Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Holiday Gift List for Writers!

Friday marks the day when all-hell breaks loose in the malls, someone gets trampled in a line at Walmart trying to get a 95% off flat screen, and in their efforts to get into the holiday spirit, shoppers push, shove and bite their way through the stores. Ahh, Christmas.

I do my best to avoid all that and do my shopping online. I hope no one starts plotting my death when I say I'm almost done already. But before you call a hitman, I'm here to help. Below is a list of my favorite gifts for writers this year, and you can get them without having to put on your steel-toed boots.

Literary Pets
Illustrator and Artist, Chet Phillips, created this unique line of prints of our favorite authors as cats and dogs. The detail on these is amazing, and the colors are extremely vibrant. Each portrait has a unique name too, like Jane Pawsten (featured) and Snarls Dickens. At only $18.00 these prints are a steal.








Uneek Dolls


I'm a sucker for miniature things especially when they're crafted in such detail. Artisan Debbie Ritter has a huge collection of wooden dolls hand-painted and dressed as timeless writers and a few of the characters they created. I just love how the authors are holding tiny copies of their books too!


War & Peace Kindle Book Case




I especially like this because bystanders will think I'm reading War & Peace when in fact I'm reading City of Glass on my Kindle. What a novel idea... (see what I did there?) ...to make your e-books look like books. It's a little pricey at $50.00, but a great gift for someone who has everything except for a Kindle cover.




State Necklaces

I wore mine on Sunday and got stopped by 3 people asking me where I got my necklace. I don't wear a lot of flashy accessories, which is why I love this necklace so much. The brushed silver is clean and the small diamond (in the city of your choice) adds just a touch of sparkle.


I have my home state of Rhode Island, but how cute would it be to get a writer friend one of the state their novel is set in? My only complaint about this necklace is the box it came in. It was a small cardboard box and not something I would present to someone as a gift. If you do buy one, plan ahead and get a nice jewelry box to gift it in.



Burning Bookmark




A great stocking stuffer! Not that I would ever condone the burning of a book, but this plastic and very safe bookmark gives the impression that what you're reading is HOTT. At only $2.99, you can get one for every reader on your list.



And p.s., I do not know any of these people nor am I getting kickbacks for recommending gifts. I just love to shop!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why Hello There

My excuses for not posting lately.

1. I started watching Doctor Who. I was trying to avoid it because I don't need anything else to add to my nerd-dom, but the TARDIS sucked me in.

2. My husband and I turned our change into the Coinstar after saving it for about a year and got a huge Amazon gift certificate which meant Christmas for us and about twelve new books I have to read along with the thirty or so already sitting on my shelf.

3. I was invited to five weddings this year. FIVE. No one else is allowed to get married. I don't think anyone else I know can get married. So no one is allowed to get divorced and re-married. I like a good wedding, but come on!

4. It's fall here in Rhode Island which is my favorite season of the year. The leaves change, the sweaters come out of the closet. I eat Clam Chowder out of a breadbowl at least once a week and there is tons of fun stuff going on. Too much. Last weekend we went on a haunted hayride and this weekend we're going to Salem will I will get my weekly serving of bread bowl clam chowder along with a dose of spooky stories and witchlore.

5. I've been writing, and it has been a tedious path. I have a lot of good ideas. I make up so much insanity in my head, it's well, insane. As many often say, ideas are a dime a dozen. It's the execution that matters, and I had a great idea that wasn't coming across the way I wanted it to.

I rewrote the manuscript four times, trying from different perspectives. Switching perspectives. Starting in a different place, and that's when I set it aside and started on something new. It doesn't mean I won't go back to the idea, but before I do, I need to have a surge of brilliance on how to twist it into something different.

It was a downer, of course, to spend so much time on something and shove it in a drawer, so I took a break and watched Doctor Who. And somewhere when I was driving to work or brushing my teeth, another idea slapped me upside the head. I started writing, and this one I liked from draft one.

I'm going back to revise now and know it's got potential because I get sucked back into reading it. The concept is nothing groundbreaking. I'll tell you right now, it's about witches, but again, it's not the idea, it's the execution, and I think I have a unique enough spin on it to work.

The other positive, is while I'm eating my creamy chowder out of a sourdough hunk of bread this weekend, I can count the entire weekend as research.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Don't Hold Back

I'm writing my first YA sex scene. Yikes! I think there's a fine line between describing too much and not enough. Kids know what's going on. In middle school I was reading Judith McNaught novels. I knew what was going on, and that was before the widespread use of the Internet.

But as I was writing it, I found myself taming it down, and losing something.

My day job is a creative position as well, involving product and packaging design. When I first started working here, I was designing a box and trying to be conscious of the color usage because more colors means higher cost. The marketing manager at the time said to me, "Don't worry about that. Let the printer worry about it how to make it work. That's their job. Your job is to design."

She was right and that stuck with me. My job is to design. So I do, using as many colors as I want, and after it's done we work with the printer to see what we have to change to get the cost down, and sometimes we don't change anything because the box is that good.

It's true with writing too. My job is to write, and in a first round, I should include as many details as I feel necessary to describe the scene. Later I can edit it down, or I can decide to keep it as is, and let my crit partners or agent tell me to cut it. If I limit myself in the beginning, I'll never know what the scene could have been, what it would look like with six colors instead of two, which might be worth the extra cost.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Show vs. Tell: Examples

I haven't posted a lot of my writing up here. I like to play things close to the chest, but I'm working on a new piece and thought I'd post a couple of excerpts because I think they're good examples of show vs. tell.

Example 1:
This is the first line of my new work:
Only in Scott’s Valley, Connecticut would kids stand outside in the misting April rain to get into a barn.

One sentence and you learn it's a small town, probably remote and farm-ish, and the MC is not too happy about being there.

A really bad example of telling:
Scott's Valley, Connecticut is a small town. The biggest event to happen is a barn party. I hate it here.

Example 2:
When we are introduced to Hallie:
I find Hallie with her arms draped around a boy, one our mom would love, with long hair and fake tattoos drawn on his arms in Sharpie marker. They’re using the cramped quarters as an excuse to dance with their bodies pressed together.

Here we learn Hallie and the MC are sisters, and Hallie has a taste for bad boys.

A really bad example of telling:
Hallie is my sister and always picks the wrong guys to date.

Example 3:
Showing in dialogue.
"I would tell you to get my good side, except I don’t have one. They’re both equally appealing.”

This character is attractive, knows it, and isn't ashamed to tell everyone he knows it.

A really bad example of telling:
He is conceited.

I love show vs. tell examples. If you have some good ones, please share in the comments!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cat's in the Bag

This isn't writing related, or it isn't yet until I craft my letter to the Providence Animal Control director, but more of a public service announcement regarding feral cats.

Early May this article was released about a string of rabid cats in Providence.

Hoard of Rabid Cats Invade Providence's West End

One of them bit a garbage collector and an Animal Control Officer. Of course about two weeks later, I see a family of cats in our neighborhood, a mom and four kittens, and as a responsible citizen, call Animal Control who says, and I quote, "We don't pick up feral cats." When I asked who would, the woman responded, "No one does that." Her suggestion was to leave them alone and they would go away.

From the Providence Animal Control Website under services they (supposedly) provide:

We regulate uncontrolled domestic animals, investigate bites and attacks by aggressive animals, investigate reports of animal nuisance and cruelty, pick up stray and unlicensed animals, rescue injured animals, keep records of lost/found cats and dogs, license dogs, enforce city ordinances, state statues pertaining to animals, give animal information and referrals, and promote responsible pet ownership through education.

Of course if I reported the cats as being rabid, then they would have to come, but it seems to me that it would be better to collect them before they contract disease and breed rather than after, but the government always knows best. (insert extreme sarcasm here)

After I spoke with the helpful woman at Animal Control, I called the ASPCA and Providence Animal Rescue League, neither of whom could help me. The ASPCA did say I could rent a trap from them for $80 to catch the cats. Not knowing how to use a trap and a little paranoid about wrestling with a wild, mama cat, I declined.

Then, a friend suggested PawsWatch, a local non-profit organization that deals specifically with feral cats, and last night, with her help, we trapped the mom and one of the babies. Sadly, the other three disappeared before we could catch them.

What PawsWatch does is capture them, get them fixed and innoculated and releases them back into the neighborhood, unless of course one of the cats is tame enough to adopt. Here's a picture of the baby.




Now if you have any wild cats roaming the neighborhood, this is what the woman told me:





  • If you see a roaming cat, don't assume it's owned


  • After they have been fixed, the vet notches their ears


  • If you don't have a PawsWatch type organization in your area, you can probably rent a trap from your local ASPCA. (And it was really easy to set.)



  • She had me feed them regularly and when she came, we put the trap in the same place. I caught both mama and baby ten minutes after we set the trap


When the kitties are fixed and returned I will still be feeding them but at least I know they'll be healthy and not able to breed a hundred cats.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Blah Characters

I finally finished reading a book that took me months to complete, when I usually sit down and finish something in a few days. The biggest reason for my apathy was the main character. I didn't connect with her and thought at first it was because she was underdeveloped. But that wasn't quite it. It was mostly because I found her somewhat, blah. For a character to carry a novel, she has to be both interesting and real. I felt this character did neither.

Characters need a history
My characters generally have a rich history because I will write one hundred pages of a manuscript and decide I started it too soon. I start an entirely new draft at a later place but still, I have all that content from before that I can sprinkle in as backstory.

A female character going on her first date in two years is much more interesting when you can flashback to her last date, where she accidentally lit the waiter on fire and her dress tore down the middle. Tossing that in as she approaches the restaurant tells you, the reader, that she is obviously nervous and you continue reading to see if date number two is as disastrous. You probably also expect this character to be somewhat clumsy and awkward, all of which is displayed through one single story.

Reaction
I feel how characters react to situations reveals more about their personality than anything else, and this is where show don't tell plays a huge role. Take our dating disaster character from above. Knowing a bit of her history, how do you think she would react when her new date orders chocolate flambe for dessert?

Description
The book I recently read was also one of those told from first person from two characters who switch back and forth which seems to be a growing trend that I think could be cool except that often it's hard to decipher which one is narrating. Different people see things in different ways and describe them in different ways. Our dating disaster might see the chocolate flambe making its way to her table and decribe it as, "a flaming dessert from Hell." Now lets change her into a pyromanic who might look at it and say, "chocolate tickled in orange, blue and gold flames. It was mesmerizing."

Motive
I read a blog post from http://www.kidlit.com/ (I tried to find the post and couldn't) but she made a point on one of her posts that has really stuck with me. People are selfish. As I'm writing, I constantly repeat this to myself and try to think about what each one of my characters wants. Even a self-sacrficing person is that way because she wants to be. Maybe she has low self esteem and tries to make friends by pleasing everyone, or she has a wicked past and wants to make amends for it. The reactions might be the same but the motive behind those actions is what defines a character and makes them human.

What about you? Do you have any other suggestions for character development?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Some Inspiration

Nothing will work unless you do
-John Wooden

Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark. Professionals built the Titanic.
-Source Unknown

The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather is a lack of will.
-Vince Lombardi

Consider the postage stamp: its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing until it gets there.
-Josh Billings

"I can't do it" never yet accomplished anything; "I will try" has performed wonders.
-George Burnham

Persistent people begin their successes where others end in failure.
-Edward Eggleston

When we think positively and imagine what we want, we risk disappointment; when we don't, we ensure it.
-Lana Limpert

Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right.
-Henry Ford

Yes, you can be a dreamer and a doer too, if you remove one word from your vocabulary: impossible.
-Robert H. Schuller

Believe and act as if it were impossible to fail.
-Charles F. Kettering

Being challenged in life is inevitable, being defeated is optional.
-Roger Crawford

It's a little like wrestling a gorilla. You don't quit when you're tired, you quit when the gorilla is tired.
-Robert Strauss

Failure is a detour; not a dead-end street.
-Zig Ziglar

I've never failed once. It just happened to be a 2000-step process.
-Thomas A. Edison

It's hard to beat a person who never gives up.
-Babe Ruth

You are never a loser until you quit trying.
-Mike Ditka

Thursday, June 9, 2011

That Sucks




We had some rough storms here last night and though none of my friends were hurt, my friend Stephanie's car was flattened by a tree. Her car insurance won't cover it and neither will her homeowners, since it was an act of God. This might not seem like a tragedy, but it is to her since she has no car and no money to buy a new one. If anyone would like to help her, you can donate at the link below.





Monday, May 16, 2011

Orlando!

Yesterday my hubby and I got back from Orlando, FL where we spent an entire week at Disneyworld with a final day at Universal Studios. After walking about twenty miles in the hot sun from park to park, it's good to be back except for the dismal rain here in Rhode Island. We had an awesome time though. The Aerosmith Rockin' Roller Coaster was amazing, and the Tower of Terror lived up to its name. I think the German boy who was sitting next to me is probably experiencing some hearing loss in his right ear because of my blood-curdling screams. Sorry!

We stayed at the Animal Kingdom lodge and from our balcony window got to watch exotic animals like giraffe and zebra munching on fresh grass. The hotel also had a huge pool with a water slide and an eighteen person hot tub.

The Magic Kingdom I discovered is dry. Don't be fooled by restaurant names like Tortuga Tavern. There is no alcohol. Thankfully Epcot features a walk around the world with eleven featured countries each with their own beer. We did manage to drink around the world, but it took us three days.


Epcot also had the flower show where classic Disney characters were re-created entirely with plants. Here's a photo of Lotsa from Toy Story 3, and he even smelled like strawberries!



Another highlight of Epcot was the return of Captain EO starring the late Michael Jackson as a spaceship captain of renegade muppets. I saw it at Disneyland when it came out in 1986. (that's how old I am). I think it was more magical this time because I was really able to appreciate the complicated plot where an evil alien queen's inner beauty is brought forth through the gift of synthesized music and pop dancing. I of course, had to buy the signature rainbow T-shirt that Michael wore during the filming of this.


After that, I didn't think anything could top evil aliens growing 80's mullets with the power of wailing guitar riffs. I was wrong.


Our last day was spent at Universal studios where, yes, I went to Hogwart's. Be jealous. It was amazing. The castle, the village of Hogsmeade, even the butterbeer was exactly how you would imagine it to be. Inside the castle, there are talking portraits, floating candles, and 3-D projections of Harry, Ron and Hermoine.

On the main ride, you experience a broom flight with Harry, battling dragons, giant spiders and dementors with the help of a robotic carriage and a large video screen. Honestly the best ride I went on during the entire trip, and we couldn't help but laugh at the icons on the warning sign.


I love how the little "motion sickness" figure is actually spitting out polka dots.

Now it's back to routine, back to work, and I happen to have some edits waiting for me. Unfortunately vacations can't last forever.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tropes

My blog poll has been up for a while and it seems like manual labor is the way to go for getting shirts off. This opens up a plethora of other options. What can my male lust-figure be doing? Mowing the lawn, building his little sister a treehouse, chopping wood for a fire...I could probably come up with a hundred things to get my male protag sweaty and bare-chested instead of using the trope of ripping it off to bind a wound.


Speaking of tropes, please tell me you've been to the site tvtropes.org. It's a place where you can find recognizable characters, stories and plot lines used by writers in television and fiction. As the site says, "Tropes are not inherently disruptive to a story; however, when the trope itself becomes intrusive, distracting the viewer rather than serving as shorthand, it has become a cliché."


Last night for girls' movie night we watched Burlesque. The songs, the costumes and the choreography were amazing. The plot was basically one hour and forty minutes of strung together cliches. We were calling out lines before they were spoken and had the plot figured after the first five minutes.


Tropes aren't bad to use, they're tools to help the reader or watcher connect with your story. The key is to piece them together in different ways or have your characters fit one trope and switch to another. I always think of it like writing a song. There are only so many notes, so many chords, and so many ways to piece them together, yet new, original music comes out every day.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Take it off!

I've read quite a few YA books where the female protaganist cuts herself and the male protagonist doesn't hesitate to tear his shirt off to bind the wound. Talking with my husband I asked him, "If we were in the middle of nowhere and I cut my arm, what would you do?" He said he would tear a piece of his shirt off, a sleeve or the bottom, but not the whole thing.

So I think this is just a clever way to get the male love interest half-naked, but it's starting to become a little cliche, so how else can we get a guy's shirt off? What would you like to see? (Besides a little more fictional skin?)




Any other ideas? Post them in the comments. Whatever gets the most votes I'm using in my next manuscript.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Multi-Tasking

While I'm going back and forth with my agent on edits on a manuscript, I've started something new. Some people may call this obsessive compulsive disorder. I like to call it dedication to my craft. Of course as I'm going hot and strong on my new work, I get revisions back on the other.

Priority is the edits, so I had to abandon the new one and go back to the first. And they couldn't BE any more different.

First: YA Fantasy set in a fictional historic place. Written in limited 3rd, past tense.

Second: YA Sci-Fi set in contemporary fictional place with elements of time travel. Written in 1st present.

Oy. What have I gotten myself into? It's not so hard to get back into the head of the character, but what is difficult is getting back into a different style of writing. What to do?

Well first, I went through the edits and re-read chunks of my manuscript. Then I didn't do any writing for a couple of days. Instead I thought about how I would incorporate the changes, and re-directed my daydreaming to manuscript 1. During the respite time, I also re-read some of a book written in limited 3rd past tense, to get myself accustomed to the style. When I sat back down to the computer, I felt like I had a good handle on what I was doing. And reversing back to the other, I used the same strategy.

Have you ever done this? Worked on two different things simultaneously? What did you do when going back and forth?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Reasons Why I Don't Read Self-Published Works

I'm not criticizing the entire self-publishing industry, but I think even self-pubbed authors admit there is a stigma attached to veering from the traditional publishing route and this is why.

Reason #1: This woman.

If you didn't see this going around yesterday, check it out now. Self-published author, Jacqueline Howett, received a less than glowing review of her book and reamed the reviewer for it. She, as an individual, acted unprofessionally and I certainly don't think all self-pubbed authors would behave the same way or that even the majority would. The greater problem is she defended sentences like:

"Don and Katy watched hypnotically Gino place more coffees out at another table with supreme balance."


What?! I would have given it a much worse review. And not only did she defend her writing angrily and with more improper grammar, she showed us all she has no desire to improve her writing, and this I think may be a more widespread issue with self-publishing. As if the writer said, "Crank off a book and post it to Amazon. Become Kindle millionaire."


Reason #2: Covers like this

I don't want to specifically insult this author. This is just one of many bad covers I see from self-published works. The book itself has a five star review if you would like to read it, but this is why I won't.

I am a designer. I went to school for six years, I've worked in the industry for eight more and now everyone with a bootlegged copy of Photoshop thinks they too are a designer. Doing a fade out effect, a few dropshadows and slapping some Comic Sans over a photo does not a book cover make. What this says to me: "I put this together in five minutes."

If you don't take your cover seriously, what makes me think you took the pains to seriously edit your work?

Even though I am a designer and could probably put together a decent cover, I wouldn't. I have a friend who worked for Houghton as a book cover designer and you can bet if I self-pubbed, I would have her do it because she is a professional. If you're thinking of self-pubbing a work, contact her. She still does freelance.

Which brings me to...

Reason #3: If it was really good, an editor would have bought it.

There. I said it. Going the traditional publishing route is hard, and so I feel the pain, but I also get the feeling that after a book is rejected by a list of agents, an author goes, "Fine. I'll just publish it myself."

As I wouldn't deign to know the ins and outs of the book cover design world, I wouldn't assume I know more than the publishing professionals. Editors and agents read more books than you and I could ever read. It's their job. And they read books that we haven't heard of: new books, debut books, books from established authors. They know where the industry has been. They know where it's going. They have a crystal ball, and when you work with them, they'll share their knowledge with you to make your work better.

Maybe the book wasn't rejected because it was bad, but because it wasn't as good or original as something else. And if it wasn't as good or original as something else, why would I want to read it?

Reason #4: Time

I don't care if a book is only $.99. I don't have time to read it. As of now I have at least thirty books piled on my desk all waiting to be read. Books I know that are good. Books that have five star reviews from friends of mine with similar reading taste. Yes, I listen to a ton of indie music from unknown bands, but listening to song takes five minutes, not hours or days. When I have time to read a book, I have to KNOW it's worth my precious time, and three five star reviews from an author's friends and family does not convince me of that.

Reason #5: I can read pre-pubbed works for free!

I have author friends. We exchange works. We critique. We share ideas. If I'm going to read something not yet ready, it makes more sense for me to do this, so in turn, I can get feedback on my work. And I know it's coming from someone with talent, committment and a desire to improve.

But ah-ha! I am a hypocrite. I have read self-published works and they were good, but what did they do differently? The authors combatted the stereotypes above.

Check out my friend Karen's books. She hired an editor. She worked with an illutsrator. She has a website. She markets herself. She goes to events and does speaking engagements. She's showing a serious committment to her work, which is something I can stand behind.

And we've all heard of Amanda Hocking (or if we haven't we should have) Self-published Kindle Millionaire. She did the same. Put a lot of time and effort into writing, editing and marketing her book.

Of course now because of her success, we're probably going to see a slew of self-published works, and the question bodes will they take the time to edit, invest the money to hire a cover designers, and give their blood, sweat and tears to market it? Probably not, which is why I still won't go out of my way to read a self-published work.

What about you? Have you self-pubbed? Do you read self-published works? What is your opinion? And are there any good ones I'm missing out on?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Day My Calculus Class Was Mortified

I'm saving my trip into the garbage can for a later date because the day my calculus class was mortified is more relevant to my current work.

In it, are two girls who are extremely close and as I was writing it, I thought their relationship could be construed as lesbian-y (Not that there's anything wrong with that. I just hadn't intended that type of relationship for this particular work.) My agent disagreed, saying teenage girls are like that: always sitting in each other's laps, hugging, kissing on the cheek, etc, which is true. I did that, and consequently several people, most of my Calculus class, thought my friend Vanessa and I were in a romantic relationship.

It probably didn't help that we both had trendy short hair cuts, or wore ratty jeans and t-shirts most days. And I'm sure it didn't help when she sat in my lap one class because there was a hair on her seat, but there was one event in particular that clinched it.

Keep in mind, Vanessa and I were the oddballs in Calculus. We were more social, hung with a different crowd and were probably the only two in there to have seen the inside of the detention room. I feel we kept the class lively, and because of our outwardness, we were often used as an example.

One lesson, our teacher explained a problem on the board using a drawing similar to the one below:

"Let's say Rachel is standing on top of a cliff and Vanessa is down below in a boat--"

He didn't get further than that because Vanessa burst out...

"Why does Rachel always get to be on top?"

The entire class exploded into laughter, but many of them had an "I knew it look" in their eyes. When we went to Calculus Camp (yes I went to Calculus Camp, don't judge) our cabinmate Christina tried to force us to tell her we were dating.

So if there's such a fine line between two very close friends and two people who want to be "more than friends", how can we as writers, distinguish these two types of relationships? Where do the lines between them start to blur and is it okay to let them blur? Think about it and think about why two characters are just friends or more than friends. What does one get from the other? How do others perceive them? How does your reader perceive them? Real relationships are multifaceted, and your characters' relationships should be too.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Day I Ripped the Crotch Out of My Pants

The previous post has inspired me to share embarrassing moments from high school and well since there are so many I'll have blog fodder for at least the next century or so.

These are the pants, not the exact pants but so close it's bringing back the memory. The artfully torn and faded bell bottom jeans that I coveted and finally shelled out $60 of hard-earned babysitting money to purchase. They were so soft, so comfortable and fell ever-so-gracefully over my blue converse with the cheeto-orange shoelaces.

I loved these pants.

And I wore them almost daily further adding to their vintage glory.

This was senior year so I was in physics with my best friend Vanessa. We were the goof offs in the class: always late, always talking, always joking, and much to the dismay of the other students, aced every project (I'm sure it didn't hurt that my dad was an engineer). Anyway, I was wearing my fabulous bell bottom jeans on the day of bottle rocket testing. (In case you don't know what that is, it's a 2 liter soda bottle that we attached foam fins to, glitter and a handkerchief parachute. You set it off with air and the winner was the one whose rocket remained aloft the longest.)

They couldn't be tested indoors, so Mr. Vine, our physics teacher, dragged the class out to the soccer field. To get there we had to hop over a very short fence. No problem. I'm five foot nine. I lifted one leg in the air to throw it over and heard:

RIIIIIIPPPP!

A cool breeze washed over my thighs as I realized my fabulous bell bottom jeans had split down the middle. Panicked, sweating, cheeks flushed, I pinched my legs together to close off what modesty remained.

"What happened?" Vanessa asked.

"I split my pants," I replied in a quivering voice.

She laughed hysterically, and I had to laugh too. The teacher recorded the bottle rocket send offs (of course) so if any of his later students watched the videos they would see me, legs crossed over one another bending ever-so-carefully to avoid having my underwear captured on film forever. After class Vanessa and I used a conglomeration of safety pins to hold them closed for the rest of the day because as luck would have it, physics was first period.

And as upset as I was to be stuck in crotchless jeans for six hours, I was more upset over the demise of my fabulous, faded bell bottoms. The moral of this story: If you're going to wear artfully faded jeans, DON'T HOP ANY FENCES.

Next: The day I fell into the garbage can.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hooray for Hormones!

I know what you're thinking. Why is there a picture of a chubby German boy on your blog?
I know because I thought the same thing as I was flipping through my eighth grade yearbook. Who is that boy? I don't remember him from school....until I read the name listing and found my own at the end. Did I completely forget what I looked like or did I erase it from my memory along with most of the horrors of middle school?

Unfortunately in writing young adult literature, I dredge up those horrid memories and think about that time a lot. Both of the photos above are of me. The first one I was thirteen. The second was three years and six inches later. But when I write about sixteen-year-old girls, I have to think about where they came from, which means I have to think about where I came from.

Thirteen-year-old me was NOT cool. She was overweight. You can see the retainer, a welcome blessing after three years of braces and headgear. She had no boobs, but had to wear a training bra because she changed out for gym. But because of the flat chest, she often forgot the bra and had to shamefully change in the restroom. The whole point was moot, because she was awful at sports, teased for that on a daily basis and also riduled for her appearance. She was spit on, bullied...oh and she was in the National Junior Honor Society, straight A student and later in the year had the brilliant idea of getting a perm.

Finally puberty came late and fast, adding six inches over the course of two years. All that baby fat turned into a figure. (thank goodness) But the second girl still felt like the first girl. Her freshman year of high school, she collected six dollars and eighty two cents in change because she always looked at the ground.

And do you have any idea what it's like to all of a sudden add six inches to your body? It's all arms and legs. I was tripping all over the place, constantly knocking things over with my butt and I had a permanent bruise on my hip from running into tables and counters. And now I love being tall, but not in high school when most of the boys were shorter than me and I felt like this huge, awkward, hormonal giant. I may have been outwardly attractive then, but I didn't see it.
So when I'm working on a new character, I try to get into her head. Maybe she wasn't a chubby dork turned Amazon, but where was she in middle school? Where was she as a child? How was her upbringing? What were her friends like? And what lingering childhood traumas followed her into adolescence?

Answering these questions often tells me how she perceives herself and the world around her. Someone with confidence sees things very differently than someone without. Or some people use confidence as a shield against their low self-esteem, so internally they're as miserable as the rest of us. All of this starts before your story, but it makes your story.
Often I start a new document and write a short story on a historical event for my character. Sometimes I add it into the manuscript as backstory, sometimes I don't. Either way I think it helps me build a real person.
Do you do this in your character development phase? Do you write an outline for your character's past? Jot down some earlier events? Or do you just plan it all out in your head?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Crushing Dreams

I have a self-published writer friend who is mentoring a young lady aspiring to be a YA novelist. She asked me to meet with her and talk about my journey in the quest for publication. This particular young lady is extremely ambitious, but like most of us starting out, has the starry eyed dreams of making it to the New York Times best seller list in a year.

I tried very hard not to laugh and be considerate of her aspirations, but I felt I would be doing her a disservice if I didn't prepare her for the journey because it's not for the faint of heart.

The truths I told.

You have to edit.
New writers never think of editing. I didn't. I cranked out my first book in a month and started sending it out. Unfortunately for me, I wrote a fantastic query letter for it. I got a manuscript request on the first query letter I sent. And later I got my harshest rejection to date: "There's too much wrong with it for me to go into detail." And she was right because I also didn't pay attention to formatting. It was double-spaced and that's about it. No indentations for dialogue, improperly punctuated dialogue and I think the word, or pretend word, "OK" was in there at least a thousand times.

Agents typically only sign a few clients a year from the thousands of query letters they receive.
I thought she might cry after I told her this.

Even after you get an agent, it doesn't mean your book will get published.
I saw her mind at work, picturing herself at my age, still unpublished.

You're going to get rejected...a lot.
This she seemed prepared for, which is good, but I think everyone says that until they start collecting rejection letters.

Once you've sent a query letter to an agent and been rejected, that book is dead to that particular agent.
This I wanted to tell her so she would only send out her best work.

On the positive side...
The industry is really subjective.
Someone may hate it. Someone else might love it. If you've edited your little heart out and you stand behind your work, keep sending it out.

Why the heck aren't you reading blogs, twitter, etc?
I cringe over my first novel. It's locked in a drawer, never be seen by human eyes again. Had I not researched, researched and researched online: reading agent blogs, publishing blogs, articles, Twitter chats, other writer's blogs...I'm confident my following manuscripts would be equally crappy.

And because I follow a ton of agents on Twitter...
Mermaids, vampires and books in the eighties are over done.
She said she was working on some manuscripts set in the eighties and I told her agents get innundated with those because a lot of YA writers are in their thirties (like me), and we write what we know, the eighties and nineties. Agents see this as a lazy way to get around dealing with technology or finding out how things are today.

BUT I also told her the most important thing is to write a great book, because a fantastic story about a mermaid in the eighties will get more notice than an okay book about a modern shapeshifter.

I don't think I completely dissuaded her from writing, but I certainly gave her a lot to think about.

Did I miss anything major?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Social Media. WTF.

Ah yes. The hidden joy of having a day job: business conferences. This morning was the Providence Business News' Social Media as a Marketing Tool.

I always enter these warily, expecting a thinly guised sales pitch, but this one was not. It was informative and discussed differing techniques for utilizing social media across varying industries featuring social media marketers in consumer product, design, legal counsel, insurance and non-profit organizations.

The major takeaways:

  • The majority of Facebook users are in their thirties and college-educated
  • Every one of the panelists has a full-time person monitoring their social media networks (and not an intern. Someone familiar with the brand and the way it should represented.)
  • Followers like giveaways and contests. They also like to input their opinion. Lolita Healy, Founder & President of Designs by Lolita, uses her followers to create collection ideas
  • Followers also like to vote and nominate. The Newport Art Museum allows people to upload their own art and users vote on their favorites
  • Followers do not respond as well to open-ended questions, rather a choice: Vanilla or chocolate?
  • Customize your Facebook page with the Facebook Static FBML app
  • Create an icon for your product. Alec Beckett, Creative Partner for Nail Communications created Hector, the paper mache cockatoo, for the Margarita's Mexican restaurant to converse with customers

As writers, think about how these techniques can apply to your own social media marketing plan. Can you create a Facebook page for one of your characters? Allow people to upload ideas for your story and vote? Which authors do you think take charge of Twitter and Facebook?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Back in the Drawer

My latest manuscript is out for reads. This doesn't mean I stop writing. I just move onto something else. Before I started this one, I was trying to rework an old manuscript. It's a good idea. There are good things about it, but overall it needs vast amounts of work. This is my first complete manuscript and it's been sitting in a drawer.

I took it out, tried starting it in a different place, switching to first person present from first person past and it's still not working for me. And now, it just feels old. Last night I was growing increasingly frustrated with it and though I still think it has potential, I've decided to put it back to rest.

It's hard to let go, but who knows, it still may come back out at a later date when I'm struck with inspiration.

Have you ever had to drop a manuscript and move on? Was it utterly painful?

Friday, February 4, 2011

My Week in Recap

*Finished a draft of my latest novel and sent it off for beta reads!

*Wrote a parody of Patience by Guns n' Roses, filmed it with muppets and posted it to win a Valentine's Date on the Conan O'Brien show (see previous post)

*After seeing myself on video and consequently wearing muffin top pants today, have signed up for Weight Watchers.

*Agency sister Brigid Kemmerer sold her book to K Teen (read her post about it here)

*Had chick flick movie night last night and watched Eclipse. I've switched to Team Jacob

And now for your enjoyment, pets cuddling!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

This is what happens when I'm not writing

I was supposed to go see Neko Case last night, but due to the weather, the show was postponed. Already having scheduled a writing free night, I had some time to fill. And that's when I found this contest to share Valentine's Day with Conan O'Brien. Sick and tired of snow and ice and cold I thought, "A free trip to L.A. is worth embarrassing myself on YouTube."

This is the result:



We shot the video first using ourselves and when I saw it, realized how fat I look, which is why we re-filmed it with puppets. Enjoy! I'm off to sign up for Weight Watchers.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Revision Success!

Regarding my previous post, I am a prolific writer and although I can maintain enough patience to keep from spreading my new work to the universe, I have to show it to someone, that person usually being my ever-supportive husband.

I thought I had the first few chapters of my new manuscript in amazing shape and passed them to him. He read and enjoyed the first two and put it down at the third.

"Isn't it amazing? Isn't this the best thing you've ever read?" I asked him.
He lowered his eyes while rubbing the back of his neck.
"Umm, it's well, uh, it gets a little slow," he replied, and cowered in anticipation for my wifely outrage. (which did not come)

Instead I went back to my computer. Immediately I found the reason for his boredom. There was information I needed to impart to the reader that I didn't think was very exciting so I started the chapter further along and dumped it in as backstory. Too much backstory. Two pages of backstory. So I re-wrote it, starting the chapter in a new place and added a bit of a rush to the circumstances to build the excitement.

He re-read it yesterday and said, "I don't know what you did. It seems like all of the same information is in there, but it's so much better."

Now that is a great revision compliment. Sometimes turning something good into something great just takes one brave person to tell you it's boring and you having enough sense to listen to them.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Benefits for the Prolific Writer

Yesterday, agent Rachelle Gardner posted a blog: The Dilemma of the Prolific Writer. Since I happen to be one of these writers, I read it several times.

Rachelle's intent was not to suggest that cranking out novels is necessarily a bad thing, but as a first time novelist, there will be some considerable waiting time, and these books may spend years on a shelf before they can be submitted.

I think one of the key points in the entry is..."they’ve finished that new project and they’re antsy to do something with it."

If you're going to write novel after novel, you can't get antsy about it, and there will come a time when you have to set aside a new work in progress to market or edit an older one. Though, understanding these challenges, I find there are some benefits to being a prolific writer as well:

1. During waiting times for feedback or revisions, there is no better way to distract yourself than to work on something new, and since you might have a year or more before it goes out for sale, you can experiment. Try different voices, narrators, play with the language, really use this as an opportunity to work on your craft.

2. Like it or not, your work is a product to be bought and sold. If you own a dress shop and only have one dress, you only have the opportunity to sell one dress. A customer comes into the store who adores your designs, but is looking for something blue, and all you have is purple. Well it just so happens I have a blue dress in the back. It might need some major alterations before it can be sold, but that's easier than making one from scratch.

3. Break it up and sell it for parts. Agent says, "I'd really like to see a scene where elephants trample through a suburban neighborhood." Luck behold, I just wrote a scene in a new book where dinosaurs trample through a suburban neighborhood! I can change the dinosaurs to elephants, insert the character names from my older manuscript, rework the language and dialogue, and it's done. I can always insert some other terrifying scene into the new manuscript later.

Are you a prolific writer or do you take a break between manuscripts and brainstorm? What are the benefits to your process?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Chapter Endings

I've been avoiding watching True Blood for a while, saying to myself, "I need a break from vampires." I finally gave in, drank the Kool-aid, and have become obsessed. My hubby and I watched eight hours of it yesterday. Eight hours!

There are so many things that make it great: the premise, the mystery, the dialogue, the multi-dimensional characters, but there's one thing in particular that kept us going from one episode to the next...the endings.

We'd start a new one and say, "Okay, this will be our last." Then at the end, the characters were left in such dire circumstances we had to find out what happened next. Do they live? Do they die? Will vampire Bill be able to save Sookie yet again? We finally had to quit so we could go to bed, but I'm sitting here at work, counting down the hours to another episode.

Even though I spent my entire Sunday on the sofa, it wasn't a complete waste of time. It made me think about how I could incorporate this ploy into my own work and because of it, I thought of a few high-strung places where I could cut to a new chapter and keep people reading.

The Hunger Games is another example of great chapter endings. Prim's name is called for the reaping and BAM! End chapter. If you can close the book there, you have stronger willpower than I do.

I haven't read the Sookie Stackhouse books yet but they are on my list (along with about 20 others) I want to see if Charlaine Harris employed the same chapter endings in her writing. What about you? What books have you read that left you wanting more chapter after chapter?