Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Another RTW and I'm thrilled to see this question back in the rotation:

What's the best book you read in June?

June was a good reading month for me, as they're all turning out to be.

I read the following books:

Beatle meets Destiny- fun and sweet romance with lots of twists.

The Half Life of Planets- stellar book about Hank, who has Asperger's and Liana, who doesn't realize it.

You can win a copy of this book, signed by one of the co-authors, Brendan Halpin, by visiting this post (ends July 4th).
Open internationally!

School of Fear- about a group of middle-graders trying to overcome their fears at an unconventional school. I was a little biased, because the first character (pov of the first chapter) passionately hated bugs. I caught myself saying "Noooo!" so many times as I read the first chapter.

I was able to put my bug-loving aside and make my way through it. The tone is somehow both wacky and snarky- I can't explain it any other way.

Closed for the Season- a lovely little MG mystery that I am digging right now. I should finish by tomorrow, and it is beyond charming. Likely because the MC's best friend reminds me a lot of the character of Dill from To Kill a Mockingbird. It's not a copycat, I don't mean that, but the author really captures that sort of nerdy, weird, Southern kid perfectly. Take it from a weird, nerdy Southerner.

These books were all excellent, but unfortunately I read them the same month as Melina Marchetta's Jellicoe Road, which is now on my top ten for all time, let alone this month.

My favorite book for June is Jellicoe Road.

You can read my reviews of Beatle Meets Destiny and Jellicoe Road, here.

You can read a mini-description of Half Life of Planets here.

And don't forget to sign up to win it yourself!,

I'm postponing character and Information until tomorrow. If you missed Motivation, read it here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Monday and Motivation

I recently posted about the theory I use in my everyday job (the contextual interaction theory), which analyzes motivation, information, and power to understand how people might interact. Many people commented they wanted to see the questions I use in my research.

I'm not sure the questions would be useful for writers, as they involve discussing specifics of a policy implementation... but that being said, I think there are really useful nuggets here that could help writers get to know their characters better, and understand how they interact. 

I should say first that I did not invent this theory, it is the brainchild of Dr. J.T.A. Bressers. I list publications at the bottom of the post if you'd like to explore the theory in detail. 

I also want to note: What I am doing here is not explaining or outlining the theory. 

Instead, I am creating questions that might help build a nuanced picture of motivation, information, and power, based on my own experience applying the theory. 


To better understand a character's motivation, you could ask yourself the following questions. 

I'll use the character name Katniss, just to keep things interesting.

1. How do Katniss' goals compare to the goals of the other characters? 

    Where are they compatible, and where do they come into conflict? How does this impact the story?

     Is it Katniss against the world, or does she have some allies? How strong are these alliances?

2. How does  Katniss personally feel about the core issue in the story?
     Is she just like everyone else, or does she have a unique take on it?

3. Are  Katniss' goals influenced by external factors? 

     For example, is she pushed by external economic pressure? (does this make her act out of character, or solidify the choice she has to make?)

     Ask the same questions about other external factors, like: 
     external social pressure-- what is the influence of friends and school mates on Katniss' motivation

     external political pressure-- this won't apply to every character. At the same time, it doesn't necessarily mean "official politics". In Katniss' case, her personal storyline and struggle took on a political element. By the same token, politics are everywhere (in a high school, a workplace, etc.). Think of "political pressure" in broad terms. 

     family pressure-- what is the push and pull regarding the character's motivation and the goals/motivations of family members in the story. As this is YA, most of them may have been killed off before the story begins! But if there are any left, do include how their motivations may impact that of our Katniss. 

4. How does the character's confidence influence her motivation? 
     Does she have the kind of confidence that pushes her into do or die situations (Katniss: check), or does she have a lack of confidence that keeps her on the sidelines when she's yearning to change things. 

Does this change over the course of the book? Can it be influenced by external or internal forces? Why and how? What kind of major event could enable that large of a personality change?

5. How does the character's motivation impact her attitude toward the other characters? (only slightly different from #1)
     Is she flying solo to get what she wants, or does she need/appreciate the help of trusted friends? Does this change during the book? Does your character who is shut off from the world open herself up to being vulnerable? What brings her to that place? 

So, what kind of questions or character worksheets do you use to get to the bottom of important traits? 

Do you use the Goal, Motivation, Conflict recipe? 

What have you found successful?

On Wednesday... Information

Friday... look for POWER

For further reference:

Bressers, J T.A. (2004). Implementing sustainable development: how to know what
            works, where, when and how. In W. M. Lafferty (Ed.), Governance for
sustainable development: The challenge of adapting form to function (pp. 284-
318). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. 
Owens, K. A. (2008). Understanding how actors influence policy implementation: a
comparative study of wetland restorations in New Jersey, Oregon, the Netherlands,
and Finland. Enschede, the Netherlands: Twente University Press. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Oprah Summer Reading One minute book review

I am still trying to decide if I have time for this!

I so want to do it, but I'm not sure I can squeeze it in this week.

Check it out:

Produce a video one-minute review of a book you want to share with the world (and with O magazine readers.)

Here's the link!

Let me know if you do it, I'd love to watch yours, whether I can get my act together or not!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Check out this cool contest: 3K up for grabs

Have you seen the Real Simple Fourth Annual Life Lesson Essay Contest?

My lovely sister-in-law let me know about this last year, though I was too late to enter at the time. I've been watching their website to see the launch of this year's contest and it's finally here.

The prize is a trip to NYC for two and $3000.

Not too shabby.

Here is the Real Simple website with all the details.

Here is this year's theme:
When did you first understand the meaning of love? Maybe you were a child, witnessing a
generous act by your father or mother. Maybe the lesson came later, as you grappled with the
challenges of being a friend, a spouse, or a parent yourself. Whatever made you understand
love—and yourself—better, tell us about it.

Enter Real Simple’s fourth annual Life Lessons Essay Contest and you could:
  • Have your essay published in Real Simple
  • Win round trip tickets for two to New York City, hotel accommodations for 2 nights, tickets to a Broadway play, and a lunch with Real Simple editors.
  • Receive a prize of $3000

and after polishing your essay, enter my contest to win a signed copy of Brendan Halpin's The Half Life of Planets

Sign up at the original post here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Okay, I'll blame it on the strep throat... {as an aside, "strep" is really the most painful thing I have ever dealt with. And I've had two babies without anesthesia. It's like swallowing glass. It is horrible!}

I forgot to mention the most amazing part of my giveaway of The Half Life of Planets!

Your book will be signed by author Brendan Halpin!

I know, I know, that's kind of really important, but I was barely going through the motions on that first post. The antibiotics are kicking in now and I'm feeling much more myself.

So, have you heard of Brendan Halpin? Let me give you a little teaser on this book (co-written by Emily Franklin).

The Half Life of Planets is a charming story told in two POVs, that of Hank, who is an amazing musician with a healthy dose of social awkwardness due to his asperger's, and Lianna, who has sworn that she WILL NOT kiss any boys this summer (despite previous behavior that indicates otherwise).

Lianna is obsessed with stars and is working on planetary research, meets cute with Hank in a ladies bathroom, and is a little starry-eyed (excuse my weak pun) over this intense, cute guy.

What happens next?

Don't you want to know?

Then enter my contest to win a SIGNED copy of the book by Brendan Halpin.

Open internationally. I will ship to you wherever you are!

Contest ends on the 4th of July!

Sign up at the original post here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

THE WINNER IS... and Book Giveaway!

Hi folks-
I have been delayed in announcing the winner of my giveaway, inspired by weekend of awesome, for the book: Writing Great Books for Young Adults.

I've had strep throat (ugh), but don't worry- I'll be sending the winner a new copy, so you won't catch my cooties. 

Drum roll please... and the winner is:


So, CONGRATS KT- shoot an email to insectwriter(at)gmail(dot)com and I will send you the book!!!

Then enter my contest to win Brendan Halpin's The Half-Life of Planets!


As a follow-up to Weekend of Awesome I wanted to give away another book! 

One of the coolest parts of Weekend of Awesome was getting a chance to skype with the charming Brendan Halpin, the prolific author of :

Losing my Faculties: A teacher's story, 
Forever Changes, 
Dear Catastrophe Waitress, 
It takes a Worried Man, 
The Half Life of Planets (with Emily Franklin), 
I Can See Clearly Now, 
How Ya Like Me Now, and 
Long Way Back

Feeling like you're not producing enough now? I sure am. 

I am currently reading The Half-Life of Planets, and would like to share this lovely book with one of YOU. This contest is open internationally. 

All you need to do is post a comment here, and you'll be entered to win the contest. 

Check out Brendan's website here

Friday, June 17, 2011


First- I need to do my final post on the Divergent faction-of-the-week challenge. The final post is for Dauntless. Oh, how I wish I was dauntless, but it is a real stretch for me. I think that's what I so loved about the book, living dauntless vicariously through Tris. What a thrill it was, jumping off of buildings, on and off of trains, scaling large things, and getting tattoos with the main character. 

My reality as a political scientist/mom/author/bug lover... is a little bit different. 

I thought, the only way to be truly Dauntless would be to get a tattoo this week! 

But... I did not. Though I do have an image I would love as a tattoo:
I adore this little bee who serves as the Patron tequila logo. 

Though I would be mortified if I did get this tattoo and people thought it was because I was especially into tequila! I am really, really not, and I have never tried Patron. 

So, I did not live up to Dauntless this week, and I'm okay with that for now.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I Dig Reading Challenge-- May update and RTW!

 RTW at the end of this post!

My update is a little late for May.

Weekend of Awesome kept me jumping, then my parents and niece came in for a week long visit.

This has meant I've been off the interwebs and barely squeezing in time to work on my book.

I read seven lovely books in May

Gathering Blue and Messenger by Lois Lowry

A Clash of Kings by George R. R.  Martin

No Passengers Beyond this Point by Gennifer Choldenko

Invincible Summer by Hannah Moskowitz

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, and 

Divergent by Veronica Roth

What an excellent month in reading!! 

Don't ask me to pick a favorite, because I'm not sure I can. They were all a pleasure to read. 

By my rules, that would mean $35.00 to my charity of choice this month. 

I wanted to do something a little different this month. 

My son's school has a program where you can purchase a new book for their library, so I donated A Cod's Tale by Mark Kurlansky.

I also wanted to donate to Operation Paperback, which I heard about through the lovely Abby Stevens. I went to our Friends of the Library Book Sale and bought several bags of  used books.

Then I shipped them off!  

Now from YA Highway, Road Trip Number 83

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. Hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This Week's Topic:

You're re-reading one of your favs when someone asks the dreaded question: "What's that book about?" Give us your best off-the-cuff blurb of any book, any genre, and have your readers try to guess the title in the comments!

Anne had a chance, but she blew it. Years ago she met the love of her life, but she let her snobby friends and family talk her out of his proposal. Now she’s practically an old maid, and guess who is back in town? Now, he’s a wealthy and decorated naval hero, but he hasn’t forgiven Anne’s snub. Did Anne miss her one opportunity for love? 

Can you guess what book I'm pitching in the comments?

Go to the YA Highway to see all the pitches.  
Enter my contest to win Writing Great Books for Young Adults: Everything You Need to Know, from Crafting the Idea to Landing a Publishing Deal.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Review: On the Jellicoe Road and Beatle meets Destiny

As I headed out for Weekend of Awesome I packed these two books to read, and I devoured them both. One on the flight down, the other on the return flight.

On the Jellicoe Road or Jellicoe Road as it's called here in the US (I keep asking myself why they shortened the name for our market. It doesn't make any sense to me). 

I've had this in my TBR pile forever. I knew it would be good. I knew I liked the author, because I enjoyed The Piper's Son so much. Still, I couldn't make myself pick it up.  

Isn't it funny how mood can impact what you take from the TBR pile and start reading? 

With Jellicoe, I started it weeks ago, but had trouble getting into it. I started it over and was instantly mesmerized. 

It was SO good that I was weeping at the airport as I tried to finish it. People sat near me, and then not-so-subtly cleared the area as I turned into an ugly-cry mess. 

It is extraordinary and I can't recommend it enough. It's The Sky is Everywhere good, if you get my meaning. 

It's "send this to your best friend for her birthday" level if that helps. 

I loved it. The characters are heartbreaking in the best way. The story is complex but realistic, fascinating and keeps you on the edge of your seat. The love story (there are a few, but I mean the main one) is a doozy. I've been thinking about it for days after. 

I think what sticks with me is how the main character changes and grows before your eyes. This book is beautifully crafted. 

I recommend it.

Beatle meets Destiny was completely different, and utterly charming. A more 'traditional' contemporary love story, with lots of twists, great characters, and a comedy of errors that will keep you hopping. The characters  were fun and funny, and you were rooting for a romance that seemed impossible but you knew would be great. 
I recommend it wholeheartedly. 

Check these Aussie books out! You will not regret it!

Enter my contest to win Writing Great Books for Young Adults: Everything You Need to Know, from Crafting the Idea to Landing a Publishing Deal.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Weekend of Awesome inspired Giveaway

SO, weekend of awesome was, as you may have heard, indeed awesome.

To share the love we are going to give away prizes inspired by the weekend.

       PRIZES!     PRIZES!!     PRIZES!!!

One cool part of the weekend was that Erinn asked us all to bring our favorite writing resource and have a "trade". 

The Elements of Style, a pocket Thesaurus, On Writing, Bird by Bird, Fill-in-the-blank-Plotting, and two great YA specific books were a part of the mix. 

To celebrate the weekend, I am giving away ONE of those books:

Writing Great Books for Young Adults: Everything You Need to Know, from Crafting the Idea to Landing a Publishing Deal

What do you need to do to enter? Just post a comment here. You can get extra points for tweeting, posting, etc-- but it is not necessary.

Also, if you already have this book I would be happy to send you one of the others instead. 

Open in the US only (sorry!). 

My next giveaway (featuring a Brendan Halpin book) will be open internationally. 

Be sure to check out Alicia, Erinn, and Quita and Pam for giveaways, too!

I will pick the winner next weekend- let's say the cut off is Saturday the 18th of June at midnight. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Weekend of Awesome: What The Room Taught Me

The Room

I so want to introduce it to everyone in my life now.

I have seen some bad movies before. I have been known to like a few of them, but The Room really delivered on its promise to be the worst film ever made.

WOW. We had a blast watching it at Weekend of Awesome-- it was my first time.

Today I'm going to focus on some things I LEARNED from The Room, specifically about dialog.

1. It is not appropriate to have a character announce when they are leaving a room, every time they leave a room.
"I'm leaving now." Was uttered billions of times. 

2. Don't use several words when one is enough. If someone is your fiancée, it is appropriate to use that term instead of: "Lisa is my future wife." 

3. It is not enough for a character to say that he/she is experiencing an emotion, he/she must also demonstrate what it means to experience that emotion. 
Lisa constantly fails to act in concert with the words she speaks. 
She and her friend smile as they discuss the seriousness of Lisa's affair, apropos of nothing. 

That being said, an overly melodramatic reading of a line is also inappropriate. 

One Room example is Tommy's famous line: "Lisa, you are tearing me APPAAAAAAART!"

4. In real life, among a group of friends, one does not provide lots of references to the relationships between people in casual conversation.

Room example: "Mark is Johnny's best friend."

5. Finally, consistency is key.

Lisa alternately says that Johnny is the most wonderful man in the world, defending him to others, or she is describing him in hateful terms. 

Another stellar example of wildly inconsistent dialog: "I did not hit her! It's not true! It's bullsh*t, I did not hit her! I did NOOOOT! ... Oh, hi Mark!"

Now, I seriously doubt anyone reading this blog could fall prey to this mistakes, but regardless, do check out The Room.

It is super-duper entertaining. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Weekend of Awesome, was all that and MORE

I couldn’t be more thrilled to meet up with Erinn, Alicia, and the dynamic duo of Pam and Quita for Weekend of Awesome in Hilton Head. 

The brain child of Erinn, Alicia, and Holly (I think), we planned months ago to get together, and spend a weekend writing. 

To encapsulate this weekend into only five favorite things is tough-- we did so much!

But, here goes:

1. Meeting the people behind the blogs. My husband teases me by calling my blog friends "pretend friends" and now I can say with confidence that these ladies are REAL friends.

2. The crit circle. Erinn organized us into small groups to read and comment on a problem scene and to have a general 10 page critique of a work in progress. It was fantastic to get some insight and feedback, AND to read everyone's stuff. 

3. The Room. Oh my goodness, this is one disaster of a movie (called the Citizen Kane of flops). As Erinn rightly said, The Room is a gift.  Not only were we rolling on the floor with laughter, it ALSO proved that no matter what rough spot we may be dealing with in a WIP, it will never be as bad as The Room. I snorted water through my nose TWICE. I couldn't find a moment to have a sip of water that didn't cause this reaction.

4. Workshopping our elevator pitches. There is nothing like having a group of willing listeners to bounce ideas off of.

5. Writing time. We packed a ton of it into a short period of time. That was a treat in itself. 

There was more than that-- the cookies, the food, the laughter, the writing resources, the mock pitch session, discussion our favorite scenes... I could go on and on. 

It was truly awesome, and I was thrilled to be a part of it!!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Divergent faction: Erudite

I have a sinking suspicion I would land in Erudite if I was in the Divergent world.

I love research.

I have my PhD in Governance and Sustainability and research how people make decisions about natural resources.

If I can keep you from nodding off for a quick second, and believe me, I feel sometimes like my research was made to eradicate insomnia, I'll tell you how I do it.

I use a theory developed by Dutch researchers that looks at motivation, information, and power and tries to understand how these three factors influence how people interact.

You can't just go up to someone and say, "Hey, who has the power in this scenario?"

Because inevitably someone who is the true puppet master will shrug and say that she is just a regular gal.

Or someone will claim to be THE person in charge, but you find out from others that nobody takes him seriously.

So I come up with a load of questions that tap away at underlying elements of motivation, information, and power, and ask them of people who work on water projects.

I conduct interviews with stakeholders gauging their motivation, information, and power and then based on various combinations of these characteristics, I have a pretty good idea whether they will cooperate, or enter into an opposition situation.

In other words, I try to predict if they will get along, or if they will fight.

It's actually pretty useful for novel-writing, thinking about how these factors influence people.

Are you still awake. Don't let me lose you now, it's almost over.

The point of all of this is that I got my Erudite on this week.

I did not use research to create an evil plan to take over the Universe.

I worked on an article about a water project in India and I felt somewhat Erudite as I did it.