Ghoulishly Awesome WINNERS!!

Congrats go to Beth and Jessica, winners of our Halloween contest! Both of you guys met us at the virtual door with our favorite Halloween treats!



Thanks to everyone for playing. We had a lot of fun, and hope you did to! Beth and Jessica, you can send your first chapter or PB to us at the emails listed in our profiles when you're ready. Great job, ladies!!

Trick or Treat Contest!


In honor of this special day, we're having a bit of a contest at the Bookshelf Muse.

Becca and I looove to go trick-or-treating, so we've decided to get an early jump on those candy-snatching kids that'll be showing up at your door later tonight.

In fact, we hope that all our Musers will have lots of sugary treats to hand out to us in our comment section, because we've worked really hard on our costumes, see?


Now everyone knows that while we'd never turn away any type of sweet morsel, all trick-or-treaters have a favorite treat. You know, one that will make Becca or Angela's eyes light up as our Musers drop them into our cutesy plastic pumpkin pails in the comment section. In fact, we might get SO excited to be given this extra-special treat, we'll hand out a treat of our own in return!

The Game:

Offer each of us a treat in the comment section: ONE treat for each of us per post please. (Gotta watch them hips, you know.) If you offer one of us our favorite, then you win a GHOULISHLY AWESOME PRIZE.

The Ghoulishly Awesome Prize:

A first chapter critique or Picture Book critique, your choice (x 2 Becca and I will both critique it)

Note: 2 Ghoulishly Awesome prizes will be awarded--1 to the first person who guesses Angela's fav, and 1 to the first to guess Becca's fav.

Legal Mumbo-Jumbo:

Feel free to bestow compliments on our costumes and watch the comments section to see which ones turn out to be not our favorites. Enter, following the directions, and then if I post telling you that your choice was not one of our favorites, go ahead and offer us another candy handout! I'll be attentive and won't keep you hanging too long, I promise.

Oh my...was that the doorbell? Better get your candy bowl and go answer it...

Emotion Thesaurus Entry: Distraction

A glazed look, a wandering gaze
Watching the TV, reading a book and then realizing you have no idea what's happening
Mind wandering during a conversation
Digging through pockets or purse
Checking email/texting/messaging instead of focusing on a person or task
Losing a train of thought
Forgetting what one was about to say
Pinching the eyes shut forcefully and then opening them ad blinking, trying to stay focused
Zoning out during a conversation or activity
Sitting still, barely breathing, attention focused inward
Tapping fingers against a tabletop or leg,
checking a watch for the time
Muttering, "Uh-huh, sure" or, nodding without really listening.
Fidgeting, moving around in seat.
Playing with food, ripping up a napkin, tapping finger against a coffee cup
Answering questions without gusto, pausing for unduly long amounts of time
Making excuses
Affirming that yes, you were paying attention
Feeling sleepy or sluggish
Cocking the head or leaning toward another conversation to overhear it better
Rubbing a hand through the hair, massaging temples, trying to restore attention
Leaning back in a chain, body posture pulling away from the action or conversation
Wandering about aimlessly, restlessness
Doodling in a notebook
Picking off bits of nail polish, drawing on hand, etc
Writing notes during class
Aimless Internet surfing
Being unable to answer a question because you weren't following along
Being clumsy or getting injured as a result of not paying attention
Playing with hair, picking at a hole in the jeans, pinching lint from a sweater
Body starts to turn toward a distraction (an event, other people, a source of noise, TV, etc)and away from those you are with
Reading blogs, face book, online games instead of working
Playing with jewelry (spinning a ring on a finger, zipping a charm back and forth on a necklace)
Having to ask someone to repeat the question or a comment.
Being run into or bumped
Delayed reflexes & reactions
Nodding or agreeing to cover up the fact you totally missed out on a question or conversation

To nano, or not...part two

After waffling back and forth, I'm deciding not to participate in Nano this year. I'm sad, because I really wanted to, but I know the best thing for me right now is to stay on track with Merlin's Bookshelf, getting it ready to sent out.

I actually thought I was ready to send it out, too, and then I got a fan-tab-u-lous critique from a fellow Blue Boarder who helped me figure out a few concerns I had. She's brilliant--brilliant, I say! If you're visiting Verla's, take time to tell the user jojohn that she's freakin' awesome in my books!

What I would like to try to do is perhaps try a Dec-wri-mo or a Jan-wri-mo. Writing a new book is just what I need to get my brain moving again, and to keep me occupied while I wait for critiques to come in for my other novel, In Between. Unfortunately the timing isn't so hot for me for November, but I'll be cheering on all my fellow writers taking the plunge.

Go Nanoers!! WOOT!

Setting Thesaurus Entry: Sleep-Away Camp


wood cabins, bunk beds, curtained windows, sleeping bags and pillows, window a/c units, ceiling fans, locker, cobwebs, volleyball nets, basketball hoops, horseshoe pits, picnic tables, tug-of-war rope, archery targets, bows and arrows, bins full of art supplies, bathroom cabin, rusty shower heads, graffiti on toilet stalls, lines of kids outside cafeteria waiting for mealtime, cafeteria/auditorium building, segmented cafeteria trays, stage, piano, flags, covered pavilion, pond, canoes, lily pads, sandy beach area, fishing poles, lifeguard stand, trees, pine needles, forest, mosquitoes, flies, snakes, birds, squirrels, spiders, campfire, charred pieces of wood, sticks for smores, log segments to sit on, guitars, regional plants/trees/flowers, camp flag/signs, flashlights, cousellors, picnic tables, cut logs/stups around the fire pit, handmade benches, lawn chairs,


kids laughing/yelling/talking, singing, counselors shouting, splashing in the pond, slap of oars in water, lifeguard's whistle, hands slapping at mosquitoes, wind blowing in trees, birds chirping, squirrels chattering, hollow sound of volleyball being smacked, horseshoes clanging, the clack of fishing line being pulled in, thwack of archery bows, whispers and giggles from cabins after bedtime, doors creaking or slamming, extreme noise from cafeteria during meals, pounding of feet on basketball court, swish of basketball through net, feet rustling through pine needles and underbrush, campfire crackling, strumming of guitar, rain thrumming on cabin ceiling, fly buzzing against window, applause during end-of-camp show, echo from the shower cabin, wet towels snapping, thump of pillows in a pillow fight, snick of scissors from art area, the whine of a rickety a/c unit starting up, whirr of ceiling fans, creak of plastic mattress cover


campfire smoke, chocolate, bug repellant, sunscreen, sweaty bodies, hamburgers and hot dogs being grilled, mildew, bleach, musty smell of cabins, rain, leathery basketball, metal smell of horseshoes, earthy smell, glue, markers, paper that has gotten wet, rotten egg smell of well-water,


sweet-and-salty smores, the acrid taste of smoke, dinner eaten from a plastic tray, hamburgers, hot dogs, potato chips, nuts, berries, trail mix, fresh fruit, homemade ice cream, watery lemonade, pond water, sweat, bitter sunscreen and mosquito repellant, soap


low pressure water from the shower, soft water, heavy sleeping bag, scratchy blanket, slab of a pillow, gentle sway of bunk beds, feel of cool air from ceiling fans or a/c, slap of a pillow in a fight, bare feet on hard cool concrete, feel of wooden rungs as you climb into bed, warm lake water, squishy bathing suit, water dripping as you dry, prickly sunburn, sting of mosquitoes and horseflies, light touch of a fly landing on your skin, itch of poison ivy, prick of brambles and thorns, smooth pine needles, soft grass underfoot, warm sand, hot sun, smooth stick for smores, uneven log to sit on, heat from the campfire, warm breeze, heavy horseshoe in your hand, tug of fish on the fishing line, rough planks of a picnic table and bench, heat from other bodies

Helpful hints:--The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.

Example 1:

The cabin held two sets of bunks, their metal frames shining like stainless steel. I sat on the lower one, then jumped up, startled by the soft, satin spread. A whoosh of cold, disinfected air blew past me. I tried to drop my bedraggled duffel in disgust but was afraid it would defile the floor. Marble tiles? Central air? Are you kidding me?

Example 2:

The clearing in the woods held a circle of ten wooden cabins. Rose bushes stood by each door, their silky blossoms attended by bumblebees. A soft breeze blew in from the surrounding woods, fluttering the curtains at each window and raising the hair on my arms. It all looked so perfect. Had the others thought so, too, or had they known they would all die here?

--Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.

Example 1: (Simile)

The cabin listed to one side, its dangling shutters and unhinged door beckoning like a madman's grin.

Example 2: (Metaphor)

The campfire crackled and danced, a fiery fairy throwing its sparkling blessings over the crowd.

Emotion Thesaurus Entry: Indifference

  • A half-hearted shrug
  • A limp lift of the hand, palm up in a So? gesture
  • Loss of eye contact
  • Shoving one's hands in one's pockets
  • Looking down or away
  • A blank expression
  • Changing the topic instead of answering
  • Making a lame excuse to leave
  • Using a monotone voice
  • Non-expressive body language (inanimate, loose, lacking energy)
  • Yawning
  • "Bored" actions (slumping in a seat during class, tapping a pencil against a desk, examining one's nails)
  • "Sleepy" eyes, half-lidded

Good news! This sample has been expanded and streamlined into book form! The full list of physical, internal, and mental cues for this and 74 other emotions can be found in The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, available for purchase at AmazonBarnes & NobleiTunes, and Smashwords. The PDF is also downloadable via the Paypal button in the sidebar. 

To Nano or Not...That is the Question

Most writers out there know what Nanowrimo is, or have at least heard this strange word bandied about in blogs and forums. For everyone else, Nanowrimo is basically a collective decision with writers all over the world to complete a novel (or at least 50,000 words) in a month.

The month of November in fact, which is 12 days away.

There are two sides to the Nano debate--the avid, Nano is the best thing EVA! and the How will pounding out 50K worth of drivel help me? camps.

Me, I see pros and cons to Nano. The pros are that you get to lock the nattering inner editor in the cupboard for a month and dream come true. Also, at the end of the month, you can feel good about accomplishing such a huge chunk of writing in such a short time. There's a load of enthusiasm, camaraderie and encouragement during the month of Nano.

The con is one, but a big one: quality of writing. Doing 50 K in a month doesn't exactly encourage first rate stuff. If you plan on trying to sell your Nano novel, you'll have a boatload of revisions to do, and you better hope the stamina you built up during November sees you through the copious editing needed later.

Now some people do Nano with the idea up front that it will never be publishable, that they don't care about quality and are just there to shove as many cheesy characters, cliches and strained-peas plots in a single novel as they can. I don't really get that, but that's just me. I'm in it to create a (hopefully)sellable product.

I've entered and completed Nano twice. It was fun, and a real high to write that much that fast. The rewriting though...ugh. I hate revisions in the first place, so I finish Nano wondering why I did this to myself. One book I'm sticking with, the other is in the back of the filing cabinet.

So, whats your opinion? Are you Nano-ing, or not? I'm still on the fence, so help sway me one way or the other!

Setting Thesaurus Entry: Farms


Rambling ranch house, barn, silo, chicken coop, fenced-off green pastures, rows of growing produce, scarecrow, gardens, fruit orchard, sunflowers, pond, horses, cows, goats, sheep, chickens, turkeys, geese, dogs, cats, corn, wheat, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, onions, beans, peas, squash, pumpkins, tractors, farm machinery, newly-furrowed dirt, rocking chairs on the porch, tire swing, farmers in overalls/flannel shirts/jeans/boots/thick gloves, milking pails, pitchforks, hay bales, canned produce, stacks of firewood, granaries, tractors, bobcat, rototillers, bailing machine, swather, grain auger, feedlots, pitchforks, shovels, axes, rakes, rope, horse tack, pig pen, water trough, yellow canola fields, barley, fescue, timothy hay, alfalfa, brush piles, root rakes, plows, fire pits, sheds, sagging fences, derelict buildings, broken down trucks and farm equipment, weeds, trees, outhouse, family dog, coyotes, bears, deer, wolves, moose, elk, foxes, rabbits, mice, hornets' nest, birds, animal scat, squirrels scrambling across buildings and tree to tree, irrigation sprinklers, brass dinner bell


Chickens clucking/scratching at the ground, roosters cawing, horse whinnies, cows lowwing, sheep/goats baa-ing, creaky buildings, horse hooves shuffling through hay or stomping through a barn, pigs rooting for fodder, the wind shushing through hay fields and trees, leaves rustling, mice skittering in the barn walls, birds fluttering as they roost, howls of night creatures (coyotes, wolves, etc) the yip of a fox, the thunk of throwing down a hay bale from the loft, the screech of birds of prey, the roar of machinery starting up, the sound of a plow turning the earth and breaking through roots, the crackle of campfires, trees falling, chainsaws, axe chopping wood, flies buzzing


Manure, growing crops, flowering crops (Canola, fruit trees, etc), pine needles, fresh hay, musty barns, dust, dirt, mildew, warm earth, musky animal hides, gasoline, motor oil, fertilizers, wildflowers, burning barrels, campfires, rotting vegetation or garden compost, sweat


Chewing on young sweet grass, chewing tobacco, cigarettes, a carrot pulled from the ground, sweat, dirt, clean, cold water, potatoes roasted in foil in the coals of a campfire, hot dogs done over the fire, fresh fruit and vegetables, tart wild cranberries, sweet Saskatoon berries strawberries and raspberries, teeth gritty from blowing dust as you work the fields, coffee from a canteen, thirst


Crumbling nuggets of clay in the soil, dusty soil, the splash of cold water on the neck after a hard day's labor, sweat-stiff clothes, dirty hands, grit under the fingernails, the feathery tops of green timothy hay, the stiff bristles of barley, thorns, brambles, smooth wooden rails around the horse corral, callouses on the hands, blisters, rope burns, chapped lips and face, a sunburned neck, a cold glass of lemonade

Helpful hints:

--The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.

Example 1:

I never liked working the field than ran next to the church's burial ground. During plowing season, the deep furrows of dark soil the tractor churned up reminded me of freshly turned graves.

Example 2:

I stood in the middle of the cornfield, impossibly green and tall, and listened. No cars rushed past on the freeway, no screeching sirens heralded a stranger's pain and suffering. Only wind, blessed wind, ruffled through the shiny stalks, bringing the promise of gold-ripe ears for the table, sweet and crisp.

--Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.

Example 1: (Simile)

Wild sunflowers lined the dusty farm road, their heads nodding in the wake of our car like a cheerful welcoming committee.

Example 2: (Metaphor)

The red, weather-beaten ford truck roosted on its axles at the edge of the overgrown timothy field, a worn out rooster to old to crow the sun awake.

Emotion Thesaurus Entry: Overwhelmed

  • Light-headedness
  • Letting out an uncontrollable cry, sob, or whimper
  • Dropping something, spilling something (slopping tea, dishes chattering together as you carry them)
  • Becoming angry or argumentative
  • Mental numbness
  • A glassy stare, a glazed look
  • Retreating inward
  • Wanting/needing to be alone
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Assuming the fetal position
  • Crumpling onto the floor
  • Waving someone away (hand flapping)
  • Putting the hands over the ears
  • Giving oneself over to tears through anguish or grief

Good news! This sample has been expanded and streamlined into book form! The full list of physical, internal, and mental cues for this and 74 other emotions can be found in The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, available for purchase at AmazonBarnes & NobleiTunes, and Smashwords. The PDF is also downloadable via the Paypal button in the sidebar. 

Say it Isn't So!

I loved the book City of Ember. LOVED it. Was so excited to see they were making a movie about it. Unfortunately, my free movie tickets won't allow me to see a movie until it's been out for two weeks, and my conscience (ie, my husband) won't allow me to pay $9 for a movie, so I haven't seen this one yet.

And then, I read this post on Kristen Nelson's blog.


Why, oh WHY does Hollywood take a wonderful book like City of Ember, and ruin it? You'd think the fact that it was successful would encourage movie-makers to leave it alone, but noooooo. My indignation calls to mind the movie versions of just about every Stephen King story ever written (with the exception of The Green Mile and Shawshank Redemption).

So, in an effort to assuage my outrage: what movies have you seen that decimated the books they were based on? Or (if you're determined to see the glass as half full), what movie did a good job of representing its accompanying book?

Clichés...The Poisoned Apple of Description

It's been awhile since my last cliché post, so I thought I'd look at the temptation aspect of clichés, and why writers are drawn to using them when faced with tough description choices.

The way I see it, there are four main reasons to reach for the Poisoned Apple and chow down on it:

1) Clichéd expressions and descriptions convey an immediate, recognizable picture to the reader. Why bother to have a paragraph of description when 'a dark and stormy night' will do?

At first glance, this could seem like good advice. After all, aren't we always told to streamline our writing in order to keep the reader interested and the pace moving forward? The thing to remember here is why people read in the first place. They aren't looking for a rehashing of the mundane, to experience the same-old, same old. They read to be transported into something new, to partake in a unique and gratifying experience.

If we fill their senses with cliché after cliché to get a point across or describe a scene, then we fail as writers. This is why the voice of a story is so important--it conveys a sense of authenticity to our writing. If our prose is unique and true, then we can show a familiar setting, circumstance or event to a reader in a way that remains fresh and new.

2) Using a hackneyed expression is way easier than trying to come up with something new. Besides, all the good descriptions have already been written, so why even try to come up with something fresh?

The problem with hackneyed expressions is that we've heard them all before. They become lifeless and do nothing to evoke the reader's senses, so using them to describe is counter-productive. Worse, some are so overused that seeing them in written form will pull the reader right out of the story AND make them want to scratch their own eyes out.

As writers we need to describe in a way that offers a fresh image to the reader. The moment they read the first word, an author has made a promise: to offer them a new experience. Keeping our expressions and descriptions our own is how we make good on that promise. It can be difficult at times to be original, but never is it impossible.

3) Based on unique experiences, everyone has a different way of seeing something. If I describe something specifically, it will alienate my readers because they will not see it the same way. Better to stick with language and descriptions that are easily recognizable.

There are times where clichés can be used (and I'll get into that in another post). However, we should never let the fear of alienating the reader through our own brand of showing get in the way of writing. Everyone has different tastes and different ways of seeing things, true, but so do we. Readers choose our books because they want to experience our viewpoint--that's our job, to give them a glimpse of what we see.

This is also why we take care to not describe everything in exhaustive detail...the reader's own imagination will fill in the blanks and becomes part of the experience. It makes them feel involved. Often a few fingernail sensory details are all the reader needs.

4) Some concepts are abstract and too hard to show, like emotions. Better to use a cliché or two than bog down the book with inadequate misfires as we try to convey exactly how a character is feeling. Clichés are familiar and can be comforting.

This is true...if you're writing text for a greeting card company. Rarely are there circumstances where some earnest thought won't garner the right words to get across a particular emotion or circumstance. (I hope that we've proven that with our Emotion Thesaurus!) Coming up with fresh descriptive language, metaphors and similes can be a challenge, but succeeding is the reward of writing. Never shortchange the reader or yourself by stopping once you hit an easy answer to a descriptive woe.

Can you think of other reasons why writers are tempted to use clichés when they know they shouldn't? What's your biggest struggle as far as keeping away from the cliché?


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

It's that lovely time of year when us Canadians get to drench everything in gravy, guilt free, and be thankful for all we have. It makes me sad that my Americano cohort Becca must wait a month for her turn at the gravy boat, so I'm officially declaring this a share-your-turkey-day!

So, regardless if you are here in Canada, the US, UK, Australia or Timbuktu, pull up a chair, have some grub and tell us what your grateful for. Me, I'm grateful for a healthy family, a job that I love and having such great people in my life--here at home and all of you!

Setting Description Thesaurus: Amusement Park


Ferris wheel, roller coaster, haunted house, log ride, tea cup ride, sizzler, swinging pirate ship, mazes, fun house mirrors, Psychic tent, spinning apple ride, airplane ride, pony ride, boat rides, water gun boats, mini golf, go carts, bumper cars, merry-go-round, slides, kiddie ball pit/climbing area, carnival games: ring toss, guessing games, floating duck, pond fishing, basketball-through the hoop, dumbbell strength meter, shooting gallery, ball rolling, water gun blasting, ball toss, football toss through a tire, putting competitions, dart/balloon popping, toys, stuffed animal prizes, stuffed snakes, glittery hats, clowns, ringmaster, circus tents, rough-looking tattooed ride masters and game hawkers, mini donuts, corn dogs, cotton candy, popcorn strewn on the ground, garbage, wrappers, tags from toys, cigarette butts, patches of barf, garbage cans, people sweeping up trash, ticket booths, money exchange/ATMs, water bottles, pop cans, flyers, balloons, advertisements, loud & colorful signs and flags, bright colors, flashing light bulbs


too-loud music, screams, laughter, cheering, chanting, singing, bells, crying, clanking ride chains, whooshing of air brakes, chugging machinery, squealing brakes, feet running, people calling out to each other, corn popping, fries/donuts sizzling in vats of oil, pinging sound of game targets, pinball machines, balls rolling and thudding down game chutes or hitting the booth backdrop, balloons popping, the jingle of change, baby strollers, the papery crinkle exchange of bills, clapping, seatbelt clicking, hawkers calling out for people to come try the games, spooky/creepy noises from the haunted house (evil laughter, creaking, bats squeaking, ghosts moaning) blooping, beeping, dinging, jingling, rushing, roaring, scraping, shuddering


cigarettes, cotton candy, popcorn, french fries, mini donuts, grease, sugar, hot pavement, oiled machinery, babies with full diapers, vomit, garbage, body odor, sweat, bad breath, cinnamon from candy apples, hot caramel, metal


All manner of food & drink: popcorn, cotton candy, candy apples, burgers, corn dogs, doughnuts, ice cream, chocolate, fries, chips, pop, slushies, water, lemonade, rock candy, dipping dots, elephant ears, funnel cakes, sweat, gum, mints, aspirin


metal bars, seats with cracked padded cushions, handles with chipped paint, seat bets, plastic steering wheels & levers, worn balls, smooth plastic rings, greasy food, dripping ice cream, blotting blobs of ketchup off a shirt, crinkling up a hamburger wrapper, the icy cool of holding a fresh water bottle on the fingertips, thirst, cold/hot beverages sating thirst, holding children's' sweaty hands, keeping them close, brushing up against strangers on a crowded ride or in line, feeling a back pocket to make sure the wallet is still intact, punching buttons on a cell phone, the stringy fluff of cotton candy melting on tongue, sticky fingers, water soaked clothes from a log ride, dripping hair, tears or watery eyes from a scary plunge on a ride, the bottomless feeling in stomach, light-headedness

Helpful hints:

--The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.

Example 1:

"Amanda, are you ready to..." My voice drifted off, staring at the empty patch of asphalt where my daughter had stood only a moment before. I spun around, searching the crowd. "Amanda?" Bodies surged past, laughing parents pushing strollers, teenagers locked at the hip, blocking my view. "Amanda!" My gaze flicked to the nearby ring toss, where a row of gigantic plush bunnies begged to be grabbed by little fingers. Nothing. The corn dog stand with it's impossibly long line--hadn't she just pleaded how hungry she was? Everywhere I looked, a thousand distractions--bright balloons, hot dog carts, juggling clowns.

My frantic gaze caught on a flash of pink and a soft whimper escaped my lips. Beyond the press of bodies, a small, familiar form wearing a pink jumper lay curled up on a park bench, her eyes closed in sleep.

Example 2:

At the top of the Ferris wheel, the musical roar of the carnival dimmed, letting in the sound of the Amy's excited giggles and the crinkle of paper from the rolled-up bag of popcorn she held tight in one small fist. We shared a grin as she kicked her feet out at the open air. I loved this moment, I lived for it every year--when we reached the pinnacle of the rotation as the carriage opposite us stopped to exchange passengers. I pulled in a deep, clean breath. For one moment everything seemed so clear, so full of potential. So reachable. I could do anything I put my mind to.

The wheel shuddered to life, pulling forward, and then down. As we sank toward the ground my mind returned to the fight I'd had with Mary right before I left home, the constant buzzing of my work phone in my pocket. As we descended I grew heavier, the fog of music and noise enveloping me, dropping me back into reality.

--Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.

Example 1: (Simile)

"Want to go again?" Betsy asked, bouncing on her toes. I forced a smile, but as the Barrel Twister clattered up above our heads, my stomach shuddered like a cranky washing machine.

Example 2: (Metaphor)

Joel shoved his broom against the dirty concrete, shuffling along the peanut shells, candy wrappers and bottle tops. After the rides were grounded and the music silenced, the fairground show its true colors. Not many saw it as he did, when the wind brushed hot dog wrappers up against greasy smeared tent flaps and the moonlight pointed out the faded signs and peeling paint. Once the last echos of laughter had disappeared along with the flashing lights and colorful balloons...well, peel back the carnival glitz and all you find is a corpse staring back at you.

Emotion Thesaurus Entry: Uncertainty

·A delayed response
·A head tilt and pause
·A noncommittal answer: Maybe, or We'll see
·Dragging footsteps
·Flapping your hand at someone, dismissing them or their idea
·A quick widening of the eyes, either at the person proposing the idea or to another person involved
·Rubbing the back of the neck without making eye contact
·Biting or chewing on the lip
·Hmming and Hawing
·A purposeful shiver or shudder
·A heavy sigh
·Walking away
·A jutting chin
·A dark, silent look

Good news! This sample has been expanded and streamlined into book form! The full list of physical, internal, and mental cues for this and 74 other emotions can be found in The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, available for purchase at AmazonBarnes & NobleiTunes, and Smashwords. The PDF is also downloadable via the Paypal button in the sidebar. 

The Back of the Filing Cabinet

I was visiting my filing cabinet today, looking for an early draft of a manuscript as I set out on revisions again. When I couldn't find it where I'd thought I'd put it, I ended up wading deeper and deeper into the murky depths of my dead files. Deep in the back of the cabinet, I rediscovered old stories that I wrote way back when--you know, the ones begging to be written that first called us to pick up the pen.

As I pulled out the handwritten pages, a touch of the excitement I'd felt when I first wrote these stories tingled through me. Back then, there were no worries about themes or escalating stakes and tension, no lost sleep over how to create the perfect hook opening or snag an agent. Back then, writing was pure joy. I remember feeling that at last I'd found something that gave me true satisfaction, something I could succeed at.

Of course, we all know there's a reason why they end up in the back of the filing cabinet. The more we write, the more we learn. The more we learn, the more we understand that some of those stories just aren't going to make it. The works we once believed gleamed of pure platinum were actually closer to Swiss cheese, riddled with cliches, weak characters and disconnected plots. In a fit of embarrassment, we banish them to the dead file, vowing to never let another soul see our muddled first attempts.

And yet we file these away, rather than shredding the evidence. The reason is because these stories showed us a glimpse of the future, they made us BELIEVE. Good, bad or ugly, they are ours, and they are special.

I thought we should have a post to salute those all-important first tries. Let's give them their due, and while we dare not show them to others, we can talk about them, sharing what drove us to write them in the first place.

My first attempt was a 1200 word picture book called A Frog Named Flamingo. It was about a frog that fell asleep in the sun the afternoon before his Naming Day and woke with a bright red sunburn. Mortified, he tries all sorts of ways to disguise his skin so the other frogs don't make fun of him--dirt, mud, etc--but in the end faces his fellow frogs in his own skin. He is given the name Flamingo, and discovers that being different is not always a bad thing.

The theme of not fitting in has always appealed to me, and that being different doesn't have to be a negative experience. This book taught me a lot, including that I had a hard time working within the descriptive constraints of a picture book, and that I probably wasn't suited for this type of writing, lol. My aunt, an illustrator, kindly made up some sample illos for the story, which I still have. Someday I might just bind it up myself, just as a keepsake.

So, who else is up for a little sharing?

Setting Description Entry: Bedrooms



bed, night stand, dresser, armoire, make-up table, desk and chair, picture frame, window, closet, mirror, bookshelf, clothes hamper, wastebasket, wall shelves, phone, lamp, computer, notepads, books, rug, curtains, shade/blinds, wallpaper, bedspread, pillows, posters, cork board with pictures/flyers/announcements pinned to it, knick-knacks, alarm clock, stereo, entertainment center, game system, TV, CD/DVD collection, computer, overstuffed chair, bean bag chair, clothes, shoes, soda cans/half-full glass, homework textbooks, iPod/MP3, gumball machine, oval rug

female: frilly, flowery, lacy, soft, pink/purple/yellow, hearts, stuffed animals, make-up/hair products, perfume, decorative pillows, canopy bed, diary, fuzzy-topped pencils, nail polish, bracelets, bangles, earrings, rings and other jewelry, feather boas, posters of dogs, cats, hot guys (movie stars, musicians), shoes with colorful laces, furry slippers, fluffy robe, hair ties, scrunchies, rubber bands, a packed closet, shoe rack, memorabilia/collections/decor themed to interests: horses, soccer, glamour, Paris, art, music, etc) a beaded fringe lamp

male: sports memorabilia, geometric, spartan, darker colors, rumpled bedsheets, clothes on the floor, messy, dusty, CD collection, posters of girls (beach babes, film stars, Army, Action movies), toy guns, airsoft guns, action figures, lego, comic books, gaming magazines, over-flowing laundry hamper, basketball hoop on door or over garbage can, a pet (hamster, gerbil, mice, guinea pig, etc) Hockey/baseball cards, candy stash, sunglasses


Music blaring, murmur of TV or talking on the phone, laughter, tick of a clock, radio alarm, click of computer keys while IMing, cat or dog scratching to get in, trill of a cell phone, squeaky bed spring, whispering, outdoor sounds leaking in through a cracked window (airplanes overhead, birds, dogs barking, cars driving past, etc), yawning, whir of a blow dryer, clatter of sorting through jewelry, the clink and ping of hangers being moved in the closet, drawers sliding open and shut, the slam of a door, a knock at the door, crinkle and shuffle of pages flipping in a book or magazine


Perfume, hairspray, nail polish, model glue, body spray, deodorant, clean linen, sweat, rotting food, bubblegum, fabric softener, dust, wet towels, a whiff of dinner cooking in the kitchen, a spicy cheese smell from an open bag of Doritos on the desk, dirty, musty socks,


Bubblegum, the bitter taste of hairspray, breath mints, peanut butter and jam sandwich on a plate, a banana, granola bar, sugary pop, water, energy drinks, candies, chips, tobacco (sneaking a cigarette)


silky, clean sheets, the unwelcoming hardness of pressing the alarm button, cool, smooth desktop, fuzzy sweaters, itchy sweaters, slippery t shirts, rough Cotton jeans, cool walls, soft, sinkable bead, balling up paper, tossing it into a garbage bin, lace curtains or bedding, petting the soft fur of a snoozing cat or dog, glossy cold magazine covers, a puff of warmth from a heating vent, the stirring of air against face and hair of a fan, gritty, unsweapt floors, sticky carpet or rug, sweeping off chip crumbs scattered across the nightstand or pilling against the bed comforter

Helpful hints:

--The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.

Example 1:

When I could put it off no more, I tiptoed into Great Aunt BeeBee's room. The floor was cold and gritty, dust and crumbs and who knows what else clinging to my bare feet. My only light came from a slit between the sagging curtains at the window, the feeble brightness barely enough for me to make out anything. I crept closer, trying to not gag on the smell of sweat and sickness. On the floor beside the bed I could just make out a twisted lump of blankets, but I couldn't get up the courage to touch it. Please don't be dead, I thought. I strained my ears for the sound of her rusty breath, and again remembered the sickening thump that had woken me.

Example 2:

Once I was sure my cousin Sadie had left, I ran up to her room. Signs plastered the door, taped every which way but all with the same message: keep out. Ever since I'd moved in, that message and the stony glares from Sadie were enough to keep me from entering. But now, today, that would change.

I wondered what would lie beyond the door--I imagined a hodge-podge of colors, as scratchy and prickly to look at as Sadie's clothing ensembles. As I pushed the door open, I gasped. Every inch of the room was a bright, suffocating white--white walls, white furniture, white carpet. A fuzzy white lampshade sat on a white bedside table, next to her white clock radio. Plump white pillows, a white comforter and white uncluttered surfaces gleamed in their whiteness. At the window, stark white curtains carefully sealed out an intrusive view of the backyard, and as I stepped back out of the room, I couldn't help but think the only thing missing was white padded walls and a straight jacket.

--Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.

Example 1: (Simile)

I followed on Anna's heels, catching the bedroom door seconds before it could slam in my face. Enraged, I sucked in a deep breath and pushed the door wide. My words curdled into nothing at the mess greeting me--clothes, text books and muddy shoes lay across the floor in knotted clumps, pages from a teen magazine peppered the walls and CDs marched across the unmade bed like a ticker tape parade.

Example 2: (Metaphor)

Mom lifted her hands from my eyes to show me her suprise of a newly decorated room. Bubble gum pink assaulted me: fresh pink walls, curtains, a frilly pink princess bed with a curved pink canopy above it. Gone was my battered, sticker-encrusted desk, my collection of rock hero posters, my drum set. I turned away from the cotton candy explosion, tears in my eyes. "Did you just meet me?" I screamed, pushing past her.

Emotion Thesarus Entry: Desperation

·Pleading, begging
·Anxious muttering to oneself
·Grabbing fistfuls of hair at the sides of the head
·Crying, sobbing, wailing
·Unable to make out words properly, incomprehensible to others
·A willingness to do anything to change the outcome, even committing acts that go against one's moral code
·Stuttering, inarticulation
·Extreme risk-taking in order to survive or protect another
·Pleading to be exchanged for another: "Take me instead!" or "I'll go, you stay."
·Grabbing onto another person or shaking them in an effort to make yourself heard
·Internal anguish that leads to law-breaking or betrayal in order to save oneself or another
·Increased strength, fortitude, or whatever is needed to survive or save another
·Irrational thinking, poor judgement
·Refusing to see truth or be reasoned with
·Rubbing own upper arms for comfort
·Hugging shoulders, chin tight to the chest

Good news! This sample has been expanded and streamlined into book form! The full list of physical, internal, and mental cues for this and 74 other emotions can be found in The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, available for purchase at AmazonBarnes & NobleiTunes, and Smashwords. The PDF is also downloadable via the Paypal button in the sidebar. 


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