I'm author ELLE STRAUSS and welcome to my website!
I write fun, lower Young Adult (teen) fiction to do with whimsical things like time-travel, fairies and merfolk.
When my serious side peeks out, she's called LEE STRAUSS. She likes to write upper YA about real things that have happened in the past, or made up things that could quite possibly happen in the future.
This blog is about books, mine and other fab authors', but occasionally I'll share about other topics.
Thanks for dropping by!
Monday, November 30, 2009
And then there was all the stuff I packed to do. A stack of books, notes to type, my WIP. Even though I was at the beach in Hawaii, I had to DO something.
Until day three when I had the epiphany. It’s okay to take a few days off a year to do nothing. In fact, it’s good for you. Good for your physical, mental and spiritual health. We need a break from our ‘to do’ lists and the voices in our heads that are always planning, strategizing and writing. We need to unplug, unclog and simply listen.
Many years ago a single friend of mine told me she was taking a do-nothing-day. As a mother of four young kids I scoffed at that idea. However, life has its seasons and once my kids were older, I’d do this once in a while and would be happily rewarded with a boost of energy the next day.
I read about author/experimenter A.J. Jacobs who has done such things as read the whole Encyclopedia Britannica and followed every rule in the bible for a year among other things. In a little article in the latest O Magazine (yes, I did read it, but not because I felt I should do something. I just wanted to, which is different,) A.J Jacobs was asked, based on what he had learned, what he felt were the top four rules to live by. Rule number one? Honor the Sabbath. In other words, take time off to rest.
My friend took it to even a higher level than me. She didn’t bring her computer or check her email once. Now that’s hard core. I have something to shoot for next time.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Monday I woke up at home and found out I was leaving for Honolulu the next day. A spur of the moment trip my good friend booked while I was sleeping. I couldn’t very well say no, could I? Would you? I haven’t done something so spontaneous in a long time, and I used to be a very spontaneous person in my younger, unencumbered years. So this feels really good. When you come from Canada, there’s just something about palm trees that sooths the soul. Especially in November.
But the coolest part so far happened on the plane ride on the long, no frills, Westjet flight from Vancouver. A gentlemen, (he later told me his name was Cliff) sat alone beside me in the isle seat. He was thin with grey hair and deep lines in his leathery face. His eyes were narrow and runny and he talked with his knarly knuckled hands.
He lives near Toronto and two years ago he and his wife of 58 years were in a car accident. It was his fault and his wife died. In the 58 years he and Shirley were married, they vacationed in Waikiki twenty two times. They were planning to go again for their 60th anniversary which is why he was traveling to Honolulu by himself at 83 years of age—to scatter her ashes.
He told us, me and my friend Donna, about how he had met his wife as a member of the British Royal Navy on loan to the Canadian Navy in the war. He was eighteen and she, fifteen. They got married sometime after the war,( he never moved back to England,) and he worked many years for Canada post. They had three children, loved to skate and hike together, traveled together and had a very happy life. He spoke of her with such love and admiration, it made my heart ache.
And it made me thankful. For my life—my wonderful husband, terrific kids and the adventurous life I’ve had so far. I hope that if I’m blessed with a long life like Cliff, I will be as spry, and aware as he is. And that I’d be able to forgive who I need to along the way, especially if it is myself.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
So, in prep for my new editing job to come, I’m re-reading Woe is I by Patricia T. O’Conner. This is my favourite Grammar book, so far (oh, oh, geek alert). In high school I actually liked grammar class (along with Algebra) because to me they were just puzzles and I was still young enough and smart enough to enjoy and succeed at completing puzzles. Woe is I de-mystifies popular grammar faux-pas in bite size bits.
For example, the common miss-use of “So and so and I”. For the sake of ease, let’s call our Subject SaS or Sass. Sass and I went to the mall. This is correct because Sass and I is the subject of the sentence. You could remove Sass and say correctly, I went to the mall. The mistake comes when Sass and I is used in the object position of the sentence, as in Doug gave the flowers to Sass and I. This is a very common usage mistake I hear all the time, and I think it’s because it’s been drilled in our heads since babies to say, Sass and I want to play, (which is correct)rather than Sass and me want to play(which is incorrect). However, Johnny wants to play with Sass and me is correct (even though to many it sounds wrong). Why? Because, in this case Sass and me is the object. You can test this by removing Sass. Johnny wants to play with me. You wouldn’t say Johnny wants to play with I.
Clear as Mud? This is my example. A better one is found in the book.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Because, once past the opening sequences, I knew the story had merit. After much hair pulling and cut and pasting, I finally got it down. Finally, I did it. I got a good beginning. But, could I do it again for the next book and after that ordeal, would I want to?
Then I found Hooked by Les Edgerton. If you’re having problems with your beginning, it’s sagging, lagging and lolagagging, then run, no dash to your book store and buy it.
This is not a book review or Author Shout Out (though maybe it should be), but Hooked was the meds I needed to cure my ailment. Mr. Edgerton finally told me what I had been doing wrong, and what I needed to do to fix it. And it wasn’t that hard.
Before long the opening scene of my next book just came to me. I wrote it in less than 10 minutes. This is a miracle, people! Trust me.
Now it’s not perfect, still in rough draft status, but just because I’m delirious with excitement by how fast it went (kind of like my husband when our second son was born within hours, rather than days like our first one), I’ll share it with you here. (I couldn't get it to format with para indents, so I've separated each para with a space, which is making it look longer than it is. If anyone can tell me how to post this more efficiently, that would be great.)
My dad still thinks I’m ten. That’s how old I was when my mother died and how old I was when my father crawled into his ‘cave’, also known as an office on the 26th floor of the John Hancock tower. Six years later, like a bear coming out of hibernation, Dad decided his days of hiding behind a desk were over. I think he’s going through mid-life crisis, which is why we now lived in Hollywood instead of Cambridge and why when I spotted his reflection in a mirror at the cosmetic counter in the Shop & Save store, I almost dropped the Scarlet Passion lipstick tester I'd just smeared on my lips.
I wasn't allowed to wear make-up. With my left hand I used a tissue to wipe the evidence off my mouth, all the while watching my dad’s familiar profile move in and out of range in the mirror.
He was laughing. I couldn’t help myself, but I crouched down and turned, my vision just missing the counter top, and watched. His hair had grown out since the “decision”, I didn’t even know it was wavy before, and the lines on his face never use to turn upward in a smile.
I had to see who was causing this cosmic response in my father. The clerk who sold cheap jewelry, a pretty in a fake way brunette, tilted her head and giggled back.
My jaw dropped and something really strange started happening in my stomach. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. My dad was flirting!
First of all, EW. Second of all, who was this man dressed in khakis, flip-flops and an untucked pseudo Hawaiian shirt? My real dad only wore pinstriped suits with starchy white shirts and a blue tie. Always. Even to bed, I was certain.
“Miss? Miss? Are you alright?” The cosmetic clerk, her tag said “May”, was armed with a spray nozzle cleaner in one hand and a paper towel in the other.
I mimed as best I could, “ssh”, but obviously, Dad was the only one with acting skills in my family, since May wouldn’t leave me alone.
“Miss? You don’t look too good. Should I call for medical?”
The fake pretty lady stopped chatting when she heard her colleague talking so loudly. Obviously, that meant my dad’s little flirtation episode was over. And of course, my own blond ponytail was a giveaway. “Adeline?” he said.
“Dad!” I jumped up, feigning surprise.
“What are you doing here?” he said.
What are you doing here? “Um nothing, just looking. Thought I might buy some gum.”
Dad glanced back at the fake and I did a quick switcheroo, replacing the tester and grabbing a sealed golden tube. It tucked nicely in my fist as I crossed my arms over my chest.
“Adeline, come here,” Dad said. “I want you to meet someone.”
My legs moved towards Dad and the fake without my permission. Why did he want me to meet her?
“Adeline, this is my friend from acting class, Spring. Spring, this is my daughter, Adeline.”
Spring extended her hand. Unfortunately, the contraband lipstick was in my right hand. I wasn’t a magician, Dad would notice if I tried to switch. I opted for the awkward offering of my left hand.
“It’s so nice to finally meet you,” Spring gushed. “Your dad has told me so much about you.”
“Nice to meet you too,” I said. I didn’t sound very convincing, even to myself.
“Not that I don’t want to stay and chat,” I added quickly, before Dad could draw us into more forced intimacies, “but I’ve got to go.”
“I’ll walk with you,” Dad said. But he wasn’t looking at me; he was smiling at the fake.
“It’s okay, Dad. I’ll meet you at home.” He glanced back at me as I stood in line at the register. I waved the pack of gum in the air. I paid for it and the lipstick while dad and the fake went back to making googly eyes.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Maybe you’ve guessed that I’m taking about TWILIGHT. It’s not often that a book or book series soars into the stratosphere and takes the whole world by storm. (This might be an exaggeration, but it’s close.) Twilight is everywhere, and now it’s making young unknown actors into movie stars.
But, along side all the rah, rah, I’m hearing bitter criticisms. People (like my teen daughter) who were once fans are sick of the hype. Lovers are becoming haters. (However, they bought the book series first, so maybe it doesn’t matter as far as numbers go.) Issues about the books that were only mild irritants, like Bella’s consistent dark mood, or how she was constantly weak in the knees around Edward, are now black marks. (Including the 4th book which is popularly considered a dud. Twilight would have been better off as a trilogy.)
Is this a wide spread sentiment or only in my house? And does it really matter? Obviously, the movies are doing well. Even my daughter plans to go, but not because she’s remained a fan of Twilight, but because Taylor Lautner is in it. And sometimes(a lot, I hear) he’s not wearing a shirt.
NaNo update: Nano Schnano.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
When I started reading Once Was Lost, I was a little nervous because the story’s protagonist, Samara Taylor, is a pastor’s kid, who is struggling with her personal faith. The story is also about how the Christian Community deals with the disappearance of one of their teens. Personally, I am tired of books that rant against Christians and portray them with heavy handed stereo-types. Sara Zarr, thankfully, didn’t do that. Instead she told a really moving story about normal people who want to believe in something bigger than themselves and how they respond to life’s big and sometimes unanswerable questions. Her characters are flawed because they are human, not because they choose to have faith in God.
With each page I found myself pulled deeper into the world Sara Zarr created. I wanted to be there, to hang out with the characters, to cheer them on, and hope for the best.
The ending wasn’t predictable, and it was very satisfying. It’s one of those books you read way too fast because it is so good, and then lament that you finished it so soon.
So for writing a beautiful, thoughtful book, here’s to you, Sara Zarr!
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
I’ve heard the movie is good, and I’d probably like it, because I don’t have a problem watching other people cook.
I have a friend who reads cookbooks for fun. I have another friend who loves to host gatherings in her home that involve the creative assembling and displaying of food items. And as much as I admire them, I’d rather have a nap.
So, I’ve established that I’m not much of a cook. Neither I’m I a baker. How did I manage to raise four healthy kids? Although, they are all pretty skinny, but still, isn’t that what vitamins are for?
But in the spirit of Autumn and friendship and to show I’m willing to work on areas of weakness, I sometimes bake Apple Crisp. Here is a great and easy recipe given to me by a friend, many, many years ago. So long ago, she won’t remember that she has enriched my life in this small way. Give it a try. You can even add blackberries or rhubarb or nuts and it will still turn out.
4 cups diced apples
4 tsp lemon juice (opt)
¾ cup each of flour, oatmeal and brown sugar
½ tsp salt
1/s cup soft margarine
Mix well and pour/press on top of apples. Bake 30-40 minutes at 350 F.
Can easily double recipe.
Don’t forget the ice cream!
Monday, November 16, 2009
The book is full of creative advice, but today I want to share a helpful little chart Ms M and Ms J included to work on character sketches. I’ll replicate it here:
Five words that describe his/her personality
Where does she go to school/work?
Her dream job, or dream life
Things that annoy her
Her bad habits
What people like about her
Her roadblocks to happiness.
The person she trusts most (and why)
Her dream guy
What she does to relax
Before the book began, the best day of her life
The worst day of her life
This list is intended for main characters, so you can slim it down for secondary characters.
I find character sketches most helpful AFTER I’ve finished the first draft. Before that, I don’t really know who my characters are or what they’re like. They tend to reveal themselves to me in the first round. Often their names change as well. In my current WIP I intended to call one main character Judy, but when I went to write the first scene with her in it, I typed Faye.
Working on character sketches before tackling draft two helps me to build better three dimensional characters at that point.
The authors offer a lot of good writing advice and useful tips. I recommend the book.
Friday, November 13, 2009
In this pic, Spiff is annoying our matriarch cat, Buttons aka Ripper.
Nano update: 18662 words to date. Um, not exactly keeping up with the bar graph. This is due in part to the fact that I missed writing one day. I was too busy to write for one day and it threw my whole daily count equilibrium way off. Not sure if I can get back on now. So, yes, I have a love hate relationship going on with Nano. I love that I'm writing, pumping out actual words, living in my work, even when I'm not sitting at my desk. I hate the pressure, the comparisons, the GRAPH.
The thing is, I realized that my latest and greatest came in at just over 60k. That's all glossed and polished up. How can I write a rough draft to equal 50K? That would only leave 10k for dressing?
All that to say, I'm still in Nano, still going to write everyday, but I may not reach 50k by the end of November, and I'm okay with that. Just writing every day makes you a winner.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
I’ve read a lot of Janette Rallison’s books because they are fun, easy reads. For the most part, they follow a formula of girl likes boy, girl hates boy, girl really likes boy, where everything works out in the end just the way you (knew) hoped it would. Janette has said in an on-line interview that she likes to write books that girls can read without having to take Prozac after. I like that!
The beginning of My Fair Godmother told from the Fairy’s point of view is super fun. I laughed out loud a few times, thoroughly pulled in right from the start. You can tell that Janette Rallison has a few books under her belt. This book was different from her others in that it was much longer, giving room for more character growth and plot development. And of course, I loved the time travel aspect.
On a side note Janette Rallison also says she always sets her novels in a warm weather state because she forgets what it’s like to live through a cold weather winter. I ENVY her.
Okay, I can’t really complain, because even though I do live in Canada, I live in one of the most temperate regions (there’s only a very small part of Canada that has temperate winters, and I can’t give away the location, or else everyone would move here…). And because I want to honour my fellow Canadians, first by not rubbing it in that I live in the special place, but also by spelling honour with a U.
But still, I don’t like snow, or cold, or wet. I see snowbirding in my future.
Back to Janette. She also has a lot of kids and despite that, (and I know how much time it takes to care for a lot of kids) somehow managed to build a long standing career writing YA fiction.
So, here’s to you Janette Rallison!
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
I was raised in Canada and so one thing I learned for sure about WWII was that we, the allies, won the war. We were the winners! Yay, us. We erect monuments in the center of every city and town. We set aside a day to remember our heroes and organize ceremonies.
Then I moved to Germany. Though I’m 4th generation Canadian, my heritage is German. I identified myself with the German people. One day while taking my kids for a hike in a forest, we came across a war monument. Hidden in the forest. It was how German mothers and fathers remembered their dead sons.
We lost the war. We are the losers.
I can tell you one thing for sure. Every parent who loses a child feels the same pain, whether Canadian, American, German or Iraqi.
I have three sons at the ages where they would be eligible for the draft if there was one. My oldest son is a fan of the movie Saving Private Ryan. In this movie a group of soldiers is searching for this particular private because he is the last son alive from one family. The rest of the sons, three I think, had already died.
It’s too horrible to imagine, which is why I’ve never been able to watch the movie myself.
So today, let’s not forget those who have died in past wars and those who have gone in recent years.
And those brave parents who watched them go.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
In order to examine craft more fully, I’m going to refer to “the experts”, meaning people who have written books that actually got published. A little disclaimer here: I may (probably) use excerpts without permission from the publisher, so if I getting an angry threatening letter to remove the post, I will do so promptly. Hopefully, they will see this as I do—promotion for their book. But, in case they’re reading this (and wouldn’t that be the coolest thing), I’m not going to borrow from a book today. Instead, I will borrow from agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog.
Rachelle says: Backstory usually refers to narrative that tells something about a character's past. It's given in an informational style without real-time action or dialogue. Notice I used the word "tells." This is a clue about why backstory in the start of your novel can be detrimental. Backstory doesn't show, it tells, thereby risking losing the reader's interest.
Rachelle demonstrates with a little self-written example, how the first paragraph can set up action only to be defused by the second paragraph of backstory.
The funny thing is, soon after I read this post I picked up The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a current New York Times best seller, and you guessed it—first chapter is full of back story. (Great book, btw).
Rachelle also says: A hundred years ago, or even fifty or thirty years ago, it wasn't uncommon for authors to spend pages on backstory. Books (like life) moved at a slower pace. Characters could be introduced slowly and the story could take several chapters to get started. But that was then, and this is now. Today we have little tolerance for anything that slows down the forward momentum of the story. This is one of the biggest reasons that too much backstory is perceived as a negative in novels of today.
This is true. I picked up a book from the library, mainly because the subject matter was time travel, written in 1980. I’m on chapter four and I’m still reading (yawning through) backstory. The surprising thing is, it was copyrighted in 1984, and reprinted in 1986,1987,1990,1993,1996 and 1999. (For that reason alone, the author deserves a Shout Out.)
You should read the rest of Rachelle’s blog for yourself here: http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/2009/10/all-about-backstory.html
What do you think? Do you agree?
Monday, November 9, 2009
I’ve lived in Germany and traveled there several times but never had a chance to visit Berlin until this past September, and then it was only for an afternoon. I’m so glad I did.
We walked freely through the Brandenburg Gate, across the yellow line that reminds us where the wall used to be, and over to the Reichstag where Hitler did all his dirty business. We visited Checkpoint Charlie where one conscientious man rented an apartment to set up a memorial for the men and women who had been killed trying to cross the border. Over the years it turned into a museum documenting the efforts of extremely brave people desperate to get to the West. Some made homemade flying machines, others boats, some creative spaces in compact eastern European Trabant cars or other small spaced items like musical speakers. Many people succeeded. Many did not.
One of the most intriguing rescues stories to me was of a man in the west who was separated from his wife in the east. One day he met a woman in the west who resembled his wife. Without telling this woman he was married, he began to date her, eventually taking her to the east supposedly to visit relatives. Instead, once there, he stole this woman’s papers and drove back to the west with his look-a-like wife, leaving his “girlfriend” behind the wall in the East! (It took two months for this woman to prove her identity and be allowed to return home. -- hey, this is a great plot idea!)
Now the wall is gone. One section about a block long near Checkpoint Charlie remains as a reminder of what once was and another section at the museum. On Unter den Linden, the famous street leading to the Brandenburg Gate is a store called the Berlin Story and there I bought my own little piece of the wall for twelve Euro.
On the news a couple of days ago a journalist asked a number of German youth basic questions about the wall; when it went up, why, how long? Surprisingly, most didn't know the answers. To combat this lack of knowledge in those who were born after this momentous event, the organizers arranged for kids around Europe to paint dominoes, larger than a full grown man, that are set up in Berlin on the line where the wall once was. They painted them with scenes of war, separation, peace and reunification. Today they will push the first domino over as a symbol of the fall. To help us all remember.
Let me know if you see it on TV (or in real life!) How does it make you feel?
Friday, November 6, 2009
NaNo update: 9835 words of Clockwise Book Two so far. So, I’m not leading the NaNo pack, but I’m not dragging behind either. I’m a steady eddy and hopefully I can keep it up for another three plus weeks (there are four and a bit weeks in November). Really, it’s only ten thousand and some words a week. Only.
For my fellow NaNo-ers; how’s it going?
Have a great weekend.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
(The reason I you can’t see my first name, besides the fact that I blocked it out, is because I wrote that book under a funny Germanish/French/American sounding name no longer associated with my writing.) Some day we’ll talk pen names, why or why not?
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
The Disreputable History of Fankie Landau – Banks is one of those great, clever YA reads that's hard to put down. Basically, it’s about a very smart sophomore girl attending a posh private school who doesn’t like being left out of the boys-only “secret” society club. In her effort to break in and get recognized for her intellect and craftiness, (rather than just as the adorable younger girlfriend of the kingpin), she outwits the group of boys by leading them on a series of pranks, without them knowing that she’s the one behind it all.
Of course, she gets caught. This in not an ending give away, as the author lets us know this from the start. It’s how the protagonist went from being invisible in her freshman year to being the mastermind behind the senior boys club antics (and all the trouble that causes), that intrigues. E. Lockhart also uses an uncommon YA device in that the story is told by a narrator. She actually uses sentences like “As is no doubt clear to my readers…”
So Frankie gets what she wants in the end. Or does she? I'll leave that for you to decide.
And, besides having written another great novel (award winning, I might add) in what is becoming an impressive list, E.Lockhart also thanks her writing buddies, who are none other than Scott Westerfeld and Maureen Johnson. If you can give your first drafts to people like that, then you deserve a Shout Out.
Here’s to you, E. Lockhart!
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
As you may recall, last week I posted about how some people thought a writers’ conference would be a quiet event. Wrong! It was anything but quiet, a real beehive of activity, with workshops, and pitch sessions and new people to smooze with.
So back to my highlights. Who would have guessed that authors can be good public speakers too, like keynote speakers, Anne Perry and Terry Brooks. Or that they could be good teachers, like workshop presenters, Eileen Cook and Carol Mason, (both of whom gave me encouraging blue pencil feedback. Blue Pencil = published author reads pages of your manuscript and offers sage advice.)
I also received great responses to my pitch from agent Meredith Kaffel and editor Annette Pollert who happen to be lovely and nice. (It’s true what they say; Agents and Editors are people, too.)
The icing on the cake was meeting and making new writerly friends. Yes, I’m talking about you, Charity, Trish, Elena, Katrina, Leanne, Nancy and Candra. Let’s make Saturday afternoon wine and chocolate/chips at SIWC an annual event.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, is an illustrated book (mostly hand sketches of the author) with, you guessed it, ten rules. Even though it is 89 pages long, (with very thick, sturdy pages, it looks much thicker, and print on the right page only), some pages have merely a sentence or two, or even a word or two. Such as the last page, which says, “Every word.”
The format makes sense when you find out that it was originally published in the New York Times, July 16, 2001. So yup, basically it’s a newspaper article in book form. How high up the literary ladder do you have to be to accomplish that?
All that said, I liked the book. It’s funny and the illustrations make it funnier. So, what are the 10 rules? Because I don’t want to be accused of re-printing a complete book without permission (which is entirely possible in this case), I’ll give you the abridged version.
1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb rather than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”.
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. (This blogger’s note: I don’t know what “patois” means either.)
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. (emphasis mine)
If you want to know why Leonard believes these to be important writing rules, you’ll have to read the in between bits for yourself. It might take you twenty minutes.
So, to quote agent Nathan Bransford, You Tell Me. Do you agree? Are these rules hard and fast or, besides the last one, can they sometimes be broken?