The I-Hate-Xmas-Music Contest

I am not a Scrooge. I am not Grinch. I love Christmas--the cookies, the tree, the presents, the lights, the miracles, the Christmas story--but I hate the music. Over the last few years, I've noticed that there are hundreds of remakes of the same few songs, and everybody competes on who can sing the prettiest.

If I have to listen to one more "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" or "Silver Bells," I'm going to scream. The only music I have enjoyed in the last 10 years is the Transiberian Orchestra, a symphonic metal group that performs Christmas music.

So I propose a Christmas contest: original Xmas poetry that has a fresh perspective or a parody of an old song. Anything to breathe new life on the Christmas spirit!

Here's the rules:

1. The competition is open to a Christmas poetry or musical parody.

2. Submit as many entries as you want.

3. All entries must be in English, original, unpublished, and not submitted or accepted elsewhere at the time of submission. CYA maneuver.

4. To enter the contest, post a comment with your entry and then email me your mailing address to rita@ritajwebb.com along with an author's bio. In case you win, I'll need this to send you your prize and to post some information about you.

5. Entries must be submitted by midnight Friday, December 25, 2009.

6. I will choose several of my favorite entries and allow readers to vote to determine the winners. Voting will start Tuesday, December 29, 2009, and run to midnight Tuesday, January 5, 2010.

7. Winners will be announced on this blog shortly thereafter.

8. The first-prize winner will be determined by the entry with the most votes. The winner will receive a the latest Transiberian Orchestra's album Night Castle, as well as free publicity by having the winning entry and author's bio posted on my blog.

9. The runner-ups will be determined by any entry that I enjoyed but did not receive the top votes. All runner-ups will have free publicity by having their entry and author's bio posted on my blog.

A Full Heart

Thanksgiving Day, and I am full of praise to the One who has held me through this year. A year ago, I was facing an impending layoff in December with no job to fall into. We're a single income of 5, with 3 young children. Without a job, we lost our house before I finally found work as a testing contracting.

We actually now have a nicer home and a better job than the ones that were lost, and I have found meaning in my life in my writing. In December, I will be starting a full time job to replace my contracting one (the 4th job in a year and a week), and two of my short stories will be published in the Ménage-à-20 anthology, put together by Goodreads authors.

I thank the Lord for all that he has given me, for my family, a roof over my head, and food on the table. May we all have a blessed holiday.

Book Review: The Prisoner by Carlos J Cortes



In the year 2049, I'll be 75 years old. What will the world be like? What technology will be invented between now and then? What wars will be fought? What politicians will ruin our nation?

Spanish writer Carlos J. Cortes tackles these questions in his book The Prisoner, a sci-fi thriller about escaped convicts Laurel and Raul who race through the sewers of Washington, D.C., trying to flee the city before the DHS catches up with them. With them, they carry the secrets that one woman would kill for.

No one has ever escaped the cryogenic chambers--the sugar cube--that have replaced the expensive prison system. The execution of their escape plan is far from flawless, and now Nikola hunts them. Only by trusting strangers and depending on their wits do Laurel and Raul reach safety.

Author Cortes paints a picture that the reader feels like they are there. I could smell the rot, feel the slime on my skin, see the "shit-cicles" jiggling on the ceiling, hoping they wouldn't fall on me, and I squirmed at the sight of the rats and the roaches and the hairballs floating in the water. And I could feel Nikola's hands reaching for me as I narrowly escaped his grasp.

Warning: Do not read this book if you are are pregnant and experiencing morning sickness, currently eating a meal, or have just finished a large meal.


Cortes is one author that I look forward to following in the future. His storytelling is smooth; his plots are well developed, and his characters deep. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys sci-fi or an action-packed novel.

Kaylee-isms



My youngest daughter has been called a firecracker. She exudes attitude.

When she was one-year old, we called her Jack-Jack because she seemed to have some power to get the clothes on the upper, unreachable shelf. Everyday, when she got up from her nap, she was wearing something new, something she couldn't have reached.

One day, TJ and our friend Jacob asked her, "Kaylee, how did you get those pants?"

She batted her eyes and looked away, as if she was innocent. Where does a 1-yr-old learn to bat her eyes?



When she was two, she loved Moe from the Doodlebops. She always likes the comic relief characters. One night she was supposed to be in bed, asleep, but I heard noise coming from her room. I opened the door to find her standing in the middle of the room, her lights on, and in her hands, she held paper rolled into the shape of drum sticks. "I'm Moe," she said. But then she realized someone had caught her and scrambled back to bed.

I'll never forget that look on her face as she brandished her drumsticks. A year later, she still shows interest in drums. I have since caught her with a line up of pillows that she was using as drums as her sisters were playing their recorders.

Kaylee is now 3 years old and has only gotten more fiery. This last summer, I overheard a conversation between Kaylee and a neighborhood boy who was teasing her.

The boy: You're a baa-aaaby.

Kaylee: I am not a baby!

She was on her skates, scooting about on the side walk. When she got to where the boy was, she rounded on him.

Kaylee: Baa-aaaby.


I wasn't sure whether to scold her or cheer her on.

Lately it has been the adult way in which she speaks her mind or expresses herself. Sometimes it is the words or the inflection she uses that surprises.

Beggar's Night, I overheard this exchange:

Neighbor: That's a pretty dress.

Kaylee, throwing the words over her shoulder: I know. It is my Trick-or-Treat dress.

She paused for a moment, still not looking at the guy as she continues to her next house.

Kaylee: It's my Halloween dress, actually.


It was the word "actually" that got me. It was stated with such precision and poise. Where did this girl learn to talk like that?

Finally, here's an exchange between me and her on the drive to the gluten-free bakery that we visit weekly:

Kaylee: Mommy, look I have a bunny on my shoulder.

There is no bunny. hop. But I play along.

Me: Oh, a bunny. But where's Mikey?

Mikey is her invisible friend. She holds his hand when we walk around the park, and I've heard her having conversations with him. She's scolded me for sitting on him.

Kaylee, pointing to the floor of the van beside her chair: Oh, he's over here.

An hour later, we drove to church after finishing our meal.

Kaylee: Oh no, I forgot my bunny at the gluten-free place!

How do you forget to bring your imaginary friend? She wanted us to go back and get him.

Kickass Heroines

Here are three tips to develop a kickass heroine worth remembering:

#1. Create a unique heroine.

Many cliché heroines are one-dimensional: the lioness who needs help from nobody or the sack of useless that needs a clue or the nerdy girl who just needs a handsome jock to teach her how to be a lady or the ... [fill in the blank]

The truth is that people--male or female--are multi-dimensional. The lioness should have some hidden self-doubt, the sack of useless should have some hidden strength, and the nerd should have more to offer than what meets the eye. So design a character that is human, with strengths and flaws, desires and motivations, and a certain amount of grit.

Make her human.

I think I like seeing all kinds of heroines - there are hard ass bitches, and weak helpless creatures, and bossy mommys and ignorant aunties in this world and they all need some attention to give a well round world view.
--Malin Larsson



#2. Avoid the feminist soapbox.

With the rise of the feminist movement, many authors write heroines that dance circles around the men. Where the hero fails, the girl steps in and saves the day. That's a bit unrealistic, don't you think?

Men and women make a great team, balance each other out very well. A truly strong woman doesn't need to prove it and isn't afraid to show weakness. There's nothing wrong with accepting help.

Strength and courage do not always roar like lions.
--Sonia Carrière



#3. Embrace the femininity of your heroine.

I've known so many women who run from their femininty, preferring to be men. But a good heroine has stage presence, a certain charisma that makes them jump from the page, just as an actress with her feminine appeal makes the movie worth watching.

Feminine means remembering you are a woman and there is strength in that alone.
--Renee Miller-Johnston

Reviewing Stories

I treasure every critical word given to me by my harshest critic, and when he actually says something good about my work, I know he really means it. Recently, I wrote a short story that will be published in the Ménage-à-20 anthology in a few weeks. As usual, I sent my editor a copy. His response?

"Did you write that?"

"Yes, of course." Why would I have sent it to him otherwise?

"I didn't know. It was too good to be yours."

What kind of answer was that? An insult or a compliment? But I was too amused to be offended.

Even though I appreciate his harsh criticism, my reviews are much different. There are two kinds of writers: the beginners who don't have a clue yet and the experienced who have studied, carefully applied their skills, and have only missed a few things. Each of these need to be critiqued in a different way.

Beginners:

"Anyone who writes is too precious to lose."
--Carlos J. Cortes



I once made the mistake of critiquing a beginner too hard, and the person almost quit writing. After that, I had two rules: (1) Never critique when I am too tired and (2) Focus on what is right more than what is wrong. My purpose is to teach new writers to critique themselves and a few tricks to improve themselves.

As a mother, I have found that telling someone what they have done right builds in them the desire to do more of that. Pointing out the character's strong voice helps new writers dig deeper into POV and keep element strong. Finding the spot with the most showing (dramatization) and then explaining why you admire that section is more useful than saying, "You're doing to much telling." This is called constructive praise, so much more helpful than "Good job."

After that, I will give a few pointers, areas that need a bit of work, things like, "Watch your verb tense" or "Stay in character." Constructive criticism--another means of teaching.

Experienced Writers

However, when I critique an experienced writer, I'm not trying to teach or encourage. My purpose is to respond honestly to the story that I've read. As with the critique of a beginner, this will include what I like and what I don't, and I will try to do so constructively.

But my focus is now different, for I am ultimately responding to the work of art rather than to the author.

Recommended Reading

Several other bloggers have written on this topic. If you want to read some more, check out these articles:

What is good? by Patricia C. Wrede

Accepting and Giving Reviews on the blog Canines, Equines, Aliens, and Felines

Reviewing Book Reviewers by D.B. Pacini

Take Your Criticism Like a Pro, Words of Wisdom by Kate Quinn

Family Food Issues

I have Celiac Disease, and so do my oldest two children. This means that we can't eat wheat, barley, or rye, or anything that has even touched one of those grains. No pizza, no spaghetti, no cake or cookies, unless of course I go to the gluten-free bakery. And we definitely can't go to buffets, and eating at someone else's house can be a very scary endeavor.

We've worked hard to cut out wheat from our diets, choosing corn tortillas and corn chips, corn spaghetti (the rice spaghetti was too slimy), millet bread, rice crackers... TJ doesn't have the problem, but he's been my champion, diligently keeping the gluten grains out of the house.

Then TJ went for some allergy testing, and low and behold, he can't eat corn, eggs, soy, or coconut. Did you know that coconut is often used as a preservative? The only things he's not allergic to is milk and wheat. Go figure.

I am reminded of a nursery rhyme:

Jack Sprat could eat no corn
His wife could eat no wheat
So betwixt the two of them
They licked the platter clean


Hmm, that doesn't rhyme. Maybe I should say "They licked the platter neat"?

Author's Pics

This weekend, my friend took close to 200 pictures of me. We had about half an hour before the light waned and dusk fell.

Let me tell you, I dreaded this moment. The very thought made me want to cry, and I darn near had a panic attack. The closer the day came, the tighter the knot in my stomach grew. But the pictures turned out better than I imagined--thanks to my friends Kat-n-Joe.

So what do you think? Never mind, don't answer that. Just tell me I look pretty.

What is it about me and swords lately?

I don't know. Perhaps it's not me. It's TJ, and his weirdness is rubbing off on me.

All the same, I thought you might like this.


Kat with a Sword




This picture is of my friend Kat with a frickin' huge sword, and she has the happiest evil grin I have ever seen.

Take your Criticism Like a Pro, Words of Wisdom from Kate Quinn




Kate Quinn is one author/friend I greatly admire, whose books I look forward to reading, whose blog I go to first, whose smile gives me cheer. Spring of 2010, her debut novel Mistress of Rome will be released, and I will be one of the first in line to buy this book.

I have already read the opening lines of this novel, and there are only two things I can say: (1) it is not the kind of book I would have expected from a historical novel and (2) it will be very hard to wait until spring to read this book.

Recently during an online discussion, Kate shared some of her thoughts on how to handle rejection. With her permission I share her words here. I hope you benefit from her wisdom as much as I have.



We talk a lot about being able to "take" criticism - but not how one does that. Here's my hard and fast rule: When you receive criticism, don't respond to it for at least a few hours, except to say, "Thanks for the critique." Unless it is a misspelled vindictive rant filled with unflattering observations upon your character and not your writing, leave it at "Thanks for the critique." I made this rule for myself because one of my first impulses upon receiving criticism, even constructive criticism which I asked for, is to defend. "I know you didn't like that character, but if you'll just see it my way, you'll see he's a central part of the plot!" etc.

Therefore I resist the urge to defend, and sit back. Rant a little to myself sometimes - "Well, he had good points about the point-of-view switch in chapter 1, but how could he be so insensitive as not to see the importance of that character!" Then think about what was offered. "That character is important. But maybe I see his point about how it's going over the top."

Then initiate a talk, if necessary, with the one who offered the critique. This talk can go one of two ways.

1. You decide the reviewer has a point, even if a minor point. So the talk goes: "I see why you objected to that character, but he's pretty central to the book as you'll see from looking at plot points B and C, or at least that's how I planned it. What do you think?" In this case you have a civilized discussion on your hands. Maybe you'll talk them around to your point of view. Maybe they'll talk you around to theirs. Maybe you'll just get a screen to bounce ideas off of, and come up with a brilliant middle-ground solution.

2. You decide the reviewer, after mature thought and reflection, is completely wrong. In which case you say, "Thanks again for your critique", discard everything they said about your character as bunk, and move on to the other parts of their critique which you evaluate on their own merits as useful or not.

I make this rather lengthy argument because at some point, the person you will be arguing with will be your agent or your editor - and you have to know how to rationally discuss changes to your baby with them, in a cool and professional manner. My agent says 50% of new writers, in her experience, just can't or won't take criticism effectively. None of us wants to be part of that 50%.

Nook

I love that word--nook. It reminds me of a lazy Thursday afternoon, rain pouring down, drumming against my windows, and I'm curled up in the nook of the couch, a book in my hand, lost in a world that doesn't exist except in the words that jump from the pages and into my imagination.

How funny it is to me that I have never been one for electronic gadgets. It used to be that I'd never touch a computer after I got home from work. I was on one all day, so why slave over one all evening? If it wasn't for my writing hobby, I still wouldn't touch it. Then I only got my first cell phone two years ago. I still don't have any kind of e-Reader, iPhone, iPod, so on and so forth. I'm usually the last to care about such things.

But this Nook from Barnes and Noble did catch my attention. Maybe I'm just getting more sophisticated as the days go by, or maybe my geeky friends are rubbing off on me. No, that can't be right. I've been called a geek myself, just not in my gadgets, more in my tastes in art and entertainment. I do love my sci-fi, anime, and fantasy.

When I do pick an e-Reader for myself, it will be the Nook. I do like how that word speaks to me. However, in a practical sense, the Nook has some wonderful features that you just cannot get from Amazon's Kindle:


  • Share books for 14 days
  • Look up words in the available dictionary
  • Make notes and mark favorite passages


So what do you prefer? The familiar feel of paper in your hands or smooth plastic? Leave a comment or answer the poll at the top of the right-hand side bar.

What are you doing for NaNoWriMo?

My first novel took a year to write. How can anyone write a novel in a month?

Well, many have taken up this challenge to write 50,000 words in one month. Broken down to daily goals, that's only 1,667 words a day! Such a bite size chunk. That seems doable.

Some have bigger personal goals, aiming for 100,000 words in a month. For me, I will be happy just to finish the two novelettes for the Scrolls series, about only 25,000 words. However, work is hectic right now, and I was learning about balance between life and writing and parenting. It will be rough to do that many words. What would that be? 834 a day.

To help keep me focused, I am starting with my outlines. It's just a two page summary of what will happen in the stories. I won't be staring at a blank screen, wondering what happens next.

So what are you doing for NaNoWriMo? What have you done to prepare?