Friday, February 17, 2017

Cover Art

I have to share this, because, as much as my husband is proud of me for following my passion to write, I'm so proud of him for following his passion to create. I've forced him to read most* of my manuscripts, subjecting him to teen angst and make out scenes that he probably never imagined he'd be stuck reading. He's been a real trooper about it, and he's an amazing copy editor. (I think he secretly likes finding all of my typos and pointing them out) Anyway, my latest WIP inspired him to create a cover design, and I absolutely love it. It's modern, clean, simple, and it captures the real heart of the story with a little mystery that would intrigue a reader to look inside. Or maybe that's just me. What do you think, though? Would you read this book?

*I wrote a YA thriller about mean girls that I thought might be too much for him so I let him skip it.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

TMI

Let's get back to editing, and this one's an easy one. To start, every paragraph, every sentence, every WORD in your story needs to serve a purpose. One as grand as revealing a pivotal plot point, as lovely as describing a room, or as simple as giving a reader pause.

Everything else? Delete.

This is one reason agents, editors, most people are so anti-adverb. They're like the carbs of the writing world. Sure, they taste great. But they're empty calories. Filler.

Case in point.
He eyed them circumspectly.
What does that mean? Can you tell me what that looks like? And if you can, do that instead of copping out with an adverb.

He violently attacked her. 
Really? Because when I attack people, I usually do it passively.

In addition to adverbs, we also have unnecessary prepositional phrases. Sure, you might need to know the cat was in the closet. Or the laundry was on the stairs.

But do you need to know...
Her heart thrummed in her chest.
Really? Not her elbow?

They dug the grave in the ground.
Oh, thanks for clearing that up. Most people dig graves in the middle of their living rooms.

He inhaled through his nose.
A tricky one, because yes, he could inhale through his mouth. We have two orifices for that just in case one gets blocked. But do we really need to know that? Is it integral to your story, or the character that we know, without a doubt he took that breath through his nose?

I don't need to read your work to say, "no."

I'm not trying to shame anyone for this. We all do it. The point is, before your draft goes out on submission or even worse, to print, you should give it one last read to delete all of the unnecessary amplifiers. It's also a super-easy way to cut down word count if you're running high.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

So far, 2017 has mixed reviews.

The Good.
I heard back from new agent regarding rewrites. She said, and I quote, "You did an amazing job with revisions!" Amazing. Next up, a submission plan and hopefully, a book deal. I'm always optimistic.

The Bad. 
My identity was stolen. At first I thought it was just my debit card, but then the thieves used my debit card to buy prepaid Visa cards that required my address and SSN. I had to cancel those cards when they showed up at my house. Then I had to file a fraud alert with the credit company, and after three calls to LifeLock, they say there is nothing they can do for me.

So uh, what am I paying them for?

I'm also still waiting for the bank to refund the stolen charges because every time I see them on my transaction history, I get angry. I might not be as bothered by this if we hadn't been robbed a little over a year ago. The thieves broke into my house, almost lost my cat, and stole my wedding rings.

My husband and I have enough, not a ton. We're not flashy, (my wedding ring was from Sam's club,) and we're always willing to share what we have. So I'm having trouble renewing my faith in humanity. Especially considering the beliefs of the man currently in the White House and knowing the majority of Americans put him there. They chose hate over love. They chose discrimination over acceptance. Money over science.

I'm doing my best to fight the good fight, both personally and politically, without turning to the Dark Side myself...but it's getting really hard.

The Ugly
My anxiety has worsened. Present situation is partly responsible. I already take medication, but I've started to see new bad habits forming. For one, I get really angry when I get anxious, often lashing out at my family or forcing them to change plans. I totally freaked from the crowds on Halloween. I can't take my son to those places like Gymboree or Monkey Joe's because all of the kids running around screaming send me into a panic attack. I couldn't go to the women's march because of the thought of the crowds. I had to cancel a meeting downtown because the thought of parking made me sweat.

I don't make phone calls, or at least I try not to. If I have to, I prefer to be the one making the call, because that way I can plan out what I'm going to say. Sometimes I'll spend an entire day planning out a script for a conference call so I don't sound like an idiot. I'll review my conversation at least ten minutes before I order a pizza. If I have to meet new people, I prefer to do it at a place where I can have at least one drink. I'll even get there early to make sure I can have that drink before they arrive.

One of my goals for 2017 is to get into better shape, (which is why I'm hesitant to up my medication. It makes me gain weight.) I decided to take advantage of the YMCA pool and swim laps. Only I had nightmares about going to the pool! I worried it would be too crowded, or I'd look like an idiot, (considering I haven't lap swam in ages.)

Nightmares, people. About going to a pool.

For people who don't have anxiety, this is what it's like. I know I'm overreacting. Like what are they going to do if I doggie paddle my laps? Kick me out? I have a panic attack every time I go to the grocery store, and the funny thing is, to everyone else, I look so obscenely organized and put together. Because to avoid accidents or mishaps, I plan everything.

My grocery list is written in the order things appear in the store, so I can get out as quickly as possible. I match coupons to sales, and have those select coupons already out so I don't have to dig for them in my purse. If the store looks crowded, I make sure to get a cart from the parking lot. In case there aren't any available inside.

If I have to drive somewhere new, I memorize the map before I go, and usually leave the directions running on my phone. But I like to know what they are ahead of time in case the GPS directions lag so I can be prepared for the turn. For the pool situation, the first time I went, it was too crowded! They were swimming three to a lane, which I couldn't handle. So I waited a half hour for a lane to open up.

And all this planning, avoiding crowds, rehearsing scripts for phone calls, (or making my husband order the pizza) works for me. Most of the time. Until an unplanned situation comes up. Like getting my identity stolen, and then I just feel like crawling into bed and hiding until it goes away. Like I can deal with life as long as it's going smoothly, but as soon as there's a bump in the road I don't have a contingency plan for, I'm done.

I'm not trying to whine about it, or poor me! Going to the grocery store makes my heart race! At least I have money to go to the grocery store, right? I'm just saying it's tough, and it sucks, and hopefully, by month two of 2017, I'll have it under control. Until then, there's wine.



Thursday, December 22, 2016

We'll Meet Again Some Other Day

I suppose 2016 couldn't end without claiming yet another life. My sophomore year English teacher died this week. In the midst of listening to the 90's week on my local radio station, I've been transported back in time, and then dredged into the future where I basically have to say goodbye to my childhood.

I remember back in English class, I vowed that one day I would write my own book, and I would preface it with a note to readers:

Dear Readers,
As you read this, please do not try to find any symbolism in my work. Sometimes a rock is just a rock. It doesn't stand for the injustice of government or the heroine's strong will. It is just a rock.

Sincerely,
Rachel

I then joked to my friends that Mr. Dant, and his life partner, Mrs. Kearns (my Freshman year English teacher,) would analyze the letter I had written saying not to analyze anything and somehow find symbolism in it.

Unfortunately, I did not get a book published before he passed. But I wouldn't have been able to put that letter in anyway. Because he was right. There are symbols all over my manuscripts and darn it if a pile of rocks doesn't visualize the hurdles my main character has to cross before reaching her goal.

I'm sorry I never got to tell him he was right, but I think he probably knew.

John Thomas Dant

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Your Author is Showing

There are several ways you can expose yourself as an author. (And I'm not meaning literally.) I mean in your novel, where someone might say, "I was really pulled out of the story." They say that because they can see the author coming through. The curtain has been lifted. They've opened the factory doors and gotten a peek at how the sausage is made.

I see this is a lot in drafts, my own included. I've also sadly seen it in published works. In my own work, I can usually spot these glimpses into the background by an extreme lack of tension.

Example:
Mary falls into the water. The cold wraps around her, and she's strangled by heavy, wet skirts. She's drowning. Is this how it ends, she thinks?

There's no struggle. No panic. She's not even trying to fight it...because in the next scene, a handsome male hero is going to dredge her from the water.

The author knows this. She wrote the story. But Mary doesn't know that. Personally, drowning is one of the most horrifying deaths I can imagine. Mary, not knowing she's going to be saved, should rightfully be terrified.

Corrected Example:
Mary falls into the water. The cold wraps around her, and she's strangled by heavy, wet skirts. She claws at the ocean, trying to reach the surface and only sinks faster. She hadn't taken a deep enough breath before she fell. Her lungs are at the limit of bursting. She pinches her lips together and kicks frantically toward the patch of light over her head. I can't die, she thinks, not now.

I think the difference is clear. In the first example, we're not really worried for Mary. In the second, we are at the edge of our seats, wondering what is going to happen.

As I'm re-reading my second drafts, I look for these spots that feel a little flat, and I stop and ask myself a few questions.

What does Mary know at this point? Does she know there's someone around to save her? Does she think she's all alone and no one saw her fall?

Once that's been determined. I ask...

Then how would Mary feel at this moment?

I guarantee if a moment in your story feels slow or boring, it's likely because there isn't enough emotion in it. And readers can see that.




Wednesday, October 26, 2016

What the hell is high concept?

I remember asking myself this question when I began my writing journey. In fact, if you go back to some of my early posts, you can probably find it. But don't do that. Don't! There are many embarrassing things back there. Things that I don't want to relive and only keep myself from deleting them because I know they will incite much hilarity one day.

Today is not that day.

Anyway, the point is, high concept is one of those terms that agents and editors toss around, and every writer at some time in their career has no idea what it means except that it's the coveted grail you need to seek if you want a chance at getting published. It's the hook for your novel, the thing that comes long before your writing, your character development, and your plotting.

So what is it?

Publishing professionals often say it's X meets Y. Or it's something known with something new.

Huh?

Really, examples work best, so I'm going to show you. Fairy tale re-tellings lend very easily to this.

Known:
Young woman is held captive by monstrous beast, only to learn he's not actually a monster. (Beauty and the Beast)

Something New: Tell the story from the beast's perspective and set it in modern day New York. (Beastly)

Known:
Poor girl with evil step family captures the heart of a prince with the help of a fairy godmother. (Cinderella)

Something New: Now let's make Cinderella a cyborg and set the story in futuristic China. (Cinder)

But your hook doesn't have to be a fairy-tale re-telling.

Known 1: A virtual reality landscape where people live and work in an imaginary world (The Matrix)
Known 2: Insane genius creates wild contest as a way to pass his business to a new proprietor. (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory)

Something New: Now mash those two ideas together and set it in a future landscape where the escapist virtual reality world is built around the 1980's. (Ready Player One)

Known: Middle aged man becomes exhausted with the status quo, seeks a way out. (The main plot point to about eighty-thousand novels)

Something New: Man invents alter ego of himself and starts an underground fight club that evolves into an anarchist movement. (Fight Club)

Is is starting to make sense? Obviously there have been vampire books before, werewolf books, romance novels, travel novels, cookbooks, books about monkeys, and princes, and middle-aged women who cheat on their husbands, who learn they have cancer. You're not going to come up with something completely new, and even if you do, the story will have already been told. The key to achieving high concept is to take those ideas and twist them, either by changing the players, the viewpoint, the place, the manner of telling, the outcome...something different. Everyone's read a teen vampire romance novel, but were the vampires gay? Was the story told in verse? Or did it take place on another planet?

Monday, September 19, 2016

I Made a Map!

Okay, you guys. I made my first map! I'm working on a YA fantasy, and one of my less-than-strong points as a writer is description. It's something I always have to add in later, so I thought it might help me to make a pictorial representation of my fictional land. I was in part inspired by this article in Writer's Digest, although my map is nowhere near as fancy as the example. I considered having my husband do it for me, who is a much better artist, but I'm not too shabby in Illustrator. I gathered some images on Pinterest for inspiration and used those to build my own map.

I'm super happy with the result, and it also helped me build my story. I knew how I had described locations, but then I had to put them into a physical space, and that space had to match what I had described. The river was really my focal point, connecting all four cities to one another in a line. I had a day journey from the palace to Chopek and another day to Pisek. I had to change the bend in the river to make that work, but now I have a much better mental of my world to build my descriptive.