Tuesday, September 28, 2010

CONTEST WINNERS!!!... and a lovely little review...

Soooo… the moment you’ve all anxiously anticipated (yes—I am an alliteration freak)

The winner of a signed copy of Nicholas Spark’s Safe Haven

Candace Jones Arnold

Winners of unsigned paperbacks of Dear John and The Last Song

Dear John: JM Kelley

The Last Song: Catherine Johnson


Please email me your addresses so I can ship off your faboo prizes! (alisonmiller20@gmail.com)

Thank you a katrillion times over for all your entries, your well-wishes, your follows, your email subscriptions… whew—I feel totally loved and supported. Seriously.

And this was FUN! I may have to do another one of these, like, soon. Maybe sometime in November! Cool, right?!

And because my faithful followers know I can’t possibly post something less than 600 words, the rest of you blog readers get… (drumroll)

A review! Aren’t you the lucky one?

Here are my thoughts on Safe Haven ...

I have a most voracious appetite for reading—one that can only be satisfied by retreating to a solo safe haven involving a comfy pillow, a lamp light, a totally phenom book… and NO interruptions. Doesn’t often happen for me so I’m forced to read books in pieces (PS—totally hate). Only a few books can make me totally divorce myself from reality (aka—ignore my kids, husband, and everything else for six hours)—New Moon, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Tempted, uh, anything James Patterson…

And this weekend Nicholas Sparks added another—Safe Haven.

The quick gist of Mr. Fabulous’ new novel: (courtesy of his book flap)

When a mysterious young woman named Katie appears in the small North Carolina town of Southport, her sudden arrival raises questions about her past. Beautiful yet self-effacing, Katie seems determined to avoid forming personal ties until a series of events draws her into two reluctant relationships: one with Alex, a widowed store owner with a kind heart and two young children; and another with her plainspoken single neighbor, Jo. Despite her reservations, Katie slowly begins to let down her guard, putting down roots in the close-knit community and becoming increasingly attached to Alex and his family.

But even as Katie begins to fall in love, she struggles with the dark secret that still haunts and terrifies her . . . a past that set her on a fearful, shattering journey across the country, to the sheltered oasis of Southport. With Jo's empathic and stubborn support, Katie eventually realizes that she must choose between a life of transient safety and one of riskier rewards . . . and that in the darkest hour, love is the only true safe haven.

Hoo boy.

The twelve-out-of-ten stars masterpiece had me at hello. As soon as I met Katie on page one, I needed to know more about her. I needed to know about her disturbing past, the one that brought her to the tiny town of Southport. I yearned to know what deep dark secrets she hid and why such a tender, beautiful woman was determined to keep everyone at a distance.

By the time I’d read a quarter of the book, I was already blinking back tears. My heart fluttered with Katie’s (yes-I’m a sucker for romance) and by the time I knew enough about her battered past, my hands numbed from gripping the book so hard, my page-turning fingers yearning to keep up with my eyes that tore through every chapter.

Safe Haven is the quintessential romance thriller, reminiscent of Sleeping With the Enemy and The Sixth Sense. Both movies totally freak me out, yet I've seen them ump-teen hundred times. I keep coming back for more, always on the edge of my seat, knowing what’s going to happen, yet the suspense of WHEN suspends my heart in my throat for the two hours I'm watching those movies.

Same with Safe Haven—some elements of the story were mildly predictable, yet I couldn't turn the pages fast enough to confirm my suspicions. And the ending—wowsers—Sparks threw in a jagged twist that had me fervently flipping through back through the book, mentally screaming How did I miss that?

And while the editing Nazi in me went crazy when five-year old Kristen served up some sweet tea (instead of Katie) and I felt, at times, the back story went on too long, I completely dismissed the “grrrrs” as soon as they stirred in the back of my throat. Why? Because a) I’m overcritical and b) the rest of the book rings of absolute perfection.

Nicholas Sparks does exactly what I can only hope to accomplish as a writer. He creates characters that are memorable, characters that you want to build life-long friendships with, children I want to raise myself, evil bad dudes I loathe more than I hate serial rapists. And he tells a gripping, compelling tale that has me wanting more, more, more.

Of course now I have to wait another year for him to deliver another book. And based on his track record - I know it will be another round of can't put it down fabulosity.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Mr. Fabulous and Me - and a Contest for YOU!

Guess who I met last week?

Yep. Still swooning. Ahhhhhh.

Last week, Nicholas Sparks delivered his latest fabulosity to book stores—Safe Haven—a suspenseful story of love turned sinister and of a woman who must learn to trust again in order to love again.

Since I started with A Bend in the Road many moons ago, I've been a True Believer in Nicholas Sparks. I’ve yearned to meet the man for years, have always wanted to go to a book signing, but you know... that work thing always got in the way. But this year, despite an agonizing conscience, I trekked to his signing, doubting the entire drive if I should really be making the trip.

So glad I did.

At First Sight of Nicholas Sparks, my knees weakened and my heart rate soared off the chizz-ang. I wasn't sure I'd be able to walk to the back of that uber-long line. All I could think was...

I'm here. About to meet one of my writing heroes. One of my favoritest of favorite authors.

And he's going to sign my book!

But once I picked my jaw up off the carpet, I jumped in line and after four hours waiting with equally excited fans (def A Walk to Remember), I sat down next to him (squee!), he put his arm around me (double squee!) and we chatted briefly while taking pictures. And while I didn't tell him I was a writer (my mother who means well did - ugh), he gave me a heart-felt "Good luck with your writing!" and I checked that box in my bucket-list Notebook.

And left with a personalized, signed copy of his new novel.

Safe to say—it was a Sparkstastic day.

While I can’t put you on my magic carpet and whisk you off to see Nicholas Sparks on his book tour for your own personal meet-and-greet, I can offer you this…

A chance to win a SIGNED copy of Safe Haven

annnddd paperback (one of each - unsigned- but still fabulous) copies of Dear John and The Last Song

Wha-at? Seriously?! What do I have to do?


1) Comment below and tell me your fav Nicholas Sparks book ever—just one, people—make The Choice

2) Make sure you leave your full name (I have a lot of friends named Michelle!)

See—easy peasy.

And if you have any questions, email me at alisonmiller20@gmail.com

And for extra entries…

+1 if you become a new follower of my blog
+2 if you already are a loyal follower of my blog
+1 new followers on Twitter
+2 if you already follow me on Twitter
+1 linking to my contest on your blog, Twitter (provide a link please)
+3 for posting about my contest on your blog (a link for that too)
+2 if you add me to your blog roll

And bonus for my loyal Facebook friends

+2 for sharing my link on your wall

If you have any extra entries, tally them (I know I'm a math teacher - but your tally would be a gigundo time-saver) and post that in your comment. Winners will be selected at random and the contest will end Tuesday September 28 at 11:59 EST.

On September 29, I’ll post the winners as well as a review of his new book. The winners can email me their addresses so I can mail off prizes!

Soooo—what are you waiting for?! Click that comment button. NOW!

Who knows? You could end up being The Lucky One.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Word Watchers

Although my, uh… caretaker tried to force me into a weight-watchers program at the ripe old-age of nine (yes—I was a chunk back in the day), I didn’t stick to the whole point system thing (duh… I was NINE) and never really got it. So when my fabulous writing BFF Ricki started this Word Watchers program at our writer’s group and compared it to the Weight Watchers program, I offered a supportive “cool”, gave it a fleeting thought, and then evaded the contest behind the guise of revisions all summer.

But when I set September 1 as my official day to break from revisions and begin work on a new novel, I decided to give the whole Word Watchers thing a try.

Holy rocketing word counts.

Since I started word watchers two weeks ago, I’ve written seven chapters on my new manuscript, over 10000 words. I set my weekly goal at 5000 a week (a major challenge considering all I have on my plate) and have endeavored to meet my goal with ardent assiduousness. Granted I do a lot of catch-up on the weekends, but I still try to write at least two pages a day (approximately 500 words).

And while some of the writing is RAW, here’s what Word Watchers does for me:

1) It gets the creative juices flowing
2) Reminds me of how much I looooove to write
3) Helps me practice my craft (the greats will testify to a need to write every day)

And if I keep this pace up, I’ll bang out a new book by December.


How’s it work?

My faboo friend Ricki Schultz, founder of the Write-Brained Network (PS—my frawesome writers’ group!), drew her inspiration from Weight Watchers’s point system. Participants are given a number of “points” (based on certain factors—weight, age, etc…) they are allowed to consume per day, per week. (foods are assigned numeric values in the way of these points), and they can eat whatever foods they want to get to their allotted points—as long as they don’t exceed their daily/weekly goals.

So she contrived something very similar for writing and called it Word Watchers. Instead of “trying to reduce mass”, writers endeavor to “bulk up” on words.

According to Ricki’s blog, here are…


Set a weekly word-count goal. Divvy up the daily writing however you want, but make sure you get to your WordWatcher word-count total by the end of each week. Easy peasy. This will allow you to take days off without the guilt—whatever fits your schedule.

For instance, if you think your schedule will only allow you to comfortably write 3500 words/week (that’s two pages a day), fine. That’s your goal.

You can write one continuous piece or many of smaller pieces or—heck—even writing prompts (you CANNOT count blog posts, e-mails, status updates, or Tweets, however).

So I’ll keep striving for that five thou every week. And I get to play with my imaginary friends in the process. And immerse myself in the zone—such a happy place to be.

If you’re a writer, check out the Write-Brained Network (the WB—love it!) and try your “hand” at Word Watchers. And check out the other cool things the WB has to offer—conference updates, discussion forums,… there’s even a critique corner!

It’s been fabulous for me… especially this Word Watchers thing.

So as my daughter would say... Peace out, yo.

I’m off to make my weekly total.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Don't You Forget About Me

Yesterday as my Geometry students packed their bags and anxiously awaited the bell that would herald them off to a fun-filled weekend, a Channel One production popped onto my TV screen. The subject—remembering 9-11.

The bustle in my room subsided for ten minutes as we listened to heart-wrenching stories about families struggling to move on nine years later, people wanting to forget that such a gruesome event ever happened but unable to shake a memory that’s left them with the loss of a father or a spouse. Or a child.

And as my students left my room, I wondered how much they’d remember from the silent homage in my classroom. And then I asked myself the same question. Normally, the events of 9-11 rip my gut out for a day, maybe two. I pay it a profound yet fleeting thought and then I move on.

Well, no more.

Here’s how I’m going to honor and remember those who lost their lives on a fateful day nine years ago. EVERY DAY.

Here’s what you can do too.

LOVE—love your family. Your friends. Give them ginormous hugs and squeeze them like you’ll never see them again. Because you might not.

One particular story from the Channel One episode particularly touched my heart: a girl, now sixteen, lost her father. Their life had been perfect. Her parents never fought. She couldn’t understand why her father was taken away in such a shameless tragedy. For a long time she was bitter. Angry. But she knows her father wouldn’t want her to live her life like that.

Show the love, people. Love your neighbors, even when their music won’t let your kids go to sleep. Love the kid that irks the crap out of you on a daily basis. Love your enemies.

Love is just such a warm-fuzzy feeling anyway. It takes too much energy for me to hate somebody.

LIVE—live like you’re not going to see tomorrow. BE IN THE PRESENT. Focus on the here and now. Cause it could be gone. Like that.

KILL ‘EM WITH KINDNESS—there are enough haters in the world, why add to that? Instead, when some kid cusses me out because I “gave” him a forty on his test, I’ll smile politely before I send him to the principal’s office. And then give him a clean slate the next day. Perform random acts of niceties and when someone’s nice to you, PAY IT FORWARD—like, twenty times. Even a small act of kindness can make a difference in someone’s life.

HELP—help someone even if it means sacrificing your time or your money. Or your life.

I became a teacher because I have an incurable case of Change the World syndrome. Now I’m a writer for the same reason. I fell guilty for ignoring someone's plight in the past, but I’m going to correct that. NOW. I won’t make a difference every day in big wow-some ways, but I’ll drop what I’m doing and help my daughter with her homework or that friend who just hit a deer. Or that student who needs to talk after school because her life is messed up in the worst freaking way. BE THERE for someone. Today. You might not be able to help them tomorrow.

PRAY—pray incessantly. Pray for those who’ve lost loved ones. Pray for the victims of 9-11. Pray for your neighbor’s lost dog or your student’s ACL surgery. Pray about loss. Pray about success. And if you’re not a “prayer” person, I’m not going to shove my Christianity down your throat… just throw a positive thought someone’s way. Or just do whatever it is you do.

INSPIRE AND BE INSPIRED—I’m inspired by the passengers aboard flight 93 who fought and sacrificed their lives so that the crazies on board couldn’t launch their plane into the heart of DC. I’m inspired by my friend’s simple yet poignant blog post or the story of a fatherless child. I draw inspiration from my kid who tussles with a problem and finally has her "aha" moment. Shoot. Tree frogs inspire me.

And be inspiring. Be a positive role model. SMILE a lot. Do good deeds. You never know what little act will inspire someone else.

APPRECIATE—embrace what you have. There are days when I hate, hate, hate my job especially when I don’t have time for my family or time to write or time to sleep. But you know what? I work for a fabulous principal and I work with some of the most amazing people and I teach some of the most wonderful kids. And I have a JOB. Sadly, not everyone can say that.

SO I’m going to appreciate my job. I’m going to embrace my family and friends. I’m going to appreciate where I am with my writing. I’m going to savor the gifts and opportunities God gives me. You should too. Cause it could disintegrate in the blink of an eye.

DREAM—dream for a better tomorrow. Dream for a life without tower-busting terrorists. Dream you can change the world. And then get out there and freaking do it.

I’m not going to forget 9-11 so easily. I’m not going to forget them. The people who gave up their lives so others could have one. The people who suffer daily because they lost the person that meant everything to them. 9-11 will find its way into one of my books. More than likely—the one I’m writing now.

And when I do forget—I’m going to come back to this blog post. And remind myself why we should always remember the sung and unsung heroes of 9-11.

The Extraordinarily Epic Ellen

I subscribe to Good Reads and peruse the book reviews of my writing peeps, but honestly, the best recommendations for books—come from my kids. One of my high school students raved about how Twilight converted her into a voracious reader. I picked up the saga. Didn’t talk to a soul for two weeks. Another slapped the entire House of Night series on my desk and exclaimed, “You have to read these. NOW.” So I did. And I am on pins and needles awaiting the next installment.

I used to call my third period Algebra II Honors class my book club because they could simplify a complex fraction and banter about the most fabuloso books at the same time. And when one of my favs tossed Ellen Hopkins’ Crank at me for a pleasure read over spring break, I thought, “Sure… why not?”

Holy epic explosion.

While sitting at a dance competition in the middle of nowhere awaiting my daughter’s performance, I pulled the purse friendly Crank out and started to read. And read. And read some more. Thirty minutes later, I finished a third of the book and I think I missed my daughter’s number (just kidding – I unburied my nose for two minutes). Three hours later, I finished the book and sat breathless in my hotel room, determined I was going to read me some more Ellen ASAP.

Ellen Hopkins writes compelling, RAW, realistic, edgy YA fiction. And she does it all in free verse. Just like Crank, her stories are ADDICTIVE and I haven’t bought one yet that I haven’t been able to devour in under six hours. She’d been a poet and primarily non-fiction writer until her daughter danced with the monster and inspired a story about crystal meth—and the deep, dark road that leads so many teens into an unrelenting, unforgiving spiral of dismality, an addiction that’s so easy to fall into—yet nearly impossible to climb out of. Here’s an excerpt of her fabulosity:

Just Before The Drop

You know how you
stand and stand and stand
in line for the most
gigantic incredible roller
you’ve ever dared attempt.

Anticipation swelling,
minute by minute by minute,
you choose to wait even
longer, to ride in the front
and finally it’s your turn.

They buckle you in, lock the
safety bar with a jolting clunk!
Hook engaged, the chain jerks
you forward. You start to

Cresting the top, time
moves into overtime
as you wait for that scant
hesitation, just before you

You know how you feel
at that instant? Well, that’s
exactly how it feels when you
shake hands with the

Hoo boy.

My personal favorite in my Hopkins library is Identical, a story about Kaeleigh and Raeanne, 16-year old twins sharing a life in perfect California suburbia. Mom’s running for Congress and dad’s a district court judge, and at press conferences, photographers encapsulate their idealistic family in tidy, sparkling pictures. But life for the Gardella family reeks of dysfunction. With absentee mom pursuing a politician dream, dad turns his drunken attention to Kaeleigh—since she was nine, he’s molested her on a regular basis. Kaeleigh, always the good girl, strives to feel normal, even it means cutting herself or purging her latest binge. Raeanne reacts to dad’s ostensible favoritism of Kaeleigh by turning to her own addictions, seeking escape in drugs and brazen sex.

In Identical, Hopkins slams the reader with a surfeit of REAL teen issues—sexual abuse, date rape, drug abuse, eating disorders, and self-mutilation. She gives distinct voice to both Kaeleigh and Raeanne yet connects the twins through an incredibly poignant inner dialogue that eats at your gut as you watch them spiral through their self-destruction and search to find normalcy and love in a bleak reality.

And this is what she does with all her books. Hopkins creates these characters who, despite their gritty, dismal and sometimes graphic reality, get under your skin and you just have to keep turning the page to see if things will get better—or worse. Just FYI—her stories are not warm and fuzzy; in fact, I personally bawled for an hour after reading Burned. But I leave her stories mourning the loss of someone who became one of my own. I exit out wanting to correct the injustice of the world. Or sometimes I close the book, breathless, fervently flipping back through the pages because Hopkins just delivered another one of her shocking and highly unexpected endings.

It’s no wonder teens claim that Ellen Hopkins is “the only one that gets me”.

On Tuesday, the newest in Hopkins epic fabulousness arrives at bookstores. Fallout is the third installment in the Crank saga so if you’ve not read Crank or its sequel Glass, uh… what are you waiting for?

And if you’re a writer, check out her website: http://www.ellenhopkins.com/ Not only does she include excerpts and synops of her edgy fantastical novels as well as her poetry, but she also dishes out the most amazing advice for writers. So check it out. And pick up one of her books. I recommend starting with Crank.

After all, that’s where the extraordinary epicness began.

Monday, September 6, 2010

40 Going on 14

Soooo—today I turned 40. Yippee. And while I am bemoaning the fact that yes—I did just enter another decade and (sniff) left my thirties behind, I’m not totally upset. Why not? Well, frankly I don’t look forty. And I definitely don’t FEEL forty. Actually most days, I feel twenty. Or seven. Or, well, most of the time—I feel fourteen.

My writing BFF and I have this running joke that we are sooooo 14. Half our convos rest on the YA novels we’ve read or written or are writing and we joke about our real life Brent Wilchers and Reilly Hunters. Or we’ll chat about how my professor last semester droned about Single Value Decomposition Theorem and my mind giggled with thoughts of STD every time he said SVD (Yes - I am such a dork).

I can be the biggest overgrown adolescent at my high school. In fact, one of my wonderfuls turned 18 this summer and told me that now he “gets to be a big kid like Mrs. Miller”.

It’s weird. Some of my absolute closest friends are in their late twenties. One of my fav people in the world to talk to—is 18. In fact, I talked to all three today and my heart sung with each text I received.

So what’s the secret to my fountain of youth?

How do I look, feel, and stay young?

Well, of course I…

• Eat right
• Exercise ALL the time
• Drink three full servings of milk every day
• Get a good eight hours of sleep every night

BAHAHAHA—okay… I do NONE of those things (and I totally should), but man, they sure did sound good as I wrote them. Hmmm.

Here’s the real scoop on the secret of my youth

• PLAY—I have a six year old and an eleven year old so this is ea-sy. And while sometimes I grimace when my son asks me to play Yoda to his Anakin, I jump in and chase him around the house and have imaginary light saber battles… and okay, I really sound like a nerd here, but it keeps me young. And my daughter—I beg her to go outside and pass the soccer ball with me. I think I get more exercise than she does.

• WATCH—I watch GLEE and ICarly and High School Musical and Phineas and Ferb and… yes—I’m a big dork, but I watch shows with kids and about kids (PS-they’re fabulous!) and I FEEL like a kid. When Schuester’s glee club performs another Journey medley, I’m belting it out at the top of my lungs with them. Or when Chad and Troy and the rest of the HSM cast dance to What Time is It?, tables are cleared in the living room cause, dude. I have to dance too!

• BE AROUND KIDS—I teach the fourteen and up category… all day. Then I come home to a middle-grader and a first-grader. I’m around kids 24/7. How can I not act like one?

• CREATE—kooky monster stories for your son EVERY night or crazy games like Survivor Calculus and Slope Bingo so that math stuff is not so bor-ing.

• MARRY A KID—Marry someone who shares your love of roller coasters and Jimmy Buffett or who still runs around the soccer field with his players. Or who convinces all the freshmen there’s a swimming pool underneath his high school. My husband can be as big a kid as I am.

• DANCE—okay, so I really do exercise. I’ve been dancing since I was four and when I tap out my frustrations at Dance Theatre or in my living room, I feel AWESOME. And young. And totally like I could dance all night long. And sometimes I do.

• SEE—a Breakfast Club poster on your wall at school every day. Seriously the best movie ever. And when I hear Simple Minds, Don’t You Forget About Me, I’m in total teen zone.

• LISTEN—I crank up the radio when My First Kiss (K$sha and 3OH!3—awesome!) comes on and I rock out to Def Leppard and Katy Perry on my iPod. And while you may not think eighties classics and top forty are the shizz like I do, find what makes you feel young. And listen to it. All. The. Time.

• READ—I’ve always had a voracious appetite for books and there are some really phenom adult books out there (and I read them). But I just find young adult and middle grade stories much more enjoyable and way more compelling. And seriously? They’re about kids! They’re fun and they’re fresh and deal with real-life crap that real-life teens deal with. And while I won’t profess to vicariously re-living my high school days through reading about them (okay, maybe I do a little), their stories make me feel young. Make me want to jump into the pages of Harry Potter and play Quidditch or woo Heath away from Zoey (House of Night) cause she’s a freaking idiot. I immerse myself in kid lit. It’s fun. And again—makes me feel YOUNG!

• TALK LIKE A KID—okay I’m not saying cuss like a sailor here or interject “like” in your sentence fifty times (um… talk to my daughter), but kids really do say the darnedest things. And while the lingo does help me stay in touch with my inner teen (for writing purposes), frankly I like saying things like “whack” or “whatever” or “I seriously heart you.” Or “my snark-o-meter’s off the chizz-ang”. Okay—I totally made that one up. But it’s fun! And honestly, some of that is so ingrained; I don’t think I can talk like an adult anymore. (JK—I totally can)

And finally—the number one thing that makes me feel like I could scale twenty sets of monkey bars

• WRITE—when I hit my mid-life crisis two years ago, I started writing. And every time I sit down to play with my imaginary friends, I immerse myself in this world that is totally happy and wild and free and REAL. It’s FUN. And I feel like a kid. When my darlings are side-jumping the twenty yard line to avoid doing a face plant or experiencing their first kiss or coping with the death of their best friend or fighting with their besties, I’m sorta experiencing that stuff too.

The other day I started a new novel. I wrote for two hours and soared away with the most incredible high ever. If you could bottle up my energy after that round of fun, I’d be the next best thing since Starbucks Frappuccinos.

But here’s the best part about being 40 going on 14. While I may act like a total twit at times, I have the wisdom and experience that age brings with it. I haven’t experienced everything in 40 years, but I’ve been through A LOT. Stuff that helps me relate. Stuff that makes my writing more real.

As Hannah Montana would say, “I’ve got the best of both worlds.” And I embrace it. Age, dude. It’s just a number. And to be all cliché and crap, I’m like a fine wine. I just get better with age.

So that’s what I do to stay all young and stuff. What do YOU do?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Tag! You're It!

A few weeks ago, I had the fortunate pleasure of participating in Writeoncon.com—an online conference for YA and Middle Grade authors. Tom Leveen wrote a post entitled Theatre Techniques to Sharpen Your Dialogue (PS—awesome) where he discussed how being in the theatre—acting, directing, even watching can serve to strengthen dialogue in a story. Considering I’ve been in, directed, choreographed, viewed umpteen plays and musicals since I was a wee little lass, his message resonated with me. And validated why I think writing clever dialogue has always been and continues to be my niche in my writing.

But the tagging… uh, that’s where I found I needed work. In writing my first two stories, I discovered I suffered from a classic case of CTS—Creative Tag Syndrome. I had to use all these glorious words (unnecessary adverbs included) to tag dialogue such as “he proclaimed vociferously” (Uh… if you’re proclaiming something, it’s probably pretty loud) or “she whispered quietly” (Okay—how else do people whisper?). Or “she remarked” or “commented” or “purred”.

Or my fav (PS—still finding these cringe-worthy tags as I clean up my novels):

“How ‘bout we shut up until I say so,” he sneered.

Yeah, uh… people don’t really sneer their speech. Sneer is an expression. Not an effective tag.

To demonstrate why you don’t want to be infected with CTS, I beefed up an excerpt from one of my novels. (the “I” is Becca—the protagonist and Josh is her lab partner)

“You going to talk about it?” Josh screeched stridently . He still looked at me with a most grating concern.

“Nope,”I sneered. I scowled at Josh and ceremoniously picked up a paper towel to dry my arm that Josh drenched in water.

Josh huffed dramatically and eventually returned to cleaning up our work station.

“You know I should report it,”Josh muttered with another sigh.

“Report what, Josh?” I exhaled noisily and rinsed out a test tube. “I have a few scars on my arm. For all anyone knows, my dog bit me when we were playing around.”

“You don’t have a dog,”he remarked.

“So,”I huffed.

“So,”Josh replied and cleaned a beaker for the twentieth time. “It doesn’t even look like dog bites. It looks more like cigarette burns and—” He stopped when I interrupted him.

I slammed a beaker onto the table, practically cracking the glass. “Ugh. Give it a rest, Josh. I don’t. Want. To talk about it,” I shouted with a vociferous clamor.

There’s only one word I have to describe that little give-and-take.


Okay—so how do you avoid contracting the totally curable CTS and tag effectively? And what’s so wrong with using all these glamorous words?

First… the most fundamental purpose of the dialogue tag is to indicate who’s speaking. If we already know who’s talking, don’t use a tag at all. Why not? I’ll get to that in a minute.

Second… keep it simple. If the purpose of your tag is describe the emotional state of the speaker, then do it by blocking in an action. Or an expression.

Instead of

“You don’t love me anymore,” Ginger pouted. (Cringe)

How about

Ginger’s lower lip quivered. “You don’t love me anymore?”

See: the action tags the dialogue (tells us who’s the pathetic drama queen), is more descriptive, and well… people can’t pout and speak at the same time.

But I like using all these flowery words that describe what’s going on and make me look like I own stock in the dictionary. Why can’t I use them?

Readers accept the words "said" and "asked". Actually, they barely notice those words as they read. However, words such as "hollered" and "bawled" often draw their attention away from the dialogue and yank them out of the story.

I don't want to be pulled out of a story. Let it flow, dude.

That’s why you only want to tag when necessary. When you need to indicate who’s speaking.

The author of my one of my fav, fav book series tags dialogue all the time. The constant “this person said” and “that person said”, draws me out of the story and takes me away from the action and flow of the scene. Seriously. By the time we get to book two, we know who says “Easy” and we know who follows with “Peasy”. (BTW… it’s the ONLY thing I don’t care for in her books—cause they’re FABULOUS!)

As for the creative tag—Ann M. Marble wrote a faboo article for Writing-World.com in which she classifies these tags (thundered, boomed, demanded, whimpered…) as “bookisms”. Not only do these “bookisms” detract from the story, they make your work appear amateurish. If the dialogue is strong enough, “Said” and “asked” work just fine… if they’re needed at all. And Marble adds, “If the dialogue is not strong enough, rewrite the dialogue instead of using said bookisms to bolster it.”

And it’s okay to “murmur” or “shout” every once in a while… so long as they’re not overused. Marble likens the use of creative tags to decorating a cookie with those cool silver candies. "If you put dozens of them on one cookie, the cookie looks silly and is hard to eat. Like the silver candies, use these phrases carefully and use them only on special occasions.”

But… but my favorite authors use these bookisms all the time. Why can’t I?

a) They’re established

b) And they’ve written a powerful story where they can get away with it

Sooo—the wrap-up on effective dialogue tagging.

1) “said” and “asked” are effective

2) Tag with action instead of flowery bookisms and adverbs

3) Tag only when necessary

4) Ineffective tagging disrupts flow of story and takes reader out of the action

And with that being said… here’s the real excerpt from one of my stories:

“You going to talk about it?” Josh still looked at me with a most grating concern.


He sighed and eventually returned to cleaning up our work station.

“You know I should report it.”

“Report what, Josh?” I rinsed out a test tube. “I have a few scars on my arm. For all anyone knows, my dog bit me when we were playing around.”

“You don’t have a dog.”


“So, it doesn’t even look like dog bites. It looks more like cigarette burns and—”

I slammed a beaker onto the table, practically cracking the glass. “Ugh. Give it a rest, Josh. I don’t. Want. To talk about it.”

Soooo—maybe not perfect but definitely better than the gag-induced passage from up above. But, hopefully you noticed, that the teensy-tiny scene flowed much better, I didn’t use any “bookisms”. In fact, I only tagged with action. Not too many flowery words to take the reader out of the story, and I only tagged when I needed to indicate who was talking, describe the scene, or provide insight into the emotional state of the character.

Hopefully you won’t get bitten by the CTS bug. It’s not at fatal affliction, but can def kill a novel before it has a chance to flourish. Fortunately, it’s curable. And I find I don’t have so many bouts with it anymore.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Walk Around the Block

Being a writer, I from time to time experience the inevitable “writer’s block”. It’s natural… especially when I have five different stories running through my head and my thoughts often divert to my kids and my homework and the kajillion papers I have to grade and the mass of emails awaiting my reply and…

So I could probably go on about everything else that steals my focus and causes me to

a) Not have time to write and

b) Not have clear thoughts about what to write

And lately I’ve found it so much easier to indulge in life’s distractions then to actually sit down for two hours and do what I’m most passionate about.


Why am I procrastinating the thing I supposedly love to do?

Why am I not writing anything new?

Even last night, as I sat down to write a new book I’m hugely excited about, I found myself type one sentence and then stare blankly at the screen for the next hour.

I went to bed and arose before dawn with renewed resolved. And then managed to bang out a whopping two hundred words.

Ugh. What? Is? Wrong with me?

A friend emailed me today with similar questions—Why is it so much easier to take care of routine day-to-day crap and even do all the little things that pop up unexpectedly while ignoring the thing she loves to do most? Why is she doing everything in the world to procrastinate writing on her book?

It took all of two minutes and the press of a button to answer the same question I’d faced myself for the past two months.


I’m afraid.

Afraid all I write is crap.

Afraid I suck.

Afraid I’ll never make it in this biz.

Afraid I won’t be able to finish what I start.

Afraid I’ve cut too much out that my story no longer makes sense.

Afraid I have plot holes and inconsistencies that someone will jump all over and criticize what I really wished to leave to the reader’s imagination.

Afraid my characters aren’t real.

Or that my voice isn’t authentic.

Afraid that what’s the point of doing this at all if I’m just going to get rejected a bazillion times.

Afraid of giving up on my dream.

But worried that I’ll never ever achieve it.

Fortunately I’ve been around this block before. While working on revisions with book number one, I took a two month hiatus with book number two. I feared I might never go back to it.

But I did.

And I finished it.

And as I write what could possibly be the most challenging and scariest new adventure in my writing career, I again experience these same fears. Afraid my male voice won’t be “real” enough. Afraid of tackling issues that are completely foreign to me. Or totally risqué. Afraid I won’t make my opening pages powerful enough. Or that the words won’t flow when I hit the middle of my book.

Fears for each and every situation.

Soooo—how do I get around the block? How do I overcome my fears?

I try to write anyway. Every day. I’ll work through it. Some days I’ll spend four hours writing a paragraph. Other days, I’ll bang out 1000 words in an hour.

And I’ll try to remember the words of the great Stephen King: “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”

I’ll write for me… because I want to write. I want these characters that live inside my head to dance across the page. I’ll write a bunch of crap. And edit it later. I’ll peck the keys till my fingers hurt. Because if there’s one thing I love more than writing—it’s reading. My stuff. My finished product. Seeing my characters come alive—again and again and again.

And while I may not be completely around the corner, I’m on my way. So much so that I’m posting this.

And then spending the remainder of the evening typing out new adventures for my imaginary friends.