Thursday, November 22, 2012


They say that inside of every fat person is a thin one waiting to come out.  There are no sayings about how the two of these people are at war with one another.  I can’t decide whether I am a fat person dying to be thin or a thin person dying to be fat.  I think I am stuck in a surreal land of in-between that most women are:  neither thin nor fat and not satisfied with my body or my diet.  I woke up this morning determined to fast...and then I remembered it was Thanksgiving.

So I write today, a thin Mediterranean woman taking a break from preparing a Thanksgiving feast typing with a cup of espresso and glasses on – only to catch a glimpse of my reflection: a plumper version of my mother.

I write in true Thanksgiving.

Today I celebrate an American holiday in South Africa– a land that doesn't have a decent frozen turkey to roast, dried bread cubes to purchase or Bell's Seasoning.  This place has become my home.  I take a break from my usual teaching about the holiday to say that I am thankful. 

I am thankful, I am thankful, I am thankful.

I have had an amazing life.

I remember the first time I went to a drive in movie and saw the beautiful multi-colored fairies of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty descending an imaginary staircase from the sky.  I remember my prom, my graduation, my first stick shift and falling….

I remember the day I gave birth to a boy who was perfect and born with white skin, black hair and blue eyes - I came to life myself on that day.  I remember meeting Mario – a chiseled, beautiful man who was golden all over.  He should have been attracted to a blonde supermodel, but he fell in love with me.   I remember his kids, fun and beautiful and too easy to get along with. I remember giving birth to a pink little girl, a day so etched in my memory I can still sfeel her tiny hand in mine.  I remember oodles and oodles of friends, laughter, countries, Mount Kilimanjaro, tears, grief, grandchildren and God.

And God.

I remember the day He made me beautiful, transformed a weak and spindly-legged fawn into a powerful princess filled with approval and love.  I remember the day I felt empowered to tell others the secrets of His love. 

In all of my memories I can say that I remember grief and joy out loud, the emotions that I've always felt full-force, the way He’s made me feel them. 

A tom turkey is a colorful, flamboyant creature that is noble and lovable.  It’s almost a shame to kill it and eat it, but it is a delicious bird, most recently domesticated and bred for the holiday feast.  I never got used to the idea of tofurkey – the tofu substitute of the Tom.  It’ll never do.

Today I am thankful that God’s grace has no substitute.  There is no counterfeit that even comes close to the feast that is the Father’s love.  I am thankful that He  is a master planner.  He made me- like a tom turkey - on purpose -designed to be a blessing.  He sees me as just the way he made me -delightful.

For this I am truly thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving.
Gobble, Gobble….

Friday, November 16, 2012


Everyday this month I will be blogging about the process of writing in honor of
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Nothing that is worth doing is easy.

To develop an original story takes creativity- a good story requires genius.  In developing real, believable characters you take  it a step further- you become a creator.  The characters need to be believable to everyone else, so the way they move, speak, eat, love and fear is your responsibility to present as truth to your readers.   All of this springs from a world that exists only in your head.

Novel writing is the marathon of writing and NaNoWriMo encourages fledgling authors to pump one out in 30 days with a dare: a schedule.

Every day for two hours a day, writers all over the world will develop plot, characters and sequence and write it down.  It’s a lot like committing to going to the gym to work out every day and never missing, despite any emergencies or interruptions.  Everything’s fine until about day nine.  That  day nine is the day that starts murming to you “Are you serious?  Every day?  Don’t you need just one day off?”  And day ten says it, too.  Then day eleven is more convincing.  By day thirteen, the thing you’ve committed to has to take a break because something is well and truly more important than your goal.

By day fifteen, after missing a day here and a day there , many writers give up and say they have had a good start and they’ll get back to the thing “When life calms down.”  


NaNoWriMo is the challenge that dares us to have a demanding schedule that includes writing everyday.  It is so easy to give up – and after the “give up” it is easy to abandon. 

Oh, NaNoWriMo?... Yeah, I tried that once.  I don’t like to work like that,”  is a sad thing to hear for anyone.

Here are a few motivational tips to stay on track to your calendar or schedule or get back on track after you’ve wandered:

·         Be CONVINCED that your GOAL is not just a good idea.  “Do you have the skill, audacity, brains, drive, the vavavoom and the zazazoo to write a book, find someone to publish it and then convince people to buy it?” Arielle Ekstut, author of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published asks.  If you do, do it.  If you don’t, the goal of writing a novel in one month will not be enough to make you motivated day after day.

·         Create a space – a “WORK-ZONE”.  Before you make a schedule, create a work-friendly environment that includes an imaginary sign that says “Don’t bother me while I’m here unless it’s an emergency.”  Last night my husband was on the phone with a friend who invited us to dinner next week.  I could hear him out on the porch chatting and reconnecting, but then I heard, “Hold on, let me ask Janet…” I looked up and the first thing he said was, “I’m sorry to interrupt you,” and I smiled.  He knows my look when I’m writing – the determined, driven face that is focused.  He can hear music coming from my headphones and he can see I’m on a roll.  He also reads my blog… and he knows my goal for November.   A note to parents of young kids: This is a challenging one.  Give yourself a break and enjoy your family.  I have no toddlers around, so it’s easy to establish my zone – but also communicate that there will be times this month that will be (more than normal)

·         Just do it! Think that quote is Nike’s?  Charles Dickens said “I never could have done what I have done without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time.”  Concentrate.  Focus.  Get it down.

·         Don’t get stuck in re-write land.  An awkward phrase to a writer is like dirty hands to an obsessive-compulsive – but some things are best left until you can come back later.  After the first coat is painted, there’ll be a time to go back and correct the typos, streamline the conversations and correct the inconsistencies to correct, but it will be done in sweet December.  Imagine if we left anything we wrote in its original state!    

·         Read and Walk… This morning I read a blog by Nathan Bransford  (writer, editor, agent and now social media manager at CNET) entitled "10 Marketing Techniques That Annoy Potential Readers" .  I later read 2 Thessalonians – and was riveted by the “more than words” of chapter one.  It reminded me that perseverance is a character quality deeply valuable in the Christian faith.  Even the dictionary defines it as a "thological term".   It renewed my hope in “living the Gospel” and trusting God.  It encouraged me to walk out my faith….

One month. 
One challenge. 
One product at the end. 
You can do it.
Just persevere. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Everyday this month I will be documenting the process of writing a new novel in 30 days. 
November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Young Adult audiences are fast growing, book reading machines.   The  American Library Association (ALA) defines a young adult as “someone between the ages of twelve and eighteen”, but the audience is more about heart than age.  After all, I’ve met some really old eighteen year olds and some really young forty year olds. 

I decided to write a YA novel during NaNoWriMo because, quite honestly, it’s a genre that sells.  My first novel, a stunning drama called “Treasures in Diepsloot” is set in South Africa.  It’s a gorgeous story of four strong women (all from different cultures) and their daughters living in the old and new South Africa – in a township.  Professionally edited and polished, I have yet to find an agent for it.  One of my agent friends suggested that I write a “genre novel”, one that is more marketable.  After that one is published I can ask for my first to be published.  

Sigh.  Not the way I saw things going.

So I tried to write Crime fiction (not my thing), science fiction (my brain doesn't work that way) and finally arrived at YA – a genre I love and remember breaking me into a love of literature.  S.E. Hinton’s  The Outsider’s; George Orwell’s Animal Farm and the haunting and awful Lord of the Flies by William Golding.  

Most  YA  novels that I’ve loved are centered around the sequestered world of the young hero – lonely in a sea of peers that don’t understand him/her.  The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger,  tells the tale of Holden Caufield, a boy/man who seems hell-bent on destruction.  Surrounded by people who are genuinely trying to help him find his way, Holden refuses to soften to them, seeing most as "phony" - a catch-all term he uses for most things that irritates him.   

I’ve read it more than any other book I own- other than the Bible.  I keep hearing Holden’s voice in my head as I write the new one- the baby novel in its infancy – broad strokes done in November.

My new baby is called euphobia

It is the interactive story of an unlikely romance between an effervescent cheerleader and a computer geek who has an unusual fear of hearing good news.  I have just reached a place in my story that I never thought I’d come to – a place of “Will this appeal to my audience?” 
It’s their first kiss.

Since the book is told in turns by boy and girl, Gina is the first to tell the contact.  What you will read from here is her voice.  Please see if I’m on the right track – and get back to me with your thoughts.  

Chapter Seventeen – Gina

So he said yes!!

Fred said he would help me with the party!! I was so excited that I hugged him! Right there in the grand hall right in front of the gym!  Wow!

He didn’t know what to do, he hardly hugged me back, but I didn’t care.  Right then I realized that I forgot to ask him to come to the planning meeting at my house the next day, so I followed him.  I watched him walk into the boy’s bathroom and decided to wait for a second.  Boys go pee so fast it’s like they are attached to the toilet already. 

I was standing there when the tardy bell rang so I decided to holler for him.  I opened the door just a crack and yelled, “Fred!”

He came out of the door, looking like he had seen a ghost.  Following him was Troy and Todd – which explained things.  They seemed a little surprised to see me and it was then I knew that Fred had walked into an ambush – the pack of the swimmers probably harassing him.    

“Well, well!” Todd said, smiling like some kind of jock idiot, trying to be cool.  I was so not impressed.

Fred looked from Todd and then to me.  At first I didn’t know what to do – but then I knew Todd was jealous of Fred.  So I tried to be cool.

“I forgot to tell you something,” I said to Fred, acting like a girl who was talking to her boyfriend.  I looked at him, hoping he would play along but instead Fred came to life and stood up straighter.  In that moment I felt like I fell into his heart.  His eyes were sparkling like emeralds, cutting their way into my soul.  I didn’t know what to say, and just stared at him.  Suddenly, I got filled with boldness.  I reached for the back of his neck and pulled him toward me.  I kissed him, a soft brush with my lips.  The smell of soap filled my head, and his face was so manly – something that surprised me. 
I backed away, stunned by the feel of electricity between us.

“Well I’ll be damned...” I heard the distant whisper of Todd’s voice but all I saw was Fred, right in front of me smiling slightly.  He looked into me and then leaned forward again.  The kiss was soft: first his lips, then his mouth, then his tongue and he pulled my waist against his body.  He seemed taller, less like a boy and more like a man.  I melted into him and my eyes rolled into the back of my head. 

 I don’t know how long we kissed, but the next thing I heard was the hall monitor, clapping his hands as if to wake us up from sleeping.

“Okay you two,” he said.  “Let’s get your butts to class."

I broke away and looked at Fred, feeling dizzy.  That was my first kiss - ever – and it was beyond perfect.  Fred was no ordinary computer nerd.  He was a hottie hiding out in the C-Lab and biding his time.  Why hadn’t  I seen him this way?  Ariel saw him like this before I did.  I was sure, at that moment, that he was real boyfriend material.  Prime real estate on legs.

Fred  lifted his hand to his mouth and wiped under his lips.  I could barely move, I was staring at him so long.

I snapped myself out of it.

“I forgot to tell you that we have a meeting at my house after school tomorrow,” I said.  My own voice sounded funny.  It sounded like I drank a milkshake full of pure sugar.  I cleared my throat.  “If you can make it.”

Fred didn’t answer, but he wouldn’t look away.  I felt weak, but I turned around and walked to gym, trying to act like everything was cool.  Who was Fred?  Where did he learn to kiss like that?  Did he just like every other boy, want to run me over and spit me out? Or did he love me?

I hardly knew what to think, but then I heard the hall monitor shout behind me.  “Get to class buddy or I’m taking you to the office!”

I turned around and saw Fred, still watching me as I walked away.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Puleng, Martin, Me and Lindi

Season 2, Episode 8 of Come Dine With Me South Africa
Photo courtesy BBC Entertainment 

So I have sat and watched it twice now- my episode of Come Dine With Me South Africa.  My first reaction now that it's over?  “Wow! That’s it?”  I also had a whole bunch of friends watch it with me and I think I paid more attention to the twitter feed than I did to them – what kind of hosting is that? 


I also am pretty mad at Dave Lamb right now, with his snarky narration...but what was I expecting?

I guess after the rolls and rolls of film, I expected – well, more.  More show, more reality...more of what really went on with the four of us.  The four of us, as many of you have seen by now was Puleng (Diva!), Lindi (Genius) and Martin (    ).   Martin’s parenthesis is left empty because that’s how well I knew Martin after one week of hanging out and whooping it up.  Nothing, nada, zero.  That’s how much of himself he really shared with us. 

And he won.

As I said in the episode I am a pretty simple woman who is here to love and serve God in any way I can  in South Africa.  I love South Africa – I love its people.  My husband is a pastoral kind of guy, also filled of love and fun.  All that didn’t make it into the episode...

 When I first saw CDWM I thought that it looked like a lot of fun...and I thought that I could win.  If you don’t know anything about full time ministry, let me tell you that no one does it to get wealthy.  All of our money is usually poured back to others who have greater needs than we do.  So ten thousand rand is a hefty chunk of change!  It could do a lot for our church, our ministry and the people in the township.  I entered online, got interviewed and then was told (while I was shopping) that I was going to be on the show.  I was excited!!  I had no idea what was in store for me....

Contrary to popular twitter posts, Puleng (or first host) is not stupid – she’s amazing.   When I read the menu I honestly thought that with the pride in traditional food that it was put together by a Xhosa man.  When she opened the door I thought: “Definitely not a man!”

To put a show like this together isn’t easy.  It's filled with tiny nuances and surprising starts and stops.  The first night is the hardest because (honestly) you just want to get to the dinner party and let the games begin!

Puleng was a great host and she was attentive and served some beautiful wines and champagne.  She is also incredibly beautiful up close.  At one point I had to apologize for staring at her.  Honestly, I am a happily married woman...

Lindi is prettier than she appears on film -right away showed razor sharp wit and a speed of communication that kept me on my toes.  During dinner I quoted William Shakespeare and Lindi quickly identified where it was from.  She loves to stir, so a less worthy opponent might feel intimidated, but I loved her immediately.  She also has incredible, adorable fashion sense.

Martin did not dress in traditionals and made no apologies.   At one point Puleng brought him a Springbok jersey (quite hilarious) and told him if he wanted to dress like a traditional white boy that he should do it right.  It was classic. 

At the end of the night I went home almost falling asleep in my taxi because it was 1:30 a.m..  All night long I thought I cheated Puleng out of an 8 – but in the morning I realized that my score was fair.  After all, she was in the kitchen a lot and seemed to have a cheat here, a cheat there.  Nothing major, but just little stuff (I could tell the spinach was store-bought). 

Lindi hosted us next.  I’m going to say this loudly – and often.  If I wasn’t going to win, Lindi should have won.  Her menu was ambitious and she pulled it off.  She also knew how to host a party.  Her house was a showcase of art and she kept us all talking.  We felt much more comfortable with each other by the end of the night. 

Lindi’s fish was overcooked – but that tamarind sauce  on top of it was FROM GOD!!  I put the sauce on everything, and if she would have left it on the table I would have put it on my apple tartin.  I have passionate feelings about pastry, which is why she got an 8 instead of a 9.  Her apples were perfect and I hope next time she’ll think twice about shop-bought pastry. After all, she’s fabulous and should be making her own fabulous pastry.

The only hostess to bother with fine details, Lindi provided a masseuse, a cheese tray and an apéritif – a very expensive one.  Truly a classy lady.

Martin hosted us next with quite an ostentatious menu.  We all knew that his “Oh, I don’t cook,” act was just that - Martin could cook.

I didn’t mean to be picking Martin apart on his night- the way it came off on film was pretty funny, but edited to make it look like I didn’t like him.  I thought my story about being adamant about the spelling of the Bering Sea was funny – even I (from North America) got the spelling wrong.

Martin tried and succeeded in being genuinely a good host.  I thought he had a good shot at winning simply because of the table he set - It was amazing!  In between courses Martin made sure we had drinks and still managed to serve nice, hot food (a feat of note with the way CDWM is filmed).  

His barracuda was perfection.  Brown and seasoned perfectly, it fell apart against my knife and still tasted buttery and gorgeous. 

I don’t eat chocolate, so I didn’t eat Martin’s dessert. He also said he was making a coulis, which wasn’t what the packaged fruit topping was.  It was unappetizing, but he had me at the fish.

8 out of 10. 

Still, if Martin would have shared just one iota of his heart we all would scored him even higher.  Instead, Martin is now known as the shameless cheat who lied about making his own cheese sauce. The night ended with a yawn.

The day I was supposed to host began with a power surge on my property that blew out all of our electricity.  I had no lights, plugs, etc., and the stellar CDWM crew (in the most calm, cool and collected way) set up a generator that would enable me to use my oven and my blender.  Also, because of this new twist, we had to change a lot of things around, including the location of the piñata – we almost didn’t do it! 

The whole power issue really mattered much more than what you can imagine, but I somehow managed to get everything done that I was supposed to do, unless you count organization!!   I was (understandably) flustered.  Every question about my family brought me to tears.  At one point they asked me what I would do with the money if I won and I just lost it, saying that the best prize would be if my new friends came to church with me.  It was a highly emotional day, and my nerves were pretty raw. 

By the time that Martin (my first guest) had come to my door, I had barely gotten dressed (in the dark) and put on my makeup (I didn’t blend my blush enough –many tweets pointed this out, just in case I missed it). 
Martin and I had a full Margarita before the rest of the guests got to the party and I finally felt relaxed.  This is when Martin did something that I think was designed to sabotage my party – he told Puleng that I had specifically requested “No talking about T and A”.

Know what?  I didn’t!

This would have seriously hampered Puleng’s ability to relax.  She is very tender-hearted and Lindi and I felt very protective of her (She really is adorable and tender and she came off looking like a fake diva...and she’s not).  While I was greeting Lindi, I came out to the patio and could tell Puleng was upset – and didn't know why.

I think this was worse than lying about the cheese sauce.

You saw that Martin asked me why I didn’t say grace.  I didn’t forget, and I don’t think I needed to lead the group in prayer when we hadn’t prayed any other night!  It would be kind of conceited for me to think that I could force my guests into some kind of reverence for God.  I didn’t think much of it, really.  I love God but I hate religion and pretentiousness.

 I forgot the guacamole. I forgot the palette cleanser.  I forgot to lay out a sufficient number of forks....  By the end of the night, I was exhausted.  The night was fun and my party had gone really well  (Martin even said later that it was his favorite night).  But the scores reflect that I didn’t pull it off.     

Want the truth?  We all cooked well. Puleng served up great traditional food and made us all feel like friends on the first night.  Lindi executed a challenging menu to perfection, adding classic touches that no one else thought of.  Martin cooked – and well!  And  as far as I am concerned, dear ones,  I gave it my whole heart preparing a meal for three beautiful people I wanted to love with food.

If I had to do it all again, I would.

But this time, I would have gone and searched Martin’s garbage with Puleng. I would have found the fake cheese sauce.   Then I would have scored Martin a 5 for lying to his guests – in a cooking competition!

Buen Provecho! (That's bon apetit in Mexican...or Latino) 

To see the BBC advertisement of this episode click here.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


The hard part of writing a manuscript is writing.

Did I say that right?  Am I communicating my point?  Does it sound redundant or too simple? Is it accurate?  

Maybe I should rewrite it. 

A story in your head is different from a story told and put down on paper – or on a screen.  Building a manuscript  is a work of thought, developing the embryonic idea into a truth with beauty and life.  When building this, writers write; then read what they write; and then rewrite.  Eventually even the best writers face a time of dryness when the words stop coming....  They call it writer’s block, but it should be called writer’s slow death.

When writing The Poisonwood Bible, Karen Kingsolver admitted that the scope of the book daunted her, causing a writer’s block that plagues the best of us.  “For many years,” she wrote later, “I had instead of a manuscript, a file cabinet; its imaginary label was the ‘Damned Africa Book’ or later just D.A.B.”

Hemingway, when asked what he struggled with when he wrote and rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms 39 times before he was satisfied, answered “Getting the words right.”

Getting the words right.

Even Hemingway,  so precise and clear - so free of pretence- struggled with getting the words right.  The best advice I ever got about writing was “Just do it.”  Start, tell.  Get it down, read it make spelling changes, then move on.  Keep going.  Keep telling.  Do it , do it, do it. 

Starting a novel at anytime is a challenge.  NaNoWriMo is a dare to us – let’s band together and begin at the beginning.  As I’ve set out on the process I realize the weight of responsibility to introduce my audience to a wide spectrum of characters, give them a good peek at their lives and then most of all, keep them reading.  What makes a reader interested?

It’s important for people who are trying to do a manuscript in 30 days (ONE MONTH!!) to do it.  According to some of my favorite writers, getting it down is first, then refining comes later.  Using their words, here’s some encouragement:

·         “Put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.

·         “Why shouldn't truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense.”
                                        ~ Mark Twain

·         “I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell an interesting story entertainingly.”
                                      ~ Edgar Rice Burroughs

·         “Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he'll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer.”
                                            ~Ray Bradbury

Here are some tips that I use to make the process of writing a manuscript  in 30 days a little more relaxed:

  • ·         Keep a calendar – Write and record how much you’ve written.  Diaries can’t lie and you will see when you are most productive
  • ·         Make your writing station as comfortable as you can - I’m sitting on a barstool at  the counter of my kitchen, close to coffee and tissues at my left hand.  There is a small and functional desk lamp that illuminates my keypad.
  • ·         Bring other people in on your goal – Once accountable you may be more productive!  Also friends can encourage you, motivate you, pray for you....
  • ·         Believe that you can do it- Goals are either motivators or accusers.  In the face of accusations it is important to remember that the story must go on.  You can do it!!
  • ·         Read when you are “stuck” – something in the same genre you are writing is best.  Reading frees up your troubled mind (the part that keeps tripping).

NaNoWriMo has its own website: is very helpful and encouraging.  Check it out!!

Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day – a manuscript really isn’t finished after 30 days!  Nevertheless,at the end of 30 days you should have in your hand the broad brushstrokes of a manuscript – a rough draft with characters and ideas that are alive and waiting for you to perfect their environment.

Then you can get to the real work of writing: re-writing.  


Tuesday, November 6, 2012


YA Artist May-Ya Rendition "Thou Art my Love" 


Getting into the mind of a sixteen year old (again) is not easy. 
It's also not a fun place to be.  
I hated sixteen.  
 I hated it, loved it and lived it loud.  
It's showing up in m new novel, a genre I decided to try called YA - young audience - but it keeps veering into a very troubled, more adult theme - just like  my life at sixteen.
 So....I need help.
This is my first chapter.  Can you please read and tell me if I'm on the right track.  Would you keep reading if you were a sixteen year old?

  Let me just begin by telling you that I love you.  I don’t mean I love you in a metaphysical, spiritual love kind of something.  I love you because you picked up this book and started to read it.  After all, look at all these books here and you picked up mine! I know it sounds dumb, just blurting out “I love you!” to a complete stranger, but really I am kind of dumb.  I should be really clear about this right from the start.
Next I need to apologize to you for bringing you in on this thing.  What could have been an open and shut case of romance has now been blown all out of shape by the twisted idea that things have to be perfectly awful to be any good.  And who has this idea?  My boyfriend, Fred.
Yeah, that’s right, his name is Fred. 
“Is that your real name?” I asked him the first day I met him.  Our assigned seating in computer lab was right next to each other and he had a backpack the size of Cleveland.  I mean, Cleveland!  And here he was sitting next to me with a thump like he didn’t even want to be here.  He was sitting next to me!  The prettiest, blondest girl in the whole class and he didn’t want to be here!  So, as I was staring at him, he turned and looked at me through his hair that was too close to his eyes.
The thing was, it was great hair and he had great eyes – brown and green. 
“Hi,” he said, sighing. “I’m Fred.”  Then he stuck out his hand like I was supposed to shake it!  I didn’t know if he was serious or what, so that’s why I asked him if it was his real name.  Maybe to distract him from wanting to touch me –like shake my hand, I mean.
“Actually,” he said.  “It is.”  His eyes were so green and so sad.  I wanted to pretend that either fact didn’t bother me.  But the truth is, I’ve never seen eyes that color before and I have a thing for puppies with sad faces.  So as the teacher droned on and on before we were even allowed to turn on our computers about things like the ban on social network sites (like it wasn’t on my phone!) and how profanity or research on drugs that weren’t yet legalized or any drugs for that matter....  (yawn!) I listened. 
Maybe I should say right here and now that he smelled like soap.
Now, you might understand how the whole idea of Fred was really cool.  But I’m telling you, Fred was hard to get and that’s why I love you for even wanting to hear the story about how we were put together and how we went to homecoming in the same limousine as King and Queen and how he kissed me and how we both decided that the timing was right....
And this is where I need to tell you that I’m really sad.  I’m sad because he gave up on us and now as I tell my story – our story – I can tell you that I’m not a give up kind of girl. 
I may be dumb, but I’m not stupid.

 Story copyright - Janet Rodriguez 2012

Monday, November 5, 2012


Everyday this month I will be blogging about the process of writing a new YA novel during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Plot  is a literary term defined as “the plan, scheme or main part of a story” by  Wikipedia describes it as “the events that make up a story, particularly as they relate to one another in a pattern, in a sequence, through cause and effect, how the reader views the story, or simply by coincidence.” 

I used to read aloud a children’s picture book to my students when I was introducing creative writing as a unit.  It was called “Aunt Isabel Tells a Good One” (By Kate Duke, Picture Puffin Books).  In its pages, Aunt Isabel  said it best:  “A good story is the hardest kind to tell... We must put it together with the right ingredients.”

A plot, very simply put, is the ingredients of a story - mixed together; baked at the right temperature - that come out on the other side as the story. Sure, characters make a story real and geniune with their voices and perspectives, but no reader wants to be so distracted by characters’ voice that they feel like they never know what’s going on, or what's supposed to be going on.

Sometimes a plot is well planned, leading us directly from start to finish.  Sometimes it meanders through a forest, taking its time to show us more about the human heart, a multifaceted, sad, and beautiful place to make discoveries.

The absolute best plot I’ve ever read in a story was Marathon Man (William Goldman  1974), a conspiracy thriller novel that was soooooo not my genre, but it was lying around at my dad’s house and I decided to try it.  I was half-way through the book (which was really interesting) when I got slammed in the face with a pan – the plot came together all at once and all of the orphaned characters knew each other!!  BAM!!!    I have read a LOT of books, but none whose plot was as as well architected as this one. 

The was also the juicy unravelling of Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen); the masterful sugar-basket weave of War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy) and the tender non-plots of all of Flanner O’Connor’s stories, especially “The Turkey”, leading me to a place of recognizing that the human heart is constantly searching for elusive happiness, most of the time left with a bewildered realization that our journey rarely ends at the pot of gold. 

 I have been writing another novel at this time (two hours a day of sitting down and writing) and have begun a story in a genre they call YA – young adult.  My plot?   An unlikely romance develops between an effervescent cheerleader and a computer geek who has an unusual fear of hearing good news.  I’m thinking of calling the YA baby euphobia.

So far, the girl and boy share one class (a computer lab) and a family history that is remarkably similar (they have not yet shared this).  He is a new kid at school and has a funny name and a geeky hobby (he restores the schools computers in the lab) but he tries to stay away from her because she is so optimistic and bubbly and pretty and way out of his league.  The problem is, she likes him and seems to understand his heart, a rarity in high school.

So, my plot is still unfolding.

In NaNoWriMo a book called No Plot? No Problem! sells BIG TIME to authors wanting to write a novel in one month.  

My problem right now with my new project?  Getting into the minds of the main characters – why do some kids experience tragedy and move on with their lives, while others get into terrible patterns of self-protection and sabotage of their own happiness? My is Gina effervescent and an optomist?  Why is Fred so walled off and self-protective?  

Any insights? Ideas? Send them along to me!!  Especially you younguns!!

By the way, please join my blogsite:  The more members I have the better chance I will have to get an agent to publish my book!!

Saturday, November 3, 2012


Wilkins Micawber
from David Copperfield

The beauty of good books lies inside of the people living in them.  Characters can make a dull story exciting and a good story even better.  

Here are some of the most memorable characters of books that I’ve read:

  • ·         Macon Leary (The Accidental Tourist,  Anne Tyler) – a frightened, anal-retentive man who is content in his sheltered world until his son is killed in a random shooting.  After this happens, Macon’s marriage falls apart and his back goes out, forcing him to move back in with his brothers and sister in the house he grew up in.  As much as Macon tries to make his life manageable, it continues to spiral out of control...which (of course) is the hope for Macon.  Brilliantly written, Anne Tyler made Macon a loveable protagonist I was unexpectedly cheering for.

  • ·         Marianne Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen) – romantic, young and beautiful Marianne explodes off the pages of S&S, throwing caution into the wind and losing her heart completely for John Willoughby, the dashing neighbor intent on sweeping her off her feet.  While her family carefully maneuvered around her, I knew that Marianne was headed for disaster and I could do nothing to stop her.  She reminded me of myself and then other Mariannes I have later known.  I became personally attached to her in the story.

  • ·         Wilkins Micawber(David Copperfield, Charles Dickens) – the most conflicted man I have ever met in any page of any book!  Mr. Micawber was reckless and foolish with his spending habits, causing his family great shame and eventually going into debtor’s prison.  Still, his heart was the most solid of gold and he became a friend to the orphaned David (the book’s real hero) and was a loving husband and father.  His optimistic outlook on his life (“Something will turn up!”) and his coaching of David not to go over his budget made him likeable and tragic at the same time.  I loved him completely.

  • ·         Jing-Mei Woo (Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan) – After losing her mother unexpectedly, June (Jing-Mei) realizes that her Aunties want her to take her mother’s place in their club (the book’s namesake) which meets to play Mah-jong and invest in stocks.  After realizing that the Aunties have arranged for her to “finish her mother’s unfinished business” June is plunged into a journey of self-discovery and forced reflection that she wasn’t bargaining for.  Graceful but insecure; brave yet shy – June reminded me of every woman I ever met and left me in tears at the end of her journey.  I have read the book about 10 times... and each time I think she is the most unlikely and graceful of heroes.

  • ·         Ivan Ilyich (The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy) – A man who, at the end of his life is faced with an illness and has nothing to do but lay in bed and reflect.  Sound boring?  Ivan was relentless in the detail of the triumphs, disappointments and passions in his life and spent the last three days screaming in bed.  I have never, ever put down a book with such transfixed horror and sadness.  It still haunts me to this day, the way he wondered what would follow this awful death....

  • ·         Yasin Abd al-Jawad (Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz) – A man with a large appetite and passion, Yasin strolled through the story meant to belong to his father with such clueless confidence that it unnerved me.  To this day he epitomizes the attitudes of men in old Egypt – misogynistic and unable to weigh the consequences for his actions.  Yasin bled off the pages and made me hate him, hope he wasn’t caught in his folly and later wish he could find a woman who could understand him.  Mahfouz’s brilliance in writing him reminded me of every prodigal that never seems to understand how his own behavior affects his family. 

Now – those are charecters who are fictional.  They never lived, and yet they are people I’ve met and I remember.

I am no expert in developing characters.  What I do know is that I go through a little inventory before I begin writing.  Maybe writing good characters mean that you need to know them well before they appear on paper.  

Here’s some questions I’ve been told to ask myself before developing a character:

  • ·         Does this person exist already in your mind? 
  • ·         What year were they born?  What are some of the things happening in the world that would influence them?
  • ·         What drives them? (if they are driven)  What inspires them? 
  • ·         What do they do?  Do they do this out of choice or because they have to?
  • ·         What does their world look like?  Who do they eat lunch with?
  • ·         What is their definition of good and evil?  What do they base their beliefs on?
  • ·         What are their flaws?  Their little annoying habits?
  • ·         What are their strengths?  Their courageous little habits that makes them loveable?
  • ·         When they wake up in the morning, what makes them want to get up?

Once details about the character start forming in your mind,  begin writing about them.  Eventually you will know them and “remember” a defining event in their life that has influenced/changed them.

 Exercise:  HAVE FUN!! 
  • ·         Begin by finding a picture of a person in a magazine, on an advertisement – the web ANYWHERE. 
  • ·         Give that person a name.
  • ·         Ask yourself what this person is going through right now. 
  • ·         What do you know about this person that no one else does? 
  • ·         Is there a story here?