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!
Friday, January 29, 2010
The Cay (pronounced Kay or Key), is about an American boy called Philip living on the Dutch Island of Curacao during WW2. Shortly after the German submarines show up off shore, Philip and his mother leave by boat for America.
They are torpedoed and the next morning Philip wakes up on a raft without his mother. Only an ugly old black man named Timothy and the cook’s cat called Stew Cat.
Philip suffered a head injury that caused blindness. He’s forced to trust Timothy for his survival. They finally land on a tiny island Cay, where Timothy sets up camp and begins to teach Philip how to survive in his blindness. Philip begins to “see” in ways he never did when he had his sight. His idea of beauty changes as he grows to love the old, kind and wise man who ultimately gives Philip more than he could ever pay back.
The Cay earned six awards in 1970, and made six book lists. Theodore Taylor was a prolific writer, penning more than fifty books in his lifetime. The Cay was his most popular title. I found many different covers for this book while searching on-line, but I like the one my copy has the best.
Because it’s the only one I found with a cat.
This cat looks a lot like another cat I know. Her name is Buttons and she belongs to my parents who live in the suite in our house, and therefore, according to Buttons, she lives in our house as well.
We used to call her Ripper, because for eight years we thought she was a he. But then she got fat, and well, it got obvious. It was weird changing gender pronouns from male to female, but we’re finally switched over.
She’s not exactly a little thing, but here’s a lesson Button’s can teach us all.
So back to Stew Cat and The Cay. For writing a fabulous book and proving it’s possible to have a long and prolific writing career, here’s to you Theodore Taylor!
Thursday, January 28, 2010
The Circle of Friends award came to me from Tricia O'Brien at Talespinning. She's amazing. Go check her out.
This award comes without specific instructions so I'm going to chose five blogger friends fairly new to the blogosphere, trying to get their sea legs. Go say hello.
Laura Canon at Pray for Rain
Andrea at That's Another Story
Sarah at The Wit and Wisdom of Another Sarah
Welcome to the wonderful world of blogging friends, my friends!
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Today is a different story.
Death is a part of life. As writers we deal with death and life all the time--in our created fiction, with our personal dreams, and sometimes in our factual lives with loved ones.
Sudden tragedy has its own grief, but watching someone slowly die is a different kind of grief. Anticipatory grief.
It’s hard to imagine living through the process of dying when we’re so busy living. I know I’m busy, busy, busy. But watching Lyn embrace this unavoidable marker stone with grace and dignity is very humbling for one so busy with life. She moved from looking fine, to needing help at home, to bedridden, but still full of conversation, to immobility and drug induced sleep. Her arm is a deep purple from excessive IV’s and a couple blood transfusions.
Today, Lyn didn’t look fine. Her life on this earth is almost over. I’ll be sorry to see her go, though, to use Facebook and Blogging terms, Lyn has friended Jesus and is following him too.
She’s found peace and is ready to go home.
UPDATE: I wrote this a couple of days ago, and it seems I waited too long to post it. Lyn passed away yesterday. She will be missed.
Monday, January 25, 2010
Jude was an expert at writing word pictures. Word pictures, in my view are different from similes because they don’t use the word, ‘like”; or they could be considered an advanced form of simile. Or just plain metaphors.
Check these out:
These men are blemishes at your love feasts…shepherds that feed only themselves.
They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind.
(they are) autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. (Love that one! Could I use it? Would that be plagiarism?)
They are wild waves of the sea foaming up their shame. (Also, awesome)
(they are) wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.
Who knew that Jude could turn a phrase like that? There’s no missing how he felt about these people.
What do you think? Do you use word pictures? Do you think they are effective?
Friday, January 22, 2010
One of her tips was to do chapter summaries. She recommended poster sized paper and 3 hours of uninterrupted time for this exercise. I just typed my summaries in a word doc and then printed it up so I could view the scenes in a row and scribble all over it.
What it looked like:
I scrolled through each chapter of wip and on my summary sheet wrote out one descriptive sentence for each scene in the chapter. By the last chapter I had a writer’s version of a storyboard (which is a series of sketches that block out movies scene by scene). It helped me to step back and see the whole picture.
What I found:
WIP #1 – I used the wrong villain in one of the subplot climaxes. When I started writing I had imagined villain #1 to be in a particular scene I knew from the beginning would happen near the end. What I didn’t see when I started writing, was that villain #2 would become the bigger villain, and thus needed that role at the end instead.
WIP #2 -- BIG GAPING HOLES. I have a lot of pretty good scenes, but they’re not strung together well. Part of the problem/challenge is that the story takes place over a five-year period, but still, some cohesiveness is needed.
I was also able to test it with the structure techniques presented by Janice Hardy, see my post on that here. How were my Three Acts, acting up? It was very enlightening and helpful. I found I had to switch a few scenes around. It helped me to identify weak scenes which I either had to muscle up or delete.
It’s easier to come up with solutions when you can identify the problem.
How about you? Have you tried writing chapter summaries? Do you have another favorite revision tip?
Thursday, January 21, 2010
With this award I'm to tell you seven things about me and then pass it on to seven other creative bloggers.
1. I'm Canadian with duel US citizenship
2. I'm a single child
3. I'm married to a musician (which makes life interesting)
4. Other than reading and writing, I like to cycle, travel, drink red wine and lie in the sun
5. I'm a friend of God
6. I've recorded vocals in a music studio (see #3)
7. I'm a mother to four kids
I now pass this award on to these Creative Bloggers.
Kim McMechan at Painting on Sundays
Tamara at Chasing Dreams
Ash.Elisabeth at From Rambling to Interviews
Melissa at i swim for oceans
Kara at Moomurs
Catherine Denton at Winged Writer
JenE at Jen'sPOV
If you haven't visited these great bloggers, then go do it. Go. Now.
Happy Awards day, everyone!
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Here I go: I know that YA is really hot right now. That’s not why I’m writing YA. I was writing this genre before they moved the teen section from the back of the bookstore to the front. I also know that paranormal is hot and so is edgy contemporary—who doesn’t? You’d have to be freakin’ blind not to notice when visiting said bookstores.
So, I understand why industry peeps are looking for these two types of YA. They sell, they make money. But that’s NOT the only thing selling is it? Say, YA chick lit or mystery or historical or other, for instance. Are they selling in the same volume as the latest Vampire/Ghost/Werewolf book? No. Or Gossip Girl wannabes? Probably not. But really, is that all there is? Really? Are readers of YA really not interested in anything else? Is it just me???
Okay, that’s it.
(Spiff would like the record to show that he thinks my views are a little extreme and that, actually, there are a lot of YA books that are not P or EC, you just have to crouch down to find them.)
PS. Apparently, it’s not just me. Check out Kara’s blog for a similar rant.
Monday, January 18, 2010
It’s about two vastly different women from different eras pursuing their passions. Julie Powel, the younger woman, was a blogger and a writer (in the movie she had written half a novel) and was also looking for something that made her feel like life wasn’t passing her by. I mean, she was almost thirty!
Julia Childs finds her calling later in life, which is inspiring for those of us a little further along than the rest, and she was trying to get published! (How could I not love this?)
Where the movie was about two women, the book is just about one-- the younger Julie and she’s not nearly as likable as the movie version. The book Julie has a lack of self-censorship. She’s like a toddler with unrestrained temper tantrums except she’s bigger and graduated from words like bumhead and stupid to expletives that used to get bleeped out on national television. She has a lot of opinions and she’s not afraid to machine gun you with them.
It got me thinking. What would my life be like if I just said the first thing that came to my mind, uncensored, with no thought to how it would impact the listener? Would that be freedom? For whom? Me? The listener? Neither? Both?
Is some sort of self-control still considered virtuous? Or are self-controlled people simply repressed?
On the other hand, the book Julie certainly isn’t afraid of what people think. There’s definitely a freedom in that. It challenges me, especially now that I’ve ventured out into the blogosphere—what if “they” don’t like what I’ve written? What if “they” subsequently don’t like me? (What if you don’t like what I’m writing right now?)
I mean, I can be opinionated, too (just ask my husband). Aren’t we as writers opinionated by definition? We need an opinion in order to write about it.
But can’t we be honest and have opinions and still have class? The movie Julie was classy. Even though she was stretched and stressed (I love the scene where’s she’s lying on the kitchen floor, sobbing and kicking her leg), and a lot of the times she didn’t know why she was doing what she did, you rooted for her. Julia Childs typified the classiness of her era. So it didn’t make sense to me when, in the movie, ninety year old Julia told a reporter that she didn’t care for Julie and her blogging/cooking project. It made the elder Julia seem pretentious and elitist.
But now that I’ve read the book, I can understand. Julie Powel says it herself. The Julia living in a retirement community in Santa Barbara might think I’m an unserious, foul-mouthed little upstart. Maybe if I met that Julia I wouldn’t even like her.
She probably wouldn’t especially if she was a Republican. One thing I’m certain of, the book Julie wouldn’t like me.
Have you read it? What do you think?
Friday, January 15, 2010
If you haven’t read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, you have to put it on the top of you TBR pile. John Boyne takes a unique approach with the all too familiar atrocities of World War Two by looking at them through the eyes of a privileged yet sheltered nine year old German boy.
Bruno’s angered by the family move from Berlin to a strange place called “Out With”, just because his father knows the “Fury” and has an important job. Boredom drives Bruno to explore a land without friends and one day he finds a companion in the most unusual place--the other side of a large wire fence that neither can cross.
Though perplexed by the strange community on the other side of the fence that only the soldiers and his father can cross, Bruno has learned enough to know his new friend has to stay a secret.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas has a twist ending, too, for those of us who assume it can only end one way. It leaves you feeling something.
This is an excerpt from Bruno’s first encounter with Shmuel:
“It’s so unfair,” said Bruno. “I don’t see why I have to be stuck over here on this side of the fence were there’s no one to talk to and no one to play with and you get to have dozens of friends and are probably playing for hours every day. I’ll have to speak to Father about it.”
“Where did you come from?” asked Shmuel, narrowing his eyes and looking at Bruno curiously.
“Where is that?”
Bruno opened his mouth to answer but found that he wasn’t entirely sure. “It’s in Germany, of course,” he said. “Don’t you come from Germany?”
“No, I’m from Poland,” said Shmuel.
Bruno frowned.”Then why do you speak German?” he asked.
“Because you said hello in German. So, I answered in German. Can you speak Polish?”
“No”, said Bruno, laughing nervously. “I don’t know anyone who can speak two languages. And especially no one of our age.”
“Mama is a teacher in my school and she taught me German,” explained Shmuel. “She speaks French too. And Italian. And English. She’s very clever. I don’t speak French or Italian yet, but she said she’d teach me English one day because I might need to know it.”
“Poland,” said Bruno thoughtfully, weighing up the word on his tongue. “That’s not as good as Germany, is it?”
Shmuel frowned. “Why isn’t it?” he asked.
“Well, because Germany is the greatest of all countries,” Bruno replied, remembering something that he had overheard Father discussing with Grandfather on any number of occasions. “We’re superior.”
Shmuel stared at him but didn’t say anything, and Bruno felt a strong desire to change the subject because even as he had said the words, they didn’t sound quite right to him and the last thing he wanted was for Shmuel to think that he was being unkind.
So, for writing an important and unforgettable book , here’s to you, John Boyne!
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Today's award is the Lovely Blog Award. Thanks to Carol and Laurel for thinking my blog is lovely! Of course, they received the award first because their blogs are lovely, so go check them out.
I now pass on the Lovely Blog Award to these lovely bloggers.
Nisa at Wordplay Swordplay
Laura Canon at Pray for Rain
Melissa at Chasing the Dream
If you haven't met them yet, go say hello.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Structure is important for pace and plot and of course that all too important climax and satisfying ending. But since I am a novice in this area, I defer to Janice Hardy, author of the YA fantasy, The Shifter, who has an excellent post on her blog on the topic.
And she doesn’t skimp. I learned tons reading how she plans her books and I’m going to test her technique out with my wip revisions.
Go check it out.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Can you have more than one “voice” as a writer? You pick up a John Grisham or a Danielle Steele, it doesn’t matter if it’s their first book or hundredth, they have a certain writing style, a certain voice and you know it’s them.
The wip I’m wrestling in the mud with right now is voice-challenged. I finally put my finger on it and this is the bigger problem (besides where to begin it). I had no trouble finding my voice for my YA chick-lit, (I’m not sure what that says about me), but this historical drama? I’m struggling to find my voice.
I do know that other authors manage writing multiple genres and therefore have multiple voices. They usually write each one under a different name for branding purposes so it’s hard to know who’s who sometimes, but I know they’re out there.
How about you? Do you struggle with voice? And if you’ve found yours, do you have more than one?
Monday, January 11, 2010
I did finish reading the revisions you sent for CLOCKWISE and I also passed the manuscript around the office for second reads.
In truth, I've been holding on to it because I'm really quite torn about it. I love the concept and the story, but in the end I just don't feel passionately enough about it. So I'm going to have to pass.
I think you're a fantastic writer, and I would be interested in seeing other projects of yours.
Thanks very much for sharing your CLOCKWISE with me. I wish you all the best with it!
I know I should be on cloud nine. I mean, she responded. With a personal and (meant to be) encouraging note. At the end of the day, though, Love the Concept + Fantastic Writer = FAIL.
In truth, this one hurts the worst. It’s the Big Fish that got away.
I got this last week, so if my posts or comments seemed a bit intense, uh, sorry about that.
Have you ever felt like you’re about to pass out just before reaching the peak of Mt. Everest? Is this what it feels like to win Silver?
Have you gotten this close but missed? How’d did you deal?
Friday, January 8, 2010
I put off reading Wintergirls because I thought it would be a dark and depressing read, which in fact it wasn’t. Not completely. The writing is so fascinating, I couldn’t put the book down. I read the first few chapters before bed one night and finished it the next day.
So, for writing another great book,(who thought she could match Speak?), here’s to you Laurie Halse Anderson!
And she writes in this—her own cabin getaway in the woods.
How great is that?
Thursday, January 7, 2010
This weeks award is the Picasso Award, passed on to me by the wonderful Kelly at Kelly's Compositions. Go check her out, if you haven't already.
With the Picasso Award the recipient is required to tell seven things about themselves.
1. I have duel citizenship with Canada and America.
2. I've traveled to thirteen different countries in the world, mostly in Europe.
3. I've lived in three - Canada, USA, Germany
4. I have four children, 3 boys, 1 girl, in that order
5. I have published a book.
6. I have been involved with humanitarian work in Romania since 1998.
7. I'm a cat person. (surprise, surprise)
I happily pass this award onto these worthy bloggers.
ElanaJ at Elena Johnson
Lynnette at Chatterbox Chit Chat
Mariah Constantly Risking Absurdity
Susan at A Walk in My Shoes
Jade at Jade Hears Voices
And now onto the CONTEST.
Kidlit is host a contest judging BEGINNINGS. I sense a theme in the blog universe. Great critique prizes. For MG and YA only.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
One of the comments yesterday, was an example of where the writer’s crit partners gave her bad advice, she changed the beginning then went back to it. I honestly can’t tell if my friend is right or not, but she did get an agent and she did sell a book, so maybe I should listen to her. Plus, my daughter thinks she’s right. Dang. Back to the drawing board.
Let’s define Inciting Incident. It is the trigger that starts the story, (though it’s not always the first thing that happens in the book). It’s the completion of the statement, It all started when….
You’d think this would be easy. It’s not. Now, when I start reading a new book, I’m on the look out for the inciting incident. Sometimes they can be very subtle.
Les Edgerton gives a good example in his book, HOOKED, drawing from the movie Thelma and Louise.
The story opens with a series of very brief vignettes back and forth between the two women, establishing their relationship to each other and letting the audience know about a trip they’re planning to take together. The inciting incident occurs right after, when Thelma is talking with her husband, Darryl, in the kitchen.
It quickly becomes obvious from Thelma and Darryl’s conversation that Darryl is mostly condescending to his wife and has an exalted opinion of himself as being much smarter than Thelma. It’s also clear he fancies himself a ladies’ man and has been treating his wife badly for quite some time.
Thelma is on the verge of telling him about her impending trip with Louise and asking his permission to go, when he answers her innocuous and sweet, “Hon?” with a snide, impatient “What,” delivered in the tone of a parent condescending to a bothersome child. As a result of his tone, she decides to go without asking permission. This a small but significant turning point—the inciting incident that creates the surface problem and starts to expose Thelma’s deeply psychological story-worthy problem.
Edgerton goes on to point out that most people think that the inciting incident in that movie is when Harlan tries to rape Thelma, and Louise shoots him.
So where IS your inciting incident? Is it easy to identify? At least to you?
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Since, according to my New Year’s goals, I promised myself I would finish this, flushing it down the toilet is not an option.
Talk about meandering (non) beginnings. Muse, (that’s you, Spiff,) help me find the Beginning…where does this story really start?
Since Spiff was so busy eating and chasing random items left on the floor and snoozing, I decided to turn back to HOOKED by Les Edgerton for help. See my earlier blog on beginnings for more on how great I think this book is. In a nutshell, this is what the opening scene needs.
1) An Inciting Incident –starting with a stellar opening line
2) The surface problem – that which propels the story into…
3) The story worthy problem – the deeper problem which is the essence of the whole book
4) A hint of the ending – (so vague even the writer has a hard time identifying it, IMO)
(Notice it doesn’t include backstory, set up or even a lot of setting—that comes AFTER the opening scene/s.)
Suffice it to say this wip lacked all four of the above.
I’m also converting it from first person to third. (I’m a sucker for punishment). It’s just that, even though I like first person, it’s not that compelling in this case. Maybe because I’m writing a male protag and I’m obviously not male, but I don’t really think that’s it. I think the story will just resonate more deeply in third person.
Though I have written third person before, it’s been a long time. It’ll be a lot of work, no doubt, but hopefully worth it in the end.
Anyone else rewrite from first to third person before? Or visa versa? Did it help?
Monday, January 4, 2010
Playing with Matches is a YA historical about a boy who grows up in Hitler Youth, only to figure out half way through the indoctrination that he actually doesn’t buy into the propaganda anymore. But what’s a boy to do about that when he’s forced to fight the Russians on the front line in the Ukraine?
It’s a heavy topic and I spent three years researching, reading, writing, watching war movies and documentaries before coming up with a decent rough draft. But not one good enough to go to market.
I needed to take a mental break from WW2 and so it’s not so surprising that I went to the complete other end of the pendulum and wrote a fluffy chick lit novel, (which, with the time travel element classifies it, at least partially, as historical).
I love Fluffy Chick Lit Novel. It’s hard to go back to the dark side of humanity. But one of my goals for 2010 is to finish it. Just finish it, already.
So here I go. This is me declaring that I’ve started revisions. I let you know how it goes; hopefully I’ll fall in love again.
Saturday, January 2, 2010
A bit of background: Casey, who just turned 16, is suffering from unrequited love. Or at least she believes it’s unrequited.
The first time Casey accidentally took Nate Mackenzie, the cutest boy in the school and the secret love of her life back in time to the nineteenth century it was, well awkward. The biggest surprise was that, over time, they started to connect.
However, once returned safe and sound to the present, Nate made it super clear that Casey kind of scared him, and that maybe things were better off the way they were before—with him pretending he didn’t know her.
So, Casey had no intention of accidentally taking Nate back in time a second time. Which of course is what happens.
“This is my fault, I guess,” Nate said. What he meant was he did a stupid thing by touching me. Not that I travel every time someone touches me, just it seems, when he touches me.
We stood in the forest, like before, only this time he was still holding my hand.I looked down at our interlocking fingers and fought back a big lump forming in my throat. Despite my best efforts, a runaway tear escaped down my face.
“I’m sorry, Nate.” Our hands broke free.
“It’s okay. I suppose you could call it a calculated risk on my part.” Then, he reached up and wiped away my stray tear with his finger. Every nerve in my body went into Fourth of July fireworks mode. He leaned forward slightly.
Oh? Was he going to kiss me? The shock of this possibility caused me to jolt back involuntarily. Oh no. Now he thought I didn’t want him to. (Did I? Of Course I Did!)
He squinted and took a step back. “Uh, I just, uh, it’s nothing.”
What’s nothing? What’s NOTHING? Was he or wasn’t he?
Then he bowed like a waiter, motioning with his hand for me to lead the way.
Friday, January 1, 2010
Here is a picture from our living room, today. Normal snowy-ness for this time of year.
And this is the same view on Christmas Day.
What the heck? What’s with the lack of snow and all that sun?? (My kids were bummed, but I was secretly really liking it).
Life is unpredictable. Not only the absence of snow on THE DAY, which happens sometimes, but the absence of clouds and rain. It was like having Christmas at Easter or something. It does weird things with the head.
And here’s where the CONFESSION comes in.
I spent a large part of the holidays contemplating whether or not it’s time for me to lay this particular dream down. I know some of you know what I’m talking about . And agents get wind of this, too, according to Rachelle Gardner: “Listen—don't let me, or any other agent, editor or publisher, kill your dream. Only YOU can decide when or if it's ever time to set aside a particular dream and follow a new one.”
Now, I’m not being whiny, (mostly not), I’m trying to be realistic. It’s not like I haven’t given it a good long shot.
For example, and I’m being really vulnerable here, when I started writing, in order to do research, you had to physically go to the library and look up your topic on micro fiche. Then you took a little pencil, scribbled out the dewy decimal number on a small piece of paper and dropped it into a basket for a librarian to track and retrieve for you. It took forever.
I used a computer to write, but it was DOS and I saved it on a five inch floppy disk.
Now, I hope I don’t sound like a granny here, I’m not that old, but I’m betting many of you never even heard of DOS.
My point? I’ve been doing this for a long time. Maybe it is time to pursue a new dream.
I spent days trying to imagine what I would do with all that SPACE. You know, the space in your time and in your head devoted to writing. I could train to run a marathon, or learn how to xeriscape garden. Maybe get back to cycling and baking.
Really, the possibilities are endless.
What did I conclude? Well, I’m here, aren’t I? After all the soul searching, I realized I just love it too much, and I’m not ready to walk away from it, no matter how exhausting or frustrating it gets. Writing and publishing do not necessarily have to go together, and writing is worth it all on it's own.
Now on to GOALS: I will continue to query my completed YA widely, I will go back to an old WIP and work on revisions until it is completed then query it widely.
That’s it for now. I like to keep my goals obtainable.
What about you? Are you like me, do you have a love/hate relationship with your writing life? Or is it just love, love, love all the time?