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The September Writing Challenge is ON

A did sort of abandon the ad-infested Live Journal in favor of my regular web site (www.deannaroy.com) but I'm back for this year's September Writing Challenge here at LJ.

We write at least two paragraphs every day on a topic served up over at http://effwritersblock.livejournal.com/

I'm not moving my home and business this year, so I hopefully can actually DO the challenge! I'm ready!



The Writing Challenge

If your writing is stuck and you can't find any time to get words down, a group has formed to help you write two paragraphs a day in September to get you back in the habit. Each day will be a new short writing prompt. Surely we can write six sentences a day!

Come see us at



On Cheez Whiz and Seizures

I’ve always been told that the more adjectives you pile on, the further something deviates from what you thought it was.

Take Cheez Whiz. It is not cheese. If it were cheese, the package would just say “cheese.” At most, “cheddar cheese.” Or “American cheese.”

But no. Cheez Whiz, in addition to its aberrant spelling, also packs on the modifiers. “Processed cheese food product.”  There’s no hiding the fact that it’s made of chemicals in no way resembling the version solidified from the bodily fluids of a cow.

I’ve found, in this year, two months, and twelve days since Elizabeth’s first seizure, that I’ve been guilty of modifiers. “Seizure disorder.” “Seizure-like event.”

Tiptoeing, as it were, around the thing I’d rather it not be. Seizures. Epilepsy. A life-long battle. No cure, in our case. Hard to treat.

The meds aren’t working. Elizabeth had another big one today. She was hysterical, the Keppra doing it’s job of scrambling her emotions, making her react strongly and violently to everyday events, so a big one like this sent her over the edge. Sobbing, gulping, having trouble breathing because she’s BEEN TAKING THE MEDICINE EVEN THOUGH IT’S YUCKY AND WHY IS THIS HAPPENING ANYWAY?

We had tried easing the misery of the foul-tasting liquid. First with the extend-tabs, which were too big, and she choked. Then we tried to get the crushable pills, but the penalty for the doctor writing the Rx “dispense as written” made them $461. How are people supposed to do that? So we’ve continued the liquid, Elizabeth cheerful about it, finding ways to squirt it in the pocket of her cheek to minimize the taste.

But tonight she couldn’t walk, couldn’t get off the bed, too dizzy to move, completely distraught until she started throwing up despite the anti-nausea meds. All the side effects and none of the benefits.

“Why didn’t it work?” she asked between big heaving gulps of air.

I couldn’t tell her. I had no answers.

I can pile on the modifiers, try to change the way it sounds, put a spin on it. But that won’t change anything. A seven-year-old is afraid. And we are too.


A must-watch in honor of ScriptFrenzy

Oh, hilarity.

It's time for that screenwriting challenge of the year,ScriptFrenzy, where we write 100 pages of a new movie, TV show, graphic novel, or other script in the month of April.

I'll be serving as ML (i.e., head honcho, cheerleader, glorious leader) for the Austin area for the second year.

And in honor of this...an embed that will not show on my Facebook (but here's the link:)


I started a boudoir studio! I can't believe how crazy popular it's been with only two weeks of promotion. I've done four shoots and have four more booked. And of course, I will be at Carnaval in Austin!

New year, New Medium

No, I'm not going to turn into a fortune teller. Actually, wait, that sounds sort of fun. I bet you can get online certification for that. Why yes, yes you can.

But back to business. I have so many talented friends, and one of them emailed me last week asking if I would like to be part of a project to create a short film this summer. He wanted to try his hand at directing, and looking around at our circle, we had a videographer, a graphic artist, a working actor, and myriad creative types. "What we don't have," he wrote, "is a story."

Just a little over a year ago, I started writing film scripts. I got involved mainly because I knew nothing about it, had not spent years studying it, and therefore could completely fail at it and not mind a whit. I participated in ScriptFrenzy, adapting one of my novels to the screen as a way of trying to edit it down to the essential story. Turns out it was the perfect method for me. I realized where my story's turning points were weak. I shored up dialogue. And ended up with a much stronger manuscript that immediately started getting requested again by agents.

But then a funny thing happened. I entered a screenwriting contest, and advanced to the quarters on first try. I wrote another screenplay, and it advanced as well. I joined screenwriting groups, and made some contacts, and upon hearing my story ideas, directors were asking to read my scripts.

This was all very strange to me. I had studied novel writing for over twenty years, and still had not broken into the industry. And here, with amateur knowledge, I was having more success with scripts than all my years of writing combined.

As so often happens in film, far more than in book publishing, things fall through. Special effects aren't in the budget. Another script has more energy. I didn't mind. I was having a blast.

And I've kept my scriptwriting exactly for that -- fun. I am now in charge of ScriptFrenzy in April, and love every minute of it. Since my friend asked for ideas for what to shoot, I've come up with several: two four-minute comedies, a five-minute art film (which I am totally going to shoot myself if we don't do it), and a fourteen-minute psychological thriller.

If art is about feeling that happy creative buzz, about that sensation that you are living in the moment, and taking down your impressions of life to be captured in something more concrete than time, then screenwriting is exactly what I love to do.

I still write novels. And I'm still serious about them. In fact, one is out with agents and one is under heavy revision. And with all these story ideas blossoming in the last few days, some of them might become short stories instead of film scripts.

But I am so inspired to try this new medium. The director and I meet tonight to go over script ideas and decide the level of scene changing, number of actors, special effects, and sound we can accomplish with the equipment we have.

And of course, films like this definitely make me want to stretch a bit, and reach for something lovely and lasting.

A Thousand Words from Ted Chung on Vimeo.


Grace in the face of adversity

My youngest daughter is Elizabeth Grace. She's seven, likes to paint her fingernails a new color (or two) every day, refuses to eat anything that isn't yellow, and has a still-unclassified seizure disorder due to malformations of her brain.

For the past two days, we've been snagged in a sea of health care red tape. Only one pediatric neurology group exists in town, so we have to play by their rules. They won't see her until March, and that's only if they're willing to make an appointment, as right now our pediatrician hasn't jumped through the proper hoops.

Last February, when Elizabeth had a grand mal, followed by a day of dizziness, inability to sit up, stand, or walk, we ended up going back to the hospital when we could have simply done outpatient testing at one-tenth of the cost. But Circus Oz came to see the patients, so if you ask Eliza, she would tell you, "IT WAS TOTALLY WORTH IT!" Missing school for a week? Not so much.

She's back at school today despite three episodes that can't be classified for certain without tests. Her pediatrician thinks they could be halo-vomit-migraine patterns, but they could also be seizures with traditional post-seizure side effects. Meanwhile, Elizabeth goes merrily on her way, choosing between braids or headbands, hoping her heart shirt matches her sparkly jeans, and wishing her math homework wasn't quite so hard. She has trouble concentrating at times and deals with pains, both real and phantom, most every evening and night. She sleeps in troubled bouts, and if she gets too stressed or deals with too much static in her brain, will simply fall asleep wherever she is (sometimes even on the bottom step of the staircase if climbing them seems too much trouble.)

Specialists are hard to come by, and it seems more would-be doctors are shying away from fields that require too much bureaucracy, or ones where it can be hard to keep the clinic in the black, with all the staff required to keep the forms moving. And at times like this, when we're unable to treat a second-grader who might embarrass herself in front of her class at any moment by falling down and throwing up, it's frustrating to feel that the system doesn't work even for upper middle class families with good health insurance. I can't imagine how much harder it would be if we were poor, although I guess we'd just park ourselves at the hospital and let the bills fall where they may.

She'll hop off the bus shortly, thrilled to have seen her friends, bummed that she has to do homework again after two weeks off, and hopefully without any trouble this day. She doesn't always realize when she's having illness-related problems, when one day she can add triple digits and laugh about how easy it is, and the next will lie on the floor and cry over seven-plus-eight. That's the job of those of us around her, to keep her calm and safe and hopefully get answers when answers can be determined, and solutions when solutions can be found.

I'm not sure what we're owed from our health care system or what we should even expect. Maybe I want too much. But to see a doctor, one who has trained and has as much information as anyone might, seems the most basic of services. So today, that is what I fight for: an appointment. And let the answers fall where they may.


Writers who influence me

I'll end 2009 with a list of writers who make my world a better place.

Cynthia Lord. Her book Rules is probably the most re-bought and gifted book of my life. It's about the sister of a boy with autism, and the voice is so great, the story is so wonderful, and the lessons so keen, that I can't help but pass it to friends and family touched by autism, including my own niece and nephew.

Sonya Sones. I read What My Mother Doesn't Know several years ago and now I anxiously await each new title. Sones' stories are told in verse, and are so funny, so emotional, and so true. You don't have to be a teenager to be affected by her characters.

Margaret Atwood. Atwood had me at The Handmaid's Tale decades ago. I own almost all of her books. I got The Year of the Flood for Christmas and can't wait to tackle it. When I forget how lovely language can be, how intricate a sentence, how delicate a description, I read Atwood.

Annie Dillard. I knew about The Writing Life but had never picked it up until this year. The first chapters resonated with me so much that I immediately began rewriting drafts of some of my novels, searching for words that were better than the ones I had chosen, hoping to elevate each paragraph beyond an idea to be communicated and into prose poetry. I'm reading A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek now, and enjoy so much how she obviously labors over every choice of a word.

Betsy Byars. I read Summer of the Swans as a girl and I still pick it up again and again as an adult to remind myself that just because a story is written for younger readers, doesn't mean it can't be languorous and full of meaning. I don't have to make the book hurtle along if I don't want to, but the story can move by its tension, not its breakneck pace.

I look forward to the authors and books 2010 will bring!

Why I still read Ms. Snark

Yes, I know Ms. Snark’s blog is dark. It has been for over two years now. If you’re a writer and never discovered her, you should take a look. The archives are full of amazing and helpful information.

But that’s not the main reason why I go.

There are things in writing that are easy to master, if you put your mind to it. We begin to learn the first layer in grade school: spelling, punctuation, grammar, paragraph structure, beginnings, middles, and ends.

The next level most people don’t truly conquer, because they stop writing as soon as they are no longer in the presence of an evil-minded teacher who forces them to. It’s about the story telling: characters, setting, theme, and plot. People who love reading and writing in high school and college begin to see these elements in stories even when not writing a two-paged essay on them. They become eager to apply these concepts to their own work, layering them into their stories with equal attention.

Many literary-minded college courses and even professional workshops stop at this point, although some will move on to smaller pieces of the puzzle: scene structure, dialogue, transitions, pacing, and more poetic word-smithing techniques such as alliteration, consonance, and rhyme–all good pursuits.

I was stuck at this level for decades. I kept taking classes, joined critique groups, and read books. But one additional layer needed attention. And it wasn’t one you could easily come by, because it was large, unwieldy, subjective, and ever changing: writing to the audience.

I think one reason that this is ignored in the literary world is that it sounds like selling out, burnt on the edges in the fire of commercialism.

But when you’ve poured your energy, time, and hope into novels, all written on spec, with the optimism that it will one day be traditionally published, it can be a cold hard dash of reality when the letter come back, often as a quarter-page form, saying your story isn’t competitive in today’s market.

What? How can that be? YOU are part of the market, and you LOVE this. And second, it’s a form letter. It means nothing.

Actually, it’s a form letter because it’s so common. Many of us have great ideas, many of us can string words together that communicate what we want to say. But very few of us can make that message resonate with the readers we are trying to reach.

I see it every day in critique groups or in writers who post their query letters online for review. I’m no expert, and I can still see that they don’t have a handle on their story. Their summaries wander. They can’t write a one-sentence premise about the plot. They know very much what they WANT to do. And this is often worded in their letters in phrases like, “This book reminds us that…” or “Readers of this story will remember what it is like…”

We write sentences like that because we are frustrated by our own stories, our inability to show the lives of characters who will communicate a message without preachiness or head-smacking. And that last layer of the novel, which is part of every word on the page, is what ultimately causes the novel to fail, either at the query level, because the agent can see the writer isn’t communicating this part, so it’s doubtful the book will be any better, or at the novel level, when an agent has requested the work and stops reading around page 50 because the book just isn’t rising as it should.

Ms. Snark, in her query bashing and crushing responses to reader questions, cut through the literary high-brow and got straight into the issue of does this book work for the reader it was intended to impact? She did this with humor, with biting candor, and intelligent analysis. She made us able to look at our own work more critically, to slip on her stilettos and step back from our emotional attachment to what we’d written and see it from a difficult-to-please point of view.

It’s a debilitating blow to realize you’ve spent a year, or several years, on a novel that doesn’t work. But only when we fail can we figure out what we don’t know. Until you’re querying, putting your tender babies into the world, it’s not easy to know what you’ve done wrong.

But Ms. Snark can educate you ahead of time, before you burn through the agent list, without dealing with the hard reality of rejection in your inbox. Go, and read, and learn from her, not just once, but every year or two. We can’t absorb everything until we’ve moved to the next layer, when all the things we’ve fixed about our work reveals the next set of weaknesses.

It’s not an easy process and there aren’t any short cuts. But reading Ms. Snark can cut a lot of time out of the write-revise-rejection period of your authorly rise to success. And you can laugh along the way with Killer Yapp and hearing that once again, Ms. Snark has read something that makes her want to set her hair on fire.

So, what are you waiting for? Discover her again. I’ll see you there.

Ideas landing like meteors

I wonder how many other writers find that when they get in a groove, both words and new ideas come at them like a lighting storm in the dark. At times it can take intense concentration to ignore the unrelenting flashes falling around your head.

Since yesterday's writing marathon that netted me 10,000 words in one day, I've come up with three new novel ideas, as well as what will certainly be the topic for my 2010 ScriptFrenzy screenplay.

I'm just taking a moment, like I did once before, to write down the idea before it's forgotten or stored somewhere I can never find again.

Title: Facebook Thanksgiving
Genre: Comedy

Premise: Recently divorced ALAINA, fearing a holiday alone, impulsively posts an open invitation for Thanksgiving dinner to her Facebook friends. Unexpected arrivals: her fake-suicidal ex-husband, a woman she kissed at an office party, three coworkers who are unaware she has dated them all, and her manic-obsessive mother.

Or some other such ensemble. I love the idea of all your past loves converging in one moment. Plus, I've noticed lately that quite a lot of my FB friends are getting divorced in their late 30s, early 40s, making the plot fairly plausible, at least in the manner that movie-comedies can ever be plausible.

Back to my NaNo novel!