Peering into . . .

the inner workings of Alison Miller Woods

Alphabe-Thursday: X is for eXtra learning = eXtra fun. March 24, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alison @ 3:57 pm
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This is an Alphabe-Thursday entry for Jenny Matlock’s blog.

I have two recent “learning experiences” that are prominent in my mind at the moment.

The first, was that in February I was able to attend a three-day writing conference – “Life, the Universe, and Everything” at BYU. I had never done anything like this before. I had been to a one-day workshop event, but nothing on this scale. From talking to other attendees I gathered that the format was a little different than some other conferences. Some conferences have a single presenter teach a class. There were a few presentations like that, and they were done really well, but most of the conference was done with panel discussions on a topic. There was an amazing array of local authors in the areas of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror (that was the focus of the conference) and artists as well.

In general, just the atmosphere was energizing and re-motivating for whatever project we may have been working on. I had a great time!

I attended discussions on writing short stories, strong female characters, retelling tales, plot-storming, editing, and  pitching your work to an agent or editor. I even did a workshop where they read our first page of our story out loud (five of us) and the room of people commented on strengths and weaknesses. That one was scary, but I came out relatively unscathed.

It really has me contemplating the next conference and investing the money into it. I feel like I learned so much and yet I have such a long way to go still. The LDS Storymakers conference is in May. From what I have heard, it is more instructional – less panel discussions. The thought of going is really exciting; I just have to rationalize the money.

My second experience was making a wedding cake for my husband’s cousin. It has been more than a year since I have attempted something like this and I had forgotten how much I stress about it.

It was good that she was family, because I’m sure she was more forgiving than others might have been. All I could see were the problems and issues (like the fact it ‘slumped’ while sitting in the warm apartment all day), but the family liked it and she was just glad the whole planning process was over with. (Remind me not to do this again. . .)


Alphabe-Thursday: W is for Writing March 17, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alison @ 1:32 pm
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W is for writing. This post is for Jenny Matlock’s Aphabe-Thursday. (Go check out all the other cool entries, I’ll wait here for you.) This time I wanted to share with you a short story I wrote last year for a contest on NPR. It was for their three-minute fiction contest. It had to be under 600 words, and it had to start with the phrase “Some people swore that the house was haunted”, and end with the phrase “Nothing was ever the same again after that.”  Those phrases were part of the word-count as well. It was tricky trying to fit the 600 word limit.  I didn’t win, but I had a lot of fun doing the story. I think I may want to revisit this story and expand it in the future. We will see.

Interrupted Boundaries

Some people swore that the house was haunted. Konor was one of the few people who knew what truly stalked the halls of his home. Brenn, his younger brother, knew but he was arguably still a child and living in the ashes of a lost lifetime. If there were ghosts, then there was a chance their father knew and still watched over the place he had been forced to leave. Perhaps the villagers recognized what they had done for a brief slice of time before they met their personal oblivion. Oh, and the thing that was formerly their mother knew.

Konor still relived that pivotal day every time he closed his eyes. His kind aged slowly, even with his blood diluted by his human father’s, and as such it had been many years of nightmares. He settled into bed, bracing himself for what would come. Brenn slept soundly in the bedroom’s other small bed; his nightmares took different forms. The heavy, gurgling breathing in the hall assured Konor they were still not alone. The memories came quickly; the colors more vibrant than they could have been, the smells sharper than he remembered.

The house had been perfect for their family. It was tucked into the edge of the forest their mother wouldn’t leave; unassuming, well-cared for, and full of love. Their mother came from the forest. She was a shape-stealer; a terrible creature of myth and legend. But, the love she carried for them had added a measure of humanity to her; enough that she restrained herself and resisted the lure of the forest.

Konor and Brenn played outside in the mud that day. Konor was first to hear the approaching voices. They seemed to grow angrier as they approached. Konor stood and pulled Brenn behind him as his father stepped out of the door. With a glance in their direction, their father smiled reassuringly.

“Hold tight boys. Don’t draw attention to yourselves.” He walked out from the house to meet the approaching mob. The men were clustered tightly, like frightened sheep. There were ten villagers, holding various farming implements as weapons. “Now Jacob,” their father addressed the man in front with a soft, jovial voice, “What seems to be the problem?”

“That thing can’t stay here Dilon.” Jacob pointed toward the house where their mother stood in the doorway. The large man’s brow glistened with sweat and his eyes kept shifting back to the men behind him. Konor could smell him from where he was, stale and sour. “It killed my chickens.”

Dilon had stiffened at the word ‘thing’ and his voice was now lowered, dangerous. “She is my wife and the mother of my boys. You know that Enid didn’t do that. You saw the fox tracks yourself.”

“How do we know it was a real fox and not that monster you took up with?” The men behind were jeering and pushing Jacob on. “How do we know that our families won’t be next?”

“That’s enough!” Dilon roared and stepped towards Jacob. There was a startled flurry of movement by Jacob. In the panicked flail, the hoe he carried connected with Dilon’s head. Konor hid Brenn’s eyes when he saw, as his father fell, the angle of his neck was wrong. In an instant their mother was there, crouched over him. The light in Dilon’s eyes faded and a scream tore from Enid. The scream started out human, but it swiftly changed into something . . . else, older and darker. Then there was blood. So much blood.

Nothing was ever the same again after that.


Alphabe-Thursday: M is for Making Excuses February 24, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alison @ 6:32 pm
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I obviously haven’t kept up on my alphabet. So this is my “Making Excuses” post. (That was for “M”)

Making Excuses

Nauseated and Exhausted

Obstetrician and ornery

Pregnant and mushy-brained

Queasy still

Really tired

Super relieved I don’t have writing deadlines to meet

Trying to join the world of the living now. . .

So there you have my excuse, which got me through the alphabet up through ‘T’.  I am in zombie hibernating bear mode at this point in time. I am typically nauseated for the whole time I am pregnant. I am feeling like I’m getting the use of my brain back, so I hope to be much more present here.

Happy writing!


(Alphabe-Thursday:L) L is for Love (Lust) December 17, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alison @ 12:34 am
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This is for Alphabe-Thursday on Jenny Matlock’s blog. You should check out the other entries too!

I enjoy a good romance in my stories. I don’t like ‘romance’ stories per say, where the entire story is the romance, but I like the relationships to help add another layer to the stories. I do avoid those stories where things are too graphic. I think it pulls away from the story. So with that in mind,  I did put lust in parenthesis on purpose. First, to me love is a many layered thing. There are depths to love that are unending. However, that first kiss always has an element of lust to it. (Unless, of course, the kiss isn’t wanted. But that is a different story.) That chemical response is an important part of making the connection that can develop into love. So my entry today is a little peek into that first kiss.

This is a couple of friends that have just been through an ordeal together. They have escaped intact and are saying goodbye after the adventure.

“I can’t let you leave without telling you this.”  Lilly stepped up to Graydon, grabbed the front of his T-shirt, and pulled him to her.

Her face neared his and she paused a moment before their lips actually met. He was frozen, not moving at all. She took a deep breath and then slowly touched her lips to his. Graydon hesitated, but when there were no comments from the people walking past, he melted into the kiss with a deep sigh.

He buried one hand in her hair, holding her head, and placed the other on her lower back, pulling her closer to him. His grip was surprisingly intense. Not a bad surprise, but one none the less. His lips remained soft, gentle, and questing. After a moment, Lilly pulled back to look at him, searching his face for something.

A slow smile spread across his face as he opened his eyes to look at her. Those eyes that had deepened to a midnight-dark took her breath away. “Well,” he whispered, his voice rough. “That wasn’t really one of the things I imagined you would say to me after today. I thought you would yell at me for being an idiot.”

“I still might do that.” Lilly attempted a light tone, but she was glad he still held her in his arms, not sure if she could yet stand on her own.

“As well you should. And I would be glad to listen to all of it,” He glanced at her lips again, “If we could return to this conversation again as well.” He briefly kissed the corner of her mouth.

“I believe that could be arranged.” Lilly said with a giggle.


(Alphabe-Thursday: I and J) Inside Jokes December 15, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alison @ 4:07 pm
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My last ‘catch-up’ entry for Jenny Matlock’s Alphabe=Thursday.

This is the next in my series of trying to sort out how we make those people in our stories ‘real’.  What is your opinion on “inside jokes”? I know that in real life if you are friends with a group of people long enough, things will happen that will become the future ‘inside jokes’.

My family, for example, only has to mention Friar Tuck or Valentine’s Day hearts to have my mother turn red and everyone start laughing (forgive me mom). No one else would understand but it is hysterical to us. My husband’s family has ‘cheever on the roof’. Again, makes no sense to those on the outside.

Does that work in books?  If there is a group of friends that are really close, do they have inside jokes? Does it translate well in the reading or do you have to over-explain, thereby killing the inside joke?

Do you know of any books that have these kinds of interactions? Does it work for you?

I think one issue would be that comedy is difficult. Everyone has a different sense of humor and what is funny to one may not be funny to another. A favorite book of mine is “The True Meaning of Smekday” by Adam Rex. I thought it was laugh-out-loud funny. But I can appreciate that a lot of the humor was subtle or required the cultural knowledge behind it to be understood. It may not be an easily accessible humor.

Would it be the same with an inside joke?


Edit: Apparently I also missed the letter “K”. Well I am feeling a bit contrary and so I am just going to say that the letter ‘K’ doesn’t exist in the Italian language. Quindi se io scrivo in italiano, no devo usare la lettera ‘K’. Basta.


(Alphabe-Thursday: G and H) Grief and Hidden Burdens or Hardships for Our Characters

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alison @ 3:31 pm
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Since I am sooooooo late in posting my alphabets, I am combining letters. And I will just link back to Jenny Matlock’s main website.


I had an interesting experience this summer that started me thinking about character motivation.  I work for two Universities. However, the classes I teach are not offered during the summer semester. So that means no paychecks for July, August, or up until the end of September. I know that this is coming each year and I plan for it. I am usually able to save from through the year and save school loans (my husband is a full-time student) and tax returns. It typically isn’t an issue. Much.

Now, this summer. . . Husband started graduate school. We didn’t realize that school would be starting in May instead of September (like all the other schools he was accepted to). So, here come due a large tuition payment and yet school loans don’t start until September (because that’s when school is supposed to start?). So, it drained pretty much everything we had.

Summer was interesting.

Part of understanding this is the fact that I can NOT miss a payment. The thought of even being late on a bill or a payment makes me physically ill. So I can tell you that there wasn’t a day (hour?) that went by that I wasn’t mentally shifting our finances around and sorting out how to pay for one thing or another.

I’m pretty sure I wasn’t my normal self in my reactions with those around me; simply because in my head I was constantly battling reality.

It got me thinking about writing characters.  Do we have characters carrying unknown burdens that affect how they treat others, or respond to different situations? How can we include these things to make a well-rounded character without having to do a lot of ‘back story’? What about a chronic illness, one that isn’t physically apparent?

Can you think of any of your favorite characters that are carrying these Hidden Burdens?


(Alphabe-Thursday: F) F Is For Fear October 28, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alison @ 10:28 pm
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Jenny Matlock It is that time again, Alphabe-Thursday on Jenny Matlock’s blog. (click on the button to see all the other ‘F’ entries.

F is for Fear

Ah, Halloween. The perfect time for this emotion.

I have always had a love/hate relationship with fear. I liked to be frightened . . . to a point.

But, I have an over-active imagination and so I can’t watch movies that are too scary. My brain just won’t let go of them.

When I was young, my room was in the basement. There wasn’t a window and there wasn’t a door.

There was a doorway, but not a door. Needless to say, when I turned the light out at night, it was dark; really dark.

So, in my head I had to make up ‘rules’. There were rules that all the monsters had to follow.

First and foremost, the rule:

After I turned out the light I had until the count of 10 to get in bed and cover up with my blankets.

Everything under the covers was safe.

Of course I had to add an amendment rule:

My head didn’t count and it could be out of the blankets. (It got too hot trying to keep my head covered)

My bed was against the wall and I had to sleep with my back to the wall.

Now I’m a grownup and I don’t have to do that anymore.

Okay, so maybe I still catch myself counting from time to time. And, when I wake up from nightmares I have to continue the dream in my head until there is a happy conclusion. Then I can go back to sleep.

Now—thanks to my friend Elesa—I have five new ways to die that I can add to a list of fears. (check it out- she’s hysterical)

Back to fear. I think that there are different kinds of fear; different gradations.

We can be afraid of things like spiders, snakes, or pineapple wielding ferrets. We can be afraid of feelings like rejection, humiliation, failure. And, we can fear for our lives or the lives of those we love. Those are all very different feelings, and yet we call them all fear.

So, now I guess it is time for my take on fear.


Kiera stretched and rubbed her neck. I hope I get used to these twelve hour shifts soon. The shower after felt good, but I’m afraid it is going to put me to sleep.

The hospital employee lounge was well-stocked and provided the nurses coming off their shift with a shower or some food. There was a small bed as well for a power nap or two. Kiera walked to the fridge and grabbed a drink. Moving to the mirror, she glanced at her hair. She shook her head as she pulled the wet curls back into a make-shift bun.

My hair is going to be terrible after this, but I’ll take care of it at home. She moved to her locker and grabbed her new jacket. It was a bright yellow, not a color she would normally of purchased, but her family had given it to her as a graduation present. They were so proud of her for getting her degree. The color went nicely with her dark complexion and black hair.

It’s really quiet now. Kiera thought as she stepped out into the hallway. The lights were low for nighttime and the hallway deserted. The only sounds were the quiet noises of the various machines and her footsteps on the linoleum. Her cell phone vibrated once in her pocket.

Why can’t he leave me alone?! Her tiredness was gone. She could feel her heart rate immediately accelerate and her pulse throb in her throat.   Always texting. Should I look? She paused in the hall and glanced quickly over each shoulder. With a sigh she pulled out her cell phone to see.

“I KNOW U R THERE. TXT ME BACK.” Kiera felt her stomach flip. She tried to swallow through her suddenly dry throat. Almost immediately there was another text. “HOW DO U LIKE THE NEW JOB? HOSPITAL GOOD?”

How?! How does he know? I haven’t spoken to him in over a year and I thought he left town. I thought he couldn’t come back. She shoved the cell phone in her pocket and whirled around, looking everywhere in the darkened hallway. I’m getting paranoid. He’s doing this to freak me out. He always loved it when I was scared.

She continued out of the building, waving at the reception secretary. She walked to the dark parking lot, humming softly to herself and making a mental shopping list in her mind. She was nearing her car when the phone buzzed again. With a growl of frustration she pulled the phone back out. Her breath caught in her throat and everything went cold. The phone’s bright screen illuminated the night and the terror on her face as she read the message.




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