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 QueryTracker.net.) 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.)

July 2, 2011

Getting Ideas for Novels

I've already posted about how I got my idea for my zombie book, but I realized I didn't officially tell you how Ivy came to be, or how she evolved into a book.

I have to give credit to my writer friend Ryan Rhoads. He was instrumental to her creation. He started posting short fiction on his blog and encouraged me to do the same.(I was very pregnant at the time and had slowed WAY down on my novel.) I've never been really great at short stories, but maybe I could do something else...

I'd also recently received a comment from a reader on this blog.

Emily, First off, let me offer my appreciation for your blog as one that- though I do follow a fair few- your's is one that I'm always in the mood to read; partly because I like your writing style and partly because what you say interests me to the point of distraction. [...]


This comment was just what I needed. Alex, if you're reading this now (a year later), thank you!

I realized at that point that my blog voice was better than my character's voice in my then WIP. So, I thought to myself: What if I wrote a book like I wrote my blog. It could be one long blog post, written by a character who has a life more interesting then mine.

That idea collided with the short fiction idea. I could experiment with the blog-post-novel idea and first person present (which I'd never used before). But what to write about?

I love fairy tales. They appear on my Sweet Spot Map all the time. And they're short enough for blogging.

That's when I met Ivy Thorn.
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