Monday, February 28, 2011

Another Humbling Experience

The further my beta readers get into my book, the more they’ve found to change. I’m shocked that I ever thought it was done. Now I see how foolishly prideful I was to think I didn't need beta readers. Even experienced and published authors still have critique partners.

What surprises me the most about this experience is that no matter how much I change, it’s still the same book. The themes are the same, the characters, the plot – everything good that I loved about this book is still there. The only difference is that the numerous weaknesses in the book are slowly being whittled away.

A big part of the reason I didn’t want beta readers was that I secretly didn’t want to change my book. I liked it the way it was, and the very idea of turning it upside down and inside out was terrifying. It takes courage, I think, to do major revisions.

I like to save my rough drafts because when I start making huge changes, I’m afraid I’ll put forth hours of effort and end up with a butchered book. But I haven’t done a single revision that I regretted afterwards, and I always end up deleting the old draft.

People complain about revisions left and right, but personally, I think there's nothing like seeing your book go from shoddy to polished. It's exciting.

Friday, February 25, 2011

9 Best Movies No One Has Seen

Every now and then, I discover a magnificent movie that few people have ever seen, either because it’s old, foreign, or it just didn’t get the attention it deserved. Here are a few of my favorites. If you know of any great movies few people have seen, please share them with us. I’m always on the lookout for a good film!

Graveyard of the Fireflies: Two orphans try to survive in Japan during the second world war. This movie is beautiful for its touching story and its stunning art. I have never been so upset at the ending of a movie, though. I didn’t just cry: I sobbed and moaned and my chest got drenched with tears. People in the theater started staring at me.

Ameilie: Ah, how I adore the French. This is a quirky movie about an average woman who uses her wits to help people with their problems in unexpected ways. I watched the edited version, so I can't vouch for it morally.

He Loves me, He Loves me Not: Half of it sucks, half of it will make your jaw drop from the sheer shock of the awesomeness this movie contains. I can’t tell you why it's great without giving it away. You'll have to see it.

Simone: When a film director tries to save his failing career by using a digital actress, he has no idea everyone would think the actress was a real person. This faux woman gives him the fame he desires, until she takes over his life. It’s surprisingly funny.

Paris, Je t’aime: This is a series of shorts about love and France. Some of them are funny, some are sad, and many of them are incredibly clever.

The Great Escape: “Chicken Run” was based on this 1963 film about prisoners in a German camp. It’s a true story about genius escape artists who will not sit in prison quietly.

Spirited Away: This is the most popular work of Hayao Miyazaki, a famous Japanese film writer and director. You should watch all of his movies (for some reason, men love “Princess Mononoke” the best), but you should especially watch this. It's a stunning animated film that won an Oscar for Best Animated Film and an Academy Award. If you love fantasy, you’ll love this masterpiece.

Howl’s Moving Castle: Another masterpiece of Hayao Miyazaki. It was nominated for an Academy Award (and it should have won). When Sophie, a British hatmaker, is turned into an old woman by a jealous witch, she goes on a journey that leads her to Howl, a mysterious wizard with a traveling castle. It’s funny, charming, and beautiful.

Planet of the Apes: This movie rocks the house, but even though it’s an icon in our culture, few people in my generation have seen it. This is unacceptable. If you care anything about the history of American film, you will watch it. Don’t look at the back cover of the DVD, though. It gives away one of the most shocking endings I’ve ever seen in a movie (what were they thinking when they put that there!?!).

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Four Sources of Writing Talent

Writers are rarely able to evaluate their own talent. I’ve seen people who have never written a word in their life but call themselves authors. I’ve met writers who can make the most stunning prose, but they hardly write because they think they aren't good at it.

If you think you’re not an incredible writer, you might be wrong. If you think you’re the best thing since sliced bread, well, you’re definitely wrong.

While thinking of this, I came up with four sources of writing talent. Instead of judging yourself across the board, you can evaluate yourself by each thing individually. That makes it easier to improve.

Natural Ability

I discovered in college that English is one of the easiest majors if you’re made for it, but it’s a nearly impossible major if you’re not.

I met a freshman who wanted to be an English major, but she said she was a slow reader and she didn’t like writing papers. I told her good luck, and I meant it sarcastically. She switched majors, of course.

If you have the desire to write, you have at least a shred of natural ability. If you enjoy writing, you have even more. If you can coerce anyone into sitting down and reading your work, hey, you’ve really got something there.

People think this is the only key to being a good writer. There's more.


I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: read a lot, read broadly, read well, and then read some more.


There are many good authors that don’t have degrees in English. John Grisham is actually a lawyer. However, there are so many things you learn in school that you simply can’t learn anywhere else.

It’s important to learn as much as you can, even if it isn’t from school in a traditional setting. If you don’t have a degree and going back to school is infeasible, learn anyway. There are workshops, writing groups, classes, and books about anything you could possibly hope to know. The Internet is a great resource. Even movies and television programs can teach you. Interesting people are great resevoirs of knowledge.   


Creativity is a muscle; you have to work it. The more ideas you write down, the more ideas will come into your head. Pracitice makes writing easier. I highly recommend keeping a journal, carrying a notebook with you everywhere you go, using writing prompts, and scheduling a time every day to sit your butt in front of the computer and work.

Do whatever you have to do to write, write, write. Write like a maniac=grow into a pro.

If you don't think you're where a writer should be, Don't fret. You’re perfectly capable of improving in all of these areas.

RANDOM MEMORY: Once when I was watching a movie with a friend, the DVD froze. My friend didn't want to get up to fix it, so she tried to fix it with her mind.

"I don't think that's going to work," I told her.

With a bright smile on her face, she said, "It doesn't matter. I can believe in myself!"

That's such a great attitude. I believe in you, too.

Blog Post of the Day: Nathan Bransford on passion and striving to write.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Great Dating Advice from a Douche

I heard some dating advice that was so true, so relevant, and so helpful that I've shared it with every dating friend I have. Now, I'm going to share it with you. I do have to add a caveat, though:

The guy who gave the advice was a douche. So it's kind of douche-y advice.

One of my co-workers was having trouble with girls. He only wanted to date women who were way out of his league. We'd recommend a girl for him and he'd say, "I like her, but I wouldn't want her as a girlfriend," or, "She's nice, but I can't picture myself marrying her."

The Douche listened to his reasoning and one day shook his head.

"Man, your problem is you keep going for the nines and tens. You need to warm up first. Go for the threes and fours. Get comfortable, boost your confidence, and work your way up to the fives and sixes. You might find a six you really life. Maybe you'll get all the way up to some sevens."

This was a revelation to me. We should date all kind of people, even if they're not our "type," because like exotic cuisine, you don't know if you like it until you've tried it. Dating should be fun, without unfair pre-judgments.

For all my dating readers out there, I hope you find some fours.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Your Query Says All

Since I'm in the beta and revision stages of my book, I haven't written much about queries in a while. I just read and incredible post at The Other Side of the Story with Janice Hardy that was about both revisions and queries. It inspired me to write a reaction to it.  

(I don't know if doing this is good blogger etiquette, but I'm going to do it anyway because it's going to be awesome.)

The basic gist of the article is that when there's a flaw in your query, it's almost certain to be a flaw in your novel as well.

At first I thought there was no way this was true because my old query was terrible and my book is wonderful (despite the major revising it needs). Then I realized that even though an unsuccessful query doesn't necessarily mean your book sucks, my betas said the same thing about my book that people have said about my query. Too much history, too much tell not show, long sentences, not enough focus on the main story line, etc.

I saw another example of this with a book I beta read. I helped with her query on Absolute Write before we started swapping chapters. The query basically listed the characters and their main traits without saying a word of what the story was about. Do NOT do this.

After working with her, people discovered she had an amazing plot about war and rebellion and love. I don't know what she was thinking when she didn't include that stuff in the first place. Her new query was what made me want to work with her.

The first three chapters were about her characters. No plot. I kept asking myself, "When are we going to get to the good stuff? Where’s the war and the rebellion and the love?" I started to wonder if anything ever would happen.

So, bad queries are tools to improve writing. Who knew?

Here's another great article about how movie previews show story arcs, and it made me think of query letters. Definitely worth a look.

Monday, February 21, 2011

They Like Me! They Really Like Me!

I hate to brag. I know people say that as an excuse to brag, like as long as you say you hate it you can brag all you want. I honestly don’t do it usually. But I figure if I keep talking about only my struggles and criticisms and never my success, you all might start to think I’m a bad writer. So, even though I hate to do this…

I have three beta readers looking at my book right now, and they’re all really enjoying it. There are a lot of changes I need to make, but they’re all good changes that will make the book better, so I’m glad for the suggestions. All in all, though, they have a lot of good things to say. Huzzah!

One of them even said she thinks about it when she isn’t reading it and couldn’t wait to continue reading. The biggest compliment an unpublished writer can receive is, “I would read this even if I didn’t have to.” I can’t tell you how good that makes me feel!

When I first sent my book to online beta readers, people ripped the book apart. I didn’t take it personally because the group I was with never had anything nice to say about anyone. I became proud of my thick skin.

I decided I didn’t need people to coddle me. I didn’t need anyone to tell me I was a good writer, because I knew it, and if I could withstand these mean readers, I could stand on my own two feet and withstand anything the outside world had to throw at me. Bring on the storms, people: I’m a real writer and I can handle it!

I was surprised how much it meant to me when my betas told me the good things about my book instead of just the bad. I had kept telling myself, “I’ve out-grown compliments. I’m too experienced to need validation from others.” Now I know that encouragement will always have an effect on me. It’ll never stop feeling good.

Blog Post of the Day: Writer Unboxed on how writing isn't and shouldn't be solitary.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Yay, Quirky Art!

A writer feeds off of inspiration. Every writer should explore, be adventurous, learn, and eventually come to the same conclusion: the world is an incredible place.

Due to my Portland roots, I am a huge fan of all art, but I especially love quirky art.

I found the funniest website where a guy takes photographs of simple yet hilarious ideas. You should check it out for yourself, but I’ve included some of my favorite pictures below.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I'm in Love with This

I had an exceptionally good day. I got a lot of work done on my book. I worked on my blog and read other people’s blogs, I read Jane Eyre for a few hours, I did some beta reading, read my betas’ comments, and planned my revisions.

This day is just like how I imagined a normal day as a full-time writer would be. It was thrilling how good I felt. I was reminded how much I love writing and how this is what I was meant to do because this is what brings me the most joy. Not everyone finds the one thing that makes them this happy.

I want everyday to be this productive, this meaningful, and this enjoyable.

Blog post of the Day: Nora Coon on the evolution of a writer.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Scaring College Boys

My first semester of college was one of the happiest times of my life. My roommates and I used to walk to an ice cream parlor in the middle of the night in our pajamas and we would stay up all night laughing and talking. It was like a four-month-long slumber party.

I remember one time we were at the ice cream parlor and one of my roommates showed off how she was double-jointed. One of the coolest things she could do was bend her hands so far down that they laid flat against her wrist. When she put her hands in her sleeve, it looked like she didn't have any hands at all. We showed the employees at the parlor and had a good laugh about it.

On the way home, we ran into a group of freshmen boys who were trying to squish an egg with one hand. (It's impossible because the pressure is evenly distributed.) They saw my double-jointed roommate, who was the prettiest of the bunch, and gravitated toward her.

None of us noticed her slip her hands in her jacket sleeve.

"Hey," said one of the boys, "Do you want to try to squish this egg with one hand?"

She raised up her handless wrists, made her bottom lip tremble, and cried, "I can't!"

The boys gasped and took a step back.

"I am so sorry," one of them said.

My roommates and I decided to join in on the prank.

"What's the matter, Stumpy? Can't squish an egg?"

"Little cripple, can't even squish an egg."

She put her nubs around one of the eggs and said, "Well, maybe I can squish it like this...." When she couldn't, she dropped her arms and frowned pathetically.

"Hey Stub, look what I can do," I said as I picked up an egg and waved it in front of her.

The boys were aghast. One even pulled her aside and asked, "Why do you let them talk to you like that?"

We never told the boys she had hands. To this day, they're probably still telling the story of the poor girl with no hands and how everyone made fun of her.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Fine, I'll Get Beta Readers

Wrong kind of beta
After the dismal failure of my first query letter, I’ve learned to be more patient about sending out my work. I experienced some Useful Doubt and started to wonder if my book is as perfect as I think it, just like I thought my query was perfect.

Maybe I’m not actually all that and a bag of potato chips.

I decided I need more people to read the book in its entirety and get more opinions (which I should have done in the first place, since I’ve found every writer worth her salt has beta readers). So far, I’ve found someone from Absolute Write Water Cooler, FictionPress, and Shallee's blog.

Im a firm believer in having people read the whole book, from beginning to end. The flow of a book is important, everything needs to fit together, and certain things need to be resolved by the end. Editing it chapter by chapter simply wont give you the critique you need.

Monday, February 14, 2011

How to Tell He's the One

In my freshman year of college, one of my roommates forcefully gathered us into the living room and pushed us onto the couch. “Sit here,” she said.

We looked at one another and shrugged. Not one of us knew what she was up to.

She plopped a video into the VCR that was already at the place she wanted and pressed play. It was a scene from “Pride and Prejudice” where Elizabeth impresses Mr. Darcy by helping his sister out of an uncomfortable situation. He is so in love with her for it that he gazes at her like he’s going to catch fire. As we watched the scene, we were breathless.

My friend stopped the tape and spun on us. “Don’t ever marry a man unless he gives you that look,” she said.

From that day forth, I went on a quest to find a man who would give me what we called "The Piano Look."

I got The Piano Look from my would-be husband after we had been dating a few months. I’ll never forget it. We were in church, and it was testimony day, so everyone took turns going up to the podium and talked about their belief in the gospel. I got up and talked about Christ and how much He meant to me, and that’s when I saw it. Andrew was looking up at me like he was going to catch fire.

Have a happy Valentine’s Day, everyone. Give someone you know a kiss.

"You know you're in love when you can't fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams." ~ Dr. Seuss

My bestest friend Ardis Smith wrote a beautiful blog post about how Valentine's Day should be about love, not romance, and we can all find love in our life.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hyperbole and a Half, aka the best thing that ever happened to me

A writer feeds off of inspiration. Every writer should explore, be adventurous, learn, and eventually come to the same conclusion: the world is an incredible place.

I've just discovered one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It's a blog, and it's perhaps the most ingenious work of humor the blogging world has ever seen. It's called "Hyperbole and a Half," and it's random stories (complete with drawings) about her crazy life. 

Think of a female version of "Calvin and Hobbes" hopped up on exorbitant amounts of sugar.

This chick has over 49,000 Google followers and her twitter account has over 60,000 followers. Why so many? Because she's brilliant.

"The God of Cake" make my husband laugh so hard, his throat and chest hurt afterwards.

Click here to witness her genius in all its glory.

You should also buy stuff to support her so she never stops being awesome.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

How To Silence Your Evil Inner Editor

I'm a guest on a blog again! This has been a social week for me. The lovely Becky Levine posted my article on how to silence that voice in your head that points out all your flaws and distracts you from writing it. I'm quite proud of this post. You can read it by clicking here.

If you would like to guest blog with me, contact me at and we'll discuss ideas.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Self-Manager Badge

This is not a funny story like my others. No, sir. This is a terrible story. This event traumatized me as a kid more than even that Gremlin movie. My mom is still mad about it. 


Monday, February 7, 2011

The Importance of Being Interesting

We learn how to write while sitting at a desk: in a classroom, at home with a notebook, in a critique group, at a café table with your computer. More than any other art, writing is about sitting in one place and doing the work.

More than any other art, writing is also about life. Without life, there is no writing. Every experience you have, every person you meet, every scent you smell, and every food you taste contributes to the intricate web of who you are and what you write.

Reading is not enough; if you only write about what you’ve read, you’ll only reiterate what’s already been said. There’s no substitute for a good life.

One of the coolest things I’ve ever done was go to an Indian color festival. Everyone bought bags of colored flour and threw them at each other until hundreds of people were drenched in rainbow slashes under a cloud of stunning color. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Here’s another example of a cool experience: Once my best friend was deathly ill on a sight-seeing trip in Rome. By the time she got to the Trevi fountain, she couldn’t go any farther. She curled up in one of the crevices in the rock and fell asleep for half an hour until a security guard made her move. She’s probably one of the few people in the world to sleep on the Trevi fountain.

When my husband was a teenager, he and his friends liked to cover other people’s houses in toilet paper. Once an owner chased them out with a shot gun and called the police. They spent several hours running through the woods away from the cops, and at one point, my husband lay face down in the dirt while a cop stood only a foot away and shined his flashlight right over him.

Even if we don’t write about these experiences, they’re valuable experiences that will bleed into our writing. I learned about dazzling color, my friend learned about spontaneity, and my husband learned about adrenaline. We can use all of this.

My challenge to every writer is to go out and live. Fall in love. Get in a fight. Do something dangerous. Learn a new skill. Listen. These are the building blocks of our work, and the more incredible the building blocks are, the more incredible the writing will be.

Me, Andrew, and my BFF, Ardis
What Ardis said about her experience: I saw a guy lie down to sleep, and I wasn't feeling very well and I thought, Hey, that over there looks like a comfy little niche to sleep in, and so I did. It was an amazing nap. Unfortunately, Hannah later informed me that five or six people came over and took pictures of me sleeping. One person asked if I was dead. I woke up to an Italian police woman telling me it was illegal to sleep there. If she understood how comfortable it was, I think she would fight for its legality.
Trevi Fountain

First Line Contest. Wanna Play?

The contest ended today. Thank you so much for your help, everyone! My sentence is a million times better than it was before, and I'm very happy with it. You all are the best!

Brenda Drake is hosting a first line contest that I'm stoked about, and I encourage any of you with finished novels to compete. All you have to do is post your first line and blog address in the comments section of her site, then post your first line on your blog. The deadline it February 8th (so soon!).

The prize makes me drool. Weronika Janczuk with D4EO Literary Agency will offer help on the winner's book.

1st place -- a critique of the first 50 pages + query
2nd place -- a critique of the first 25 pages + query
3rd place -- a critique of the query


Here's my entry:

Name: Teralyn Pilgrim
Title: Sacred Fire
Genre: historical fiction.

· The sun set above the river Tiber, its reflection making the currents into pink ribbons, and Tuccia clutched the edge of her seat; Rome was close. 

 Wish me luck! If you want to do it too, I send good luck in your direction as well.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

I'm a Finalist in a Contest!

Ah, sweet validation.

At Writer's Unboxed, they're hosting a contest for who can come up with the funniest analogy. Out of 130 entries, they picked 15 finalists, and I'm one of them! Soon the site will be open to the public for voting.

Here are some of my favorites from last year:
  • He stared at his cubicle wall, gray as an elephant’s butt and equally crushing. 
  • Dana gazed at Mike, her eyes filling with tears as she realized their love was as doomed as a myopic possum crossing the freeway.  
  • When Michael kissed her, Joanna recoiled, much the way one’s bare foot does when it encounters a fresh hairball on the carpet in the middle of the night. 
At first I was just going to send you the link and encourage you to vote without saying which entry was mine. Running around saying, "Vote for me!" seems unethical. But my husband disagreed, and whenever he says I can do something, I always go for it and blame him afterward. So, here's mine, and I encourage you to vote whether you pick mine or not:
  • Bus drivers are the substitute teachers of the adult world: they’re temporary, they’re in charge, and they’re usually bat-shit crazy.
I kinda feel bad for swearing, but that phrase is just too funny.

Fingers crossed!

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Day of Awesomeness: African Education Raffle

My dear friend and beta reader Shallee McArthur is currently hosting a fun raffle where you can donate $5 to help children in Africa get an education. You can read more about it here and you can donate here.

The award? It shouldn't matter, but let's face it, it does. The prizes are to either get pages of your book critiqued by freelance editor C.A. Marshall, literary agent Sarah LaPolla, or Shallee.

This peaked my interest because I submitted my book to Sarah LaPolla back when I had the Ineffective Query, and she turned me down. I can't help but hope I'll get a second chance with her.

So, take a chance, and make a difference!

Explorers Discover Worlds Largest Cave

A writer feeds off of inspiration. Every writer should explore, be adventurous, learn, and eventually come to the same conclusion: the world is an incredible place.

Caves rock. (That’s funny, I honestly didn’t mean to put a pun in there.)

Not only are caves spectacular and mysterious, but whenever I hear of a new cave being discovered, it’s thrilling to think of how much of the world we have yet to discover. I kind of wish I lived during the time when explorers first tried to find out just how big this world is.

The biggest cave in the world was recently discovered in Vietnam. It’s a network of over 150 caves, and it has river inside it and a jungle. I’ve never heard of a jungle in a cave before, except in fiction. (In fact, I think I saw a Dr. Who episode just like this.)

Can you imagine finding something like that? You see a little whole in the wall, and think, “If I go through that hole, I might find a dead end and then get stuck and suffocate. Or I might be the first to find the largest cave in the world.”

Personally, I lost my desire to go caving after I found out that when you get stuck, they have to break your collar bone to get you out.

This website shows you an interactive map of the cave. It has captivating images, and it’s a lot of fun. This link is a 7-page paper about being in the cave, which is also interesting.

No matter how much of the world we see, I hope mankind never loses its desire to discover something new.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Books I Read in January

At the beginning of the month, I vowed to read 44 books by the end of the year (twice as many as I read last year). Here are the books I read in January and what I thought of them.

This series of short stories focuses on African children in different countries and situations. It’s a fascinating look into the terrible conditions many African children face.

Everyone raves about how this book is disturbing but inspirational, how deeply they care about the characters, how perfectly he described the scenes, and how his stunning prose left an impact they would never forget.

For me, it was too much like “Kite Runner.” There’s an exotic setting, characters you fall in love with, horrifying violence, a vague inspirational theme, but it ultimately makes me lose faith in humanity.

Joseph Heller

This fiction set in World War II is a dark comedy about contradictions. I knew I would love this book before I started reading it. Logic fascinates me, and I get a kick out of following good logic to ridiculous conclusions.

Catch-22 is full of streams of logic that make sense from one point of view, but are absurd from another. For example, a soldier in the book is paranoid because he says people are conspiring to kill him. The other soldiers explain, “We’re at war; they’re trying to kill all of us.” He replies, “What difference does that make? They’re still trying to kill me.” Brilliant.

As a warning, there is an exorbitant amount of sex. At one point, the main character goes on a rampage and sleeps with three women while he’s looking for a particular woman to sleep with to comfort him while he longs for yet another woman he’d rather sleep with.

It’s a hard read. There’s not much of a plot (people are too anal about plots anyway), and there are a million characters to keep track of. Since the logic is so perverse, it took me a while to adjust to the way of thinking so I could appreciate how funny the book was. It was a rewarding challenge.

The Help
Kathryn Stockett

I adored this book. Five stars. It’s about African American servants – “the help” – and what it’s like to work for white families in Mississippi during the 1960’s. I already have a thing for African American literature, and this book had characters that I loved and situations where I just had to know what happened next. Whenever I wasn’t reading it, I wished I was.

It’s funny that the author is white because I once considered writing a book about African Americans, and at least five people told me not to. They said it was not my territory, and if I tried writing about it, the African Americans would eat me alive and burn my house down. One person actually told me I should consider the negative impact it would have on my children. He was from Mississippi. Of course.

I loved this book even more when I found out how much experience the author had with this topic. Stockett was actually a white child who was cared for by a black servant in the 1960’s. She saw these things and she knew these people. This book is fiction, but this book is real.

Stockett has a great website where she discusses her inspiration for The Help.  

White Fang
Jack London

It’s fabulous when authors successfully break all the rules. In this book, Jack London asks, “Why not have a wolf as a main character? Who needs dialogue and opposable thumbs? This wolf has something to say.”

This book is a tender story of a man and his dog. White Fang was raised by Native Americans and sold into dog fights where he learns about cruelty and never experiences mercy or love until someone saves him and tames him.

London drew a parallel between White Fang and people who are also misunderstood. White Fang was a ruthless killer because of what he had been through. A human character in the book is also a ruthless killer because of the cruelty he faced. It’s easier for us to love and forgive animals than it is to love and forgive humans. The question is, why?
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