Carol Callicotte


Sage Advice July 23, 2009

Filed under: For Writers,Projects,Writing,Writing World — A French American Life @ 3:09 pm
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Over the past several months, Alexandra Sokoloff has been doing a series of posts on the craft of writing. Here’s a link to her Table of Contents. Seriously good stuff, for writers and for anyone interested in how to tell a story. And if you ever get a chance to hear her speak or take a class with her, do it. She’s a brilliant teacher, a talented writer, and an all around cool person. Enjoy!

175px-TheShadowOfTheWindCurrently Reading: THE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruis Zafon.


Five Questions You Must Ask Yourself May 2, 2009

Filed under: Books,For Writers,Reading,Writing — A French American Life @ 10:46 am
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Writer’s Digest puts out an online magazine that I get via email. A recent magazine had an article that listed five questions you, as a writer, must answer in order to succeed:

1. Who are your favorite authors and why?

2. What do they do that grabs your attention and keeps you turning pages?

3. What keeps you coming back to your favorite genres?

4. What compels you to write fiction/ memoir/ poetry?

5. How will you make sure that your own work grabs and keeps your readers’ attention every bit as well as your own favorites capture you?

At first glance, it seems easy enough. Any time reading or writing comes up in conversation, I light up and babble away. Storytelling and stories are easily my favorite subjects. But now I’ve found myself really pondering these questions; trying to dig deeper. The article emphasizes that we writers should answer these questions with relish and in great detail. So, writers, have at it.


Lighting A Fire May 1, 2009

Wow – has it really been a month since I’ve posted? Whoops. Time got away from me. The good news: I’ve gotten back to writing regularly. Just not blogging.

So, my local writers’ group has been meeting every other week for 3 ½ years. All of us are working on novels, so we read and critique scenes from those novels and occasionally one of us will bring in a short story. Recently, we realized that we were all getting a bit… lazy. Stagnating. We’d gotten away from our habit of consistently having something written for our read and critique sessions. In my case, I’d gotten comfortable/lazy enough that I started bringing subpar work – unpolished work that I would have normally been embarrassed to show to my group. And more than once over the last several months I didn’t have something prepared. Luckily, we all still show up to offer critiques to those who have something to read. But, we all needed a bit of a kick in the tush.

We decided to give ourselves writing assignments. We actually did this about a year ago; at that time we realized none of us had ever written a sex scene. (ooh – I bet using “sex scene” as a tag will drive a ton of traffic to my blog…) So, we all hooked up a couple of our characters. It stretched the boundaries of our writerly muscles, and I’m definitely less intimidated now by the prospect of writing sex scenes for future novels. Last month, we had to put our characters into awkward, and in some cases socially unacceptable, situations. As we all know each other’s characters pretty well, we chose the situations for each other. My innocent yet self-assured YA character had to succumb to peer pressure and try drugs. Another member’s stoic character had to hit his wife. One character had to turn to prostitution for money, one emotionally disengaged character had to become emotionally vulnerable in front of his love interest, and another character who’d never shown any sexuality had to get caught masturbating. Yes, we all cringed at our assignments. And we all pushed our characters much further than we would have if we’d never assigned ourselves this task. But we all managed to tap into a realm of our characters’ psyches that we’d never before considered. A couple of us (me included) liked our scenes well enough that we are considering incorporating them into our books.

To the other writers’ groups out there: what are some of the things you do to keep things from going stale?


My Writing Schedule March 30, 2009

Filed under: For Writers,Funny stuff,Goals,Projects,Self deprecating humor,Writing — A French American Life @ 2:14 pm
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For my “real” job, I’m a physical therapist. I work part time at the clinic, which I realize is incredibly lucky. So, on my days off from physical therapy, I write, with every intention of making this time worth it.

Here’s the writing schedule I aspire to:

5:45 The alarm goes off. I bounce out of bed, well-rested and eager to begin a brand new day.

6:00 I’m in the “gym” we’ve set up in our garage, where I get a killer work out.

7:00 I shower and get ready for the day, just as I would if I were going to work. I fix my hair, put on makeup, and wear shoes. This is a great psychological method for improving motivation and productivity.

7:45 I eat breakfast and get caught up on the major news, because it’s important to be a good, well informed citizen of the world.

8:15 I meditate to quiet my mind and allow calm and positive thoughts to center me.

8:30 I arrive at my desk and do a writing warm up exercise.

9:00 I work with enthusiasm and energy on my current project.

12:30 I suddenly realize I’m a bit hungry. I’ve been so absorbed in my writing that I don’t even realize it’s lunch time. Lunch is a random assortment of tasteless and uninspired fuel, but that’s okay, because my mind is lost in the world I’ve created, and words are flowing quicker than I can get them all down.

12:37 I’m back to writing.

2:00 I take a walk at this time to stretch my legs and neck, get some fresh air and sun, and give my mind a bit of time to ponder some things. I take a 1 ½ mile loop around our neighborhood, admiring the brightly colored flowers, enjoying the scent of orange blossoms, and feeling a general satisfaction with the writer I am becoming.

2:30 I’m back to writing. I might check some of my favorite industry blogs, or check in with Absolute Write. But mostly, I just write inspired stories of beauty and depth.

6:00 I’ve had a wonderful day and am satisfied with what I’ve accomplished. I pour myself a glass of wine and begin to make dinner. I have a relaxing evening with my husband.

Here’s what a typical day looks like lately:

5:45 The alarm goes off. I reach over to hit the snooze button, and in doing so, knock my watch onto the ground. It breaks. I hit snooze for an hour or so.

7:00 I finally drag myself out of bed and put on my work out clothes. On the way to the garage, I stop in the office to get my laptop so I can watch The Daily Show while I’m on the elliptical. As I sign on, I see that I have email, and realize that another minute cannot go by without me checking to see who has written to me and why. I check my messages. Some of them are notifications from Facebook, so I go to Facebook and end up reading everyone’s updates, seeing who has thrown what animal at me, taking a test to find out what mythical creature I am. Eventually I find myself looking at pictures of people I don’t even know. It’s 8:30.

8:30 I do my workout while watching the Daily Show. When that’s over, I surf the internet between biceps curls and squats.

9:30 I’m frakking starving, so I sit down to eat and read the paper. I get annoyed with the news and turn to Dear Abby and Ask Carolyn. I become saddened by the state of our world. I read Dilbert and get a little laugh. Then I pull out a novel to read while I finish my cereal.

10:15 The morning is half way over and I’ve accomplished nothing. I berate myself and rush to the shower.

10:45 I slip into yoga pants, an old T-shirt, and slippers. My hair begins to dry into a frizzy mess of a mane that would barely be fashionable in 1973.

11:00 I sit down at my desk and realize it’s an absolute disaster zone. I clean my desk. Which means rearranging all the piles into differently sorted piles. I sort my pen container.

11:30 It’s almost lunch time, so I might as well go online and check the industry blogs. I go online and check my email. Then I go to Facebook. Then all the world fades away and I am sucked into an internet vortex of information, bright colors, videos of kittens playing and fat men dancing, advice on the best toenail polish for your skin tone. I come to and realize I’m reading about how Paris Hilton chose the name for her dog. What’s happening to me? Where am I? It’s 1:00.

1:00 I eat quickly, because now I’m really behind. The crap food I eat instantly gives me heartburn.

1:30 I stare at either my computer screen or a blank page for 20 minutes. Then I remember that the ridges on the doorframes have not been dusted in I don’t know how long. It’s horrifyingly unclean, and I must clean them today. I do this.

2:00 I briefly consider going for a walk, but instead I take a nap on the couch.

2:30 I wake up. I decide I need a change of scenery. I walk to the coffee shop 50 yards from my front door. I ask for a mocha – not too chocolately, please! Only one little scoop! The barista glares at me and gives me an extra chocolately mocha. I sit down with my notebook and ponder whether perhaps he doesn’t like me because of my frizzy hair. I drink part of the mocha and throw the rest out. I go home and take a couple of Tums.

2:45 I examine my hair in the mirror. It’s embarrassingly frizzy. I try some product in it, then try pinning it up a few different ways. It ends up in a ponytail. I realize I’m avoiding writing.

3:00 I sit down with a blank notebook, thoroughly disgusted with myself. I manage to write half a page before I decide that my idea blows. I decide I must look up a better word for “strolled,” so I go online. I have more email. And someone on Facebook commented on someone else’s photo.

4:00 I extract myself from the internet and write another half a page, and it’s worse than pulling teeth. It’s pulling out my toenails with my teeth.

4:30 I spend a bit of time coming up with status updates for my Facebook page. I play with the wording a bit.

5:00 I consider quitting, because clearly the day is a bust. But then I decide I must write more. I stare at a blank page for thirty minutes.

5:30 I start on dinner and spend the evening irritable. I resolve to do better next time.


National Grammar Day March 4, 2009

Filed under: For Writers,Grammar,Writing,Writing World — A French American Life @ 1:02 pm
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Yep, that’s right. It’s National Grammar Day! So get out there and do some good talking.

Seriously, for grammar lovers, this is a great day. Remember, good grammar is hot. So while you elevate your discourse in celebration of this day, try this: get rid of “like” and “totally.” Eliminate them from your vocabulary, unless of course you are actually talking about something you like. You’ll be amazed at how much smarter you sound.


Confident or Delusional? February 27, 2009

Filed under: For Writers,Writers' Groups,Writing,Writing World — A French American Life @ 9:24 pm
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J.A. Konrath has a great post on the difference, sometimes a very grey area, between a confident writer and a delusional one. Check it out, here.


Southern California Writers’ Conference Part Deux February 23, 2009

Filed under: Conferences,For Writers,Writing,Writing World — A French American Life @ 11:28 am
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I always come away from SCWC inspired and ready to launch myself into my writing, and this year was no different. Thank you Michael and Wes! Stand outs for me were classes given by Phyllis Gebauer and Midge Raymond, both authors and writing instructors. And Val McDermid, author of 25 novels and owner of an instantly loveable Scottish accent, gave a witty and inspiring speech Saturday night. To my dear online writing group: Craig Berger, Lauren Hartney, Jeremy James, and Grace Yang – it was so good to see you all for our annual meet up! TJ Turner – we miss you! When are you coming back? And to Mike Crowe – good to actually get to see you, instead of just hear you (you know what I’m talking about). And finally, Rich Howard – good to finally get to know you and hear a bit about your book. I look forward to future successes for all of us! Now get to writing!


Southern California Writers’ Conference February 12, 2009

It’s this weekend! I’m very excited – it looks like there will be some good seminars offered. And, I get to see my online writing buddies again! This will be my third time at the conference, and I’m hoping for the same sort of inspiring, light-a-fire-under-my-arse sort of motivation that I’ve gotten from the first two. What better way to spend a weekend than studying the craft I love, and being with people who share my passion?

Currently Reading: SON OF A WITCH by Gregory Maguire. I really love this author. He creates richly textured worlds, and his characters are all flawed, complicated, and intriguing.


Making the Most of Your Critique Group January 28, 2009

When I started getting serious about writing, the thought of having my work critiqued sounded about as fun as driving a nail through my tongue while doing the Maquerena. But, anyone pursuing publication knows that the path to seeing your book in print is lined with many suggestions for improvement. I knew I had a lot to learn, so I signed up for a class on novel writing, read my work aloud, squeezed my eyes shut and went into the brace-for-impact position (In my head. I’m not that mental.) and listened to what my instructor and classmates had to say.

Since then, I’ve taken several more classes, attended a few conferences, and read a bunch of books on craft. I’m part of two critique groups – one that meets every other week and one online. We’ve learned and grown together, and their feedback has made me a much better writer. Not every writer is a part of a group like this, but all of us need someone to give us feedback. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:

Finding a Group

My first critique group formed in an introduction to novel writing class, and I have to say, I got pretty lucky. The six of us all started at similar levels – some ahead of others as far as skills, but all of us working on our first novels. We’ve meshed together very well, and until recently, when one member decided to drop out due to a pregnancy and wanting to put writing aside for a bit, we’ve stuck together over three years now. My second group formed at a writers’ conference – a group of us really hit it off and were again in the same place – all unpublished but with great drive to improve our craft and become published. My first group gets together every two weeks, my second group is done via an online forum where we post and critique monthly. Coincidentally, both groups have 6 members – a pretty ideal size: enough that you get a good amount of feedback, but not so much that you are overwhelmed – both by feedback received and feedback that must be given.

There are other places to find critique partners. I love, a forum for writers of all skill levels, from multi-published authors to newbies. I’ve gone here for help from seasoned veterans of the field on some of my work. On this site, as well as a few others, you can find beta readers and critique partners.

I advise getting to know your potential critique partners before forming a group. Get to know their writing style, how they critique, what they hope to get out of writing. It’s important that everyone is committed to a regular writing practice, to improving their craft, and to showing up to the meetings. But it’s also important to be somewhat flexible with this – cracking the whip too hard can lead to resentment and loss of members, while having no structure whatsoever can also result in a group falling apart. Agree in advance with your group or partner what expectations and guidelines you’d like to follow – don’t assume that everyone has the same ideas as you do about how to go about format, etc. You might be on different time tables toward submission for publication, or – as is the case with some of my critique partners – there may be a few for whom publication is not the end game. It helps if members of the group have similar goals, but it doesn’t have to be a deal breaker if they don’t. As long as you can understand and support each other in the goals you’ve each set, it can work. But regardless, surround yourself with talented writers who are capable of insightful feedback. A good critique group pushes your writing to higher and higher levels, and should never hold you back. That said – if you start to feel like your writers’ group is not meeting your needs, it may be time to find a new one.

Before letting anyone critique your work, understand your own writing goals. Critique groups are meant for those who want to improve their craft. Are you looking for smiles and praise? Don’t join a critique group. Instead, show your writing to friends and family – they are much more likely to give you the validation you seek. Do you really want to be published? Seek out critique partners who understand the industry and have studied the craft of writing. Work with people who have studied the craft – through classes, reference books and magazines, novels, conferences, etc. And study these things yourself. There’s a lot of great information out there that can help you to become a better writer.

Giving Critiques

•Start with what works. We all need to know what we are doing well – not just for an ego boost (though we all need that from time to time), but so we don’t end up scrapping what actually worked in our scenes.

•Don’t feel like you HAVE to have a criticism. Too often we feel like we have to find something wrong. If you don’t find anything wrong and think it works as is, say so.

•Be respectful. I’m a firm believer that even the toughest of messages can be delivered in a diplomatic way. You may feel like flinging a piece across the room in frustration, but avoid doing so. Remember that your writing partners, like you, have poured a lot of heart into their work and are trusting you with it. A group can fall apart rapidly when even one member turns nasty.

•Be very specific. Instead of saying you didn’t like it, or it was boring, give concrete examples.

•Ask questions to stimulate discussion. Things like: Where do you expect to go from here with this? Is this a throwaway character or will she return? What do you envision as the arc for this character? What in this character’s background made them react in this way? Having an understanding of the writer’s intentions will help you help them. 

•If you are all working on novels, try to remember the scenes you’ve already read. This can be very hard to do, especially when you have been reading scenes from the same novel for months, or even years. If you can’t remember something, ask. It will help you give feedback on the overall plotline, character development, etc.

•You will be tempted to write other people’s books. I’ve gotten some great ideas from group brainstorms on my stuff. Some of our best moments have come from fantasizing directions for each other. But remember to respect what the writer is trying to accomplish, and realize your solution might lead the writer astray. (For example, the writer is intending a light-hearted comedy and you feel it would be better to have a deep, belly-gazing moment for the main character.) Try to point out the problem without pigeonholing the writer into a solution. If you do end up brainstorming together, don’t insist that your way is the only way.

Receiving Critiques

•Listen to what the others have to say. This is the most important thing to do. Try not to get defensive about your work. You can learn a lot by allowing your critique partners to discuss what they’ve read. Sometimes they will all agree, sometimes they’ll argue. Sit back, listen, and take notes. When their discussion slows, then ask some questions to clarify why they might have had the reactions or thoughts that they did. No need to fight them on it or scramble to justify – just hear them out. If they don’t get it, or if they saw something problematic, chances are other readers will too. I’ll never forget a late night critique session at a conference where a writer stomped – yes, she actually stomped – out of a room when another writer started asking her questions about the overall character arc. She felt the main character didn’t need to have an arc, because that wasn’t real life. Hmmm. You won’t progress much as a writer if you remain closed off to feedback.

•On that note, leave your ego at the door. Don’t take things personally, remember this is all about pounding your work into its best possible form.

•Look for patterns – do your critique partners frequently call you out on certain things? For example, do you tend to write dialogue where every character sounds the same? Or forget to get inside the head of your POV character in crucial moments? Bury the reader in adjectives and adverbs?

•Know what you are looking for in a critique. Are you concerned that the story line is confusing, that your main character’s motivations aren’t clear, or that your dialogue is stilted? Ask your partners to comment on that specifically. Do you just want a general reaction? Let ‘em rip.

•Let your work sit after getting your critique – don’t immediately try to incorporate all of their suggestions. Allow time to give you some perspective and detach from the panic that can often strike after a critique session (the “Omigod I’ve done it all wrong and must fix it now!”)(Or worse, the “screw them. They don’t know what they’re talking about.”).

•Don’t submit too early. Unless you really need help on direction, I advise submitting only work that you feel is reasonably polished (trust me, your writing group will thank you for that) and that you have some idea what your intentions are. That said, don’t become so attached to what you’ve already written that you won’t be open to a great idea generated in group.

•Remember that it is ultimately your work. You don’t have to change anything you don’t want to change. When you get to know your critique partners, you’ll discover their strengths and weaknesses as both writers and critiquers. Keep this in mind when reviewing their comments. And if there is a consensus on anything – pay attention!

•Don’t over workshop. Your fellow writers will feel compelled to find something to criticize. It’s in our nature. There isn’t a scene out there that couldn’t be changed in some way. But know when you’ve reached the point that the critiques aren’t making it better, they are just changing it.

My critique groups have been the source of much joy, a little pain, but mostly a lot of fun. What better way to spend time than with others who share your passion and want to help you reach your goals?


Finding Time to Write January 27, 2009

Filed under: For Writers,Writing,Writing World — A French American Life @ 12:17 pm
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I struggle with this, even though my current non-writing job is only part time, leaving me with ample free time. It’s all about efficiency, discipline, and time management.  Kelly Gay, whose debut novel THE BETTER PART OF DARKNESS will be released this summer (I can’t wait to read it!), wrote an excellent post today on finding time to write with two young kids at home. If a busy mother can do it, I need to stop making excuses! Thanks for your post, Kelly!