Monday, January 31, 2011

Did You Hear?

Oma's featured in the Casual Blogging Community!
Click over for a visit!

The Write Way

Author Lucy Sprague Mitchell

"Writing comes more easily if you have something to say."
—Sholem Asch

(I'm blank.)

Where do you get your ideas?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Character Study

"So tell me about yourself."

I'm interviewing the characters in my book. It's pretty fun because I'm on both sides of the microphone. After the preliminaries (name, birthday, what do you look like) I get personal. Here's a sample of my questions:
  1. What do you smell like? Horse sweat? BO? Evening in Paris?
  2. How do you spend your money? Are you thrifty, cheap, generous, or impulsive?
  3. By the way, how much money do you have? Did you earn it, inherit it, steal it, find it?
  4. What do you really think of your mother-in-law? Your best friend? Your boss?
  5. Are you having an affair? Should I mention it to anyone?
  6. What is a normal day like for you?
Then I give them a list of personality traits to check off. Are you:
  1. Absent-minded
  2. Abrasive
  3. Annoying
  4. Busy
  5. Critical
  6. Decisive
  7. Dowdy
  8. Fidgety
  9. Impulsive
  10. Insolent
  11. Jealous
  12. Moody
  13. Naive
  14. Obscene
  15. Paranoid
  16. Rebellious
  17. Resiliant
  18. Sarcastic
  19. Serene
  20. Self-righteous
  21. Vain
  22. Wholesome
  23. Wicked
  24. Worldly
  25. Zany
Throughout the interview I analyze their complexion, the color of their teeth, the rumbles from their stomach, and the hairs on their chin. Are they boring, fascinating, colorful?

The final question is, "What is your problem?" And then, like smart people everywhere, they always follow my advice!

What a great bunch of characters.

Now it's your turn:
  • Choose three numbers between one and six.
  • Go back to the list of personality traits and see what you've picked.
  • In a short paragraph describe a person with those traits, without using those words.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Compare Yourself

Metaphors stood in line to get into my journal.
For instance:

I'm a revolving door.
Dizzy, I send everyone else off to their lives,
but I never go anywhere.
Marty, January 1984

Kids snuggle moms like quilts,
but eventually they kick off the covers.

Marty, August 1988

I have to be the light at the end of my own tunnel.

Marty, March 1987

Who are the ancestors I carry around inside me like a Babushka doll?

Marty, October 1992

Metaphor (like her sister, Simile) is an implied comparison—I love to play with both of them. Pictures can be painted with vivid verbs, too. "The wind sliced through the threadbare coat and stole her breath," or "The clock in the dark hall whispered 'Can't sleep, can't sleep,' in a mocking chant." (Does anyone else stay up until 2:00 am toying with words???)

Some of my favorite quotes have images so vivid I can picture them. (So, I did.)

"If you want your children to keep their feet on the ground,
put some responsibility on their shoulders."
—Abigail Van Buren

"I am fairly certain that given a cape and a nice tiara, I could save the world."
—Greeting card

Here's my all-time favorite description of an angel—
by an angel, I might add.

"I don't want to drive up to the pearly gates in a shiny sports car, wearing beautifully tailored clothes, my hair expertly coiffed, with long, perfectly manicured fingernails. I want to drive up in a station wagon that has mud on the wheels from taking kids to scout camp. I want to be there with a smudge of peanut butter on my shirt from making sandwiches for a sick neighbor's children. I want to be there with a little dirt under my fingernails from helping to weed someone's garden. I want to be there with children's sticky kisses on my cheeks and the tears of a friend on my shoulder. I want the Lord to know I was really here and that I really lived."
—Marjorie Pay Hinckley

It's your turn:

Compare yourself. What's an adjective that describes you right now? Fierce? Flexible? Fragile? Frustrated? Focused? Feisty? Now think of something else that has that characteristic, use a little alliteration or personification, and make yourself a metaphor!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


These are symbols that many people can read.

Without a word said, there's understanding.

I'm posting this week about
writing symbolically,
(metaphors, weather, similes, etc.)
But first I need your help.

I have a cool little app on my Mac computer so that I can type some symbols. But I always wonder if they show up the way I want them to on your computer. In the comments section could you tell me which of the following six symbols you see (or what you see instead?) And tell me if you have a Mac or a PC.

☂ This is an umbrella

★ This is a star

♥ This is a heart

♫ These are two musical notes ♫

☺ This is a smiley face

❀ This is a flower

Tell me if my cute little symbols show up.
(They mean I care about you!)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Copy Writing

Film Noir by Damalia

"The secret of creativity is knowing how to hide your sources."
—Albert Einstein

I'm reading a great book called The Nighttime Novelist by Joseph Bates. He says:

"New novelists seem to have a particular hang-up about making sure their idea has 'never been done before.' If you have this worry, let me try and put your mind at ease: It's all been done before . . .

"What makes your book different from every other book out there is that it's been written by you . . .

"Don't get discouraged when you begin to think of books similar to yours, as you undoubtedly will, or when you discuss your story idea with someone who chimes in, without thinking, 'Oh, it's like _____.' Just nod your head and say, 'Sorta.' Because it probably is like a number of other books . . . but it's also a particular product of your distinctive vision and voice."
This entertaining and easy-to-read book has sections on: Where to Look for Story Ideas; From Initial Idea to Book; Twist Your Ending; Checking for Plot Holes; Practical Tips; Worksheets.
Bates says:
"The truth is, there are only a handful of writers working who make their living solely by their fiction. Most are people who put in long days, have families to care for or responsibilities to meet, work hard to make the bills, could probably use a rest, and who nevertheless feel compelled to sit by themselves and write stories.

"These Nighttime Novelists publish the majority of books on the shelves . . . all of them have decided that there's something wonderful, something worthwhile, in staying up late to work on a novel. It makes them feel like they're part of something bigger than themselves. It feels meaningful."
If you're looking for a writing book full of tips and encouragement, I'd highly recommend this one.

Another source for tips and encouragement is the TravelinOma comment section!

You Won!

Thanks to everybody who entered the Quirky Giveaway. (I asked for some traits I could give the characters in my upcoming mystery.)
  1. Max Bauman—a wealthy 60-year-old American in 1933. His construction company builds dams.
  2. Clara Bauman—his 55-year-old wife, from humble beginnings, anxious to be accepted by upper-class society.
  3. Alice Bauman—18-year-old heiress to the Bauman fortune. Used to privilege, she's on a grand tour of Europe with her mother.
  4. Baron Erwin Sarkoti—a 36-year-old Hungarian aristocrat who lost everything but his title, and is looking for an heiress.
Here are the winners and their winning quirks:
  • ~Kristina: Max could be a compulsive winker.
  • Diane: Clara should be a nail-biter.
  • Chiska: Alice ought to look around expectantly to see who else is listening.
  • Raejean: Baron Sarkoti will have clicking dentures.
Your prizes are in the mail!

Now it's your turn:

List a book (or author) that could encourage,
teach or influence up-and-coming writers—
like us!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Blogging: The Big Reveal

Marta in layers

The What Not to Wear Reveal is the best part of the show. Under all the layers of insecurity and self-consciousness, a sparkling, talented, beautiful person is hiding, and the audience finally gets a chance to see her inside-personality reflected on the outside.

Blogging is like a Reveal. I've been to blogs where peeling the layers away becomes too tedious to actually stay for the reveal. Apologies ("Sorry, I have nothing interesting to write") push me out the door. "Thanks for telling me before I waste my time here," I think as my pinkie stretches toward delete. Other blogs look interesting immediately and I want to get acquainted, read everything they have to say. What makes the difference?

This week Marta came to Oma's Inn to prepare for her reveal at the ALT Design Summit. Her topic was Blogging Personal Stories, so we had plenty to chat about while she got ready.

Talbots on sale!

I chased baby Benji through Talbots while Marta searched the racks for her Red Carpet look. "How do you suggest what's underneath without letting it all hang out?" We were talking about blogging, not cleavage, but the answer was the same: add sparkle.

The glimpse of a sequined tank underneath a low-cut blouse has an alluring modesty factor. When writing a revealing blog, don't display all the family jewels, warts and scars. Hint at the underpinnings of the story with careful words that won't offend someone you love, or embarrass you when it appears on your resume years from now. Your own style comes into play, of course, but the rule might be "less is more" when showcasing your personal stuff.

"Mirror, mirror on the wall . . ."

The guy at the Mac counter perked up when he saw us coming. Sketch, Soba, Swiss Chocolate, Cork—do green eyes look greener with purple? Do blue eyes look bluer with brown? Is Sketch purple or brown? WE NEED THEM ALL!!!!

What words reveal your inner colors? Rants are therapeutic to write and fun to read—sometimes. Sarcasm is hard to gauge through a blog, and often comes across whiny and negative to a stranger who isn't familiar with your sense of humor. Maybe that doesn't matter to you, but maybe you want people to come back and read your blog again. In that case, use a little foundation to even out your tone, dab some concealer on your blemishes and use color strategically to enhance your smile. Don't worry, your flaws will still show in the right light; you'll look real. You can still blog without makeup from time to time, but readers are more attracted when your words POP with enthusiasm.

Rock it, Min!

The Reveal is all about confidence. When you put all the pieces together, your blog will shimmer with confidence. Marta said, "A blog is like a party. You invite people to come, and as a good hostess, you want them to feel welcome and comfortable and to feel like you care about them. You try to be your best self."

Benji's Past, revealed.

Do readers get acquainted with you by reading your blog? Are you showcasing the look you want them to see? Do they leave saying, "I need to bring my sister over. She'd love it here!" or "That place was a mess!"

"You are what you blog," says Marta. "Since you're always looking for blog posts in your regular life, you start seeing your regular life with the attitude you have when you write about it."

Example: A three-year-old drops a gallon of orange juice in the fridge. A Woe is Me blogger sees this as proof that motherhood is miserable and spends an hour writing about her miserable life scrubbing inside, around and under the refrigerator. Will her kids ever grow up?

An Isn't Life Funny? blogger takes a bunch of photos, and even recreates the fatal drop with her giggling 3-year-old, then spends the afternoon smiling over staged pictures of her kids mopping up the OJ. She bites her lip realizing that someday they'll grow up.

Whether you want it to or not, your blog reveals you to your audience, and also to yourself.

Smile for your fans!

Reveal the real.

My Quirky Giveaway ends tonight at midnight! Make sure you leave a comment!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What Not To Wear Part One:

Marta has been chosen as a key speaker for the famous
ALT Summit Design/Blog Conference.
It's time to get her out of her work clothes and into her duds!

Marta's friends and family nominated her,
explaining—"we love her look,
but she's hit the big time. Min needs a little fashion guidance from

The woman who's dressed her since the very beginning:

Her mom!"

Oma said,
"With a special presentation looming before her,
I have the honor of taking her shopping for a professional look:
Together we'll discover, "What not to wear."

Hijacked at her sleepover party, Marta was offered her special
What Not to Wear Card, a trip to the mall, and an entirely new outfit,
she would give away her whole wardrobe and stand in the 360° mirror.

The critique began:

"I'd wear this to chase a lamb," said Marta.
"Too much blush," said Oma.

"I'd wear this to a birthday party," said Marta.
"Too many ringlets," said Oma.

"I'd wear this on a ski weekend,"
said Marta.
"Too uptight,"
said Oma.

Marta videoed her reactions from the first day:

"I have mixed emotions about this whole makeover thing.
My mom was responsible for many of my dorky looks in the past.
I'm not sure she should be my go-to fashion consultant of the day.
I don't want to lose the look that I'm known for.
And above all I want to be comfortable."

Marta explained the secret footage:

"I wore this outfit to a pickle party, when I was feeling preggars.
It was stretchy."

"I wore this outfit on a bad hairday, when I took TRAXX to the U.
I felt totally co-ed."

"I wore this after being up with a sick baby all night,
when I was calling the doctor. I felt like things would be all right."

I wore this that night I . . .
I don't want to tell about that night.

"I'm right behind you, Min!
(Unless I notice some stuff for myself.)
Shop til you drop!"

The reveal is tomorrow.

Yesterday's giveaway is going strong—great suggestions!
You still have a few days to be in the running for a prize!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Enter a Quirky Giveaway

We've all got them—little habits that charm (or annoy) others.
  1. My dad always hitched up his pants in a twisting motion so they sat a little crooked on his waist. (Happy Birthday, Dad, in case you read this blog in heaven.)
  2. Mom looked like she had a stiff neck when she peered down through the bottom half of her bifocals.
  3. Lucy starts every sentence with, "Actually . . ."
  4. Heidi wears a pencil behind her ear.
  5. Dee openly eavesdrops without embarrassment.
I'm not aware of my own delightful facial tics and speech patterns—I assume they're all endearing—but I'm sure my family could make an entertaining list. Characters become real when their little quirks are included.

In Son of a Gun I gave Ruby a habit of tying and untying her ponytail with a black velvet ribbon she wore around her wrist like a bracelet. Jack rolled his own cigarettes (I researched the how-to by visiting a tobacco store.) Turk launched into a tall tale whenever he had an audience. When asked if his stories were true, he always responded, "Truer than an outright lie."

Now I'm getting acquainted with new characters for a mystery called Death in Moscow. It takes place in Vienna in 1933:
  1. Max Bauman—a wealthy 60-year-old American. His construction company builds dams.
  2. Clara Bauman—his 55-year-old wife, from humble beginnings, anxious to be accepted by upper-class society.
  3. Alice Bauman—18-year-old heiress to the Bauman fortune. Used to privilege, she's on a grand tour of Europe with her mother.
  4. Baron Erwin Sarkoti—a 36-year-old Hungarian aristocrat who lost everything but his title, and is looking for an heiress.
They each need some unique, interesting personality quirks—something they wear or carry, or do or say. Do you have some suggestions?

Leave an idea in the comment section before midnight Friday, January 21, and you'll be entered in the Quirky Giveaway. I'll choose a characteristic for each character and four of you will win a prize. (Enter as many times as you want.) If I use your idea, I'll mention you in the Acknowledgments section when the book gets published!

It's your turn:
When you're writing about someone (real or imagined) make sure you include a few quirks!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Creation Station

My creation station

Everyone can create. We don’t need an office, a computer, or even a desk to create something of substance. Dieter F. Uchtdorf said this in a talk to women:
The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before.

You might say, 'I’m not the creative type.' If that is how you feel, think again, and remember that you are daughters of the most creative Being in the universe. Isn’t it remarkable to think that your very souls were fashioned by an endlessly creative and eternally compassionate God? Think about it—you are a masterpiece, created with a beauty, function, and capacity beyond imagination.

You may think you don’t have talents, but that is a false assumption, for we all have talents and gifts, every one of us. The bounds of creativity extend far beyond the limits of a canvas or a sheet of paper and do not require a brush, a pen, or the keys of a piano. Creation means bringing into existence something that did not exist before—colorful gardens, harmonious homes, family memories, flowing laughter.

What you create doesn’t have to be perfect. Don’t let fear of failure discourage you. Don’t let the voice of critics paralyze you—whether that voice comes from the outside or the inside.

If you still feel incapable of creating, start small. Try to see how many smiles you can create, write a letter of appreciation, learn a new skill, identify a space and beautify it.

As you take the normal opportunities of your daily life and create something of beauty you improve not only the world around you but also the world within you.

What will you create today?

Friday, January 14, 2011

What's a Memoir?

In a favorite book, Writing the Memoir, Judith Barrington quotes Gore Vidal:
"A memoir is how one remembers one's own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, and facts double-checked."

Dee and I write biography (for other people) which requires interviews, original source quotes and documents to back up and correct every memory, plus historical research to place a person in context. I write memoir which is a creative collection of personal memories and how they impacted life from the viewpoint of the writer.

I use a lot of my memoirs as blog posts. It's a way I remember my own life. If you were there, you might recall something differently. It's OK. Your version can be written in your memoirs. (Grab the inspiration and run for your nearest blog post!)

Barrington concedes that many of us are put off writing a memoir because we've been asked (or asked ourselves) "Who cares about this? Who will be interested in reading my story?"

"The question should be Why do I care about this? The answer will make you feel entitled to tell your own story, to accept that it is not only worthy of being written down but something you want to revise and craft until it is beautiful. In time you will even come to believe that your story is important for other people to read.

"Once you are comfortable with writing, put aside thoughts of agents, publishers, audience, fame and fortune--none of which is conducive to good writing. Start thinking right away about what matters in your own life--what has most challenged you, formed you, influenced you. Start making lists and notes. And from time to time ask yourself who cares, and remind yourself—you do."

Nobody can write your memoirs the way you can. I'm writing my memoirs a story at a time. They will eventually be bound together as The Oma Storybook Collection, but for now they come a chapter at a time, just episodes in my life I think my grandkids might appreciate right now.

My most recent book was written about my Aunt Marie. She was a single aunt who found ways to plan interesting outings and make fun memories with me. I wanted to record her impact on my life. Compiling a few photos and, jotting down some concrete memories, I intertwined them with impressions and emotions I experienced with her.

(Click the picture if you want to read the text.)

Though Marie seems to be the star of the book, I didn't check with her about any of the facts. It's really about me and my memories. It could remind and inspire my siblings and cousins who had similar experiences, but I didn't check with them for accuracy, either. Had it been a biography, I would have double checked everything, but a memoir is personal, and more fun to write.

Here are a few random pages . . .

I put in things that might have meaning to the grandkids in some way.

Because I wrote it for my grandkids, I included pictures of them scampering through the pages, making funny comments about what I was telling them.

This is the type of gift I like to give. It's triple duty—I get chapters of my personal history written, my grandkids learn about me and from me, and can appreciate loved ones I had before they came along. Plus I can please someone who is remembered fondly. It was a true gift from the heart—about $15 per spiral bound copy, and at least thirty hours of tender thoughts. Writing it "turned my heart to my children," and hopefully "their hearts to their fathers," as it says in the Bible.

Now it's your turn:

Have you ever received or given a gift of memories?
Was it appreciated, or was it tucked away for "later"
never to be looked at again?
Maybe it's time to remember and recognize the love tucked inside.