Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Finding a story's heat (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

When a story’s working, it has heat. You can feel it when you write it, and you can feel it when you read it. There’s energy, an urgency to get to the next sentence, and the next and the next. There’s life in the story.

We’ve probably all encountered stories that leave us cold, the ones we drop and never finish. As writers, we’ve had those drafts that wander off-trail and go cold. Mark Twain once abandoned an attempt at a sequel to Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn mid-sentence. Sometimes when the flame goes out, it goes out, vanishing without a saving ember.

But often a draft can be saved when we hunt through the pile of ashes, looking for a hint of something smoldering. Where is the unanswered question, the clash of different characters’ goals, the thing that must be said, the thing that nobody in the story can bear to say? Where is the spark that started this fire in the first place, the idea that made us say, “I have to write this down?” Where is the longing, the fear, the love? It’s one of the joys of writing when a draft blazes to life again, when we brush aside whatever’s been smothering it and see it burn hot and clear.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Summer=Nope by Courtney McKinney-Whitaker



I dread summer.

There, I said it. Sue me. Threaten me with libel. I see all these flip-flop and sun hat and fruity drink themed items appear every year, and I am filled with a feeling of deep loathing. 

My mom says that when I was a baby and she tried to take me outside even covered up and in the shade, I screamed and screamed until she took me in. I probably saved her from skin cancer, so you're welcome, Mom.

I was born and raised in South Carolina—a subtropical climate—among people who had been South Carolinians for over 300 years, so you'd think we'd be genetically acclimated, and most of us were. But not me.



I hate the heat.

It turns out I may have a medical reason for this: I'm allergic to the sun.

When I was in Brazil at 17, I noticed these itchy little bumps all over. It happened again on my honeymoon in Hawaii at 24. At that point, I figured it was the tropical sun. I knew I burned easily, and I figured the tropical sun must be stronger.

Now, I am not one of those people with a serious illness who will die if exposed to the sun. But it does hurt, and it only really bothers me in summer, on those immensely hot days when the sun is beating down. Direct, strong sunlight is not my friend. (Read about my friend's theory that I am a vampire.)


I will never willingly take a beach vacation again. You know where I like to go in summer? Canada (2010), the Colorado Plateau (2011), Upstate NY/Maine (2012), regular Colorado (2013), New Hampshire/Upstate NY (2015), and Scotland (2016).

Guess what? It gets hot in all those places, but it doesn't stay a bazillion degrees for days (and nights) on end like it does in South Carolina and even (South Carolinians will not believe this, but it's true) in Illinois, where I live now.

However, I've never spent a hotter summer than the one I spent in Montreal.

I got the worst sunburn of my life (2nd degree burns, no less) in Canada. It was the summer of 2010. Record-breaking heat in Montreal, where I was doing a French immersion month at UQàM to brush up on my French minor.

The first afternoon of the program, we did a walking tour of the city with this old man who wore black long sleeves and pants and a backpack and never broke a sweat. That night I realized my back was bleeding. I will hear "On va"—which  he said, mercilessly, a million times, as he dragged us all over that city—in my nightmares.

I had to go to the mall to buy shorts because I had stupidly listened to my husband's Upstate NY family—and my husband himself—who said it wouldn't be that hot (you know, not to someone from SC), and I thought they should know. Well, the joke was on them because they had to drive up and bring me fans from the Wal-mart across the border. Not that spending the day in Montreal is such a bad thing. Unless it's a bazillion degrees. I still remember someone saying something about getting poutine, and my husband's aunt fanning herself and protesting, "Non, non, en hiver seulement."

Those are still my favorite shorts, though, so something good came of it. I even patched them when they started wearing through last summer.

It was so hot in Montreal that people were scalping fans. People were using the underground sidewalks (designed for winter) to avoid the heat. I was living in a dorm on the sixth floor and my window opened about three inches and of course there was no air conditioning because it's Canada.



People seem to always want to have fun outside in the summer. Not me. I don't want to come to a pool party, or a picnic, or anything else that involves me under the blazing sun. I do not want to lie on the beach. It hurts, and it is boring. It is my own personal idea of hell.

I loved spending a month in Scotland last summer. It was rainy and overcast. Except for the part of the trip where it was insanely hot and I got sunburned. Looking at you, Staffa.

I'm a lot more fun in the fall. 

After cleverly managing to avoid going home in the summer for years, I will be spending two weeks in SC in July. Fair warning, friends and family.



Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Hottest Places on Earth -- Jen Doktorski


A few weeks ago, when temperatures finally topped ninety degrees in New Jersey, the school crossing guard joked with me as I passed her on my morning walk.

     “Your weather is back!” Jennifer said. Her name, like that of at least a dozen other women in my friend pool, is also Jennifer. Jens are ubiquitous. Jens who love hazy, hot, and humid days in New Jersey? Maybe not so much. I’d told her years ago how there’s no such thing as “too hot” for me when it comes to weather and she’s always remembered.

     I’ve experienced both the sticky, stifling summers in the Northeast and 120-degree days in the Southwest, and I’ll take both brands of heat over a winter day, any day, as anyone who knows me even casually will tell you. But our topic this month got me thinking, what are the hottest places on earth? It didn’t take long to find out.

     In Dallol, Ethiopia, the temperature hovers between 90 and 100 every day, all year. With almost no breaks from the heat, Dallol is considered the place on earth with the highest average temperatures.

     But other places lay claim to hot weather superlatives as well.

     The award for highest temperature ever recorded in Asia goes to Tirat Zvi, Israel, where it reached 129 degrees Fahrenheit in June 1942.
 
 

     Kebili, Tunisia, holds the same record for the continent of Africa. The mercury there has climbed to 131 degrees.

     In Death Valley, located in the Mohave Desert in California, the 134-degree temps there are the highest ever recorded in North America.

     But what is the highest temperature ever recorded on earth? It’s difficult to say, I learned, because those temperatures occur in locations that are so hot they are uninhabited making it impossible to maintain weather stations there. But a NASA satellite with a MODIS (moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer) was able to pick up the following temperatures, all Fahrenheit, in these locations.
 
 

     152.2 degrees in the Flaming Mountains of China. A place that lives up to its name.

     157.6 degrees in Australia’s badlands.

     159.3 degrees in Dasht-e-Lut, Iran. In fact, since 2004, most of the hottest days on the planet could, theoretically at least, be experienced in Iran’s Lut desert.

     Looks like I’ve found some new places to add to my bucket list!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Feel the Heat (Sonya Weiss)

One definition of heat is “intensity of feeling” and it’s synonymous with “passion, vehemence, warmth, fervor.”

But we often shy away from using heat in an emotional context because in the heat of passion, in the heat of vehemence, there lies the truth. And the truth can be costly. To us. To others.


As an author, it can be hard to write the heat emotionally. We tone it down. We don’t want the judgment. The snarky remarks. We want to fit in. Be accepted. Loved. We want the approval of friends, peers and family. So we write inside the lines.

We water down our blogs, our short stories, our books, because we don’t want anyone to see the skeletons in our characters’ closets and mentally connect them to us.

We don’t want people to see the hurt, the damage. We don’t want others to know the price we’ve paid or the scars we’ve collected as we’ve traveled through life. So sometimes, we tell our stories, and we really do want to write outside the lines but we don’t. Because like the raging wildfire that it’s associated with, the heat of truth can be frightening.

We fight to stay within the lines even as bits of heat, that emotionally hot center deep within us, breaks from the inner space called THIS IS MY HURT and like a chained up monster with its first taste of freedom runs amok in our written word.

For writers and non-writers alike, you may be someone who stays inside the line, who avoids the heat emotionally because it’s not comfortable. It makes your hands shake just to think about the words all running together inside of you that you never speak.


You don’t want to tell your story because maybe someone told you not to. Maybe someone didn’t believe you or believe in you. Maybe you don’t tell your story because then you might have to face the pain, the loneliness, the isolation, the fear, and the wounds.

You’re afraid that if you do let the heat free that you might fall apart and the pieces you’ve been holding together for so long might scatter and then you’ll never find them again.

But tell your story whatever it is. Write the truth. Feel the heat. Step outside the lines because you deserve to be heard. Your story deserves to be told with everything that makes you who you are.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Opposite of Heat


The Opposite of Heat

This month we’re talking about heat. But I can’t really discuss this topic with any authority and here’s  why. I grew up in North Dakota.

Sixty degrees below zero is the coldest temperature ever recorded in my home state. If you’re born and raised in this environment, you receive immunity to cold as a special superpower. It’s sort of a reward, a compensation for having to wear a parka under your Halloween costume while trick or treating.

Elsa from Frozen was obviously a North Dakotan. Remember how she sashayed around her ice palace in that flimsy, off the shoulder dress? Clearly she was not appropriately dressed for the prevailing weather conditions. No coat. No hat. Not even mittens. And yet, as she famously sang, the cold never bothered her anyway. This is how we are in North Dakota. In North Dakota, everyone is Elsa.

When I was growing up it was so cold we had to plug our cars in at night so they’d start in the morning. My car had this little cord that stuck out the front, with a plug at the end, just like a lamp. If you didn’t have access to a garage, you’d grab an extension cord and plug your car into an outlet on the side of the house.

When I graduated from college, I got a job as a television reporter and moved from the greater Fargo metropolitan area to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I went hunting for an apartment and rejected place after place because I couldn’t find a building with an outlet for my car. Someone finally explained that I didn’t have to do that anymore because it was so warm in Sioux Falls. At long last, I was living in the tropics.

In the days before cell phones, everyone in rural North Dakota travelled with a Winter Survival Kit in their car. This kit consisted of a metal Folgers coffee can with a pillar candle inside, a book of matches, candy bars, a blanket and boots.

If you went into the ditch during a snowstorm, you were supposed to stay with your car, light your candle in the coffee can to create heat, clean snow from the tail pipe and run your engine periodically. Then you were instructed to snuggle up in your blanket and eat chocolate until help arrived.

We learned that Mother Nature was not some benevolent goddess with daisies in her hair and Technicolor songbirds chirping on her shoulders. She was a Valkyrie with anger management issues and every winter she actively tried to kill us. You had to look sharp and keep your wits about you if you wanted to survive her furious winter rages.

Now I live on the east coast, outside of Washington, DC and it’s so damn hot here. The humidity is heavy and oppressive, an invisible wool blanket over the outdoors from May through October. It’s like living in a jungle with really bad traffic. After a half an hour outside, I’m a whining, wilting mess. And here’s the worst thing about heat. You can only take off so many clothes before someone arrests you.

But when it’s cold, you just throw on a pair of long underwear and go about your business. I miss that. I miss cold so biting and sharp that you catch your breath when you step outside. I miss cold so intense that your eyes water and your lashes freeze together. Or maybe cold is just the temperature of my warm memories of a place I’ll always love, despite the wind chill.


###

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Feel The Heat by Patty Blount

This month, we're blogging about heat. "Heat" can mean many things: Bill Cameron talked about weather, Kimberly Sabatini talked about climate change. The romance fiction collective talks about heat levels to describe how much sexual content is depicted in books.

But today, I want to talk about heat as a metaphor for pain. For passion. For anger.

A quote attributed to Ronald Reagan says:

Image result for quotes about "heat"


I try to follow this advice in all of my writing. Most of my novels are based on big issues. Bullying (SEND), oversharing (TMI), rape culture (SOME BOYS), and call-out culture (THE WAY IT HURTS).

Way back in 2011, when I was revising SEND, our own Bill Cameron helped me avoid something that's very common for adult authors writing teen fiction: stepping on our soapboxes. As a mom who nearly lost a child to suicide due to bullying, I found it hard to avoid the temptation to stop writing and start speech-making. With Bill's help, I rewrote major chunks of SEND to remove me from the story.

When I decided to write SOME BOYS, it was because I was almost incoherently angry over the Stuebenville rape case. Mainstream media was doing their best to evoke sypmpathy for the accused, rather than their victim. I wanted to write a book that did just the opposite. I wanted a story in which the victim, the survivor, is the hero. I wanted readers to feel sympathy for her, not him.

The only way to do this is to make readers feel her pain.

It's no small task. I'm writing a companion story to SOME BOYS now, based on the Brock Turner sentence. Again, I have to make readers feel that heat in terms of an outrage so morally bankrupt, it feels like it could choke you. I'm a bit overwhelmed by this task, actually.

But I'll get it done.

All I have to do is allow my own fury to reach the boiling point.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

CRANKING UP THE HEAT IN YOUR YA ROMANCE (HOLLY SCHINDLER)



My YA sports romance PLAYING HURT’s pretty steamy. Meaning, it’s got its share of titillating passages. But in all honesty, I’ve always felt what made it hot wasn’t the physical attraction or love scenes—it was actually the intensity of my characters’ connection.
So for those looking to build heat in their current romance WIP, some thoughts:

          Shared love. I’m not talking about the characters’ love for each other here. Instead, Chelsea and Clint in PLAYING HURT share a love of sports. (Chelsea’s a former basketball player, Clint a former hockey star.) It givse them sort of similar personality traits (they’re both competitive, for example). They get each other. In real life, that forges a bond. It can on the page, too.

          Similar paths. Notice I said “former” when talking about Chelsea and Clint. They’ve both endured some tragedies, and have had to deal with the loss of their passions (and the way they define themselves). They not only have a shared love, but they also share similar pasts. AND: that means they’re both currently still on the same path of finding new purpose and healing. (I actually think the healing subplot’s the strongest in the book.) Being on a similar journey also intensifies the connection.

        They’re the only person that can—well—kick each other in the rear. Chelsea and Clint are both sort of at a crossroads. Neither one has quite figured out what a post-sports life means for them. Neither one of them has truly gotten over the events that pulled them away from sports in the first place. Who else to better help them figure it all out than someone who knows exactly what they’re going through? As the book progresses, Chelsea and Clint endure the usual love story push and pull, but in the end, through their love story, they wind up teaching each other there’s still plenty of life left to live—plenty of triumphs and good times left to be had.

In the end, then, Chelsea and Clint have both an emotional and psychological connection. They understand each other in a way no one else ever could. I’m willing to bet that had I included the same physical passages verbatim, not changing a single word, but hadn’t included that connection, those love scenes just wouldn’t have had the same punch—wouldn’t have been nearly as steamy.
Really, though, that’s what makes romance so satisfying to me—being along for the ride as two characters forge an intense, life-altering intensity.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Problems with Toasters (Alissa Grosso)

Because it's Father's Day, I thought I should write about my Dad. So, when I was brainstorming stories about my dad that related to this month's theme: heat, one image that is forever seared (see what I did there?) in my brain came to mind. It involves a toaster. And flames. Then when I started thinking about flaming toasters, another story came to mind and that one involves my mom. So, I think that in a nutshell tells you everything you need to know about my family.



I was in my teens and I believe my younger sister was as well, when one afternoon during a thunderstorm she got a hankering for some toast. I'm not sure where my mom was at the time, but my dad was in the family room watching television. My sister wanted butter on her toast, and she wanted it to be all soft and melty on there. So, she decided why not put some butter on the bread before putting it into the toaster oven so that it could melt while the bread was toasting? Turns out there was a very good reason why not. (Note: this might have worked if she used the little metal toaster tray, but she didn't.)

So, she stuck her buttered bread slices in the toaster oven and went to the refrigerator to find something to drink with her snack. She turned around to see that there were flames inside the toaster. Panic and shouting ensued. My father came in to see what was going on. More panic and shouting ensued, including a shout to unplug the toaster. Alas, the unplugging did nothing to extinguish the flames. 



So, my dad ran back into the family room and returned with an afghan. He flung it over the toaster. It seemed a bit strange since the toaster wasn't cold in the slightest, but then he scooped the bundled toaster up and shouted at my sister and I to open the front door. We complied and seconds later he flung the toaster and afghan out onto the front lawn as the rain poured down and thunder boomed in the sky. That is the image that's forever seared into my brain. 

Dad's heroics saved not only our kitchen, but the toaster as well. The flames were soon extinguished and the toaster was still in functioning order. That is, until my mom's incident some years later.

At the time my parents were preparing for entering the empty nester phase of their lives, and were living in a rented second floor condo while waiting for the new town home they had bought to finish being built. My mom had stopped to pick up a few groceries at the store on her way home from work, but when she arrived home the dog was anxious to go for his afternoon walk. So, she threw the perishables in the fridge and left the rest on the counter to put away when they returned. 

After his stroll around the neighborhood, she and the dog returned back home, but the dog stubbornly refused to go up the stairs to their condo, and my mom heard a a noise which she presumed was somebody's car alarm going off. She struggled to get the stubborn dog to climb the stairs, but he was an 85-pound Golden Retriever, and when he didn't want to do something, there wasn't a whole lot you could do to convince him otherwise. Meanwhile that alarm continued to sound, and my mother realized that it seemed to be coming from their condo.

She raced up the stairs and into the condo, to find that the little kitchen was in flames. She attacked the flames with a fire extinguisher -- this was beyond the help of an afghan -- and called the fire department. They showed up to tackle the smoldering remains of the kitchen. 

Apparently, one of those bags of groceries that Mom left on the counter toppled over and pressed down the toaster lever. The plastic bag melted, then ignited as it rested against the hot toaster surface and the flames then spread to the cabinets. The kitchen and the toaster were a loss, but fortunately the rest of the condo was fine and no one was injured in the blaze.

By the way, I learned about all this when that evening I received a call from my mom at my apartment. After saying hello, she immediately asked, "Do you keep your toaster plugged in when you're not using it?" The story of her afternoon misadventure followed. That Christmas Mom gave everyone she knew fire extinguishers for Christmas.



Suffice it to say, I have a healthy respect for toasters, and obsessively unplug them when not in use. In fact, I insist on tucking them away in a cabinet when I'm not using them, better safe than sorry after all.

So, I wish all the dads out there a happy Father's Day, and I wish everyone a day free of flaming toasters.

When not writing stories about toasters Alissa Grosso write YA novels. You can find out more about her and her books at alissagrosso.com

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Heat That Shall Not Be Named

WARNING: This blog post may contain strong menopausal-related language. Please be advised.

The first time it happened I had no idea what the hell-all was going on. A breathtaking surge of heat originating at my body's core and emanating outward in searing waves. The intense, inexplicable urge to fling open a nearby freezer door and thrust my head upon an ice cube tray and/or tear off my clothes. AHHHHHH!! Was anyone else in the room suddenly hot, um, flashing like this?

Fortunately, the feeling passed quickly. Fun fact about hot flashes-- for me anyway (and side note: every woman seems to experience these differently, and some, the lucky-duckers, NOT AT ALL): they last for only like, 30 seconds.

Another fun fact about hot flashes and about menopause in general: nobody really likes to talk about it, even women who are going through That Stage of Life. Because it's embarrassing? To acknowledge that you're aging, I guess, and that you're hitting the opposite hormonal bookend to Puberty and OMG wasn't Puberty a rollercoaster o' fun and Menopause is the same except WAY HOTTER?

Or maybe we just don't want to admit that we've got a body and that body is doing things that are freaking annoying.

I get it.

I've spent the majority of my life bobbing around like a version of Emerson's Transparent Eyeball, ignoring my body and irritated when I am reminded that I do, in fact, have one. For example, when I'm doing a presentation at a school, and sense that blaze of HEAT coming on...

Some weeks I have hot flashes ten to twelve times a day and I won't get into the details about what is going on at night. I did some research on menopause because I was receiving conflicting advice from the women I asked and was curious about what was really going ON here. Discovered, to my surprise, lots of conflicting advice in books and online too, controversies about what's actually happening, hormonally, and how best to treat it or even IF to treat it.

Barely a hundred years ago doctors (read: male doctors) couldn't even agree on whether or not hot flashes were real. Some wise guy asserted that the heat was all in the pretty old ladies' heads. But then again, back then, in Mr. Wise Guy's defense, the majority of women didn't live long enough to go through menopause. They reached puberty, spent the next thirty or so years giving birth and nursing children, and then they died. Often in childbirth. The end.

But aren't we the lucky ones now, sweating our way to the other side, and still with a good forty years left to live, with the kids if we've had them, off having adventures while we are having our own adventures. It's not that big of a deal, these pesky hot flashes, that only last for a few years, a sweaty blip on the screen, and in the meantime, wouldn't it be cool if we could have little fans, something to wear around our necks like necklaces and switch on and have air shoot up onto our glistening faces?

I posed this idea to my long-suffering husband and because the man is awesome, he bought me just such a fan. I asked him how on earth he found it and he said he searched "Menopause Fan" online and this is what came up:



In case you are wondering, mine is the one in the upper right hand corner. On sale now, only $5.28 from Walmart.

It is a beautiful, beautiful thing.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A "Sense" of Summer by Jodi Moore


You can take the girl out of Jersey, but you can’t take the Jersey out of the girl.

This month, we are sharing thoughts on the theme HEAT. Unlike the day Kimberly Sabatini posted, today is hot. The heat is on, as Glenn Frey would say.

And though my body is landlocked in central PA, my heart is already “down the shore”. My memories of spending time at my grandparents’ house while growing up are precious. Vivid. 

Sensory.


I can still feel the burn on the balls of my feet as I scurried toward the ocean, the sand itself blistering, soaking up – and sharing – the scorch of the sun. My parents tried to convince me to wear flip-flops, but to me, that wasn’t an option. As a kid, I wanted to feel the grit. I wanted to feel the fire. I wanted to experience it all, in every “sense”:

The glint of the sunshine dancing on the distant swells, as airplanes competed with clouds to share messages in a sapphire sky.

The delicious scent of sunscreen mixing with briny air and picnic baskets filled with peanut butter sandwiches and sun-kissed plums.

The squish of the wet sand between my toes as I finally reached the ocean. That stop-your-heart frigid first wave crashing over me.



The screech of the sea gulls over the gentle shush of the waves. The song of the man trudging through the dunes, calling, “Iiiiiiice Cream! Fudgie-wudgies!”



The creamy sweetness of the day’s chosen indulgence pairing with the salt on my lips, and the gritty sand clinging to my fingers.

Oh! We can’t forget the unexpected treasures...



new friends...



And sky-scraper high sandcastles, begging for dragons to move in.



It’s all there. As if it were yesterday.

So why are our childhood memories so sharp? Of course this is only my humble opinion, but I believe it’s because as children, it’s our nature to explore. To investigate fully. To throw ourselves without abandon into any and every situation.

No outside world static. No preconceived notions or biases. No excuses.

Focused. Unapologetic. Unrelenting.

It’s a child’s job. And no one does it better.

As a children’s author, it’s my job to stay in touch with my inner child. 

Won’t you join me?