Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Things I Can't Live Without

My blog holiday post last week got me thinking about real things I can't live without. It didn't help that that very morning, I was aroused from a deep sleep when I heard my garage door open. See, I thought my husband had been in the shower, the water was running. I love that white noise while I sleep. But I digress.

The shower was off. The garage door had opened. My heart felt like lead. I didn't even have to get up to know what was going on.

The hot water heater had gone out. Again. That's right, peeps. AGAIN. Just fourteen months ago, I gave up a right kidney to keep my tiny townhome supplied with hot water. Seriously. With what a plumber costs, that's about what it took.

So here I was again. I didn't shower. Went to work. Was on the phone when my first class (of 6th graders) came in. When I hung up, I told them I was having a life moment and that this was my "unshowered" look.

They all stared. They had that look in their eyes like they weren't sure if I was kidding or not. Then one of them said, "Mrs. Johnson, it looks the same as your showered look."

*major snarfage*

So anyway, now I've been thinking about things I can't live without. And you guessed it. Hot water is way up there. Here's my top five, in no particular order.

1. Reality TV
2. Music
3. Hot water
4. Dove dark
5. My kiddos

Hmm...writing didn't make the list, but it would probably be in the top ten. What's your top five? Lay it on me baby. I showered today. In super-hot, scalding water. And no, I still have a functioning kidney. Barely.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Book Reportage

I'm happy to report that I've read real, published books since last we talked! I also made the realization that I do quite a bit of beta reading and critique group reading and that those reading activities shouldn't be discounted. True, they are not published books, so they don't contribute to my yearly totals, but it's still reading.

3. The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney. This was a great read. Fast, too, because I got completely sucked into the world of being a Spook's apprentice. Very nicely done, Mr. Delaney. Very nicely done.

It's the story of a 13 year old boy who's learning how to deal with witches, boggarts and other things that go bump in the night. An exciting read.

4. So then I read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It was pretty good. I was intrigued for the first 200 pages or so, and then it sort of stalled for me. But the narrator was interesting and the story was compelling enough to keep reading. The thing I liked the most was the literary style of writing. For example:

It felt as though the whole globe was dressed in snow. Like it had pulled it on, the way you pull on a sweater. Next to the train line, footprint were sunken to their shins. Trees wore blankets of ice.

As you might expect, someone had died.

I've really been paying attention to what I read, what strikes me, what I really, really like. And sentences like these are brilliant. I really need to learn to write like this. I love it. Here's another bit from The Book Thief.

The last time I saw her was red. The sky was like soup, boiling and stirring. In some places, it was burned. There were black crumbs, and pepper, streaked across the redness.

Both of those passages conjured such great imagery for me. Other moments of brilliance were sprinkled throughout, so while I grew tired of plot at about page 200, I was able to press on and finish.

Because of the writing itself.

I read Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr last year, so it doesn't count, but she had this same style of literary writing mixed with an interesting story. Not too purple, but enough to stun you with the power of the words.

I so want to write like that.

5. Maximum Ride, The Final Warning by James Patterson. Okay, okay, I admit, I still have about 50 pages in this one. But it's a fast read, so I'll be done by the end of the day. I love the way Mr. Patterson weaves together the present tense commentary of the narrator with the past tense telling of the story. This is something I *love* and am trying to do in a novel I've written.

So here's my question, and it's really several. What books have you read where you fold down the pages because of the writing? Not necessarily the story, but the actual writing on the page? I need to read those books. Also, how have you decided what kind of writer you want to be? Do you want to write the gripping passage about a single color? Or are you the type that just writes what needs to be written? I'm a little of both. I'm trying to be more literary, but sometimes that's a hard mix with the sarcasm I've got going on.

*Snarf, snarf, snarf*

So how to you balance what you're writing? Some of everything in the book? Different styles for different stories?

See? Told you I had a lot of questions.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Blog Holiday - Can You Do It?

Okay, so I'm a self-proclaimed addict to the Internet. Facebook. Rallystorm. Querytracker Forum. Blogger. I love it all.

Especially blogger. So I made myself a deal. Go one day without opening blogger, without reading a single blog post, no commentary. Nada. Cold turkey. Step away from the computer and no one gets hurt.

I didn't think I could do it. You see, I have to read what all of you are doing. I follow, I don't know, like a billion people. What if something happened and I needed to comment?

You see my dilemma.

But I did it. Chose a date. Vowed not to open blogger or read any blogs. No. Matter. What.

I chose a bad date, and I'm just now seeing that any date is a bad date. But I chose Wednesday, March 18. The day after ABNA results came out. Yeah, well, so what, right? Right.

I went dark. No blogger. I made sure my Wednesday post was ready to go up and I moderated the comments. You may have noticed (because I know you all take notes on what I do, *snarf*) that I didn't respond to any commenters on Wednesday. I really wanted to. Couldn't.

Didn't read any blogs.

I did it. I didn't die or anything. There was only that one time I felt shaky and then I realized I hadn't eaten yet and I'd been on QTF for like an hour. So yeah.

It can be done. But you know what I did the next day? Spent like, f-o-r-e-v-e-r trying to get caught up on my blog reading! *snarf, snarf, snarf*

But you tell me. What would be hard for you to give up for one day? (Family is a given, peeps.) For me, chocolate, blogging and music top the list. What would you struggle with?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Main Character Names, Take Two

As promised, here are the results of last week's male main character survey. At the time, I really didn't think it would turn into a survey, but it so did. And I added my male MC names, and that totally skewed the results. Yeah, the J's just skyrocketed. Ahem. Obviously, that post should have been entitled, "What's With the Letter J?" instead of "What's With the Letter K?" (Click on that title if you have no idea what I'm talking about. Cuz it was great fun.)

So this first chart is the names with my MC names. (Jon, Jared, Jess, Jesse, Jarvis, Jake, Jag and Josh included. Holy crap. Just looking at that makes my eyes cross. Why do I write so many J names? Because my last name is Johnson? J's are made of kewl? They're funner to write by hand? Which of these are working for you??) Some of you left female names, which was great and all, but I only included the boys.

And the second chart is without my main characters. Hey, I had a Hunter, an Adam and Ames, a Gordon (the only G in the above chart. Ha), a Zenn, a Miller, a Cal, a Ty and many others I'm sure I'm forgetting. But here's the one without the barrage of J-names from yours truly.

Either way, the results are interesting. Quite a large clumping in the J-N range, just as I predicted. Hey, maybe I missed my calling in life as a statistician. I did complete a brief secretarial stint in the Stats Department in college. Anyway, after the middle letters, it seems a lot of us go for names that begin with letters at the beginning of the alphabet. Z had a nice showing, as did the popular Wheel of Fortune letters R, S and T.

So that leaves me wondering why. Kat asked this question on her blog last week. But it's a good one, so here goes. How do you choose the names for your characters?

I left her a comment, but I'll repeat it here. Most of the time I choose a name because it just fits, or I want to use a nickname. In my NaNo novel I chose Gabby (I know, I know, it's a girl's name, chillax) because I wanted to use the male name Gabe. And Gabby has to pretend to be a guy...so yeah. Her real name is Gabriella. She goes by Gabby when she's a girl (well, she's always a girl) and Gabe when she's pretending to be a boy. Are you confused yet? Yeah, me too, maybe that's why I haven't finished this novel yet.

In Control Issues, a futuristic science fiction novel, I wanted a funky male name. Heck, I wanted funky names for everyone. I named a girl Tyson, my male MC Jag, his brother Pace and the "other boyfriend" Zenn. In the sequel to that novel, which I tinkered with last summer, I watched American Gladiators to find kewl names. I had to look since it's been so long, but I found Gill, Nash, Fret, Van, Viggo and Xan.

And Jet.

Holey Swiss cheese.

Another J-name.

Smack me. Smack me hard.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Blog Chain - Write...Wait. What?

Okay, so for this chain of madness, Jessica Verday actually had the gall to challenge us to write something. Pshaw. kenyit

I was suddenly so happy to go at the end. And then as the chain progressed, I wished I could have gone first. I mean, I can't compete with Avon-calling knights and the emotion of a ballad.

Nevertheless, I did what I always do. I pressed forward. Wrote something. Couldn't figure out how to put the heart in it. You see, the loverly Ms. Verday said this: Ready? This week's topic is going to make all your writers out there have to...WRITE! I want a short story people. 100 words, 300 words, 500 words, 1,000 words - whatever you're comfortable with! The only requirement I have is that the theme of the story have something to do with HEARTS. Someone stealing someone else's heart. Someone pining away for true love. A thief of hearts... Go wild!!

Yeah, wild all right. Her inspiration came from a poem Kate posted on her blog a while back.

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter-bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart."

-Stephen Crane

I have to say that I am not the world's biggest poetry fan. But when Kate posted that, I printed it. So I can see where Jess got the inspiration. Abi posted before me, and Terri will be dazzling us with her hearts tomorrow.

So on to my story. I tried to write something light and funny and quirky and YA. Yeah, that didn't work. It sounded so forced. Sometimes the quirk just doesn't flow from my fingertips. Other times, I'm a hoot without even trying.

It must have been a dark day, cuz this is what I ended up with. It's 465 words, which I must say is a new record for me. I don't think I've ever written anything under 500 words before. Not even a blog post! LOL.

A Single Moment

He leans against the door. Waiting. Always waiting. For the most part, he’s gotten used to the waiting. The hypnotic scent of popcorn wafts down the hall. Every office should have a popcorn maker. He congratulates himself for suggesting it. Wishes they could have more time to use it. Really enjoy it.

Rich yellow light bathes him, the color of golden honey, the color of surprise and joy at a birthday party, the color of the popcorn. She’s coming.

He hears her heartbeat before the door opens. Tastes it. Breathes it into his soul.

He craves it.

If only the delicious woman in the crisp business suit didn’t have to die.

He waits across the hall. Watches.

She eats popcorn. Laughs.

The yellow light blazes to orange and he knows he won’t have to wait much longer.

Still, he hates to end her life. Surely she has a family, people who care about her, things she wants to do before she dies.

They all do.

And so he waits. His heart doesn't twitch.

Her heart beats with life, with ignorance.

He’s jealous.

And she’s going to die.

People pass, blurs of color that don't blend with the pulsing tangerine light. Only minutes now.

He’s running through a list of possible explanations for her death when it happens.

The sound is loud, even to him. Especially to him. Enough to set the little hairs on the back of his neck on end. Screeching metal, like that train wreck he waited through last week. Shattering, then moaning of wood, glass and steel.

It all comes from behind the closed break room door.

Screams cover the trembling walls. Phones are dialed. Tears fall. The door won't open. Smoke curls up from the gap at the bottom, and he breathes it in, recognizing the greasy calmness of machinery.

He abandons his post across the hall. Her pulse is thready now, barely strumming in his senses.

He needs it. Wants it. Through the oily smoke and honey-colored light, the soothing blanket of her heartbeat fades.

He passes through the wall and finds her on the floor. Thick, wet smears of red drown her. As does the car that has plowed through the side of the building. Un-popped popcorn kernels float in the oily river issuing across the hardwood, spilled from the now-mangled maker.

He kneels. Reaches down. Cradles her soul, enveloping it in the golden warmth of her pulsing heart.

It calms him. Becomes part of him. Welcomes him.

As she relinquishes her hold over life, he sends her home, his heart full and alive and beating for a single moment.

Later that afternoon, the aroma of fresh-cut grass drifts on a lilting breeze. On the park bench, his senses painted green and lush, he's waiting. Always waiting.

So...whaddya think? Tell me anything, but don't tell me you don't like present tense. It is my new love. I *heart* writing in present tense.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Official Elana Johnson Website

So I finally bit the bullet and signed up for a website. I've been thinking about it for a while, but I kept telling myself that I didn't need one. After all, I have my fabulous blog. And I'm not a published author--yet.

But it was so cheap...and so easy...and there was all this stuff with ABNA...

And so here it is, my official website: www.elanajohnson.com

Go. Now. Go check it out!

And then, because my husband is constantly reminding me that he's the decorator at our house, come back here and tell me what you think. Cuz that website is all me, baby. My DH is chortling right now...somewhere. And he's right, I really don't have a good eye for design. Unless you count florals meshing with plaids. They do, right?

Anyway, let me know what you think!

Monday, March 23, 2009

And the Winner is...

The Getting to Know You contest was sure a lot of fun. I loved reading about what you all write, what you like to eat, and what you do when you're not online blogging. So, without further ado, the winner is...


You've won TANTALIZE by Cynthia Leitich Smith! Please email me at elanajohnson at gmail dot com with your name and mailing address and I'll get this bad boy in the mail.

Thanks for entering everyone! I love doing contests...but my biggest problem is knowing what people want to win. So, I thought I'd ask. What do you want to win? Books? Query letter critiques? What?

My Twitter Mosaic

I'm not really sure what Twitter is yet. But it was in Entertainment Weekly, and I'm on there tweeting away.

I'm a lurker. For real. You should totally follow me on Twitter. Sometimes I say funny things or post updates of my writing life.

But then I stumbled upon something distraction-worthy. My own Twitter mosaic. This is gonna blow your mind, people.

Get your twitter mosaic here.

Are you Mindless yet? You should be. This is Mindless Musings, after all. kenyit Those are my followers on twitter. Aren't they so pretty? Are you on there? You should be. Yes, yes, you should.

See Elana's recent blog posts

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