a favorite mom from literature

ONCE upon a time there were four little Rabbits,

and their names were —

Flopsy,

Mopsy,

Cotton-tail,

and Peter.

They lived with their Mother in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a very big fir tree.

“NOW, my dears,” said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, “you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.”

“NOW run along, and don’t get into mischief. I am going out.”

THEN old Mrs. Rabbit took a basket and her umbrella, and went through the wood to the baker’s. She bought a loaf of brown bread and five currant buns.

– The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter, 1902

I always loved it when my mom read Beatrix Potter to my sister and me, and then I loved reading them to my sister. It was a real treat in 2003 when we got to go to Beatrix Potter’s House in the Lake District of England. Her instructions to the National Trust were that her house should always look as if she had just stepped out and would be back home any minute, and that is just how it felt!

Thanks for all the great stories big and small, mom, and for a lifetime love of reading.

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if you love writing, do it

“If you love writing, do it, no matter what anyone says. There are people who have told me that The Rival is boring, stupid, pointless, and a waste of time. (And they are entitled to their opinion. It’s a free country.) But I love The Rival, and my sister Rebecca loves it, and you enjoyed it, too. That’s what’s important. If you write, someday someone will say your writing is bad. Don’t let their opinion – which they are entitled to! – come between you and the writing you love.

Next most important to writing a good book is to have a good story. A good story has at least the following three things:

  1. Something important to the main character must be at risk. For example, in The Rival, Bex’s big sister Beatrix has been kidnapped. Imagine if the story was just about Bex and Beatrix going to get ice cream on a sunny day, and the worst thing that happened was Bex dropped her cone on the ground. That would not be too interesting. A good story has risk and danger to something extremely important to the main character.
  2. The main character must have an important decision to make. In The Rival, Bex must decide whether to risk her life and career – and those of her close friends – to save her sister. And, once Beatrix is saved, she must decide whether to try to find a way to stop Dr. Andronicus. Imagine if the biggest decision Bex had to make was whether to have chocolate or vanilla ice cream. That is not too important and therefore not too exciting. A good story contains decisions that are hard to make and have big consequences.
  3. The main character must be changed in a meaningful way by the end. In The Rival, Bex starts out as a student, her biggest concern planning how to win the next Apian Dance competition. But by the end, Bex is the commander of the very small army that stands between the good people of the world and the evil schemes of Dr. Andronicus. She has to learn how to lead and be brave. Imagine if in The Rival, the biggest change that happened to Bex was that she decided she likes chocolate ice cream best. That’s not very meaningful. A good story shows how something important happened inside the heart of the main character.

Best of luck with your writing, and keep up the good work.”

I like this letter I wrote to a fan. So I shared it.

The chicken says “if you love writing, do it”.

Chicken by Lily, from Utah.

more like boogle

Google to Pull Plug on Indie eBook Selling

I can’t tell you how disappointed I was to read this headline. Google, to my mind, was making it at least possible – if not likely – for independent bookstores to succeed where independent record stores and video stores had failed. They could compete with Amazon.com on a level playing field with their Google partnership. I know they were having mixed success… and I know Google is a business and needs to make a profit… but still. To just give it the axe after only a year or so seems a little extreme.

The American Booksellers Association says they’ll have their own e-book product by the time Google’s program is discontinued in January of next year. But my expectations are not high. The kind of infrastructure required to compete with Amazon is something even Barnes & Noble is having a hard time doing. How will ABA create it from scratch in less than a year?

Call Google at one of their locations if you want to express your disappointment, or give them a ring at their headquarters 1.650.253.0000. I plan on doing this next week.

More to come.

eBooks: on fire

I thought I was being optimistic when I printed 100 flyers for my upcoming eBook DIY class at Writer House to pass out at today’s eBook session at Virginia Festival of the Book. Turns out, that wasn’t nearly enough. The class had to move from this room, which seated about 50 people:

To this room, which seated about 150:

And there were still people standing at the back. Wow! I talked with many people excited about eBooks, passed out all my flyers, and the flyer stash at the Writer House booth was quickly dwindling. So I’m more excited than ever about this class.

Two of the special guests who will be visiting the class were panelists at the session.

Mayapriya Long,  Owner, Bookwrights

“What works for a book cover doesn’t necessarily work for an eBook cover. Quotes don’t show up in a thumbnail. You can’t read subtitles. Simplify.”

“Discerning readers know when something is amateur.”

“Most covers are 600 x 800 pixels. The cover does not have to tell the whole story.”

Andy Straka, Author 

“I’m a ‘trindie’ author. Traditional + Indie gives you the most power to reach the broadest audience.”

“Writers: eBooks give you creative freedom. I was so drawn into an eBook I read recently that I didn’t know it was 600 pages long until I saw it later a bookstore.”

Needless to say, great stuff. I think everyone learned a lot from Mayapriya, Andy, and the other panelists. Myself included.

See you in class.

best of ireland: not on the map

I spent the summer of 2003 driving around Ireland, Scotland, and the north of England with my sister. The best parts of Ireland are the ones you can’t find on the map.

What you see in this picture in the lower right hand corner – where the grass is a little lighter – is literally the end of the road. On my old print map (since this was 2003, prior to the advent of the nav system), there is one word hovering in an ambiguous size, font, and placement, and in italics: Port. On Google maps, there’s nothing. Just drive due west from Ardara, Co. Donegal.

While in Ardara, we stayed at The Green Gate. I dream of going back. The smell of the peat fire in the hearth, the bathtub looking like it was filled with tea because of the peat, the thatched roofs and whitewashed walls. And that great Irish breakfast every morning.

We had to ask for directions about 20 times to find The Green Gate. The Irish aren’t terribly good at giving directions… what do you do with, “Oh, you can’t get there from here.”? But frankly, I look for any excuse to listen to the Irish talk, and they don’t need an excuse to begin. Perfect.

This was our trusty motor car. I can’t remember now if it was a Fiat, a Vauxhall, a Peugot, or what… but what I do remember is, if we didn’t tuck the side mirrors in when we entered a town, they would make a racket getting knocked back when I brushed a building. Village lanes in Ireland are tiny.

Can you tell that in this picture the car is filling up at the gas station? Yes, that is the gas pump. Outside the wine shop.

So, without further ado, here are some things my sister and I found while getting lost in the northwest of Ireland.

This waterfall:

This farmhouse:

These woolly sheep:

The road kept beckoning.

I’ve travelled all over the world. Seen all the continents except one, and even had a job offer in Antarctica. But there are few trips that I would love to relive day for day like my driving tour of Ireland with my l’il sis.

Oh, and – are you seeing this Trader Joe’s – part of the fun of travelling with my sister is the surprises that come out of her suitcase. Clearly I was enjoying this one.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

the rule of 10

The best thing I learned in screenwriting was The Rule of 10. Basically, if there is something that needs to happen in your story, come up with a list of 10 reasons why that thing happened. The first one will be cliche. The second one will be, too. The third will be pretty familiar. But by the time you’ve gotten to 10, you’ve come up with a couple of things that are pretty unique.

An example: in The Physicist (working title for the prequel to The Rival), Iago Andronicus’ brother Armando needs to be at the research station with Iago in Hawai’i. I did not use The Rule of 10. So my first thought was Iago and Armando grew up in a rough neighborhood, and Iago was getting Armando away from their abusive father. When I told my sister this on the phone, she was like “Ug! Cliche! Racist! Forget about it.” She was right.

This has been percolating for a couple of months now. The progression has been:

  1. Bad neighborhood / abusive father
  2. Orphaned in terrible car accident
  3. Distant, preoccupied parents usually send Armando to camp anyway
  4. Summer vacation
  5. Armando is interested in nature conservation
  6. There was a house fire, and while Iago was able to pull Armando out of the flames, the trauma has caused Armando to become withdrawn and uncommunicative. Perhaps a new setting will help him to recover.

I still haven’t made it to 10, but I really like #6 because, without giving too much away, there are some ways it ties nicely into not just the rest of the story arc for The Physicist, but The Emissary as well. I’ll still keep playing with this list. You get the idea.

So, how about some surf music?

a picture’s worth a thousand words

This bird is going to be in one of my stories someday:

There is just something really compelling and creepy about that steely head and those pointy claws. Love it.

The funny thing is, these birds are all over south Florida. I used to see them regularly at one of my favorite Coconut Grove dive bars, Scotty’s Landing. They would hang around the marina while the boats came and left, and try to steal my fish ‘n chips. But I only learned yesterday – thanks to stumbling across this photo on the internet – that this handsome little devil is a Boat-Tailed Grackle.