Tuesday, December 18, 2012

More Tricks of the Trade

I could say things about recent horrid events. I could, but I won't. I think we've all heard enough about it from a million "experts" on Facebook. All I will say is my heart hurts everytime I think about it.

Instead I will continue with positive things...like not being fat.

If you read my previous post, here, you'll know I'm doing Weight Watchers. For the second time. Not that it didn't work the first time. It did. But when I was pregnant, I used that as an excuse to eat pounds and pounds of nachos.

I'm a champ at Weight Watchers, and as the New Year approaches, I want everyone else to be a champ at it too. I have my little tricks of the trade, and here they are for you all to enjoy. To recap...

#1 Screw it Up
Enter in a weight about 50 pounds less than you really weigh for the first week. It makes that week SO much harder, but the following weeks that much easier. And we're in this for the long haul, right?

And now for more...

#2 Be a Points Hoarder
Every week you get a stash of 40 points to blow however you want. Me, I squirrel those points away, refusing to eat a single one until the weekend. When Saturday rolls around, my eyes glisten, and my mouth waters. I eat an entire plate of nachos and wash it down with several beers, and when weigh in rolls around on Monday, I'm down a pound. Don't believe me? Come get drunk with me on a Saturday night and then watch me step on the scale Monday morning. It works. And it gives me one day to relive the glory days of stuffing processed food in my mouth.

#3 Eat Half
So simple, right? Eat half. You're dying for a cheeseburger. You've been dreaming about cheesy melty beef for days, but don't want to eat it because it's going to blow your daily points. But half a cheeseburger is only 10 points, which is manageable, and half a cheeseburger is actually pretty filling. Try it, and if you really really want that other half, dip into your weekly points. When you start denying yourself things is when dieting gets frustrating.

#4 Find Your Freebies
On the new system, all fruits and veggies are 0 points, which means, if I really want, I can gorge myself on Taco Bell and then eat carrot sticks for the rest of the day. But I HATE carrot sticks! However, I do like pickles. And pickles are also 0 points. A half cup of fat free cottage cheese is only 1 point. So is a fat-free mozzarella cheese stick

Okay, so a full-fat mozzarella cheese stick is better, but the fat-free one is good enough and promises one day, in the not-so-far-future, I won't have to wear mumuus. Find your favorite 0 and 1 point snacks and KEEP THEM AROUND! They don't do you any good if they're not within reach when you get hungry.

#5 Walk Yourself a Beer
This will be my last tip before I start sounding like an insufferable know-it-all. Everyone hates those people. But this is important. Track your activities, and not just when you go to the gym. Check it. You can earn food points for housework and snow-shoveling. If you're going to do it anyway, you might as well get a beer afterward, right? And that's how I prefer to look it. When you go out to exercise, don't think about the points you can earn, think about the TREAT you can earn.

I'm now 20 pounds into my journey with a long way to go, but I'm confident I can do it. Regardless if you're doing WW or just exercising more and making smarter food choices, I want to wish you the best of luck in getting or staying healthy!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The System for the System

Okay, so I've slacked a little bit (a lot bit) on the blog updates. Being a mom is a lot harder than I thought it would be. You know, before I was a mom, I never realized how easy it was to take a shower. Ahh, the little things you learn to appreciate.

Yes, I have been writing. Not as much, of course, but I manage to sneak in a page here and there. But this blog post is not about my writing, it's about how fat I got when I was pregnant. And I mean faaaat. Not like 20 pounds fat, more like 50 pounds fat on top of the 30 I'd gained prior to becoming pregnant. My darling baby was raised on Taco Bell nachos. Surprisingly, he did not come out flourescent orange.

So by about October I decided to get serious about losing weight. I had been signed up to Weight Watchers for about a year, but had only been paying the $17 a month and eating nachos. For some reason, it didn't work. However, when I started following the points system, I magically lost weight! And in 2 and a half months, I've lost 20 pounds of the fat I need to shed.

Now, I had done Weight Watchers before and lost 60 pounds the first time around, so I wasn't a newbie to the system. However, they changed it all on me so I had to completely re-learn it. I know other people have tried Weight Watchers and it doesn't work for them. Since I'm a pro, I'm going to give you my system for the system. Because if I can do it, seriously, anyone can. (You have no idea how much I love nacho cheese.)

#1 Start off wrong.
Apparently with my fat sausage fingers I can't correctly enter my weight. Or I enter in what I wish I weighed. I've done this starting off both times, putting in my weight 60-100 pounds less than it really is. And you know, your points are based on your weight, which means I start off with 5-10 less daily points than I should have.

So the first week is torturous starving. I am obsessed with food. I dream about it. I randomly smell it. My mouth waters at food commercials. I drink gallons of water to try and fill the void, knowing if I can just make it through this week without my Nachos Bel Grande, I can do it.

And I do.

And then I go to log my new weight and see that I screwed it up the first time. When I fix it, 5-10 more wondrous food points appear, and the second week feels like a feast every day because I can eat so much more. It doesn't feel like dieting anymore. It feels like Christmas.

And that's tip #1, tune in next week for more ways to survive Weight Watchers.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I'm baaaack!

And I have a good excuse for my two month hiatus...I had a baby! Yes, he is our first and likely only baby. I have to admit, it was a tough labor. We adore him to pieces but I don't think I want to go through that again. Everyone says you forget, but I think it's more like "suppress." I swear I had PTSD after the experience, and only recently became able to sit for long periods of time. I'm only glad I didn't have to have a vampire c-section to get him out.

He's sleeping right now so instead of using this quiet time to do laundry or dishes, I'm writing. YAY! This is the longest break I've taken from my craft although I've used some of my downtime to mentally plot out some things. I hope everyone else has been enjoying their summer while I've been changing poopy diapers and cringing at the vision of my naked body. What have you been doing?

And now for a cute baby photo! (the cutest in my opinion) Meet Jaxson Dean!

I'm going to inhale a turkey sandwich now before he wakes up.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Buy Books!

My dad and I were discussing books and he'd said he'd recently read one he'd gotten at the Dollar Store and loved. (You can cringe, I did) Anyway, there is a sequel to it, one he wanted. I looked it up online and found it for $13. He didn't want to pay the money, and trust me, buying the book wouldn't have sent him to the poorhouse. But since he got the first one for a dollar, thirteen dollars seemed like a lot to him. I bought it for him, and he whipped through it in a couple of days because he loved it.

This is what astounds me. People who love great books, people who read all the time, won't spend money on books. I certainly don't expect people to buy the number of books I buy in a year, but if all those avid readers, like my dad, bought a couple of full-price books a year, there wouldn't be all these tales of woe coming from the publishing companies and booksellers. If you love books, buy them! It's the only way to make sure they stick around, and if $13 seems like a lot to you, below are a few price comparisons you and my dad should really be scoffing at.

Starbuck's Frappuccino - about $4.00
Mmm. Yum yum! A delicious, coffee-flavored frosty beverage. Buy three of these, and you've bought yourself a book. A book is hours of enjoyment and intellectually stimulating. It tickles the imagination and evokes emotions. A frappuccino gives you coffee breath and thunder thighs.

Movie Tickets - $10.00 (each) 
I'm sure the price varies from location to location, but this is what we pay here for 2 hours of entertainment while sitting on a smelly, uncomfortable seat with sticky floors and some guy yapping on his cellphone through half of the flick. One movie ticket and you've bought yourself an e-book you can enjoy on the beach with the soothing sounds of the ocean and a crisp breeze kissing your cheeks. And once it's over, you can read it again, for FREE! You want to see a movie a second time, better get out your wallet.

Cable Television: $80 a month (at least)
I think I'm being generous to the cable companies here. And sure, for your eighty dollars a month (which comes out to almost a grand per year) you get awesome shows like The Walking Dead (based off a graphic novel), True Blood (based off a book series) and Game of Thrones (based off a book series...sensing a trend here?). But there's more! You get Jersey Shore, Desperate Housewives and a whole bunch of other lackluster, reality TV shows. Sure, the History channel is right there, but what do you watch? Snooki beating up some other girl in a bar. And each time you watch it, you get dumber.*

Cut the cable and guess what? You get network channels for FREE with plenty of crappy shows to occupy your time, AND you could have 8 new books a month to fill in the informercial spaces! Your brain cells will grow, your imagination will expand, and when the next, hot book gets picked up for a TV series, you can be the coolest of your friends when you say, "I know all about it. I read the book."

So Dad, as you're writing that check for your cable bill, think about your $13 book and decide what's more valuable: eight more great books a month, or Keeping up with the Kardashians.

*There is no actual science and data to prove this, only my biased opinion as being a person who does not have cable.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Switching Perspectives

Oh yeah. I'm doing it. In first person. Something I keep seeing in current YA lit and can't stand. Why? Because it's confusing. The characters always end up sounding the same, which is espcecially annoying when one is supposed to be a boy and they both sound like girls. After reading quite a few of these, I think I've come up with some ways to avoid the pitfalls, and I want to try my hand at it.

#1: Catch Phrases
The characters I've chosen to narrate are very different, which I think, helps. My male MC is a Southern boy, so he narrates with Southern comparisons, ie, "She looked like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs." Often I start his chapters with one of these sayings so the reader knows right away who is speaking.

#2: Description
Okay, this is similar to the above, but the way two people describe things should be different. My female MC is VERY detailed. Where my male MC would say, "her eyes were blue," she would say, "his eyes were pale blue with flecks of green and gold slashing through the iris." Again, if I start a chapter with a saying like this, it establishes who is speaking.

I also keep the voice consistent throughout the chapter, and when writing my male MC's parts, stop myself when I catch him describing clothes. Boys don't care about clothes like girls do (at least not most of the boys I know.) If he says something about clothes it might be, "She was wearing those huge heels that every girl at school tromps around in."

#3: Names
This is such as easy way to establish narrator at the beginning of a chapter...say the other character's name. "John!" I cried.
Obviously my female MC is speaking because people don't go around shouting their own names out (most of the time).

These are my tricks for making the perspective switch a little easier for the reader. Have you ever written a novel from two different narrators in 1st person? How did it go? And what did you do to make it clear to the reader who was narrating?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

New Beginnings

I don't post a lot of writing up here. It's not that I'm afraid of what the masses will think. (I doubt any of you could be harder on my writing than I am.) It's just that I usually keep my WIP's close to the chest. But I have a manuscript in the works now that required a whole new beginning. Why? Because I made the classic mistake of starting too late, which meant filling in with a load of snooze-worthy backstory.

I did it because I wanted to cut my word count and get into the action. However in doing so, there was a lot of "telling" about characters rather than "showing." Needless to say, it has been changed, and I want to show this because I was recently reading the Secret Agent Submissions on the Authoress' blog and noticed a lot of this month's entries did the same thing, which makes me think I'm not the only one who jumps the gun.

But below, see what can happen when you're not afraid to tear your manuscript to shreds and start over.

Old Beginning

Gazing out beyond the borders of the white picket fence, dread clamps down on me. I’ve been there before. It’s lonely, depressing, secluded and always mingled with the fear that I’ll make a mistake, and one of the Nons will see the word, “witch,” branded on my forehead. Out there is what they call normal. They can keep normal. I’d rather stay at Wilcox, and I’m not the only one extending the last few precious seconds we have left here.

On a bench, underneath one of the magnolia trees, Matt and Jenna are saying their final goodbyes, or not saying them really. Beyond them, there’s a basketball game happening on the courts, a brutal one by the look of it. Dean already has a black eye and Steve just collapsed from an elbow to the ribs. It must be the re-match of the one from last week, called due to unlawful spell casting. One team slipped the other a slow locomotive draught in their Gatorades. This is their last day to play until next year and it looks like they’d all rather end up in the nurse’s office than go home with the title, “loser.”

I’d rather not go home at all.

New Beginning
A bead of sweat rolls down my forehead. I take the time to wipe it away only to keep it from dripping into my potion and ruining it. Squinting up at the board, I try not to look at the clock above it and instead focus on the instructions. Two grasshopper legs, add one at a time.

With a pair of tweezers, I pinch one of the browned legs from the jar and drop it in my cauldron. It lands with a hiss and the pink bubbling potion turns a shade darker. I drop the second one in and watch it dissolve before I stir the potion ten times, clockwise.

I’m on my last ingredient, five drops of nymph water. At the next table, Derrick’s potion is a sickly green color and he’s only now adding the dragon dung. The rest of the cauldrons in the room are filled with a bubbling rainbow I’ve already been through. At the front of the room sits the prize. The new cauldron, stainless steel and big enough for me to fit inside, which isn’t saying much. I’m so short, I can fit in most cauldrons, but I want to win this one.

Tilting the jar of pale green water over my cauldron, one drop falls into my potion followed by the second and the third.

“Finished,” a voice calls. I snap my wrist back as the fourth drop spills over the edge.

Madison has a wide smile stretched across her tanned cheeks and inside her cauldron is a lavender potion, burbling happily. No way. There is no way she won. Her potion has to be wrong.

This is still a WIP, but which beginning do you like better? I find that when my beta readers tell me a part is moving slowly, it's generally because it's been weighed down with telling and backstory. Sometimes it's hard to get rid of it, but it can make a huge difference when you do.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Serial Abandonment

I'll admit, I've been skipping around lately. I have a novel with my agent for review, but while she's editing, I'm using the downtime to work on something new...or old...or older...or something really new. I currently have three projects in the works (not including the one my agent has). When I get stuck on one, I go back to another and try it from a different POV or start it somewhere else.

Part of me feels like I've given up when I set aside a project. I'm a type A, get-things-done kind of person so leaving something unfinished drives me nuts. However, wasting precious writing time staring at a blinking cursor also drives me nuts. Especially when I know what I've written already is pretty crappy.

It's at that point, I drop it, take a few days off and read. Soemtimes I go back to that project and sometimes I'm inspired to pick up something else. It's gotten to the point where when my hubby asks, "What are you working on in there?" I don't want to tell him because what I'm working on today might not be what I'm working on tomorrow.

My flighty process as it has been, might be paying off. Out of all this jumping back and forth, I think I have something worthwhile in the works. Sure, I've swiped some ideas from the other two projects and borrowed a few characters, but in this mashup, there could be something great.

So what do you do when you're stuck? Do you stick it out with one project? Take some time off? Or start something new?

Also, as a side note, yesterday I saw two mix-ups with "elude" and "allude." Weird considering they're not everyday words. But after seeing it twice, I wondered if I had been using it correctly. So as a grammar refresher on "allude" vs "elude," check out this post on Writer's Digest.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lucky 7: Peek at a New Story

I was tagged by Lisa B.

The Rules: Go to page 77 of your current MS.
Go to line 7.
Copy down the next 7 lines/sentences, and post them as they’re written.
No cheating.
Tag 7 other victims …er, authors.

This is from a MS currently in edit-land.

I know where I am.

On the other side of the fence, I see my lawn chair sitting next to our small, inflatable pool. Inside my house, lights blink on and off through the windows. By following the lights I can follow the Coven’s progress through the rooms. They’re searching my room now and taking their time. The blinds start to lift, and I duck down and press into the wall of Seth’s room.

I’ve been here once before. Three years ago, Frank and Mildred Kauffman lived in this house.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

B.I.G. Code

I'd never heard of the Kill/Boff/Marry guy rating system until I read this post on Forever Young Adult regarding The Hunger Games . (You should read it. It's hysterical.) I guess I was ahead of my time because in high school, I had my own guy rating system. And this was before Twitter, Facebook and when typing in shorthand was just catching on. (My favorite: a/s/l)

Working at my first job making pizzas, one of my female coworkers and I needed a way to rate the male customers who came into the store without them knowing. This spawned B.I.G.

B: Beastly
I: I'd do him (except we didn't say "do")
G: Gorgeous

Then we had variations because not every boy fit into one of the above categories.

BBI: Beast but I'd still do him (for those nice/fun guys who aren't an A+ in the looks dept.)
GG: Gorgeous God
GBB: Gorgeous but beastly (for all those good-looking jerks)

The slang may have changed, but teenage girls have not. How many YA protaganists are 16-year-old girls? A lot. And this is what teenage girls do. Think about boys, talk about boys, whisper about boys. They share private jokes with their best friends and sometimes even make-up their own language.

Of course, teenage girls aren't one dimensional. When they're not thinking about boys, they're worrying about their appearance, dealing with their parents, planning for the future, passing their finals, picking colleges, standing up to bullies...and on and on and on. I think that's why so many writers like to write YA. There's never a shortage of drama.

But adding little tidbits to your novel like a secret guy rating code between friends adds realism to your characters, because it is real. I couldn't have been the only teenager to do it. Keep that in mind when crafting your characters. The quirks and details are what turn a series of words into a real person.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Hotties of Literature

I now know my hubby doesn't read my blog, which is a good thing for this post because I can freely talk about barely-legal hotties. Agency sister and friend, Brigid Kemmerer, spawned this event to cast hot, young actors for books we love. (Her debut, STORM, is coming out next month and has four tasty boys to choose from.) When she mentioned it, I couldn't resist. She knows I'm always on the lookout for a nice set of abs.

The book I chose to cast is: DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth. This was my favorite book of 2011. I'm hoping to see it on the big screen eventually, and here is who I'd like to see.

Tris: The MC and narrator of the novel. She abandons her self-sacrificing family for a more exciting future with the Dauntless. She's a fighter, but years of thinking of others' needs first sticks with her. Described in the novel, "I am not pretty--my eyes are too big and my nose is too long--but I can see that Christina is right. My face is noticeable." For that reason, I chose... Dakota Fanning, specifically how she was done up for the Runaways.

Four: The hard-edged Dauntless instructor who has a soft spot for Tris. He values teamwork and bravery and has a shaded past. Described by Tris, "He has a spare upper lip and a full lower lip. His eyes are so deep-set that his eyelashes touch the skin under his eyebrows, and they are a dark blue color..." A tough combo, but I'm going to go with Logan Lerman best known as playing Percy Jackson and about a four out of five himself..on the eye-candy scale.

Christina: Tris' outgoing Candor friend who always says what's on her mind. Described as, "...tall with dark brown skin and short (black) hair. Pretty." I'm going to assume she's black, and select Zoe Kravitz, though I'm not sure how tall she is.

Will: The intelligent Erudite boy who has a thing for Christina. "He is a blond with shaggy hair and a crease between his eyebrows." For him I choose Kendall Schmidt, because I can see him being the smart, nerdy-type, the guy who you can snuggle up to while he reads you excerpts from a textbook. Not that you'd be paying attention to the subject matter.

Eric: The Dauntless leader also taking part in the transfer training. He despises the weak, and is the novel's bully. Described by Tris, "His face is pierced in so many places I lose count, and his hair is long, dark and greasy." I choose Robert Adamson. Yeah we have to toughen him up, but he looks like he could have a mean, dark side.

Al: Tris' large and loyal friend, Al is the golden-retriver type: sensitive and kind. Described in the book, "Al is half a foot taller than Will and twice as broad. As I stare at him, I realize that even his facial features are big--big nose, big lips, big eyes." This was my toughest pick, but I'm going with Miles Teller who played Willard in the remake of Footloose because Willard is a similar character to Al.

That covers the main characters. Join the fun! Cast your favorite book and share the link so we can all see.

Monday, March 5, 2012

What's Hot in Children's Books?

My husband and I are having our first, and likely, only child. In setting up the nursery, I'm of course, stocking up on children's books, including many of the classics I remember from my childhood, like:

The Dr. Seuss Classics (That my sister tells me were apparently banned from our house because our Southern mother couldn't get through the rhymes. I had to read them at school.)

Mr. Men
The Richard Scarry Books (Mom failed at Dr. Seuss, but she made up for it by sewing us a Lowly Worm plush out of felt.)
The Poky Little Puppy
Goodnight Moon
and...Pat the Bunny

And what fun it is to read through these again and relive my childhood memories! (Although, as an adult I found some of the character development to be lacking and the motivation for their actions shallow at best.) But how much depth can you really create in 20 pages of a few words each?

Since I'll be a first time parent, I've been out of the children book scene for a while. And by a while I mean about twenty-six years. I always like to read the latest in YA, so my question is, what's hot in children's books these days? Are any of you parents? What do your kids have? What do I absolutely need to add to my collection? And are there any classics I'm missing?

Since I'll probably screw up most other aspects of his life, I'd like to at least make sure his reading material is top grade.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Negative Reviews

Everything you send out on the Internet could go from here to China in less than a minute.

Even if it is a private message to a select group of persons, what is to keep one of those persons from forwarding it or posting it to their blog? Nothing. Personally, I think there is no excuse for writing a nasty email, or tweet, or Facebook update. That's the beauty of writing. You always have a chance to go back, review and edit before clicking that "Post" button. So think hard before you click that mouse button.

No, this is not a fun Friday update, but something to think about. I was just tooling around on Goodreads and found a discussion about a book. The reviewer gave a lengthy one-star review of a novel. Some of the comments were harsh, but also valid with excerpts of the text to back up her opinion. In response, the author, who claims she intended to only send a message to her friends, sent it to the reviewer as well, calling her names and claiming she only gave the review because she was jealous and wanted to drive ratings down on the book. The email included a secondory plea to spam Amazon with five star ratings to change the overall rating.

*head desk*

This email was then forwarded by the reviewer, who was understandably upset. And the author, in the backlash, sent an apology email...too little too late.

I can understand the author's point of view. How hard it must be to go to your Amazon book page and see a bad review at the top for everyone one to read after going through the lengthy trials of writing, editing and finally getting published. But every published author is going to get at least one bad review. And there are better ways to deal with it than by insulting your readers, especially those who have a connection base of thousands.

I personally, will never read this book or another book by this author. I'm not going to say who because I'm not stupid. This is the Internet! However, if speaking with one of my friends offline, you bet I'll steer her away from the novel and not only because of the low-rating.

The best way to deal with negative reviews is to ignore them and continue promoting your book. Many authors don't even read reviews. And by God, if you simply can't keep your fingers away from the keyboard, then think hard before you send something. If I were in the author's position, I might respond with, "I'm sorry you didn't like my book, but thank you for your insightful review. I hope you'll consider reading my next book..." And I bet the reviewer will read it. (Although you might not want her to.)

I'm curious about you, though. Am I the only one who won't read a book because the writer made an Internet snafu? Or does a lack of professionalism leave a bad taste in your mouth too?

Monday, February 20, 2012


We all do it. We're writers. Our job is to use words to build a world and characters for our readers, and we can get carried away doing it. I'm going to use my husband as one example, and we'll see if he leaves a comment. Then I'll know if he even reads my blog.

He has a band, called Sweet Love, and whenever someone asks him what type of music they play, he'll say, "It's sort of stoner rock, fuzz rock with metal elements." And the people politely smile and nod. And then I add in, "It's grunge." They smile wider and go, "Oh that's cool."

My husband's description of his music is obviously more accurate, describing all of the different nuances they've worked into their sound. My description is generic, but it's easier to understand and appeals to a broader audience. Which is better?

Author Ann Hood ran a seminar at a writer's conference in Boston I attended and used this great example. She was out with a friend and he made an observation about a guy and said, "His face looks like a ham."

I don't know about you, but I immediately picture this puffy pink-faced man. Now her friend could have used more descriptive words, "His face was swollen and pink, raw around the edges and puffed out around the jaw...." or "His face looked like a ham."

Both descriptions are comprehendable. Both give you the same picture, but the original "ham" comment is more succinct and I think, gives greater insight to Ms. Hood's friend. He's got a sense of humor and doesn't keep his judgments to himself. This is someone I could spend 300 pages with just to see what he's going to say next.

So as you're writing, look closely at those places that seem to be a mile long string of adjectives and see if you can trim them down and add more personality to the piece. Maybe your character is long-winded and you decide to keep the adjectives right where they are. Or maybe you decide to give your MC more of an attitude and change it up. There's a place for both types of writing in the world. You only decide which one you want your piece to be.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Blinded by Toxic Nerve Gas

A golden rule of writing: if your manuscript is getting stale, put your heroine in more trouble.

It's great to follow, but I always loosely translated that as:
Throw some bombs at her!
Kill off her family!
Have her blinded by toxic nerve gas!

That's all well and good, and exciting to be sure, but can sometimes be a little too much. What the rule really means is to push your heroine's desires further away from her, which could be a bomb or the sudden onset of blindness due to toxic gasses, or something much less dramatic. Basically, don't give her what she wants. Make her work for it and get the reader involved in her struggle.

Some of my favorite books are the ones where I'm practically shouting at the heroine to do something different. Of course, some of my least favorite ones are books where the heroine continually makes stupid decisions. There is a very fine line between being cautious and being a moron. So the challenge is to make things harder for your heroine but have her respond to new developments in a logical way.

In my current MS, my heroine is starting to like someone who is completely wrong for her. When she finally admits it to one of her friends, the boy overhears her confession. In the following chapter he confronts her about it and I had two choices: he could profess his undying love for her OR he could give her the "just friends" speech.

I wrote this chapter twice, using both scenarios. The thing us, you WANT the two of them to hook up, but the chapter I liked better was the one where he gave her the "just friends" speech. Had I let them skip off into blissful relationship happiness, what reason would you have to keep reading?

This is what I mean by making trouble for your characters. Simple trouble. Relatable trouble. Who hasn't liked someone only to find out they're in the "friend zone?" When my heroine finds out, she's stunned. Her ego takes a major blow. This is something we've all felt, and in addition to dashing my heroine's expectations, I make you, the reader, like her more because you can empathize with her.

If I had blinded her, you might feel sorry for her sudden loss of vision, but it wouldn't be something you would understand. (Unless it has happened to you.) So if your story is starting to drag in the middle, try giving your girl some normal troubles like:

Lied to by a friend!
Dumped by a boyfriend!
The target of the mean girl's bullying!
Parents getting divorced!
Dad in jail!

And if those don't work, by all means set off a gas bomb.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Is Goodreads Good?

Yes, of course it is. It's in the name for Pete's sake. BUT is it good for aspiring writers? I'm still going to vote yes, even though I think there are some potential pitfalls.

Where it is absolutely good: Groups
I'm in a couple of YA groups and not only does this connect me with folks who would be my potential readers, it connects me with books in my chosen genre. With a new book assigned every month, I keep up on my reading and while I'm reading, I think about the book in terms of writing, story and characterization because I'm going to have to discuss it all later. They don't take a vague "I liked it," or "I hated it," as an answer. You better have reasoning as to why you felt that way or consider yourself shunned from the group.

Identifying aspects of what I do or don't find appealing about a book helps me improve my writing. I might notice how an author has a lot of shoulder shrugging and nodding going on in their novel, and then look back at my own MS and see the same nervous ticks.

What other people have to say about the book is helpful too. These are my readers, and they read a lot of books. The leaders of my groups have about 700+ books a piece under their belt, and they'll be the first people to point out tired story lines, cliche characters, and all around bad writing. They'll also share what they would've liked to see, and I take some of these ideas and try to incorporate them into my own writing. Give the people what they want!

Where it can be iffy: Reading other reviews
I am certain I'm piling up some bad karma points because some of the one-star, asshole-ripping reviews are hilarious. Even the shelf designations people give to books are somewhat funny, ie, the shameful-shelf-get-rid-of-it. And after I read one of these reviews, wipe the tears of whimsy from my eyes, I gasp and think, "When I get published, someone's going to write one of these about my book." Ouch.

Of course, below that one-star review is a five-star review contradicting everything the previous reader said. This reminds me that the publishing industry is SO subjective. I need to keep plugging onward and not get beat down my the rejections.

HOWEVER, when I read a book, give it a low rating and see it has an overall rating of 4+ stars, I think, "I can do better than this. Why are they published and I'm not?" Commence pity party. And a pity party is always a bad place to be in.

One thing I do love about reviews is when I make a note of poor characterization or lack of description and read five other reviews in agreement, I know my editing eye is in pretty good form. I can apply that to my own writing.

Where it could be bad: Writing your own reviews
The first rule about being on submission is don't blog about being on submission. The second rule about submission is DON'T BLOG ABOUT BEING ON SUBMISSION.

I don't. Because editors could type my name into Google, find my blog and see that my novel has been rejected by twelve others. But then I go onto Goodreads, write a less than glowing review of a novel that happens to be on the list of one of the editors considering my book. That has to be just as bad, doesn't it?

I see a lot of five star reviews on Goodreads for everything and wonder if the reader really likes all of those books or if he's just trying to gain some brownnose points for ARC giveaways or publishing presence. I might be lighting my MS on fire, but I can't do it, and personally, as a writer I would want to know what someone hated about my book so I could fix it in the next one.

I try to make my reviews honest and personal and always point out positive and negative aspects of the book. But it's true, there have been some I wanted to refer to as a "stinking waste of trees," and held back my typing fingers. For those books I follow the rule of, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

What about you? Are you on Goodreads? Friend me if you want to share reviews!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Draft Done!

Notice how I didn't title this: Book Done!, because a book is never done until it is on the shelves. Even then, there could still be mistakes. I was recently going through the Hunger Games and found a typo. (But we will forgive Ms. Collins and her team because they produce amazing books.) What I mean is a draft is done. And the draft of a novel goes through many stages.

The First Draft
I am a pantster (most of the time). I figure out the overall concept for a story in my head and start writing. Often, I write 50 pages, decide it is crap and start over again...several times. Eventually, I get through it, and sitting on my hard drive is piece of fiction that is mostly crap. But I do have a good idea of the sequence of events, how I want things to end and the overall persona of the characters.

The Second Draft?
Sometimes, at this phase, I decide the original idea is beyond crap and not even worth saving. At this point, I set it aside and start something new...50 pages at a time. If I decide the first draft is worth a second go around, I rewrite it. Yep, that's right. I may take a few pages of my first draft to my second draft, but the majority of it is completely re-typed. I only use my first draft to identify what's working and what isn't. The ideas that are working, stay. The ones that aren't are changed.

The Third Draft
Now I have something I can work with. Again, there is some serious rewriting to be done here. Often complete chapters. This is also the stage where I go, "I don't really like this character." And I rewrite all her dialogue and scenes. I start looking hard at where I want my chapters to end, and even though the events may stay the same, I'll change the character's motivation for making them happen.

The Fourth Draft
This is a decent draft, something I'm not embarrassed to associate with my name. The editing in this stage is minor: formatting, correcting typos, making sure names and dates match up. I also look at my paragraph and sentence beginnings and make sure they don't all start with, "I." This draft I've read through fairly quickly, so I can also spot places where I used the same decriptive phrases, and I wrack my brain for another way to describe curiosity besides, "a raised eyebrow."

The Fifth Draft
I've just gotten my draft back from my Beta readers. I read their comments, cringe at all the typos I did miss, curse at some of the things they've said and then I put it away. Days later I go back and fix everything they suggested because they're right. Once those are done, I take one last look to make sure everything's in place and THEN I send it to my agent. We might have discussed concepts before now, but this draft, draft 5 will be the first time she sets eyes on it. And while I'm waiting for her comments for draft 6, I go right back to the top and start something new.

A lot of time might pass between drafts, but at every stage there's a sense of accomplishment and pride that you've done something, made it better, and eventually it could be great. So keep writing!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Bad Query Update with Comments

You can view the query in its original horridness in the previous entry.

Dear Sir/Madam,
Are you writing to a hermaphrodite? Most unlikely, and if you were, you probably wouldn't know that from researching their website (which you obviously didn't look at or you would know the agent's name.) Always address queries as Mr. Smith, or Ms. Jones.

I have just finished... Never say you "just finished" it sounds like you typed "the end" five minutes ago and then dashed off a query. Whether you did or didn't, that is the impression the agent will get. Expect a form rejection. ...my 145,283 word... Way too high for YA. The optimal word count is 50K-90K words. I know. I know. YA books come out all the time that are 400-500 pages, but they don't start that way. Your agent and editor will probably add about 50+ pages, so to avoid the rejection pile, edit down to the most important content or split into 2 books. As for the specific word count, this might not get you rejected, but I'm sure the intern pouring through queries will roll her eyes. 145,000 is sufficient to say. ...YA paranormal romance fiction novel. It's redundant to say "fiction novel". I started it for NaNoWriMo and finished it last night. Well we suspected it hadn't been edited. Now we know for sure. It will appeal to both fans of Harry Potter and Twilight because of the passionate romance and magical elements. I'm convinced it will be a million dollar bestseller. My, my, aren't we the confident one? Everyone in the entire world will read it, and you, having only written one novel, already know everything about publishing. Your novel isn't a lottery ticket, and most debuts (the ones that sell) get an average of $15,000 for an advance. If you're going to compare your work to anything, make sure it fits. Most of the time, I opt to leave comparisons out and instead insert a line as to why I am querying said agent. Where I found her name and why I think we might be a good fit.

What would you do if you found out you were adopted and your real parents were merpeople? ACK! Rhetorical question alert. You're trying to be a writer, so write. Don't make your readers guess, describe to them the emotions associated with this circumstance. What's even worse, is the answer to this question isn't addressed in the rest of the query.

Midville, Iowa is a small town where the most exciting thing to happen is the annual tractor pull. Bad opening sentence considering the location is not important. Start with what is important, your main character. It's the perfect place for Jane Smith because she's not that exciting herself. How is she not exciting? The next sentence adds some description, but not enough. Butterfly collecting sounds somewhat interesting. I would picture Jane to be a bit of a dreamer, not exactly a boring person. I'm also wondering how old she is. The main character's age helps determine the target market. When she's not reading or chasing butterflies, she's helping her father in the cornfields. Living in a land-locked state, she never would've guessed her roots were deep seeded in water. This line isn't particularly awful, but upon further reading, the water puns start to fall off the deep end (see what I did there?) Excessive cliches and puns in your query elicit yet another eye roll and causes the agent to think your MS is drowning in them. (See I did it again, and I'll bet you're already annoyed. Just wait.)

Until she goes on a family beach vacation to California and nearly drowns in the surf. A sexy, suave and somewhat broodish merman named Finn pulls her from the water, and Jane's life gets flipped upside-down when he tells her she was born with scales.

Finn helps Jane reconnect with her fishy past, and as she learns to swim again, they splash into deep sea romance. But when it's time for her to go home, she has to decide: to stay underwater with Finn or return to her quiet life on land. The choice she makes will be forever. I understand the comparison to Twilight now because it sounds exactly like it...except with mermen. To break into the market, you need something fresh and original. Everyone's looking for new, not vampires swapped for mermen.

The only positive thing I can say about this query is it's short. Brevity is good, but this one is a little too brief. I don't care that much about the main characters and I'm wondering how this person wrote 600+ pages about a supposed boring girl and a merman. At this point, I expect 200 or so pages could be removed by deleting cliches.

I have been writing since I was seven-years-old. My first short story, Fido's Day at the Park, won my second grade fiction contest and I received A's on all of my English papers. I practice underwater basket weaving and play kickball on the weekends, and have an extensive stamp collection. Unless you have won NOTABLE awards for your writing, or have a career in oceanography that might give you unique perspective on undersea life, an agent won't care. My mother and best friend have both read the first chapters of the manuscript and love it. Is your mother an editor at Random House? No? Then no one cares if your dog, neighbor, mailman read it and loves it. You have a week to review the material. In this case it might happen because the majority of agents would send a form rejection after reading, "Dear Sir/Madam." In most cases though, agents have a 6-8 week turnaround. The specifics of their response time (or lack of response) will be posted on their website. If I don't hear from you by Friday, I will stop by the office to follow-up. This is a great way to earn a restraining order instead of a book deal.

Aspiring Writer

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How NOT to start 2012

Dear Sir/Madam,

I have just finished my 145,283 word YA paranormal romance fiction novel. I started it for NaNoWriMo and finished it last night. It will appeal to both fans of Harry Potter and Twilight because of the passionate romance and magical elements. I'm convinced it will be a million dollar bestseller.

What would you do if you found out you were adopted and your real parents were merpeople?

Midville, Iowa is a small town where the most exciting thing to happen is the annual tractor pull. It's the perfect place for Jane Smith because she's not that exciting herself. When she's not reading or chasing butterflies, she's helping her father in the cornfields. Living in a land-locked state, she never would've guessed her roots were deep seeded in water.

Until she goes on a family beach vacation to California and nearly drowns in the surf. A sexy, suave and somewhat broodish merman named Finn pulls her from the water, and Jane's life gets flipped upside-down when he tells her she was born with scales.
Finn helps Jane reconnect with her fishy past, and as she learns to swim again, they splash into deep sea romance. But when it's time for her to go home, she has to decide: to stay underwater with Finn or return to her quiet life on land. The choice she makes will be forever.

I have been writing since I was seven-years-old. My first short story, Fido's Day at the Park, won my second grade fiction contest and I received A's on all of my English papers. I practice underwater basket weaving and play kickball on the weekends, and have an extensive stamp collection. My mother and best friend have both read the first chapters of the manuscript and love it. You have a week to review the material. If I don't hear from you by Friday, I will stop by the office to follow-up.

Aspiring Writer

...with a bad query letter. I would like to say this is the worst, but I'm sure agents have read some that make this look quality. It's the worst I could come up with, so have fun, pick it apart and laugh because that is what I wrote it for. Later this week, I'll update with redlines pointing out all of the horrible, terrible, awful mistakes I made. You should be able to spot them all right away, but if you can't, go visit the Query Shark. NOW. I mean it. I'll wait.