Author Archives: empirewriter
by Heather Harris Brady
One can’t knock the idea of journaling, as such. However, if you’re like me, scraping tiny tidbits of time out of a day to write journaling seems to be asking a bit much. Once you’ve got the kids on the bus, you’ve put in a full day at work and cleaned after the dinner that you cooked, I mean really. Get serious.
Then I read a blog post somewhere, and I’m sorry I forgot to write down the place, about a writer who does long mystery series. She keeps a short daily journal of notes to stay on track. Here’s how:
1) Each morning she starts with the date, perhaps a short bit on her mood.
2) Add any ideas that cropped up overnight.
3) Play with a problem scene or the one you’re on if you feel you need it. Explore those bizarre veins of thought that might not be worthy of going into the text right now.
I do via a document in Dropbox and I add to it every morning. It doesn’t take very long and it has helped me immensely. Before, I would be constructing amazing snippets of dialogue in my head while I brushed my teeth or drove to work, but by the time I could write – ten or so hours later – they were gone.
But no more! I take a few minutes and get them down. Better yet, the document is always waiting for me wherever I am, so if I have ideas at lunchtime I can add on. Maybe someday I’ll have time to journal the way a writer is supposed to do it, with some intense character navel-gazing, but for now this has made my writing life a lot better and I hope it helps you as well.
Photo source: Wikicommons
by Heather Harris Brady
As someone who’s spent a lot more time in the classics than the comics, I was so surprised by this movie! I’ve now watched it twice in the last two weeks. It offers writers a lot of lessons, in my opinion, so it’s well worth your time. (There are spoilers below, so run and watch it if that bothers you!)
Here are a few of the things I think it does particularly well:
High Emotional Stakes
This movie is littered with characters who have high emotional stakes tied to the outcome, from Nova guards all the way up to the main cast. This is food for thought when you look at your own manuscript – how can you amp up the stakes and make sure they’re tied to the resolution? There are some other interesting twists as well within each character.
There is one thing they all share as loners: as they come to care more and more for each other any future danger is going to cost them that much more in exchange, ramping up the stakes as they go.
Starlord/Peter Quinn: Although he appears to have less at stake than most (his primary motivation is selfish – money, glory and whatever girls he can pick up along the way) as he grows into a leader we learn his father is an unknown entity. So as the story develops he might end up having the highest stakes of all and we just don’t know it yet.
Gamora: She’s trying to escape the violent life laid out for her and her father’s clear preference has turned her sister into her greatest threat. Despite that, she’s willing to put aside her own needs (selling the infinity stone could give her freedom) in order to save people she doesn’t even know. She also tries to get her sister to change her ways, to no avail (at least for now). Another nice angle: despite his attempts she’s not going to just fall at Peter’s feet like the other “starry eyed waifs”. Her love is a prize that will need to be won and even she may not know what that will take.
Drax: His primary motivation is to avenge his wife and daughter’s murder, whatever it takes. This could have been a flat character but the writers added some intellectual twists in that Drax is very literal. As the story develops we watch him grow, hinting that there may be limits in his quest for revenge if it endangers the other guardians. He works to understand his companions and their friendship, even trying to get a handle on metaphors. He progresses from nearly slitting Gamora’s throat to reaching out to comfort Rocket at the finale.
Rocket: Small, mighty and brainy it is so fun to watch Rocket try and control his aggression as the group creates problems all around him. I especially loved the “I didn’t ask to get made” scene, where again we see a deep emotional pool under the ripples on the surface. Always the wisecracking, callous adventurer with the chip on his shoulder, the finale breaks him and we see how much he cares underneath.
Groot: I saved Groot for last because he’s so fascinating. An ambulatory tree, Groot is the only one who might be said to have superpowers. There are little vignettes where we get glimpses of these hidden talents – he makes a flower for a little girl around the midpoint, these also move toward the forefront over the last third. Although limited to “I am Groot”, Rocket can parse different meanings intuitively. In the end, when Groot says one different thing “We are Groot”, and sacrifices himself to save the rest of the group, his silent strength is both a balm and a tearjerker.
- All the characters have lots of room to grow further (even Groot, literally)
- The story revolves around the infinity stone but the characters don’t rely on magic or superpowers – they have what we all have for the most part
- Watch for the emotional commitment from characters with lesser screen time: Nova guards/citizens, Nebula, the ravagers – it’s there!
There are a few nitpicky pop-culture things that bugged me a little bit, but overall this is an amazing story and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Now I wonder what else I could learn about novel writing from comics 😉
Update: I learned shortly after this post that Guardians is a surprise Writer’s Guild nomination for best adapted screenplay (writers James Gunn & Nicole Perlman), and I came across this article on Nicole Perlman –
Now I love it even more!
by Heather Harris Brady
Like many people in the writing world I’ve been following the progress of Find Me I’m Yours. After all, I work in a tech field, I write and on the side I watch my two kids increasing bond with their school-issued ipads. In a post late last week on The Kill Zone, Mark Alpert called out the fuzzy gray area this story treads. I’m reposting it here because, frankly, if it’s all true it creeps me out.
Although I’ve been a writer all my life, from stapling my own little encyclopedias together during snow days to high school newspaper and on from there. However, I’m only about four years into my journey as a fiction writer. During that time I’ve come to a good many realizations, one of which is – my mind works against me A LOT, constantly questioning and saying “THAT could never happen”.
So, to teach it a lesson, I’ve been working on a speculative fiction story as a NANOWRIMO fling. It’s got magic, a dual world ruled by women and many other exciting, potentially wonderful things. But even magic has to have some rules or there wouldn’t be consequences – you’d be able to “magik” your way out of every bad decision.
Luckily there are lots of amazing writers in this realm who’ve shared tips online, and I’m only going to list a few here, in case you’re considering your own magical journey – or maybe you’re in the middle of one right now!
by Heather Harris Brady
Like a lot of you I suspect, I have pages and pages of notes related to characters, especially getting to know a main character. It’s all good information, and a good exercise but it was starting to get overwhelming. Then I saw a post today on Terri Eicholz’ great Engage Their Minds blog about making heartbreak maps. And that’s it really, isn’t it? When you get right down to brass tacks, whatever breaks your character’s heart is what is going to drive everything.
The process is simple:
- Step one: just draw a heart shape and write all your character’s passions in it.
- Step two: draw a line out from each passion to a bubble.
- Step three: in each bubble write what would break your character’s heart about that particular passion.
Maybe it’s because I’m a visual learner, but I think this exercise is really going to help me crystallize the driving emotional factors behind my characters. I’m doing maps for each character and then I’m going to hang them up so I can refer back to them easily. When I get a good sample finished I’ll post it.
I’ve been thinking of a series of reading list posts for several reasons, two of whom live in my house and are constantly looking for a more challenging read. I don’t know if any of these books have been challenged themselves, but we’ll get to those later.
So here is the first list, for anyone with a middle grader like mine who has a high-school lexile paired with the sensibilities of a tween. It’s courtesy of the ALA, the same people who bring us Banned Books Week!
YA books that won’t make you blush – All the excitement, none of the naughty.
Alender, Katie. Bad Girls Don’t Die. Hyperion Books. 2010. 978-1423108771. $8.99.
Kasey’s dolls could give Chucky a run for his money.
Bodeen, S.A. The Compound. Square Fish. 2009. 978-0312578602. $9.99.
Eli’s family survived nuclear fallout, but can they survive his father’s greatest lie?
Carter, Ally. Heist Society. Hyperion Books CH. 2011. 978-1423116615. $8.99.
Heisting priceless art and cute boys’ hearts.
Farraiolo, Jack. Sidekicks. Harry N. Abrams. 2012. 978-1419701856. $6.95.
Bright Boy isn’t so boyish anymore.
Gier, Kirsten. Ruby Red. Square Fish. 2012. 978-0312551513. $9.99.
A skipped gene leads to time travel trouble.
Griffin, Adele. Picture the Dead. Illus. Lisa Brown. Sourcebooks (Fire). 2012. 978-1402268342. $8.99.
Eternal love from the grave.
Hale, Shannon. Calamity Jack. Illus. Nathan Hale. Bloomsbury. 2010. 978-1599903736. $15.99.
Jack to the rescue!
Harrison, Lisi. Monster High. Poppy. 2011. 978-0316176217. $8.99.
Cliques like no other.
Higgins, F.E. The Bone Magician. Square Fish. 2008. 978-0312659448. $7.99.
No one is surprised when the dead start talking.
Hoffman, Alice. Green Heart. Scholastic. 2012. 978-0545141963. $9.99.
Life after a terrible tragedy.
Langan, John. Search for Safety (Bluford High). Scholastic. 2012. $5.99. 978-0545395489.
Where do you go when home is no longer safe?
Leavitt, Lindsey. Sean Griswold’s Head. Bloomsbury. 2012. 978-1591940661. $9.99.
Payton can’t wait to get inside Sean’s head.
Northrop, Michael. Trapped. Scholastic. 2012. 978-0545210133. $9.99.
Snow day gone wrong.
O’Roark, Francis Dowell. Ten Miles Past Normal. Atheneum Books for Young Readers. 2012. 978-1416995869. $8.99.
How do you make a good first impression with goat poop on your shoes?
Riordan, Rick. The Lost Hero: Heroes of Olympus, Book 1. Hyperion Books CH. 2012. 978-1423113461. $9.99.
There’s a new demigod in town.
Schmidt, Gary. The Wednesday Wars. Sandpiper. 2009. 978-0547237602. $6.99.
Surviving the slings and arrows of seventh grade.
Schreiber, Ellen. Vampire Kisses: Graveyard Games, vol 1. Illus. Xian Nu Studio. Katherine Tegen Books. 2011. 978-0062026729. $9.99.
Prince Charming is a vampire!
Telgemeier, Raina. Smile. Graphix. Illus. Raina Telgemeier. 2010. 978-0545132060. $10.99.
All she wants for high school is her two front teeth.
*Van Draanen, Wendelin. The Running Dream. Ember. $9.99. 978-0375866289. $10.99.
Running away from her past and her future.
Walters, Eric. Between Heaven and Earth. Orca. 2012. 978-1554699414. $9.95.
DJ’s on the journey of a lifetime.
*Wright, Bil. Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. 2012. 978-1416940043. $9.99.
Watch out world of glamor, here comes Carlos!
by Heather Harris Brady
I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately, just not on this blog! Right now I’m preparing for #PitchWars (for more info see Brenda Drake’s fab blog here), with my new YA contemporary. Since I have to submit a query and the first chapter, I’ve been scouring the internet to keep up on what’s working and what’s going on. In the course of my online adventures I can across several spots I wanted to bring to your attention.
Any writer knows the first page has to be amazing, easier said than done of course, and way subjective but still. It seems like the more first pages you read the more you get an ear for them, a little like developing an ear for music I suppose. I was so happy to find the thatfirstpage tumblr!
You can browse through a wide selection of first pages, all streamlined for your reading pleasure. I really hope the author keeps up with this tumblr, because it’s such a great resource for writers.
Then, on Terri Eichholz’s Engage Their Minds she featured Call Me Ishmael.
The site features an 800 number that goes straight to voice mail. Readers are asked to leave the name of their favorite book and a message about what it means to them or how it’s changed their life. I have so many I could call the line every day for a year I think! But seriously, the site is a great way to renew your love of books and what makes them special to a reader. ‘Cause that’s why we’re all doing this right?
Top photo: Mark Knobil, via Flickr/Wikicommons CC license
by Heather Harris Brady
Last week presented a wake-up call for me. As anyone who reads this blog knows, education for girls is something very near and dear to me. So when my daughter’s amazing teachers nominated her for an important local award (Outstanding Math & Science Student), I was very proud.
Now I don’t hesitate to run with her to the mall to find something special for the Daddy Daughter Dance. We both look forward to it and it’s a nice thing. But if I’m so into girls excelling at all subjects, including non-traditional, shouldn’t I treat this occasion this same? After all, she’s earned this through hard work and dedication. My answer to myself, as you can see above, is yes. It gave me a chance to think what this world would be like if our girls got fancy dresses and corsages for academic achievements, rather than setting them aside only for a girl’s ability to get a date to a dance.
Now I’m not saying that everyone has to do this. My family certainly couldn’t afford it when I was young. If you have the chance or another way to celebrate these academic achievements – do it, in as big a way as you can. There are oh-so-many girls in this world who will never get these opportunities. By the way, I also made a donation to Camfed in her name.
by Heather Harris Brady
Those of you who have explored the pages of my website know this topic is close to my heart as a member of a blended Hispanic family, and as part of my own past growing up in a small, non-diverse country town. There are so many unknowns when you don’t get to meet all walks of people on a daily basis. It is all a driving factor behind most of my work, including the manuscript I am querying right now. A Missfits Misstory stars two fashionistas (May and Valentina). May is a young Victorian woman rebelling against her Puritan town and Valentina is a contemporary 13 year-old Hispanic fashionista who moves into her house and into the middle of a century-old mystery May left behind.
I’m copying the essence of the #weneeddiversebooks tumblr below, to help spread the word for their effort:
Recently, there’s been a groundswell of discontent over the lack of diversity in children’s literature. The issue is being picked up by news outlets like these two pieces in the NYT, CNN, EW, and many more. But while we individually care about diversity, there is still a disconnect. BEA’s Bookcon recently announced an all-white-male panel of “luminaries of children’s literature,” and when we pointed out the lack of diversity, nothing changed.
Now is the time to raise our voices into a roar that can’t be ignored. Here’s how:
On May 1st at 1pm (EST), there will be a public call for action that will spread over 3 days. We’re starting with a visual social media campaign using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks. We want people to tweet, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, blog, and post anywhere they can to help make the hashtag go viral.
For the visual part of the campaign:
Take a photo holding a sign that says “We need diverse books because ___________________________.” Fill in the blank with an important, poignant, funny, and/or personal reason why this campaign is important to you.
The photo can be of you or a friend or anyone who wants to support diversity in kids’ lit. It can be a photo of the sign without you if you would prefer not to be in a picture. Be as creative as you want! Pose the sign with your favorite stuffed animal or at your favorite library. Get a bunch of friends to hold a bunch of signs.
However you want to do it, we want to share it! There will be a Tumblr at http://weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com/ that will host all of the photos and messages for the campaign. Please submit your visual component by May 1st to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “photo” or submit it right on our Tumblr page here and it will be posted throughout the first day.
Starting at 1:00PM (EST) the Tumblr will start posting and it will be your job to reblog, tweet, Facebook, or share wherever you think will help get the word out.
The intent is that from 1pm EST to 3pm EST, there will be a nonstop hashtag party to spread the word. We hope that we’ll get enough people to participate to make the hashtag trend and grab the notice of more media outlets.
The Tumblr will continue to be active throughout the length of the campaign, and for however long we need to keep this discussion going, so we welcome everyone to keep emailing or sending in submissions even after May 1st.
On May 2nd, the second part of our campaign will roll out with a Twitter chat scheduled for 2pm (EST) using the same hashtag. Please use #WeNeedDiverseBooks at 2pm on May 2nd and share your thoughts on the issues with diversity in literature and why diversity matters to you.
On May 3rd, 2pm (EST), the third portion of our campaign will begin. There will be a Diversify Your Shelves initiative to encourage people to put their money where their mouth is and buy diverse books and take photos of them. Diversify Your Shelves is all about actively seeking out diverse literature in bookstores and libraries, and there will be some fantastic giveaways for people who participate in the campaign! More details to come!
We hope that you will take part in this in any way you can. We need to spread the word far and wide so that it will trend on Twitter. So that media outlets will pick it up as a news item. So that the organizers of BEA and every big conference and festival out there gets the message that diversity is important to everyone. We hope you will help us by being a part of this movement.