Author Archives: Jilanne Hoffmann

About Jilanne Hoffmann

Writer, Editor, Children's Book Author www.jilannehoffmann.com www.DogpatchWritersCollective.com

Call Me Crazy – NaNoWriMo

So I’ve been living in picture book world for a few years, now.

And while I’m still busy analyzing and perfecting my craft in that arena,

(Mini craft lecture: Great picture books are as compressed as poetry, containing a world in about 500 words or fewer, leave 50% of the story to the illustrator, are paced strategically through language and page turns, evoke emotion through image, active voice, and characterization, and end in way that’s surprising yet inevitable. Easy, right?)

I could no longer ignore that tiny voice in the back of my head that wasn’t a picture book character, but a character from a YA/new adult novel.

She’s been bugging me for years. And now that her whispers have turned to curses, I’ve decided to listen. Five years ago, I tried NaNo as a pantser. I failed. Miserably.

This year, with a little encouragement from another blogger and writing coach, Kate Johnston, I decided to take the plunge again.

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Only this time with a little planning. I know who my characters are, but five years ago I just let them run wild. So that’s what they did. They rambled. They wandered. Aimlessly. They got lost.

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I got lost, then I wadded up my Scrivener file and tossed it in the trash. Failure.

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This year, I’m going to start with a plan. A structure. A beginning, a middle, and an end. How I get there during November will look more like pantsing, but when I’m finished, that pantsing will be contained within October’s plan. Call it plantsing.

We’ll see how it goes. Wish me luck!

Luck

And I’ve gotta tell you, I’m afraid of failing. Gulp. But it’s like that with all challenges, right?

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If you, too, would like to take this on, give Kate’s website a look. I think you may find a tool or two to help you out.

Happy pantsing, planning, or plantsing! Cheers!

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Rabble Rousers & Hooligans – Win a Doodle!!

Last year, the Dogpatch *forced* Mike Allegra to draw the cutest salamander, named Sully, for Laurel’s poetry gig. What can we squeeze outta him this year? Hmmm? Go ahead, enter the competition. You know you want to….Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 12.43.21 PM

Win A Doodle! Woo!

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A Course in Jazz Poetry

This poem came to me through Marcy Erb (http://illustratedpoetry.com/2015/04/14/john-coltrane-poem/), a poet/illustrator. The rhythm and imagery is amazing. Happy National Poetry Month!

Stephen Cramer

It’s official. This Winter Semester, I’ll be teaching a course which has never before been offered at UVM. A course in Jazz Poetry.

It’s been so much fun pulling together a syllabus for this one. In the past months I’ve not only reencountered poems that I haven’t seen in a while, but I’ve also discovered a slew of new pieces (particularly those in live readings). I’ve just recently hammered out the course’s time-line, which should look something like this:

In the first classes, we’re going to examine some of the less sympathetic, and even racist, poetry of the 1920s. Then we’ll quickly shift to look at some of the more discerning writers like Langston Hughes. We’ll spend some time reading and listening to the responses of a few poets associated with the Beat movement (Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Kenneth Rexroth). Then the course will culminate in some of the…

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Nobody Will Die, Maybe—Scaling El Capitan

The flickering headlamps halfway up the wall of El Capitan caught our attention as we stopped to look at the full moon shining across a meadow in Yosemite Valley. It was Saturday, January 3rd, 2015, and the climbers appeared to have covered about a third of the 3,000 foot wall since they started eight days ago.

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If you haven’t been following the story in the New York Times, two climbers have been planning and practicing the free climb ascent of El Capitan for the past ten+ years. This is now the real thing. If you’d like a better perspective of the size of this monolith and their undertaking, the NYTimes article provides a terrifying composite image showing the climbers on the wall.

Anyone see a parallel between this ascent and writing a book? Our advantage over climbers?

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We can’t see the size of the wall in front of us.

We’ve planned and practiced and tried and failed on numerous attempts. We’ve achieved smaller goals. We’ve said that if we don’t make it this time, there won’t be another. We’ve faced odds that would make a grizzly bear shudder, and still we are on that wall, refusing to give up. OK, so maybe we’re not facing death should we make mistakes with our climbing harnesses. For we climb WITHOUT harnesses.

We’ve got shredded fingers reminiscent of carcasses put through the meat grinder. We’re swaying in gusty winds. We’re facing the uncertainty of our uncertainties in the blackness of bitter, star-filled skies.

The night we saw the climbers, the moon underscored just how insignificant their goal was to the universe.

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But it was important to THEM.

So that’s what I take away from this effort. A refusal to give up. A determination to do something that leaves others shaking their heads in disbelief.

Why climb the wall? Because it’s important to ME. When it’s no longer important, I’ll stop.

Until that happens, you can find me taping my fingers, casting a shadow, tapping away, and laughing at the man in the moon and his distorted sense of reality.

That’s MY new year’s resolution.

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Litquake Alert!

Got libations? Survival gear, including ibuprofen and rehydration tablets?

Ready. Set. Let it shake!!!!!

900 authors from all over the San Francisco Bay Area, the U.S., and the world.

Friday marks the 15th anniversary of Litquake, the best literary festival on the Left Coast. Sell-out shows include “The Best of Craigslist,” where writers give dramatic readings of found literature culled from REAL posts on Craigslist.  I’ve got tickets.

I’ll also be at “Drivel,” where some rather famous writers read some of their less-than-stellar prose.

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Who could resist?

Interested in poetry? Try “A Flight of Poets” or maybe “Dark and Stormy: Contemporary Swedish Poetry.”

Adventure travel? “Into the Wilderness” or “Bicycle book tours,” depending on what your idea of adventure and travel really is.

Sci-fi? Try “Into Tomorrow.”

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Something from the heart? Try “Tales of Love and Longing,”  “Hot Flash Fiction,” or “Family Secrets.”

Something edgy? Try “Walk on the Wild Side.”

Need to feed you inner chef? Try “Sausages and Syrah.”

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The opening night party on Friday, October 10, will be celebrated quinceañera-style. Think pink taffeta and a shot or two of tequila. Oh, and don’t forget your tiara.

On the last night, October 18, the world’s largest Lit Crawl commences, 101 events in three hours. 

See you there!

FULL FESTIVAL GUIDE PDF

MAP AND GUIDE FOR LITCRAWL 

 

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Overcommitment

Just returned from the annual August tour de famille on the East Coast and in the Midwest. Well, that’s not really true. We’ve been back since August 26. Really late in the evening on August 25, but our keys were with my husband, and he wasn’t with us. So we arrived at baggage claim at SFO only to realize that it was midnight, and we didn’t have keys to our humble abode.

This event symbolized our August. But now that we’re back, what is my excuse for being late to the post?

Overcommitment. You know you’re overcommitted when you can’t recall what you’re supposed to do next because there are too many things competing for “next.” And overcommitment stalls my forward movement.

I’m working on picture book fiction and nonfiction and literary short stories in addition to giving my novel-in-training some gas. I’ve got two kidlit writing groups in addition to the dogs at the patch. I’m taking a nonfiction picture book writing class where I’m supposed to have a first draft to critique in two weeks. But I just discovered last night that my topic is too complex (or at least the way I’ve envisioned it right now) to move forward, so I spent the evening last night looking for a new subject.  When I originally signed up for the class, I was going to do a biography, but it turned out that the living person I want to write a biography about is wary of saying “yes.” Sooooo, how many times can I go back to the drawing board?

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And it’s a new school year with many library liaison activities, including planning for an author visit, creating a new library “wish list,” and getting new library volunteers up to speed on working with classes.

And new afterschool activities every night of the week. And….I’m supposed to be volunteering for Litquake and visiting my new writing group that meets North of SF.

And then there was the unexpected death of my mother-in-law the night of my father-in-law’s memorial in mid-August that continues to haunt me. I’m not sure if haunt is the right word, unless an intermittent replay of the middle-of-the night knock on the window and subsequent events qualifies. It does explain why my husband wasn’t with us when we returned without keys. He (the guy with the keys) took a side trip to his parents’ home to get things in order.

But I’m a writer, right? And I’m supposed to be getting something done. But at the moment, I’m not doing anything well. Getting anything finished, polished. I run from one thing to the next, often without making a single edit. Just enough time to get started before I’ve got to move on to something else.

The center cannot hold. And I wonder if there are writers out there who work best like this? If there are, I wish I were one of them. But I am not, and I have to make some changes. I hope everyone else out there is being more productive than I am right now.

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Literary Fiction – Are You Still Awake?

Just returned from my writing retreat at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley.

The first panel (How Plot Works) discussed why literary fiction bores readers. Who wants to spend all that time in a character’s head if nothing’s going to happen? Say what?! Maybe they have a point.

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So the panel chatted about how to keep readers turning the pages:

  • Christina Meldrum, a former lawyer, creates tension through structure. She builds the first half of a story bell curve where the clues get more important to the story the closer she gets to the top. Something life-changing then happens at the apex.
  • Christian Kiefer does not outline or have any idea about what’s going to happen in his stories. But a writer can’t expect the reader to care more about the MC’s life than the MC does, so he does make sure his characters are on fire for something. It’s even better if there are multiple fires to complicate the story.
  • Janet Fitch said “you’ve gotta tie the girl to the tracks.” Don’t play the reader out so much that they lose interest. In scene, show character traits and then put pressure on those traits. The MC must let go of one or more traits while acquiring others to make a necessary life change.
  • Michael Jaime-Becerra uses positive tension (information that is doled out to the reader logically) instead of negative tension (information that is withheld from the reader unfairly). “The Swimmer” by John Cheever is an example of brilliantly withheld information.
  • Fitch added that suspense is fair, surprise is a trick. Build suspense.
  • Meldrum observed that the power of perspective allows the writer to give limited information. Humans are fallible, so the narrator can’t know everything, especially about themselves.

They finished by discussing magic: how endings must be both inevitable and surprising. Sadly, writers can’t force that Eureka!” So keep your butt in the chair, keep plottin’ away, and run with it when inspiration strikes. Oh, and don’t let your readers fall asleep.

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Christina Meldrum is the author of Amaryllis in Blueberry and Madapple.

Christian Kiefer is the author of The Infinite Tides.

Janet Fitch is the author of Paint It Black and White Oleander.

Michael Jaime-Becerra is the author of This Time Tomorrow and Every Night is Ladies’ Night.

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Write on Mamas – New Anthology

Hello Dogpatchers! I just read this blog post by an editor/writer from a group called Write on Mamas. They are professional writers (and those just beginning their writing journey) in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. I think the post contains some valuable insights about “beautiful writing” and what the editor learned while shepherding the group’s first anthology into publication.

So often, a piece can be beautifully written  (crafted) but feel lacking. A loooooo-n-g time ago, I took a poetry workshop and spent a great portion of the time discussing whether certain poems had “duende.” Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of the word:

Duende or tener duende (“having duende”) loosely means having soul, a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity, often connected with flamenco[1] The artistic and especially musical term was derived from the duende, a fairy or goblin-like creature in Spanish mythology.

I think this is sometimes the missing element in what would otherwise be called “beautiful writing.” So here’s hoping you are all out there inviting that little fairy goblin into your work.

Link to the blog post:

http://writeonmamas.com/tips-on-editing/

Write on Mamas’ new anthology:

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Mindfulness: Raisins and the Writer

Mindfulness is the buzz word, isn’t it? Or is it just because I live in California?

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I attended a yoga class last week. The lesson for the day, including climbing like spiders up the wall, was about mindful eating. Each of us was offered a raisin—yes, singular—and instructed to hold it close to our eyes and observe its wrinkles and crusty sparkles.

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Then we smelled it. Essence of sugary, ripe jam.

Then we were asked to listen to it. “Horton Hears A Who,” anyone?

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Yes, we listened to those tiny raisin voices as we held them close to our ears and rolled them between our thumbs and forefingers. Mine squeaked.

“Please, I know you’re going to eat me. Can we just get this over with?”

Yoga is a cruel sport, isn’t it?

Finally, we were asked to put those raisins on our tongues and roll them around in our mouths for a full minute before being allowed to chew.

In much less than one minute, I knew I didn’t have the mindful moral fiber it takes to be a true yogi. I wanted to chew that soggy, yet crystalline, drop of zero taste and swallow. Then I wanted to grab a whole handful of those little squeakers, stuff my mouth, and grind away, turning them into a sweet mass of gumminess. That, my friends, is how you get the real flavor of raisins.

The solitary fleck of grit in the universe of my mouth was—

“Chew!” said the instructor. “Chew! Chew! Chew!”

My train had already left the station.

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I must remember to do this

Let’s move the focus from my flawed moral character to how “one vs. many” plays out with language. Despite the lovely alliteration, repetition and raisins should not be bedfellows.

A whole handful of examples (adverbs being one) will often not make the experience that much sweeter, richer, or more textured for the reader. It usually achieves the opposite. Instead of strengthening the effect, the writer steeps weak tea. Instead of making the prose rich, the writer sews the empty pockets of a pauper. Instead of making the prose more muscular, the writer births a 98 pound weakling.

Shoot me now before I have to read another cliché in a string of clichés.

The moral of the story is this. Whenever you’re tempted to:

  • create characters whose purpose is redundant (or worse, nonexistent), eliminate or combine two or more characters to achieve the same effect.
  • indulge in repetitive sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and chapters that don’t move the story forward, cut and/or combine.
  • use weak verbs “strengthened” by adverbs, select strong verbs and cut the adverbs.
  • create weak dialogue and surrounding exposition that relies on adverbs (commonly called “two-by-fours”) or repetition to get the point across, take the opposite approach. Dialogue means you’re in scene. Show one single telling detail (not two or three or four) that conveys the essence of the character or character’s reaction, thoughts, or physical trait. Extra points for doing this via dialogue instead of in the exposition used to anchor characters in space.
  • give characters multiple actions that convey the same meaning, select one action that’s unusual to convey the essence of your point.

If there is a critical moment or action that begs repeating for fear your reader won’t “get it,” think and think again and then think some more about whether it’s necessary, or whether it’s a matter of finding a better way to say it once to make it unforgettable for the reader.

And to remind myself of these points when I’m revising, I’m going to breathe and think of:

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Poetry is the Cruellest Month – Shakespeare’s Birthday

“Such comfort, as do lusty young men feel,
When well-apparell’d April on the heel
Of limping winter treads.” (Romeo & Juliet, Act. I. Sc. 2)
 
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The question was never, “To write, or not to write?”

Sonnet XCVIII

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight
Drawn after you, – you pattern of all those.
    Yet seem’d it winter still, and, you away,
    As with your shadow I with these did play.

 

Sonnet XXIL

My glass shall not persuade me I am old,
So long as youth and thou are of one date;
But when in thee time’s furrows I behold,
Then look I death my days should expiate.
For all that beauty that doth cover thee
Is but the seemly raiment of my heart,
Which in thy breast doth live, as thine in me:
How can I, then, be elder than thou art?
O, therefore, love, be of thyself so wary,
As I, not for myself, but for thee will;
Bearing thy heart, which I will keep so chary
As tender nurse her babe from faring ill.
Presume not on thy heart when mine is slain;
Thou gav’st me mine, not to give back again.
 

Happy Birthday, Shakes!!!

 

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