Thursday, November 10, 2011

Using "Big" Words - Like it or hate it?

I ask because I just found a historical fiction novel last night in my dad's store.  Naturally, I stole it up to my apartment and started reading because the beautiful artwork on the cover also contained the words "best-selling author."

Well, I consider myself to have a pretty decent vocabulary, and the author is using words that I've never even heard of before.  Part of it is that the story takes place barely post Revolutionary War and people talked differently back then, but any author or editor will tell you to use words that the audience will understand, or at least, if you're going to use unfamiliar words, use them in a way that makes their meaning clear.

That sadly isn't the case with this story.  Strangely enough, I'm actually enjoying the story and plan to finish all five hundred pages today.

So, what are your thoughts.  Do strange, big, "I opened up the thesaurus and pointed" words bother you when reading?  Do you dust off the dictionary and look them up, or just move on?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Getting Your Work Critiqued

Critique is important to every writer, whether or not we want to admit it.  We all need to know what other people think of our work.  What were they expecting?  Is that what they got?  Was there anything they simply didn't understand?  Did they notice a giant gaping plot hole that you, as the writer, completely didn't see?  (that's happened to me before, so don't feel bad)

It's important to get decent critiques if you want to improve.  The best critiques often come from people who like to read, not people who like to write.  They tend to get into the meat and potatoes of the thing, whereas sometimes other writers stick to a more technical critique.  Both are useful, but hopefully a writer will recognize things like run-on sentences and missing commas during the editing process.  So, don't be afraid to ask someone who doesn't write to look at your work.

If you don't have anyone to ask in person, or are not comfortable asking someone in person (every writer is self-conscious sometimes.  Don't worry about it.) try an online forum.  If you critique other's work, likely they'll critique yours, and to top it off, you'll have all of their notes written down with references in your excerpt.  This kind of thing is invaluable when you're editing.

Oh, and the most important thing to remember: even if the critique seems harsh, it's to help you, not hurt you.  Don't let critiques hurt your feelings or kill your confidence.  A critique is given to help you improve, that's all. And let's face it, as writers, we never stop improving or learning.

There are places like the Absolute Write Water Cooler, which are huge and have tens of thousands of members, or if you prefer something smaller where you can actually network with other users and form relationships, drop me a line.  I can sneak you into a private forum (it's cool. I know the admin) and we'll have some fun together!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


This is the place.  He doesn't know me.  Probably never saw me before in his life. 

I stand still in the dirt, hands tugging at the loose strings on my jeans, pretending not to stare at the porch.  Cheii sits in his lawnchair, staring straight through me, just like before.  Only he doesn't remember me either.  Probably never saw me before in his life.  A gust of wind blows his silvery hair across his face.  He doesn't bat it away, but leaves it there, crossing in front of his nose, like the paintings you see of Red Indians in the old cowboy museums.  He wears the same plaid shirt I remember from the first time, and the same shredded jeans, and the same beat up leather boots. But he never saw me before in his life.

I stand and stare at the piles of rubble that Cheii dares to call wares.  Supposedly, he sells them, though I've never seen anyone stop at his shop.  The only reason I stopped here before was that I thought I might be able to talk to someone.

That worked out.

Finally, I work up the courage.  I am alone now, so it's all up to me.  No more Cole to egg me on.  I take a step forward and force a smile.  A horrible feeling of déjà vu sinks my stomach, but I grit my teeth and smile anyway.  I have to try.  What kind of person doesn't even try?

I grin and wave at the old man and his lawn chair.  He doesn't move.  I'm pretty sure he doesn't even blink.  Which is oddly comforting - it means he hates me in real life too. 

"Hi there," I call.  "I wonder if..."  This is exactly how it happened in the dream.

Cheii growls under his breath, raises a fist to me, and jerks himself out of his chair and up onto the porch.

Too close.  I don't like it.

" can help me," I finish, no louder than a mutter.  No one is listening anyway.

Cheii disappears into the darkness of the open door, because the house has only one window and it's always dark inside.  I feel myself making a face at him - sticking out my tongue.  Glad his back is turned. 

So close to before, but the dream feeling is gone.  I stand in the yard amidst the piles of junk.  I try not to stare at them, but I'm dying to know if they are the same piles of junk from my dream.  Probably not.

"Hi," a voice says.  "Sorry about that.  My grandfather is..."

"I know," I say without looking up.  "He doesn't like me."

"Hey," says the new voice.  "I..."  He hesitates, so I know it's him.  And I know he is about to rip my heart out, metaphorically speaking.  Or maybe not metaphorically.

I glance up, only peeking from behind my eyelashes for a second.  Silky black hair dripping over his shoulders, tattered red shirt and cut-off shorts, and the creamiest blue eyes I've ever seen.  And tall, so tall.  Like a giant, almost.  Except for the eyes, this is definitely him.  But in the dream, he was certainly not blind.

"Hi," I say.

Great opening line.

"I know you," he says, his brow furrowing.  "At least... well... I don't know.  You sound familiar."  He smiles.  "Sounds crazy, doesn't it?  Well, you wouldn't believe me if I told you why, so pretend I didn't say anything."

My mouth falls open.  This is how it works?  He remembers?  How can he remember when it didn't really happen?  But I remember...then again, it was my dream, or whatever you want to call it.

"Tommy?" I gasp.  "Tommy Longfeather?"

He shakes his head slowly, very slowly.  "It is you," he whispers.  "Claire."

I nod, then realize he can't see me.  He doesn't need to see me.

"You're real," he says.

I nod again.  I can't speak; words have left me.

"I knew you were," he says.  "They told me I was crazy, but I knew it.  How could I see you otherwise?"

"You see me?" I hiss.

He smiles.  "When I close my eyes.  It's like you're imprinted on the backs of my eyelids.  My eyes don't work, but I still see you."

"Wow."  It's more work than you think to force air out through a closed throat.  I can barely do it.

Tommy reaches out his hand.  His aim is a little off, but I take it anyway.  I remember how the bony, callused fingers felt in the dream.  They are exactly the same now.  And he holds on too tight, just like in the dream.  I am about to step forward when he suddenly jerks me into him, wraps his arms around me, and buries his face in my hair.

"I missed you," he says.  "Why didn't you come back, or whatever you want to call it?  It's been months."

"I don't know how it works," I admit.  "I don't know why I saw you one night and not the next or the next or the next."

I put my arms around him too and try to ignore the bones poking out from his ribcage and spine.  He is even skinnier than I thought.  And shaking, though whether it's from fear or excitement or shock or weakness I can't be sure.

"Then it's a good thing you came back for real," he laughs.

"You really are starving," I remark.  I don't mean to say it out loud, but I do.  Probably hurt his feelings.

"You really are rich," he says, still laughing.

"How can you tell?"

"Silk shirt."

I gather his shirt in my fists and hold on tight, because if I let go I might discover this is just another dream.  If it is, I don't want to wake up.

"Don't worry baby, I'm not going anywhere," he chuckles.

"Are we going to lunch?"  I try to sound cheery, not scared like I am.

"Are you buying?"


Monday, July 26, 2010


The first thing I see when I open my eyes is the bottle.  It sits on a table I don't recognize in a room I can't remember on a street I would swear I've never been to.  But I am here.

My head pounds.  The sound the blood makes as it pulses through my ears is a deafening roar that drowns out everything else.  That's okay.  I'm used to it.

I try not to move too much as I reach for the bottle and pour the burning tequila down my throat.  A bottle of aspirin has turned on its side on the little couch-side platform.  A few pills have spilled out.  I take four and wash them down with another healthy dose of the fiery stuff.

I'm pretty sure I woke up a few times before.  I remember feeling happy in the downstairs area, then someone offering me the bottle and me sucking at it like a baby.  From on top of me he laughed, and I laughed, and then my eyes closed again and I went away.  Something like that happened at least three times.

Now he is under me.  I feel him moving but he is still asleep.  Lucky him.  I close my eyes against the stark white light of morning and pray for the aspirin to take effect.  It doesn't.  My stomach heaves but it is mostly empty, so nothing comes out.  It just hurts. 

"Hey sweetheart, you're awake." 

I force my eyes open and squint down at the fuzzy brown thing in front of them.  It takes a few minutes for my vision to clear - I press my eyelids together a few times to help.  I press hard.  Finally, the fuzzy thing grows hard lines.  It has sharp jaws with scruffy fur on them, more fur on the top of the head, and wide blue eyes set in a dark, smiling face.

"Hey," I say.

"Did you get some aspirin?" he asks.

I nod, fearing the prospect of opening my mouth.  My stomach has started to roll again, and this time I have the pleasant sensation of regurgitated tequila flowing up my throat.  I swallow it back down and try to smile.

"You want a shower?"

"Later," I manage.

"Okay."  He wraps his arms around my waist and pushes me into him, not rough but at the same time a little frightening.  He is so strong, and I am so small.

I play it safe.  I work a grin onto my face and cuddle close to him, pressing my nose against his neck.  I feel his jaw move as he smiles and helps me move up.  Our skin rubs together like rubber, sticking in places and pulling.  The throbbing in my head gets a little better - I love aspirin.

"Hey," I say, pulling up slightly so I can look into those blue eyes of his.

"Hey."  He smiles tolerantly, like I am a child doing something mildy amusing but mostly abnoxious and no one wants to tell me to stop.

"What's your name?"  I hope he didn't tell me that before at whatever bar I found him in.  I hope he didn't tell me as I drove us to his house.  I just hope he didn't tell me in general.

"Allan," he says.  His voice is bland, his eyes staring off at some spot behind me.  "What's yours?"

I grin and let out a breath.  I hope he doesn't hear.

"Clea," I say.  It's a miracle that I remember.

"Would you like some breakfast, Clea?"

"I don't think that's safe," I confide.

Allan chuckles.  His eyes focus on me for a second.  "That's probably true," he says.  "Would you mind getting up?  I have to go to work."

I wiggle my way off of him and drag myself up to sitting, using various lever and pulley methods and pushing against every part of the couch I can reach.  I wonder how long it's been since I ate.  I should probably get something other than booze in my stomach soon.

I pull a pillow in front of me to cover myself and watch Allan as he walks around the kitchen stark naked.  He gobbles up a few handfuls of cereal, pours milk down his throat straight from the carton, and does a shot of whiskey before taking a shower.  I grin.  He likes to have fun.

He comes out of the little, dingy bathroom smelling decent and wearing clothes and smiles at me.

"It's all yours," he says.  "I gotta go."


"Will you be here when I get back?"

I grin.  I always triumph.  "If you want me to be," I say, trying to sound coy.  I am unsucessful.  That's okay.  He likes it.

He grins again and nods.  Three steps across the room take him out the door.  It's not that the room is small.  He is just humungous.  I usually don't pick them so big.  Hmmph.  I shrug and wobble down the hallway to the bathroom and take an ice-cold shower which really makes my head feel better.  I wobble into the kitchen and make myself some instant coffee.  I can't find my clothes, but that's okay.  I don't need them if I stay inside.  When the cofee kicks in I feel a little better.  My stomach only rolls a little and I'm pretty sure I can keep down some food. 

I make a bowl of cereal, the result of my years and years of culinary experience.  After the cereal I feel even better.  I have some juice and then a bottle of water. 

Apparently this Allan person can't afford or doesn't like T.V., so I get bored approximately six minutes after I am done with breakfast.  I wander around the house looking for something to entertain myself.  Possibly he keeps books or magazines somewhere, but I can't find an office and I won't go into the bedroom until he invites me. 

So I am still bored.  I wrap a stray blanket around myself and tiptoe to the front door.  I hit the jackpot!  A newspaper that looks relatively fresh sits in a thin plastic wrapper against the side of the house.  I snatch it up and shut the door, simultaneously tearing at the plastic and trying to read the front page stories.

I finally get it outof the plastic and force myself to slow down.  I would hate to rip it.  I look at the title of the paper.  It is the Crenshaw Falls Gazette.  This is disturbing, since I don't know where Crenshaw Falls is.  But nevermind.  My car is outside, so I'm fine to leave whenever I want to.

That is when my eyes find the issue.  And along with it, the date. 

I stare for a long time, disbelieving.

When did it get to be July?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Beast - The Soldier

I hear the children screaming:  "Killer!  Killer!  Killer!"

Groups of them run down the hallway, hands in the air, voices rough and loud.  Their shoes clack against the floor with every step.  Some of them carry sticks or rods, the kind that the professors use to punish us when we misbehave.  I dart into the hallway and grab a small blonde girl by the shoulders before she can pass me.

"What happened?" I demand.

"I don't know, let me go!" she whines.  She is younger than me. 

"What happened?" I repeat.

"One of the kids got in trouble and ran off.  That's all I know!"  She spins out of my grasp, squirming until my fingers are dislodged from her coat, and runs again down the hall.

I follow the crowds streaming through the hallways.  I want to know what happened.  I need to know what happened.  What if someone is hurt?  Do they need help?  We never have ruckus like this.  Never. 

Just before I reach the last turn in the hallway I see something through one of the outer windows.  I skid to a stop and look closer.  The door makes the view blurry; the glass is not very clear.  I open it and push into the lab room, and then walk to the outer wall to get a closer look. 

A group of kids outside, most of them older than me, have someone pinned on the ground, hands over his head, and they are throwing rocks at him!  What are they doing?  I run back into the hallway and find another window closer to the group.  I look at the one on the ground.  It is a boy.  I don't know him, but I have seen him around before.  He looks like a teddy bear, all brown and furry and warm.  There are a few others like him around the base, but most of them are older than me so I don't talk to them very much.  I can tell them apart, though.  This is the boy with the green vest.  I have seen him in the art wing before. 

And they are hurting him.

I scurry through the halls to the nearest exit.  I know my way around the base very well; Mother says I am hopeless.  It takes only a moment to navigate to the nearest door, and then I am out on the dirt, among the small round pebbles that dot the grounds inside the fence.  One of the bigger boys throws a big rock at the boy in the green vest, and it hits him very hard, making him cry out.

"Stop that!" I scream.

Three more strides and I have thrown myself in front of the boy in the green vest.  If they want to hurt him they will have to hurt me first.  A rock comes sailing at me.  In defense of the boy that threw it, he let it go before I was in the way.  It pounds my shoulder, bruising, but I don't move.

"Nyiri, stay out of this!" one boy yells.

"Leave him alone," I scream back.

"You don't know what he did."

"It doesn't matter.  Leave him alone."  I am in medical school.  I can't allow this to go on.  It is wrong.  They are hurting him.

"He killed Mae!"

I know Mae.  She is a little girl in art school, with yellow hair and pretty dresses.  She lives in my hallway.  Her parents are technicians.  They work on the engines that keep the base running.

No one would ever hurt her on purpose.

"It doesn't matter what he did," I say.  "No one's perfect."

One of the older boys, a frightening monster with eyes like coal, steps forward, sticking his chin at me like an angry cat.  His hands are tight fists at his sides, and his arms shake like they might fall off.

"If you weren't a Koda, we'd take you down too," he growls.  His eyes glow bright orange in the middle, like fire.

I stand my ground and clench my hands into fists to match the angry boy's posture.  I grit my teeth and make it clear that I have no intentions of moving.

"No matter," the boy snarls. "The MP's will be along for him soon enough."

He slowly turns around, and the others follow him, all growling at me under their breath.  I watch, frozen, until they are gone, swallowed by one of the doors leading inside.  As soon as the door shuts, I un-clench my fists and work the kinks out of the muscles in my jaw.  I slowly turn around and look at the boy in the green vest to see if he is injured.

He is awake, at least.  His yellow eyes are open wide, and he stares at me with his jaw hung down to his chest.  I hunch over him to check for bleeding, but he has to get out of here soon or they will come for him.  He doesn't appear to be hurt.

"I know you didn't mean to," I say.  "You have to run before they get you."

I tug on his arm to help him up.  He is huge compared to me, so I'm not much use.  Judging from the way he moves, he has a few broken ribs and a lot of bruises, but he can move.  I take his hand and try to steady him, but he almost falls on top of me.  He manages to keep himself upright, and I lead him to a spot in the fence that I have used to escape before.  No one else knows it's there.  I look behind us every few seconds to make sure no one has seen us, but the yard is empty.  Probably everyone is trying to find out what happened still.  Maybe they are looking for Mae.

The teddy-bear boy can't help it that he is big.  It is not his fault.

We reach the fence, and the boy is limping badly.  I think he has a broken foot, but he hasn't made one sound of complaint during our run.  In fact, he hasn't made one sound at all.  Which is concerning.

"Are you alright?" I ask.

He nods.

"Can't you say something?"

"Thank you," he whispers.

I smile and lift the bottom of the fence for him.  I can't get it up far enough to keep from cutting him, but the damage won't be too bad, and he'll be much better off with a few cuts than if the MP's get a hold of him.

"You should go before they find you," I say.

"Did you know that girl?" he asks.

I nod.  "She lived by me.  She was nice.  Did you really kill her?"

The boy's lip quivers and he looks down.  "I didn't mean to.  It was an accident."

I nod.  That's what I thought.  "Is your foot hurt?"

"It's alright.  I don't think it's broken.  I can walk on it."

"You better go, then.  They'll come looking for you in a minute."

"If you see her family, tell them I didn't mean to," he says.

"I will.  Go."

The boy wiggles under the fence, scraping his back and tearing the green vest, but he makes it.  He stands on the other side and looks through the links at me.

"You've saved my life," he says.

I smile and run off, hoping he'll do the same before somebody sees.  I know I'll be in trouble if they realize I helped him escape.  I might be in it anyway, since the kids throwing rocks saw me with him.  They'll probably tell their parents.  I'll play dumb if they do.

I step back through the door into the big wheel and watch the people rushing about.  MP's in dark uniforms with big guns hanging on their hips try to force everyone into order, to make the frantic running stop.  Some of them have rifles crossed against their chests.  They stand on either side of the doors where important officers live or work, keeping the crowds away.  I have an idea.  I walk up to one of the MP's with a rifle, hoping I look innocent and hoping this particular soldier hasn't caught me doing something I shouldn't in the past.

"What happened?" I ask.

He glances down but doesn't say anything.  He is on duty, therefore not allowed to talk.

"Is something wrong?" I continue.

The man looks at his twin on the other side of the door.  The twin nods and looks behind him, then down the hall.

The first MP turns back to me and whispers, leaning over so he won't have to talk as loud.

"A little girl was killed.  Crushed, apparently."

I gasp.  "Who?" 

"I don't know her name, honey.  Sorry."

"Do they know who did it?"

"Yeah.  The officer in charge said it was one of them 'Beasts'.  You know, the hairy people?"

"I think I better find my mommy," I say, walking slowly away. 

I hope I look dazed.  I feel dazed.  I wrinkle my nose.  Beast?  That doesn't seem to fit the walking teddy bear in the green vest.  I wonder what his name was.  Beast.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Window

I sit at my desk, staring at my computer all day long.  No one knows my secret.  No one knows that every few minutes I peek over the wall and look down the row of heads, so evenly spaced, between my cubicle and the walkway.  I listen to the rythmic clickedy-clack of long, painted fingernails on hundreds of keyboards and the monotone beeping of the dialpads of phones.  "Thank you for calling Ryotech, how can I help you?" comes right after each ring.  No one ever looks up from their desk, so no one knows that I look out the window.

I can't see much.  I sit so far from the window that the light from the sun rarely touches me, but I look.  The corner of a building is barely visible against the ugly maroon frame that is sometimes crossed with bent-up blinds that my manager has never bothered to replace.  Mostly it is the sky I see.  I look at the sky, sometimes dotted with clouds, sometimes white with the sun, sometimes clear, perfect blue.  And I dream.

Two more weeks and I will be gone.  Retirement.  That's what they call it when someone turns sixty-five and has worked in the same place for too long, too much pay, or whatever the excuse is this time around.  For me, they let me know ahead of time.  So now I don't have to be here...what will I do with all of my free time?  I turn back to my computer, knowing no one has bothered to notice my lapse in attention.  No one will notice if it goes on a bit longer.  I open up a new window - this newfangled thing they call the 'internet' is really something to see.

And I type it in.  Retirement.  Hit enter (that's how you make the computer look for something.)  The first thing I see has something to do with Social Security.  That's not my style.  I don't bother to look at it; I already know what it says.  Instead, I try another search.  Vacation.  That's more like it. 

I have worked my whole life to be able to take a vacation, but in a few weeks I won't have to work anymore.  Or, at least, I won't be able to.

I swim through hundreds of travel pages with pictures of green mountains and white-sand beaches and a ton of activities that would have been fun to try forty years ago.  But I can't wind-surf or jump out of an airplane anymore; I might break a hip. 

I study every detail of the weird turquoise water of the Agean Sea and the wavy dark sand I can see beneath the surface of the water.  I've always wanted to go to Greece.  I look at the pricetag for this particular vacation.  Too expensive.  I want to leave something behind when I'm gone for my grandkids - grandkids that haven't been born yet.

My eyes find their way to the window again.  I put on my spectacles to clear the view, tucking the ear wires carefully under my hair so I don't bend them.  A big puffy cloud has pushed its way through the sky and sits stubbornly in place in the little pane of maroon and crooked blinds.

What would they do if I refused to leave my chair?  Drag me out?  Call the police?  Have me arrested?  For working?

I take off my glasses and set them next to my adding machine.  I pick up the phone.  I have to call Mandy and tell her the news sometime.  It might as well be now. 

"Mom?" she answers on the fourth ring.

"How did you know it was me?"

"Caller I.D.  Are you okay?  What's wrong?  Why are you calling in the middle of the day?"

"I'm fine," I say.  "Nothing's wrong.  How is Casey?  How is my little girl?"

Casey is actually my great niece - born far too early in her mother's life - but her mother disappeared a few years ago and left her with Mandy.  No one has heard from her since.

"She's fine, except we just found out that Joe is getting canned, and he doesn't know if he'll be able to find another job for awhile."

"He'll find another," I say calmly.

"I don't know, Mom.  They got rid of a whole department, and everyone is going to be looking."

"Well, you can always come stay with me if you need to," I say hopefully.

"Please, Mom."  I can hear my Mandy rolling her eyes.  "If it gets that bad he'll just have to work at a grocery store or something.  Between that and my income, we should be able to make due.  At least it's something."

I nod and don't say anything.


"I'm nodding."

"Are you sure you're okay?"

I nod again, knowing she won't hear me if I tell her now.  "I'll talk to you later, okay?  I just wanted to say 'Hi'."

I hang up the phone and look out the window again.  More clouds.  It looks like rain.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Food for Thought

For all of you new (or not so new) authors out there, if you're having trouble with your query letters, want advice on form and style, or are just looking to get a bit more into the writing world, I would suggest you check out this blog:  Read the posts and the threads, they are really helpful.  Nathan Bransford is a real live agent with Curtis Brown and offers this blog for advice - and it's good advice.  Today he is going to do a critique of a query letter from one of us. (I know.  It's pretty awesome that he does this; it really helped me out.)  He also has some great links on previous posts and page critiques submitted by authors.  I definitely recommend checking it out, joining, submitting, and really getting into it.

Some more helpful links: - Mary Kole (Agent) on children's lit - for anyone who writes for children, the society of children's writers and illustrators - I know it sounds dumb, but there is a ton of information on plot and character development, style, and the publishing process; pretty much anything you can imagine.  And on top of all that, it's pretty well-organized.

There are a ton of resources out there, I've just listed a few that I found helpful.  If you have more, please, please let us all know!