December 27, 2011

Self-Publishing vs Sushi

Picture a small town in Pennsylvania where the Amish ride horses through the streets and sell quilts at the market. A place where the locals have names for things most people in the country have never heard of. I went to a writer's conference in this town and met aspiring writers, top agents, and best-selling authors.

On the first day of the conference, a New York agent asked the locals of this small Pennsylvania town where to get some good sushi.

The response from everyone was pretty much the same: Sushi?!
We all had a good laugh about it and the agent handled the faux pas with grace, but it got me thinking. This agent is wonderful at her job. I'd have loved to have her represent me (only she didn't work in my genre). I don't think she's out of touch with readers. But I don't think she's in touch with every reader.

Agents represent books that they like and think they can sell to publishers. Publishers buy books they like and think they can sell to booksellers. Booksellers buy books they like and think they can sell to consumers.

But shouldn't that mean that there are books out there that would appeal to readers, but didn't make the cut because they didn't appeal to everyone else in the chain?

Readers like books from every part of this Venn Diagram. Except that little grey circle. Nobody likes those.

You may or may not like sushi. But if you were stranded and hungry in New York City, I’ll bet you could find plenty of delicious food. Still, you probably won’t find a gumbo that compares to the real thing from Louisiana, or real, honest-to-goodness Georgia peaches.

If you're reading this, odds are you love to read. Odds are, you've read hundreds of great books and are searching for your next. Imagine all those books, the great ones that didn't make the cut because a publisher didn't think it had "mass appeal".

That's why I want to self-publish. Because just like Georgia’s peaches, I have a story to tell that you can only get from me.

I'm not doing this because I think agents are bad people, or that publishers don't know what they're doing, or that chain bookstores are soulless. On the contrary. I think as readers, we’re indebted to them. They’ve made so many good books available to us. They don’t just shape the world of literature; they BUILT it.

But the publishing world is changing.

I’m not trying to find readers that hate all the books ever published so far. That’s crazy. It’s like saying you couldn’t find a single decent thing to eat in New York. I’m looking for hungry readers, the readers that might also like a book from a different source.

Think of my book as a new food or recipe. Are you willing to try it?

December 20, 2011

The Fairy Tale Trap is ready for you to read.

The Fairy Tale Trap is officially available for download!

Thank you SO much to everyone who helped make this book. I got some amazing support from all of you and I appreciate it.

Get the book from Smashwords (you can get it in any e-format here)

Get the book in Kindle format from Amazon or donate to make The Fairy Tale Trap a paperback.

Be sure to look for the bonus material at the end, including how the original fairy tale inspired the book, a copy of the story Beauty and the Beast, and what to expect in Ivy Thorn Book #2: The Fairy Tale Twist.

Tweet about this book:

December 13, 2011

The Fairy Tale Trap - Book Trailer

Want to See an Awesome Book Cover?

Congratulations to Ryan for creating a truly awesome book cover!

There were some great entries. Thanks so much for entering the contest. When The Fairy Tale Trap comes out, I'll send you a free copy as a thank you. :)

Some of the other covers (in no particular order):

I love this one. It came in a very close second.

December 6, 2011

Things I Never Said Before I Was a Mom

A few quick notes: The book cover design contest ends this weekend. I have some fantastic entries, but would always like to see more. Just so you know, the winning entry WILL be the official cover of THE FAIRY TALE TRAP ebook which comes out December 20th!

Also, I'm working on some bonus material for the ebook. What would you like to see? (I've come up with some ideas for the poll in the sidebar, but if you want to see something else, please leave it in the comments!)

That said...

I've started a new blog, called Things I Never Said Before I Was a Mom. I think it's pretty self-explanatory, but the website address is based on something my mom said to me when I was two: "Stop standing on the bread."

Anyway, I thought I'd share the first few posts with my readers on this blog, in case you want a quick laugh.

"We don't rub our tushy with necklaces!"

"Get your foot out of the Crock Pot."

"Get the bath toys out of the toilet!"

November 22, 2011

Breaking into a Secret Place

I love running. I've never run a 5k in under 30 minutes and I've never run a marathon, but I have hopes of someday reaching those milestones.

The running community is a close one. We're supportive and can celebrate acheivements at any level. (Kind of like the writing community.) But what is it that unites us? It's not that we've all hit the wall while running a marathon. It's not that we're all super-elite athletes.

Is it that we simply share an interest? Would we be equally supportive if we all loved cross stitch samplers or followed weather patterns? I know there are communities of people that do love these things, and I'm not knocking them, but any runner would have to agree that it's more than a hobby we share.

My theory is that we've broken into a secret place. We're the ones that figured out the combination to the lock and now we're enjoying the spoils. And while we can tell others how wonderful running is (no, really!) and we can give them the combination to that lock, until they want it enough, they'll never open it.

I share a lot about my writing endeavors on this blog. Writing has its own secret place, its own supportive community. I consider myself very fortunate to have two secret places.

November 15, 2011

Trying Something New: Eggs Benedict

I like trying new recipes, especially if they're supposed to be a little challenging. I make divinity every Christmas now, because I was too stubborn to let a pile of amorphous white goo get the best of me. Now it's my husband's favorite treat.

I was in the cooking mood, and my stomach growled for something substantial. Maybe it was because I'd been watching Holmes that week (where Sherlock Holmes is played by Benedict Cumberbatch), but I felt like I had to try eggs benedict. I've never made it before, but I know it involves a poached egg, an english muffin, canadian bacon or ham, and something called hollandaise sauce.

I looked up the sauce and already knew how to poach an egg. The rest was pretty simple: just slap it together.

The sauce was harder than I thought. Not too difficult to make, if you keep a close watch on the temperature, but knowing when it's cooked enough was hard for a first-timer. Still, I managed to make the best brunch I've ever made. (Possibly the only brunch I've ever made, but I was still proud.)

Quick moment of honesty: It took me a few tries before I got a good poached egg. The first few times, the white went everywhere and it looked like silly string.

November 8, 2011

Why NaNoWriMo is like my book cover

I love NaNoWrimo. A whole bunch of people come together and for 30 days, they write their hearts out in hopes of reaching the coveted 50,000-word mark. They don't really have much to gain from it. Just a silly novel and the chance to see that novel as a book they can actually see and hold in their hands.

While that can be pretty cool, and enough to motivate you to keep going, NaNoWriMo is so much more than that. It's a community of creative people who come together to do something crazy.

It's a bunch of people who say, "Hey, let's create something new and see what we come up with."

They sit down, they write, and they have a blast doing it.

You know what? I love people like that. They're fun, and when I read their blog posts and facebook updates and tweets, it makes me want to do a happy dance. Because there are really cool people out there doing something just because it's a challenge and it's fun.

I was just thinking about all the folks who are designing a book cover for THE FAIRY TALE TRAP. Some of them are strangers, but I'm cheering for them. It wasn't until today that I stopped to consider why. Why do I care if somebody I've never met creates a great cover, especially if it doesn't win?

Because they're crazy. They don't have much to gain by entering the contest. Just a silly novel. ;) I mean sure, there's the Amazon gift card and the chance to see your work on an actual book.

But this contest is so much more than that.

These complete strangers are creating something new, to see what they can come up with. And even though it's a really small community, hearing from them and what they're doing is exciting.

Because I think the world is a better place when we say, "Hey, let's create something new and see what we come up with."

November 1, 2011

Quiet Beauty on my Window Sill

Happy NaNoWriMo, everyone! Sadly, I can't participate this year, since I have THE FAIRY TALE TRAP to revise and prep for publication NEXT MONTH. (Yikes!) But I will cheer for you from here and admire your pretty word counts. :)

Well, the baby craziness is over and I'm trying to get healthy again. (Yes, I know toddler craziness is right around the corner, but at least my body is my own again.)  So I'm running regularly (slowly, but regularly), taking vitamins, drinking water, and trying to get on a decent sleep schedule.
I love flowers.
There's something about
them that makes the world
seem a little less crappy.

But I also want mental/spiritual health. My religious beliefs play a big part in that, but I thought it might also be nice to bring a little nature indoors.

So I used a Groupon to fill my window sill with color. I got a bunch of flowers and herbs (at half price) and put them where I would see them (and water them).

So after dropping my daughter off at school, running, coming home and showering, and taking care of my son, I need to do the dishes. Being able to see this natural beauty while I work brings quiet awe into a crazy day.

How do you recharge?

October 24, 2011

Contest! Design a book cover for THE FAIRY TALE TRAP

My book, THE FAIRY TALE TRAP is due to come out at the end of the year, but it needs a cover! Unfortunately, I have little to no talent for visual art. Lucky thing I have friends who can do amazing things.

Contest time!

What do you get out of it?

Everyone who scores well in the contest will get a copy of THE FAIRY TALE TRAP ebook.

The winner will get a feature on my blog (where you can show off your portfolio, website, etc...), their name and website in the acknowledgements, and of course, the chance to get your art on the cover of THE FAIRY TALE TRAP.

The winner also gets a $25 Amazon gift card.

Original art must be submitted as an TFF or JPG file.

Requirements for the size of your cover art:
• Image dimensions of at least 500 by 800 pixels.
• A maximum of 2000 pixels on the longest side is preferred
• Ideal height/width ratio of 1.6
• Save at 72 dots per inch (dpi) for optimal viewing on the web [I don’t know what this means. I pretty much copied this from Amazon's publishing site. I figure they know what they're doing.]

All submission must be received no later than midnight, on December 10th, 2011.

Submitted artwork must be your original creation. You must have full rights to all material used. (Public domain is fine to use.)

Yes, you may submit multiple entries.

Your cover needs to have the title: ‘The Fairy Tale Trap’ plainly visible and large enough to read the title when the image is reduced to a thumbnail. The author's name, ‘Emily Casey’ should also be plainly visible.

Book covers will be judged by Emily Casey and/or a panel selected by Emily Casey and the voting may be opened to the public. All submissions to be sent by email to

Please include your name, age, email address, and website.

Judging Criteria:

Marketability: 35 points

  • Is the cover aimed toward the target audience? (Girls age 12-18)
  • Does the cover make it clear that this is a young adult fantasy book?
  • Is the title largely visible, even when shrunk down to the size of a postage stamp?
  • Is the writing legible on the cover?
  • Does the cover bring out emotion and/or reflect a mood in the viewer (that relates to the book)?
  • Is it clean and professional-looking?

Overall Visual Appeal: 40 points

How it Captures the Essence of the Book: 25 points


I’m putting up the first chapters of The Fairy Tale Trap so you can get a feel for the tone, setting, and characters of the book. I highly recommend you read it before you start! Some things to note:
    • Ivy’s dad is Asian. Her mom is Anglo/White.
    • Ivy’s personality and attitude vs. the setting
    • This book is all about Beauty and the Beast, with a twist.
Cover art with white or very light backgrounds can seem to disappear against white background. Adding a very narrow (3-4 pixel) border in medium gray will define the boundaries of the cover.

Although I've never used them, I've heard GIMP and Scribus are good tools for making a book cover. Since this is an ebook, you don't need to worry about designing the spine or back cover. :)

Good luck!

Let me know if you decide to enter so I can cheer for you!

Stuff I have to put on here to avoid headaches and lawsuits:

By entering this Contest, each contestant consents to the use of his/her name, and/or artwork in any merchandise, advertisements, educational materials, publicity, or other related use carried out or produced by Emily Casey and advertising and promotional agencies without further notice or compensation. Emily Casey can publish or decline to publish, or use or decline to use, any submitted artwork at her sole discretion. The winner relinquishes the rights to use and publish the submitted artwork.

October 18, 2011

On the Road to Self-Publication:The Unknown

I'm making plans for the release of Ivy's book. The title Roses and Mirrors doesn't seem to do justice to Ivy's voice, so I'm playing around with that. At the moment, The Fairy Tale Trap appeals to me, but I'm open to suggestions.

The idea of self publishing has put me in a weird place, emotionally. I'm torn between I'm-So-Excited and Wow-This-Is-Scary. The book won't come out until late November/early December, but it feels right around the corner. I want to make sure the book is as close to perfect as I can make it.

This is the road to self-publication. It's chock-full of fear. I have to wonder: is my manuscript good enough? Should I send it to agents one more time? What's going to happen?

I think it's that unknown factor that makes self-publishing so exciting and stressful at the same time. It's a gamble. On one hand, I could have amazing success. On the other, I might sell two copies to my mom and that would be the end of it.

Would that be so bad though, if I learned something? If I even got one review on Amazon that mentioned one thing that I didn't know, would it be worth it? I mean, it would be horribly disappointing, but still. I'm doing most of the production on my own. I'm trying not to spend a ton of money on this.

But I think that learning from all this is key. Maybe I'll learn about a weakness that's been holding me back. Perhaps I'll learn about a strength that will launch my next book into success. Or maybe I'll learn that self-publishing isn't for me. (I hope it's not that last one, but if it's true, better to learn it sooner rather than later.)

The unknown is scary. But it's also promising.

October 11, 2011

Thanks for the Musefire, Holly

It broke my heart when I heard this, but Holly Lisle is going to close the doors to her writing classes to new students. These online courses changed my life and put my writing on the right path. I owe so much to her, but she's pursuing her true passion: writing fiction. I completely understand.

Holly has put so much of herself into helping other writers find their passion. She taught us how to dig into ourselves, find what we love, and transform it into stories we could be proud of. She called the course How to Think Sideways.

Then Holly realized that most people don't know how to simply "revise a novel" until it becomes what the writer intended it to be. She'd written so many novels (35 at the time, I believe), revision was second nature to her. So she analyzed her process and broke it down into lessons to make an even better class (in my opinion) called How to Revise Your Novel.

I thought I knew how to revise. I was wrong. Even now, as I try to describe the excitement of turning my book into what I hoped it would be, I fall short. You know when you watch a movie trailer and, even if it's for a movie you've already seen, it gets you so pumped that you suddenly feel like to HAVE to watch that movie? Going through How to Revise Your Novel is like that.

Holly, you've done incredible things for the writing community. You helped change me as a writer and as a person. The aha! moments were priceless, but there were moments that were even better.

So Holly, if you're reading this, I want you to know: because of your classes, I wrote dialogue that made me laugh, stories that made me dance for joy, and hints to my readers that literally made my hands itch with anticipation.

Thank you.

October 10, 2011

Brief Update on the Self-Publishing Schedule

So, just to get you lovely readers caught up, I'm trying to schedule a photo shoot for my book cover. I'm doing another revision before sending it off to a final few readers. And I'm just hoping I don't forget anything.

The plan is to release Ivy's first ebook around Thanksgiving. (I know. So soon!) I'm really excited, but also a bit... terrified. This is so new to me.

While I have your attention: what kind of bonus material would you be interested in?

October 4, 2011

Ooey, Gooey Chocolate: A writer's best friend

One of my good Twitter buddies, Shellina has this great recipe blog called The Frugal Flambe. When she tweeted about Sinless Chocolate Lava Cake, well, I didn't waste any time. It was my duty to evaluate the authenticity of this claim.

Being a writer, my muse needs to be bribed every now and then. This was the perfect way to do it.

It looks so innocent in this picture, but don't be fooled.

This is what good books are made of.
After sufficiently downing one of these cakes (I promise it was only one!), I sat down and had a pretty good writing day.

Lesson learned: chocolate in good. Gooey chocolate cake is better.

**Just so you don't overestimate my cooking abilities, this past Sunday I made waffles. Instead of 4 teaspoons of baking powder, I used 4 teaspoons of baking soda. *shudder* Those babies got more bitter with every bite. Don't make that mistake!**

September 27, 2011

Crossing Genres: Brilliant or Suicide?

At the moment, I'm writing a zombie-themed book. This is crazy, considering the book that I'm revising has a fairy tale them. Isn't it?

Not necessarily, at least I hope not. Because my fairy tales are spunky. They've got a fiesty spark to them that Hans Christian Andersen wishes he had. Ivy Thorn brings life to Roses and Mirrors that I can't fully describe.

I want that same spark, that same lifeblood to flow through all my books. Different characters, varying voice, but the same drive.

The real question is: if a reader picks up a zombie book because they love zombies, and they loved it, would they pick up a fairy tale book by the same author?

I've tossed this around in my little brain for some time. I'm not sure what the answer is. Could there be some cross over? Sure. Will most cross genres with me?

I don't know.

Hey, "And now for something completely different" worked for Monty Python.

What's your opinion? Which would you pick up, given the choice: a zombie book with a twist or a fairy tale with a twist? And if you loved it, would you pick up something completely different?

September 20, 2011

Everyone Has an Opinion on Self-Publishing, Right?

Self-publishing is hot right now. Everybody's talking about it and most writers (or at least it seems like it's most) are willing to give it a shot. I think writers see it as a nothing-to-lose situation. That's not really true--you stand to lose time, respect (if you try to sell an inferior product), and the money it takes to get a professional-looking book out on the market (cover design, formatting, editing, etc...)

That said, there are some distinct advantages: the writer gets to control pretty much all that goes on with their books, higher royalties, faster turn-around, and a closer relationship with readers. No middle man means more money for the writer, but it also means the writer can really get to know the reader. (I'm not saying you can't do this with traditional publishing, but with self-publishing, the writer gets all the information, all the contact.)

I think that's a really cool aspect. I adore my blog readers. You guys are awesome. Supportive, loyal, and did I mention attractive?

Seriously, though. I love hearing from you guys. I value your input. And I think I can cater better to my readers if I self-publish.

I've given this a lot of thought. Self-pubbing isn't for everyone. In fact, I think a writer would be foolish to jump into self-pubbing with less than 5 years of fiction-writing experience. (Some will tell you 10 years is better. I don't doubt it.) I'm sure there are exceptions to this, I'm just sayin'... I've learned a lot in the last 6 months I've been writing. I'm still learning. And I've thought about waiting. I've thought about it a lot.

Right now, I'm writing story ideas that I'm not sure will appeal to "mass markets", but I think they'll be well-received by many. These stories wouldn't get taken up by a traditional publisher because the pool of readers is too small and they wouldn't be able to profit from it. (And by small, I'd say the pool is right around 10,000-15,000 readers. I'm just guessing.)

But if I publish these books myself, I can write for my smaller, more modest group of readers, cater to them, write for them, and everyone's happy.

I may be nuts, but I think it's exciting. I'm going to give it a try.

September 13, 2011

Blog Changes? I need input!

I've been doing some thinking (and reading and praying) about this blog. I love this blog. It's a great outlet and you readers are so supportive. (And awesome. And did I mention attractive?) Right now I post every three days. That's my schedule and, for the most part, I stick to it. So right now, I'm asking you, my reader, to be honest and speak up. How often do you check this blog for updates? Would you feel like you were missing out if I posted, say, once a week, or once every two weeks?

September 10, 2011

Re-Post: Dialogue vs. Non-Dialogue

Writers know about basic dialogue punctuation. Right?

I was shocked to find that in my advanced fiction workshop, several students consistently failed to use proper punctuation and capitalization.

I almost cried.

I know everyone has to start somewhere, but I had higher expectations for an advanced writing class at a university.

So, I feel obligated to include this link from Fiction Factor. Aside from punctuation, definitions, tags, and simple dos and don'ts, it includes a few simple tips for avoiding repetitive tags and a few other things.

Once you have the basics down, I'd recommend this Fiction Factor's post, which has several pointers that I thought were helpful. One tip they mentioned (that I tend to forget) is:
Unspoken dialogue can, at times, be the most powerful dialogue of all. When a character says the opposite of what she means, or says nothing at all, just looks away. This too is effective dialogue.
There's also an invaluable list of body language cues, divided by emotion, that I have to include. It's too good not to.
  • Angry? Fisted hands. Narrowed eyes. Stiff posture. Clenched jaw. Slashed mouth. Jerky movements. Rough handling of objects.
  • Happy? Smile. Wink. Twinkle in eyes.
  • Relaxed? Sprawl. Loose-limbed.
  • Crowded? Back up. Create distance.
  • Interested? Lean forward, draw closer.
  • Questioning? Cock head. Widen eye. Elevate voice. Hands lifted, palm up. Hiked shoulders.
  • Nurturing? Clip a loose thread. Pat.
  • Tender? Stroke, touch, lips parted.
  • Nervous? Pace, scratch, rub your arms.
  • Stunned? Wide-eyed. Stone still. Hand to chest, fingers spread. Gaping jaw.
  • Sad? Tears. Listless. Hand curled to chest. Shoulders slumped. Fetal position.
  • Trusting? Palm open.
  • Lying? Avoid eye contact. Dipped chin.

Just be careful not to Over Describe. (Thanks Bookshelf Muse!)

September 7, 2011

Becoming the Writer I Want to Be

The other day, I wrote that I was having trouble juggling more than one project at a time. I said it wasn't going as smoothly as I had hoped. Writing is an art, and for me it requires a lot of mental energy. Writing is especially draining if I write by hand. 500 words in and I'm ready for a nap or at least just sit and stare at something on Netflix for a while. So it seems like working on a second project is impossible.

But I was telling my friend Ryan that this is something I want to be good at. I'm still going to try and work on more than one project at a time. This may take some experimentation, but I will make it work. So I've tried alternating days on my projects (which works, I'm just not always excited about starting work on the project that's not going as well) and I've tried planning zombie book first, then writing Ivy long hand. (I don't get as many words done on Ivy, but I do get work done.)

The reason I'm so stubborn about this is because of the vision I have for my future as a writer. I picture myself with a space of my own (not having to retreat to the bedroom with a notebook and pen, or sitting on the couch with my laptop, but a real desk where things don't move when I put them down). My future writer-self is professional and can always handle a deadline with finesse. And if the muse wants to try something other than what I'm on contract for, I want to be able to write it.

The thing is, I want to be professional, but still be able to say to my future agent, "I have this project I've been working on. Tell me what you think."

I haven't told many people this, but I have a sci-fi short story swimming around in my head. I don't write sci-fi and it would be difficult to market it alongside my other work. But I treasure the freedom I have that allows me to write it (should I so choose).

So, for all you writers out there, what does freedom mean to you? What would you hate to lose, once you sold to a publisher?

September 4, 2011

Write Better Dialogue

I've had stories come to me (via Musefire-like inspiration) in two ways.

1) A really cool situation and/or plot twist comes to mind
2) A really cool character comes to mind

If the character comes first, usually it'll be in dialogue form. Lines of dialogue form in my brain like I'm having a thought about what I want to eat for lunch.

But if I start with a premise, it's harder to develop characters that are real. And dialogue is part of that.

So of course, I did some digging.

10 Creative Techniques for Creating Character-Specific Dialogue come from Emlyn Chand and compiles a list of ways to personalize a character's dialogue, from specific vocabulary choices to catch phrases.

Have you ever read over your work and said something like My Dialogue Sucks? The Creative Penn comes to the rescue by reminding us of the Functions of Dialogue and showing us how to keep the reader from getting bored or distracted.

How to Write Effective Dialogue in Your Novel talks about the ever-important beats: small units that have an action and a reaction. I personally found it was easier to craft good beats while writing longhand. But that's another post.

September 1, 2011

Query FAIL

Okay, this is really embarrassing, but I think I have to share so others won't make the same mistake. I finished my novel Roses and Mirrors a while ago. It started out as a short YA, but I rewrote it to be a short middle grade.

The thing was, it was still REALLY short. 28,000 words. I wanted the book to be closer to 35k or even 45k, but I had heard that the range for middle grade started around 25k.

I think I heard wrong. I read the words of a few agents that said they *might* consider something in the mid-30,000s, but they'd prefer it to be longer.

What? You must mean mid-20,000s....


Unfortunately by this time, I had sent out all my queries. I knew I was supposed to stagger them and I did. I sent out 3-5 at a time for a while. In the first two weeks I got a partial and a full request, so I figured I'd done a good job on something. So I patted myself on the back and sent out a few more queries. And a few more.

And then the form rejections started rolling in. At first, I thought this was no big deal. I expected form rejections. Then I read about the more appropriate word count range and I started to worry. What if I was getting these form rejections because of my word count? I mean, it makes sense. I got better feedback on Shadow Bound and, according to my critique group (and family), Roses and Mirrors is way better.

I'm still deciding what to do about this. Do I requery in a few months? Do I shelve it? 

Whatever I choose, I'm going back and making this book right. Some great subplots have come to mind and I've toyed with my main plot to see if I can make it twistier and more gut wrenching ('cause I'm evil like that). But I've already done some serious damage. Please. Don't make the same mistakes I did. Query slow. And double triple-check your facts. I wasn't familiar enough with middle grade before I started querying. Genre-hopping isn't as easy as they make it look. :)

August 29, 2011

MuseFire: A Much-Needed Word

You may have noticed (or maybe not) that my blog's title is different. I was giving some thought to this blog and what I wanted to write about, and what kind of things you, my audience, want to read about.

As creative folk, we're kind of weird. "Regular" people just don't get us. In the past, I've blogged about hearing voices, fictional characters that tell me what to do, and a part of my brain that likes office supplies and sparkly things. I've talked about how some books are magical. If you're not a writer, we look pretty strange.

Here's another thing creative people go through that I'm not sure others get to experience:

You're going through life (folding laundry, doing yard work, or for me in most cases, trying to fall asleep) and "it" hits you. That idea for your next book, that twist that makes your whole story suddenly awesome, that character voice that you've tried to nail down for weeks.

There should be a word for that.

Sometimes it feels like a forest fire. Sometimes it feels dangerous. It makes you want to bang the table and shout, "Yes!"

It's insatiable. Consuming. Wild and organic, yet it fits so perfectly it has to be divinely inspired.

I call it MuseFire.

August 26, 2011

Writing Multiple Books at Once

I've finished another book (sort of) and now I'm planning my next one. I'm eager to start writing it. I want to see where the story leads, what's around that twist I planned, and how my character's personality develops in prose. But I can't start writing until I nail down a few details about my concept.

And while I'm excited to start my zombie book, Ivy (from my "finished" book) demands my attention. (Teenage girls are like that.)

A quick recap: I thought I was done, but it turns out the story could be better. So I'm writing out a few new scenes, I'm going to rearrange a few plot points based on feedback from my critique group, and then I'll polish some prose (again). Then I'll set it aside for a few months and work on my next project. Really.

I want to do Ivy justice. She deserves it. But after I make some changes, Roses and Mirrors needs some time to cool off, I think.

It's hard. I want to make sure I do the best thing for my books. I'm just not always sure what that is.

One thing I did learn: I can't juggle multiple projects like I thought I could. It'll get easier if I keep at it. Right?

August 23, 2011

Need a Story Idea? You Need a Creative Boost.

Getting good story ideas can be hard. Sometimes all you need is a creative boost. For me personally, I get my story ideas when the "creative well" is full AND I'm doing something boring (like trying to fall asleep, doing dishes, folding laundry, or waiting in line). So I have to make sure my creative well is always full to take advantage of the boring parts of my life.

Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner always gives good advice. She has a list of things you can do (when you're not writing) that will feed your book-writing later in her post: How to Become a Better Writer.

Routines for Writers is a great resource for any writer. Shonna Slayton has multiple posts on boosting creativity, including this one on Daydreaming. She gives a few methods to get the creative side warmed up.

Have you ever heard of the Rule of Twenty? Upstart Crow writes that your first 5 or 10 ideas may not be gold, but keeping trying.Creative riches lie ahead!

August 20, 2011

Garden FAIL

 Okay, this garden is the worst I've ever done. I got two beans from the entire thing! I thought you may like to laugh at my failed attempt. :) Behold: my future compost!

These are dead corn stalks with bare bean vines wrapped around them. The whole garden pretty much looks like this.


The marigolds did well, at least.

Francis did his job. No rabbits, no birds. Francis is perfect.

August 17, 2011

Finished a Book? Congrats! Now Do it Again.

Before I start, if you're not participating in WriteOnCon, why not?!

That said, I finished my book!

Roses and Mirrors has been done for a while. (This is the book about a sarcastic teenager that gets stuck in a fairy tale. You may have heard of her. Her name is Ivy Thorn and she is awesome.)

I jumped into the query process as soon as I was finished. I blogged about it not too long ago, about how I thrive on rejection and all that happy-sounding stuff. The truth is, rejection really is great. It's the gap of silence between sending the query and hearing a response that is absolutely maddening.

Seriously. And some agents tell you: If we decide to pass, you won't hear back from us. At all.

Really? REALLY? You can't send me a polite form rejection?! How will I know when to stop hoping for a reply? (I know, I'm pathetic.)

But I digress...

Now that I'm done with Roses and  Mirrors, and it's been sent out into the world, I'm moving on. My next book is completely different. That's right, I've gone from fairy tales to zombies.

But before you roll your eyes and say, "I don't like zombies," you should know that this isn't true horror, it's not gross for the sake of gross, and it's not totally far-fetched. This is a character-based story with a strong, witty voice (if I do say so myself) about a guy who happens to struggle with zombism. (If that's not a word, I will take it upon myself to coin it and spread it around the world because it is an awesome word.)

So, I'm working on this book, and when I say "working on" what I really mean is nailing down my premise and researching and building structure so my novel has something to stand on. I'm geeking out over all the cool little facts on biology and pathogens and parasites and neurotransmitters and especially the way the brain works, but I know that very little of it will be in the actual book. Because, let's face it, most people are not as dorky as I am.

But I have to know this stuff. I have to know exactly how my zombies work, where they came from, and--most importantly--where their weaknesses are.

The toughest part about this process is having the ideas and possibilities swirl around in my head. I can't possibly use all of them and I'm not even sure which ones will work.

So my muse is a little crazy right now. My creative side takes a back seat while logical me builds a playground. Creative Muse gives input, but it's about as much input as a kid gives to his dad for how he wants his tree house to look. It still needs to be safe and functional.

That's right. No chocolate milk fountain. :(

August 15, 2011

Free Online Writing Conference? I'm So There!

If you write kidlit (YA, MG, Picture books, Chapter books) you HAVE to be online August 16-18 for the WriteOnCon. It's a totally free, completely online conference. I'm talking blog posts, vlog posts, Live Chats, and Query Critiques. Feedback on your first few pages, your synopsis, and the watchful eyes of agents and editors in the forums.

Seriously. Published authors, agents, editors, and a ton of writers. Why on earth would you miss it?

August 13, 2011

Blissfully Ignorant: The Writer's Friends and Family

Family can be a complicated thing. As writers, we're told not to trust them to give the best feedback on our work. I was blessed with an understanding, supportive family. They probably know I'm crazy, but they don't say it out loud. I occasionally let them read my work.

My family is great (fantastic, wonderful, amazing) in so many ways. They're really good for bouncing story ideas around and for helping me develop my story. They're great for research.

But they aren't writers. (Okay, one sister is.)

When they read my work, sometimes their feedback upsets me (because they just don't understand that you don't SAY that when you critique someone else's writing because it's MY book, not theirs) or it's bubbly-positive and I can't trust it because, well, they love me and care about my feelings.

Oh, goodness... and then there are the relatives that ask: How's the book coming along? every time they see me. And every time they do, I think of Stewie from Family Guy:

How you uh, how you comin' on that novel you're working on? Huh? Gotta a big, uh, big stack of papers there? Gotta, gotta nice litte story you're working on there? Your big novel you've been working on for 3 years? Huh? Gotta, gotta compelling protaganist? Yeah? Gotta obstacle for him to overcome? Huh? Gotta story brewing there? Working on, working on that for quite some time? Huh? (voice getting higher pitched) Yea, talking about that 3 years ago. Been working on that the whole time? Nice little narrative? Beginning, middle, and end? Some friends become enemies, some enemies become friends? At the end your main character is richer from the experience? Yeah? Yeah?
Here's a link to the video, but I'm sure it violates some kind of copyright, so who knows how long it'll be up:

And then there's "that guy" who tells the WORLD that I'm (writing a novel, submitting to agents, got a partial request) and then I have random people come up to me and practically recite the above Stewie transcript.

So, yeah. Even though my wonderful family has the best of intentions and are taking an interest in what I do, I don't love sharing every intimate detail of my writing with them.

I sometimes feel lousy, unappreciative, and ungrateful, but at least I'm sane.

So really, when I say "Blissfully Ignorant", I'm talking about their ignorance and my bliss.

August 12, 2011

Find the Writing Advice You Need with the new Site Map!

If you have a specific topic in mind, or just want to browse the dozens of categories, I'm putting up a site map. It has all the different topics, from Agents to YA.

I realized, I have over 300 posts of information, but nobody wants to skim through three years of blog posts to find the one that may be helpful. So maybe this thing is silly. I think it's practical. :)

August 10, 2011

Writers: Beware of Google Docs!

I found this in the terms of service for a Google account:

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

I tweeted about this and @pearannnoyed pointed me toward the revised version of this:

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, share, upload, post or display on or through, the Service. By submitting, sharing, uploading, posting or displaying the Content you give Google a worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, share, upload, post or display on or through the Service for the sole purpose of enabling Google to provide you with the Service in accordance with the Google Docs Privacy Policy.

It sounds a lot better, but I'm wary. It's subject to interpretation, so I'm still going to hesitate before backing up my WIP on Google.

What do you think?

August 9, 2011

Slow Reader, but Not Really

I'm a slow reader. On top of that, I don't set aside much time for reading. My To-Read list crawls at a horrible pace. I'm ashamed to say that I've spent over three weeks on a book that I adore. I could understand if the book wasn't that good, but seriously, this could be in my Top 10 Favorite Books/Series list.

So I've sort of whined to myself about how pathetic this is (blah, blah, blah) until I realized something...

I read other stuff.

I have a great critique group, and I read about a chapter a week from each person that posts. Normally, we have 2-3 people in the writing-and-posting-for-critique stage. I'm also reading non-fiction as research for my next project. (I also research and read articles online and exchange emails with old professors and other pros for the same purpose.) I'm getting into (if you haven't checked out this free online writing conference, go now!) and participate in the critiques in their forums. In addition to all of this, I read a dozen books a week to my little girl. Sure, they're picture books, but it's all fodder for future projects, right?

So what do you read, aside from the TBR pile on your night stand?

August 7, 2011

Get a Good Story Idea. And make it better!

It's time for a round of helpful links! (I know, I know. It's about time.) Continuing with the 'Building and Creating Your Novel' theme from my last post, here's what I found:

Agent Sarah Davies (of Greenhouse Literary) wrote A Recipe for Writing the Breakout Novel on Ingrid Sundburg's blog. She gives tips for making your story stand out from everyone else's. It needs to be different. Original. Your characters need to be vivid, unique, but not obviously constructed.

Building a Better Novel Premise is doable. Martina at Adventures in Children's Publishing wrote her query first, using it as a guide to make sure her story was an attention-grabber from the beginning. She also goes into the difference between a "good premise" and a gimick.

Middle Grade Weremonkeys. Agent Holly Root explains why she loves off-the-wall crazy ideas.

August 4, 2011

Repost: How to Query Agents Part 1

So, when you've written the best novel you possibly can, all tweaked to perfection, what do you do next? You submit.

My recommendation: query agents. You can query publishers or self-publish, but quite frankly, I don't have enough knowledge to help you in these areas.

So this next series of articles is going to be about submitting your manuscript to agents.

First, an agent is someone who works with you, the writer. They negotiate contracts, they know all about what rights you're selling, they know editors, they know marketing. It's in their best interest to get you the best deals possible. You want a reputable agent who's interested in building the kind of career you want. So where do you find a reputable agent?

The Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR) has a (very long) list of agents that are most likely reputable. Check to see if an agent is on their list before you sign anything. (If an agent asks for money from you, s/he's is NOT reputable. Check out Writer Beware, a website that closely follows scam artists that target rising authors. AAR has a fantastic FAQ.

There are a number of sites that list good agents. Some more helpful than others. I use QueryTracker. This site has a slew of agents that you can search by genre, but better than that, it lets you tag agents you'd like to query in the future. You'll have your own list of agents you want to query, agents you have queried, and agents that have replied. QueryTracker also has a blog that posts useful information.

Similar sites include Query Shark and AgentQuery.

Seriously, if you haven't already, spend a couple of days on these sites. Get familiar with the basics of a good query letter and what an agent does. How to Query Agents Part 2 will cover how you find the right agent for your book.

August 2, 2011

Guest Post: Efficient Use of Limited Writing Time by Gene Perret

I'm pleased to have Gene Perret guest blog today! Gene is the author of Write Your Book Now. His blog tour continues tomorrow on the QueryTracker blog.

Take it away, Gene!

Someone once asked the legendary comedian Bob Hope, “If you had your life to live over again, what would you do?” Hope replied, “If I had my life to live over again, I wouldn’t have the time.” Many of us writers feel the same way, or even worse. We feel as if we don’t even have time to live the life we’re living now.

Writers have to deal with day job demands, parenting chores, and countless other distractions. Even if we do manage to steal a few minutes or hours of writing time, it’s hard for us to pick up where we left off and get up to speed again. Sometimes finding out where we are and what we have to do uses up almost all of our writing time.

How do we deal with these problems?

In my latest book, Write Your Book Now! (a proven system to start and FINISH the book you’ve always wanted to write), I recommend planning and scheduling. Try to make non-writing chores work for you rather than against you.

My first suggestion is to plan your entire book project before you begin typing even the first page of text. Know what your book is about. In fact, write a short few paragraphs to yourself defining your book. Why? So that when you do have to deal with stop-and-go writing times, you won’t have to rethink what you’re writing about and who your reading audience is. It’s all there for you.

Chip away at the ideas you want to write until you plan your entire Table of Contents or map out your basic story line. Write a brief paragraph on each of your chapters. Tell yourself what you plan to include in each chapter.

Plan a writing schedule that considers all of the non-writing distractions – the day job, the kids, the household chores, the unforeseen circumstances. Design a schedule that is challenging yet not impossible. In this schedule allow for short vacations and periods where you might catch up should you fall behind. Leave your schedule flexible enough to deal with emergency events.

One benefit of this planning is that it makes it easier for you to deal with stop-and-go writing. When you sit down to write, you don’t have to rethink what went before and what comes next. There’s no need to get your mind up to speed on this project. It has all been thought out. It’s all contained in your outline and your chapter by chapter descriptions. Regardless of where you pick up your writing project, you know where you are and what you must do. Now you can utilize whatever brief writing time you have for writing, rather than going back and reorganizing up to this point. You’re already there and organized.

Another benefit is that well-planned writing allows you to write sections of your book out of sequence. This again, is a more effective and efficient use of your limited writing time. For example, if you have only a brief period available for writing, you can select a shorter chapter or an easier chapter. You might finish that (or at least a good portion of it) in the short time allowed to you. If you have a longer opportunity for writing, you could select a longer or more difficult portion of your book.

Your personalized schedule also allows you to measure your progress and control your own limited writing time. Writing a book is a delightful chore, but a demanding one, also. There will be times when it becomes fatiguing, even irritating. I remember one TV writing colleague who stormed out of the room as we were watching a taping of the show we had just written. He said as he left, “I’m beginning to hate this family.” There will come times when we almost hate the book we’re working on. However, if you have a workable schedule, you can allow time to step away from your project for awhile. Take a brief vacation. Relax for a bit and return to your project refreshed and ready to resume your writing with renewed passion. There may be times when doing nothing is a valuable use of your time.

There’s another hidden advantage to knowing just where you are in your writing schedule – you can know immediately what you’ve completed and how much you have to get done. When I read a book, I often check the bookmark. Am I one-quarter of the way through the book? Half way through the book? It seems to me that I read much more quickly when I can see the end of the book approaching. Isn’t it pretty much the same way with writing? You seem to work more quickly and with more dedication when you feel the end is in sight.

There’s a story told about performers and stage fright. The tale goes that one experienced performer admitted that he always got butterflies in his stomach before a performance. “The secret, though,” he said, “is to get the butterflies to fly in formation.”

That’s what we writers are trying to do with the realities that face us. We have to make a living. We must care for and provide for our children. We have pressing duties at home and in the community. We have many chores that take priority over our writing. The secret, though, is to take charge of these distractions. Organize the chaos we must deal with daily and weekly. We can do that – and finish the book we want to write in the process – by recognizing these impediments, accepting them, and dealing with them. Get them to “fly in formation.” Plan and schedule your writing and you’ll work more efficiently and eventually get your book completed.

Of course, then you begin to plan and schedule your next book – again, despite many necessary distractions.

August 1, 2011

Writing a Novel that's Better (and maybe easier)

Wrapping up this series of posts on Creating and Building a Better Novel, I wanted to first share with you what two authors learned for themselves while writing the novel that got them published. (Because what writer wouldn't kill to know that?)

Author Holly Cupala did a guest post on The Other Side of the Story (great blog, by the way) on what she learned about writing. She asked questions and did research on other authors, but this post on What She Learned while writing her book Tell Me A Secret has some real gems in it.

On the same blog, Janice Hardy writes about what she learned while writing her first published book The Shifter and how it differed from her previous books.

And a couple of little tidbits that I think I worth reading: How to Avoid Pantser Pitfalls (in case you're not much of a plotter) and How to Create a Template so you don't keep having to adjust your margins and font and paragraphing for each book.

July 29, 2011

Lightning Strikes... in my living room?

Last week, my husband was struck by lightning.

As if the odds of that aren't small enough, get this: He was sitting on the couch in our living room!

We had a really bad storm and lightning struck a huge tree in our front yard. Kyle says one of his eyes saw a flash of white light, followed by a dark after-image that blinded that eye. He also had a ringing in his ears. My husband felt the shock go in where his neck meets his shoulder.

Kyle looked over to our daughter, sitting next to him, and she was crying. (He couldn't hear her because he was deaf at the time.) The shock went in through his left shoulder and out his right hip into her. The baby didn't get the shock, but he looked pretty shaken up.

Kyle's hearing and sight returned after a short amount of time and there were no burn marks or anything. Everyone's fine, but I just can't believe it happened!

Who knew you could get struck by lightning while sitting on your living room couch?!

July 26, 2011

Good Story Ideas: Where do they come from?

Helpful writing tips and links have been sparse lately, and I apologize for that. I'm trying to redirect this blog so it has a piece of me in it. I want this blog to be helpful for writers, but I also want it to be MY blog. I'm still trying to find that balance. (Any feedback is appreciated.)

So, getting back that helpful stuff, I thought I'd blog about getting good story ideas.

I haven't been published yet, but I've already been asked The #1 Question Writers Get: "Where do you get your ideas?"

Um... I don't know. They just come to me.

Okay, okay. I've given it some thought. The first decent answer I came up with was: my story ideas come to me just like any idea comes to any person.

Inventors come up with incredible gadgets. Usually, when they answer The Idea Question, they talk about a problem they were having. Then, they'll say,  "So I invented the doohicky-o-matic!"

So... you got your idea from a problem? Didn't the idea come AFTER you had the problem?

Seriously, I think that's how our brains work. We see a problem, and we try to come up with a solution. Some of us are better at it than others. (But is it possible that it just takes practice?)

When I want a story idea, I have to define my problem, with specifics. And no, the problem isn't just 'I need a story idea'. My problem is: I need a character that lacks something, in an interesting setting, with the potential for a lot of problems to happen around him/her while he/she struggles with her own problems. And it needs to be entertaining.

But how can your brain work with garbage like that?

Be more specific!

I want a 70,000-word YA novel with a spunky female protagonist who doesn't know what's good for her, who finds herself in a situation with a fantasy element in it.

Usually, the more specific I am, the faster the ideas come to me. I analyze each idea until I find one I'm excited to work on. (Because, let's be honest, sometimes my ideas aren't all that good.)

Of course, there are other ways I get ideas. I got my idea for Ivy Thorn because friends challenged me to approach writing from a different angle. I wasn't looking for a story idea then.

And I got my idea for my zombie book from the voices in my head a dream I had while I was awake. I wasn't looking for a story idea then, either.

So my Top 4 pieces of advice for coming up with good story ideas are:
1) Be specific with what you want
2) Read a lot
3) Try new things with your writing
4) When an idea does come, pick it apart to see if it has "great idea" potential. If it doesn't, keep trying.

More on story ideas to come...

July 23, 2011

Cyn Balog Guest Post: What Career Novelist Know

I’m so psyched about this guest post. The lovely Cyn Balog has agreed to tell us a bit about what writing is like after the first sale. I’ve always been curious about this. Thank you Cyn!

Cyn's new YA fantasy Starstruck just came out (and her books never disappoint)
And now... here's Cyn Balog with insider information!

I’ve said before that writing is like eating my favorite flavor of ice cream. Writing on deadline is like eating that same ice cream while having someone hanging on your back, screaming, “EAT!” Yes, it still tastes good. I still love it. But there’s also a lot of nagging pressure. You can’t stop when you’re full. You can’t take the time to experiment, to, for instance, see if caramel syrup would make it taste better. You just have to dig in and keep going until you are done.

I’ve written four books under deadlines now, and sometimes it’s scary and frustrating. But it’s one of those problems I’m lucky to have. I’ll never wallow and say “poor me” because I love what I do, and I’m happy and grateful to be paid for it. But creativity is not one of those animals that does well in captivity; sometimes it needs time to breathe, to stretch its legs. And with a deadline, that freedom simply isn’t there. Considering the optimum schedule for a career novelist is one book a year, how does a writer get her creative well to abide by that timetable?

When you write your first book, it can take you three months or three years. It doesn’t matter. You don’t have a schedule. You can wait for inspiration to strike, for the well of creativity to be full. You can pore over every sentence, make sure every word chosen is perfect. But suddenly, when that book sells, you realize you don’t have that luxury. You’ll have agents, editors, fans clamoring for your next book well before your first book releases. Creativity isn’t one of those things easily forced, which is why, once the initial celebration of selling your first book is over, your immediate next concern will be if you can make it a career. There are plenty of one-book wonders out there, and you will wonder if you will be one of them. You will think that a hundred monkeys working in a room for a hundred days could probably write a publishable book, but well, writing two publishable books, that takes talent. How will you be able to recreate the same magic of your first book?

This is perfectly normal. I don’t think any writer out there thinks that everything he writes is amazing and will be published. There are always fears in this business, whether you are embarking on the first chapter of your first novel or penning the last word of your hundredth. Always. And you’re likely to have setbacks along the way, such as a book your editor hates, bad reviews, poor sales . . . there are a million things that might make you want to close up your laptop for good and go find a career that you don’t suck so badly at. But you’ll go back to it, partly because you’re a glutton for punishment, but mostly because you love it so much.

Every writer who has made the attempt to sell their work knows that writing is hard work. Most people dream of writing a book, talk about it, but never attempt it. Because they know that if they did put in the work, they’d likely fail. And actually publishing it? Well, that’s damn near impossible. And that’s the thing. If you do sell your book, you’ve done the damn near impossible, the thing that 99.9% of the world will never, ever do. Be proud. And when the time comes to write the second one, remember that you have already accomplished what can’t be done. You’re already a superstar.

And no matter what fear you’re hit with on the journey, the answer to overcoming it is always the same: Keep writing, no matter what. That is what career novelists do.

July 22, 2011

Cyn Balog is going to Guest Post Tomorrow!

I'm really excited about tomorrow's post. Cyn Balog, author of several young adult fantasy books, is going to guest post! Cyn is going to tell us how writing is different after that first sale.

July 20, 2011

Kid-Friendly Recipe: Whiny Bread

Whiny Bread was originally going to be called Double-Berry Banana Bread, but Thing #1, my sweet daughter Rebecca (bless her) inspired me.

Rebecca loves to cook. She especially likes to make muffins. One day, she decides: This is the day I WILL make muffins. So, she bugs me. And when I say 'bug', I mean every five minutes: "Hey, Mom. Can we make muffins?" Every time, she says it like the idea just came to her, like she's just spouting off some stray thought.

Well, I caved.

I was going to make banana bread (because bananas were 25 cents a pound at Wal Mart and, well, I had a lot of bananas) but I had these frozen blueberries. I needed freezer space, I didn't have anything else in mind for those blueberries, so in they went. I replaced some of my mashed bananas with thawed blueberries. (I still have bananas on hand. Oh well.)

Note: Adding blueberries to banana bread batter makes it less pretty:

That's a lot of batter, I know. I froze some of it for later. (Bananas don't last forever.) I also added some dried cranberries and of course chocolate chips. Chocolate is a must.

So, the oven is preheating and I'm scooping batter into the muffin tin when Rebecca asks, "Mom, can we take a bath?"

At this point, I'm counting to an insanely high number before responding. She hasn't even eaten a muffin yet and she's already asking for something else?!

"Sure, honey. After muffins."

I continue to scoop batter and she goes off to play with her little brother. Pretty soon, the muffins are baking and Rebecca is missing.

She's a big girl. She probably went to play with toys.


She runs back into the kitchen stark. Naked.

The muffins are in the oven. I can't give her a bath right this second. When I tell her this, she cries. I don't know why, but watching her melt down over a gentle "not now" is funny. (I know, I'm terrible.) Rebecca slumps to the floor, whining about how she wants to take a bath. You'd think I just told her she can never bathe again.

And so, Whiny Bread was born:

It's even the right color. And it has a soothing ingredient to mend a broken heart: chocolate.

Hmm... maybe I should call them Sanity Muffins.

July 17, 2011

Define Rejection (and make it work FOR you)

Rejection. I've given my pep talk on why rejection isn't so bad because it brings you to something better, but I've been thinking about it. You know what? I'm really weird.

Rejection isn't just something I get through. I actually look forward to the query process. The form letters don't tear me apart. They used to. Man, those stupid emails filled with 'no' used to sting. But I think I understand more about the publishing industry and about my own weaknesses that rejection isn't personal.

We've all heard that: it's not personal. It's not a rejection of you, it's a rejection of this book at this time.

But if that's what the form letter isn't, then what IS it?

I'm not sure if that makes any sense. You can't define something by defining what it's not. You can't say that 'black' means 'not white'.

So what IS rejection?

When I'm querying, I check my email every day (okay, MULTIPLE times a day) hoping to hear back from an agent. Of course, I'm hoping for The One, but even if it doesn't come, I love to get replies.

Because a rejection is information. It's an evaluation of your query letter and maybe your first few chapters. Some agents request five pages or three chapters, others just want the query. Pay attention to who requests what. (I keep notes on each query using Because if you're getting form rejections from all the agents who requested pages, but you're getting personalized rejections or even partial requests from agents that only saw your query letter, you've learned something. It's your writing, and not your premise.Your query letter is fine. It's the writing sample that was weak.

There are lots of things you can learn by paying attention to your rejections. If you get nothing but form rejections no matter what you send, then you know you need to write another book. Don't bother killing yourself trying to make this book perfect. It wasn't even close. Go back. Try again.

So, I think that's why rejections don't completely suck for me. A rejection isn't a 'No'. It's a "No, but..." or a "No, and..."

July 14, 2011

Three Sisters Garden: Two Months Later

Earlier, I blogged about my Three Sisters Garden. Well, I'm pleased to announce that it has produced food!

 Cue heavenly concourses of angels.

This is an updated picture of my garden. Please excuse the weeds. We (finally) got some rain, so I haven't been outside in some time. This is mostly corn stalks with pole beans growing up them.

That, friends, is future corn.

And I think these are kernels without a husk. Weird.

July 11, 2011

Fun with Word Clouds

Writers like words. At least, I hope we all do. So, just for fun, I plugged my work in progress (Ivy's novel Roses and Mirrors) into Wordle. It generated this word cloud:
It's not as cool as I thought it would be, but I'm very pleased that 'Beast' and 'Beauty' are prominent. I really need to go back and look at how many times I use the word 'like', though.

I'd much rather it come out like this:
What clouds can you come up with?

Update: my friend Ryan made his own word clouds and posted them on his website here.

July 8, 2011

How to Write a Book (And Stay Sane)

I'm a writer, so naturally, I'm a little crazy. I spend countless hours playing with imaginary things, trying to visualize things that aren't there, and then find the EXACT words to describe it. (You know those times when you're looking for the perfect word to describe a crazed, mentally-ill, soulless dying-to-rip-your-throat-out animal? The magic word is: rabid.)

The writing life is riddled with insecurity, which can also make you crazy. You spend hours upon hours (upon hours) writing a book (a BOOK for cryin' out loud!) and then you spend more hours revising it, usually more hours than it took to write the first draft. And then you wonder if it's good enough. And you worry about what you may have done wrong. And then you send it to agents and you find out that it's not good enough, or maybe it is and then you have a slew of other things to worry about (but I wouldn't know about such worries. Yet.).

Yes, being a writer is insane.

Here's how I cling to the scraps of sanity that I still have:
1) Take breaks. It doesn't matter how frequent or how long, I just take a break when my eyes start to glaze over. Usually, my head feels like it's full of mush. That's a good time to take a break. I get water, eat some fruit, close my eyes for a few minutes, or stare into space. (That's really fun to do in a public place, if you like to write in book stores or coffee shops. You get some great reactions.)

2) Accept your best for what it is. Do what you can and move on. I edited the pudding out of Shadow Bound. I learned a lot about revising and the last draft was ten times better than the one before it, but it still didn't sell. It was too far gone. The premise was good, but the characters weren't just flat, they were stick figures. The voices were... wanting. If I really wanted to, I could spend 6 or more months rewriting every word, but what's the point? I can write a better book from scratch.

3) Keep at it. This is similar to "get back on the horse". Just keep writing. Don't even think about it, just keep writing. It doesn't matter what you work on, but as soon as you stop, it gets difficult to start again. Every time I take a break from writing (like, you know, to have kids or something) it's so hard to start up again. And what do I think about during my off-time? My failures, usually. I think about how my last book didn't work out, it was weak, it was... Trust me. Move on and write something else.

4) Reach out. You may recall, Writers feed other writers, like vampires in a blood bank. If you don't believe me, go to a writer's conference. If you can't go to a writer's conference, check out the #amwriting tag on Twitter. Writers are so supportive. Part of it is because we're going through the same insecurities, the same frustrations. Another part is that we have the same goals. Yes, we all want to sell books, but more than that, we want to build a community of readers. And to do that, we all have to write the best stuff we can.

How to you maintain sanity (or at least the illusion or sanity)?

July 5, 2011

Outside, Around My House

These are just some pictures I took in the spring. I like to look back to them during the scorching hot summer months to remind myself it's not always this bad.

Azaleas grow better than most weeds here in Tallahassee.
They're everywhere, but you only really notice them during the one month they're in bloom.

Ah, pollen season.

My three year old calls this the church angel because her hands are together like she's praying.

Some volunteers by the deck.

This is Francis. He watches over my garden and makes sure the birds and squirrels stay away. (I'm sure the dog fur I put around the garden helps, too.)
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