December 31, 2010

The YA Writer (Part 1)

I love YA. I don't know why. Maybe it's the voice, it could be the problems they face, it may help me reminisce about my own teenage years, it's probably all of the above, plus other reasons that don't occur to me right now.
There's definitely something that's pretty great about young adult books, because it's really hot right now (and has been for years). So today's post is about YA/teens. If you don't write YA, you can ignore these posts, but you may pick up some useful tidbits on voice and about writing younger characters. So, unless your books take place in a retirement home, read on!

So simple, yet so important. What's the number one element in a YA book? Voice! Also in this article: WHY it's so hot. YA is red hot right now: tips from 3 top agents

YA Author Magge Stiefvater gives her opinion on what's wrong with so many attempts at a teen voice in Dude: Teen Voice, My Problems with It, and Obi-Wan.

Something I struggle with, especially in the first draft, is writing convincing emotions in my characters. I may have mentioned this. Forgive me. But Beth Revis comes to the rescue! Some Observations covers how teens act, and how boys and girls are different.

December 22, 2010

Help! My characters need more... character!

Anyone else out there struggle with creating lifelike characters? I keep reminding myself to let my characters drive my story, instead of commanding puppets to do my bidding. (I guess that's the problem with playing God in your stories.)

So how do you create awesome characters? I've posted about characters before. (You can see them all by clicking here. It'll open up in a new window.) But guess what? I needed some inspiration and I hunted down more help on characters.

How to Build a Great Leading Character gives you a laundry list of things to consider when creating your protagonist.

Miriam S. Forster has a 6-part series called Character is Destiny. The first post is here and it's on the Edward/Bella dilema.

My go-to site on characters is Show Some Character! Plot to Punctuation. If you need help on character building, spend a few days scouring his site. Specifically, Five Steps to Building a Believable Character Arc and 7 Ways to Show Character Growth.

December 14, 2010

Those Odd Little Details

Back in June, I posted about making a memorable setting. It's one of my favorite posts (remind me to add it to the must-read list). I was thinking about setting last night. (My muse likes to be active at night while I'm trying to sleep. Maybe it's because I'm too tired to fight against her.) Setting is a crucial part of my WIP and I was thinking about details I could add to make my setting more vivid.

One thing I learned while revising my last novel is that in order to have a good setting, you only need two or three things. They just have to be good. And by good, I mean out of the ordinary. Something you wouldn't expect to be there.

For example, in the Philippines, one could describe it as hot, with a lot of trees, and either very wet (during the rainy season) or very dry (and smelly. Sorry, it's true.) during the dry season. Does that help you see much in your mind's eye? Probably not.

But what if I told you that there are little pink walls just standing there off the road like bus stations? (They're to pee against. I'm not kidding.) Or that their mayonnaise is sweet? Their ketchup is made from bananas. And when you eat at McDonald's in the Philippines, there is someone there to bus your table (and he could get in trouble if you take your own tray to the trash).

See? A lot more specific. Things you wouldn't expect.

This past spring, I traveled through different states. One thing I noticed is how green it is around the Smoky Mountains. I mean, a LOT of trees. Now, where I live, it's very green. Tons and tons of trees, canopy roads, and very little open sky. But there was a difference. Here, it's mostly oak and pine. But in the mountains, every tree was different. I couldn't identify them, but each tree had different leaves, were a different shade of green, and added complexity to the scene. It was beautiful.

So what are some odd little details you've noticed? About where you live? About places you've visited?

December 10, 2010

The Networking Writer

You may or may not know about the vast (vast, vast) writing community out there. As a writer, you should know about it, but the question is: how much should you network? You can have too much of a good thing in this case. One can spend countless hours talking with other writers online and not get a single word of fiction done.

On the other hand, networking is great. It lets your voice be heard and you make connections you might not otherwise make. You build friendships, you practice your writing voice every time you say something out there. You can learn a lot about writing on blogs and forums. I learned a TON this way.

So, if you're interested in expanding your network, here's a link to QueryTracker's blog post on The Writing Community. They list a few of the big sites you should at least know about.

And then there's Twitter. You either love it or you hate it. My personal opinion is: if you enjoy it, do it! But if you drag your feet every day, making yourself say SOMETHING, then it's probably not for you (and your tweets will reflect that).

You should give Twitter a try, if you haven't already. (And even if you have) here's a Writer's Starter Guide to Twitter (or: everything I wish someone had told me when I first started using twitter) by Justine Musk.

December 7, 2010

New Project

Just so you know, writing-related posts are on my to-do list. I'm sorry it's taking so long to get back into the swing of things.

I'm writing again and it feels amazing! I've been toying with this story idea for a long time. I knew the basics, but the story itself didn't come together until last night. I decided that I needed to map out the setting for my story.

So I get to work with pen and paper and start labeling rooms. I used Holly Lisle's dot and line technique, if you're familiar with it, and I come up with all sorts of crazy stuff: secret passageways, a magic spell, a hidden fear of one of my characters, and a better romance than I had hoped for! I won't give it all away (what's the fun in that?) but I will say that Ivy's pulling an extra shift.

December 3, 2010

The girl blushes when I ask her if I look like a beast. Man, she's gorgeous. I feel bad. "Sorry," I say. "I've had a rough ... um..." I look out the window and onto the brightly-lit lawn. "A rough morning. I'm here to meet the beast, but he isn't expecting me."

I back up and lean against the Greek-style column that makes up half the door frame. "Don't mind me."

The girl relaxes and nods. She sidesteps over to the flowers, and shoots a glance at me before looking at them more closely. She smiles and smells the roses, then touches one, just barely, with the tip of her pinky. Wow. She really gets a kick out of flowers I guess.

I slide down to sit on the warm marble and think. How can I speed things up?

I hear a bunch of clicks coming in from the opposite side of the room. I have no idea what I'm hearing until I see a huge dog walk into the room. Except the dog has horns and a snout that looks more like a wild pig. And really, really big  claws. The ones that click against the marble floors. I round the pillar to get out of sight and listen to the conversation.

"Beauty," said the beast, "will you give me leave to see you sup?"

"That is as you please." Her hands were shaking. Poor thing.

"No, you alone are mistress here; you need only bid me gone, if my presence is troublesome, and I will immediately withdraw."

So... yeah... skip ahead. The conversation went on like this for a while. Basically, it all ended in a marriage proposal (I'm not kidding.) and Beauty turning him down. Figures.

The beast leaves, kinda sulky, and Beauty (who's sitting in a gold-framed chair now) puts her hands in her lap. She jumps a little when she sees me. Honestly. How bad is her memory?

"You just turned him down?"

Beauty frowns. "I did. He cannot possibly expect me to comply."

"Comply?" I pull another chair away from the table and sit in front of her. "I know you may not believe this, but that beast," I point at the empty doorway, "is under a spell. And he'll die if you don't change your mind."

Beauty's face wrinkles. She's still beautiful, though. "He'll die? But he's so..."

"Good-natured? Well-educated? Disgustingly wealthy? Totally into you?" I laugh. Yeah, I can see why you wouldn't want to marry him." I stand up. "Look, if you can just get past what he looks like, you'll see that you two belong together. He's perfect for you." I turn to leave the room, but stop. "I mean that as a compliment."

Beauty's face is pale, but she nods. I wait for the room to change, but it doesn't. Crap. I'm still here.

December 2, 2010

Why do you read this blog?

Okay, I've always heard that a blog should focus on one thing, one subject. Obviously I've ignored that. I started out by posting helpful resources that I found online, things that would help and inspire writers. Then I wrote about my own writing journey. And then along came Ivy. I've gotten lots of positive feedback on her, but I'm wondering if she's enough to keep you all interested.

Right now, I'm posting mostly fiction because I feel like I don't have time for "real fiction" (my books). My muse needs an outlet, so I like to put my spare minutes toward letting her be creative. But I know that some of you started following this blog because you want to be a better writer.
So why do you read this blog? What keeps you coming back? Do you want writer tips (I still have quite a few websites I can share)? Or should I focus more on keeping Ivy active?

November 29, 2010

Woke up in a palace today. Not like the usual grey-stone castles that feel like crypts. This is an elegant room with marble floors and wide fireplaces. Everything is spotless, but inviting. I wander from room to room and find one dedicated to a million different musical instruments. Does someone really play them all?

There's a room with a long couch (like twice as long as the one in my living room) in front of an equally long hearth and crackling fire. As I get closer, my toes can feel the heat even through my sneakers. The end table has a vase of the most beautiful red and white roses I've ever seen.

"Who are you? What do you want?" asks someone behind me. I turn.

Pretty doesn't begin to describe this girl. I mean, think super model. Only, she doesn't know it. She looks like the nicest girl in the world. Her chestnut hair is in a twist that rests on one shoulder and her cheekbones practically glow. Who is this girl?

"What do you want with me?" she asks.

"Um." I know. Profound. But I honestly can't think of anything to say.

The girl relaxes in the shoulders a takes a steady step toward me. "Are you the one who spoke with my father?" She lifts her eyebrows, looking hopeful. "The one who asked him to bring me here?"

As I realize which fairy tale I'm in, I'm pretty insulted. "Do I look like a beast to you?"

November 25, 2010

So Many Ideas, So Little Time

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

With all the craziness that is my life right now (you don't even want to know), I've only had time for Ivy posts. I really want to get some of my own writing done, too. I really need to get back into my good writer habits. I have a few book ideas floating around in my head, but I don't have time to work on all of them. (Some day, I hope to be able to juggle multiple projects at once.)

So what do you do when you have too many ideas and not enough time?

November 22, 2010

I wander the forest, trying to keep the old woman's house close, but also trying not to freeze to death. Yes, I'd rather freeze than go into a disease-ridden room. Can you blame me? That poor woman was so sick she barely looked human. Don't judge me. You didn't see her.

I look over my shoulder and spot the somking chimney. I should probably head back soon. When I turn back around, a wolf is standing right directly in front of me. Yes, he's standing. On two legs. Just like one of those funniest videos. I try not to laugh.

The wolf nods at me. The fur around the scruff of his neck looks so warm. When he talks, it's like silk. "Who are you?"

I smile. He seems nice. "I'm Ivy," I say. I feel like I should be a little smarter about what information I offer to this guy. I mean, he is a wolf. Wolves aren't exactly the heroes of fairy tales.

"What do you want?" the wolf asks. What a strange question. What does anyone want?

Focus, Ivy. "I just got back from that old lady's house," I say, pointing behind me. Think. Please think. This wolf is bad. There's an old woman and ... a little girl. "She's dead." I try to say it as convincingly as possible, but I'm working on the fly here and I don't think he buys it.

Still, the wolf's face wrinkles in concern. Have you ever seen a concerned wolf? It's hilarious. "I think I'll pay my respects." The words slip over his tongue like maple syrup.

My heart drops into my belly, but I manage to smile and nod. "I was just going to look for Little Red Riding Hood and let her know so she doesn't come all this way for nothing." Please please go away.

The wolf's face scrunches up again. "Hmmm." He turns around and walks (still on two legs) out of sight.

The forest fades away.

Even though I'm back in my own bed, I have a hard time falling back asleep. I hope the wolf gave up. I hope the little girl is safe now.

November 10, 2010

At first, I think I'm dreaming. I JUST got back from Sleeping Beauty last night! How come I can't one night of just warm blanket and pillow? This forest is freezing!

I wrap my hands around my arms and jump up and down a few times. I'm not sure if it helps or not. It looks like it's early morning. The birds are going nuts all around me.

A muffled sound makes me turn around. A small brick house is buried in the woods, a small overgrown garden next to it. The flowers look like they haven't been watered in weeks. Still, it's cute. And I bet it's warm.

Before I get to the door, I hear the muffled sound again. Someone's coughing. I peek in through the window and see the most wrinkled old lady I've ever seen. She looks nice--lots of laugh lines--but her eyes are droopy and her coloring is off. She has the blanket up to her chin. Her huge, whiskey, cone-shaped chin.

To be honest, I don't really want to go in there. She looks really sick. I can practically see the germs settling on the tea kettle on the big black stove. But I can also see the heat rising from the top of the stove.

The old lady hacks a few more times and that decides it. I'll at least take a short walk before braving that death-trap. I take an overgrown path, trying to keep the cottage in sight, in case I change my mind.

November 3, 2010

Hundreds of people in the room, and no one thinks to jump on the evil fairy before she lifts her hands over the baby. A flash of orange light fills the room. I barely see it, just the blue-greenish afterimage it leaves behind.

When I can see again, I expect the fairy to be gone, but she has one hip leaning on the crib. “The little princess is cursed to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel before her—“

I tackle the fairy. We fly backward and smack into the mosaic pattern on the floor with an “oof”. I lift my fist, but before it lands, the fairy is gone and I’m kneeling on the floor with the whole room staring at me.

No one says anything. For a really long time. Seriously, it’s starting to feel weird. So I stand up and brush myself off to stall for time. Then someone behind me wails. She sounds like an ambulance. I turn around. The queen is hunched over, surrounded by her ladies in waiting. “The princess is cursed.” The queen lifts her head and glares at me through puffy eyes. “And you let that witch go!”

Woah. What?

The king lifts a finger. “Take her away,” he booms. “She will rot in the dungeon.”

“No!” I back up until the wall presses into my back. “I can fix this. I know how to break the curse.”

The king hesitates. Fortunately, so do the guards. The queen goes back to squealing and crying.

“Is everyone here?” I ask. “I mean, all the nearby kingdoms?”

The king nods slowly.

I press my hands together. I banking on the prince being older than the princess. “Gather all the princes together and have them line up.”

The queen stops making that unbearable noise long enough to glare at me (again) and whine, “Shouldn’t we try and prevent this curse?” Sniff. “We should destroy all the spinning wheels.”

I shake me head as politely as I can. “That won’t work. The witch probably has one. The spell can be broken by a prince.”

It takes more back-and-forth arguing before the king decides to give my plan a try. “We can always throw her in the dungeons later.”

The queen pouts and trudges out of the room. Her ladies skitter behind. I fight to keep from rolling my eyes. They’ve probably never heard the term ‘drama queen’ and it’s a bad pun anyway.

The princes eventually get in a line. Some are toddlers, some are like forty. I really hope it’s not one of them. A few of the adults protest. Maybe they’re afraid the curse is contagious. The king puts guards at all the exits. “This is for the little princess. We’re going to try everything.”

After several threats and political moves, we finally get the princes to line up. The king turns to me.

“Okay. Now, have each prince kiss the princess. One of them will break the spell.” I hope.

The line of boys and grown men inches forward as one by one they kiss the princess. Most just give her a peck on the cheek. I hope that’s good enough.

A little boy, about four or five years old, looks like he’s about to pee in his pantaloons. Before the lady next to him can stop him, he scales the side of the crib and climbs in next to the baby princess. He whips of the puffy little hat on his head and leans over to give the gentlest kiss on top of the little girl’s head.

A blue-green flash lights up everything in the room. By the time the orange afterimage fades, I’m back in my bedroom.

I collapse on my bed. Thank goodness that worked.

October 27, 2010

I go through a fortnight (Sorry--fourteen days. I’ve been here way too long.) of wandering the castle and pretending I know what I’m doing. It’s not too hard. There are probably hundreds of rooms in this place. As the party/birthday thing gets closer, it gets harder to find an empty room. Eventually, I find a quiet corner in the kitchen next to barrels of apples and sacks of grain. It smells like goose poop, but the sacks are nice to sleep on. And there’s food.

Why am I still here? I got the witch invited. Isn’t that what she was so upset about? I go over the fairy tale in my head again: Baby princess is born. Witch doesn’t get invited. Witch comes anyway and punishes everyone by cursing baby. After that, it gets a little hazy. I’ve seen the movie so many times, I’m not sure how much of it is accurate. I know the princess pricks her finger on a spinning wheel and falls asleep. She has to be kissed to wake up.

That’s all I have to work with? Doesn’t it take sixteen or eighteen years for that to happen? I bury my face into a sack of flour and choke on the dust. What did I do wrong? Why am I not home? The story should be changed. No, the story should be non-existent at this point. No angry witch means no spell.

The day of the celebration finally gets here. I borrow a dress from one of the rooms. I have to make sure to get all the details I can about this story.

I don’t think I need to describe this feast. Just know there’s a lot of food (Home grown. I mean, the turkey’s feathers are still in the kitchen.) and a lot of people dressed up. (So. Much. Lace.) I stand against the wall where I can see the royal thrones and the royal baby crib trimmed in velvet and lace. Everyone comes up to give their gifts. Some of the presents are kind of dumb. What baby would want a million rolls of cloth?

Some of the fairies (the ones with wings and pointy hats) give some interesting gifts. One youngish-looking girl puts her hand on the baby’s forehead and blesses her with strong bones. No one blesses her to be a light sleeper. Another fairy goes up to the baby and things… change. It’s like walking in on people talking about you and they suddenly shut up. Everyone stares at this fairy in her emerald-green dress and hundreds of twisty knots all over her blonde head. The woman smiles at the baby the whole time except for one glance at the queen. The fairy’s smile widens before she goes back to looking at the little princess.

“A gift,” she says. Her voice doesn’t fit her. It’s deep and almost masculine. Definitely not a soprano. “A gift for the princess.”

The king stands. He looks like he swallowed a hot pepper. “Don’t you touch her. You’re not welcome here.” He sounds like he swallowed a hot pepper.

The fairy waves a rolled up piece of parchment and my heart drops like a rock into my stomach. “I’ve been invited,” she purrs.


October 25, 2010

If You Want to Take a Writing Class, Now is the Time!

I got this info today:

Anyone that signs up for How to Revise Your Novel (HTRYN) or How to Think Sideways (HTTS) between this coming upTuesday (the 25th) and November 2nd at 10:00 AM, will get the Motivation
video course ($50 value) and the Dialogue video course (another $50) for free.

I'd highly recommend getting HTRYN for post-nano. If you aren't doing nanowrimo, but want to learn how to tap into your muse and write a better novel, then HTTS is probably a better choice. If you're not sure which one is right for you, read the descriptions I've linked to. I've taken both of these courses and each one put my writing lightyears ahead. It's a great way to really push yourself and learn what works for you, while improving your writing dramatically.

I took the Motivation video course. It's interesting. It breaks things down and shows you what motivation is and how to conjure it. The best part is: it's applicable to anything, not just writing. I'm looking forward to the dialogue video course :)

I'll give more details as I get them.

October 20, 2010

I dream that an owl is scratching at the wall over my head. It’s really annoying. I fight to wake up and when I open my eyes, I’m staring at the underside of a wooden table. I smell books… and feet. I’m surrounded by feet.

I crawl out from under the table. I’m in a cramped little room with stone walls. (No doubt—I’m in a castle of some sort.) Ninety percent of the floor space is taken up by the aforementioned table. The other ten percent is occupied by a few small women in small chairs. The women are wearing floor-length dresses just short enough that their bare toes poke out from under their skirts. I guess this fairy tale doesn’t mention much about footwear. Guess I’m not in Cinderella.

The women ignore me. They’re too busy scratching their quills against parchment. I lean over a shoulder and read the old-fashioned writing. It’s an invitation. To a celebration for the princess. Actually, it’s more like a birth announcement and it mentions a time and place. Maybe a baby shower?

Two little men shove stacks and stacks of finished letters into large Santa-esque sacks. Since I’m still being totally ignored, I use this time to think. A fairy tale with a party… Not a ball, but a birthday for a princess.

Sleeping Beauty, of course. I smack myself in the head with my palm, making a slapping sound loud enough to finally get some attention. A nearby woman turns to look at me in shock. “Who are you? What do you want?”

Another woman looks up from her work. “Did the queen send you?”

"Um… yeah.” I clear my throat and throw my shoulders back like I know what I doing. “Yes. Her majesty has changed her mind. Be sure to invite everyone. Do not leave out one single person.”

The first woman’s mouth parts in surprise. “Even the witch.”

I nod smugly. “Even the witch. Invite her. We don’t want to upset or offend anyone.”

The two women nod in agreement and return to their work. I fold my arms in satisfaction and congratulate myself on job well done. Crisis averted.

So why am I still here?

October 13, 2010

Hansel and Grettle, Meet Ivy Thorn: Part 2

I set off following the trail of rocks, very pleased with myself. I never would have seen these stupid rocks if I hadn’t taken a nap. See—naps are awesome.

Again, I won’t boor you with the lack of details. This forest is huge. And monotonous. Eventually, I come up to a house.

Sorry, not a house. A shack. And it’s not made of gingerbread. Bummer. It’s really just a bunch of boards, barely held together. I realize this must be Hansel and Gretel’s home. And their parents, the ones that decided it would be a good idea to abandon their kids in the woods, probably still live here.

I take a deep breath to help me relax. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to punch the dad in the stomach at this point. Probably. Then I march right into the front door. Well, I march into the big gap between the boards that make up the front of the house. I assume they use it for a door.

A woman in rags pauses when I walk in. Her hand, full of grass or something, suspended over a small pot hanging over the fire. “Who are you?” she asks. “What do you want?”

Seeing her hollow cheeks and dry, thin lips makes me relax a little. There isn’t any furniture in the house. There isn’t even a floor. The grass is gone, leaving only dirt to walk on. There’s a tree stump near the fire that the woman was probably sitting on. I realize the pile of rags near my feet is probably their bed. Not taking my eyes off of it, I say, “Your kids are with a witch. There’s food there. And probably money.” I seem to remember some sort of happily-ever-after ending and the children wind up with the parents again, so I assume that means an end to their poverty. Fairy tales usually end like that. At the very least, they’ll get to eat the witch’s house.

I look up. The woman’s hand still hovers over the steaming pot. “My children?”

I nod. “Yeah. They left a trail of stones through the forest. If you follow it, you should find the witch’s house.”

Behind me, a man’s voice says, “Who are you and what do you want?”

I turn and see a man, too tall for the rags he’s wearing. I can see his narrow torso through the gaps in his clothing. He’s scowling at me. But as he takes a step toward me, he goes blurry. I close my eyes.

Everything goes quiet. I hadn’t noticed all the forest sounds or the noises of the fire, until they disappear. I open my eyes and I’m standing next to my bed. I relax, lowering my shoulders. Time for breakfast.

October 11, 2010

Hansel and Grettle, Meet Ivy Thorn: Part 1

This time, I wake up in the forest. It’s been a while since I wake up in a fairy tale, so at first I think it’s a dream. Most of the time, when you think about the forest, you think about chirping birds and filtered sunlight through the canopy, but when you have no idea where you are or how to get out, it’s feakin’ scary.

I push my hands into the dirt and get up on my feet. Before I let myself panic, I start walking. The forest looks the same in every direction, so it’s not like I can make the wrong choice. I can kind of tell that the sun is high up in sky, but it’s still dark down here.

I wander for a long time. I mean a really long time. I won’t boor you with the details of my fruitless journey; just know that by this point I’m tired, hungry and thirsty. Mostly, I’m tired. (I think that totally goes against Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs or something. Just take my word for it. I’m bushed.) Maybe this is a really short fairy tale and it’ll end soon all on its own. A girl can hope. So I kneel down and scoop up a big pile of pine needles to sleep in.

Can I just say: there’s a reason they’re called needles. I fold my arms under my face, but the rest of me is still being pricked to death. It’s like I’m not even wearing any clothes; they just poke right through.

I roll off the pile of death-mulch into the dirt. I guess I’m tired enough that I can sleep on the hard ground.

When I wake up, I wonder what the heck kind of fairy tale I’m in. I know there are a lot that involve wolves. As soon as I realize that, I sit upright and look over each shoulder. I have a healthy respect for big dogs. Big dogs have big teeth. But wolves have fangs. Do you hear wolves before they attack? Are talking wolves different from regular wild wolves?

That’s when I notice a line of small rocks on the ground. A trail! I stand up and brush myself off. I’m smiling pretty big. If I’m right, not only is this trail going to lead me to a house made of food, but I get to shove a nasty witch into an oven. Not bad for a day’s work.

Part 2/2 of Hansel and Grettle, Meet Ivy Thorn

September 19, 2010

Ivy's Taking Requests

Ivy needs some inspiration. I can't settle on a fairy tale. What are some of your favorites and what are your least favorites?

And thank you all for the comments! Baby is doing great. I have to type with one hand now, so that's why I don't update. (When will things get back to normal?!)

August 16, 2010

Quick Update

I had my baby this week. 9 pounds, 5 ounces. I'm exhausted, but I made it! It's all downhill from here, right? The sleeping thing will only get better. That's what I tell myself. It's amazing how 2 hours of sleep can feel so good. But my little guy is so worth it.

I'm still not ready to write yet. Most of what I do on the computer needs to be done with one hand. (I'm always doing something!)

My apologies to all you readers out there. I was having so much fun with Ivy and my other posts. It will come back, I promise.

July 17, 2010

Officially, I'm Just Too Pregnant.

I've officially made it to the 8-month mark and boy, do I feel it. My mental stamina is about as low as my physical stamina, so I'm officially taking "maternity leave" from this blog. I'll still post, just not as regularly until things return to normal.

Thanks to all of you who have been reading. I'll be back ASAP. You guys are great.

July 15, 2010

Classic Fairy Tale: Part 2

Rachelle is sitting on her bed, facing the window. I clear my throat to get her attention. She whirls around. Her eyes a puffy, but I pretend not to notice. She eyes my clothes. "Who are you? What do you want?"

I give my best curtsy. "Your mother has asked that I go on this quest with you... my lady."

She buys it.

It's not long before Rachelle (who, I learned is one of three princesses in the royal family. No princes.) and I are on our way. I tell her that my clothes are "special traveling clothes" so I don't get caught in one of those thick brown dresses with long skirts. I'd break my neck in that. "So... what are we looking for exactly... my lady?"

Rachelle scoffs and shakes her head, starting down the dusty path leading away from the castle. "I don't even know. No one does."

"Ah." How helpful.

Rachelle raises an eyebrow in my direction. "Did no one tell you anything?" She doesn't say it in a mean way. All I do is shrug and try not to look like a total idiot. Rachelle flings her braids behind her so they bounce against her lower back. "My father believes we haven't had rain this year because of some magic. A quest is the only way to fix that problem, in his mind."

Great. We need to make it rain. This could take a while.

Rachelle sighs. "I have half a mind to just disappear. You're welcome to leave me at any time, but I'm afraid you won't be able to go back to the castle. They'd hang you for leaving me alone."

I try to laugh. "Is that all?"

I don't think she got my joke.

I clear my throat and try to stand up straighter. "So you're just going to give up?"

She shrugs, which I realize doesn't look very princess-like, once you see a real princess do it. "Let my sisters handle it. They're more excited about the quest than I am."

I can't wait around here for everyone to realize Rachelle isn't coming back and THEN send the second princess. If my knowledge of fairy tales is any good at all, the second princess will fail, too. The third is the one who'll figure out something useful. We're talking several years of me being stuck in this lame fairy tale.

I throw my shoulders back and look at Rachelle. I give her the look my mom gives when she's trying to get me pumped up before a game. "Princess, you're better than that."

She lifts her chin and eyes me warily. I don't think she was expecting to hear any complaints from the girl in funny clothes. She's probably not used to being questioned, either. Bummer.

"You deserve to solve this. It's your right."

Apparently, this is the same argument her mother or someone made earlier, because Rachelle just rolls her eyes and shakes her head.

I exhale, biting my lower lip. Maybe I need a less direct approach.

Before I can think of a better argument, we see an old lady on the side of the road. Her frail body leans to one side and the hollows of her cheeks are deep enough to store plums. When we get closer, she wriggles her long fingernails at us. Well, at the princess. “Come here, young lady."

Rachelle wrinkles her nose and crosses to the opposite side of the street. But I know what this is. I grab her arm and whisper in her ear. "My lady, if you're going to live outside the walls of your father's house, you need to learn to behave differently."

She lifts her head slightly, listening to my every word.

"Outside the palace, young ladies are expected to be kind to old ladies." Old, creepy, leering hags, too.

The princess pauses and glances at the old woman's tattered clothes and bare feet. But she nods her head once and approaches. "Yes, can I help you with something?"

The old woman looks at Rachelle's feet. "My old feet are so tired and I have no shoes."

I nudge Rachelle, hoping she won't think too much about it. "You can have mine," I whisper.

Rachelle glances at my sneakers and her lower lip trembles, but she takes off her shoes.

The old lady snatches the shoes from the princess and grins so wide, we can see several gaps in her rotting mouth. "Thank you, my dear." She hobbles off.

That's when the rain starts. As the images around me start to fade, I take off my shoes. I'd feel awful if I left Rachelle out here alone, in the rain, without shoes. I manage to kick off my sneakers before my bedroom appears around me.

It's not until later, when I'm getting ready for school, that I realize my sneakers are missing from the closet.

July 14, 2010

Writing with Romance

So... I posted this on time, just not on the right blog. Sorry for the delay. Pregnancy is taking over my life, I'm afraid.

Character relations are important; we all know that. A romantic relationship can make or break a novel (especially in YA). So how do you write romance?

YA author Gail Carson Levine gives some tips on how to write Un-Sappy Romance.

I thought this post by Beth Revis was so inspiring. I'd never given much thought to Love Triangles and what makes one good/bad, but she (and her readers) really nailed it. Make sure to read the comments!

JJ on Uncreated Conscience has a different veiw on romance. She's not into sappy or cliches. Here's what's made an impact on her.

For adult romance, the Knight Agency has a guest post on Loving a Love Scene, for those of you who have trouble with sex scenes.

And finally, Apryl Duncan tells writers how to avoid common, blase description when describing romantic feelings in Emotional Rollercoaster: Writing Love.

July 8, 2010

Classic Fairy Tale: Part 1

I wake up on silk sheets. I’m sunk deep into a bed that feels more like a down pillow than a mattress. As tempted as I am to roll over and go back to sleep, experience has taught me to always be aware of my surroundings in these fairy tales. You never know when a guard or witch will round the corner.

I roll out of the bed onto all fours. My knees clunk against a thin rug over stone floors. Ouch. I fall back on my butt and rub my knees until they stop throbbing.

There’s shouting just outside the room. A group of people walk past the heavy wooden door. I catch the word “quest” and fall back on my hands. Quests take forever.

I trudge to the door and open it in time to see some flowing trains round the corner of a hallway. I follow, staying just around the corner so they can’t hear me, but close enough that I can hear most of the conversation.

“Mother, I should go first. I have been waiting for an opportunity to venture out for so long.”

The next voice, I assume, is the mother. “We will do things in the proper order. You will wait your turn and take the quest only after your sisters have their chance.”
A quiet voice murmurs something. I can’t understand. Hope it wasn’t important.

The mother pshaws. I’ve never actually heard anyone do that before. “I’ll not have my daughters dictate the affairs of my husband’s kingdom. Rachelle, your father has decided that you will go first. I suggest you prepare yourself for a long journey.”

A door bumps shut and the sound of footsteps echo down the hallway. I let them fade away. I’m assuming Rachelle is in her room. And I’m assuming I should probably talk to her.

Part 2/2 of Ivy in "Classic Fairy Tale"

July 3, 2010

Writing Every Day vs. Everything Else

Fourth of July is like Christmas with my family, so I'm... preoccupied. Actually, I've been distracted from my writing all week. Knowing I most likely won't finish finish the first draft of my WIP before the baby is born has lulled me into complacency. I've been doing other things with my time. Mostly reading. (I'm also developing an addiction to couponing. Is that sad?)

In all seriousness, I'm a little afraid of burnout if I push myself to much. I want to be excited to return to my book when the baby learns to sleep (or maybe before).

So, in your world, when is okay to not "write every day"?

July 1, 2010

Snow White and Ivy Thorn: Part 3

Unfortunately for Miss Queen, Snow White is the fairest one of all. This is a big shocker because Snow White is supposed to be dead. After she gets told by the mirror, Miss Queen storms out of the room, muttering about some wuss of a huntsman. I tiptoe after her.

She hurries down the hallway, down a flight of stairs, and into a bedroom. Sorry. Bed chamber. There's a bed with all this fabric draped over it, a desk, a bookshelf, and a huge oak table with some knick knacks on it.

Miss Queen rips books from the shelves and throws them on the bed. I lean against the doorway until she turns around. "Who are you? What are you doing here?"

I push myself off the wall and stroll over to her. "You know, there are better ways of handling Snow White than just killing her," I say. "Not that that plan would work anyway."

What can I say? I got dropped near the castle, I'm going to help the queen. If the powers that be had put me at Snow White's doorstep, maybe I would've just told her not to eat the apple.

Miss Queen puts her hand on her heart, like suggesting she wants to kill Snow White is appalling. The books on her bed tell a different story: Death by Hexes; Curses for that Special Someone; How to Destroy Your Enemies in a Fortnight or Less.

"Look," I say. "Why don't you take that potion you're about to make for yourself--you know, the one that's going to turn you into some old ugly hag--and put it to better use?" Her plan isn't a bad one, it just lacks focus.

The queen stares at me, her mouth parted, which is very un-queenly.

I roll my eyes. She apparently needs a little more help. "Why not give it to Snow White instead? That way, she'll be ugly and you don't have to go ALL the way down to the dwarf's cottage."

Miss Queen's eyes widen and then move to look at the pile of deranged reading material on the bed. Then she puts a delicate finger to her lips and smiles.

Then she disappears. The bedchamber disintegrates, everything.

And I'm back in my room. The clock reads 4:21 AM, so I go back to sleep.

June 29, 2010

Shadow Bound Swiped!

I just found out about a book (coming out in July) that has the same title as the book I'm querying. Oops.
(To be fair, I've had this title since April. Whatever.)

So, you can support this book Shadow Bound just for having a totally awesome title:

At least I know my title was marketable.
A friend of mine was asking me about the query process. She asked if I started with agents in the middle/bottom of my list and worked my way up. I always thought you should start at the top and work your way down. I'd hate to get an offer if I hadn't given my top choices a chance to read my work.
I keep 5-8 queries out at a time. As soon as a rejection comes in, I send another one out. It keeps me sane and focused on the next step.

I also keep all my rejections. It's weird, I know, but one time I went through my rejections and found one that I'd thought was a form rejection. Then I realized it specifically mentioned the reason for the rejection. Sometimes agents will have more than one form rejection. One for weak plot, one for weak characters, one for weak voice, etc... Even though they're form rejections, those can be helpful!

I only have one link to share with you: Why Rejection Letters Are Great. Seriously. It's all about the numbers. And persistence.

And I have a question for you: How do you query? Do you go top to bottom? bottom to top? How many queries do you put out there at a time? And how do you handle those rejections?

June 26, 2010

Build a Setting that Pulls Its Own Weight (and then some)

So I'm finally getting to a craft post! I found some great stuff on setting. It's something I used to not think about on the first draft. I used to forget about it or my setting would just have a few token descriptions sprinkled in and they were ordinary. Boring.

How to Revise Your Novel helped me to take a step back from my story and really see where my characters were and why I'd picked these particular locations. (Maybe you've heard that the setting needs to be the only place where the story could take place? It's true. Sometimes I did it subconsciously, but other times I had to work to make my setting count.)

As I work through the first draft of my WIP, I'm noticing that I'm SO much slower than I was with my other novels. Then I went back and read what I wrote and you know what? There's setting! Real setting. Meaningful. The setting helped build tension and character.

Katrina Stonoff wrote a fantastic article that really made an impact on me called Make Your "Where" Memorable. She helped me to see beyond the typical and bring out those details that you wouldn't expect, but that really draw the reader in.

Enrich Your Descriptions by learning how to develop you writer's eyes. There's more to a setting than what you see with the naked eye. How would you see a scene if you were a child? If you were in a hurry? If you were objective? This post goes deeper to even discuss connotation, which is definitely worth a read if you're not familiar with it.

Cynsations had a fun guest post by Deborah Halverson last week where she asks: what ever happened to description? It seems to have all but disappeared, what with writers worrying about pace and character and plot.

And this week, Greenhouse Literary posted How to Write the Breakout Novel Part 5: A Vivid Setting.
If you haven't delved into The Bookshelf Muse, I highly recommend some exploration. Scroll down the right-hand column for a list of settings. Click the link for "Forest" (or whatever is relevant to your story) and you'll be taken to an extensive list of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures you might find there. I use this site all the time to make my scenes pop.

Just a little goody for those of you who may write traditional fantasy: The Middle Ages, Chivalry, & Knighthood is an amazing go-to source for terms, time lines, maps, culture, food, history... you name it!

June 24, 2010

Snow White and Ivy Thorn: Part 2

I can't think of any fairy tales that take place in a field, but I'm not always dropped right in the middle of things. There's a castle not too far off. That's always a good place to start. There's always something cookin' up in castles, so I make my way over there.

The great thing about fairy tales is that they're vague. Apparently, this fairy tale doesn't mention any guards around the castle.

It's a pretty depressing place. Empty stone hallways, the occasional gargoyle, and it smells like my Uncle Harry's storage unit. Seriously, who designed this place?

I finally find a room with something of interest in it. (Unless you're into tapestries and closets full of ball gowns. If that's the case, you'd probably never leave this place.) This room isn't quite as bare as the others. It has some fancy red curtains and a huge mirror on the wall.

I'm pretty sure I know where this is going, so I hide behind a curtains. They're long enough to hide my shoes, but they smell like my grandma's sheets.

I may not get dropped into a fairy tale in the right place, but I seem to have a knack for getting dropped in the right time. A woman in a long velvet gown comes in. Her hair is the usual--it glitters like gold or sunshine or whatever and her skin's the color of milk. Her lips... you get the idea. She's a good-looking woman, maybe late twenties. The important thing is she's wearing a crown, so I'm assuming this is the queen.

She walks right up to the mirror, and what do you think she says? "Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?"


Part 3/3 of Snow White and Ivy Thorn

June 22, 2010

Contest Winner!

The winner of the signed copy of Fairy Tale is:


I'll email you to get your shipping information. Congratulations!

Thanks to everyone who entered the contest. You guys are great!

June 18, 2010

Excited About a New Project :)

It's Saturday. It snuck up on me, so quick post for today. Sorry folks.

I started a new project that I'm really excihed about. I want to make sure I have enough raw material before I post anything about it, but I will *eventually* post a one or two-sentence hook under My Projects. Right now it's just an idea and a few scenes.

I started writing in third person, but it doesn't quite feel right, so next week I'll try the same scene in first.

With this new project, my short fiction, and a baby on the way, I may have to cut my blogging down to twice a week. I hope not.

**Edited to add: Okay, I thought it was Saturday ALL DAY yesterday and woke up today (real Saturday) thinking it was Sunday. It wasn't until DH reminded me we DIDN'T have church that I realized. Can I blame pregnancy brain for this?

June 17, 2010

Snow White and Ivy Thorn: Part 1

So I wake up, but I'm not in my bed. It should be morning, but it's not. I mean, it's light outside and everything (I would know. I'm in the middle of some field somewhere.) But it's not like most mornings.

Usually, people wake up in their beds with light streaming through their windows. They get up, use the bathroom, get dressed, eat breakfast. You know, the usual. But today I wake up covered in dew. In the grass. Outside. And I'm not much for camping.

I get up and stretch. No, I'm not freaked out.

Oh, did I mention that every now and then I sometimes wake up in a fairy tale? Yeah.

If I want to get home, I have to either wait until the story is over (which can take a long time. Some of these things last years.) or I can go home if the story is irreversibly changed.
That's my little trick. Sometimes, I have to get my hands dirty. You'll see what I mean if I can just figure out what fairy tale I'm in.

Part 2/3 of Snow White and Ivy Thorn

June 15, 2010

Okay, You're Sitting Down to Write. Now What?

Now that you're thoroughly motivated, how do you manage your time?

Roz Morris just posted something I thought was brilliant. Not only does she have a working list of what you need to be productive WHILE you write, she also shares some advice on what a writer should do during the in-between hours.

K.M. Weiland shared something similar in her post: Improve Yourself, Improve Your Writing. Profound, and so true.

Balancing Life, Writing, and Multiple Projects by Holly Schindler via The First Novels Club. This post was exhausting to read. Will I ever be that busy with my writing? Will I survive when I do? But she gives some great tips.

And this post by Sara Lambert is more about staying motivated, but I thought it could go here: How Sara Lambert Overcame Her Procrastination.

June 12, 2010

Do You Need Some Motivation? (What Writer Doesn't?)

We all need a little boost every now and then. Most of the good stuff is posted in November, during NaNoWriMo season. (Let's face it, we need it.) But the summer months tend to dry up when it comes to mood-boosters.

Suzanne Young did a guest post on Delightful Reviews on How to Keep Writing. It's not easy.

Elana Johnson reminded her readers last month: You Can Do Hard Things.

If you tend to fizzle out in the middle of your projects, you'll appreciate Staying Faithful to Your WIP by Christopher Jackson. He helps writers keep the love for your story burnin' ;)

Writers can be insecure, especially with all the rejection we face. This article was retweeted over a hundred times and will be a classic go-to for me. Writer Unboxed: The Only Way to Know If You'll Be A Successful Writer


There Are No Rules: Read This and Tell Me What To Do (Same message, from a different perspective.)

This isn't exactly motivational, but it got my brain churning and thinking new ideas, so it still counts. Finding Your Perfect Writing Method by Jennifer Blanchard

Writers tend to be introverts, but staying indoors in our pajamas could hurt our creativity. Alexis Montgomery tells writers to Cut the Cord to stimulate that muse.

Lilith Saintcrow never ceases to inspire me and her blog post on the Importance of Dreams is no exception. She even uses one of my all-time favorite quotes:
"We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of the dreams." (Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka)

and, from the same source:

If you want to view Paradise

Simply look around and view it.
Anything you want to, do it…
Wanta change the world?
There’s nothing
to it… (Willy Wonka)

June 10, 2010

A Fictional Character is Taking Over My Blog!

Okay, so I'm kind of between projects right now.

I've been giving some thought to posting some fiction on this blog for a while now. It wasn't until my friend Ryan Rhoads challenged me that I actually committed to doing something. (So you can thank him for this.)

My first instinct was to write short stories. It's simple, I don't have to think about or plan short stories for an extended period of time, and once it's done, it's done.

The problem is, I've done short stories before. They kinda suck. I don't know what happens to me, but my plot falls flat and it's so full of holes, I don't even want to go back and fill them in because I'm afraid I'll make it worse.

Then there's the whole time thing. I'm not sure I have time to write short stories, be a mommy and a writer pursuing a career and all those other roles that I have. Seriously, who has time for one more thing?

So, I've been putting off this thing for a while.

Well, it's late at night and I can't sleep. I can't sleep because I was thinking about this fiction thing. I still want some sort of creative outlet where I can post fiction that's available to the public domain. Something where I'm not so darned focused on getting it published, because that's not why I'm a writer. (Really.)

And then an idea came to me. (I love my muse. She's awesome, even if she only sings late at night.) Why not do blog posts? I already take the time to do them. I enjoy them. What if I wrote fiction in the form of a blog post every so often? Maybe once a week, a fictional character can take over my blog and we'll see what she has to say.

I thought it was perfect, so I'm gonna go with it.

Meet Ivy. She's going to take over my blog on Thursdays. I'll label her posts with the tag: Ivy's blog.

June 7, 2010

All About You: How Do You Do It?

I thought today's post could be all about you. If you write, what does your schedule look like? Do you write every day, or whenever you find a moment to yourself?
What time of day do you prefer to write?
What gets in the way of your writing time more than anything else?
Do you reward yourself if you reach a certain goal? What's the goal and what's the reward?

Please comment. I can't wait to see how you guys do it!

June 5, 2010

This is Just Cool: Tools for Writers

Today's cool stuff is mostly for writers.

Do you know how fast you type? Here's a typing speed test that will tell you your wpm.

If you need to be a little more organized (and who doesn't?) here's 100 Free and Useful Web Apps for Writers.

The publishing industry uses several terms that you (probably) aren't familiar with. The lovely Jessica Faust has come to the rescue with a Publishing Dictionary.

Storybook is a neat little download. I haven't fully explored it yet, but I may use it for my next novel. Their website description reads: Storybook is a free (open source) novel-writing tool for creative writers, novelists and authors which will help you to keep an overview of multiple plot-lines while writing books, novels or other written works.

Blockbuster Plots has a simplified Scene Tracker, too.

Generators can help you get out of a writer's block, so of course I'll include them here. Serendipity has a slew of them, mostly geared toward fantasy and sci-fi, but useful for any writer. And just for fun, you can rearrange your text to see it in a new light using the Bonsai Story Generator.

And finally, if you need to spark your right-brain into working, try Right-Brain Writing Prompts.

June 3, 2010

This is Just Cool: For Book Worms and Word Nerds

If I ever come across something I think is interesting, but isn't necessarily informative, it goes into a separate folder. Well, for the next week or so, I'm opening that folder and sharing the wealth.

Do you like books? How about free books? Sure, they're a little older, but the Gutenburg Project has made it their mission to gather all books under public domain and put them in once place. You can get all the classics here. This site is utterly amazing. You can download over 30,000 free ebooks to read on your PC, iPhone, Kindle, Sony Reader or other portable device.

If you have too many books to keep track of, try Library Thing. It'll help you catalog everything. If you're like me and you have more trouble keeping track of your to-read list (or you want to find books to add to your to-read list), then Goodreads is the place to go. Another great place to build your list is Flashlight Worthy. It'll help you find books similar to those you already love.

It can be hard to find a good fantasy or sci-fi series (depending on your taste). The Suvudu Free Book Library gathers the first in a series and will let you read it for free to see if you like it.

Do you like oxymorons? Here's an Oxymoron Generator from WritingFix.

Ever wonder where a word or phrase came from? Here's the Online Etymology Dictionary. Etymologies are not definitions; they're explanations of what our words meant and how they sounded 600 or 2,000 years ago.

And the last link for today is Wordle. You can paste a document and it'll create a word cloud for you.

June 1, 2010

Mommy-Writers Have a Tough Gig

Being a writer and a mom at the same time is a challenge and it's been on my mind a lot lately. I've posted on writing while living your life before, but things are changing. My little girl doesn't take naps any more. And then there's the whole pregnancy thing. I wonder how long I'll have to take off before I feel human enough to set and reach writing goals again.

As it becomes more difficult to find time to write, I've come to some conclusions:
  1. I need to be well-rested. Trying to write or revise or concentrate on anything in any way while I'm exhausted is frustrating and a waste of time. Unfortunately, I'm pregnant and therefore tired all the time. One thing that's helped me is to wake up earlier than I normally would, get the basic morning routine done, and then take a power nap once everything is settled. I get the same amount of sleep, but for some reason, it feels so much better.
  2. Write when you can. I used to write during my little girl's naps, but now that those are non-existent, I've had to readjust. (It took me a couple of days to find something that worked.) I write at night. I'll give up tv to make it happen, even though it helps me unwind at night. (By the way, I noticed that writing also helps me unwind so this is an epic discovery for me.) (Oh, and giving up tv is much easier now that Lost and 24 are over. Just sayin'.)
  3. Beg, steal, and bargain for writing time whenever you can. I give DH shoulder rubs, he takes the kid for a few hours on Saturday. It's totally awesome.
  4. Set goals (or you'll fall into a pathetic slump). Complacency is the enemy of the self-motivated writer. I give myself ambitious deadlines and use spreadsheets to track my progress.
  5. Take breaks. Between projects and during. I know this sounds contradictory to #4, but I'd be a useless glob of bio-matter if I didn't take Sundays off.

If you want to hear a more experienced voice on the subject, Galleycat offers some help for those writing with children, including helpful links and advice from Clive Young, Maggie Stiefvater and Adrienne Maria Vrettos.

And straight from S.A. Larsen (hi!) at the Writers' Alley, come 10 Ways to be a Mom and a Writer.

May 29, 2010

Crafting Voice and Building Tension

For me, the biggest draw into a book is the voice. If I don't connect with the narrator or care about what he/she is saying, I'm not going to finish the book. I'm too slow of a reader to go through a whole book about a character I don't particularly care for. (By the way, how many pages do you read in a book before deciding whether or not to finish it?)

So, I thought I'd share one of my favorite posts on voice. Nathan Bransford is, well... amazing when it comes to helping writers understand what agents are looking for and this is no exception. How to Craft a Great Voice is a must-read for authors, especially if you keep getting rejections that say "the writing didn't grab me" or your query letter gets you partial requests, but you never get past that point.

A lot of young writers struggle with building the right mood in their scenes. Sometimes, in a fit of frustration, we'll just write some inner dialogue like, "Wow, this was tense." (And when we go back to revise it, we wonder what we were thinking.)

So, to help us all out, author Janice Hardy posted Setting Up the Tension where she gives a list of ideas to give your scene that extra tension you may be looking for.

And finally, where would we be without the Bookshelf Muse and Angela Ackerman's encyclopedia-esque lists for writers? As always, she came through with her Symbolism Thesaurus Entry: Instability & Turmoil.

By the way, a friend of mine is encouraging his fellow writers to start posting short stories for the public to read online. I'm considering adding a tab at the top of this blog for that kind of thing. Is this something that would interest you?

May 27, 2010

Getting Your Novel Pitch-Ready: What I Learned at Pennwriters

I mentioned in an earlier post that CJ Lyons gave an amazing seminar on pitches. Basically, she told us to whittle our books down to as few words as possible. This helps us to understand what our book is really about.
There are different kinds of pitches. I gave a ten-minute pitch at the conference to an agent. That's a pretty long time. With those, it's important to let the agent ask questions and let it be more like a conversation. Otherwise, the agent will probably lose interest. (I'm not sure I would want to listen to myself for ten minutes straight.)
But you may have also heard about elevator pitches. These are pitches that are so short, you could give them to an agent if you were caught in an elevator with them--maybe 15 seconds. The goal is to give them just enough that they want to know more. CJ said,
The trick with elevator pitches is to use something universally known (like Indiana Jones) or something current and trendy. You need to use comparisons your audience will understand, nod their heads and say, oh yeah, that sounds like something I'd read
Start with your tag line/log line/hook. This is one sentence, as few words as possible, while evoking as much emotion and imagery as possible. If you're familiar with archetypes, this would be perfect. For example, we had one guy give his pitch, which included "creationism" in it. CJ said "God exists" is more powerful. Everyone has some idea of what God is, where creationism takes thought. Many don't know what it means. Keep it simple.

The hook that CJ helped me make for Shadow Bound is:
A ghost comes back from the dead to save the girl he loves.

Okay, so you have a hook line. Sometimes that's all you need, the conversation will evolve naturally from there. [It did for me.] Other times you use it simply to attract attention and move into a more detailed description. This is where that 15-25 word story summary mentioned above comes in handy. The hook line hooks the reader into wanting (or asking to hear) the short summary.

CJ Lyons loves to help writers, so she gave us a handout with a ton of useful resources. First, she listed some books (the comments in parentheses are from me):
Noah Lukeman THE FIRST FIVE PAGES (read it. loved it.)
Stephen King ON WRITING (a must-read)
Christopher Vogler THE WRITER'S JOURNEY
James Frey THE KEY
Donald Maas WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL (another must-read)
Dwight Swain TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER (this, for me personally, is my all-time favorite, most helpful book.)

Next, she gave some great websites:
Association of Author Representatives (check out the FAQ for great questions to ask potential agents)
Publisher's Lunch (industry news)
Buzz, Balls, and Hype (book marketing advice)
Backspace (writers forums and articles)
Publishers Weekly: news, blogs, features, deals, reviews
QueryTracker (an absolute must for anyone submitting to agents and now publishers!)
Nathan Bransford (an agent at Curtis Brown, great blog, wonderful links to everything!)

About CJ:
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels. Her award-winning, critically acclaimed Angels of Mercy series (LIFELINES, WARNING SIGNS, and URGENT CARE) is available in stores now with the fourth, CRITICAL CONDITION, due out December, 2010. Her newest project is as co-author of a new suspense series with Erin Brockovich. Contact her at

May 25, 2010

Show vs. Tell: What I Learned at Pennwriters

YA author Maria V. Snyder gave a great seminar on Show vs. Tell. I asked if I could post her handout and she said yes! So, here it is:

A common writing mistake is to tell the reader the events of a story or tell the reader how a character is feeling. Journalism is an acceptable method of telling, of presenting the facts, but fiction creates the illusion of being there in the story, seeing events happen without the writer telling you.

For example:

Valek was angry. (Telling)

"Valek took a gray rock off his desk and hurled it toward me. Stunned, I froze as the stone whizzed past and exploded on the wall behind me." (Showing)

 There are five techniques a fiction writer can use to avoid telling the reader:

 1.Using Point of View (POV)

2.Using dialogue

3.Using all the senses

4.Using picture nouns and action verbs

5.Writing in scenes


POV is the character who is relating the story. The readers see your fictional world through this character's eyes. Usually the POV character is the main protagonist, but not always (The Sherlock Holmes mysteries are told from Dr. Watson's viewpoint).

There are many different POVs:

1. First person - The POV character tells the story as "I." Strong reader identification with POV character. Readers discover story events as character does. Remember - POV character must be present at all main story events. Example:

 "I averted my eyes from the flickering light as they led me down the main corridor of the dungeon. Thick, rancid air puffed in my face. My bare feet shuffled through puddles of unidentifiable muck."

 --POISON STUDY, Maria V. Snyder

 2. Second person - The POV character is referred to as "You." Demands reader identification, technically challenging. Example:

"You avert your eyes from the flickering light as you are led down the main corridor of the dungeon. Thick, rancid air puffs in your face. Your bare feet shuffle through puddles of unidentifiable muck."

 3. Limited third person - A single POV character is referred to as "he" or "she." Allows writer to get out of the POV character's head and tell the story. Provides some distance from POV character while still fostering strong identification.

Example: "Yelena averted her eyes from the flickering light as she was led down the main corridor of the dungeon. Thick, rancid air puffed in her face. Her bare feet shuffled through puddles of unidentifiable muck."

 4. Multiple third person - Multiple POV characters, each referred to as "he" or "she." Flexibility in covering spatial and temporal events. Less reader confusion when one POV character is used per chapter. Same writing style as limited third, but the writer is not restricted to one character's thoughts and actions.

 5. Omniscient - No single character, jumps from POV to POV, with authorial comment. Freedom to make major points without too much reader identification with primary characters. Example:

"Sam had a very sharp sense of clothes style - quite as sharp as a "mod" of the 1960's; and he spent most of his wages on keeping in fashion. And he showed another mark of this new class in his struggle to command the language.

 By 1870 Sam Weller's famous inability to pronounce v except as w, the centuries-old mark of the common Londoner, was as much despised by the "snobs" as by the bourgeois novelists who continued for some time, and quite inaccurately, to put it into the dialogue of their cockney characters."

--The French Lieutenant's Woman, by John Fowles


  Dialogue is fast paced, it's easy and entertaining to read, it advances the plot and shows characterization, and it involves the reader. We all like to eavesdrop on conversations (if you're a writer it's practically a job requirement!). Dialogue is also a great way to "show" what is happening in your story.


Valek poisoned Yelena's drink with Butterfly's Dust. (Telling)

 "While we're waiting, I though maybe you could use a drink." Valek handed me a tall pewter goblet filled with an amber liquid. Raising his own goblet, he made a toast. "To Yelena, our newest food taster. May you last longer that your predecessor."
 My goblet stopped short of my lips. 

"Relax," he said, "it's a standard toast."

I took a long swig. For a moment, I thought my stomach was going to rebel. This was the first time I drank something other than water.

"What does it taste like?" Valek asked.

"Peaches sweetened with honey."

"Good. Take another sip. This time roll the liquid around your tongue."

I complied and was surprised by the faint citrus flavor. "Orange?"

"That's right. Now gargle it."

"Gargle?" I asked. He nodded. Feeling foolish, I gargled the rest of my drink and almost spat it out. "Rotten oranges!"

He laughed. "Correct." He opened my folder and picked up his pen. "You just had your first lesson in food tasting. Your drink was laced with a poison called Butterfly's Dust. The only way to detect Butterfly's Dust in a liquid is to gargle it. That rotten orange flavor you tasted was the poison." (Showing)

--POISON STUDY, Maria V. Snyder


Don't just use visual imagery for description. In addition to colors, sizes, and shapes, use smells, sounds, tastes, and textures. Smells can be very effective in provoking a response in your reader. Example:

"I selected four squares. They were each about the size of my thumbnail. If I hadn't been told they were a dessert, I probably would have guessed they were pieces of brown candle wax. My fingernail left an impression on the top, and my fingertips felt slightly greasy after handling them.

I bit into the hard cube, expecting it to turn to powder between my teeth. Thinking wax, I anticipated tasting wax. Instead of crumbling, the dessert melted and coated my tongue was a cascade of flavor. Sweet, bitter, nutty and fruity tastes followed each other. Just when I though I could say it was one of them, I would taste them all again."

--POISON STUDY, Maria V. Snyder


 Use specific, concrete nouns instead of vague ones like happiness, kindness, arrogance, and courage. Instead show characters being happy, kind, arrogant, and courageous. Also use the most vivid, active verbs, and avoid the passive or linking verbs. Limit modifiers. Examples:

  • There was a robot working behind the counter. (Telling)  
  • A glittering, magnificent, and spectacular robot was working behind the vast, shiny, smooth counter. (Modifier overload! and passive voice)
  • An X-14 Postal Robot sorted envelopes behind the customer service desk. (Showing)

Passive Voice: The car was speeding down the road.
Active Voice: The car raced down the road.
Passive: The report was read by Karen.
Active: Karen read the report.

Passive: The crash was witnessed by a pedestrian.
Active: A pedestrian witnessed the crash.


For any story length, scenes are the building blocks of the story. The word "scene" is a theater term. It describes action that occurs in a single place or setting. It can be as short as a paragraph or as long as a chapter. Focus defines a scene not length. Each scene in a novel has a specific focus or reason that the author chooses to show the reader what's going on at that time.

Here are some reasons to use the scene:

  • to give information to further the plot of story
  • to show conflict between characters by using dialogue and action
  • to show a particular character by focusing on how he/she deals with a situation
  • to create suspense.

 The beginning of a scene should hook the reader and make him/her want to keep reading. The ending should create some type of suspense - emotional or physical so the reader will want to continue reading.

 There are seven ways to begin a scene:

  • In media res (beginning in the middle) -- start with action or at a point in the protagonist's life where there is change or conflict
  • Dialogue -- starting with dialogue is another form of in media res, but this method starts in the middle of a conversation. This is an interesting and fast-paced way to open a scene. Dialogue also shows characterization, background information, and plot conflict all without the reader noticing the technique.
  • The Jump Cut -- starting with an action or dialogue that has nothing to do with prior scene. This creates suspense as the reader has to read on to find out what happened after the last scene ended.
  • The "Big Promise" Opening -- start the scene by making a big promise to the reader about what the scene will entail. Example: "When I stepped onto the commuter train that afternoon, I had no idea that it would be my last train ride."
  • Setting -- only begin with setting if it is a crucial part of the story. By starting with setting, the reader knows this aspect of the story is very important.
  • Time -- Begin the scene with the time of day. Waking up in the morning is a popular place to start -- although this can be weak if nothing significant happens. Avoid the waking to the screaming alarm clock and pounding door cliches.
  • Character Description -- opening a scene with a description of a character. Not a dry list of physical features, but rather a sense of the character's personality, focusing on some trait that will influence the plot.
Ms. Snyder left us with some writing exercises that should help with show vs. tell. I thought it might be fun to leave our answers in the comments section.

Using all the senses, describe one of the following three scenarios:
A. Waiting in line for the Drop of Death rollercoaster
B. Riding on the Drop of Death rollercoaster
C. Getting off the Drop of Death rollercoaster after having ridden it.

Correct these three sentences to show rather than tell (can expand into a paragraph):
A. The hotel was crowded.

B. Doug was handsome.

C. He wore a suit and thought he looked good.

D. Mary hated working for Frannie.

E. The little boy was afraid of the dark.

F. Kari was angry at Tom.

A special thanks to Maria V. Snyder for giving a great seminar, a thorough handout, and for letting us share it!
She has a lot of great sources for writers in her Publishing Labyrinth, but I think this post is long enough! :)

May 21, 2010

Contest: Win A Signed Copy of Fairy Tale by Cyn Balog

Cyn Balog was kind enough to sign two copies of her book--one for me, and one for one of my blog readers!

I'm in the middle of Fairy Tale and it's amazing. I'm totally hooked. (And don't think I'm not mining it for tips on YA craft!)

Amazon's Product Description of Fairy Tale:
Morgan Sparks has always known that she and her boyfriend, Cam, are made for each other. But when Cam’s cousin Pip comes to stay with the family, Cam seems depressed. Finally Cam confesses to Morgan what’s going on: Cam is a fairy. The night he was born, fairies came down and switched him with a healthy human boy. Nobody expected Cam to live, and nobody expected his biological brother, heir to the fairy throne, to die. But both things happened, and now the fairies want Cam back to take his rightful place as Fairy King.

Even as Cam physically changes, becoming more miserable each day, he and Morgan pledge to fool the fairies and stay together forever. But by the time Cam has to decide once and for all what to do, Morgan’s no longer sure what’s best for everyone, or whether her and Cam’s love can weather an uncertain future.

(This is a hardback, by the way. The paperback version of Fairy Tale will be released in a few months. If you've already read Fairy Tale and loved it, Cyn's book Sleepless is coming out July 13.)

Okay... the contest rules...

To win this signed copy of Fairy Tale, you have to be a follower of this blog.You automatically get 5 entries. To enter, fill out the form below. (Comments don't count as entries.) You have to fill in the form to be counted.

You get extra entries for...

Tweeting about the contest (+2)

Posting about the contest on Facebook (+2)

Blogging about the contest (+3)

Putting this contest on blog roll/side bar of your blog (+5)

For being referred (+2)

Each person who says you referred them (+2)

Remember, if you use twitter or facebook or a blog, please include the URL in the space provided. Otherwise, I can't verify and it won't be counted.

May 20, 2010

The Skinny on Agents at Pennwriters Conference (plus some other little tidbits)

On Tuesday, I got home from the Pennwriters Conference in Lancaster, PA. This was my first conference and it. Was. Amazing. And guess what? You get to read all about it.

We had several seminars a day (three days) where I learned a TON. I asked permission to post the handout from Maria V. Snyder's seminar: Showing vs. Telling. Amazing stuff in there. I can't wait to share it. (And I think I may have to buy her books now.) I'll also post a little about what editor David Pomerico said about the fantasy/sci-fi markets and whatever notes I can scrape together. Mostly, I just wanted to sit and absorb.

The food was pretty good, the hotel was beautiful, and the people were some of the nicest you'll ever meet. I couldn't believe how easy it was to talk to everyone. I heard a couple of agents say this was one of the most prepared, educated groups of writers they'd ever met at a conference. The price was reasonable, too. So overall, the conference was an epic win. There were about 250 people there and over 50 of them were from outside the state of Pennsylvania.

I got to meet some interesting people and I know you all want to know what they're like in person. So here it is: the dish on the agents. I'm hoping I can give you some insight into these people so you can make a more informed decision about whom to query.

Janet Reid: way funny, brutally honest. She cracked jokes left and right during her seminar on social media. Unfortunately, it was late in the conference and I think her audience was a little too tired to keep up with her. But seriously, she's hilarious and is interested in helping writers to get better. I didn't go to her read-and-critique, but from what I heard, she's like the Simon Cowell of the literary world. She gave some very helpful advice, but if she didn't like something, she told you. (I like that.) Unfortunately, she doesn't represent my genre.

Emmanuelle Alspaugh: very nice, professional, direct and honest. (Don't worry about getting false hope from her. If she requests pages, she's really interested.) I hear she didn't ask for many partials. She was perfectly polite and seemed interested in my book, even after declining representation. (She doesn't take on very much YA.) I didn't see much of her around the conference.

Jennifer Jackson: down-to-earth, genuine, dry sense of humor, personable. I really liked her. She wasn't larger than life like some of the other agents. She was... normal. She was funny and her presentation on queries was very entertaining. She spent time with the writers and shared what she knew.

Jenny Bent: I only met her briefly. She's really cute and has a sense of humor. From what I heard she's sweet and very nice. Most of the writers who pitched to her told me they were nervous going in, but she put them at ease right away.

I also met author Cyn Balog. She writes young adult urban fantasy, so I was especially interested in what she had to say. She is so cute and very approachable. I really enjoyed talking to her. I bought an extra copy of her book Fairy Tale, which she signed. I'll be giving it away in a contest soon, so keep an eye out for that. (I'm reading my own copy now. It's fantastic.)

Author CJ Lyons is apparently a regular at Pennwriters. She's spunky, funny, confident, and she knows her stuff. I can't believe how helpful she was. My first seminar was her class on pitching. She challenged us to boil our books down to 25 words. Then 15 words. Then 5. Seriously, give it a try. The goal is to use words that immediately bring up an image and/or emotional response.
So, though my book's main character is Rachel, I used the word "ghost" in my short-short pitch: A ghost comes back from the dead to save the girl he loves.
CJ also led our general read-and-critique, so she helped me with the first page of my manuscript (along with author Jonathan Maberry).

Jonathan Maberry was also incredible. He knew so much about craft and is obviously well-read. He seemed to know something about every genre. He was the perfect choice for the general read-and-critique. (By the way, he'll be the keynote speaker for next year's conference, so mark your calendars!)

The keynote speaker this year was adventure thriller writer James Rollins. (He's also dabbled in YA and Fantasy.) This guy is so funny. I don't think he had any prepared material for his speech, he just talked to us about his career, how he got his start, and how anyone can be published if they keep at it. He actually was a veterinarian for 15 years before officially pursuing writing as a career.
When asked if he still does veterinary work, he said he does some volunteer stuff and mentioned that he traps, neuters, and immunizes feral cats. "So basically," he says, "On weekends, I remove genitals. It's a hobby." Great guy and so inspiring!

That's all I can think of without delving into my notes. Feel free to ask questions. (And if you were at the conference, I'd appreciate your commments.)

Like I said, look for future posts on what I learned at these seminars, my own personal experience at the conference, and the contest where I'll be giving away a signed copy of Cyn Balog's Fairy Tale!

May 18, 2010

Writing Technique: Wrapping Up

Here's everything I have left under the category. Sorry it's so disorganized.

Sari Mathes talks about Writing with Rhythm. This is something I  think a lot of novelists overlook. Rhythm is just for poets, isn't it? But your novel's words still ring in the heads of your readers, as if they were reading it out loud. Rhythm and flow is important. If you're getting a lot of rejections that say the writing or the voice wasn't what they were looking for, this may be the answer.

You probably knew a little about words and how they sound in your head when you read them. You ever read a book where the same word is used over and over again and it seems to echo in your brain? The Blood-Red Pencil addresses Word Redundancy here.

They also touch on Writing Effectively from a structural, bare-bones stance.

I touched on word choice last week, but It's All About the Editing does a great job of outlining several editing techniques here at The Business of Writing.

And finally, Darcy Pattison has done it again with Scene Dissection. A must-read.

May 15, 2010

Writing Technique: Lists of Helpful Tips and Word Usage

Continuing on with Writing Technique. Most of these links are self explanatory so we'll get right into it... ready? Okay.

30 One-minute Tips for Strengthening Your Novel, courtesy of Darcy Pattison.
51 Over-Used Adverbs, Nouns, and Cliches in Writing by Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen
And a list of Plague Words to avoid
Joanna Young tells writers How to Write Like Hemmingway (hint: cut out all the useless parts)
And Anita Nolan lists Ways to End a Scene (which works hand-in-hand with Thursday's post) :)
Why You Shouldn't Use Adverbs and Adjectives (Often)

I'll have to give everything else on Tuesday. It covers editing, scenes, and getting down to the bare bones.

May 13, 2010

Writing Technique: HTRYN lessons 18-21

Thursdays are my How to Revise Your Novel lesson reviews, but since this is Writing Technique week, I decided to skip around a little. The last few lessons of this course (minus the very last one) are all about "cosmetic surgery". This is after you've cut and pasted the crap out of your manuscript and you're doing little things to improve the overall flow and readability. Stuff that makes your book look nice. :)

Holly says you need to open every scene and close every scene so that the reader CANNOT put your book down. I'm struggling with this. Especially with beginning each and every scene with a hook. I like to shock my reader a little further into the scene with a big twist. Right when they least expect it ;)

I'm pretty good about ending a scene on a hook, though. That I can do, especially if it's the end of a chapter. Anyway, something to think about.

Another tip I've heard a million times over: Read your book aloud. It takes forever. You look like and idiot. And you catch problems with work usage, flow, and voice. I haven't tried this yet, but I will. I think it's just what my book needs. I learn more by hearing anyway, so the problems in my book should ring in my ears a little better than if I just read through it.

And another thing I have a problem with is telling my readers what to feel. Not in an obvious way, but more like: Rachel banged her fists down in anger.

Um.... duh. If she's banging her fists down, the reader can probably pick up on the fact that she's angry without me spelling it out.

Little things like that can make a huge difference.

Hope this helps!

May 11, 2010

Writing Technique: The Kitchen Sink

This week (and maybe next week, depending on how this goes) I'll cover a slew of stuff having to do with the craft of writing. Today's going to be a hodge-podge of craft-related links.

I'll start with an article on Point of Veiw and Motivation-Reaction Units. If you're not familiar with MRU's, I suggest you look into it. Using these has improved my writing by leaps and bounds, bringing the reader closer to the charcater and making the sequence of events make more sense.

On a similar note, Plot to Punctuation addresses a common issue: dismemberment of your characters. You may be putting your character's parts and feelings ahead of the characters themselves. This is something that can really throw a reader out of your story, but it isn't addressed very often. Since I'm bad at explaining it, here's a quote:
Every time you put one or more of a character’s composite parts in the subject position of the sentence, you rob the character of just a little bit of power. You take the whole character out of control, in favor of a mere portion of the character.
Ever wonder about internal monologue? C. Patrick Shultz gives some fantastic guidelines here.

A scene has to be tight. You need to clear away all the garbage in order for the gems to shine. Here's something on the Glory of the Garbageman from Imperfect Clarity. Roz Morris says, yes it's important to get rid of the clutter, but don't get rid of the gems, too! She tells writers how to Control Your Text.
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