Archive for March, 2012

March Madness a.k.a. Preparing for the A-Z Blogfest

March Madness is finally over (and I’m not talking about basketball).

March has been one crazy busy month for me. Aside from the usual martial art classes, various writing group activities and events, actually writing and so on, I had to file my taxes (which we all know is pretty stressful).

More than that, however, I rushed to finish all my March blog posts ahead of time so I could start writing my A-Z Blog posts.

If you all don’t know what the A-Z Blogfest is, here’s a short description from the main website:

The brainchild of Arlee Bird, at Tossing it Out, the A to Z Challenges to post the letter of the alphabet every day during the month of April, with Sundays off for good behavior. Since April 1 falls on a Sunday, that will be the day we start with A. Whether you go with a theme or freestyle, your post must match the letter of the alphabet for that day. Add your name to the list, grab the badge in the right sidebar, and when the Challenge begins, start by visiting the blog immediately after your own. Set a goal – we recommend five blogs a day, more if you are able.

I had my first taste of the A-Z blogfest last year and I found it incredibly stressful.

So why am I doing it again?

Because I’m crazy. And because I actually had fun, and I got to meet new bloggy friends (not to mention gain a few followers along the way).

Last year, I jumped into the contest completely unprepared. I was used to writing my blog posts on the day I’m supposed to post it—so I did the same thing. After two weeks, however, I quickly realized that doing this wasn’t going to give me enough time to visit all the blogs on the contest list.

Last year, there were over a thousand participants, and I had to visit all their blogs. Although I survived the A-Z and finished posting until Z, I didn’t finish visiting blogs until May.

This year, since I already know what I’m up against. I’ve already started writing my posts. Hopefully, this means I’ll have been able to visit all the A-Z participants by the time the challenge ends on the 30th of April.

I’m actually pretty proud of having survived last year—and even prouder of the fact that I actually produced some pretty informative and helpful blog posts, despite the time constraints.

Here are my blog posts from last year’s A-Z. If you’re joining this year’s A-Z challenge, maybe these posts can give you some ideas for your own blogs.

April’s A-Z blogging mania begins in two days.  You still have time to sign up and join the  madness fun. (Just Click on the A-Z logo above or on my sidebar, and you’ll find yourself at the sign in page).

I wish all my fellow challengers good luck and godspeed. I’m already looking forward to seeing you all at the finish line.

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Every Wednesday, I feature a writer/blogger and his/her workspace.  My aim is to get to know fellow bloggers/writers better through their workspace and writing habits. I also wanted my bloggy friends to share some of their writing wisdom here.

Today, I am most eager to welcome Medeia Sharif. She’s the author of  that awesome YA bok Bestest Ramadan Ever. You can also find her blogging at

Welcome, Medeia!


Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living? What genre do you love to write? What are some of your hobbies or interests? Do you have a hidden talent?

Medeia Sharif

I live in Miami, where I teach Language Arts and Reading at a middle school. I write contemporary YA. My 2011 debut, BESTEST. RAMADAN. EVER, as well as all my current WIPs fit that category. Next to writing, my other love is reading. If and when I have a lot of time on my hands, I sketch and paint.

On Workspace

1. Where do you do most of your writing?

I do most of my writing at my desk. Sometimes I take my laptop or AlphaSmart word processor to bed or the sofa, but this is where most of the magic happens.

Medeia’s workspace

2. Where did you get your desk? How did you go about arranging your work area?

I wish I could say it’s an antique or that there’s a special story behind it, but it’s a basic desk from Office Depot. It’s my favorite desk so far since it makes great use of vertical space (which made for easy arranging).

3. What are some important things on your desk? Are there specific things you need to have around you as you work?

I have a lot of stationery. Most of it is stored elsewhere, but there are two cups of pens and pencils and some notebooks on my desk. Even though I type almost everything, I still need to jot things down fast

4. What do you love most about your workspace? Do you have any favorite objects on your desk, or things you use often?

My previous desks were messy, but it’s easier to be neat on this one. When things are in order, I’m more likely to focus on writing. I use my lip balm often, since I love my lip products, and I’m always drinking water.

5. What’s your writing beverage? What do you love to drink while you’re writing?

I used to have Diet Coke around, but these days I have a bottle of Fiji water nearby.

On Writing

1. Who is your favorite author? Who inspired you to write?

I started young. V.C. Andrews was my inspiration in middle school and Stephen King was my inspiration in high school.

2. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?

I prefer to write late at night or early in the morning. Sometimes I purposefully go to bed real early, in the evening, so that I can wake up around midnight to write.

3. Do you write everyday? How many hours a day do you spend writing? What are some of your worst writing distractions?

I try to write every day, but this doesn’t always happen. The best time to catch up with my writing is weekends, holidays, winter break, spring break, and summer vacation (I’m a teacher).

I included a pic of my feline writing distractions…they do not leave me alone.

Medeia’s lovable distractions

4. Why do you write?

I can’t help it. I itch to write and my characters won’t leave me alone.

5. Any writing tips or techniques or words of wisdom you want to share with us? How about a favorite writing quote?

Be persistent. If one manuscript gets rejected and doesn’t work out, write the next one and the next one. We’ve all heard of stories of drawer manuscripts published writers have (and I have my own). And my favorite quote is…

Easy reading is damn hard writing. – Nathaniel Hawthorne

6. Would you care to share a favorite picture of yourself?

My brooding, younger, daydreamer, future writer self:


Thanks, Medeia, for giving us a glimpse into your writing life.

Wednesday Writer’s Workspace is an ongoing series, and if you’re interested in being featured here, simply leave me a message in the comment box, and I’ll be sure to email you.

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Blog Followers Giveaway Winners

Last February 27, I began a contest to celebrate reaching a milestone of 300+ followers. Today, I’m happy to announce the winners.

I tallied the entries and here are the final four:

Read More…

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March 18, 2012, Sunday

I attended Wondercon with my regular entourage (a.k.a. Maiko and Lena).

We were running a bit late for the first event we (or rather I) wanted to attend, so after picking up our Wondercon badges in Hall E, we dashed upstairs to the 2nd level of Anaheim’s Convention Center.

11:30 – 12:30     Steampunk 101

The panelists were already halfway through introducing themselves when we found seats.

The Steampunk experts on the panel included:

Donna Ricci, gothic supermodel and owner of Steampunk themed clothing store Clockwork Couture, Nick Bauman, Andrew Fogel & Duane Matthews League of S.T.E.A.M, and Joe Benitez , comic book artist and creator of Lady Mechanika, a steampunk themed comic book series.

Steampunk 101 panel

Facilitated by Dina Kampmeyer,  the panel discussed and debated on the definition of Steampunk.

Steampunk defined

They also discussed Steampunk as seen in various media such as literature, fashion, films, tv shows, video games, comic books and even music videos.

Steampunk 101 Panel Highlights:

  • The term Steampunk was a variant of cyberpunk, and was coined by Sci Fi author K.W. Jeter in the late 80’s.
  • Donna Ricci discussed how to make your own steampunk costumes. “Most prom dresses have been sacrificed to make costumes. Most bridesmaid dresses Deserve to be sacrificed to make costumes.”
  • Aside from clothes, facial hair was a great accessory in the Victorian ages, and was actually a great indication of one’s station in life.

Steampunk costumes

12:30- 1:00 Alcatraz

After the Steampunk panel, we headed down to the ballroom.

We caught the last half hour presentation of the Alcatraz panel.

Alcatraz airs Mondays at 8/7 c on Fox. I’ve been wanting to watch the show but still haven’t found the time. It was great to see a few familiar actors on stage, and get introduced to some new ones.

I recognized Jorge Garcia from Lost, Robert Forster from Heroes and Parminder Nagra from ER and Bend It Like Beckham. We also got to see Sarah Jones, who plays the lead role of  Detective Rebecca Madsen, and Jonny Coyne who plays Warden Edwin James.

Jorge Garcia and Sarah Jones

Parminder Nagra and Jonny Coyne

Showrunners Jennifer Johnson, Daniel Pyne,  and producers Steven Lillien and  Bryan Wynbrandtwere also on the panel.

The panelists discussed details about the show’s storyline, the characters as well us upcoming episodes. After listening to them, I was even more curious to watch the show.

But I still haven’t found the time.

When the Alcatraz Panel ended, we stayed in the ballroom and waited for some seats to open. The next event was what I’d dragged my friends to the ballroom for.

1:00 – 2:00 Fringe

I’m a big fan of Fringe. I started watching the show because I love all things Sci Fi—and because I had heard Joshua Jackson (a.k.a. Pacey from Dawson’s Creek) was in it.

Joshua Jackson plays Peter

Fringe became one of my favorite shows (though I admit I still have to catch up on the latest season).

The audience was treated to a sneak peak of the next episode in the series, as well as a video specially prepared for the Wondercon event—which featured several lines of Walterisms by John Noble’s character Walter.

John Noble plays Walter

Naturally, the crowd went wild when the panel appeared on stage.

Executive Producers Jeff Pinkner and Joel Wyman were followed by Joshua Jackson (Peter), John Noble (Walter), Blair Brown (Nina) and Seth Gabel Lincoln).

Executive Producers Jeff Pinkner & Joel Wyman

Joshua Jackson & John Noble

Blair Brown and Seth Gabel

The panel discussed what was in store for the characters, and the probable plot twists yet to come in the show. They also joked about maybe revealing that one of the characters, Astrid  (Jasika Nicole) was actually Walter (John Noble)  and Diana Ross’s lovechild, making her Peter’s (Joshua Jackson) stepsister.

Jasika Nicole as Astrid

When asked if they thought the show was going to be renewed for another season, producer Jeff Pinkner said he was hopeful it would be, though Wyman was a bit more cautious and said that things easily changed in the industry.

It was such a thrill to see the cast of one of my favorite TV shows, live and on stage.

Fringe panel, Wondercon

2:00 – 3:00 PM Lunch Break

We had another hour before the final event in our Wondercon schedule. We braved the strong winds (no kidding) and crossed to the foodcourt. On the way there, we saw some interesting characters.

3:00-4:00 Shivers, Shakes and Swoon Room 207

We were gobbling down our pizzas and salads right outside Room 207, when we saw the our friend, and one of the speakers, Lissa Price. We chatted with her for a little bit before following her and the other panelists into the room.

Shivers, Shakes and Swoon were about all things Y.A.

Nightshade Series author Andrea Cremer moderated the event.

Moderator Andrea Cremer

Panel members included awesome YA authors:

Ransom Riggs (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children),

Ransom Riggs

Veronica Rossi (Under the Never Sky)

Veronica Rossi

Lissa Price (Starters)

Lissa Price

Gretchen McNeil (Possess and Ten)

Gretchen McNeil

Kami Garcia (Beautiful Creatures Series)

Kami Garcia

And Ann Aguirre (Razorland Trilogy)

Ann Aguirre

Andrea began the session by asking the panelists to introduce themselves by answering the question “What interesting cosplays have you seen so far?” and “What is your book about?”

I’ve read Veronica Rossi’s Under the Never Sky, Lissa Price’s Starters and Gretchen McNeil’s possess, so I knew what they were about. I was interested in Ransom Rigg’s book as he used creepy old photos (mostly of children) to inform his story about a home for children with special powers.

The panel discussed what Young Adult literature really is and what makes YA such a popular genre.

. Some of the panelists admitted that when they began writing their books, they didn’t exactly set out to write YA. They all agreed that YA was all about Voice. The reason YA books are so popular, is because even though they’re geared toward young adults, even adults can relate to the issues raised within these books.

During the panel, the audience got a sneak peak at two incredibly awesome book trailers:

Starters by Lissa Price and Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi.

Afterwards, the audience got to ask the panel some questions. One of the audience members asked if any of the panelists books were optioned for movies.

Ransom Riggs and Veronica Rossi both said their books had been optioned for movies. Kami Garcia reported that their Beautiful Creatures Novel were already being filmed, and that she was thrilled when Jeremy Irons was cast in it. She hoped that she and her writing partner Margaret would be invited to the set so she could fly down to New Orleans and have lunch with Jeremy Irons and the rest of the cast. Lissa Price, on the other hand, said she did something completely different and kept the film rights to her book. She’d just finished writing the script for Starters (having had some screen writing experience previously), and her film agent was currently looking for producers.

Shivers, Shakes and Swoon Panel

Andrea Cremer wrapped up the Q & A by asking each author what advice they would give anyone in the creative field, or anyone who wished to be published.

Ransom Riggs, speaking from his own experience said, say yes to everything because opportunity might present itself at any time. Even if its not the field that you originally want to succeed in, you might find success in a related field.

Veronica Rossi advised aspiring authors to surround themselves with people who would give them support and encourage them throughout all the trials they will encounter in a creative field.

Lissa Price reminded everyone to never give up. Just because you get several rejections, it doesn’t mean you’ll never find the perfect match.  She also advised writers to write from the heart.

Gretchen McNeil said if there’s anything else you’d rather do, do that. It’s hard work being in the creative profession. But if you can’t imagine doing anything else, then you’re where you need to be.

Kami Garcia, agreeing with Veronica and Lissa, likewise emphasized the importance of surrounding yourself with people who actually believe in your work, and who will be there to remind you over and over that you’re good at what you do. As an example, she told the story of  how her book began as a dare, and of how she never expected to become a writer (she was always a painter), but through their respective loved ones’ reminders, Kami and her writing partner Margaret eventually finished the book and got published.

Ann Aguirre said people who desire to be in the creative field need to develop a thicker skin. She said receiving a letter from an editor telling her she should consider another profession crushed her, but she quickly picked herself up and continued trying to get published.

The panel ended to much applause. Outside, the authors posed for a group picture.

YA panel

YA authors

Afterwards, we followed Lissa to the main exhibit hall, where she and Ann had their book signing at Mysterious Galaxy’s booth.

Ann Aguirre and Lissa Price signing at Mysterious Galaxy booth, wondercon

I’d already gotten my books signed by Lissa, so I waited my turn to get my book signed by Ann.

With author Ann Aguirre

As an early bday present for myself, I also bought a whole buttload of other signed books. Then, Maiko, Lena and I wandered around the hall to look at the various booths and sights.

My favorite stall was the steampunk themed stall that sold all sorts of steampunk accessories and gadgets. I got another early bday present from Maiko when she bought me a steampunk water bottle.

Steampunk stall

We also encountered other interesting characters wandering around the hall.



Katara and Aang, The Last Airbender

A variety of villains and heroes

My first wondercon was certainly a wonderful experience. I’ll be sure to go again next year!

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Every Wednesday, I feature a writer/blogger and his/her workspace.  My aim is to get to know fellow bloggers/writers better through their workspace and writing habits. I also wanted my bloggy friends to share some of their writing wisdom here.

Today, I am most eager to welcome fellow blogger Heather Day Gilbert. She’s the author of those super blogs— Writing Beyond the Vows and Book In a Month.

Welcome, Heather!


Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living? What genre do you love to write? What are some of your hobbies or interests? Do you have a hidden talent?

Heather Day Gilbert

Hi, Heather Day Gilbert here, just dropping in for a visit to Nutschell’s lovely blog. I have my own blog about my writing experiences, over at

I’ll soon be changing the name of that, however, and using my own name for the blogspot. Just as soon as a) I figure out how to export a blog, or b) My techie brother comes to my rescue and sets it up for me.

Oh, and I’m also on twitter @vikingwritergal. This is because I’ve written a novel about Vikings, called God’s Daughter. I’m represented by the talented agent Andy Scheer, with Hartline Literary Agency. I also love Black Ops, Owl City, watching old episodes of Wonder Woman, and dog whispering. Well, at least my dog thinks I can dog whisper.

On Workspace

1. Where do you do most of your writing?

I do most of my writing in an overstuffed, red-and-tan striped chair, my feet propped on a red stool, and my laptop in my lap.

Heather’s Workspace –

The illustrious red-and-tan striped chair, along with my laptop and Skull Candy headphones, which no longer work properly.

2. Where did you get your desk? How did you go about arranging your work area?

No desk, and really no organization to speak of. In fact, I shudder to think of posting a photo of the piles of books that surround me. I have lots of Viking history books for research, including, but not limited to, a kids’ picture book on Vikings. Maybe I’m just trying to get into that plundering mentality, of having to scrounge through things to find valuable information.

3. What are some important things on your desk? Are there specific things you need to have around you as you work?

Hmmm. I usually have a hot drink, like Starbucks blonde coffee (current obsession) handy. I also usually have headphones on, so I can listen to Pandora and try to drown out my kids practicing piano or bouncing about the house. And I keep a green binder handy that has all my book notes in it.

4. What do you love most about your workspace? Do you have any favorite objects on your desk, or things you use often?

I love that it’s generally private. My favorite nearby book, and the one I based my novel on, is a weighty tome called The Sagas of Icelanders.

Love this painting of a woman at the ocean, so I keep a photo of it nearby. I also keep this cottage figurine I got from a co-worker who believed in my writerly dreams of becoming a reclusive writer, having a shack on the beach, and zillions of dogs. That was before I got married and had kids. And had to pay my own vet bills.

Some of Heather’s favorite things

5. What’s your writing beverage? What do you love to drink while you’re writing?

I’m a coffee kinda gal.

On Writing

1. Who is your favorite author? Who inspired you to write?

Wow, tough question. One of my all-time favorites is Thomas Hardy, with his book Far from the Madding Crowd. I love classics, but also delve into sci-fi and YA sometimes. Daphne du Maurier inspires me. Agatha Christie inspires me. And yes, even Stephenie Meyer inspires me, in that she’s a writing momma.

2.What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?

Typical day, I homeschool my kiddos, check e-mails/revise/write/tweet, feed family, get kiddos to bed, write some more…usually too late into the night.

3. Do you write everyday? How many hours a day do you spend writing? What are some of your worst writing distractions?

I do probably write almost every day. When I wrote a NaNo book in a month, I’d write for maybe 2-3 hours a night. Nowadays, it’s a bit more sporadic as I’m getting my book/proposal ready to go out.

4.Why do you write?

I write because it’s my destiny, Luke…seriously, someone once asked me what I’d do to keep busy if I had all the money in the world. The answer was easy. I’ll always write.

5.Any writing tips or techniques or words of wisdom you want to share with us? How about a favorite writing quote?

Ooh! Tips! Yes, I’ve learned plenty along this bumpy ride to (hopefully) publication.

First tip: A 50,000 word NaNo book is fine for YA, but not for adult fiction—it’s too short for that.

Second tip: Make sure you’re writing in a genre that’s easy to define/market for that debut novel.

Third tip: Get into a critique group for that first novel, it’ll do wonders for your book AND help you get used to sifting through and utilizing advice.

I have lots of other tips, but I was thinking about vlogging about those someday, if my brother tells me how to use a computer camera.

6. Would you care to share a favorite picture of yourself?

First picture—me as a kid, jumping on the bed. Yes, that hair is naturally wild. And so was the kid.

Heather as a wild kid

Here’s a photo of me in my element—outside. Love being out in God’s beautiful creation.

Thanks for having me on your blog! Enjoyed this interview!


Thanks, Heather, for giving us a glimpse into your writing life.

Wednesday Writer’s Workspace is an ongoing series, and if you’re interested in being featured here, simply leave me a message in the comment box, and I’ll be sure to email you.

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Starters Book Launch with Lissa Price

March 13, 2012, Tuesday, was a big day for debut YA author Lissa Price.

Author Lissa Price

She launched her debut YA book, Starters.

It was a big day for me, too. Because I get to see one of my closest writer friends fulfill one of her biggest dreams.

I first met Lissa when she joined my writing group, the Children’s Book Writers of Los Angeles. Back then, our group was called the Torrance Children’s Book Writers, and I didn’t yet know her as Lissa Price.

After our group’s session, we hung out for a bit and chatted. We instantly clicked on our many similar interests and we constantly emailed each other with writing tips and tidbits.

A few months later she shared her wonderful news and since then I’ve been watching her rising star explode into a full blown supernova. And I couldn’t be happier at her success. She truly, truly deserves it. I feel lucky to have been a witness to her writing journey, and to see it bear fruit.

So at her book launch last Tuesday, I was just as excited as she was. My best buds Lena and Maiko were friends with Lissa, too and we decided to surprise her at her book launch by having some Starters shirts made.

Groupies (Myself, Maiko & Lena) wearing Starters Shirts

She was so touched and pleased by what we’d done. I told her we had promised to be her groupies long ago, and so here we were fulfilling our bargain.

I saw a lot of familiar faces and friends.  Several YA authors, members of The Apocalypsies were also in attendance. They came to to show their support for Lissa.

The Apocalypsies: Sara Wilson Etienne (Harbinger), Lissa Price (Starters), Leigh Bardugo (Shadow & Bone),

Jennifer Bosworth (Struck) & Kristen Kittscher (The Wig in the Window)

The book signing area at Vroman’s Pasadena was packed by the time the event started at around 6pm. After the Vroman’s event manager introduced her, Lissa stepped up to the podium and began her talk.

She began by thanking everyone for being there, and thanking several important people, both present and absent from the launch.

She told us about her amazing journey from writer to author. Before Starters had been picked up by Random House, Lissa had had a top New York agent. But he let her go when he couldn’t sell her dystopian YA book, so she could find other agents who might be a better fit. Immediately after he’d done that, she’d sent out a query and got 3 agents interested right away. One of her dream agents, whom she’d shared a taxi ride in New York with previously, offered her representation within 24 hours, and after thinking about it, Lissa decided to go with Barbara Poelle.

Lissa was brimming with gratitude at all her agent had done for, and at how fast Barbara managed to get her book out there. Within a week, Starters had sold to Random House’s Delacorte  via a pre-emptive bid.

Starters Crowd

After telling us this amazing story, Lissa opened the floor to questions.  Typical of her generous nature, Lissa gave away swag to everyone who asked questions.

The audience asked her about her writing habits, publishing tips and so on.

After the Q & A, Lissa announced the winner of the Starters giftbasket giveaway.  The lucky winner sitting in Row 6 Aisle 4, got to take home an amazing giftbasket containing Starters items such as a water bottle, shirt, tote bag, magnets, buttons, bookmarks, light up necklace and mousepad. (I know just how amazing the items were in there because I helped put it together. Kinda jealous at the winner!)

Lucky Starters Giftbasket winner

Lissa also invited everyone who attended the book launch to attend an after party at Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion, across Vroman’s.  As they lined up for the book signing, Lissa gave them wristbands so they could hop across the street and enjoy some Free appetizers and drinks at Roy’s.

While waiting in line, everyone got to watch a book trailer of Starters, which was playing in a loop on a computer up front. If you haven’t yet, check out the book trailer. It certainly gave me the thrills!

I was stoked to see another favorite YA author, Marie Lu again. She waited patiently in line to get her book signed by Lissa.

YA authors Marie Lu and Lissa Price

Fellow groupies Lena and Maiko, and I waited until the end of the line so we could finally get our turn to get our books signed.

I had Maiko and Lena take pictures of me while I waited in line so I could remember every moment:

Posing with Lissa’s poster

Excited to get my books signed

Finally getting my books signed

Honored to be standing with friend, amazing author Lissa Price

Lena with Lissa Price

Maiko with Lissa Price

After getting our books signed, my fellow groupies and I headed down to Roy’s to join Lissa and her other guests.  I had fun hanging out with fellow SCBWI friends and (also amazing writers).

Hanging out with Sara, Melanie & Kristen

We ended the amazing night by posing for another picture with the star of the show, Lissa Price, and her new toy–a gift from friends and groupies a.k.a. Myself, Lena and Maiko.

Myself, Lissa Price, Starters Mickey, Maiko and Lena

I felt truly blessed to be a part of the totally awesome book launch.

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March 10, 2012 (24th Meetup): Creative Writing Session: Find Your Voice, Style & Learn the Art of Description

Practice makes perfect. We know this to be true about every skill. The only way we can develop our writing skills is to keep on practicing. I’m not just talking about writing one novel after another, or writing picture book after picture book. I’m talking about honing our craft by focusing on the act of writing itself.

Often, the only kind of writing we do is related to the book, short story, or article we’re working on. Sometimes we need a break from our work. We need to have moments when we write just for fun, or for the purpose of learning how to write itself. This is when creative writing exercises come in handy.

Last Saturday’s meetup was dedicated to learning various writing exercises designed to help writers find your authorial voice and style, and hone their art of description.


Freewriting is a great way to spark that new story idea or to warm up your writing muscles before diving into their manuscript.

I began the session by having everyone do some Freewriting.

I asked them to bring out the questions they had picked out from the box as they signed in earlier. I set the timer for 5 minutes. Using the question as a general guide for what they would write about, my group members wrote continuously for 5 minutes without stopping to edit or think, and without worrying about grammar, punctuation or sentence structure.

Facilitating the creative writing session


In the first part of our session, we discussed the difference between Sound, Style, Tone & Voice. Most of the materials were taken from Noah Lukeman’s First Five Pages, as well as various other books and articles found online.

According to Noah Lukeman:

SOUND has to do mainly with the basic construction of the sentence –its flow, its rhythm, and is more of a technical issue.

Some sound problems we may find in our manuscript include poor sentence construction; echoes as found in the repetition of character’s names, pronouns or specific words; alliteration in prose, and resonance—the way the sentence resounds within the context of a paragraph, line break, or chapter.

STYLE also has to do with sentence construction but has more to do with the intention behind the construction, and thus is as much an artistic issue as it is a grammatical one.

Ernest Hemingway wrote in simple, direct sentences and used few adjectives. Stephen King uses a lot of foreshadowing, and descriptive language in his books.

TONE is the voice behind the work, the driving intention behind the sound and style.

Sound/sentence construction can be technically wrong, but tone can never be—it is always subjective, a matter of personal taste.

Sound, style and tone work jointly to affect the overall melody of a piece; but tone or voice sits on the opposite end of the spectrum from sound, with style falling somewhere in between.

Some authors use Voice and Tone interchangeably, while others believe Voice actually means the Writer’s Style. For our group however, we’ve defined Voice as a combination of both Tone & Style.

To illustrate how each author’s voice is distinct and unique, I gave them Worksheet 1 – which contained paragraphs taken from some popular books. I told them to see if they could recognize what books the paragraphs were lifted from.

Worksheet 2 also contained paragraphs lifted from some books. We went through several to see if we could identify the Tone used in each paragraph.

CBW-LA members working on the exercises


Here are some of the exercises we did after our discussion on Sound, Style, Tone and Voice:

1. Paraphrasing

Pick a paragraph from Worksheet 1 (or your favorite novel) and rewrite it with the same meaning, but in your own words. Try to make it as distinctly your own as you can.

2. Character Chat

Think of your protagonist, the lead in the story you’re currently writing, or the story you want to work on. Imagine him/her in a setting, staring at an object that’s in high contrast to her usual world.

For example, if your lead is a preschool teacher, put her in a prison yard. Or if your lead is a brain surgeon, have him describe watching a Native American dance. Or if your lead is a billionaire, have him describe the flavor of SPAM meat.

Try several of these chats, you’ll notice that one kind of perspective on life feels more right than others. Why is that?

3. Many Moods

Again, pick a paragraph from any of the two worksheets (or any book)  you currently have. Write this paragraph in three ways.

  1. a. Write as if everything about the story infuriated you
  2. b. Write as if the story were breaking your heart
  3. c. Write as if the story scared the hell out of you.

Which one seems more natural to you?

For that particular story, that is your writing voice.

You can do this same exercise on your own. Take a single page of any novel and rewrite it in these three ways. Do the same with any one page of a novel and rewrite it twice, once as formally as you can and one informally. Look at these pages . Which one seems most natural?

CBW-LA members doing some creative writing


The power of description is such that it can transform the two dimensional page into a 3D word. Often, however, description is something that find hard to write because it incorporates so many different elements –not just the setting, but also descriptions of the characters’ clothes and appearance, the objects they use, the weather, what they’re feeling and so on.

Some writers love action and dialogue and tend to forget about description. Their characters end up wandering through vague buildings and their readers don’t get a sense of time or place from their story. Some writers, on the other hand, include too much description. They expound on their setting so much, that it hinders the flow of their narrative. Their readers might read through a whole page describing a character’s room, and at the end of it, still wonder what the character is doing there and when the action will actually start.

I shared with everyone Anne Marble’s article on the art of description, and the eight tips she lists down to bring a setting to life.

Anne Marble’s 8 Tips to Good Description (Paraphrased, short version)

1. Avoid huge lumps of description.

  • Long description describing the setting used to be popular in the past, but today’s reader won’t put up with that sort of thing anymore.
  • This is especially true if you’re writing for kids and teens.

2. Make description an active part of the story.

  • Find a way to blend your description into the story instead of writing lumps of narrative description.
  • Use description in combination with action.
  • Ex. “Zara grabbed her mug and gulped it down, shivering when a few drops of ale trickled under her leather top” vs. “The ale was cold. She wore a leather top.”

3. Describe what your characters would notice

  • If your hero has been in that office building dozens of times, she will only give it a passing glance, so you shouldn’t spend time describing it, unless something within it has changed that’s important to the story.

4. Use strong, active, concrete writing words when writing description.

  • Avoid adjectives.
  • Use strong nouns and strong verbs

5. Use all the senses.

  • Most writers tend to concentrate on sight and sound, but you can bring a scene to life by including the other senses—smell, taste, touch.
  • Also, just because sight and sound are commonly used, doesn’t mean you have to make them common. Find a new way to describe things your characters see and hear. Don’t fall back on clichés to describe your character’s eyes or features—invent new ways of describing.

6. Fit description to the type of the story

  • If you’re writing an action oriented piece, description will get in the way of pace
  • If you’re writing a slower paced story, description will be an important part of it.
  • Spooky paranormal tale might use description to build up the sense of the unease—linger on descriptions of dark hallways in the old mansion and hint that there are ghosts there.

7. Avoid excessive name dropping.

  • It’s okay to use brand names in stories but get the trademark correct, don’t use them in a generic or incorrect sense and don’t portray the product in a disparaging light.
  • Brand names can be a good way to provide the reader with a quick, concrete description but don’t use them too much and too often.

8. Don’t let description hang you up during a first draft.

  • If you’re not comfortable writing description, don’t let it get in the way when you’re writing the first draft. Remember you can always go back and add them in later.



Susan Goldsmith Woodridge, in her book Poem Crazy, suggests that we collect words whenever we can. Words we see around us, or words that just pop into our heads.  Look into dictionaries, field guides, write down street names, product labels, names of people, etc.

Wordpools are an excellent source of inspiration and a great way to stretch our imagination.

Anne Marble suggests that we use strong active concrete words when we write description.

In this first activity, I asked my members to create 2 wordpools. A Noun Wordpool and a Verb Wordpool. In their given Wordpool worksheet, they wrote down specific nouns (not house, but cottage or bungalow) and strong verbs (not walk, but stagger or stride).


Alchemy is defined as a medieval chemical science and speculative philosophy aiming to achieve the transmutation of the base metals into gold, the discovery of a universal cure for disease, and the discovery of a means of indefinitely prolonging life. But it is also defined as a power or process of transforming something common into something special.

Susan Goldsmith Woodridge, in her book Poem Crazy, suggests giving colors to abstractions or concepts.

  • For example: Blue love, Chartreuse agreements, Silver deliberation, Magenta pride

For the second exercise, I gave out two colored pieces of paper. On the yellow paper I asked them to write a color (such as magenta or periwinkle), and on the blue piece of paper, I asked them to write an abstract concept (such as deliberation, love,pride,etc).

Once they had done that, I had them pass the yellow card to the left and the blue card to the right. Combining the words on the two cards, they came up with a new color-concept word (such as Maroon Love or Silver Fear).  I had them pass their cards several more times so they could come up with new color-concept words.


Anne Marble encourages us to use all the senses when describing  things in our stories. One way we can do this is by building a Storehouse of sense related words.

The 3rd exercise was all about thinking up descriptive words that pertain to each of the senses.

For example:

  • sight = blurry, twinkling,
  • sound = honking,
  • smell =  lemon, pungent
  • taste= vinegary, sweet
  • touch= furry, curdled, silky

Whenever you encounter a new sense related word as you read your books, newspapers, listen to the radio or watch TV, add them to the list.


Our final exercise was from Brian Kiteley’s book The 3 A.M. Epiphany, (which is a great book to have if you want to get your hands on hundreds of wonder creative writing exercise).

But I modified the exercise to include all the stuff we just learned about sound, style, tone, voice and description.

IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST (From Brian Kiteley’s 3 A.M. Epiphany)

Describe an unusual interior space, one with lots of interesting appurtenances and gadgets sticking out: a submarine, a small plane, a subway tunnel away from the platform, a boiler room in the subbasement of a high rise building, the warehouse-sized vault of a Federal Reserve Bank.

Do not yield to the easy use of this scene. The boiler room, for instance, we all expect would conceal an axe murderer. Put two innocent children in it instead, romping and playing among the glow and roar of the fire and steam events as if this were a sunny playground (their father is the superintendent of the building and he prefers to keep the kids where he can see them).


  1. Use words from your Noun Wordpool and Verb Wordpool
  2. Usedescriptive words you previously listed down in the Sense Storehouse exercise.
  3. Use at least one color-concept word (from the Word Alchemy exercise)

After this exercise, we all shared what we wrote down.


The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman

Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg & Laura Whitcomb

The Art & Craft of Storytelling by Nancy Lamb

The 3 A.M. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley

The Art of Description: 8 Tips to Bring Your Settings To Life by Anne Marble

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Every Wednesday, I feature a writer/blogger and his/her workspace.  My aim is to get to know fellow bloggers/writers better through their workspace and writing habits. I also wanted my bloggy friends to share some of their writing wisdom here.

Today, I am most eager to welcome fellow Write On member Theresa Milstein. She’s the author of that super fun blog—Theresa’s Tales (of Teaching Tribulations and Typing Teen Texts)

Welcome, Theresa!


Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living? What genre do you love to write? What are some of your hobbies or interests? Do you have a hidden talent?

Theresa Milstein

I’m certified in Social Studies, and looking for a teaching job. (Got one for me?) Currently, I’m a professional aide in the fifth grade and talking graduate classes for a second Master’s degree in Special Education.  I love spending time with my children and husband (no, really).  I like yoga and riding my bicycle, but don’t do either nearly enough.  I’m a fan of basketball and bad reality TV.  A perfect day would be spent reading by the water–especially salty water–with my family.  I have absolutely no hidden talents.

I write mostly YA contemporary fantasy, though I’ve dabbled in middle grade novels and adult short stories. It’s rare that I write anything without a paranormal element.  I have two short stories published: “Daisy” in 100 Stories for Queensland” and “Allured” in Fangtales.  My short story “Tiny Dancer” will appear in Tiny Dancer, coming out later this year.

On Workspace

1. Where do you do most of your writing?

Have laptop, will travel.  When I take my lunch break at work, I’m alone in the teacher’s room.  It’s not the most inspirational place, but if I stay on task, I can write about 700-800 words in 25 minutes.  When I’m home, I love writing in my living room, which is filled with sunlight and plants.  I’ll be moving in a couple of months.  Don’t know where the new space will be.

Theresa’s Workspace

2. Where did you get your desk? How did you go about arranging your work area?

Desk?  I use the arm of the loveseat or the top of the dining room table.  Sometimes, the laptop is just on my lap.

3. What are some important things on your desk? Are there specific things you need to have around you as you work?

When I work at the loveseat, I have a few reference books and papers on and under the coffee table as well as in two floral boxes next to the loveseat.

4. What do you love most about your workspace? Do you have any favorite objects on your desk, or things you use often?

There’s nothing better than the sun on my back, a cup of coffee at my side, and my cat Shaggy on my lap.  Bliss!

I have a tin where I keep my writing supplies next to the love seat where I work.  It has Rosie the Riveter on the Cover.  Very inspirational.

5. What’s your writing beverage? What do you love to drink while you’re writing?

If I’m home during the day, I enjoy coffee.  If it’s night, I’ll have wine. But I’m usually blogging or on Facebook at that time.  Fiction writing and wine don’t mix!

On Writing

1. Who is your favorite author? Who inspired you to write?

I saw the author Melissa Glenn Haber speak at the school where I worked.  She admitted to writing and hiding her pieces in drawers for years, which resonated with me.  While I didn’t have whole manuscripts, I’d write snippets or think of book ideas, but reminded myself I wasn’t a writer.  I thought people just knew they were writers or someone told them to write.  After Melissa’s talk, I spoke with her.  She encouraged me to contact her agent.

That night, I thought about what I wanted to write.  I admired JK Rowling and decided to write a fantasy middle grade novel.  Six weeks later, I had a very bad 65k middle grade manuscript in my hands.

2. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?

These days, I write in short bursts and think about what I’ll write next in between.  That does NOT make me a plotter.

3. Do you write everyday? How many hours a day do you spend writing? What are some of your worst writing distractions?

Rough drafts used to take over my life.  I’d write anytime, anywhere.  These manuscripts never took more than 8 weeks to write.  And then they’d take many, many months to fix.  The last couple of years, I’ve slowed and wind up with better drafts.Until recently, I had big dry spells.  When I belted out manuscripts, it hardly seemed to matter.  But when rough drafts began to take longer, I became concerned.  Now I’m trying to write daily.

4. Why do you write?

It will soon be my six-year anniversary since I wrote those first awful words inspired by Harry Potter.  In 2011, I had two short stories published.  I’ll have a piece of flash fiction and another short published this year.  So many years with so little validation.  Many probably think I should give up.  But at this point, I just need to write.  It’s not about fame and fortune (obviously).  It’s who I am.  I’m a writer.

5. Any writing tips or techniques or words of wisdom you want to share with us? How about a favorite writing quote?

Write often.  Get critiqued.  Dust yourself off.  Fix it.  Query.  Dust yourself off.  Query again.  Repeat the whole process.  Again and again.  You’ll improve.

“…perhaps an unwritten book is an even more powerful weapon than one which has been published. It has a way of filling the air with its menace or its promise, the sweet art of what might have been.”

– Colm Toibin

6. Would you care to share a favorite picture of yourself?

My wedding day.  One of the best moments of my life.

Theresa on her wedding day


Thanks, Theresa, for giving us a glimpse into your writing life.

Wednesday Writer’s Workspace is an ongoing series, and if you’re interested in being featured here, simply leave me a message in the comment box, and I’ll be sure to email you.

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Hunger Games Movie Fever

The March 23rd movie release of the Hunger Games is 14 days away, but I can’t help but get caught up in the excitement. Especially since I live in Los Angeles.

Yesterday, it looked like Occupy L.A. all over again with tents and sleeping bags set up all around the Nokia Theatre here in L.A as hard core Hunger Games fans camped out hoping to get a chance to attend the movie premiere. The first 400 fans had lined up as early as 6 am Sunday morning and they will receive wristbands to attend tonight’s premiere of the Hunger Games.  Several cast members (including Jennifer Lawrence) even stopped by to say hello to their camped out fans!

When I first heard they were finally doing the movie version of one of my favorite books, I was so thrilled, I immediately set about listing my dream cast for the movie.

Of course, none of my guesses were right, but I’m still happy with the final casting.

I thought I’d share my Hunger Games movie excitement with you by sharing some character pictures I found online.

Hunger Games Movie Cast

Katniss Everdeen: Jennifer Lawrence

Peeta Meelark: Josh Hutcherson

Gale Hawthorne: Liam Hemsworth

Haymitch: Woody Harrelson

Effie Trinket: Elizabeth Banks

Cinna: Lenny Kravitz

Cato: Alexander Ludwig

Rue: Amandla Stenberg

The Careers:

Clove: Isabelle Fuhrman,

Marvel: Jack Quaid,

Cato: Alexander Ludwig

Glimmer: Leven Rambin

Caesar Flickerman: Stanley Tucci

Seneca Crane: Wes Bentley

President Snow: Donald Sutherland

Mrs. Everdeen: Paula Malcomson

Primrose Everdeen: Willow Shields

Hunger Games Cast

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These upcoming movies are based on some of my favorite books, and I’m looking forward to seeing them on the big screen this year.

I’m also looking forward to these YA Books being made into movies

Here are links to more posts on books being made into movies this 2012:



As an added bonus, here’s a link to SCI FI & FANTASY MOVIES TO WATCH OUT FOR IN 2012

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

John Carter by Edgar Rice Burrough

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Snow White and the Huntsman

Mirror Mirror

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

Dorothy of Oz by Roger S. Baum

World War Z by Max Brooks

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

* No actual movie trailers yet, though the movie is set to be released in December

Found this funny home-made trailer though,

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

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