May 31, 2012

Friday funnies

Apparently, my clock reads between 2 and 7 most of the time. :)

It took me waaaay too long to find him. I kept getting distracted by all the shiny robots.

Always good advice:

Have a great weekend, everyone!

May 30, 2012

Me, everywhere (as if I'd planned it)

Today I'm guest posting over at Anna Staniszewski's blog. Anna is the author of My Very Unfairy Tale Life and a fellow EMLA client. Check out the post here.

Writer Suzi Retzlaff has another post up in her series, The Great Reveal, where she interviews writers from all walks of the publishing path. Find it here.

And writer Kimberly Gabriel just posted an interview with me here. Stop by and say hi!

May 27, 2012

How I start a WIP

The 4 versions of my brain on new idea
Thanks to all our veterans present and past for your service. Happy Memorial Day.

Last week, I came up with a shiny new idea for another WIP. Sometimes those come from reading a news article, or hearing a folk tale or meeting a person so interesting, I wonder what would happen if that person were in such-or-so a position. This idea simmers for at least a few days while I decide if it's good enough to put any more effort into it.

I ask myself three questions.
1.  Where would this story end?
 2. What's the main conflict?
3.  What kind of person is my main character?

You'll notice I start at the end. Always, always, always. Because if I don't know where I'm going or if it's worthwhile to go there, I have no story.

If the possible answers to these questions have me interested to the point where I'm losing sleep at night and/or waking early to think over plot for an hour or so on a daily basis, I go to the next step: writing my blurb.
 The blurb is what sells the idea, whether you're pre-agented or you've already signed.( Check out the 'WIPS in my life' pages for samples of mine. Blurb writing is a whole other post, so I won't go into that here.) The blurb forces you to describe the character, the setting and the stakes in an exciting, concise style. When that's as sexy as you can make it, it's time to get outside opinion.

Before I had an agent, I did that in two places: an agent pitch contest and in a query I sent out to an agent I'd queried before, whom I knew responded quickly. (I don't necessarily recommend this because I knew I'd blow a request. My MS wasn't close to ready but my goal at that time wasn't to sign. It was to hook.) Now I send the blurb to Tricia, who gives a thumb's up or down. If she's not hooked, it's doubtful an editor would be.

Once my blurb is a go, I write the first chapter. Lots of people do more prewriting, such as character sketches, random scenes, etc. but I just dive right in.To a point. When the first chapter is on paper, my characters need places to go. So I write a timeline with entries and the necessary research for each chapter. Before doing this exercise, I was like a lot of writers who gave themselves a set time or word count each day, rather than a plot goal. But without direction, I spent the time doodling or staring at the screen feeling frustrated. Since I write a chapter a day, I don't stop writing until one of two things happens: either my chapter ends with a cliffhanger and an obvious lead-in OR I write a brief paragraph reminding myself of the next day's goals. That way when I sit down later, I don't lose momentum.

So that's my process. What's yours??

May 24, 2012

Friday funnies

How to drive certain people crazy:

And speaking of Sherlock, season 2 is over. But nobody should have to miss the magnificence that is Benedict Cumberbatch (dude in the photo, for those of you who missed out.)

So a present from me to you:

After watching that, this comes to mind:

And I know which brain I have. Do you?

Have a great weekend!

May 21, 2012

Meradeth Houston and Colors Like Memories

Meradeth's first book is OUT! Yay!! And she's hopping around the blogosphere this month telling as many people as she can. This lady is organized - her bio, photo and links are below her helpful post on revision. Questions for her? Post them in the comments.
Her blurb: Julia has a secret: she killed the guy she loved. It was an accident—sort of. 

Julia is a Sary, the soul of a child who died before taking her first breath. Without this 'breath of life' she and others like her must help those on the verge of suicide. It's a job Julia used to enjoy, until the accident that claimed her boyfriend’s life—an accident she knows was her fault. If living with the guilt weren't enough, she's now assigned to help a girl dealing with the loss of her mother, something Julia's not exactly the best role model for. If she can't figure out a way to help her, Julia's going to lose her position in the Sary, something she swore to her boyfriend would never happen.

Revision Time!
Thanks so much for hosting me, Melodie! And before I forget, I have a contest running for my blog tour—all commentors are entered into a drawing for two copies of my book, and one person will win a $25 gift card to Amazon or Barnes & Noble. There are more details on my home blog, if you want to check it out!
Okay, so today I thought I’d talk a little bit about revisions of a different sort: the kind you get from an editor, once you’ve sold your book and all that fun stuff :) Do keep in mind that every house, and every editor, has a different method, but before I went into this process I wasn’t totally sure what to expect, so maybe shedding a little light on the subject might help!
MuseItUp is a small ebook house, and when they acquired my book I was assigned an editor (bigger houses will have an acquiring editor). This is the person who’s going to go through your book and beat it into shape. I’ll admit, I was totally nervous when I was sent my first round of revisions—I’d edited Colors Like Memories to within an inch of its life on my own and through my critique group. But what would a professional editor have to say? Well, it turns out, LOTS. There were comments on my commas (which I swear I’ll never fully master), tenses (how did I manage to screw that up?), and mostly on overall things (like, how can this person have kids? Can I build this scene up more? I’m jumping heads in certain places—stuff like that).
My number one piece of advice for dealing with all of this is learn how to use track-changes in MS Word. If you don’t already know all the tips and tricks to this awesome tool, I highly recommend becoming an expert. There are bunches of tutorials online, and the best practice is using it yourself. It’s fun, if a little frustrating at first, and wow does it make things easier!
I went through each of the comments my editor made and created a Plan of Attack. It wasn’t possible to do everything at once, and I would have been massively overwhelmed if I’d tried. So I broke it down into smaller chunks, and this proved to be super useful to me. Everyone works differently, but I’d recommend making a similar list if you’re facing lots of revisions. A check-off box is also highly motivational—there’s nothing better than getting to mark something as Done!
Once done with everything that had been suggested, I sent my revisions back. This is where I got nervous again—what if she didn’t like what I’d done? I’d made a few other small changes on my own, and I worried that she would think they were rubbish. (Okay, clearly I worry a lot!) Anyhow, it was fine. But I did get another copy of my book back, with more revisions to make. This is normal, or so I’m told :) Don’t expect to have everything done in one round. Mentally, this also makes things easier, I think, because you don’t have to stress out so much on that first round.
Anyhow, after two rounds, my book was declared ready for copy-edits. That’s a whole other story… But hopefully this is helpful if you’re wondering what to expect from your editor, and looking to start some revisions on your own work!
Inquiring minds want to know: do you use track-changes? What’s your favorite aspect of it?
A bit about Meradeth Houston:
Meradeth’s never been a big fan of talking about herself, but if you really want to know, here are some random tidbits about her:

She’s a Northern California girl. This generally means she talks too fast and use "like" a lot.
When she’s not writing, she’s sequencing dead people’s DNA. For fun!
She’s been writing since she was 11 years old. It's her hobby, her passion, and she’s so happy to get to share her work!
If she could have a super-power, it would totally be flying. Which is a little strange, because she’s terrified of heights.

May 20, 2012

Swearing in YA: should authors be filters or mirrors?

I took my kids to the park last week. Since I hadn't brought my Kindle along, I spent the time creating an ending for my WIP (it is AWESOME), and trying to narrow down my next shiny idea (still working on that). In the middle of this brainstorming, the high and middle schools down the street let out for the day. The park was soon swarming with teen boys, who needed to run off their energy just like the little guys. And the swearing began.

I work with teens on a daily basis and in my school, bad language has consequences. So I rarely hear it while I'm teaching. But the park was a free-for-all. The vulgarity was constant, automatic and completely unselfconscious.  If the f-word had exploded with blue smoke each time it was uttered, the air would've choked us all.

Which made me think of language in YA. I've noticed that edgy or dark books generally have more profanity in them than, say, a contemporary or romance. Their target audience includes more males than other subgenres, and apparently, it's culturally acceptable - even expected - for males to  use vulgarity more than females.

Last week, ABC ran this: Swearing Characters More Popular, Attractive in YA. In 2010, agent Mary Kole wrote about it here. In Feb, writer Colin Mulhern discussed it. And Absolute Write has a thread on the BYU study ABC quoted in their stories.

The BYU study* - which found that characters who swear were better looking, wealthier and of higher social status than others - made me wonder if swearing has replaced smoking in the Cool Factor. It used to be that lighting up a cigarette and blowing smoke in somebody's face was an expression of teen rebellion. It also proved you had the connections and the money to get the smokes. Twenty years ago, had my friends hit the park on a sunny day, a small percentage** would've been sneaking off into the trees to smoke. They turned the air blue with toxins and language.

But smoking can give you cancer; swearing does not.

ABC's reporting hints that the taboos against vulgarity are softening...(Who defines bad language, anyway? Doesn't part of a word's shock-value come from the fact we rarely hear it? And if we hear it all the time, has it simply become a figure of speech?)...and it's basically our fault as parents. We can blame TV, or movies, or whatever other media, but the fact is, all of it caters to us. To an extent, media is simply a mirror of society.

So where does that leave YA writers? James Dashner, whose trilogy started with The Maze Runner, comes up with his own lexicon of swear words for his group of desperate teen guys fighting a dystopian zombiefied society. The words accomplish some important world building, which works for his genre. Not every writer can do such a neat side-step.

Some of my characters do say 'hell' or 'damn' occasionally. I'm not a big fan of repetitive language - IMO, constant vulgarity is the product of a weak mind - but if the word fits, and if it gets through twenty rounds of revision, in it stays. One of my goals as an educator/writer is to expand teens' vocabulary whenever and however I can. And it's so much more fun to think of a colorful expletive that's unique to a specific character (like my six year-old saying 'cheese-and-sprinkles!' when he's mad) than to resort to a boring four-letter word.

So what do you think? Is it our job as responsible YA writers to hold our characters to a higher standard in the hopes it'll rub off? Or is our role just to hold up the mirror, not as a preacher or a teacher or anything else but a story matter what words we use?

Can we do both?

*Important note: the BYU study only included 40 YA books.
**I never inhaled. :) Also, the smell makes me sick.

May 17, 2012

Friday funnies

My mindset these days:

Because this isn't totally a joke:

And I think I'm represented by the bottom right of this:

And also the dog here:

See you Monday, when I'll wonder out loud about swearing in YA lit. Have a great weekend!

May 13, 2012

Summer Reads

Our last day of school was Friday, which means summer is here whether or not the weather cooperates. I've got a huge list of to-dos, the biggest of which is completing my master's degree - a class that requires writing 13 thesis papers. (Thirteen!!!) So I'll be diving into fiction whenever I can just to distract myself. :) Plus, reading is a summer requirement at my house.

Here are a few recommendations for your summer escapes:


I really enjoyed SWIPE by Evan Angler. As a kid who watched the movie Thief in the Night and had nightmares for years afterward, I'm not a huge fan of contemporary tales of the Biblical tribulation. But Angler does a great job of weaving in technology with end-time predictions in a way that won't turn off people who don't know/believe in those prophecies.
There are plot similarities to other dystopian books on the market right now, the difference being that there's no love triangle and Logan isn't driven by his teenage hormones - he wants to know what happened to his sister and why he's suddenly being targeted by the Markless. I have a feeling I know where this is going in book 2 and hope I'm right. :)

Debuts August 7
I was so excited to read this book. The swords/fantasy genre is packed with heroes and it's about time a heroine got to swing a lance and take down a baddie. Maas has built up quite a readership using an online forum and she credits her fans with making sure the multi-year odyssey of writing this story came to fruition.
The action in this book was great - good twists, lots of imagination and world building. It was obvious the author really put some thought into her backstory and legends that make up her universe. People have compared the plot to Hunger Games, in that the MC has to battle it out for the chance to be the king's champion. Celaena has to go on many 'quests' to keep proving her worthiness, which kept me interested.
 My feelings for Celaena blew hot and cold. One minute she's behaving like a besotted girl, the next she's battling demons like a kind of fae Joan of Arc, and then she's a hardened assassin. It was like she was three distinct people instead of one person with different reactions. I liked the assassin best and by the end of the story, she seems to be firming up into a riveting character.


I am a HUGE fan of this seris and with Limpopo Academy, McCall Smith draws us back into Precious Ramatswe's world with a tale of a lonely detective, a falsely accused mechanic, a deposed orphanage director and a devious house builder.

McCall Smith has that elusive talent of making the ordinary so special, we hang on his every sentence. Or I do. Precious's life is so ordered and slow paced; there is always time for a cup of bush tea or a discussion with the neighbors. No matter what shenanigans those neighbors get up to, Precious is up to the task of sorting it all out. Smith brings Botswana to life with each book, and his setting serves the dual role of accenting the differences between life in Africa and other nations, and the similarities of daily living we all share.

So what are your recommendations for summer, 2012? I really want to know - share them in the comments!

May 10, 2012

Friday funnies

I've never been a fan of Josh Groban until now.

And in honor of the school year ending:

Just in time, btw, as this is how I feel these days:

My boys' favorite book was Where The Wild Things Are - in fact, I have it memorized (On the night when Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind....and another....His mother called him Wild Thing and Max said I'll eat you up! So he was sent to bed without eating anything...whoa. I'll stop.) because THEY are Max.
RIP Maurice.

May 6, 2012

Best Rejection Stories

My agent and I have been on submission for just over a month. She sent out to a fab list of editors while I braced myself for Rejection Highway. Because let's face it, life has said No to me way more often than Yes.

Last week, Tricia forwarded an Almost-Email. A Big House editor had some positive things to say about my submission. He loved the writing, the atmosphere, the whole premise of the story. He'd sat on the MS for a while mulling it over before finally deciding to pass. The parts he loved the most were the ones I'd tackled in revisions. I was still stressed over those bits, wondering if they went too far or gave a false start to the tone of the story. Learning that this editor had a favorable response was a huge relief. 

This was very exciting to both Tricia and me because it proved - at least as far as one reader was concerned - that our gut instincts about the weak areas in the MS were correct. In a weird way, this rejection was a huge boost to my writerly confidence.

I asked a few other writers if they'd had similar experiences. Here's what Jolene Perry had to say:

 I'd queried Victoria Marini with a YA paranormal called Insight. She read the beginning twice, and said that she couldn't put her finger on it, but it still didn't work. HOWEVER, she'd be happy to read anything else I had.
When I completed my first YA contemporary, I sent it to her and immediately got a request for a full (she doesn't rep much contemp, if any). She kept my manuscript for a full eight weeks and when she got back to me it was still a no, but her letter totally propelled me forward. She said she saw huge growth in my writing and loved the voice. She said she knew it would find a home somewhere, and that after reading it, she sat on the manuscript for three weeks, unsure of what to do.
For me, deep in the query trenches, I first saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I still keep her letter. I wrote her when I did sign to thank her, and she wrote back right away.
It was the first time that I truly understood that placing a manuscript with an agent or an editor is all about right person, right place, AND the right time (once your MS is truly ready).

Do you have a best rejection story - one that really helped you along the writing road? Share it in the comments!

May 3, 2012

Friday funnies

Grandpa's new iPad is only 32 seconds - I guarantee, you will laugh.

And finally, Ellen reads 50 Shades of Grey. Yeah, I know this video is everywhere right now but I couldn't resist.

Have a great weekend!

May 1, 2012

Announcing NA Alley!

A group of seven NA writers have banded together to blog about the New Adult genre for ages 18-25.  Their blog looks gorgeous, they're posting everyday this month and hosting a giveaway for their launch. Do click on the button and hop on over there.