Thursday, October 28, 2010

Friday Fun with Photoshop: Dream Jobs.

It's not Friday, well not yet. I have an hour to go, but maybe by the time I finish this post it will be closer to midnight. A week or so ago, I had a call with my agent, and we talked about how we both like female heroines who kick ass. I admitted to her, that in the 80's, I dreamed of being on G.L.O.W., which if you didn't live through the eighties stands for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.

Warning: the photoshopped picture is a bit creepy.

That career dream never panned out, and sadly, the show was cancelled. I'm glad I moved on though because the only roles for women in wrestling nowadays are support positions. They stand outside of the ring and hand their beefy boyfriends chairs and shout slurs at their opponents.

Throughout my childhood I had quite a few other aspirations. After I heard Lucky Star, I wanted to be Madonna, and not just a pop star like Madonna, I wanted to BE Madonna. (JEM was my back-up plan) Following a brief obsession with Divorce Court, I thought about becoming a lawyer, but then I wrote a paper in elementary school on manatees and decided oceanography would be my field. When I saw Working Girl, I wanted to be an executive with a big corner office in New York. Doing what? I didn't care, as long as I had penthouse view of the city and a briefcase with my name on it.

My senior year of high school I had an amazing Calculus teacher, and considered majoring in math in college. What you do with a math degree, I'll never know, because once I read the descriptions of the classes required for the degree, I changed my mind yet again.

I DJ-ed at the college radio station and although I made a very poor on-air personality, I was introduced to the business side of music and wanted to go into A&R. That's when I chose Marketing as my major.

I've never worked at a record label. What they don't tell you in college is that a degree won't get you your dream job, but again, I was starting to feel that maybe the music biz wasn't it anyway. I don't know when I decided I wanted to write. I know I thought about it for years before I sat down at my computer. But I'm not the only writer you didn't have a pen in hand at age five. I found this blog post that shares a few of the day jobs famous authors held before they hit the bestseller list.

What about you? What were some of your dream jobs?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Everybody Makes Misstakes

I'm generally a stickler for grammar. Among my top pet peeves are using the wrong forms of "there" and "your", but in the umpteenth perusal of my novel, just before it was sent to editors, I found a "you're" where there should have been a "your".

When I'm on a roll, the text is flowing from the tips of my fingers, I don't inhibit inspiration by stopping to check for spelling errors. Last night, I had one of those good writing nights and before I shut down the computer, I did a quick read through. This is what I found: (This isn't the exact copy, but these are my shames)

She knew the earn was buried just below her feet sense she'd watched them dig the whole.

Oy. If any of my former English teachers are reading this, they're probably considering a change in career.

But everybody makes mistakes. The point is to catch them before you submit anything publicly, which is why it is always good to have one, two, or three sets of eyes on your work.

What about you? What are some embarrassing typos and errors you've found in your writing?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Friday Fun with Photoshop!

What five people, dead or alive, fictional or real would you invite to your ultimate dinner party?

Mine pictured below:



Jesus: I have a few questions I'd like to ask the man, and who doesn't want the guy who can turn water into wine at their party? He would save me hundreds on alcohol expenditures.

Steve Perry: I love Steve Perry. The only songs I know how to play and sing on guitar are Journey's greatest hits. They are the most epic love ballads of all time and Steve Perry was just the man to sing them. I know he doesn't perform anymore, but maybe if I ply him with enough of J.C.'s wine, he can be persuaded to whisper me a few lines of Open Arms.

Lucille Ball: She was the original comedienne. I Love Lucy is nearly sixty years old, and it's still just as funny as it was the day it first aired. No question she would have everyone in stitches.

Roald Dahl: I had to choose at least one writer to dine with us. It was a tough decision, but Roald Dahl has been one of my favorites for as long as I can remember. One summer I devoured all the Dahl books they had at the library, from BFG to Matilda, and when I was done, I read them all again. Just think of the dinner stories he could tell.

Marilyn Monroe: I have a few questions for her as well, and for some odd reason, I really think she and Jesus would hit it off.

How about you? Who would you invite and why?

Boston Book Festival 2010

My first concern when I stepped off the train was, "How are the outdoor booths going to survive in this brutal wind?" But they did because they were surrounded on three sides by white tarp. Just the first example of the superstar planning that went into this event. (link to the site here)

***

I arrived just before noon and went directly to the Writer Idol session. The description of the session on the site is:

In this freewheeling session, a professional actor will perform the first page of YOUR unpublished manuscript for the audience and a panel of four judges, including Esmond Harmsworth, Sorche Fairbank, Ann Collette and Caroline Zimmerman, all agents and/or editors with years of experience reading unsolicited submissions.

And yes, even though I have an agent, I submitted a page. Why? Well, this is a page of something old I'm trying to edit. Before I send things out, I like to get them into the best shape possible. I figured I would take advantage of the free professional critique, hear how someone else interpreted my writing in a reading, and listen to the critique of the other works.

The process went as follows: the actor randomly selected a page and read it. When he reached a point where an agent would stop reading, he or she would raise his or her hand. Once two hands were raised, the submission was rejected and then the agents gave their reasons why.

The take away. Of the fifty or so pages read, not one made it through without at least one hand. Only three made it to the final. So always query widely because you WILL get rejected by someone.

Comments on Fiction and YA fiction
The biggest problem in the pieces read was too much description or backstory and not enough action. The agents said this can be fixed with heavy-handed editing. You can't be afraid of cutting segments or moving them to later chapters if you want to get published. Also, trust your reader. They can figure things out.

My piece was the opposite. Too much action and the agents didn't care about my character. This can also be fixed. I have to put more in. There was also a part that didn't come across the way I intended, so I need to correct that as well. I have to say it was really helpful to hear someone else read my piece. It gave me a lot of insight into how I want to change my pacing and sentence structure.

Interestingly enough, two of the three pieces that made it to the end were YA fiction pieces, and I think this is because YA writers are more accustomed to the marriage of character and action. The piece that won was an adult mystery that did a great job of blending humor with action. The panel did comment that if this particular piece continued with heavy humor though, it may be too much.

Comments on Memoir and Creative Non-Fiction
There were more of these types of submissions. I admit, I don't read a lot of non-fiction nor do I write it, so I will only relay what the panel said about it. (warning: it wasn't really positive)

Memoir: For the first time I heard the term ME-moir. If you are writing memoir, you need to make your story relatable to others. No one wants to read your personal history...unless, and I quote from one the agents, "You're famous or an extremely talented author, which never happens." (ouch) The other case is if you are writing a medical book (or similar) and happen to be famous in that field, or have a well-established list of credentials.

The other comments were that dating books are overdone, as well as personal journeys through medical illness.

None of this means you shouldn't write it! It just means you'll have a REALLY hard time getting published if you do.

***

Next, we tried to attend Home & Away with authors Bill Bryson and Tony Hiss. The line stretched about two blocks outside of the theatre after it was already filled. And they say the printed book is dead. I beg to differ.

So instead, we went to Talking about Justice with Nobel Prize-winner, Amartya San, Michael Sandel and Dambisa Moyo. Again, I'm not a big reader of non-fiction, especially politcal non-fiction, but since I had dragged my friend to Writer Idol, I had to make a compromise. If I can get him to weigh in on his thoughts, I will post them here later. As for me, I did manage to stay awake and learned a thing or two.

***

The last session of the day I went to was, It Books: YA Writers Discuss What’s Hot. (Also packed, I had to stand outside the doors along with fifty other people)

An all-star group of bestselling writers get together to discuss what’s hot and what’s not when it comes to YA fiction. Francisco Stork, author of The Last Summer of the Death Warriors shares the stage with Kathryn Lasky, celebrated author of the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series, now a major motion picture, Harvard sophomore and writing phenom Noni Carter, author of Good Fortune, and Kristin Cashore, bestselling author of American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults Graceling and Fire.

I am going to get my complaint out of the way first. (And this has nothing to do with the presenters) A better title for the session would have been: YA, What I Wrote and How I Wrote It. Everytime I attend a session called, "What's Hot..." or "Publishing Trends..." I hear the same thing: "You must write the book that needs to be written." So, if you go to one of these sessions, don't expect to take away some profound inside industry information because you're not going to get it.

Of course, they did have some interesting things to say about their writing process. Kristin Cashore admitted she writes her novels by hand and that she usually goes through about four revisions and then copy edit revisions before a book is done. I also loved her quote, "When a writer tells you what they wrote is crap, they're not trying to be modest or humble. It really is crap. It's all of the editing that makes it good."

Those may not be her exact words, as I'm going off memory, but that's the basic idea. It was really good to know that even NYT bestsellers start with the same crap we do.

Will I go again next year? Yes, but I will be very selective about the sessions I attend and make sure I get to them early.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday Fun with Photoshop!

I'm too late to write a zombie book based on a Jane Austen classic, but I have my own mash-up ideas.

How many husbands would Scarlett go through if she lived forever? And how long would guilt-ridden Edward be able to keep his "no human blood" vow with a disagreeable Southern belle by his side?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Tragedy doesn't always have to be Tragic

I do my best to avoid disaster all together. I am an over-planner, over-thinker, and over-packer. I'm the kind of person who carries a huge handbag so I can stuff it with all kinds of useless things. Remember that one time four years ago when you were on a plane and nearly ran out of chapstick? You had to dig out the little bit around the inside edges with your pinky nail, and it wasn't nearly as soothing as smearing it on from the holder. Now I carry a back up so I never have to worry about running out of lip balm again.

But no matter how much I pack or plan, there are some disasters that even I can't control. I was on my own for the first time after college, living on the other side of the country from my parents. I had a job, albeit, not a good one, an apartment, I was making friends and of course, digging my way into debt. I knew I needed a second job, but I wasn't ready to give up my nights and weekends just yet. My car was paid off, so that was a load off of expenses and my parents still had it under their insurance.

CRASH!

They were working on an intersection downtown and forgot to put up a stop sign. I hit the back end of a truck twice the size of my little car and that was it. (No one was injured thank goodness). Already living beyond my means, I had to add a car payment and insurance to my overtapped budget. It was time to sell my soul for minimum wage.

Since I'd worked as a barista through college, I crawled my way into Starbuck's and filled out an application. I was hired, and had to work nights until twelve and then get up for my day job at seven, and back to Starbuck's right afterward. I also got the priveledge of opening on Saturdays at five-thirty a.m. And it was the best thing that could have possibly happened to me.

I got my finances back in shape and met two of my best friends, one of which introduced me to another friend, and I met my husband at her New Year's party. All of this happened because of a car accident.

Some tragedies are, of course, still tragic and no one wants to get into a car accident, but some things, like having your first or even second manuscript rejected could be that one unfortunate turning point that leads you on to greater things.

The First Draft

There is nothing more satisfying than completing the first draft of a new novel. You did it. 50,000 to 100,000+ of your very own words collected into hundreds of pages. You have characters, a hook, a unique plot, danger lurking in every corner, witty conversation...it's sure to change the literary marketplace forever.

And then you read through your first draft, and there's nothing worse than the feeling that comes after that. Your characters may be one-dimensional, you have spelling errors, plot holes, you changed the name of a character halfway through, or you almost fell asleep reading one of your chapters. You have two choices at this juncture: you can scrap it or fix it.

You should always try to fix it.

I treat my first drafts as a journey. I need to complete it, reach the destination, before I can determine what's wrong. The first trip through, I hit detours, road blocks, bad parts of town...overall, it's a less-than-fabulous experience. But there are some bright spots. Maybe I happen upon that largest ball of twine I've always wanted to see or find a roadside restaurant with the best chicken strips.

The next time I take my trip, it's a bit smoother. I take an alternate route to avoid the road closures and still make my stops at the twine and chicken strip restaurant. Maybe I ask someone else for directions and they point out some other cool places I can go.

Each time I take my journey, it gets better and more interesting. But it wouldn't exist at all without that first unpleasant excursion. The most important thing is to finish the trip.

Writer friends, how would you classify your first drafts? Do they need a lot of work? A little tweaking? Or are they perfection the first time through?

I fall into the "need a lot of work" category.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Art vs. Business

I'm going to say this and probably get reamed for it, but I'm a gambling gal by nature. (I hope you got the John Hughes reference)

Writing is an art. Publishing is a business.

There it's out there. I don't know a whole lot about publishing, but I do know quite a bit about working in a creative field. My day job: Christmas ornament design and marketing. Weird. I know, and I also know that Santa ornaments are a hard sell. (This isn't to say some Santa ornaments aren't successful. The ones we have out there are some of our best sellers.)

But let's suppose I have an idea for a new Santa ornament, the most adorable Santa ornament anyone has ever seen. I can design it, we can make it, and we can present it to our retailers. There are a few things that can happen:

The Santa can get rejected. Then we can choose to shelf the Santa, or if we are so confident this Santa ornament is the one, we can sell it on our website. He may be successful there, but he will never earn as many dollars as he would if he landed in a major retailer. However, if he does perform strongly on our site, we can use his sales figures to try and re-sell him into the retailer for next year.

We can push the Santa. We have pretty good relationships with our retailers and if we feel strongly about him, sometimes we can get him in there. The retailer knows it's a risk, but because our other ornaments are so succesful, they're willing to give our new Santa a try. Our Santa could end up being their number one seller...or he may not. And if he isn't, then trying to sell a different Santa in for next year is going to be impossible.

We can scrap the Santa completely. The retailer could say "No," to Santa but then add, "You know what sells really well for us? Wedding ornaments. Could you make us a new wedding ornament?" Of course we will. If wedding ornaments are what's selling then that's what we're going to make. I may still love my little Santa, but the market's not ready for him. I have to move on.

I decided to write this because of this blog post on Pimp my Novel. In the comments a lot of people complained that there is an oversaturation of paranormal romance, vampire books, etc. etc. That's because those books are their wedding ornaments, and maybe the books you're looking for are their Santas.

You may be saying to yourself, "You know, I haven't seen a really cute Santa ornament in the stores lately. I want more Santa ornaments!" If you don't like what's going on the marketplace, then change it.

-When you do find a Santa ornament, buy it.
-If you're sick of only seeing wedding ornaments, don't buy them.
-Tell all of your friends you just got this really great Santa ornament.
-Put a post up on your blog about the Santa ornament.

If you help increase demand for Santa ornaments and decrease demand for other ornaments, you could create a niche market for Santas and then when I go back to my retailers with a new one, they'll be more willing to give him a chance.