Monday, December 6, 2010

My antagonist is giving me fits!

I've spent all week searching the right name for her. She is an evil other-worldly creature and her name must be unique, yet pronounceable. I also want to make sure it's not associated with anyone else, real or imagined.

I usually love naming my characters and take great care in coming up with just the right one. It not only has to fit, but must enhance their personality. I think of name choice something like a costume designer choosing the right look for film characters.

But this character is not letting me off easy. She's going to be trouble.

After hours of noodling, I settled on two likely possibilites, then did a Google check. Name #1, Helvetia, turned out to be an obscure, creepy looking spider which worked well for my villain. However, it also turned out that Helvetia is the name of an ancient romanticized personification of Switzerland. After that it just didn't feel right anymore to dress my character in this name; plus it was too close to sounding like a typeface.

So, I moved on to the next name, an obscure slightly altered German word. I liked it for its edginess. It was appropriate for the character and I thought should quickly settle for Name #2 and get back to character and plot development.

In my haste, I almost skipped my usual research which would have turned out to be a disaster. A quick Google search of Name #2 presented me with a page of porn site links, complete with Google's graphic image feature.

Eeek! I am writing a children's book, not an X-rated adult romance. Imagine the embarrassment of having to explain to innocent young readers, or their parents (who might happen to look it up) why I chose [blank] name.

If I want to be even more thorough than a perfunctory Google search, I often check out the Urban Dictionary which fills me in on the down and dirty particulars of every word that gets genetically altered in the streets. I was definitely right not to choose Name #2. Kids not only know these words! They define them!

Do your characters ever give you fits like this? 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

NaNo Award

I just had to share this custom designed award I received from a friend. Thank you Cynthia!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Crossing the NaNoWriMo finish line!

TaDa! I crossed the finish line on Monday at midnight with 48 hours to spare.

What a month! I started NaNo on a cross country airplane trip. I wrote my first 1,666 words flying high until my laptop battery died. It's been a wild ride ever since.

This was my first writing marathon, so I was pretty innocent as to what I might expect. This was probably a good thing and I dove in head first. What did I have to loose, but a little sleep? I was desperate to get my mojo back after several months of laziness and doubt about whether I could even write a second book.

So what's NaNo really all about? Have I actually written an entire novel? No, but I'm a lot closer to one than I was 30 days ago. What took me a year the first time around was condensed into one month.

 What did I accomplish in 30 NaNo days?
  • I set a goal and actually did it! I finished! (I'm still amazed.)
  • I had fun writing because the goal wasn't a finished story; the goal was to liberate my imagination.
  • I do have the makings of a really fun story, albeit one that needs a boat load of editing.
  • I have my mojo back!
  • My writer's demons (all those self-defeating behaviors) are at bay . . . at least for today.

Things I learned which I was told were helpful and true, but now I know them for myself:
  • Trust the process; don't think too much. Just write. Keep the fingers moving and surpising things do happen!
  • I'm glad I started my journey with a road map and companions, i.e. plot points and a cast of characters.
  • I don't think I could have done it without designating a special NaNoWriMo time to write until I got my word count in for the day. For me, this meant setting the alarm clock to 5 a.m. and starting the coffee pot.
  • To keep the flow going, sometimes I simply had to start talking to myself or my characters. I found peace with this process. Blathering through the barriers, I call it.
  • I forced myself not to spend time Googling 'the seven stages of grief' or 'how to steal a car'.
  • I had to drastically scale back posting blogs, Twitters, and FaceBook updates.
  • I had to spend non-NaNo time re-evaluating my plot and characters. A few characters were dropped off on the side of the road, but further on my Antagonist appeared, lurking in vapors of her shadow world, just waiting to tell me her story.
My first book, Guardian Cats and the Lost Books of Iskandriyah, is finished, and currently getting a professional edit.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What I've learned from NaNoWriMo so far

I've learned if it's possible to get up at 5 a.m. and write, anything is possible! I've learned that my best friend right now is an afternoon nap. I've learned that 1,666 words in one stretch are not all that intimidating.

Because of NaNo, I’m more verbose, less intimidated by the white page. I blather freely knowing it all adds to the word count. More is better with NaNo. Rather than looking for the perfect words and self-editing as I go, I’m learning to be less self-conscious. I feel like I’m following the Ray Bradbury model. “Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can't try to do things. You simply must do things.”

This blathering, this 'talkng it out on paper' is kind of a silent movie version of talking to myself. If I was speaking my NaNo text aloud, someone, my husband mostly likely, would shuffle me off to the back room when friends arrive at the door. 

The day before I started NaNoWriMo, I read Nathan Branford's NaNo Bootcamp postings which helped me realize a road map was crucial to this kamikaze style of writing. I only had a general plot idea, so at the last minute, I worked out about 35 plot points, one sentence each.  I had a variety characters I loved, all with a purpose to assist or challenge the Protagonist. Each plot point has become my NaNo assignment for the day, working itself nicely into a scene/chapter. Each day, I re-evaluate the journey, making adjustments for the ways my characters don't always like to stay on the predetermined route.

I've learned that I can write on airplanes, noisy coffee shops and empty houses. (Don't ask.)

I've learned how much the challenge of NaNoWriMo is motivating me when I needed a good kick in the butt!

Friday, October 29, 2010

How I’m gearing up for NaNoWriMo

For the last several years, I've noticed that odd acronym NaNoWriMo pop up in blogs this time of year, so I had some idea what it was. I knew you had to write 50,000 words in one month, but why? Why would you write for the sake of quantity. I shoot for quality, so why would I blather on knowing it would probably be a lot of garbage. Maybe a toss-away novel.

Now I understand. I’ve been in a creative slump for several months. My writing muscles have atrophied and I’m facing my demons wondering if I’ll be able to come up an idea exciting enough that it will pull me and push me along. My plot ideas are still a little fuzzy, but I do have a great cast of characters waiting in the wings.

Then this week, the NaNoWriMo Boot Camp appeared in Nathan Bransford’s blog and I had to see what the fuss was all about. I found the NaNo website and I liked the tone right off. It throws down the gauntlet in a light-hearted way, and knowing that there’s a skazillion other writers wired up on coffee and chocolate creates just the right cyber group dynamic that appeals to me. NaNoWriMo already has over 95,000 people signed up.

As NaNoWriMo purports, “The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly," and for writer's facing a month long hermitage, NaNo promises, ‘Wrimos meet throughout the month to offer encouragement, commiseration, and—when the thing is done—the kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children.”

I’ve never been a prolific writer. I labor too long over the right word, stopping the check the thesaurus, googling ideas and images. Getting distracted, going off on tangents. NaNo will not let me follow those diversions. I’ll have to stick to the ‘paper’. Writing 50,000 words in one month means 1,666.666 words every day.

So how am I gearing up? I'm staying tuned to Nathan's NaNo Boot Camp. He is chock full of good advice, including Day Two's post on how to get ready. Starting with characters and plot points are essential. Knowing what your Protagonist wants, or think he wants and what obstacles stand in his way is what drives the story. Maybe the Protagonist has conflicting goals? And don't forget the Antagonist, who has his or her own goals, a hero in their own story, although it will obviously be at odds with the MC.

I'm going to go sign up today. Wish me luck, especially since on Monday, November 1, the kick off day, I will be on an airplane for 7 ½ hours. Writing 1,666.666 in long hand? Geesh.

Have you NaNo-ed in the past? Are you planning to this year? Never heard of it, or hate the idea? Let me know!

Want to know more about it? NaNoWriMo - What the heck is it?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Living life as a song

“Not only is your story worth telling, but it can be told in words so painstakingly eloquent that it becomes a song.” Gloria Naylor

*image is cover on The Spirit of Flight Journal by fantasy artist Josephine Wall.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Banned Books Week in the U.S.

It's the end of Banned Books Week here in the U.S. and I made the intention to participate in the recognition of this cultural phenomenon of ours. I think it's more curious than dangerous why some books make the list. It always sparks great interest in the book, so I think most authors would rather treasure being banned and join the ranks of notables which includes some (but not all?) of the Harry Potter books, The Adventures of Hucklberry Finn, the American Heritage Dictionary, Judy Blume books, Willie Wonka, and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. The reasons that many books get blacklisted are almost uncomprehensible. Little Women? Shel Silverstein's A Light in the Attic? I think most indicate the narrowmindedness of people afraid to look at reality. Others showcase the lack of a healthy appreciation of the absurd.

Have you read any banned books? You probably have without even knowing it. Here's a few of my favorites: A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle, James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl, To Kill A Mockingbird, and the ultimate book on censorship, Farenheit 451.

One of our local libraries showcased Banned Book Week and I would like to pay a tribute to my favorite intrepid librarian, Kathleen Stewart, Programs Director at the Yuba County Library, who showcased banned books by prominently displaying library copies, labling each with the reason the book was banned. I checked out The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton, a YA book about troubled teens. The reason it was banned from some schools was because "virtually all of the characters are from broken homes." Another case of  the fear of looking at reality.

I know some of you are from other parts of the world. Do you have these kinds of issues with banning books and censorship where you live? I'd love to hear from you.

For more on this subject, see The eleven most surpring banned books, a literary agent's list, and The American Library Association's extensive site on Banned Books Week

Take care and happy reading! Check out a banned book today!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Homer's Oddyssey: traveling with a cat

Homer's Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder CatFlying west through 3 time zones, I am happy to be gaining back the hours I lost a week ago. My carry-on is laden with  books for the journey, but during our layover in Denver I cruise into Starbucks, then Borders. (I have my priorities!) and browse through mysteries and new best sellers looking for something that might grab me. Well, anyone who knows me will understand why it was  Homer's Odyssey, the story of a Blind Wonder Cat. I didn't even think twice before it was swiped on my credit card. The cover and the blurb on the back sold me, re-emphasizing the importance of these two crucial marketing elements.

The last thing Gwen Cooper wanted was another cat. She already had two, not to mention a phenomenally underpaying job and a recently broken heart. Then Gwen’s veterinarian called with a story about a three-week-old eyeless kitten who’d been abandoned. It was love at first sight. Everyone warned that Homer would always be an “underachiever.” But the kitten nobody believed in quickly grew into a three-pound dynamo with a giant heart who eagerly made friends with every human who crossed his path.  
It had everything a traveler could want in a book, intrigue and adventure, a soulful but spunky kitten, love at first sight, heartbreak and humor. Before I was halfway through the book, I seriously considered adopting a blind cat when I got home.  The author's reflections on life with her cat makes Homer's Odyssey one of the ultimate animal lover's book. Her description of rescuing Homer from her apartment after 9/11 is nothing short of heroic.

I had brought books along that needed some different part of my brain, more serious reads, but somehow compressed inside a metal capsule whizzing 30,000 feet above the earth, required a book that took me effortlessly out of my 'real' world. A journey with Homer was perfect.
What about you? What do you read on a plane? Do you use the time to finish books that have piled up on your night stand? Do you browse airport bookstores and 'impulse buy' things you might otherwise wait to check out at the library?

When you travel, do you stick with old favorites or do you explore other genres that you might not normally read on the ground?

Monday, September 6, 2010

What makes a real writer?

"A real writer has heart. A real writer looks at his or her page with a distinct approach - light in eyes, smile upon lips, glow upon features. A real writer writes because when that person goes to press a pen against paper or stroke a key to type, something pulls on his or her heartstrings and that person is pulled into a different world. "

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Journaling: tips for getting started

The Spirit of Flight Journal (Notebook, Diary) (Oversized Journal)For anyone who has given some thought to writing, but wonders how to start, this is for you. One easy way is to keep a journal because with journaling there are no expectations. Like other kinds of writing, there's none of the angst that goes along with trying to get it published. And unless you're Lewis or Clark, or Anne Frank, no one will most likely ever see it.

You may think you don't have anything to write about, but once you discover there's a whole land of uncharted territory waiting to be discovered, you'll have plenty to say. The uncharted territory is your inner self, a life long journey of discovery, enough to fill hundreds of journals.

All you truly need to get started is a spiral notebook, a pen and a lot of thoughts swirling inside your head. To loosen up, start by writing, 'I don't know what to write' and keep going. Don't judge what comes out even if it sounds a little crazy. Most writers are a little crazy so you'll be in good company. Don't worry about making it sound or look good on paper. No one's going to grade it.

If you're prone to dark thoughts, depression and confusion, the act of writing them can be a great release. Writing helps clear the mind by untangling the brain. When I was young, I used to think my thoughts were like spaghetti, or knotted string. When I wrote, thoughts came through my fingers, streaming out onto the paper, thus untangling themselves and freeing my mind.

I kept a journal through high school, then again through several turbulent times in my life. I still have them and sometimes they unearth themselves while rummaging through old boxes and trunks. Some of it is painful or embarrasing to read now, but I wouldn't dare toss them out. They are a window into who I was so long ago.

Keep your journal in your backpack or purse. Write anywhere and everywhere. Here's a few suggestions for getting started.

  • Write letters that you wouldn't dare, and shouldn't, send to people, but the act of writing can help sort out troubled thoughts and feelings.
  • Write a poem. Or write song lyrics, then sing your heart out.
  • Write about something you're grateful for, especially if you are feeling ungrateful.
  • If you are too hard on yourself, write about at least one way that you can be more gentle.
  • Write down some goals. Short and long term.
In case you need more help, here's a few suggestions for some guided journals.Life's Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest full of enlightening quotations, exercises, questions, and techniques to nurture the writer and seeker within. Another is Writing Down Your Soul. How to Activate and Listen to the Extraordinary Voice Within. One especially for teens is Through My Eyes: A Journal for Teens.

There are some cool blank journals that make great gifts and keepsakes, like I Hope You Dance, The Spirit of Flight and Wreck this Journal.

Although there are a number of online journaling sites, my suggestion is to write by hand. There's something special about the connection between your hand, the pen and paper that doesn't happen with a computer. Besides, on real paper you can draw and doodle and write in circles if you like!

For more journals, visit the Guardian Cats Bookstore's Journaling store. If you like this post, please share with a friend. Thanks and Happy Journaling!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Announcing the Guardian Cats Bookstore

This is a project I've been working on for some time. In the beginning I thought I'd just carry my favorite writing reference books. However, once I started browsing through Amazon's vast network, reading reviews and making selections, I got carried away and it kept growing.

Besides The Writer's Store, I wanted a Cat Lovers Store and that one grew like stray cats having kittens. I've included many incredibly beautiful cat books and calendars, and I've scouted out all the fiction books with and about cats I can find. Plus, there's a special e-Cats section for Kindle lovers.

The Middle Grade Fiction store is very fun and growing. Then there's a Journaling Corner, as well as a Book Lover's Nook. Be sure and check out the nifty Booklights which includes one with my personal recommendation.

I hope I haven't made my blog too commercial. I know I risk that by becoming an Amazon affiliate, but I don't expect to be able to quite my day job. I just hope to gain enough credits to buy more books! When you enter Amazon through my Guardian Cats portal, any purchase you make there applies. Pretty cool.

Take a look and pass this on if you like what you see! Share it with your friends. Thanks and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Writer's Journey

Is your story lacking pizzazz? Is it boring even for you? The best remedy for a ho-hum story is to get your heroine out of her comfort zone. Throw something at her that makes you both recoil and scream 'No! Anything but that!'

Make her squirm. Lie awake at night worrying what will happen to her. Don't make it easy for her to escape. In fact, make it impossible.  

At the beginning of her story, bring in the Herald who calls her into adventure. She will refuse. It's human nature to resist change. But something will draw her out. Some small thing will get her attention in a way she cannot resist and will take her to a place where she cannot return to her ordinary existence. Once she has crossed the point of no return, she's fully engaged in that special world which is her own unique story.

You must follow her, gently prod her and see where she goes. If she goes out on a limb, stay with her. Feel the limb break. Feel yourself falling.

Dive into the depths of her world, feel your lungs bursting for air. Feel yourself die. And then feel the exhileration of being released back into the world, popping up and gulping air back into your body.

The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition
A story worth telling takes the reader on a journey. But it's the writer's journey first and it's one that requires courage and stamina. Fortunately there are guides and charts and maps to assist us. Without a guide, the writer is in danger of wandering off into the forest of words, never finding their way out.

The Writer's Journey, by Christopher Vogler, is the classic roadmap for storytelling. This is the book that makes Joseph Campbell's Hero of a Thousand Faces user friendly. From his lifelong study of stories from all ages and cultures, Campbell discovered the structural elements that made them classics, and the infinite variation of archetypes who populate them and made their journeys unforgettable. Vogler's book makes Campbell's research accessible in a way that is so entertaining you might forget how much you're learning.

Monday, August 23, 2010

If I had only known....

"The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking...the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker."
Albert Einstein

James Aitchison key-wound pocket watch, Edinburgh (IMG_2042)

Friday, August 20, 2010

The interconnectedness of all things

It was at The Brick, while eating Southwestern fajita wraps, we were discussing The Forgetting Room which lead to a discussion of the interconnectedness of all things. We were down to the level of molecules. Not just any molecules, but really old particles. The ancient ones that never go away and hang out in old buildings, bookstores and libraries.

Sparks flew in my brain, synapses synapsed. A plot I'd scribbled down last year emerged out of the recesses of my brain and fused with my new being, the one who looked like she was just eating a fajita, but was a year older and thousands of words wiser.

It was time to dig out that notebook and pay a visit to the character I'd left in the drawer, a sleeping beauty. The prince had arrived. The kiss had been placed.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cowboys herding cats

I'm developing an exciting new story and I've been too busy
researching, reading and writing to post this week.
But I wanted to share this very funny cat video.

Keep on writing!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A writer's workspace is all in the mind

There's writing and then . . . there's 'writing it down'. So much of our work is more than the actual crafting of words. Plot ideas, character development, research -- it doesn't all need to take place in front of a computer. A writer's true workspace is all in the mind. I proved this to myself yesterday at the dentist office.

There I was, pinned to a dentist's chair. I knew if I didn't find something to focus on, my brain would flip through a thousand frivolous ideas worth about as much as used dental floss and I hate wasting a good hour like that.

So I thought about my new MC, a young woman in her early twenties. I needed to know what events in her childhood were significant, what she is passionate about, what are her inner conflicts? While the dental hygenist did her work, I was happily engaged character development and my MC revealed a lot of new details about her life.

The longer I write, the more amazed at how portable my workspace has become.

What about you? Do you need to write in a specific environment? Or can you write 'on the fly'?  Do you have any odd places or moments where you've worked on some aspect of your writing?

Friday, August 6, 2010

How to tame your lion

I'm reading Annie Dillard's book about writing and I wanted to share these passages without comment, because I cannot add a single word without diluting her words.

"The line of words is a miner's pick, a woodcarver's gouge, a surgeon's probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow. Soon you find yourself deep in new territory. Is it a dead end, or have you located the real subject? You will know tomorrow . . . or this time next year.
"You make the path boldly and follow it fearfully. You go where the path leads. At the end of the path, you find a box canyon. You hammer out reports, dispatch bulletins.
"The writing has changed, in your hands, and in a twinkling, from an expression of your notions to an epistemological tool. The new place interests you because it is not clear. You attend. In your humility, you lay down the words carefully, watching all angles. Now the earlier writing looks soft and careless. Process is nothing; erase your tracks. The path is not the work. I hope your tracks have grown over; I hope birds ate the crumbs; I hope you will toss it all and not look back . . . .
"Putting a book together is interesting and exhilarating. It is sufficiently difficult and complex that it engages all your intelligence. It is life at its most free, if you are fortunate enough to be able to try it, because you select your materials, invent your task, and pace yourself . . . .
"A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight. It is barely domesticated, a mustang on which you one day fasten a halter, but which now you can't catch. It is a lion you cage in your study. As the work grows, it gets harder to control; it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, 'Simba!'

Annie Dillard is the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, a non-fiction narrative. Her observations on life resist classification. This is her husband's description of her writing: "Her distinctive, and distinctively American, prose style has been widely recognized and openly imitated. She is, like Thoreau, a close observer; she is, like Emerson, a rocket- maker; her works’ prose structures and aims, however, are all her own."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

How Ray Bradbury and Albert Einstein taught me to avoid writer's block

To keep your balance, you must keep moving.
I love quotes.
One of my favorites evokes such a powerful image it never fails to inspire and invigorate me. It's from Zen in the Art of Writing, where Ray Bradbury describes his creative process.  "Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together." As if a volcanic explosion wasn't enough to shake things up for me I throw in this subtle kicker from Albert Einstein. "Life like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving."
I love these two mental images, Bradbury jumping out of bed straight into his writing chair, and Einstein, on a bike, eyes twinkling and white hair flying. What Bradbury says to me is just let it all come out in full force. Don't let your mind stop you before you even get started. Don't self-critique in the first draft! After the explosion of words in the a.m., Bradbury spends the afternoon picking out the gems, dusting them off (oh, to pick through such a brilliant slush pile!) and arranging them into interesting shapes. At the end of the day, he's crafted another tale. He wrote over a dozen novels, over 400 short stories, plays and screenplays, children's fiction and non-fiction. His philosophy worked. He's pushing 90 this year and he's still moving.

While I still have to slap myself to keep from editing as I write the first draft, this image has done wonders to give my words the freedom to explode. If I don't get my own way, if I don't question or judge the ridiculous, awkward or alien words that spew forth, eventually something interesting happens. The magic appears. Some gossamer silk thread of a notion floats above the rubbish and if I'm paying attention, I'll follow. "You must keep moving!" shout Bradbury and Einstein at me, in jovial moods.

I don't believe in writer's block. I believe that what happens when I'm stuck, is me standing in the way. Or letting myself get bogged down by life, self-doubt, overcrowding in the cerebral cortex. Wisdom from writing giants like Bradbury and the genius of Einstein help me keep my balance and keep the flow going.

Do you have quotes that help motivate you in your writing? How do you keep track of them? Click here to view my QuotesDaddy favorites.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Are we too attached to our words?

We're writers.
We love words.
We fall in love with our words.
This romance will have consequences because we have to let some of them go.
It's a complicated relationship.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Books as friends

Evenings at home - Deborah DeWit Marchant
“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Field Guide to the Internet Archives

On the steps of the Internet Archives.
If you love browsing through used book stores, you're gonna love the Internet Archives. My previous visits to IA online were interesting but not very productive as I'm too google and wiki-spoiled for their 30 second search results.

But I've recently rediscovered the Archives as a result of a trip to San Francisco. A friend asked if, while I was in the city, I could 'pop in' and request a hard copy of some texts they had online. With the aid of a GPS and two iPhone aps we found the Greek-columned building with its copper stamped doors which made, I thought, a lovely backdrop for a photo op with my daughter and grandkids.

Inside was a soft-spoken young man, just the sort you'd expect to find in a library. He wasn't able to fulfill our friend's request but told us we could get everything they had ...well, online. Of course we knew that, but there were rumors they had one of those Espresso instant book machines and I wanted to see one in action. Not all was lost though. It was kind of a kick to see the actual physical location of this gigantic digital library that scans over 1,000 books a day. And it inspired me to delve further into the Archives when I got home.

So here's my report. The Internet Archives, which provides free access to books and information that might otherwise be lost, has almost 300,000 video and moving images, 579,000 audio recordings and over 2 million books. They've even archived 80,000 live concerts. No wonder I had little luck trying for quick searches before.

Their home page has a Curator's choice in each category, in addition to its famous web page archive known as the Wayback Machine, currently sporting 150 billion pages. The non-profit IA is very much into preserving as much information as possible to prevent its loss or destruction, even referencing the Library of Alexandria, a place that's near and dear my heart, since it is the jumping off point in my upcoming book, Guardian Cats.

I've spent a good deal of time rummaging through the Archives now and have made some pretty interesting discoveries. If you're an Abe Lincoln fan, there's an autographed copy (1917) of "Latest Light on Abraham Lincoln" "including many heretofore unpublished incidents and historical facts concerning his ancestry, boyhood, family, religion, public life, trials and triumphs; illustrated with many reproductions from original paintings, photographs, etc." 

But don't think the Archives are just about obscure old books though. Take a look at this offbeat but intriguing machinima animation, a strange love story called Cuckoo Clock, the first in the Cirque du Machinima series.

Maybe you're searching for actual radio signals from celestials objects? You can find them in the Star Journal, which features ambient music composed around a series of field recordings made from a radio telescope. The Archives has lots of ambient music, but if you want to experience a live Grateful Dead concert instead, there's no shortage of those either.

I've barely scratched the surface of this vast digital library but it's making me rethink any biases I may have had. Although I'm adamantly opposed to transforming our public and college libraries into 'bookless' libraries, these digital archives with their high quality scans are an invaluable resource towards preserving many books which would be otherwise lost. Anyone can upload texts, audio and video images to the library, if they have the rights to share.

Before you take your own journey through the Archives, here's some suggestions to make your online 'field trip' more enjoyable:

  • First, get a cup of coffee and be prepared to stay awhile so you can enjoy all the cool things you will discover.

  • Create a user name and password so you can bookmark your findings. You'll lose stuff, the same as if you set a book down and went wandering down another row of stacks. It labyrinthian.

  • If you see something interesting in the Curator's Choices, you'd better click it right away because the links change each time the page is refreshed. I learned that the hard way.

  • Everything is viewable and downloadable in a variety of formats including Kindle and something called Daisy, which is an audio book format for people with print disabilities," including blindness, impaired vision, dyslexia or other issues.

  • Do try reading the 'online' book formats with their clean, clear images and clickable pages that include every page, even the old book covers and bookplates.

  • Be aware of the large variety of searching and sorting options to help you find what you're looking for.  
Some more of my discoveries I wanted to share:
  • From the audio files: crime classics, horror and Old Time Radio
  • From the video files: Here's one of those 'fun' education films some of us will remember from the 50's. This one's from 1949 called Dating Do's and Don'ts
  • Also from the videos files: Stock video footage which might be useful for book trailers, available for use under the Creative Commons license
  • Something from the Children's Library: A Subject Tag Cloud which is a pretty cool way to search.
  • From the text files: an example of the quality of a beautifully scanned book with rich color and superb illustrations from the Victorian era, Abroad (1882) is about 2 children on a voyage from England to France and Europe.
And last but not least, I couldn't resist including this little gem called 'The Private Lives of Cats'. The Guardian Cats rated it five star.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Librarian uses Kickstarter to fund video books reviews

Here's a nifty follow up to my last blog post. In the Stacks is a site that features 60 second video book reviews hosted by librarian-in-training Michelle Zaffino. In the Stacks features episodes of Michelle’s and other guest librarians’ take on new books currently out there in the stacks. All genres are covered, from adult to teen fiction, non-fiction, fantasy and mystery.
The short episodes are meant to run like ads. Longer episodes are in the works, with multiple reviews, author interviews, library visits and special guests."

I'm loving Kickstarter more all the time. Michelle is using this grass roots fundraising format to raise $5,000 develop her site. To view her progress and maybe kick in a couple of bucks, see 'In the Stacks' Kickstarter fundraising project. 

What would you do with $5,000 towards your writing/book related projects?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Need funds to promote your artistic project? A Kickstarter review

Kickstarter is a unique funding platform for writers, artists, filmmakers, musicians, illustrators and others to bring their projects and ambitions to life. It's based on two premises: 1- the idea that a good idea, communicated well, can spread fast and wide and 2-a large group of people pledging small amounts of money (pledges can start at $1) can create the capital needed to get your project off the ground. Projects must be fully-funded or no money changes hands. is the grassroots version of a patron of the arts. With a wide definition of 'creative', there are 18 categories of projects ranging from silly to sublime. If you have a project you can present well, you will not only get patrons, but people who will be excited to promote your project. It's easy interface for sharing is awesome. I 'shared' "Vuvuzelas for BP" on Twitter and FB, a project in the Event category, which needed funds to purchase 100 vuvuzelas to play in front of BP's International Headquarters in London for a one-day flash mob. The project was an overwhelming success, receiving more than double the $2,000 goal.

On the more sublime side there is A Field Guide To Now: An Illustrated Collection of Essays and Prose, an illustrated collection of essays and prose exploring the present tense. The creator, Christina Rosalie, set her project cost at $10,663 which was successfully raised in the 90 day framework. 

Here's an example of a self-promoting video from an author.

Another interesting project by a Brazilian student re-creating Little Red Riding Hood onto storyboards for an animation project.

I spent several fun hours browsing through Kickstarter, amazed at the creativity of the projects as well as the enthusiasm of people who want to support the arts. You can simply 'follow' a project without pledging or you can pledge anywhere from $1 to $1,000. Kickstarter seems to be a well constructed, easy to understand format that could help you get your project, well...kickstarted!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Would you read this book?

This is my current version of a jacket blurb. I would love to know what you think. Would this entice you to read this book?


Not even the librarians are aware of its existence. Only the cats know about the secret chamber under the library, hiding a mystical book with power to change the world.

But a professor who suspects the book survived the fires which destroyed the Library of Iskandriyah, is driven by his blind desire for power to possess it and losing the book once to the same creature who stole his sight has only fueled his vengeful quest.

Will the Guardian Cats be able to save this ancient treasure placed in their care over two thousand years ago? Will the young apprentice tabby, left on his own, be able to keep it out of the hands of the dangerous professor. If he fails, what will happen when a man with that much craving for power has the ability to use it. If he wins, what on earth will he do with the creatures unleashed from the darkest corners of the library who wish to destroy far more than one book.

Guardian Cats and the Lost Books of Iskandriyah,
by Rahma Krambo
Would you read this book? Would love to hear your comments?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

KitLit Writers Conference you can attend in your jammies

Thanks to Karsten who I met Twittering, I discovered a writer's conference especially for kidlit writers. The only price of admission is having your MC be under 18 years of age.

WriteOnCon is a project that was started by seven writers who wanted to 'pay it forward' for other writers. Just like a 'real' conference, there will be keynote speakers, agent panels and lectures but they will presented in the form of blogs, vlogs, moderated chats, webinars, podcasts and livestreaming.

What's really awesome about this conference is their growing list of  industrial strength professionals who will be the presenters. There are also critique forums which will allow writers to receive feedback and exposure for their work, and the entire program has been designed to be both informative and entertaining.

From what I've seen of their vlogs, this looks to be a very fun and interesting event. Did I mention this is a 3-day conference?
And if you haven't seen Karsten dance, you don't know what you missing.

When: Tuesday – Thursday, August 10 – 12, 2010
Cost: Free!
Who: it’s for EVERYONE!

Monday, June 28, 2010

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you...

My all time favorite poet is the famous 13th century Persian poet, Jalāl ad-Dīn Rūmī. I have a Coleman Barks translation with sticky tabs sprouting from all the edges in lime green and yellow. But even with my favorite poems marked I usually let Rumi surprise me with something new.
He never fails to take my breath away. After my post about writing at dawn, I opened the book to this poem:

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep.
I would love to kiss you.
The price of kissing is your life.
Now my loving is running toward my life shouting,
What a bargain,
Let's buy it!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The best time of day to write

Miranda, my cat, is the first to know I'm up at the crack of dawn. Little does she care I have reasons to be padding around the house other than feeding her. There are prayers and coffee to make which I perform to the tune of an orchard full of songbirds announcing the new day like it's going to be something crazy special.

Two days after the summer soltice, dawn begins at 4:07 a.m. where I live in California, but I give myself another hour of sleep and set the alarm for 5:00. That leaves me 45 minutes until the official daystart, but if I'm lucky I can keep writing until 7 or 8.

What's so special about writing at dawn? I could be sleeping like most normal people, but I love this 'in-between time' emerging gradually from the darkness of night. It hasn't opened into the full light of day. More like a rose bud, that's dawn. It feels like wonder and promise and hope.

I open my laptop and bring up my WordDoc and suddenly I'm in my Special World that Christopher Vogler describes in The Writer's Journey. When I'm writing I must leave the Ordinary World just as my protagonist must after he responds to his 'call to adventure'. I slip into it so easily at dawn, it seems like a gift bestowed from Beyond. I always try to prolong my visit as long as possible and I feel a sense of loss when I must leave. Sunrise ushers in the 'ordinary world' and demands my attention, my body demands to be fed, and I remember my journey like it was some kind of dream.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What the bleep is a writer's platform?

Greetings friends, both old and new. I'm kicking this blog into gear again and the first thing I want to address is this thing called a writer's platform. You can't go anywhere without reading about it. Type it into Google and you have over 4 million pieces of advice on this matter. But first, I have to get this off my chest. The name 'platform' just bugs the heck out of me. Who came up with this generic, dull term for authors online 'presence'?

'Platform' evokes all the visual imagery of a piece of plywood. Come on, we're writers. We can come up with something better than this! Bandstand, auction block, podium, launching pad. A thesaurus is a wonderful thing.

The other thing that's bugging me is that everyone seems to be regurgitating pretty much the same advice, although I confess I haven't read all four million postings. Get a blog, Twitter, and Facebook. Ok. Got it.

But hey, I'm not making these complaining noises for nothing. I did listen and obey. My Guardian Cats are on Facebook, I have a couple of blogs and just recently started tweeting and guess what? What sounded like a lot of work is pretty fun. Too much, if you know what I mean. If I'm blogging, FBing, twittering, then I'm not really working on my book. But I'm connecting with people and that's got to be a good thing for a hermit. Right?

I'd just like to add a couple of things to the platform, and that is GoodReads and Google Friend Connect, which allows you to turn your website or blog into a social hall, which is why I'm back here at my Blogger blog rather than WordPress.

What are you doing to build a platform? Do you have a Facebook page strictly for your writing or a particular book? Do you Twitter? What part of the platform do you enjoy the most?