Dec 29, 2011

Bright beginnings

Happy 2012, everyone! I hope you have big plans for New Year's Eve. My own include a game night with two of our three kids, eating the last of the Christmas cookies, and falling asleep in front of a movie while cuddling with hubsy. *yawn* I probably won't make it to midnight. Yup, I am Officially Old. :)

Next week, stop by on Monday to critique a few loglines and first 250 words of selected adult entries that didn't make it into the Baker's Dozen auction hosted at Miss Snark's First Victim. Not many have sent me entries yet, but I know those that do appreciate whatever feedback you share. And you're welcome to send your logline/first 250 even if you've never heard of Authoress. The more, the merrier!

On Friday, I talk with the lovely Rebecca Hamilton, whose novel, The Forever Girl, debuts next month as a print and e-book through her new imprint, Immortal Ink Publishing. Rebecca is also the acquisition editor for the company, which will start taking queries in May. She'll have a very cool giveaway you won't want to miss. (She's also just done a fantabulous blog makeover - definitely worth a click. I swear she's some kind of cyber-genius.)

In the meantime, I raise my nonalcoholic-apple-cranberry-spritzer to you! L'Chaim!

Dec 26, 2011

New Year resolutions

A quick google of 'new year writing resolutions' yielded the following: finish a novel, start a novel, publish an ebook, start a blog, post more regularly on a blog, read more, spend more time writing, submit writing....

Yawn. That's all great stuff but since those resolutions bounce around my head on a daily basis, they're not items I'll add to an annual list. Also,  those items are all about the writer and frankly, I'm getting a little sick of me.  So this year, my goals focus on others (and are in no particular order).

1. Pay attention to real life. My daily life is broken into two parts - writer-me in the morning, and teacher-me in the afternoon. Teacher-me constantly thinks about my students, how I can tailor lessons to fit their needs, noticing which child seems down/sad and thinking how to cheer them up. Those conversations - and the ones with my family and friends - pull me out of my writer-self, remind me to pay attention and not get sucked into my writer-me's head so much.

2. Write letters to our sponsorship kids. My family sponsors several children through World Vision. Each year we get letters from them telling us a tiny bit about their lives in Third World countries. Responding to them tends fall to the bottom of the to-do pile. This needs to change.

3. Hug my kids each day. In my experience, the older my children get, the less I touch them. Giving my almost-16 year-old son a hug requires advance stealth planning. But it's worth it. Soon they'll be gone and hugging them won't be as easy as chasing them through the house. :)

4. Give more away. Money and time - two of our most valuable commodities. I've pulled back a bit from volunteering this year after several year in a row. The break was nice but I'm ready to jump back in. And I'm upping my charitable giving goal by ten percent this year. Yeah, it's not a lot but it'll be a sacrifice nonetheless.

5. Be kind. At my school, we have several expectations of our students and this one is the first.  When I'm too focused on my own goals - if I'm running late or tired of waiting on someone else - my first reaction is to snap. At those times, it takes a huge effort to swallow my irritation. But it's necessary. I don't need to make someone else's bad day even worse with a careless comment. And I don't need to teach my kids that a snappish response is acceptable.

So what are your resolutions for 2012? Are you buying a gym membership, going on a big trip, changing jobs? What goals do you have that don't concern your writing life?

Dec 19, 2011

Using the dark

We are three days before solstice (72 hours but who's counting?) and down to around five hours of daylight. By daylight, I mean the sky lightens a bit to a kind of twilight. At my house, Pioneer Peak effectively blocks the low sunrise except for an hour or two each day. Which means we get very little direct sunlight right now, and we have to be looking south to see it.

Downside: Most of us sleep a lot this time of year. Also, Alaskans don't produce as much vitamin D which means our bones don't heal as quickly as yours in the Lower 48. (I found this out when one of my kids broke an ankle.) And some get SAD - seasonal affective disorder from the lack of light. I've never experienced this but people who do generally leave the far north within a few years.

There are upsides to this time of year. *head scratching* No, really, there are. I'll get to them in a minute. I want to stay with the downside because it's when reality - like the writing life - fails to meet our expectations that our story begins.

Before I moved here, I had this picture of life in a cozy cabin, log fire roaring, deep in the wilderness with moose for neighbors. We'd ski every weekend, and my husband would bring home caribou bacon. We explore the backcountry on our four-wheelers. Our children would be rugged, able to handle a rifle and skin a large animal with their other hand.

Reality is a bit different. We skipped the cabin in favor of a reasonable commute to work. We don't have time to ski nearly as often as I'd like, and my husband has yet to go hunting. We do have four-wheelers but my youngest has been too young (until now) to go very far.  Our children are typical kids, although all of them have been on skates since they were four and they never get cold. (Seriously. All three have been known to go jump on the trampoline in a T-shirt when it's zero degrees outside.)

So - dreams on one hand. Reality on the other. And the gap between desire and fact is the stuff of fiction.  Because it's only when things aren't perfect that we recognize what is. 

It's only when the lights go out that you know what you're missing.

When this happens in your writing (and it should!) does your character react with disappointment or reconciliation? With anger or surprise? With hatred or love? Does the gap change your MCs heart or harden it? What thought processes or personalities naturally lean toward one or the other? And what signals do they leave to allow you to guess?

As writers, we are supposed to be students of human nature. As humans, we use one sense above all others - our eyes - to figure out the world. But in the dark, you're forced to rely on the others: feeling, touching, tasting, smelling. The dark teaches you what stuff you're made of.

This is where your writing gets good. It gets hard, but if you persevere, it gets good. You'll start to notice the upside of being in this place.

Where I live, if we happen to catch the sun after it rounds the mountain and before it falls below the horizon, the light is ethereal. A shaft of rainbow in the black. A glittering ray of heaven showing off the muscular curves of Pioneer Peak. Or, on clear nights, the northern lights move like liquid dancers across the sky.

here's a certain kind of beauty that only comes in the dark. Wait for it. Be ready to use it when it comes.

Dec 15, 2011

Deja vuing: Characteristics of emerging writers

A do-over from a September post...

Check out other Deja Vu postings listed at Creepy Query Girl's blog...

I'm almost finished with a graduate program that requires a LOT of academic writing. This is a totally different genre from fiction, as Calvin demonstrates so succinctly.

Fiction writing, on the other hand, defines itself by carefully orchestrated simplicity. As authors, we take our readers by the hand to lead them down our winding story road. If we lose them, in most cases it's because they fell into a plot hole or were stolen by an evil, off-topic tangent.

Just like little kids first learning the mechanics of writing, we all have weak areas that show up in our writing. Our mastery of language comes through in what we write. This is why college professors, MFA instructors, and editors urge writers to read Strunk & White’s Elements of Style (see great rap below) and other books on writing. If writing is an art, our grammar, word choice and structure are the canvas on which our stories are painted.

The difference between a master and a student is simply this: enough practice to recognize/catch these tendencies in the first draft. (And I’m nowhere near able to do this – which is why I have critique partners!)

1.A whole lot of nothing. In other words, your words take the reader nowhere. It takes 850 words to get your MC out of bed, or the MS reads like a playbook of movements – from the house, to work, to lunch, etc., with zero plot points to tie it together. Yawn. *checks watch*

2.Rambling/useless chapters. This is similar to #1 except the concept extends to chapters instead of scenes. Chapters are like rungs in a ladder – they’re supposed to take a reader to the next level. If they don’t move the story, your ladder turns into a treadmill.

3.Plotted like a potato plant. Here in my part of Alaska, we grow a lot of potatoes. To plant one, cut a potato in half and watch it grow. An emergent writer starts out with a great idea and then, presto, soon there are shoots popping out of the ground every which way. The reader has no clue which is the main idea because there’s so much going on.

4.Overwriting. Agent Mary Kole wrote a great post on how this rears its ugly head. All I’m going to say is: don’t tell us what you’ve just shown us is happening in your MS. It’s the equivalent of leading us there and then grabbing our face while yelling: “Look!” See here for more detail on this error.

5.Not enough tension. The reader needs to know why he/she is reading your story. Even a formulaic romance has the break-up. This is one I’m struggling with and it reminds me a bit of keeping a bunch of rubber bands tight while juggling a ball with one hand. According to Kristen Lamb, conflict must be constant.

6.Grammatical errors. Spell check is great but if you correctly spell a misused word, it’s still misused. Whether it's the incorrect use of they're, their or there, or the misunderstanding that you DO NOT add a possessive to a plural word (ie parent’s when you mean the two people who raised you) routine errors shout AMATEUR.

7.Thin skin. Emerging writers are reluctant to send out their work and react with anger/fear/sorrow when given constructive criticism. Sometimes they avoid it, or say they’re writing just for themselves. My response to that: keep a diary. Stories are meant to be shared.

So what did I miss? Share more characteristics in the comments!

The Elements of Style rap

The Elements of Style from Jake Heller on Vimeo.

Dec 13, 2011

Embracing the Critique Grinch

Let me count the ways the Critique Grinch makes a grab for our writerly confidence:

  • An unkind comment is made on your blog. The writer accuses you of being inaccurate and requests that, from now on, only 'real writers' write posts.
  • A critiquer rips apart your first draft, then uses one of your writing weaknesses as the subject of her next blog post.
  • An agent sends a form reject for the MS she's had for two months and gives zero reasons for rejection.
  • A friend/parent/relative gets a puzzled look whenever you mention your writing and wonders why you don't take up crafting instead because "at least then you'd have something useful when you're finished."
  • You read a fabulous blog post on setting and realize with dismay you've completely forgotten to add one element of it in the MS you just sent off to your no. 1 agent.

Whether it comes from a stranger, a beta, a professional, someone who's supposed to love you, or YOU, there are so many ways we can lose our joy of writing. Blogger Alex Cavanaugh has even started a blog hop  called the 'Insecure Writers Group' that meets monthly to shore up the crumbling walls of confidence.  It's no secret writer-folk are synonymous with needy-folk, because we need praise, help, companionship, encouragement. Writing is so solitary and ephemeral. It's very easy to get sucked into the vortex of despair.

This is especially true for the newbies. At the heart of rejecting criticism (whether it's justified or not) is the false belief that real, professional writers are above the common mistakes, whether it be punctuation,  spelling, paragraph development or story arc. 

If only!

As someone who was a professional writer for many years, I learned two things:

1. Criticism is necessary. The harshest criticism is often the best to help us grow. It's like really powerful fertilizer that can burn but also produces fabulous results when used properly.

2. The difference between a 'real' writer and a hobbyist is twofold - a real writer seeks criticism, both to get better and because he/she needs the writing to be shared. And a real writer can't stop. Not really. There may be a hiatus here or there but the need to write seeps through life like water seeps through sand. It's a compulsion, a weird personality tic that many would trade in a moment for, say, a gift for languages, organization, crafting, anything else that appears to be more useful.

So if you're like me and you can't stop, try looking forward to criticism. Don't be a masochist about it and don't be scared either. Words are powerful but in the end, they're just words. You get to choose which ones you let sink into your brain and which ones bounce off.

Dec 9, 2011

NetGalley for Christmas

Coming up for air
  So I'm taking writing breather this weekend and, in between Christmas baking, decorating, cleaning up after both, Christmas card sending, shopping, hockey game/practice, I'm hitting the books. *smack*

On my Christmas list is a Kindle Fire, which I'm almost certain Hubs has at least thought about purchasing for me. I can't wait, because my queue of ARCS at NetGalley is filling fast. It's a real pain to haul my laptop everywhere so I can read them.

ARCS, you say, ears pricking. You're getting ARCS at NetGalley? What is this fantabulous site of wherein you speak?

It's right here.   For all you NG virgins out there, I promise it's worth the click. Most major publishes - and several indies - make their ARCS or galleys available upon request. Just sign up, choose your genres and request what you like. My first week I requested 12 and got almost half. (Some publishers will only release to, say, Canadian residents, or they may already have met their pre-reader mark by the time I requested.)

And, like my buddy whale breaching there, I'm in a whole new element. My preferred genres aren't what I usually read - I decided to go outside my comfort zone and experience a wider range of writers, subjects, and styles. It's free, the books take up no space anywhere than on my laptop (or Kindle) and those I love, I'll buy when they hit the market. (Yeah, I'm a re-reader. I only buy a book if I've read it three times.)

Right now, I'm reading SPIN, a adult fiction debut by Catherine McKenzie (HarperCollins, Feb., 2012) Next up is the MG fantasy/mystery THE WEDNESDAYS, by Julie Bourbeau (Random House Canada, Aug., 2012) and an MG nonfiction, THE IMPOSSIBLE RESCUE, by Martin Sandler (Candlewick, Sept., 2012)

And I get to read them for FREE! And without entering a drawing against 100 other people! Wow. It really does feel like Christmas now. *misty eyed*  The only thing I'll need to watch is my tendency to over-shop. According to the timer on my e-reader, each book comes with a 60-day time to read before it mysteriously disappears and I lose access. Since I'm still well within my 60 day allotted period, I don't know if this happens. I mean, the thing is downloaded onto my hard drive, which suggests some kind of sinister encription to self-destruct came along for the ride. Hmmm. I can't figure out if this alarms or intrigues me.

If you're already a NG user, let me know! And share any navigation wisdom you may have gleaned. If not, give it a try. It's snowing and cold outside (or it should be to properly celebrate Christmas. Yeah, I'm looking at you, warm states in the Lower 48) and you can't bake cookies/wrap presents/shop forever. 

Dec 4, 2011

Revving up your revision

After a break of a few months, I've dived back into revising my finished MS. This round, I'm strengthening a few plot devices and giving my villain (and a few other secondary characters) a bit more depth. How to do this has been the subject of a few early a.m. brainwaves, during which I alternately told myself to go to sleep and mentally wrote this post. Hopefully someone will benefit from the dark circles under my eyes.

When it comes to characters, the best revision always includes background introduced in the right way, at the right time. As novelists, we're a bit like Hansel dropping crumbs behind the clueless Gretel, hoping our strategically placed information will keep our audience from getting lost in the forest. The problem is, we don't know when Gretel is going to look back and put the puzzle together. Here are three ideas that, if used properly,  won't fail to lead your reader to the right clues at the right time.

Stark motivation
Crimes of passion are the most common in literature. They're flamboyant, easily related to and usually involve a complicated knot of relationships.  They're crucial to mystery stories but even literary fiction benefits from characters who want something passionately.  Want - need - desire automatically sparks conflict because our MC wouldn't be in such a state if he/she already had it. Think Scarlett wanting Ashley or Jacob wanting Bella or Voldemort wanting power. Your villian must yearn for whatever with a strong intensity magnified by backstory. Was he/she an abused child seeking safety? An ignored teen yearning for revenge? An overlooked brother wanting attention? Whatever it is, be sure to make that stand out so your reader is in no doubt what's driving all the conflict.

Said is best
One of my betas reminded me of this a few months ago. I love words like retort and hissed and snapped. They fairly crackle with energy. Unfortunately, it's the wrong kind of energy. It detracts the reader from the dialogue, which, if I've written it right, should allow my reader to hear how my characters are speaking.  Too many of those tags and I'm banging you over the head with directions.  Since we all interpret stories differently, using a standard 'said' gives our readers freedom to build the world their own way.  It also gives them freedom to notice what's important in the plot at the time you intend.

Eliminating cliched personalities
There's this secondary character in my MS. I love her to death - she has the most sarcastic lines and is an excellent foil to my MC. Problem is, she's a cliche, about as substantial as an area rug. So I've given her a make-over. She keeps the lines but has a much darker outlook on life, one that's made her determined not to be shocked by anything. Period. And now she works so much better in my MS. So have fun with your secondary characters. Give them weird names, odd habits or accents or taste in clothes. Hollywood's preference for quirky sidekicks makes avoiding cliched personalities a lot harder but I know you're up to the challenge.

Those are my three - I know there are more but that's all I have time for. Please share your revision suggestions in the comments.

Speaking of time, I'll be taking a break from Friday interviews until Christmas break. A grant deadline, end-of-semester work at school, kid activities and my own MS revision have swamped me (not to mention all the Christmas mom duties awaiting me).  I'm cutting back to Monday postings - hope you can join me!

Dec 1, 2011

Meeting AdriAnne

My guest this week is soon-to-be breakout YA paranormal/urban fantasy author, AdriAnne Strickland.

AdriAnne picking fish

By summer a commercial fisherperson in Bristol Bay, and by winter a full-time writer, AdriAnne is represented by Sandy Lu of the Perkins Agency. She's also a former world-traveler, proud English major (I have my P.O.E.M. shirt, do you?) who carries around a fascinating group of characters in her head. Really. Check out her web site for a really fresh take on paranormal/supernatural.
Or just read on because that's what this interview is about. :)

1. What brought you to Alaska?
My husband. We met in college in Portland, and when I found out he was from Alaska, I said (acting tough) that I’d always wanted to try commercial fishing for salmon. He laughed, and said I’d better be telling the truth because he’d been fishing out in Bristol Bay pretty much all his life. So, I spent my first summer in AK fishing in Egegik, then we bought our own boat, and now five seasons later, I’m hooked… pardon the pun. (“Netted” would be more appropriate—goodness, and I claim not to pun!)

Oh go ahead. I resisted the urge to compare any knot-tying expertise you may have - fixing nets, y'know - with tying up your fictional characters  so puns welcome.
2. Your site says your first book was an adventure featuring a MC who was a little too much like Indiana Jones, and your second book featured a talking cheetah (which I would love to read.) So describe the book that landed you your agent.  
I wrote the cheetah book in third grade and I had dismal handwriting, so you probably don’t want to read it! First of the Fallen is the book that got my agent’s attention, though she works with YA too, lucky for me. It’s about, well, a fallen angel meeting up with the first angel ever to fall (guess who!) and accidently triggering Armageddon. I only know what initially attracted my agent  from what she’s mentioned: the fact that my protagonist wasn’t a woman prior to her fall, and Samael. My agent, Sandy Lu, really likes Samael. I’ll talk more about him in a second….

3. Your genre is supernatural and urban fantasy YA and, judging from your site, you're pretty prolific. How many hours to do you write a day?
I treat my writing like a full-time job for ten months out of the year, thanks to fishing. So when I’m deeply into a project, I’ll write for eight hours a day. Even when I’m not writing, I spend the hours from 9am-5pm working on a project, whether that’s the research stage involving a lot of reading, brainstorming/plotting, or staring at my computer in disgust.

Wow. Eight hours a day to write. *tries imagining this and fails*

4. Do you write different MSs simultaneously? Talk about your writing schedule or process.
I try not to write more than one manuscript at a time, because it takes a while for me to really lock into a project, and if I’m bouncing back and forth I end up distracting myself with shiny new ideas rather than getting much done. (I once ended up with 30 pages on three different manuscripts, and it’s telling that none of those three have been finished.) But I do like to have a completed project (or two!) that I can go to for revisions when I’m feeling stymied with a current WIP. Revisions give me a fresh perspective, at times. It’s been really great working with my agent, because I have deadlines, lots of revisions, and new projects to keep me constantly interested, though I feel like I get whiplash sometimes looking from one manuscript to the next.

5. The First of the Fallen is a supernatural about - wait for it - a fallen angel. Given that angels/demons are popping up everywhere in WIPs these days, how does your MS stand out?
I mentioned above that my protagonist was androgynous before she fell, and the adjustment to living as a woman is a large focus of the first part of the book. There are a lot of novels with sexy, aloof angel love-interests, but not many with a first person angel POV, really trying to dive into what it would be like to be an angel on Earth—the human side of them, if you will. The second thing that might make it different is Samael. He’s… uh… the devil. And he’s a love interest. And he’s a good guy. He also plays the piano, recites poetry, and saves the world. I think the idea of the Adversary just being misunderstood all these years is not something that many manuscripts tackle.

6. I love the premise of the Words Made Flesh trilogy. (Hey, I'm a sucker for glass pyramids and the word 'athenaeum.' I love saying it. Athenaeum.) Talk about how you drew on your life experience as a world traveler for two years to concoct this plot.
All of my projects come from “seed ideas,” something that just pops in my head, either as a random thought (First of the Fallen), a dream (Midnight), or even a phrase, which is how the Words Made Flesh came about—from reading, not from my travels. I did a lot of biblical research for First of the Fallen, and came across the line “the word made flesh” and thought—hey, what if words were really flesh? What if divine power came to be embodied in certain supernatural human beings? And then I ran with it. I loved writing Tavin—it’s the first time I’ve written a male first-person POV, and I used my wonderful, snide, loving brother as an inspiration. But some of my traveling experiences did come into play with the different Words (kids with powers), since they all come from diverse cultural backgrounds.

That sounds so cool. 

7. Your web site banner is awesome. (I'm talking about the photo of the wings turning into crows.) Where did you find that art?
I commissioned it from a friend, paying him with eternal gratitude and props for his awesomeness. Tony Clark, the guy who did it, is a graphic 3D artist working at Liquid Development (a 3D art team working on Halo 4, among other projects) in Portland right now. We didn’t meet in Portland—he actually grew up with me in my dinky hometown of Elko, NV. We drew together all through high school (mostly video game characters! Go Link!), though he was the one who actually ended up going to art school.

Well, he rocks. And I bet your first cover will be just as gorgeous if you're able to sign him as the artist. 
8. OK, now let's talk querying. Give us the deets - how long, how many agents, and if you can, share your query letter.
First of the Fallen is sort of a weird case, because it’s both my first novel (not counting what I wrote before college) and my fourth. When I initially wrote it, I made every beginner mistake in existence—much too long, much too rough for submitting to agents, an atrocious query letter, not enough research into the agents I submitted to, etc. The problem is, I didn’t know these things were mistakes at the time—I thought it was perfect! (hah)—and I only realized it after something like 30 rejections and multiple drafts later. By my fifth or so draft, I realized the book had flaws that I couldn’t revise away, and so I actually put it in a drawer. I think it’s really important to be able to move beyond your first novel (I know quite a few people who’ve gotten stuck there, unable to bear the fact that it might just not be good enough) and try something new, grow in another direction. I did move on—I wrote two other novels—but the story kept haunting me. So I returned to it with a different perspective and more writing experience, and literally rewrote most of it without looking at the old manuscript. So it’s also my fourth novel. I only submitted it in its new form to about seven agents (the query letter said basically what the little blurb on my website says about it), Sandy Lu requested the full, and then I went fishing. A few months, emails, and phone calls later, and I signed with Sandy.

9. Talk about designing your author web site. Did you do it yourself or hire someone? What are some tips you could share with authors who haven't yet put together their own site?
I had a friend help me with it, and did some of it myself afterwards after he worked on the nitty-gritty code stuff that I have no clue how to do. Tip: find a friend! Websites are notoriously expensive, and writers are notoriously poor. Sorry, that’s probably not too helpful. Let’s see… once you find someone to help you out, have a vision and a lot of content for it, otherwise you might end up wasting time and not getting what you want. So imagine your perfect website first, with all the text, pictures, art, etc., and then dive into it with that in mind. (But also have an idea that fits your budget.)

10. What's it like being out on submission? Is it worse than querying?
I’m only out on submission as of this week… so far, so good! I know I’m likely in for a long trudge, though, but at least it’s my agent doing the querying while I get to focus on my writing and revisions. So in that regard, I’d say it’s better.

Alaska fast five

Which brand of salmon do you crave - red, king, silver or pink?

King, preferably grilled over a drift-wood fire with no seasoning.

Your dipnetting record? (no fair counting seining or gill netting. I mean with your own two hands and a net.)
I've actually never dipnetted! (I know, I know, shame on me.) But I have caught a red salmon with my bare hands during the peak of the season. Does that count?

Yes! You're just like a brown bear! Only I'm guessing you didn't tear it open with your teeth. :)

Longest day spent on a boat without a bathroom break?

I definitely haven't stripped down out of my rain gear to use the infamous bucket for about eight hours before. Not fun! Guys have it so easy!

Most favoritist place in Alaska?

Probably the abandoned cannery in Ugashik, with only the tundra and nothing else rising up into snow-capped mountains.

Best movie you've seen this year?  (ok, this one isn't Alaska themed but hey. I need Red Box recommendations.

Black Swan. It was visually striking, and Natalie Portman's acting was mind-blowing... like playing both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at the same time!

Thanks so much for stopping by AdriAnne! I can't wait to hear of your first sale.

Nov 27, 2011

Things I learned in Cancun

Thanksgiving day hot tub. :)

 I'm back to a 100-degree temperature difference between Cancun and home sweet home. Brrr! My extended family had a fabulous time getting reacquainted on the beach, eating too much and fending off second-degree burns on our lily white skin. :) This was our second time having a family reunion in Mexico and, while I can't recommend it as a getaway enough, there are a few things I learned this time around. Interestingly, all of these relate to writing.

1 Check your passport expiration date a month or so before leaving the country. Discovering it has expired four days before leaving costs a lot of $$ and lost sleep.
Writing tip: make your MC stupid at times. Stupid mistakes = tension.
American tourist in Cancun

2 The Cancun tourist industry delights in fleecing foreigners. A ten-minute cab ride from our resort to Tulum is $56. Each way. In American dollars. Going to the Cozumel ferry terminal costs $86 each way, or around $4 a mile. Compared to Puerto Vallarta, where cab rides cost around $2, this was a shocker. Note to self: reserve a car online before leaving.
Writing tip: Put your MC at a disadvantage. Fighting against a culture or expectation = tension.

3 Do not get so caught up in staring at the gorgeous fish swimming around the coral reef that you lose track of the current and find yourself stuck among rocks studded with sharp coral.
Writing tip = Distract your MC so he/she doesn't notice something important. Then have it bite them later.

4 Spiny sea urchin spines hurt. Especially when they're embedded in your fingers and you must swim a while to get back to the beach before yanking them out with tweezers.
Writing tip: Prolong pain for your MC. Lots of pain for even a short amount of time =  tension.

5.It is possible to have too many mixed drinks in a day. *burp*
Writing tip: Um...see no. 1.

6. Evidently the term 'medium-well' when referring to steak means 'raw' to a Mexican chef. As do the terms, well-done, medium-rare and medium.
Writing tip = See 1 and 4.

ugly gnome
7. It is too much to expect Husband and Son to spend money wisely while shopping for keepsakes. The ugly naked gnome Son wanted as a joke for his locker cost $20. *unhappy face*
Writing tip: Surround your MC with those who don't agree with his/her agenda. This builds conflict.

8. Even though the scale says you've lost weight, the camera shows otherwise. Note to self: delete all photos of woman-with-a-figure-like-a-fire-hydrant off Husband's Blackberry.
Writing tip: Slap your MC in the face with reality occasionally. This also builds conflict.

9. Also, that weight you lost? It's back. See #5.
Writing tip: Disappointment is part of life. Make sure your MC experiences that.

10. It IS worth it to scrimp and save toward a big family trip. The memories we have will last a lot longer than the wood floor I could've gotten in our living room. Okay, maybe not. But the memories are a lot more fun!
Writing tip: Achieving a worthwhile goal is also part of life. Balance out that disappointment with a satisfactory ending.

Me, just before diving into the Chichen Itza cenote

Nov 18, 2011

Off to Cancun

This is me.

 No wait...
Here I am, looking a little scary.

Also spending a lot of time here:

And visiting here:

In other words, I'll be having a fabulous Thanksgiving week. And here's hoping you are, too!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Nov 13, 2011

Books that make me thankful

I'm getting a jump on Thanksgiving by posting some great book recommendations early. This time next week I'll be roasting on a beach in Cancun consuming a pile of mind-candy (ie paperback novels) in between reacquainting myself with my niece and nephews. Oh, and eating enormous amounts of food, snorkeling and touring Chichen Itza. Sounds like paradise, right? I hope so.

Peace Like A River by Leif Enger. The story follows the saga of Reuben Land's family as they deal with the aftermath of Davy Land's retribution against the town bullies. MC Reuben narrates his father's unique faith, his sister's storytelling ability and his brother's struggle with the law. Enger's writing is flawless. His strong setting and character development will pull you in until at the end, reading it is a very sweet sorrow.

Blue Like Jazz by Don Miller. The subtitle of this book is: "Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality", informing you that Miller's essays encompass the deep questions of life. This book changed the way I think about my own faith by confronting the hypocrises in some evangelical circles in a gentle, logical way.

Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis. When Katie was 19, she went to Uganda on a mission trip and came home determined to care for the orphans there. She started Amazima Ministries, adopted 14 girls and now heads a staff of international people determined to make a difference for the people of Masese.  This book is the story of her journey from high school graduate to a modern version of Mother Teresa. Every time I read her blog, I'm humbled at God's grace/ provision and Katie's courage in living her faith. Learn more about her here.

Sorta Like A Rock Star by Matthew Quick. Amber Appleton lives on a school bus (Hello Yello) with her alcoholic mom, teaches English to the KDFC (Korean Divas for Christ), routinely dresses her tiny dog, Billy Big Boy, in ridiculous outfits and manages to stay positive despite struggling with homelessness.  When Mom disappears, Amber's despair causes her huge collection of friends - society's misfits, rejects and other outcasts - to surround this amazing girl and her remarkable faith. Amber is one of my all-time favorite heroines, right up there with Emily Starr, Hermione Granger and Katniss Everdeen.

The Space Trilogy by CS Lewis. (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hidden Strength) I first read these books as a student at Oxford University and they're still among my favorite reads. Although the technology and space knowledge is dated (Lewis's hero goes to a Mars populated by various Martians) the unique way Lewis views mankind is not. One of the 20th century's great apologists, this series proves the Narnia Chronicles weren't the only stories Lewis had in him.

So those are my choices. What books have you read that make you thankful?

Nov 10, 2011

Alicia Bessette and A Pinch of Love

 My introduction to Alicia came a few years ago, when I read Simply from Scratch, a novel about a grieving young widow who enters a baking contest. I loved the book and kept watching the library for Alicia's name to reappear in the New Books shelves.

Two years later, I was researching the guy who wrote Sorta Like A Rock Star, which I'd read an ARC of in 2009 and really, REALLY liked. I'd never written to an author before (cross my heart) and vowed at the time to send the author a note. I never did until one day, I was commenting on a blog that requested favorite YA reads and I wanted to recommend SLARS. Turns out that author is Matthew Quick, who is married to Alicia Bessette. *huge eyes*   Matthew's blog mentioned A Pinch of Love. I read the blurb and thought - HOLY COW! I remember this book but it wasn't called A Pinch of Love. (It's been renamed for the paperback version.)  The writing was soooo good. And Matthew is Alicia's husband?! How did so much awesomeness get in one family? (So that's where all the awesomeness went. I was wondering...) Anyway, I won a copy to re-read in about two days (still love it!), which encouraged me to cyberstalk request an interview on the off-chance Alicia was as gracious and classy as the characters in her book.
I'm not giving you my copy, which is autographed *holds onto it jealously* but I promise that if you buy APOL you will LOVE it. (Or you can send it to me for free.)

An article on your site suggests your husband's first sale was fuel for a total life-change - a move not only to a new community, but to becoming a full-time writer yourself. Talk about your thought processes then, and where you found the courage to quit your day job.

Yes, my husband and I have embraced several big life-changes. The first was in 2004, and it required the most courage. We quit our jobs, sold our home, and moved from New Jersey to Massachusetts, all in the name of becoming published novelists.
What fueled that change? Dissatisfaction. We were disappointed in our jobs and had no spare energy to fully pursue our shared dream of writing fiction. We decided that nothing would change if we didn't change it. Many people told us we were taking a risky and illogical step backward by forsaking our then-careers and moving in with my parents. But at the time there seemed to be no other alternative. While we both wanted to write, we couldn't afford for both of us to do that at the same time. So Matt entered an MFA program while I became a reporter for my hometown newspaper. Our plan was to switch places in a few years.
Which leads to the second big life-change in 2007, when Matt sold his first novel, THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. We had enough money to move out of my parents' house, and I could join him in writing full time. At that point, no courage was required to quit my day job! Matt's success was all the impetus I needed. We missed Philly, so we returned to that area and rented a small apartment. My "office" was a desk and chair in the corner of the living room. It was there that I wrote A PINCH OF LOVE.
Our third big change came this year, when we moved back to Massachusetts, to be closer to woods and mountains, which fuel our creativity. We're homeowners now, and I have my own office -- a real room -- bliss!

Yay! I always pictured you in New England because the world you create in APOL is so vivid.
How did you snag your agent?

I found my agent with the help of It's a very useful and informative website that I recommend to anyone seeking advice on querying, which can be a grueling process. (The first novel I wrote was not published, and was rejected by more than one hundred agents.) To any writers out there entering the agent search, stay hopeful; don't despair. Keep writing. Remember that every rejection gets you closer to the person who will become your agent. And, read this:

AgentQuery is awesome! So is QueryTracker...but I'm preaching to the choir.

Describe your writing relationship with your husband. Do you two talk about your work, or prefer to keep your professional lives as separate as possible?

We've built our marriage around fulfilling personal potential, so topics related to myth and reality, success and failure, meaning and meaninglessness, writing and editing, character development and plot, movies and books, frequently work their way into our daily conversations. Our professional lives and our personal lives are closely linked.

Your site mentions you're an accomplished pianist. Does your music encourage creativity at the computer keyboard? If so, how?

A friend participating in NaNoWriMo this month told me she wrote more than 2,000 words while listening to one of my CDs. I was so happy to hear that!
I usually listen to music when I write -- but I never listen to my own music, because all I hear are mistakes, places where I could have been either more or less subtle, both in performance and in songwriting. My mind becomes so preoccupied with my own perceived shortcomings that I can't focus on anything else. (For the same reason, I've never read A PINCH OF LOVE beginning to end in book form.) I'm very self-critical. That quality can be crippling, but it also can be a boon, especially when it comes to revision -- at the piano and at the computer.
That said, my writing breaks frequently feature me at the piano!

How do you balance life as a professional musician with life as a writer? Do you set practice time limits on both or set whole days aside to pursue one or the other?

I'm a hobbyist musician and a professional writer, and the two pursuits seem to balance each other out naturally. I made my two full-length CDs (with the help of an old friend who is a hobbyist music producer) during times when I wasn't writing much fiction. After Big Life Change #2 described above, I was separated from my piano -- it didn't fit in the apartment. That's when I really dove into fiction. Now, in our home in Massachusetts, I'm reunited with my piano. I'm playing and writing. It's a gift.

BTW, you can listen to some of Alicia's recordings here.

Your MC in APOL is a widow. I'm guessing you had to imagine yourself as a widow to get into her head. Was that hard? Did it make you view life any differently?

Instead of imagining myself as a widow, I imagined Zell, my narrator, as a widow. I got to know her entire personal history, from birth to now, in order to get inside her head as much as possible -- and out of my own. What about the grieving process is difficult for Zell in particular? Which of Zell's personality traits help her to cope, and which of her personality traits sabotage her healing? Those were my guiding questions in creating her voice and her world.
Writing a book -- especially a book that centers around grief and recovery -- is an emotional journey. I do view life differently after having written it, in the sense that perhaps I'm generally less judgmental of other peoples' complaints. Life is hard for everyone. No one is immune to pain.

What's the most surprising thing about being a published author?
How many people have participated in getting me here. No book is the result of one person working in solitude. So many people helped create A PINCH OF LOVE: first readers, agents, agents' colleagues, editors, editors' assistants, proofreaders, copy editors, publicists, marketing professionals, artists, and the list goes on. Not to mention my mother, who gave me a lined journal to write in for my eighth birthday; my fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Moran, who made reading absolutely magical for me; and my creative writing teacher in high school, Mrs. Rubenstein, who took a special interest in me during a vulnerable time in my life.

Where are you headed in your next WIP - a sequel, a new setting or genre?? (hint: SEQUEL.)Many readers have asked if I'm working on a sequel to A PINCH OF LOVE. Right now, I'm not ... but that doesn't mean I won't ever be! Regarding my current work in progress, I'm too superstitious to discuss it in detail. But I have high hopes.

Hmmm...future blog post alert. What is up with super-secret WIPs? Foment your brains, people, and come back Monday to share your reasons for staying undercover.

Fast five ...
Cat or dog?
Dog. (Cat is a close second.)

Ocean or mountains?
Mountains. (Ocean is a close second.)

Favorite swear word and time/place you use it most often.
 The F-bomb. I use it all over the place.

Mine is g.d. I use it in the car all the time, ALL the time.  Each of my kids' first word was dammit which they said in the car.  (Not my finest mom moment. Dammit.)

First thing on your Christmas wish list

World peace. (Second thing: a red Le Creuset skillet.)

I'd like another pair of fuzzy socks. The kind with aloe vera in them?? They rock.

Thing you do that you know is annoying but you just can't stop.

Thanks for stopping by, Alicia!

Nov 6, 2011

Characteristics of overwriting

I've been doing a lot of critiquing lately and have come eyeball-to-page with this ugly symptom of first drafts. If your MS is a face - a perfect, symmetrical face of beauty - then overwriting is like an overbite. As soon as your story opens its mouth, overwriting is revealed. Readers are caught staring at it, rather than the whole story.

Since so many are in the middle of NaNo,  here are three common manifestations of this problem: too much telling, purple prose and too many stage directions. Find others at this great post by writer Cheryl Reif here.

Too much telling. "The sight of her made me feel awful. I felt queasy, my stomach lurched, sweat broke out on my whole body. She was really sick. She threw up buckets of green liquid and could barely breathe from wretching."

See what happened there? I told you what was happening and then showed you. Was it necessary that I tell you I felt awful/queasy? That I tell you she felt sick? No. Because I showed you in the next sentences. Telling-and-then-showing assumes your reader is an idiot. Give us the tools and we'll figure it out. Promise.

Purple prose. "His smile was a ghastly grimace. As wretched tears rolled down her trembling cheeks, she wondered if she'd ever see the light of day again. The knife blade was only inches from her pearly white throat. He laughed a maniacal laugh, his teeth tiny points of malice."

Oy. That was disturbingly easy to write. Those sentences are littered with adjectives/adverbs that are another form of telling. We get carried away by our own awesomeness, by the idea we can paint a picture with words instead of what isn't said. Let me say that again: what ISN'T said. The most effective writing is one that gives the reader enough info to populate his/her own imagination. It's a fine line and one that can years to perfect. Let's see if I can demo this right off the cuff:
"He grimaced so she saw his pointed teeth. Tears snaked down her cheeks, hot trails of fear fueled by the knife at her neck."
Far fewer words, yet a much bigger impace on the reader. Or so I hope. You'll have to tell ME which is better. (This is a subjective business, no?)

Too many stage directions.  "Hey," he said, sitting down next to me on the top stair. He put his backpack down and crossed his left leg, angling himself so he faced me.
"Hey," I said back, giving him a half smile so my dead tooth didn't show. I combed my hair with my fingers and then braided it into a single braid as thick as my wrist. "What's going on?"
"Not much." He rummaged in his backpack for an apple. It was red and had a bruise. He held it out to me with his right hand. The fingernail was broken on his index finger.

*sounds of choking*  Um... I don't care how they're sitting or if someone has a mole on their left butt cheek. (Unless the mole is somehow diabolically related to the plot in an intrinsic way.) I want to read the dialogue or experience another plot point, not feel like I'm trapped by every single move the MC makes. Good writing is all about the right kind of detail. Constant updates on the way somebody combs their hair usually don't fall in that category.

Those are my three...and I wrestle with them often. What's your idea of overwriting? Please share with examples in the comments.

Nov 3, 2011

Interview with Eowyn

Eowyn Ivey
Today I'm interviewing Eowyn Ivey, an author whose literary debut, The Snow Child, comes out via Little, Brown Feb. 1. I first met Eowyn in person last spring, but have known about her for years through mutual friends. (And yes, her name comes from that Eowyn in LOTR.) We also have daughters the same age, with the same name and some of the same talents so we run into each other performing mom-duties occasionally.  She lives with her family north of town, semi-off-the-grid, and is a life-long Alaskan. Last summer she spent rafting down the Copper River, writing her second novel and doing subsistence stuff like berrying, hunting and gardening.  She is sooo generous with her time, and sooo very talented, I'm always a bit in awe of her whenever we meet. I know you'll feel the same after reading her words, and will rush out to put in your order for her book ASAP. (BTW, isn't that a great photo? That was taken by another mutual friend. I'm surrounded by talented people!! When will that rub off? *taps foot*)
1. You found your agent in an unusual way. Please share!
I was attending the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference in Homer several years ago. I know a lot of writers go to conferences hoping to pitch to an editor or an agent, but that wasn’t my goal. I went to learn more about the craft and meet other writers. I was there with my mom, Julie LeMay, who is a poet. Jeff Kleinman from Folio Literary Management was the presenting literary agent, andI was impressed with the titles he represented. But my novel wasn’t finished, and I wouldn’t have signed up to speak with him if my mom hadn’t kept prodding me. What did I have to lose? At least I could get a feel for how the novel might be received if and when I was ready to query agents. I described my concept to Jeff, and he asked to read the first 100 pages. Since I wasn’t there to pitch, I hadn’t even brought my manuscript! Thankfully, I was able to get the pages to him; he read them there at the conference and offered to represent it.
Isn't that a great story? I had no idea how lucky she was until I joined the query trenches a few weeks ago. It's like Eowyn got one of those Amazing Race fast-forward passes.

2. From your blurb, The Snow Child appears to have elements of a re-telling, magical realism and historical. What's its genre and how did it get classified?
It’s general fiction.  Although it has a fantastical element and is set in the past, it isn’t a genre novel. You’ll see it described as “literary fiction” by some bookstores and websites, but it’s a label I’m uncomfortable using myself because it seems to be a value claim. “Literary” to me is something that has stood the test of time. But The Snow Child would be shelved in the fiction section of a bookstore or library.
3. You did research prior to writing this book. Talk about how important the research was to your plotting.
The research provided more inspiration than facts. I was working a shift at Fireside Books when I stumbled on a children’s picture book called The Snow Child, illustrated by Alaskan artist Barbara Lavallee. That’s when I first learned of the Snegurochka fairy tale. Right then I knew this was the storyline I had been looking for. As I began writing the novel, I continued to learn more about the fairy tale. I discovered that over the centuries it has been retold in many versions and media– Russian lacquer paintings, Arthur Ransome’s translations. There’s even an opera and a ballet based on the fairy tale. All of this fueled my imagination.
Fireside Books is our local bookstore. I spend a regular chunk of Christmas dough there each year. So do my kids.
4. How important are beta writers or critique partners to you?
My family is my primary source of writing support. As I wrote each night, I would come downstairs and read sections aloud to my husband and older daughter. At the same time, my mom and I had an ongoing arrangement – each week she would give me a poem and I would give her a chapter. The rule was that, because these were first drafts, we could only say what we liked about them. It was really about having a deadline and encouraging each other. I was also fortunate to have other people who were willing to read finished drafts of it, including my dad, fellow authors and booksellers, and former coworkers from the newspaper business.
5. What authors inspire you with their style? Or, if you had to compare your book to others out there, what are they?
I could write pages and pages about the authors who have inspired me. My writing was born out of my love of reading. When I was a little girl, I devoured books such as Little House in the Big Woods, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, andThe Boxcar Children. As a teenager I read everything from David Eddings to Lois Lowry to Stephen King.  It was in college and later that I discovered authors such as Louise Erdrich, Larry McMurtry, Annie Dillard, Cormac McCarthy, Annie Proulx, and Charles Frazier. I am a member of a book club, and we’ve read a lot of classics over the years -- Frankenstein, As I Lay Dying,Middlemarch, Crime and Punishment. I read Austen, Nabokov,  Hemingway, Melville, Joyce, Chekov, Woolf. I also read a lot of modern fiction such as The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Tinkers, Everything is Illuminated, The Green Age of Asher Witherow, The Ice-Shirt. As a bookseller, I’m in constant contact with the fabulous new books hitting the shelves. I just finished Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, The Detour, and The Marriage Plot. Now I’m reading Pure by Julianna Baggott. As you can see my taste runs from westerns to fantasy, literary fiction to classics. And I would love to think that what I read influences my own writing.
6. What was going out on sub like? How did you fill the waiting?
It is a torturous process, especially having worked in journalism for nearly a decade. I was used to a fast turn over, same-day praise or rejection. In book publishing we’re talking months or even years. But I tried to put that nervous energy to good use. I wrote short stories, I began working on the next novel, and I read a lot.
7. Now that TSC has been on shelves in other countries and is doing well, talk about your expectations for the US debut. What advice have any publishing experts given you?
I don’t think anyone can give me advice on this one. The truth is no one – not the editor, the agent, the publisher, the bookseller, and certainly not the author – can predict how a book is going to do. We all just follow our guts, write and read what we love, and it can be surprising which books hit the bestseller list and which ones never see the light of day. I’m not talking about quality as much as theme and subject and approach. I believe a lot of different factors in society influence what books become well-loved at a certain time. So instead of trying to play that impossible guessing game, I’m just grateful for each email or tweet I get from a reader in Oslo or London or Orlando who has enjoyed it.
When I say 'doing well' I really mean it's a bestseller. Like, in Norway. And possibly in other countries by now.
8. You landed a grant to help fund research for your next novel. Talk about that process, including any tips for grant writing or research you may have learned.
It’s true what they say – try, try again. I’ve applied for grants before and not received them.  I think a few things helped me this time with the Rasmuson Foundation. I had a very concrete project that would clearly help me write my next novel. I had a polished excerpt from the novel in progress. I had improved my resume with short story publications and the acquisition of my novel by Little, Brown & Co. And I had attended a fabulous session at Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference in Denver that was all about how to write a grant proposal. I highly recommend to anyone who wants to write and publish and apply for grants to attend conferences like these. You can get a tremendous amount of helpful information!
9. Your debut is coming right up. How will you balance publicity for this book with writing on your next?
 We’re planning a book release part in conjunction with Fireside Books at the Inn CafĂ© in Palmer that evening. As for balancing everything, my goal is to enjoy the incredible ride. I write because I love to, and I always find the time when I set my mind to it. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find The Snow Child opening new doors for me to publish essays and short stories. But however much writing I do, or don’t do, I know that publicity opportunities for The Snow Child are once-in-a-lifetime -- never again will I have a debut novel.
10. I've heard it said that landing the second contract can be harder than the first. What's your opinion on that?
I have no idea. I guess when I finish my next novel, I’ll find out.
 Well, dang. I was hoping you'd dispel that as an urban (or literary) legend. Sometimes the literary life seems like a climb up Lazy Mountain - just when you think you've hit the summit, you see another peak to climb...and then another...and another....

Alaskan fast five
caribou and Mt. McKinley

Do you prefer moose or caribou?
Caribou, but I’ll never turn down a moose.

Dip-netting record? (or gill-netting if that's how you roll)
Only four.  I’m lacking as a dip-netter. Lucky for me, my husband Sam is a natural and fills our permit almost every time he goes out.
Oh, we're tied! I caught four last summer...but I had my son's help. That net is gigantic and I kept slipping and getting stuck in the mud. And the salmon we caught averaged 15 lbs., which didn't help matters when we had to haul them onto shore as the creek rose. Bleck.
Cords of wood it takes you to get through the winter?
Six. And for those who don’t know the measurement, a cord is wood stacked 4 feet high, 4 feet wide, and 8 feet long. So about six of those.
Also, Eowyn chops that herself. You should see her arms. (Kidding. Or am I....)
Gallons of water you must haul each week?
300. And we do laundry in town. We used to make do with just 50 gallons at a time, but we recently got a larger holding tank so we’re getting spoiled with hot baths and everything.
Luxury item you can't live without? (Mine is Oregon Chai Tea. Mmmmm.)
Good coffee with real half-and-half, no sweetener.

Thanks, Eowyn! She'll be popping by to answer any questions periodically, so fire away!

Oct 30, 2011

True ghost stories

So I had a post on overwriting scheduled and then realized that, in fact, I'd rather write about ghosts. Because of Halloween and all. Since popular fiction includes those based on a true story (why do we love The Blind Side? And Sound of Music? And all those animal-in-peril-until-dramatic-rescue movies? Because they're true...mostly) I had to share one of my own creepy paranormal encounters.

When I was in second grade, my parents divorced so my brother and I moved to Lawrence, KS, with my mom. The only place she could afford to rent was this seedy little duplex that smelled bad and had ratty carpet. But it had three bedrooms and was in walking distance of an elementary school. My bedroom was in the back, next to the bathroom. We'd been there about a month when, late one night, I was awoken by something jumping on my bed. I thought it was our cat and sat up. Nothing was there. So I tried to fall asleep and it happened again. And again. I got up to tell my mother, who was taking a bath in the bathroom that shared a wall with my room. She told me I'd been dreaming. So I went back to bed and fell asleep. Mom told me later that she started to hear this banging against the wall. She yelled at me to be quiet. It kept up, literally shaking the whole wall. Mom assumed I was jumping on the bed and got out of the tub to tell me to knock it off. She opened the door to my room to see the bed jumping 1-2 feet off the floor while I snoozed, oblivious, in the middle of the mattress. My mom - an Ivy League grad who holds a PhD in biology -  was a brand-new baby Christian at the time and believed in the supernatural. She commanded whatever it was to be gone in Jesus name, and it stopped. We weren't bothered again. And the smell in the duplex went away. We found out later that the duplex had come up for rent after a huge drug/prostition ring bust on the previous renters. (Comforting news, no?) 
That's the least shocking of my two paranormals. The second tale involved an exorcism.  Both have shaped my view on evil/demons/ghosts. Do I think they're real? Yup.

So do you have any favorite true scary stories? Have they shaped your belief in the supernatural? Or, like the photo below, in the impossible?

Oct 29, 2011

Blog hop winner and upcoming events

Thanks to all who participated in the Casting Call character blog hop. I had a great time checking out everyone's entries and commented on as many as I could. Blogger was a bit selfish so if you didn't get a comment from me, I tried. :) chose Jon Paul, of the blog Where Sky Meets Ground. Jon Paul, I'm unable to find contact info for you on your site so please contact me, Carrie or Lisa. Your prize is a three-chapter critique by all three of us on whatever you'd like to submit. Yay you!

Check back Sunday for a post on common overwriting characteristics, and on Friday, I'll be interviewing the lovely Eowyn Ivey. Her literary novel, The Snow Child, is a fairy-tale retelling that, although it doesn't release in the US until Feb. 1, has already climbed to the bestseller lists in Europe.  She's awesome, so talented and happens to live near me. You won't want to miss her!

Oct 23, 2011

Casting call!

Thanks to all of you who commented on the rough draft of this book trailer. With help, I figured out how to adjust my titles. Hopefully this new version is an improvement!

The pictorial post of my characters is here.

And thanks for joining our casting call this week! The linky should be below, but if it isn't and you want to join us, sign up at Carrie Butler's blog for this weeklong, one-post hop. Carrie, Lisa Regan and I will randomly choose one lucky winner for a three-person, three-chapter critique - that's three pairs of eyes for the price of...well, nothing. :)


Oct 20, 2011

Guest post - Maximizing Word Choice

Writer Sarah Belliston joins me today in a guest post about word choice. She received her BA in English from Brigham Young University. She lives in Kansas City with her husband, daughter, mother, and one pug in a never-big-enough apartment. Sarah's at the beginning of the road to publication with her manuscript Conduit, which she blogs about here.

Take it away, Sarah!

 I thought about this topic when reading A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck. Here’s one example of what I mean: “We didn’t breathe for listening.” There are a million ways to say this, but these words are unique to this character.
After pondering, I came up with five different ways authors can consciously use word choice.

1. Ground  the reader.
I have trouble with this. Give enough setting detail to get your reader in the scene, but don’t bore them into skimming or worse, closing the book. The answer is not necessarily more details, but the right ones.
Take Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: “and there in that pleasant corner of the world they plied their well-ordered business of living, and they heeded less and less the world outside where dark things moved.”
You can probably guess he is describing the Hobbits and the Shire. They ‘plied’ their ‘business’ of living and the outside world was where ‘dark things moved’. Tolkien is not a short-winded author, but his words do their job of bringing you into the Hobbit’s laissez-faire lifestyle and land.
Another image is from Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth: “No one remembers where the paths go. Some say they are there as escape routes, others say they are there so that we can travel deep into the Forest for wood. We only know that one points to the rising sun and the other to the setting sun.”
She doesn’t describe the paths here (though she does in other places), but you get the feelings of hopelessness and despair that this narrator associates with these paths.

2. Set the tone.
“He stood now among the opening flowers and the new leaves, looking at a dead man, hanging by his neck from the limb of a tree in the park, on Indian Hill, overlooking the harbor.”
This is from the first paragraph of Robert Parker’s High Profile. From this sentence you can probably guess his main character is a detective and will solve this murder. But you also know the main character (MC) is going to do it in an objective way, no personal involvement, taking in all the details both good and bad. He talks about the flowers and the dead man with the same plain words.
The narrator from above wouldn’t go on to describe the victim’s clothing as ‘retro’ or ‘so last season’. And he’s probably not going to describe the bruises on the man’s neck as ‘pressure points of passion’ or ‘the color of a blood moon rising through a mist of fog’.
Authors present a tone in the beginning of their book and need to keep it throughout. When a writer fails to do this, readers say “That’s not what he would say/do.” Word choice is key to keeping that tone.

3. Narrative distance.
This is similar to tone, but emotional distance can change throughout a book. Cassandra Clare has six books out right now. My example comes from City of Fallen Angels because someone borrowed my City of Bones. Here’s the quote: “A shining blade split the night, slashing down inches from Clary’s face, severing the dog’s head from its body.” I love that phrase ‘split the night’. Clary is about to die, surrounded by darkness, and an angel blade comes to save her. The blade of light literally cuts the night away from her.
If you do it right, the words can put your reader with you every moment of your emotional scenes. You can also change from distant to close over the course of a scene to increase the impact.

4. Unique characters.
The words we use can add depth to a character that otherwise seems two-dimensional. Gloria Naylor has a great book called Mama Day. It starts off with a prologue of the legend of Sapphira Wade.
“A true conjure woman: satin black, biscuit cream, red as Georgia clay: depending on which of us takes a mind to her.”
Don’t those words sing? This woman is a mix of myth and reality. She’s anything and everything. The adjectives Naylor uses don’t just speak to the color of Sapphira’s skin, but everything she is. Smooth as satin, fluffy and soft like batter, or hard and slick like clay.

5. Narrator’s voice.
My final point ties everything else together. Voice affects every part of our writing. Our author’s voice colors all of our works, but the individual narrator’s voice can be distinct as well. This is especially important in works that have multiple POVs. The example that jumped to my mind was William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. “Then the dark began to go in smooth, bright shapes, like it always does, even when Caddy says that I have been asleep.”
“I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it.”
“I'm bad and I'm going to hell, and I don't care. I'd rather be in hell than anywhere where you are.”
Each quote was from someone different in gender, education, emotional state. And you get that from the words they use.
The examples I’ve included here are not necessarily the best, but what I had on my bookshelf. In fact, I’m sure there are better ones, but the points are the same. More words may not help, but the right words will paint a picture, open a soul, and take your readers to the heart of your story.

What are some examples of word choice that have stuck with you after you’ve read a book?