Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Years Resolutions

I hope everyone enjoyed my short story. I haven't updated my blog since I posted it so that I could draw as much attention to it as possible. Thank you to all who read it and all who shared it. I might work on a project about the entire life of Joseph, the father of Jesus, set in modern sounds interesting to me, and I received a lot of positive responses to "That Man Might Live."

Anyway, as 2013 approaches, I want work on having a more concrete schedule.
  • Update my blog twice a week, instead of every day--I'm thinking Tuesdays and Thursdays.
  • Wake up when my husband does, and go read for an hour or two (reading is the best way for authors to improve their craft, besides actually writing and practicing).
  • Get some sort of exercise daily.
  • Make daily writing goals and then accomplish them.
  • Spend more time with people, writing down the things that I hear and think about, and become better at observing the human condition.
I hope everyone had some good experiences with friends and family this holiday season, and I wish you all the happiest of 2013's.

Monday, December 17, 2012

That Man Might Live

That Man Might Live
By Jillian Leigh Torassa
          I stared at the smooth dark table my father made for me when I moved out of the house seven years ago. It was the only thing he passed on to me, besides my woodworking skills. I was different from him in every other way. He died a poor, miserable old man, and I didn’t miss him, though I knew I probably should.
          “Did you hear me?”
          “Yes,” I said.
          I looked up at Mary. Her arms were crossed over her chest, her pale pink lips pressed together tightly. The crease in her forehead--only there when she was upset--was deeper than usual, interrupting the flow of her smooth, porcelain skin. Her dark blue eyes appeared black as they watched me from beneath thin, dark eyebrows.
           “Don’t you have anything to say about it?”
           I looked down at my tan hands, which were crossed over the table. “No.”
          “Why not?”
           My eyes moved to her face, the muscles in my arms tense, and my stomach turning the fish and matzah I ate for dinner uncomfortably, making me want to vomit. “I’m not angry. But I wish you would respect me enough to tell me the truth.”
          A small tear ran down her cheek. She brushed it away and re-crossed her arms. “I am telling you the truth.”
          “You expect me to believe you’ve never been unfaithful to me?”
          “Don’t you trust me?”
          “I thought I did.”
          “Well, what’s changed?”
          I stared at her still-flat stomach, the words unable to leave my lips.
          The next morning, I arose early so I could be at the site before it got too hot. Building houses during the middle of the summer--never a fun job--paid the bills and helped me get my mind off things.
I pulled on my dirty pants and my snap-button shirt, grabbing a baseball hat to cover my messy black hair. I would shower after I got home from work. Buckling my tool belt around my waist, I headed out the door, ready for a day of manual labor and great distraction.  
          The Pennsylvania sun shone brightly outside my apartment, and as I walked to work, my mind wandered back to the summer, three years ago, when I first met Mary. I had been working in Allentown, which was 8 miles down the road. The kosher deli she worked at was a block away from our site, and while eating most of my lunches there, I managed to get to know the quiet but charming girl putting herself through grad school. Those were simpler times.
          Most of the guys were already there by the time I arrived. Andrew seemed to spot me first and cat-called, his dark chest already obnoxiously bare, despite the chill that still clung to the morning.
          “Look who slept in this morning,” he said, rubbing his abs with his already filthy hands.
          “Morning,” I said. Usually, I was the first crewmember on site, but I wasn’t in the mood to talk about what had kept me up all night, especially not with Andrew. 
         * “Did you finally . . . you know . . . ” Andrew leaned in closer, cupping his hand around one corner of his mouth as the rest of the guys started to chuckle. “Have the ‘S’ word with your little fiancĂ©e-poo last night?”
          Zeek, another now-shirtless team member started moving his hips back and forth, his fists pumping to signify he was “humping” the air. Andrew laughed wildly.
          I rolled my eyes, grabbing a hard hat from the make-shift desk we kept on hand at each site. Construction workers were every bit as crude as they were stereotypically thought out to be, and it was tough being the only Orthodox Jew among the bunch, unwilling to have sex before marriage, much less talk about it, or make lewd comments at scantily-clad females as they trounced by.
          “Seriously, man. We want to know what happened. If you’re hitting that sweet thang, we’ve gotta right to know,” Andrew said.
          I looked up, scratching the thin beard covering my cheeks and chin, my eyes narrowed and eyebrows raised. “Grow up, guys. Really.”
          Andrew rested his leg on a pile of wood, his hand on his thigh. “Then why are you late this morning? I’ve never seen you late, the whole six years I’ve worked with you.”
          Turning toward the partly-framed house, I chose to ignore him.
          “Lady troubles, I’ll bet.You know, it can’t be a coincidence. You get engaged, you become a slacker. The two have to be connected. It’s a death sentence, you know, marriage. I hope you’re prepared for that.”
          I pulled my hammer out of my belt and pounded a nail into the wood. Don’t worry, Andrew, I thought. I won’t be engaged for long. My chest felt tight as Mary’s small, beautiful face floated before my eyes. I slammed in another nail, and the vision vanished. 
          The sound of vacant stillness greeted me when I reached the apartment. Usually, Mary drove down from Allentown after work and waited for me until I got home, but not today. She must have realized I wanted to be alone.
          Gratefully, I sunk onto the couch, resting my elbows on my knees and rubbing my knuckles into my eyes. I just didn’t understand how she expected me to believe her. I would have been less hurt if she simply told me the truth. If my father were alive, he would have told me to publicly shame her—be the man, make the world know she had sinned, and be done with her forever. I didn’t want to be my father, and despite everything, I still loved Mary. I couldn’t marry her, but I didn’t have to embarrass her either.
          My stomach seemed to bubble up in my throat as I began to picture the conversation I would have to have with her tomorrow.
          I think we need to break off the engagement, I would say.
          You made a commitment to me. Why are you doing this?
          Because you cheated.
          No. I didn’t. Why don’t you trust me?
          How can you possibly be telling me the truth?
          I was never very good with words, especially when it came to confronting someone with unpleasant news, and I was sure to get tongue-tied and mixed up when she was standing there, weakening my judgment.
          Maybe I wouldn’t wait until tomorrow. I would have to do it quickly, like ripping off a Band-Aid. Reaching for my phone, I sent her a quick text.
          Can you swing by my place tonight?
          I flipped on the TV, all of my muscles feeling jumpy. Maybe I could just text her and tell her it was over. I knew she deserved better, but the idea felt so tempting. It would be hard to break off the engagement, her beautiful eyes staring up at me, anger and hurt etched deeply into every pigment of blue, her dark lashes fluttering rapidly in an attempt to remain in control.
          The phone vibrated on my leg. I picked it up, my stomach clenching.
          I can’t. I’m at my cousin’s. Are we okay?
          I closed my eyes and exhaled a shaky breathe.
          How can you even ask that? I texted back.
          The phone stayed silent at my side for the rest of the night.
          I woke up with a start, realizing I left the TV on through sundown and into the dawning of the Sabbath. I quickly turned it off, and headed to the bathroom, wishing I didn’t have to stay home all day tomorrow. I was grateful August agreed to give me every Saturday off as long as I worked for him, but I couldn’t help but wish he would occasionally insist I work through the weekend anyway, like a normal boss would. 
          I took a quick shower and headed to bed. My muscles were stiffer and more sore than usual, having worked them to the brink of exhaustion in order to keep my mind from wandering back to Mary. I slipped under the covers, welcoming the idea of sleep. 
          Somewhere between picturing my life without her and wondering what I would make for breakfast, I entered a huge white room with gold columns holding up a roof several stories high. I looked around me to find the floor covered in a thin, white mist. The warm mist danced and glittered with the soft light filling the cavernous space, and I felt a stillness come over me.
          “Aw, my son. You made it.”
          I spun around. An unfamiliar man in a white robe stood behind me. He wore a thick, white beard and a kindly look on his face. The corners of his eyes crinkled with a genuine smile as he headed toward me.
          “Who are you?” I said.
          “My son, I must tell you something. Something of eternal significance, not just for you, but for all mankind.”
          He reached me, and I found myself staring at my hands, unable to look at his oddly bright form.
          “Mary is telling the truth,” he said.
          I raised my eyes to his face, feeling tears on my cheeks.
          “How can that be so?”
          “Where is your faith, my son?”
          The man shook his head, and I fell silent.
          “Listen to me, Joseph. Do not be afraid to make Mary your wife. That which is conceived of her is of the Holy Ghost.”
          As he spoke the words, a warm feeling spread in my chest. It covered my whole body, filling my mind with light and peace.
          “Raise the child as though He were your own. He has an important mission to perform, and I have chosen you as His father in order that He might be raised to do all that He is meant to.”
           My eyes fluttered open as I awoke, and the warm feeling in my heart told me to call Mary immediately. 
          “What are we going to tell people?”
          I wondered the same thing.
         Mary’s head rested on my shoulder, her thin legs curled up on the couch next to me. I could still feel a wet spot on my shoulder from when she cried long after hearing the news.
          “I love you so much, do you know that?”
          I kissed her on the head. “I’m sorry I doubted it.”
          “I understand. I’m glad you decided to trust me. I know that must have been hard for you.”
          She snuggled a little closer, as my mind drifted back to the man with the white beard who told me I was chosen, chosen to raise a child who would save all mankind.
          “We could go away for awhile?” she said. “Elope, tour the world, not come home until after He’s born—”
          “I have my work here--I can’t just leave. And what about our families?”
          “You’ll never hear the end of it. Not from Andrew, not from the gang, not from your mother . . . I don’t suppose anyone else will ever believe our story?”
          “Probably not.” I slipped my arm around her waist, giving her a gentle squeeze, grateful for her presence, but wishing the warmth that filled my heart wouldn’t slip away so quickly.
          “I guess it doesn’t matter. As long as we’re together.”
          I looked down at her. She turned her eyes toward me, and her lips curved into a soft smile. I couldn’t help but smile in return. I bent down and pressed my lips softly to hers. “You and I know the truth. That is enough.”
          “I know. And we can worry about everything else later. But for tonight, let’s just spend some time together.” She rubbed her stomach, resting her head back on my shoulder. “You, me, and little JESUS.”

Friday, December 14, 2012

Naughty and Napkins

Thinking about what happened in Connecticut today, and what happened at the Clackamas Town Center earlier this week (in Portland, OR), it is tempting to think the worse of mankind. Also, during the holidays, some people get defensive, some people get rude, some people become self-centered as they search for presents, or try to make it to where ever they need to go in a timely manner. I admit that I’m guilty of “hating everyone” sometimes, especially when people are rude, small-minded, or  brutal, which unfortunately seems to happen a lot this time of year. I’m very sad for those who have lost loved-ones this week, and I’m grateful that my husband has returned safely home to me every night.

However, I’ve also been forced to realize that, with all the bad in the world, it is important to remember the good. The man who waves gratefully to you when you let him in on a busy road, the people who leave secrets gifts and do secret acts of service for one another, and the random lady who draws a picture of your father-in-law on a napkin at dinner, without his knowledge, and giving it to him as a lovely Christmas gift. “You have a great face,” she said.   

People are ultimately good. Sometimes you have to look harder for it than for the bad, but it’s there. And there are numerous examples of it, as long as you take the time to look. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

How to Write a Short Story

All of the following comes from the 6 different websites listed at the bottom of this page. Almost none of this is my own writing, and I will not take credit for it (Also, I'm sorry, Mom, for not doing in-text citations correctly. I know you're dying a little inside). 

There are 7 things you need to think about when you are writing a short story: structure, theme, plot, time span, setting, characters, and dialogue.

Short stories usually follow a traditional plot structure: exposition (with a powerful “hook”), conflict (against self or an outside force), rising action or complication, climax, and resolution.

Something has to happen in the story. Things like conflict and resolution achieve this effect. You can build conflict through mystery (explain just enough to tease the readers), empowering both sides, intensifying the obstacles as the story progresses, creating surprise through sufficient complexity, empathy, universality, and high stakes—convince readers that the outcome matters because someone they care about could lose something precious.

As with any type of writing, the beginning and the end are the most important parts. Make sure your first and last lines are the strongest in the story. The beginning should catch your reader’s attention with the unusual or the unexpected, or drop her in the middle of the action or conflict. Begin with tension and immediacy, starting as close to the end as possible. Then, the end of the story should resolve the conflict. This shouldn’t be too drawn out though, and it can simply show that the character is beginning to change, or hint at how things might be different in the future.

Every piece of writing must have a message or thread of meaning running through it, and this theme is the skeleton or framework on which you hang your plot, characters, setting etc. As you write, make sure that every word is related to this theme.

It's tempting to use your short story to show off your talents of characterization, descriptive writing, or dialogue, but remember that every excess word is a word that dilutes the impact of your story.

The best stories are the ones that follow a narrow subject line. Decide what the point of your story is and even though it's tempting to digress, you must stick to the point. Otherwise, you end up with either a novel beginning or a mish-mash of ideas that add up to nothing.

Always begin with an intriguing first paragraph or lead.

Be selective: Every sentence must do one of two things: reveal character or advance the action.

Always remember, unexpected consequences ramp up emotional energy. Also, be a sadist. Make drama happen.

Time Span
You should shoot for about 10-25 pages as a good rule of thumb.

Limit the time frame--It's unrealistic to cover years of a character's life in twenty-five pages. (Even a month might be a challenge.) By limiting the time period, you allow more focus on the events that are included in the narrative.

If you find that your story overflows these boundaries (or any of the boundaries) no matter what you do, consider expanding it into a novel.

Choose your setting carefully—you are limited by space in a short story.

Appeal to the five senses to make your settings more realistic to the reader.

You need to paint such a vivid picture that the reader can imagine herself in the scene. It helps to place yourself into the setting and transpose this into your writing. If you can’t see it clearly, the reader certainly won’t be able to.

It is important for the writer to know everything about the characters (name, job, temperament, phobias, strong memories, etc, etc), but in a short story, ONLY INCLUDE THE DETAILS RELAVANT TO THE STORY.

Give the reader at least one character she can root for.

Use few characters and stick to one point of view.--You simply will not have room for more than one or two round characters. Find economical ways to characterize your protagonist, and describe minor characters briefly. Having only one or two protagonists naturally limits your opportunities to switch perspectives. Even if you're tempted to try it, you will have trouble fully realizing, in a balanced way, more than one point of view.

Don’t use any synonyms of “said,” unless the emotion can’t be built into the scene. For example, you don’t need to write “I love you,” she said passionately, or “I love you,” she gushed, because the reader already hears a tone associated with the words “I love you” in her head. BUT if the character says “I love you” sarcastically, or manipulatively, you might want to add that tag so the reader catches it, unless the drama is already built into the scene.

Always remember to show, not tell. If there is silence in the scene, don’t just tell the reader, “They sat in silence…” Describe the silence—“She heard Mr. Smith’s lawnmower outside as she stared at her shoes.”

Dialogue is a powerful way to convey character, but it must contribute to the main focus of the story. Every word you put into the mouth of your characters must contribute to revealing your theme ... if it doesn't, cut it.

If you are still having trouble, here are some brainstorming tips:
Keep a notebook on you—write down overheard conversations, expressive phrases, images, personal experiences, ideas, and interpretations of the world around you as they come to you.

Write on a regular basis, even if you don’t feel like it.

Collect: Keep the amazing, the unusual, the strange, the irrational stories you hear and use them for your own purposes.

Just always remember that “writing short stories means beginning as close to the conclusion as possible, and grabbing the reader in the very first moments. Conserve characters and scenes, typically by focusing on just one conflict. Drive towards a sudden, unexpected revelation,” and you should be good to go.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Random thoughts

Today, I have a lot of random thoughts floating around in my head.

  • First, I heard these exact words from an anchor on Fox News yesterday: “Water boarding? More like Awesome Boarding.” I'm pretty sure he was 100% serious, because he went on to say how everyone, even liberals, would be okay with torture at some time or another, if the circumstance was right. Are you kidding me? Is this some kind of joke? Man, I hate Fox News...
  • Second, I found two amazing recipes yesterday: Peanut butter-chocolate chip banana bread, and then one for fajitas. They were both delicious. I have a very tasty list of recipes that I've started collecting, if I do say so myself. I'll post the links at the bottom of the page, if you're interested. 
  • Third, I'm going to change my Smarts story into the first person perspective. It'll take a lot of work, but there are some good reasons to change it. I think the story will be more powerful from an "I" narrator, and I want to solidify my characters a little better. It will mean taking a break from moving forward with my story and editing what I already have, but I want to change perspective for the 75 or so pages I already have, rather than for an entire, completed novel. That project will start immediately. 
  • Fourth, I want to write a short Christmas story from the perspective of Joseph, the father of Jesus. I finished character sketches for that project yesterday. 
  • Fifth, Jordan and Allison will be home soon, and The Hobbit comes out on Friday!!!
  • Sixth, I had an ANWA Moonwriting meeting today...they are splitting the chapter into three, and I was one of the 7 out of 30 members who was there today. That means I somehow ended up being the president of one of the new chapters, even though I've only been a member of this group for about two months. Yikes! I'm nervous, but I'm grateful for the chance to serve and bulk up my resume!

I think that's all for now. Tomorrow, I'm going to post the lesson I compiled for the ANWA meeting about writing short stories. It's mostly a compilation of other peoples' suggestions, so I can't take credit for the writing, but there is some good advice in there. Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

11 Writing Commandments

I found some good writing advice yesterday from Henry Miller and John Steinbeck. Henry Miller's was labeled "11 Commandments of Writing and Daily Creative Routine," and Steinbeck had "Six Tips on Writing." The two sort of contradicted each other in areas, and not everything seemed to apply to me, so I pulled 11 out of the 17 combined that I really liked.
Here they are:
1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
2. Don't be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is at hand.
3. When you can't create you can work. 
4. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
5. Don't be a draft-horse! Work with pleasure only.
6. Discard the Program when you feel like it--but go back to it the next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude. 
7. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
8. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.
9. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
10. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
11. If a scene of a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it--bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole, you can come back to it, and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn't belong there.

11 Commandments from Miller
6 Tips from Steinbeck

Monday, December 10, 2012


Thanks to the Google home page today, I realize how extremely grateful I am for computers.
I can't even imagine what life was like before we had them, especially for writers.
It's so convenient to have the internet at your fingertips, when you can't think of a name for a character, you don't know what the pointy shoes were called that they wore in the Middle Ages (crackowes, by the way), or you need to find scientific evidence to back up your latest story idea. 
Besides that though, I don't think I would be able to stand writing out everything by hand. Now, you just whip up a Word document and start typing. You can even edit as you go! Considering how many drafts, half-drafts, and minor edits my writing (and also my college papers) have gone through and have yet to go through, I am so glad that I don't have to do any of it by "hand." 
Although, I am starting to lose that callus on the middle finger of my right hand since I graduated (I never stopped taking notes by hand in my classes). That's a little sad, but not sad enough to make me stop using my laptop. 
Thank goodness for computers (I would have hated typewriters too).

Friday, December 7, 2012

Angry Birds

Today, I hung out with my cousins who didn't have school.
I learned how to play Halo, and I wasn't as terrible at it as I was the last time I tried.
But the really horrible thing is that I learned how to play Angry Birds. Star Wars Angry Birds, no less, and I can't stop playing. Luckily, the tablet battery died, so I was forced to let it go.
It was a relaxing day though. It probably shouldn't have's almost the weekend after all. But Ethan and Eli had the day off, I just finished finals, and it's almost Christmas.
Man, I feel like a lot of my posts are about how I decided to take the day off...I'm not as lazy as I sound, I promise.
At least, I don't think I'm lazy...
I've having a hard time feeling like my life is worthwhile today.
I guess that means I should go play more Angry Birds.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Today is the last day of History 417!
By 5:00 pm today, all of the assignments will be turned in. I'll spend tomorrow grading them (although, there really isn't much of a chance that more than 8 papers will be turned in), and then I'll be done!
It was a good experience, and I'm glad I got a chance to beef up my resume a little bit, but if I have to read another paper that is formulaically about Mythpoeic cultures, Egypt, Mesopotamia  Greece, Rome, Christianity in the Dark Ages, and Islam (almost always in exactly that order, almost always about the exact same things), I will kick a puppy. I mean it. A real live puppy.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Christmas Songs

I heard this song on the radio today, and it made me smile.
For those of you who don't know, which is probably most people, I also like to write songs. I play a little guitar, and I've written about 12ish songs since I learned how.
This song inspired me. I think I want to take a break from all of my novel-writing projects, and write a Christmas song or two in the next couple of weeks, to give my muse something new to do.
We'll see how that goes.
In the meantime, I'll just keep on truckin', since I'm going to start looking for a job in January, and I want to take advantage of being able to write all day while I still can.

Monday, December 3, 2012


I've discovered that walking is a good way to clear my head and get some good ideas for my writing. 

Today, I walked 3.5 miles round trip to Office Max to pick up our 2012 Christmas letter, and I was able to brainstorm lots of good ideas for book titles on the way. Titles are probably my biggest weakness, and it was kind of cool how fun/good/great ideas kept randomly popping into my head. 
I'll have to work walking into my schedule more purposefully/frequently in order to aid my writing career.