Archive for July, 2010

A million stories float in the air, waiting for starry-eyed, day-dreaming writers to pluck them out of oblivion and make them real through the power of ink and paper.

So if there are a million stories out there, and just as many willing writers, how come there are only so many books?

Well, as Lee Wind said in the last Westside Schmooze, “Writing is not only craft and inspiration, it is also a business.”

In other words, story ideas have to sell.

The publishing world is constantly changing and adapting itself to what their readers want. Whether we like it or not, the business side of writing is more important now than it ever was before. Gone are the days of reclusive writers and literary hermits. Nowadays, aspiring writers must not only know how to write, they must also whether the story they’ve written has the potential to sell.

So how do writers know what’s selling? Simple. They read constantly in their chosen genres.

Writers who read constantly in their chosen genre are aware of the kinds of books that are selling, and why they are selling.  This allows them to choose and develop story ideas that are within the conventions of their genre, and that are marketable.

Since these voracious reader-writers know the kind of stories that have already been published, they have the option of writing books that extend their genre’s boundaries and even cross over into other genres. They can give old themes a new spin and even old plot lines new directions.

So in order for writers to write books that are both unique and marketable, they must familiarize themselves with all the books in their genre. They must not only be aware of story elements, plot lines, voice and style, but also of publishing aspects such as agents, publishers, editors, authors, titles and book blurbs.

Sherry, author of the Dark Angel’s Blog ,gives the following tips for getting to know your genre better:

Go to your bookstore or a library, and pull out books in the same genre as yours.

1. Take note of the author

2. Take note of the publisher

3. Take note of the agent

4. Take note of the style

5. Take note of the title and blurb

My college professor once said: “We cannot replicate a sound we have never heard.” We learn language by hearing it spoken.

The same holds true for writing.  We learn how to write memoirs by reading memoirs. We learn how to write fantasy books by reading fantasy books. We cannot hope to write successful picture books unless we’ve read so much in this genre, that we know the voice and style readers of these books would find appealing.

Writers cannot write fantasy stories, unless they have immersed themselves in fantasy books. How would they create wonderful stories about dragons, if they’ve never heard of dragons?

Immerse yourself in the kind of story you would want to write, and you will find that story ideas that sell will come to you like flies to honey.

flies to honey Create Story Ideas That Sell by Reading Constantly in Your Genre

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My Adventures in Writing: The Beginning

Old Map and Ship Model wallp long goodbye 300x225 My Adventures in Writing: The Beginning

ad·ven·ture

/ædˈvɛntʃər/ Show Spelled [ad-ven-cher] Show IPA noun, verb,-tured, -tur·ing.

–noun

1. an exciting or very unusual experience.

2. participation in exciting undertakings or enterprises: the spirit of adventure.

3. a bold, usually risky undertaking; hazardous action of uncertain outcome.

4. a commercial or financial speculation of any kind; venture.

Writing is an adventure.    – Winston Churchill

I never really went anywhere for summer vacation. Sometimes, I’d stay with my grandmother in our house in the province. The word “province” is misleading. It conjures up images of green fields and healthy countrysides in France. When we Filipinos talk about the province – we’re actually referring to rural places which television signals rarely reach (unless you were rich and you could afford a big satellite dish, or cable), where you have to walk a mile or more to use the telephone, where computers and internet connections are a mere dream and where the toilet is  a hole in the ground.  In other words, most provinces back home are so far off from technology you feel like you’ve stepped back into the dark ages.

I was fortunate enough that our bungalow in the province had a flushing toilet and several rooms.  We had television in the living room but it was just for display as we couldn’t afford cable.  My grandmother would take her portable radio outside and listen to some soap operas while she worked on the garden.  While there were other kids in the neighborhood, I never socialized with them because they spoke a different dialect and sign language was not something they taught at school.

So I was left to my own devices. I had to find various ways of entertaining myself. When I got tired of catching dragonflies and fishing for tadpoles in our small fishpond, I’d go back into the house and find a book to read.. Other children might curse the fates if they were placed in my situation. I really can’t complain. The lack of technological distractions, social contacts and updated toys left my mind wide open to imagination.

So although I never really went anywhere, my summers always felt packed with adventure.  My books took me sailing on pirate ships, swimming in the open seas (even if I didn’t know how to swim), flying spaceships, and meeting monsters from another realm.

Eventually my love of books led me to another passion–writing. I discovered that I could create my own worlds, have amazing experiences and even take other people with me on these adventures.  I started writing short stories, poems, journal entries, notes, letters—even novels.

Writing has always been a friend to me. It has kept me company during hot, solitary summers and has pulled me through awkward adolescent years. Writing has been a crutch, a shield, an inspiration and a blessing. It has kept me from going crazy on days when I feel so alone in the midst of a thousand people.

My writing muse has given me escape from boredom, freedom from rules, and a life worth living. Even when I abandoned her, she remained a constant friend. It’s time for me to repay the favor and take her everywhere she wishes to go…

So, my magical muse, guide my pen,  and lead me where you will. I am ready for an adventure of a lifetime!

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Story Ideas and the Things that Inspire them

Most stories have formulas that have been used throughout the ages.  Romance novels and movies have used Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet formula hundreds of times: Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, but an obstacle prevents them from loving each other freely, they overcome the obstacle and live/die happily every after.

Fantasy or Adventure stories revolve around a hero and his journey. Christopher Vogler and Joseph Campbell both talk about the common structural elements found in myths, fairy tales, fantasy or adventure stories and movies.

Most stories, especially within genres, have the same plot lines running through them, but that doesn’t mean we will ever run out of stories. The trick is putting a fresh spin on storylines that have been used time and again.

How about mixing genres? For instance, combine romance and fantasy by mixing Romeo and Juliet’s storyline with vampires and you get Twilight.

We get fresh, new story ideas from the things that already exist around us and from stories that have already been told.  Story ideas are everywhere. We pick them up from events we experience, people we meet or see on the streets, books we read, and movies and TV shows we watch.

But how do we make these stories our own?

We must always be on the look out for sensory experiences that send a bolt of lightning through our otherwise unimaginative brains.

Sometimes we hear, smell, taste, see, touch, feel, dream or watch something that inspires us so much, the idea takes a hold of our imagination.  We must obsess over these ideas, develop them, shape them, and add new elements until it becomes a story so completely different from the one that originally inspired it.

Let me give  an example based on my own personal experience.

Two years ago, I was hell-bent on taking my writing seriously. I wanted to become a published writer, and there were two books I wanted to write: a memoir about my experiences as a High School English teacher in the Philippines, and a fantasy novel.

I decided I would write my memoir first. I mean, I didn’t need to do too much research—all the words would come naturally because I had already lived them. It was just a matter of recording the memories down and writing them in a style other people would enjoy reading.

But after months of “preparing” to write, I hadn’t written a single word. I kept on finding excuses not to write the memoir. There were other more important things to do, and this other idea—the one about the fantasy book I wanted to write– kept nagging at me.

One day, I sat down and watched an episode of Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender– an animated series about a 12 year-old boy named Aang, chronicling his adventures with friends as he sets out to defeat the evil Fire Lord and end the war between the four nations.

Naturally, since the series involved martial arts and fantasy, I was hooked. I devoured the series, and as I watched each episode, my fantasy book idea kept on growing until I had an entire book in my head.  That’s when I realized that the fantasy book was the one I had to write.

The instant I made the decision to write this book, I took up my pen and sat down to outline the plot of the story. Ideas and images, words and scenes flowed fast and kept on coming, and it was because I was inspired.

While it is true that story ideas are everywhere, and we can create stories by building from ones already out there; the best story ideas are the ones that constantly inspire us, the ones that make us passionate about writing and give us the strength to write, day after day, even when the end seems so far away.

Story ideas only grow into books when you love them enough to develop them everyday. Pick a story idea that will turn you from a curious tinkerer to an obsessed lover. Choose ideas which will sustain your interest and fire up your passion, and you will write the most wonderful book.

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Torrance Children’s Books Writing group – First Meetup

Last month (partly because I was missing our SCBWI Westside Schmooze and partly because I wanted to join a writing group close to home), I went on meetup.com and started looking for writing groups near where I lived. I saw a couple of groups close by and decided to check out their webpages. The groups I found seemed interesting and very helpful, but I wanted something a little bit more focused on writing for children.

Toni Morrison said: “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I thought the same idea would apply to a writing group.

So, since I couldn’t find writing groups for children’s books writers close to my home, I decided to organize one.

Of course, I didn’t know I had to pay just to organize a group on meetup. I thought, what the heck—I’ve already spent all this time filling out the forms and thinking of what the meetup group would be about, I might as well go through with it. I opted for the monthly payment of $19.99 instead of the discounted annual rate. I figured, well, if nobody’s interested in joining, at least I can say I only spent 20 bucks.

I was so happy, when days later, eight people join in. Now the group has seventeen members and I can only hope our little group grows even bigger.

Our first meetup was held yesterday (July 20, 2010) at Mitsuwa Marketplace  (on Carson and Western) in Torrance.  Mitsuwa was a great place for our first meetup. There were lots of parking spots, and available tables in and around the food court area.

mitsuwa Torrance Children’s Books Writing group – First Meetup

Being the nervous organizer that I am, I got there at around 6:30PM to find a decent spot for our group and set up our table.  I set up a little table-top sign that read “Torrance Children’s Book Writing Group Meetup” (I know, the name is awfully long, but it’s very informative), along with the sign-up sheet and a pen. I also prepared the business cards I wanted to give out and the cookies I baked especially for the meetup.

After arranging the said materials on the table, I ordered myself a bowl of ramen and ate dinner while I waited for people to arrive.  Of course, they arrived early and I had to greet each of them with a spoonful of noodles in my mouth. They were nice enough to wait for me to swallow my food before asking any questions.

A few of us had come straight from work and hadn’t had dinner, so they went off in search of food while the rest of us sat down and talked. When the five of us were all seated at the table, we started the introductions.

I took out a box I had prepared for the occasion. The box was filled with questions like: “What’s the one book you would like to have with you if you were stranded on an island?”, and “What is the one food you’d never want to taste again?”.  I had everyone pick a question and answer it. I thought it was an interesting way to get to know one another.  When everyone had their turn, I asked them to formally introduce themselves -– their names, the genre they were writing in and their current writing projects.

After the introductions, I told them why I had decided to organize the writing group, and what my visions were in terms of what the writing group would accomplish. We would have critique sessions, discussions on writing books and children’s books, field trips to places that could inspire our writing, as well as writing practice sessions so we could develop our voice and style.

I gave out copies of the  worksheets I had prepared for the meetup:

1. The Personal Goals Worksheet, which lists questions to help us reflect on our personal goals as writers;

2. The Writing Group Logistics Worksheet, which lists questions pertaining to the writing group logistics—when our meetings should be, how long, etc.;

3. The Group Work Worksheet, which lists questions to help us understand what we expect from the group, and how each of us works within a group setting;

4. And finally, the Writing Worksheet, which lists questions that would help us hone in on our strengths, weaknesses and skills as writers.

The Personal Goals Worksheet helped us realize that a writing group would help us become more focused and more determined to achieve our own writing goals. It would also help us get honest feedback from like-minded people, as well as help us make friends with fellow writers.

The Writing Group Logistics Worksheet helped us determine the format of our future meetup sessions:

  1. We will meet twice a month—one meeting on a weekday (most likely  a Tuesday or Wednesday), and one meeting on a weekend.
  2. Each meeting would last 2 hours.
  3. We will meet at the same place, unless we’re having critique sessions or writing lessons—in which case we will find a library or a house to have the sessions at.
  4. We will have activities such as critique sessions, book discussions, book reviews, writing activities, and field trips .
  5. All of the members present agreed that they would be happy to help out with a monthly fee of $5 to pay for the meetup website fees, snacks, drinks, and materials we would need for each session.

Since we were only able to go through the first two worksheets owing to the lack of time, we promised to go through the remaining worksheets on our own and to attend next month’s critique session.

Although only five of us were able to attend the meetup last night, we felt like we had accomplished a lot. We left Mitsuwa with new friends and a new passion for writing.

DSCF1399 1024x768 Torrance Children’s Books Writing group – First Meetup

Standing from Left to Right: Nutschell and Nandini

Sitting from Left to Right: Amanda, Lucy and Silvia

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The SCBWI-South Bay Midsummer Schmooze

Last Saturday (July 17, 2010), I attended the SCBWI-South Bay Midsummer Schmooze, organized by SCBWI-South Bay Moderator Suzanne Gibson.

I grabbed my home-made cookies, lunch bag, folding chair and backpack filled with  notebooks and pens and drove out to the Madrona Marsh in Torrance. I found Jenn and Suzanne already chatting away on the picnic tables at the parking lot. We were soon joined by Erin and Amy.  I gave out my business cards as usual, then Suzanne gave us some materials to inspire us once we got inside the Marsh.

Suzanne asked us to pick a small scrapbook frame to help us focus on a writing goal we wanted to accomplish for today, whether it was a character sketch, or the first chapter of a new story:

picture frame 300x225 The SCBWI South Bay Midsummer Schmooze

She also asked us to pick a small toy, borrowed from her children, that we could use to write about, or inspire new ideas. The others got lizards but I got a plastic frog that looked something like this:

frog red eyed tree frog plastic f1359 300x193 The SCBWI South Bay Midsummer SchmoozeThe final item she gave out were small, white tags.  On one side, she told us to write a one word idea that explains our character/story and that would motivate someone to pick up our book and read it.  On the other side, she told us to write one word  that would motivate us as writers to keep on writing our stories.

After she had given us these items, we all gathered our writing materials and folding chairs and trudged out of the parking lot toward the marsh.

The Madrona Marsh is a 10-acre wildlife preserve in the middle of the bustling city of Torrance. The inhabitants of this vernal marsh include various birds, insects, reptiles and small mammals. Depending on the season, visitors can see ducks, coots, redwinged blackbirds, meadowlarks, shrikes, finches, warblers and even hawks all around the marsh. Dragonflies, butterflies, grasshoppers as well as Pacific Tree Frogs are seen mostly during spring and summer.

Stepping into the Madrona Marsh is like stepping into a new and magical world. Once the five of us had crossed the road and entered the gates, I felt like we had stepped out of the city into an entirely different island.  All kinds of bees and insects buzzed around tall wild flowers, and harvester ants hurried along the dusty paths. Native California trees like the California Sycamore, Freemont Cottonwood, Red Willow and Coast Live Oak whispered secrets to each other around us.

the marsh1 The SCBWI South Bay Midsummer Schmooze

We decided to walk around and look for a suitable writing spot – preferably somewhere shaded and far away from the stinging bees and hiding fire ants. When we had gone a few yards from the gate, we saw a gopher snake sunning itself right across the path. We were all excited and scared at the sight. I wanted to take a picture, but by the time I got my camera out, the snake had slithered away under a bush:

bush where snake hid 300x225 The SCBWI South Bay Midsummer Schmooze

Here’s a picture of a gopher snake, in case you’re wondering what it looks like:

Gopher Snake a1 300x224 The SCBWI South Bay Midsummer Schmooze

After our encounter with the snake, we moved on, soaking in the sights and looking for a suitable place to write.  Amy found a shady spot under an oak tree, Suzanne found her spot inside the tall marsh reeds, Jenn and Erin shared a bench under an oak tree, while I set up my camp chair a few feet away.

jen and erin sharing a bench The SCBWI South Bay Midsummer Schmooze

Though the spot we picked was close to the fence, the noise of the passing cars was soon forgotten as we soaked up the greenery in front of us, and as our stories took hold of our minds.

marsh reeds The SCBWI South Bay Midsummer Schmooze

Another member, Stevan, had found us and quietly joined as we wrote for an hour.

When our watches told us noon had arrived, we packed up our stuff and walked back together toward the parking lot tables. I took time to snap a photo of the fungus growing around a large tree.  Maybe I was just hungry, but the mushroom looked a lot like pizza:

pizza mushrooms The SCBWI South Bay Midsummer Schmooze

As we ate lunch, we all shared what we had written on the tags that Suzanne had given us.

discussing our work 1024x768 The SCBWI South Bay Midsummer Schmooze

I had written the title of my book “Urth” on one side and during my turn, I explained why the title was as such. On the other side where Suzanne had asked us to write a word that would motivate me to keep on writing my stories, I had written:

readers tag1 300x225 The SCBWI South Bay Midsummer Schmooze

I explained that all I really wanted was to write a good story that would inspire people to take up books and enjoy reading like I did. I wanted to write so I could entice people into becoming avid readers and book lovers.

We also shared how we had used the materials that Suzanne had given us – the toys and the frame. Some of us had drawn pictures inside the frame, while others had written about the toys.

Erin and Amy had to leave early, but Stevan, Suzanne, Jenn and I stayed until two, talking about politics, the American educational system, and of course–writing.  Before we bid each other goodbye, Suzanne had given us little souvenirs to remind us of the wonderful day we had shared at the marsh.

I got a big pencil to write my shiny, new ideas with:

red pencil 300x225 The SCBWI South Bay Midsummer Schmooze

Thanks, Suzanne, for organizing the event. I left the parking lot feeling like a new writer—inspired, passionate, and eager to scribble down whatever my writing muse dared whisper in my ear.

schmoozers 1024x768 The SCBWI South Bay Midsummer Schmooze

Midsummer Schmoozers from left to right: Amy, Nutschell, Jenn, Stevan, Erin (hiding), and Suzanne

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Setting Up Shop Part 3: A Writer’s Chair

A year ago, I spent hours searching for the perfect desk. When I finally found it, I ordered it, carefully assembled it, and after admiring my work for an hour, I decided I wanted to try the desk out.  I grabbed the nearest chair, sat down and smiled as I used my brand new desks for the first time.

An hour later, I started getting restless. I got up, stretched and made myself the tenth cup of tea for the day. I sat back down to work again. Half an hour later, my back was hurting. Another half hour later, my rear end felt like it’s been flattened, and I am regretting all the time and money I wasted on buying the stupid desk, because I realized I wouldn’t be using it anyway.

Of course, if I had spent the same amount of time looking for the perfect chair, as I did looking for the perfect desk, I wouldn’t have been wallowing in regret.

Thankfully, I’ve learned my lesson. So this year, when I decided to replace my old desk, I also decided to spend some time and money choosing the perfect chair.

I often thought that just any old chair would do when it came to my office space. The truth is, my chair is probably the biggest contributing factor to whether I get work done or not.

more comfortable chair = more work time put in = more work done

In order to get a lot of work or writing done, I need to spend an enormous amount of time sitting (unless I’m weird and I write standing up). I discovered that sitting can be hard on my body, especially if I’m sitting on an ill-fitting chair for hours.

An ill-fitting chair can lead to bad posture, which in turn can lead to a variety of health problems such as back pain, neck pain, butt pain and a host of other general aches and pains.

Since I wished to avoid these health problems, as well as enjoy the brand-new desk I bought, I considered the following criteria for choosing my chair:

1. Adjustability of Seat Height

I’m the kind of person who wears tall slippers one day and goes barefoot the next, so I need to be able to adjust the height of my chair.  If I want to be comfortable, my feet should be flat on the ground as I’m working.

2. Armrest and Armrest Height

I need a chair that has cushioned and adjustable armrests, but I also want armrests that would easily slide underneath the keyboard drawer.

3. Seat Depth

The depth of the seat is also important for my comfort. I should be able to sit with my back against the back rest and have at least three inches of space between the front of my chair and the back of my knees. According to an article I read, a straight-edged seat tends to press on the back of your legs, cutting of the circulation, so a round seat edge would be preferable to add to my long term comfort.

4. Style

A cloth fabric that breathes would probably be more comfortable if I’m going to spend a lot time sitting. It’s cheap and practical–but why would I pick it when leather or vinyl seats are sexier and more professional looking? But that’s just me.

The style of the chair should also match the desk I already picked out, as well as the general décor of the office.

5. Seat cushion

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this whole desk/chair buying experience, it’s that the cushier the chair, the more inclined I am to stay in it. This time, instead of settling for a hard wooden chair, I’m opting to go for a chair with a firm but cushy bottom.

6. Lumbar Support

This is the most important criterion in choosing the right chair. A properly fitted chair should support my lower back – whether I’m moving or reclining. A good chair will have adjustable back support ( in terms of height and angle ) to fit my body.

7. Stability/ Ease of Use

Finally, the chair I pick should be stable. It should be able to swivel and roll so I can easily move around to reach papers or equipment or other areas of my desk. In other words, my chair should have five legs with matching wheels.

I  normally would just go on craiglist to buy a second hand chair for half the price, or scour flea markets and second hand shops; but I wanted a new chair and I wanted it right away. I opted to shop online to save myself some time and even some money by comparing prices and using available coupons.

Armed with these criteria, I immediately set to work looking for the perfect chair. I scoured chairs online, checked out their specs, matched them against my criteria and compared prices.

Ideally, I should have gone to an actual store, taken time to sit on each available chair and then made my choice. But being the busy person that I was, I decided to save time and buy online. But even though I was buying the chair online, I went with a seller that had an actual physical store. I reasoned that, at least if I didn’t like the chair, I’d be able to return it and exchange it for something else.

I found the perfect chair in Office Depot. The Dorra Bonded Leather Task Chair measured 38 1/2″H x 25 1/4″W x 24 3/4″D and its black leather matched my desk.

dorra leather chair2 Setting Up Shop Part 3: A Writer’s Chair

More importantly, it met my criteria for the perfect chair. The best part was that it was on sale for $30 less! I bought the chair online for $59.99 (It’s usual price is $89.99) and I even got it on the same day because I chose to pick it up in the store myself. (Choosing pick up instead of delivery saved me at least $30 in terms of shipping.)

Now I have a chair I love to sit in. I can tell all the research and hard work has paid off because I find myself spending more time on my desk writing than on the couch downstairs watching TV.

DSCF13121 1024x768 Setting Up Shop Part 3: A Writer’s Chair

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Setting Up Shop Part 2: A Writer’s Desk

A year ago, I bought a writing desk hoping it would kickstart my writing career. The writing desk was sleek, black, fit in a small corner– and it came with a big drawer and a matching chair.

After I spent three hours putting it together, I immediately went to work arranging my office supplies and writing instruments in the drawer.  I was pleased with the way the desk looked in the office and my heart skipped happily, thinking of all the wonderful stories I’d be writing on that desk.

Sad to say, a week after buying the desk, I barely used it.

It’s not that I didn’t find the time to write.  I mostly wrote at work, whenever I had free time and whenever I’d finished all the paperwork for the day.  I wrote at home, too, only I used the big kitchen table downstairs instead of my writing desk.

The truth is, the desk set was just too uncomfortable and not as functional as I hoped it would be. The drawer kept on getting stuck, so it took me at least three minutes to get something from it.  I found the desk’s surface too small—I couldn’t spread my notes or papers out because I had just enough room for my small lamp, pen-holder and laptop. The chair wasn’t doing it for me, either.

Sufficed to say, I learned my lesson. Just because a desk is called a “writing desk”, it doesn’t mean I’ll get any actual writing done on it.  I swore that the next time, I would spend money on a desk set I’d actually use.

I decided to make a list of the criteria I would use in choosing the right desk for my writing needs.

1. The desk should have a large surface area.

It should be large enough to fit my laptop (and desktop, if I ever decide to buy one), desk lamp, pen holders, various computer peripherals (wires, cables, hard drives, etc) and still have space for me to spread my papers and notes.

2. The desk should have additional storage space.

It should have a drawer large enough for my files, and extra drawers for office supplies and writing paraphernalia I will need to have on hand.

3. The desk should have a keyboard drawer.

Keyboards eat up a lot of the surface area I could be using for notes or books. Since I used a keyboard extension for my laptop, and since I plan to buy a desktop in the future, a keyboard drawer is a must have.

4. The desk should be ergonomically correct.

According to one article I read, the desk’s height should accommodate the size of your computer monitor. It should be at least 20 inches away and the top of the monitor should be at or slightly below eye level.

5.The desk should match the rest of the room.

Aside from being aesthetically pleasing, the desk’s color and design should blend nicely with the office theme, wall paint and décor. The desk should have a classy color that isn’t too jarring to look at.

6. The desk should be made of sturdy materials and the kind of wood that doesn’t break too easily.

Metal desks are too cold, Glass tops are too modern, and plastic tables are just plain crummy.  Wood is warm, and inviting and reminds me of log cabins and classic writers of old. Wood makes the best kind of desk for nostalgic, whimsical and fussy writers like myself.

Of course, not just any kind of wood will do. The wood should be able to withstand the weight of all your equipment. It should also be attractive and pleasant to look at.  Solid Oak, Cherry wood and Maple wood are good options.

My friend, who knew we were looking for desks, (and who is so good at finding the best deals online) emailed me a link to this desk she found. It was on sale for $99 (normally $169).

After making sure the desk fit all my criteria, I bought it right away and took it home. So last Friday night, while everybody else was out watching movies or partying, my girlfriend and I  stayed up ‘til 2:30AM assembling the desks and organizing the entire office.

Here’s what the home office looked like at 9:30PM:

DSCF12741 1024x768 Setting Up Shop Part 2: A Writer’s Desk

After years of buying furniture, I’ve finally discovered a system for assembling them without losing my mind. I read the manual, gathered the tools I needed, lay all the pieces out, checked them against the manual and labeled them accordingly.

DSCF1270 1024x768 Setting Up Shop Part 2: A Writer’s Desk

Here’s what the office looked like five hours later:

DSCF1317 1024x768 Setting Up Shop Part 2: A Writer’s Desk

Thanks to a regrettable first experience with buying a desk,  some soul-searching and a friend who finds the best deals online, I now have a desk I love and a desk I’ll actually use.

DSCF1315 1024x768 Setting Up Shop Part 2: A Writer’s Desk

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I first came across this series when I was looking through reviews for the Big Sur Workshop. Jeff Stone was one of the Workshop’s best success stories and his own journey into authordom was what inspired me to go to the writing workshop. Of course, it also inspired me to check out his books.

The Five Ancestors Series is Jeff Stone’s first foray into the wonderful world of writing for children. One story line runs through all seven books in the series, but each book tells the story from a different main character’s point of view.  Each book is packed with adventures, misadventures, humor, danger, and martial arts.

The series tells the story of five young orphan monks, each a master of a different Kung Fu Style, and each in search of his own history. As each monk learns about his past, he also learns to deal with his present, and plan his future. Jeff Stone is a master of twisting plots, weaving storylines and bringing out the best and worst in each character.

Here’s a summary of each book, taken from the author’s own website:

Tiger 5 ancestors 204x300 The Five Ancestors Series by Jeff Stone

TIGER

Cangzhen Temple is destroyed.

Its secret scrolls stolen.

Its warrior monks dead.

All except for the five youngest.

Before he dies, the grandmaster of Cangzhen Temple instructs his five youngest pupils–each a master of a different fighting style–to search out the secrets of their pasts. Only then, he tells them, will they be able to avenge their fallen brothers and retrieve the temple’s secret scrolls.

Fleeing the temple, the five young warrior monks go their separate ways. Their task is a difficult one, as each boy is an orphan and knows nothing of his origins. Fu, a master of the tiger arts, doesn’t even know where to start! Wounded and hungry, he stumbles through the forest until he hears a tiger roar in pain. Then instinct takes over…

With a fresh, imaginative concept, newcomer Jeff Stone introduces the first volume of an epic adventure tale told through the voice of a boy learning to temper his own strength.

Monkey 5 ancestors 198x300 The Five Ancestors Series by Jeff Stone

MONKEY

The temple has been burned.

Grandmaster is dead.

The only five survivors have scattered like the wind.

Alone. For the first time. No brothers, no mentors, no teachers–just eleven-year-old Malao, the “monkey,” all by himself in the woods. Malao loves to make jokes and fool around, but now the only home he has ever known is burning and his four surviving temple brothers have disappeared. Suddenly nothing seems as funny as it used to.

Grandmaster told Malao to discover the secrets of his past, but for a monkey nothing is ever simple. He hasn’t traveled far when he stumbles into a battle between a group of bandits and an army of monkeys. One of the bandits looks strangely familiar, and the monkeys are led by a large, white, one-eyed male, who seems to know Malao.

In this second volume of the Five Ancestors series, Jeff Stone continues the exciting story of five youngsters destined for greatness–if they can only survive!

Snake 5 ancestors 204x300 The Five Ancestors Series by Jeff Stone

SNAKE

Shaolin Temple, like Cangzhen, has been destroyed.

Where can a young monk go to seek answers?

Secrets. Seh, a master of snake-style kung fu, knows that knowledge equals power. Close-lipped and ever-watchful, he uses his sharp senses to collect information about his brothers, the temple, and even Grandmaster. But now, with Grandmaster gone and the temple in ruins, everything Seh knows has been turned upside down.

Shedding his monk’s robe like an old skin, Seh meets his father and joins a powerful group of bandits. Together they journey deep into the mountains to the bandit’s secret stronghold. There Seh encounters a mysterious and beautiful woman whose name means “cobra” and learns that keeping secrets can sometimes hurt as much as it can help.

The exciting Five Ancestors series continues with this third volume as five young monks search out the secrets of their past–and their destiny.

Crane 5 ancestors 198x300 The Five Ancestors Series by Jeff Stone

CRANE

Drugged.

Wounded.

A price on her head.

And that’s the good news.

Herself. For years, Hok has hidden her true identity from her brothers at Cangzhen. Now, at last, she can be herself. And yet, who is she? Calm and thoughtful, Hok is a crane-style kung fu master carefully attuned to others, but she has never spent much time looking inward. After barely surviving the destruction of two warrior monk strongholds, Hok realizes her old world is gone. She finds her way to the city of Kaifeng and beings a new life.

But her old life intervenes and she must join forces with Fu and Seh to pursue the captured Malao. Their quest takes them to the sinister underground world of fight clubs, where matches are fixed and rules don’t exist. Against incredible odds, the young monks must use their sharp wits to stay together and their formidable kung fu skills to survive.

The fourth book in Jeff Stone’s epic series continues at breakneck speed as four young monks rush headlong into unknown territory and untold danger.

Eagle 5 ancestors 198x300 The Five Ancestors Series by Jeff Stone

EAGLE

Revenge at last.

Grandmaster is dead!

The bandits displaced!

And the reward is . . .

imprisonment?!?

Beaten and dying in the Emperor’s prison, Ying is amazed to be saved by his younger sister, Hok. While recovering, Ying begins to realize the depth of Tonglong’s deception. Has he been a mere pawn? Ying needs time to figure out a plan to get back into the good graces of the Emperor. When his hideout, the Jinan Fight Club, is destroyed, Ying is once again on the run. He must find allies, and he realizes that those allies may have to be the five young monks he has so strenuously sought to kill. Can you trust your enemy? Can you be on the same side?

In the fifth installment of Jeff Stone’s epic series, old allegiances are questioned and new ones are made. Power and greed, with roots as deep as the military and as high as the palace, threaten to destroy China. The Five Ancestors can prevent it, but only if they work together.

Mouse 5 ancestors 198x300 The Five Ancestors Series by Jeff Stone

MOUSE

With nowhere to turn,

the survivors of

Cangzhen must rely on

an unexpected ally.

But can a street rat

be trusted?

Kindness. No one has ever shown tiny ShaoShu kindness or trust. Living like his namesake the mouse, he survives using his wits and his ability to hide. Yet he is inexplicably drawn to Hok, the candid Crane girl, and to Ying, the fierce Eagle with the carved face. ShaoShu begs to join them on their travels. But soon he leans that his companions are wanted fugitives.

After ShaoShu sneaks off to gather some information, he hides out on the boat of Tonglong, the enemy. When trapped, the Mouse must pretend to be a harmless stowaway who might be useful to the devious Mantis. But who exactly is using whom? And how will the little Mouse get back to his new friends?

The sixth book in Jeff Stone’s thrilling series races toward the battle that will decide the future of China. And it will become clear that when the stakes are this high, a person’s size doesn’t matter at all!

Dragon 5 ancestors1 198x300 The Five Ancestors Series by Jeff Stone

DRAGON

It is a race to

the Forbidden City.

The winner will rule China.

Long, The young dragon kung fu master, has in a single evening become the Grand Champion of the Shanghai Fight Club and the number one enemy of the state. The Emperor has been kidnapped, and to stay alive must comply with Tonglong’s wishes. And the four other Cangzhen survivors are working with the bandits to cut off Tonglong’s army.

But Ying has disappeared into the mountains. It was his brutal attack on Cangzhen that started this conflict, but he seems to have had a change of heart. Will he assist the Dragon, Tiger, Snake, Crane, and Monkey to set things right, or will he follow the nature of his given name, Saulong–Vengeful Dragon?

Jeff Stone concludes his action-packed series with a rousing tale filled with intrigue and adventure. From the Great Wall to the Forbidden City, the fate of China depends on seven young heroes.

Here’s a video of Jeff Stone talking about himself and his books:

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