew me in—blue hair that grew straight out of head, sketches of “creatures” in her notebooks, and living a double life among the human in Prague and her sketches are portraits of her real family.


In this double life, we learn the answers to all the secrets kept from Karou. How there is a battle between seraphim and chimera, portals to other places, and a love story fighting against all odds.  All of this is written in poignant prose and sprawling imagination that makes reading the novel worth every moment.

The Night Circus 
by Erin Morgenstern

“The finest of pleasures are always the unexpected ones.” 

This book is like a black and white dream. There is a change of point of view throughout the story, but it is effective. It starts in second person where you take in the view of everything in front of you, and it transitions to the characters within. The way the characters resembles those stuck in a play, with each having their cue to come in and perform their part. What we see is behind the scenes, looking into their lives.

When I heard that this was going to be a challenge between the two main characters, I assumed that it would be more like the Hunger Games. They would show their abilities in the rings and their challenge would be hurting the other. The challenge was more than that--- intricate, long-lived, and a deeper part of the circus. Celia and Marcus are trained from a young age for something that they don’t even know the rules. The mysterious game touches the circus audience and the performers. The circus invokes desires that cause them to dream, to inspire, and to live. 


Those are the two books that I plan to read again and again that premiered in 2011. Are there any books that you discovered 


Natasha

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Writing Challenge (NaNoWriMo) Afterthoughts

It is hard to believe that another NaNoWriMo has passed. I completed my personal writing challenge a week early. Here are some of the things I learned:

  • What goals works? 250 words is a decent goal and I gave myself a day off a week. It doesn’t take long to write, and I can always write more. The words add up over time and it is a good way to keep building my skills when I’m busy. I love NaNoWriMo, but the 1667 words a day is hard to keep up with when I have a full time job.
  • Confidence. I feel better when I write. When I go to sleep that night, I know that I have done something instead of overwhelming guilt.
  • Day or night? I like writing in the morning. Evening tends to be more realistic
  •  Obvious distractions. I always have a drink by my side and eat beforehand (I don’t tend to snack). Social networking that I am writing or editing reminds me if I go on there too long after I announce it, then it is a sign that I’m doing the opposite (shame sometimes works).
  • Go out. It is easy to stay in now since winter is here in North Dakota. I did my best by going out to the local bookstore once a week to play bit of catch up with no distractions. It is nice to treat myself to a drink, too. 
  • Prompts. I hope to use what I wrote in November to possibly create an outline for a MG novel. One of the things that I liked is when I wrote a scene, I always had more to say at the end. They just weren’t ready yet. I would write down a few suggestions or unused ideas to use as prompts for the next day.
I am going to admit, I had this hope that I could figure out my process a bit more. I listened to an amazing panel with authors Neil Gaiman and Connie Willis where they talked about how every time they wrote a new work, the process was always different. It might be a frustrating thought, but at the same time, it keeps writing new and exciting. (I suggest watching the video. There is so much information that is helpful for all writers. Scroll down in the blog post to find the link.)

Another piece of advice that I found from one of my favorite authors, Shannon Hale, also talks about the challenges of writing: 

"Sometimes I wish writing a book could just be easy for me at last. But when I think about it practically, I am glad it's a struggle. I am (as usual) attempting to write a book that's too hard for me. I'm telling a story I'm not smart enough to tell. The risk of failure is huge. But I prefer it this way. I'm forced to learn, forced to smarten myself up, forced to wrestle. And if it works, then I'll have written something that is better than I am."

Congrats to all the fellow writing challengers and NaNoWrimo participants!

Natasha

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why I Decided on a Smaller Word Count

I am on Day 15 of the 250 word/day challenge. I have reached almost 5000 out of my 6500 total goal for the month.  I am really happy with the progress that I have made so far. I only have a few more days to go!

What are the reasons why I decided on writing a smaller word count this November?

The need to write
I’ve been working on the same novel for quite some time. I want to try out something new. Yes, I have short stories written. I think it is just time to do something longer.

NaNoWriMo
I haven’t participated since I started KIN. This year, I wanted to join in. I knew that there was no way that I could meet the 1,667 words/day. So I decided I wanted to do something different this year.

A simple blog post.
I follow author Diana Peterfreund’s blog and there was a blog post from a reader asking how she finds time to write. Her point is to even write in smaller increments (such as a page a day) can add up to something in the end. So I found a writing challenge that fit that from over at InkyGirl where you can pick how much you can accomplish.

Motivation
I wanted to try a new way to write. I’m a seat by the pants writer, but I want to outline a bit more. I felt that if I wrote just a little bit and take what I have to form an outline. I think it is worth experimenting.

Sometimes life does get in the way, but there is no reason to let it every day. If you have the passion or drive, you have to invest time in your craft. It might take some experimenting, but you will find your groove. Now go out there and find your ambition!

Natasha

Friday, November 11, 2011

West Coast Side Trip

My husband Joey and I decided that we wanted to visit San Diego and our good friend (and artist) Sue Dawe this year. I really wanted to attend the Halloween Party at Disneyland so we decided on going in October. Here are my favorite highlights of the trip.

I heard a lot about this bookstore online. I actually bought books from them when I went to author signings at San Diego Comic Con back in 2009. When we went to the store, I didn't realize how much more amazing it is when you go there in person. They describe themselves as "genre store specializing in science fiction, mystery, fantasy, and horror" and they have a list of different authors that stop by every month to sign books. The night we went, Neal Stephenson was stopping into promote his new book, Reamde. The author also happens to be one of the favorite authors of our good friend and catsitter, Brandon. We ended up coming back to the store to get our catsitter a signed book. One of the other thing we learned at the store is that if you buy e-books through the Google Books, Mysterious Galazy can earn a percentage of the sale. I was so deeply impressed. I have totally decided that this is the best independent bookstore I have ever visited.
Kermit, Miss Piggy, a pirate, a Jedi, and
a Starfleet officer go to Disneyland...

Joey and I attended the Christmas party at DisneyWorld last year and fell completely in love with it. I am not one for the holiday, but it helped my spirit (we went to celebrate our 5 year wedding anniversary). When I found out about the Halloween party, I knew that we had to attend. It worked out really, really well. Our friends have been going to Disneyland all of their lives and never before were able to go into the park in costume. Our friends are big into dressing up, and so they were acting like little kids that they were finally going to be breaking one of the rules so it was great to see the joy they were getting from it. Joey and I picked out easy costumes for travel and ended up going as Kermit and Miss Piggy. I shouldn't go on too much about Disneyland, but really, it is worth every penny to go to these holiday events. There are fewer people and it really gets you into the spirit.

Sue took us to Seaport Village and I completely fell in love with it. I am not a shopper, but these little places all have their own charm and specialties. You never know what you are going to find in the next place you step into and there is another bookstore that I really enjoy there called Upstart Crow. We ate supper at one of the places along the water as the sun set and took a walk along the paths under the full moon. Very lovely.

We visited La Jolla the last time we were in San Diego and I really wanted to go again. There is just something peaceful about the different walking paths and watching the sea life. It feels a bit less part of the city to me and almost exotic (remember, I am from the Midwest). I love it there! 

San Diego really impressed me this time on our trip and I can't wait to go there again. We didn't make it again to the zoo, the Japanese Friendship Garden, or Balboa Park, but I am sure we will get to those places again in the future. 

That is the first part of our trip. My next blog post will be about our first visit to New York City. Yes, we went from our home in the Midwest to the West Coast and then over to the East Coast. We just asked ourselves, "Why not?" 

Natasha


Related Posts:
East Coast Side Trip

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Taking a Different Approach to Writing

Without risking failure, maybe even running headlong into it, there’s no chance for discovering something new and beautiful. –Sara Zarr

I’m not just in the first week of a writing challenge, but in the first week of writing discovery. It is the start of a new way of writing for me and it could change the way I do writing.
Sophie decided that I needed to take a
break from editing.

KIN is nearing three years of work. I am in the revision portion of the novel and balancing it with this new project. Looking back, I decided that writing was the easiest part of Kin. The struggle that I am having with is with revisions. When it comes to revision, readers are one of the most important resources and I found amazing critique partners. However, I am still in the part where I am holding it close to myself and scared to let it go. I am almost there to give the full manuscript to read, but not quite yet.

This new novel, I wanted to approach it differently from the lessons that I have learned about my writing style. I decided I want more of an outline, but I also provide the freedom of exploration. I have a small idea, but decided to go with it during NaNoWriMo month. I am letting ideas flow and writing in 250-500 word spurts to get to know my characters, the setting, and the conflicts. When I have about 6,000-10, 000 words, I am going to sit down and form that outline.  What I have learned in just the first 3,000 words will really help in forming this into a fun middle grade book and possibly help with my future revision process.

I recognize the failures in my writing process. I can actually see the ways that I have grown and that gives me the strength to keep moving. Everything I write isn’t the best thing ever, but that doesn’t matter. It is proof that I am a daredevil in my own way.

Make sure to visit the link where I snagged my quote. Bookmark it for when you feel down or you want something different from the Ira Glass video.

And that, people, is my NaNoWriMo pep talk.

Natasha
  

Monday, October 31, 2011

All Hallows Story

Thought I would share the inspiration for my NaNoWriMo project this year since it fits the Hallowe'en feel. Hope you enjoy it!


Most children have monsters in their closets. They may appear fuzzy and harmless enough, but their true nature always appears with glowing eyes, lolling tongues, and the needle sharp teeth. They feed off fear, but there have been no casualties yet.

I am not one of those children. I used to rest in my bed, staring up at the shadow shifting ceiling, waiting for anything to give me that thrill. I wanted to clutch my blanket and relish the unrelenting pounding of my heart. Instead, I would wake up in the morning to the simple songbird that had a nest near my bedroom window. All appeared well in my world.

Soon, I was too old. There wasn’t a monster that would want a child my age. I would think of the other children in my first days of school. They didn’t have enough sleep judging from the weight of their eyelids, or when they happened to jump at any little sound. I would ask them questions, but not enough for them to suspect that I was monsterless.

“My monster won’t let me dream. Are dreams real?” one girl asked.

“My monster sits at the foot of my bed and tears the pages out of my books. The teachers don’t care when I tell them it ate my homework. They tell me to hide it better,” a boy told me once at the bus stop.

“They like their reflection in my mirror,” I would lie.

© Natasha M. Heck


Happy Hallowe'en!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Different Kind of NaNoWriMo Challenge


It almost November, the month of pie and breaking out the winter jacket. It is also the month of NaNoWriMo!

I haven’t participated in NaNoWriMo for the past few years for various reasons that I don’t need to babble on about because this sentence is already long enough, right? The thing I am focusing on is now and what I can do this year. I want to participate since I would like to do a bit of writing and attend the write-ins with my local writers. However, I know that I am unable to do the full word count and keep up with the daily 1,666 goal. I need something smaller, and less manageable.

That is when I found out about InkyGirl’s Challenge. It can be done any time of the year, and it is perfect for what I can do while revising my novel, working a full time job, and being in denial about the weather. I can stay involved with NaNoWriMo, accomplish some writing, and possibly start another fun project. I am already using the free Windows trial of Scrivener to begin a bit of outlining, create characters, and imagine the settings. I usually don’t plan this far ahead, and am terrible at sticking to outlines, but that will not spoil this creativity.

I encourage people to do something this November. If a challenge seems to big, why not try something that you think you can do? Don’t become discouraged, but just break out. It is a great exercise to help find your way.

Natasha

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Horror Movie List

Every October, we love to bring out the horror movies more than any other month. Where we live, October tends to live up to the atmosphere to watch horror movies with cool weather, scattering leaves, and cloudy days. I love the neighborhood that we live in right now with all the big old houses with many untold stories. Right down the block, on the corner, is one of the best houses to imagine a horror movie taking place. It is never lit up, and it almost stares back at you with its tall windows.

I don't know why we enjoy horror movies. It might take us out of our safety zone, but it has us ask ourselves the big question: What would I do in that situation? Or better yet, Would I do that

One of my friends asked recently for some horror movies that he might not have seen. I thought I would share the ones I told him about and maybe include a list of some other goodies. Click on the links to watch the trailers.

1) Mr. Vampire- We found out about this movie from The Onion AV Club. It is a Hong Kong comedy horror. Once you see the trailer, you will see why my husband had to watch this movie. (Spoiler after this point). Hopping vampires that can't see you if you hold your breath. It is odd, and not traditional, but it is meant to be campy fun.

2) Ravenous- Another black comedy/horror movie set in 1840s California. The scary element of this story is cannibalism. They have two great actors, Robert Carlyle and Guy Pierce, headlining the 1999 film.

3) The Troll Hunter This is a new favorite among my friends. It is available right now on Netflix Instant. It is a Norwegian mockumentary of movies that we have been seeing, but is really, really good. It bears the question that I see coming up that CGI isn't as scary as puppets we have seen in the past. However, this movie uses the elements that puppet monster movies do and makes it work for me.

4) The Host- This has nothing to do with Stephenie Meyer's book. This is a South Korean film monster flick. It follows a family who is thrust into the middle of these events, and I was deeply impressed when the credits rolled. Out of all the films listed here, this one is definitely my favorite of the bunch and I would watch it again!

Do you have any movies to add to this list? We are always looking for new ones to watch and share with friends.

Natasha


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Taking the (Writing) Challenge

I've returned from my wonderful vacation to San Diego/Disneyland/NYC with my mind refreshed and ready to tackle my writing/editing. I don't think I can put in the effort that I would like to see in NaNoWriMo, but decided to take a smaller challenge. Over at Inkygirl, she came up with the idea that can be used anytime of the year where you can chose to write 250, 500, or 1000 words a day. The rules are pretty much up to the writer, but helps with motivation to have goals. Be sure to check out the challenge page with the "rules" and different word trackers.

Before I left on our adventures, I finished up doing the small editing in my manuscript. I have an idea of things that I want to change during the revision. There were a few ideas that I need to strengthen that finally came together. I also finally drew out a map of my character's world in Rockefeller Center in NYC while we waiting for the rain to stop. I have a notebook that I doodle notes, sketches, and tape in pictures that I took with me everywhere. I can't wait to page through it to rediscover the directions this novel needs to undertake.

Anyone else doing or have done NaNoWriMo or other challenges?

Natasha

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Winner of the All Hallow's Read Contest

Today is October 1st so that means the All Hallow's Eve Contest has ended. I used a Random Number Generator to decide, and the winner is of an Audible version of The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is....

Cory Putnam Oakes!

Congrats to Cory and thank you all for entering my very first contest on my blog!

I also want to point out that a month from today, on November 1st, Cory will be releasing her first book, The Veil. I know that I will pick it up the first chance that I get! Go over to her website to learn more.

Thanks again everyone! Remember to celebrate All Hallow's Read with your family and friends and to keep an eye out on the blog for a few upcoming book reviews and contests.

Natasha

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Why I own a Nook and not a Kindle

I remember when the Nook was first announced. Until that point, I didn't even bat an eye in the direction of e-books. I didn't feel ready yet, and I didn't like the Kindle because they use their own own file format (mobi). E-pub is the standard file format for e-books (recommended by the International Digital Publishing Forum and used pretty much by everyone else). I have seen it cause problems with libraries sharing their books and some online services that provide Advance Reader Copies. If music can have a standard file format of MP3 of the music industry, there is no reason why e-book readers shouldn't follow in the same direction.

That is the reason why I decided not to buy a Kindle. I know that it is a game changer and can be seen as the Coke of e-readers, but that doesn't mean it is better. I love my Nook and enjoy reading e-books. The reason why I bought it is because it is an Android device and I knew there were good things to come from it like apps. Sure, the new Kindle has Android on it, but it is a special version of it. You can only use the Amazon Market and there are app you won't find from their Android store (ex: Gmail). It is sad that they are limiting their potential of what they can do for their users when it is so easy for them to do so much more. 

I'm a huge supporter of Android and Amazon. I think there is good in what Amazon has created in regards to the book industry. However, I just can't look past the e-pub and some of the choices they are making. I will keep an eye out for what they continue to do in the future, but for now, I am still enjoying my Nook.

Natasha


Reminder: if you comment on this blog post with your e-mail address, you can enter my All Hallow's Read Contest that ends 10/1/11

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Jim Henson Inspires


"Inspired by his gentleness, we'll fill the world with gentleness. Inspired by his vision, we'll fill the world with vision. Inspired by his chicken imitation, we'll fill the world with laughter"-Jocelyn Stevenson on Jim Henson

When my husband and I planned our wedding back in 2005, we wanted to add all different types of touches to it. We had kitties as our cake toppers, The Legend of Zelda theme as I walked down the aisle, a Jedi styled wedding dress (that happened by accident), and even Muppet and Disney stamps on our wedding invitations. In our wedding book, we have one of the stamps of Jim Henson. His works has become one of the geeky things we have bonded over (and still do), but he is also an inspiration to both of us. His projects and vision bring out the kids in us and challenges us to hold onto our imagination.

Thank you, Jim Henson. Your life has helped so many lives in bringing so much joy. We will pass this onto our kids and hold it in our hearts as a special gift. You have influenced so many people, and it is a thrill to see how many live as you did with kindness, courage, and creativity.

Image of the Google Doodle in honor of Jim Henson
Check YouTube for people having fun with song


Natasha


Reminder: If you comment on this post with your e-mail, you have a chance to win an audio book from my All Hallow's Read contest that ends 10/01/11.

Always a Dreamer

I have always been a dreamer.  Even as a teenager, I would write down my yearly goals and tape them to the bottom of my unicorn glitter globe to look at on New Year’s Eve. There is this part of me that always wants more.  

There are two obstacles that I struggle with year after year.

Focus
Sometimes it is difficult to figure out where I should really put my energy. Sometimes every day things just get in the way. Sometimes I end up putting energy into the wrong things. Sometimes, the goal won’t work or it just needs more time

      Time
      I could make a full list of things that I do with my time, but really, you don’t  want to read about that. This reasons is more than obvious.

The solution to this problem is figuring out time management. Where should I focus my time so I can use it to achieve my true dreams?


If you have read my blog before, you know the one dream that I have worked hardest at is become a writer. I feel like I am always learning and sometimes that the next part of the path is no where in sight. I just keep trekking along the highway to see the same prairie landscape that I know so well. I want to be finally ready enough to do something new like climb a mountain or swim in the ocean. I don't mind the prairie, but I want a bit of change.

Different quotes speak to me lately that confirm that this is the direction that I need to go. 

Examples:

‎"I believe we form our own lives, that we create our own reality, and that everything works out for the best. I know I drive some people crazy with what seems to be ridiculous optimism, but it has always worked out for me."
-Jim Henson

"Anything's possible if you've got enough nerve." -J. K. Rowling

"Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it." -Bill Cosby

"In a sky full of people, only some want to fly. Isn't that crazy?" -Seal

‎"A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world."  -Oscar Wilde 


Are you seeing the same things when it comes to your dreams? Have they taken longer than you have liked for you to succeed?


(Reminder: if you comment on this blog post with your e-mail address, you can enter my All Hallow's Read Contest that ends 10/1/11)

Natasha

Thursday, September 15, 2011

All Hallow's Read Contest

If you haven't heard the news, there is a new Hallowe'en tradition. It is cleverly titled All Hallow's Read. It all started with a blog post by author Neil Gaiman to give books or comics for Hallowe'en. Not just any books, but scary books and comics.

With that in mind, I figured nothing is scarier than a story read aloud. Imagine sitting around a campfire or fireplace, a hot drink like hot chocolate cupped in your hands, a soft blanket spread across your lap while listening to something that can give you the shivers.

Doesn't that sound like fun? I thought you would like it.

I am giving away an Audible book for All Hallow's Read and the book that I chose is....

The Graveyard Book read by the author himself, Neil Gaiman


To Enter:
  • Leave a comment on any of my blog posts with your e-mail address by October 1st, 2011
Contest is closed The contest will end at midnight on October 1st, 2011.

Now go enter and remember to celebrate All Hallow's Eve!

Natasha

Past Neil Gaiman related posts:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Balancing Writing and Life

All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.
-TE Lawrence

My goals change with what is going on in my life. Over the past year, I have made decisions to help push myself forward with my writing. I am now facing a challenge with juggling that with an upcoming life changing event over the next year After reading Michelle Zink's blog post about her path to publication, I realized more than ever that I needed to do more. I can no longer use excuses and let things get in the way of my dream. I have to find balance or decide what to sacrifice.

Social media has become one of the things that can easily take up my time. I am finding ways to manage it while still remaining active since I am looking at working with local businesses over the next year. I am creating small goals so I can learn more about it while not letting it take over all my spare time. If it does start to do so, I know that I will have to do something different.

I am going to start getting out of the house and going to the local Atomic Coffee, Barnes and Noble, or library to spend some quiet time alone with my writing. I am looking forward to these outings since I haven't done them as intense as I did in college, and it might do me some good. The way to get writing accomplished is to just do it. It requires time and patience--- and lots of dedication.

It is just time for me to push myself a little bit harder over the next few months during the editing and revision process so I can become closer to finishing my novel. I have gone through the first five chapters of my WIP and am enjoying the shape that it is taking. I handed over the pages over to my husband to read while I move forward with the rest of it. I know that he will challenge me if I need it, which is exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. (How did I find such a wonderful guy?)

There is a short story that I gave to my critique group that I keep adding a bit to that I am completely in love with for some reason. It is so different so we shall see where that leads me.

If anything, I am going to post it here in the future. I am taking a short hiatus from the blog until this my novel edit is complete. I don't want to use this space as a distraction. When I return, I will have book reviews, updates on my process, and my very first book contest!
Keep an eye out for me and feel free to drop a line!

Natasha

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mystical Horizons: A 21st Century Stonehenge in North Dakota

Before my bed, the moonlight shines,
Could it be the frost, covering the ground?
I raise my head, look at the bright moon,
I set back, and think of my native land.

                             -Li Bai


We took a road trip this past weekend to see my parents. It is long five hour drive through the middle of North Dakota (we drove through the Geographical Center of North America in Rugby) and end up just miles away from the International Peace Gardens. It is a beautiful drive in the summer time, especially right before harvest, with golden fields of wheat, lots of greenery, and varieties of colorful wild flowers. I grew up in a small town in the middle of nowhere, and after miles of driving and relaxing by the lake, it brought back a lot of memories of summer in the country.

My mother and I went to garage sales in the morning and my dad took Joey to buy a new DVD player. When we met up again for lunch at the house, Joey mentioned that he was going to take me somewhere that evening. He wouldn't give me any clues, and I didn't even know what to guess. We spent the rest of the day eating, going out with the paddle boat and pontoon, before eight in the evening rolled around and we were on the road heading somewhere mysterious.


We ended up at a place with a stone sign reading "Mystical Horizons". Since it is lake country, for all I knew, it was another lake addition. We drove up a hill and parked to find stone markers that were placed similarly to those at Stonehenge (which we toured in 2008) where the sun will stream through the stones during the solstices. The plaque that explained this mystifying place to me, told me it was built as a "21st Century Stonehenge". Unlike the real Stonehenge that is surrounded by rolling hills and sheep, this one is placed on the top of one of the Turtle Mountains that overlooks miles of North Dakota prairie and highway. It was a sunny day out, not too hot or too cold, and the sun was high enough for us to wander around to get some pictures and enjoy the last moments of daylight as cows mooed conversations in the distance. We rested on one of the big rocks to watch the sky turn colors, the sun a blazing orange as it sank into the horizon.


Other people showed up to watch the sunset and they pointed out the rising full moon behind us. It was magical seeing the exchange between the two opposites as one rose and one fell. As this happened, coyotes gave out some spine tingling howls that brought back a memory of them scaring me out of my wits while walking to the bus as a kid. This time it just added something special to the moment.

We stayed long enough for the first stars to come out before we headed back to the house to make malts on an old fashioned machine that my great aunt Veronica used at the local Dairy Queen years ago.

It wasn't until today that I realized that one of the main scenes in my book happens during the sunset and moon rise, and at the same time of year. I must remember to thank my dad again for suggesting that Joey should take me.


Just wanted to share this moment and the pictures. There are just those moments in your life where things just click or make sense, and the day that we went to the real Stonehenge and the Tor in Glastonbury was one of those days. It is odd that one of those other days ended up being at this "21st Century Stonehenge" in my home state.

Recommendations
Check out this blog post I found where Jack Olson's son talks about his father's vision of this wonderful site.
If you want to see all our photos, check out my Picasa photo album.
My husband Joey put together a panorama view. Warning: you will need a high end browser to view.

Natasha

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Pearls of Wisdom: Laurie Halse Anderson on Daring the Universe

I read through The Official SCBWI Conference Blog to soak up some of the gems from the attendees. One of my favorites was about the keynote address by Laurie Halse Anderson where she quotes T.S Eliot's Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:


Do I dare disturb the universe? 


She talked about how she believes that art disturbs the universe and artists dare to create. She spoke of her own experience of writing and how it is important to just go out there and walk the path of creativity. She used a quote from Bruce Coville that also stuck out to me:                                  

When you get to the edge of a cliff, jump. If you don’t jump, you’ll never grow wings.



These two thoughts go together so very well. They both talk about how we can shake up our lives by taking risks and challenges that will help us grow as people. It isn't just about getting published, or becoming famous, or signing autographs. It is about finding ourselves and using our creativity to become who we are meant to be, and most of all, to have fun while doing it.


Natasha

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Benefits of Amazing Writing Critique Partners

1) Critique partners can see things from a different angle. They can give you that extra edge, tell you when things don't work, or give you a high five for something you didn't realize you even did. For example, I wrote a story and I had somehow combined three senses into one sentence. It just happened, and my partner loved it.

2) They know how to look out for you. They will give it to you straight, but at the same time, they tell you in a way they would want you to tell them. I have found out over time that my descriptions are my strong suit-- most of the time. I need to work on action scenes and words. It might be hard for a partner to give it to you straight, but in the long run, this improved my writing and editing. Before I hand it into them, I heed their previous advice.

3) They can suggest helpful resources. There are tons of books, podcasts, magazines and so forth that assist writers. My group has a discussions about what we have found over the past month from the latest episode of a podcast or our current book reads. If we are confused about punctuation, we pull out the Chicago Manual of Style to decide what we should use in different circumstances. These discussions have helped us decide on what we think of different resources and push ourselves to utilize them. I, for example, use Twitter as an every day to keep up with the latest news while my partners listen to the Writing Excuses podcast. If there is something we really want to share (for example: websites like 750 Words), we send the links to each other via our Yahoo! Group.

4) Insight into different writing processes. Our group consists of "seat of the pants" writers where we have an idea, sit down, and see where it goes. I have a partner outside of the group who has a detailed outline before writing her novels. We each have our own way of bringing out our stories and it is enlightening to find out how we came up with an idea or how it just happened. Editing and revision have become a bigger part of our process than we might have realized before so there are a lot of steps and lessons we have each overcome to develop our stories. Having people in my corner as I have struggled with some of these challenges has given me more strength to keep moving forward.

5) They are one of the best tools to grow as a writer. Have you noticed that all of the points before lead to growth? Critique partners benefit each other by helping improve each other's quality of writing. They are the cheerleaders, the challengers, the teachers, the editors, the wordsmiths, the students, and, of course, friends that we need to get us to where we want to go. 

Here's to the amazing critique partners! Especially my own (Kris, Paul, and Rhiannon!). 

After writing all of this, it makes me wonder if we need Writing Critique Partner Day?

Natasha
Comic used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

How to Start a Local Writing Critique Group

It was until after college that I realized how important revision and feedback really is when it comes to good writing. I had the impression over the years that with a few tweaks and suggestions, stories were good to go. Boy, did I learn about the revision the hard way.

When writing my first novel, I only had family and friends read my WIP. I was shy of posting my work onlineand was really looking at their reactions. I am thankful for their input, but I needed more to grow as a writer.

After finishing my third WIP, I decided that I needed to find other writers in the community. I write in the science fiction/fantasy/paranormal/horror genre and I knew that the current writer's group in town wouldn't cut it since most writers I come across "don't get it". They read fantasy with different expectations since they are more "literary" writers, and their comments were far from helpful or understanding. I wanted to avoid that atmosphere and searched out for writers who would "get it".

It has been a year since I have put together Stone Circle Writer's Group and I am very happy that I took the initiative to start my own writer's group. At first it was a bumpy road with trying to figure out what to do. How do I find other people? What rules do we want to enforce? How often do we meet? Does it matter that we have different goals? There was a learning curve for the first six months as we dealt with these issues, and after that it has been smooth sailing.

How to Start a Local Writing Critique Group

1) Finding Critique Partners-- It wasn't too hard for me to find people. I volunteer as a con chair for a local science fiction and fantasy convention, Core Con. I was able to throw something up on the Facebook group to ask for local people to contact me. I created a Google Doc submission form so I could easily keep track of willing participants. I wanted the form to reflect their goals and to help determine if we were all on the right page. Another way to find people is to check out Meetup, reaching out to other local related groups (book clubs), or posting it at your local bookstores, cafes, or even the library.

2) Creating Guidelines-- This was one of the hardest things to come up with after a few meetings. We realized after examining our own writing that we didn't want to spend time helping people structure their paragraphs or dialogue. It was important that people came in with those strong writing skills so we could focus on critique than teaching. It was decided if people wanted to join, we needed to read a piece of their writing to determine that they were a good fit. Creating these guidelines was difficult since we didn't want to alienate anyone down the road by destroying their self confidence, but at the same time, we didn't want to hamper our own progress.

3) Expectations-- Developing expectations of the group is no different than when a professor hands out their syllabus at the beginning of the term. It is a way for people to know what they need to do to not just pass the class, but hopefully grow during their time spent there. We determined that attendance and participation is a very important part of being part of a critique group. Since we started, every month we each have handed in a piece of work whether it was new, revised from a previous submission, or from a writing exercise.

Communication is another factor that keeps our group closely knit. We use the Yahoo! Groups to send out reminders, share relevant articles or advice, and post our pieces of work. If we are having a problem, we go to the group and they give their support. Creating writing goals together has really helped us all in finding out what direction we want to take with our own personal goals.

Another form of communication is how we explain to each other what we like and dislike about each other's writing. I had a few forms from college that I custom tailored to point out points such as voice, plot, setting, and so on. As we became more familiar with each other's writing style, we are able to point out "don't use so many this" or "you need a bit more description here". Don't say anything harsh that you wouldn't want to hear. Remain supportive to your team players and don't hesitate to offer suggestions.

4) Critique Submission Guidelines-- One way to keep your work professional is by treating it that way. When we hand in our submissions, we follow manuscript guidelines as we would if we submitted it to an agent or publisher. Also, we need to determine in Yahoo! Groups whose is what so we have to submit with our initials, date, and name of the piece. During various revisisions, this proves helpful to have a backlog posted so a critique member can go back and do a comparison if they choose.

5) Minutes-- I created a Google Site for the group that has all the documents for the previous information above. Our minutes include what we critiqued and the various discussions we undertook that month (sometimes with related links). It is a nice reflection of how far we have come and proof that we are a dedicated group. It gives me a sense of pride looking back over the past year to see how far we have traveled in our writing. The Yahoo! Groups is kept private, so having a website is a good place to direct people to learn more about our writing critique group and to read samples of our work.

The biggest thing to keep in mind when building your group:  It isn't about having the same goals, but having similar passion and commitment towards writing. Not everyone wants to become a published author, but want to explore this as a hobby. Some people want to write every day, while others are Sunday writers. Those are personal goals, but having this as a group goal helps everyone win.

It took me quite a bit of research and input from my amazing critique partners (who this whole endeavor wouldn't have succeeded as it had, so a big thank you!) to come up with these conclusions. I did some research online, but the search didn't provide results I desired. I hope that it you decide to start a group, that these points are helpful on your journey.

I am quite fortunate that I found such committed critique partners and that we have become such good friends. We have come a long way, haven't we?

Be sure to keep an eye out for my blog post on the reflection of the past year and what benefits that I have gained after creating Stone Circle.

Natasha


Comic used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com


Currently... Update Edition

It's ridiculous how long it's been since I've updated here. Life seemed to pick up and fly. I decided maybe the best way to upda...