Saturday, December 17, 2011

Ender's Game: The Movie

This is really happening, folks!

News that Orson Scott Card's beloved sci-fi classic Ender's Game is coming--finally--to the big screen is not really news at all. It's been in the works for years. But they're signing cast members right and left, so I think it's safe to say we can start getting excited. I know I am. Ender has been at the top of my books-that-must-be-made-into-films list for years. Years. Guys. I'm kind of freaking out about this. If you're an Ender fan, then you are too. Or you should be, anyway, because here is your cast list so far:

Asa Butterfield
(He's great. He's really, really great. I remember seeing him guest star on a few episodes of Merlin (great show, love me some BBC) and I was like, Whoa, this kid is good. He needs some big screen time. Hey, presto. There you are. So excited. Great choice. 

Hailee Steinfeld
(I LOVE this girl. She ROCKED True Grit. I want to write a book just so it can be made a movie just so she can star in it. Plus, she was homeschooled--WORD! Anyway. Moving on.)

Brendan Meyer Headshot - P 2011
Brendan Meyer

ALSO: we have a release date. So go ahead and start counting down, my fellow Dragon Army soldiers, because Ender's Game is scheduled to hit theaters March 15, 2013.

So. Only a little over a year to go. I know, it's gonna be a long, hard wait. But it's happening at last! 


I'm so freakin' excited. I think I'm gonna go re-read the book, now. 


Thursday, December 15, 2011

New Hunger Games poster!

So. Psyched. About this new Hunger Games poster. Goosebumps much? O_O

Ryan G. loves YA too!

Okay, so I'm not a huge Ryan Gosling fan or anything, but the tumblrs devoted to him do crack me up. And this one is most definitely my favorite:

(originally on Taherah Mafi's blog)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Review: Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So this one gets 5/5 stars--which, just so you know, I RARELY give to ANY book. Here are five reasons why I'm so blown away by Thirteen Reasons Why (as much as I'd love to give you 13 reasons, it would just take too long--though, with this book, I could SO do it).

1. Cleverness
The whole idea of telling a story in audio-tour format is just downright clever. Though at first it was confusing--I kept reading Hannah's passages in Clay's voice, and vice versa--I couldn't help but be intrigued by the idea of it. It felt so real, so possible.

2. Suspense
I read the book in one day, and in pretty much one sitting, which is extremely rare for me. But it was just that important. I HAD to finish. HAD to know, most of all, what Clay's part in the story was. And the whole time I was just amazed that the story could be so tinglingly (word? if not, it should be) suspenseful, considering from the start Asher tells us what the outcome is. When an author can give you the ending on the very first page--heck, on the front cover flap--and STILL keep you flipping through pages at Mach 10--you know you're in the hands of a master storyteller.

3. Voice
Though the story is told from Clay's perspective, it was Hannah's voice I fell in love with first. After all, you're really getting both POV's. But about 3/4 of the way through, I fell just as much in love with Clay (don't want to give too much away here). Leading up to that point, I wasn't sure about him--I wanted to like him, but there was so much emphasis on Hannah I didn't feel too much connection with Clay until--oh, snap--I can't tell you that, in case you haven't read it. =Z ANYway, moving on... Back to Hannah. You love/hate her as a character. I dunno. Can't decide one way or another. Certainly pity her. But I'll let you read and decide what you think. But there's no denying the voice is SPOT on.

4. Bravery
The subject matter Asher tackles--everything from suicide to rape--is heavy stuff. The kind of stuff that gets books banned from libraries. So my hat goes off to him for even going in this direction. I for one am completely against banning books, especially just because they deal with these kinds of issues. If anything, authors should STRIVE to address things like this, for the very reason I next address:

5. Relevance
This is one of those books that changes how you see the world. And in YA fiction, I think too often it gets to be about thrills: romantic thrills, action thrills, the thrill of magic and violence and saving the world. Not gonna lie. I'm a sucker for those, too. But while those books are fun to read, and can indeed mean more to the reader than just pure escapism, reading would be a meaningless without books like Thirteen Reasons Why. Because it's RELEVANT. There are Hannahs and Clays and Jessicas and Bryces in each of our lives, and Asher's novel not only reminds us of that--it challenges us to DO SOMETHING about it. To, in the words of another fan, "be wonderful." To reach out, touch, change, help, and just listen to someone who is hurting. To simply care, when no one else will.

I better stop here, though I could probably go on all day about this book. It was exhilarating, beautiful, heartbreaking, and transforming. I cried. You will too.

And if you haven't yet...READ IT.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Do Contests Get Any Sweeter?

DUDE you have to check this out. In my Twitter wanderings I came across a really, really cool contest hosted by J. A. Souders on her blog in celebration of her three-book deal with Tor Teen (yay!). And how can I NOT love anything having to do with a fellow fantasy writer ALSO NAMED JESS!!??

 Anyway, there are TWO prize packs--and I'm not just talking a free e-book or a 5$ Amazon card. I'm talking loaded buckets of really cool stuff. Example:


Now if THAT doesn't make you drool, you better hie yourself to the nearest clinic and ask your doc to check your pulse because you MAY IN FACT BE AN ANDROID!

Anyway, you should really head over there and help Jess celebrate this incredible achievement! You have till Dec. 5 so SPREAD WORD.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

5 Ways to Jumpstart Your Novel

Maybe you're staring at a blank whiteboard, wondering when the plot fairies are going to appear and start making bullet-pointed outlines for you to fill in.

Maybe you're staring at the bland first chapters of a new novel that sounded great when you started it...but after the initial enchantment faded, you're left with a limp rag that seems utterly incapable of transformation into a magic flying carpet.

Maybe you're almost there, with great characters and a tightly woven plot... but it just seems to lack that "spark" that will make it explode across the sky.

Here are 5 tips that have worked for me when it comes to brainstorming, transforming, or injecting adrenaline into a novel:

1. Read outside the box. If all you read is YA, and all you write is YA, your writing probably isn't going to stand out from the crowd. You can't put celery and carrots in a blender and expect cookies and cream milkshakes to come out. You really wanna bring something new and fresh to your genre? Read outside it. Fiction, non-fiction, comic books or coloring books--doesn't really matter. The point is to expand your reading repertoire in order to expand the limits of your own imagination.

2. Watch a documentary. Or three or ten. You'd be amazed at how many ideas can come from something like Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking or Colony: The Endangered World of Bees. Or if you're in the midst of a novel, find documentaries related to your subject. Our world is stuffed with incredible true stories, science, and facts. Learn them. Use them.

3. Read the dictionary. No, really. Do. A single word can carry a host of other words in its shadow. Think of words like redemption, holocaust, or grief. Words like these are almost stories in and of themselves. Get out a thesaurus and explore the vastness of the English language. Go to Visual Thesaurus and get lost in maps of words.

4. Get involved in theater. Call me crazy if you want, but one of the best things that ever happened to my writing was the four years I directed and acted for my college drama club. The experience of body movement, vocalized dialogue, and other actors in conjunction with a written story is wildly invigorating. Even if you have stage fright (to which I would normally say "Get on stage, face your fear, then get over it") you can get involved in other ways like prompting, directing, or just sewing costumes. Theater is a whole lot like writing--only it takes things a couple steps further by actually putting the story into physical action. You'll leave the stage with a new arsenal of writing weapons that will make you see your novel in a whole new way.

5. Live a little. Thoreau said "How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live." Ouch. Get away from your computer, away from your house, and do something. And I don't mean go haunt a bookstore for a few hours--that doesn't count. Live adventurously. Talk to strangers. See new places and try new foods and, as that great sage Dr. Seuss said, "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose... So get on your way!" Let your own life inspire your writing, and it won't just be your book that benefits.

What about you? Have any of these strategies ever worked for you in the past? What are some ways you brainstorm? Please comment--I'm always looking for new things to try! :)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Letting Go: when to bid your novel farewell

Every serious writer has had to do it, myself included (on multiple counts). Letting go of a manuscript is never easy; it's like breaking up with someone you love, or thought you loved, or really, really wished you could love. You've been through that enchantment phase, the honeymoon days, everything starry and new and filled with possibility. You might have had a few fights, might have made up a couple times, muscled through the rough patches. Maybe you still feel like you're on that first date, and though you want it to work out, you're already seeing signs of trouble.

I've had to let go two complete novels and many, many false starts. To continue the dating analogy, I've broken off two serious relationships and ended countless flirtations after only one or two dates. But knowing when to say goodbye is usually never simple. It's not like you wake up in the middle of the night, sit up straight, and gasp "I've got to let it go!" At least, not for most of us.

The feeling that it's TIME is a gradual revelation. Most writers (and here I raise my hand) don't notice the warning signs until too late--or try to justify them too much. Like that guy who opens the car door for you on the first two dates, then never again. Or that girl whose texts get shorter and fewer. And we say, "Well, maybe it's nothing... just a bump in the road..."

And yes. There are bumps in the road. I doubt many of us have ever written a whole novel without at least once getting discouraged. We all have to muscle through the "muddle," that slushy, gray no-man's land between the beginning and the end of our story. We all run into "plotholes" in the road, or run out of gas. There is no perfect relationship, with man, woman, or WIP. The trick is identifying which projects are worth fighting for--and how long--and which ones should be given their luggage and shown to the door.

Here are some warning signs I myself have come across in my writing--signs you, too, may have experienced. Maybe you're trying to ignore them (like I did) or maybe you're just looking for confirmation that yes, indeed, it's time to say goodbye. Wherever you are with your writing at the moment, take a few minutes and ask yourself, "Are any of these warning signs popping up on my writing journey?"

It's just not fun anymore. This is a common symptom I get when I'm just starting out on a project. One day, probably while vacuuming or hiking, I get hit with a gleaming, screaming, Technicolor idea. Goosebumps. Increased heart rate. Swoony, moony eyes. Check, check, check. For the next few days, maybe a whole week, I'm lovestruck. I make a powerpoint of the characters, complete with photos and descriptions. I doodle cover art. I have visions of my new amour bedecking bookshelves across the nation.

Then, slowly, almost cruelly, that initial enchantment fades. I still like the idea, and I want it to work. But then come the plot holes, and the muddly middle, and there are those five or ten or fifty people I shared the idea with, who are waiting to see what will come of it... But it's just not fun. The life is gone. I'm bored with the characters, bored with the plot, bored with the premise. I don't want to be, but I can't help it. The shininess is rusted over. If no amount of plotting or staring at that Powerpoint won't bring back the same lovesick fervor I initially had, then it's time to let it go.

Ask yourself: Am I bored with my WIP?

2. Frustration. 
The pieces just won't go together. This will probably happen with every book you write, so don't take the first sign of frustration too close to heart. What I'm talking about here is the frustration that goes on for days or weeks. Plot holes keep getting deeper, no matter how much dirt you shovel in them. Characters won't get along, won't fall in love, or sit in the corner with arms crossed and refuse to move. The whole thing feels like a crumbly, groaning, too-many-sharp-points train wreck. You feel like you're throwing yourself relentlessly against walls that will never give way.

At this point, all spontaneous, organic creativity has stopped, and you've become that proverbial square peg aiming for a round hole. Everything--characters, plot,  voice--is forced. A word of advice from one who's been there many times: if writing the novel feels like swallowing cereal made of nails and broken glass, reading it will be worse. Constipated writing is bad writing. Let it go.

Ask yourself, Has my writing gone from organic to forced? (Often, taking a break from that WIP and working on another, or just taking time off to read and enjoy other activities, will loosen up those clogged pipes and surprise you with solutions you hadn't considered before).

3. It won't sell
I love my book; why doesn't anyone else? This is probably the hardest break-up to swallow. You still have that initial enchantment with your novel and you've managed to get past all your frustrations. You've polished it down to the bones, said all the right things in your query letter, maybe even gotten a few nibbles. But months go by. No agent calls. No publisher mails you a contract. You have enough rejection letters to wallpaper the school gym. But you still believe in the book--how can you possibly let it go?

This is where I was with a novel I'd spent four years writing. I still love that book, and I still think it's worth publishing. But after months of querying and only one request (which ultimately turned into rejection) I did the terrible, unthinkable deed: I let it go. I moved on. It hurt. Still kinda does. But it just wouldn't sell.

Now, some people will tell you to keep at it. That if you keep sending queries for months, even years, eventually you will get an agent or publisher. Mmm, okay, there are a few stories like that out there. But I would dare to suggest that if a book doesn't get picked up after three to six months of querying, it's gonna be a hard sell even if you do get an agent. Doesn't mean you've failed as a writer. Not by a long shot. It means you now have the opportunity to step back and see what's not working. Get feedback. Honest feedback, from people you trust and who know the market. The problem may not be your book at all; it could just be the timing and the current publishing climate. Or maybe it's a great, even publishable novel--but it's not a debut novel. You might need to make your literary introduction with something else, establish a readership, and then show your first love to the world. With my unsaleable novel, it was, I think, originality. The book was well-written, good characters, with twists on some of the old motifs--problem being, there were too many old motifs (easy pitfall with high fantasy, so look out).

Whatever the reason your book won't sell, the important thing is to move on and keep writing. I underlined that because it is just that important. I dread to think of writers who threw their whole heart into one book and, when it didn't sell, couldn't get up and move on. Writers whose dreams died with their novel all because they couldn't--or wouldn't--realize that it wasn't them who was rejected, it was just this one book. Don't take rejection personally. You are a writer. You are not one book. You have a multitude of stories in you. Write them. You're bound to write a few duds. I wrote two. Do I regret them? Not at all. I learned more from my failures than anything else. Few writing courses could teach you more about who you are as a writer than your own failed novels. Be proud of them. Talk about them. Learn from them. Don't regret them, and don't give up. And then move on.

The only reason my last novel picked up an agent and then a publisher is because I finally, with much heartache, parted ways with the novel that preceded it. You will never find the love of your life if you sit around mooning over loves you had and lost.

Ask yourself honestly, Am I holding on too tight? 

Is it time to let go and move on?

Photo credit: adriangcornejo / / CC BY-NC-ND
Photo credit: admitchell08 / / CC BY-NC-ND
Photo credit: martinak15 / / CC BY

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Best Announcement. Of my life.

So here it is:

My book is going to be published!

Oh, you guys, you don't know how long I've been wanting to say this! If you want to get right down to it, I've been waiting for 17 years, ever since I started writing fan-fiction in preschool--when I first dreamed of becoming a real, honest-to-goodness, it-has-an-ISBN, published author.

Anyway, I can only say this: Two weeks ago, I accepted a two-book offer from a really, REALLY great publishing house in NY.

Unfortunately, I can't say who that publisher is, or what the title of the book is (for those of you who think you know, it has changed). I will definitely be back with more details in the next month or two, so please stay tuned!

It's been the most surreal, indescribably wonderful two weeks of my life! All I can do now is give thanks to God for giving me this phenomenal opportunity, for a network of supportive friends and family, and for a truly outstanding agent (I'm still not convinced she's not superhuman; seriously, you guys, she moves at a speed that leaves light standing still).

Fun Fact: When I got the news, I was in the middle of an eye exam. I heard my phone ring, saw it was my agent, and asked in a tiny, apologetic voice if my optometrist would terribly mind if I picked up. He was exceedingly gracious and sat by whilst I shrieked, then hyperventilated, then got all teary-eyed (that last bit was partially due to the fact he'd just been shining what must have been million-watt bulbs on my corneas, you should know). Needless to say, it was the best eye exam I've ever had, and that includes the one in sixth grade when I finally got to trade in my specky-specs for contact lenses.

Y'all stay tuned, now! Soon as I get the green light, I'll pepper you with proper nouns!

This about sums up how I feel:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Character Bloghop!

Hey! Here's my cast list for my YA sci-fi novel (title under construction at the moment--but if you know me from AQCon or QueryTracker, it used to be Perfectly Pia!)

Pia is immortal, thanks to years of genetic engineering and the influence of a rare flower. She has lived her entire life inside a research compound (called Little Cam) hidden in the Amazon rainforest...until the day she turns 17, and discovers a way out.

 Eio is the boy Pia meets in the jungle. He's half Ai'oan Indian, half Spanish, and lives with his tribe in a village near Little Cam. Strong, fierce, and loyal, Eio soon comes to love Pia--and will do whatever it takes to prove it to her.

 Dr. Harriet Fields is a brilliant English zoologist and new arrival to Little Cam. She and Pia don't see eye to eye at first, but as they come to know each other, Harriet soon becomes Pia's closest friend and ally. Harriet is highly opinionated and sarcastic, but deeply sensitive as well.

Uncle Antonio, like Pia, was born and raised in the care of the scientists of Little Cam. He is Pia's tutor and friend, and soon catches the eye of Harriet Fields. Uncle Antonio is kind and honest, but he has secrets of his own.

Ami is Eio's little adopted sister, and soon finds a special place in Pia's heart. With boundless energy and vivacity, Ami opens Pia's eyes to the wonders--and dangers--of the Amazon jungle.

Dr. Paolo Alvez is the director of Little Cam, and oversees the genetic program of which Pia is a part. Paolo's goal is to create a race of immortal human beings, and will do whatever is necessary to accomplish this--no matter the lives he has to destroy.

This has been so much fun! Took me HOURS to find the perfect pictures for each of my characters. These ones come really close to my mental images, but, well, y'all know how it is... no picture could ever truly capture what's in our crazy heads! :) Anyway, thanks to Carrie, Melodie, and Lisa  for hosting this bloghop! (If you're interested in signing up before the week is out, hop over to Carrie's blog!)

Want to see more characters? Check out these fantabulous blogs!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Gutitor : Every Writer's Secret Weapon

Here's a new one for ya:


I know. So original, right?

But, seriously, meditate on this for a while. 

You see, it's my sincere belief that every writer has an inner editor, located roughly between the navel and the pancreas.  So, basically, in your gut. An editor in your gut = a "gutitor."

Terrible puns aside, I am speaking to all those writers who dread the revision process. Who approach the second draft with a sense of doom. Who would rather let well-intended but truly inept beta readers decide a manuscript's worth for them. People like, um, well, ME.

I have this little voice, who, whenever I approach my first round of revisions, hisses, like a cockroach, "But how can you possibly evaluate your own work honestly?" And I listen. Every darn time. I am certain that since I wrote the miserable rag of a story, I'm the last person who's qualified to read it with an objective, fresh perspective.


You see, every writer worth even a drop of ink comes fully equipped with this awesome weapon (located between aforementioned navel and pancreas): the READER. Every writer is also a reader. Agree? (Say yes or henceforth stop following my blog, because you are a LIAR.) But seriously: we writers love to read. That's probably why we're writing in the first place. (Unless you're writing a memoir for money. Like Barack Obama. Or Sarah Palin. Or Casey Anthony.)

So when you finally face that big, scary, hairy monster called Self-Evaluation, you aren't entirely defenseless. You are armed with your inner editor who is--here's the big reveal, folks--nothing more than your inner reader.

Just read, doggonit. (note: wait two, three, four weeks or more before doing so. Absence makes the mind forget. Wait a while. Read other books. Write other books. Then come back to that old love cold and cruel and heartless.) Read the book. Read it like it's someone else's book. And your inner editor will lift his sleepy head, yawn, blink, and get to work.

As you read--now this is very important, don't miss this--wait for the TWINGES. Yes. The twinges. Those little jerks located, as you no doubt have guessed, between the navel and pancreas. You never know when they'll hit. I'll tell you what they are: they are the scratching of your inner editor's red pen. You read a sentence. You feel a twinge. You circle the sentence. You move on. Maybe for you it isn't twinges. Maybe it's cringes, the wrinkling around the eyes and the tightening of the lips. I get both, and when I get both at the same time, I know then and there whatever I just read has GOTTA GO.

These physical reactions to your writing are spontaneous, honest, often surprising, and surprisingly reliable. They tell you when a certain turn of phrase is weak, or when an analogy is just not working, or when a quote is flat, forced, or unjustified. They tell you when a scene is crap. Heck, when the entire last fifty pages are crap. Hey, I been there.

The swell thing is, you really DON'T have to sit and agonize or obsess over every little piece of your work. Don't overthink it. Overthinking it leads to forced and stilted writing. Let it be organic. Let it be spontaneous. Let the red ink flow; don't shake the pen until it spills crimson all over the manuscript and all over you.

Those small physical clues are your secret weapon to some truly great revision work. They are the response of your inner reader/editor on top of your own inner writer's instincts--a truly winning combination. The trick is to recognize them when they happen, to trust them when they do, and to understand why they happen when they do.

Try it. Just once. I dare you. Listen to your inner editor. Wait for those navel-pancreatic twinges. See what happens. Don't force it; wait for it.


Photo credit: cellar_door_films / / CC BY-NC-SA

Friday, September 2, 2011

Fine-tune Your Writing: Focus on the Particular

Good and worthy story problems derive from the small and the particular and the individual.
- Les Edgerton

You wake up one fine summer morning, trundle into the kitchen, and pour yourself a cup of hot, black coffee. You breathe in that rich coffee smell, deep and pure and invigorating, and then plunk down in front of the computer, where you're greeted by a screensaver cycling through pictures of LOL cats or your kids, or maybe, if you're really dedicated, photos of your favorite authors. It's a new day, a new future, and time to start a new book. So you say to yourself, "Ah... let's see. I think I'll write a book about freedom."

And... STOP. Back away slowly, and don't touch that keyboard.

Let's suppose, for just a brief, whimsical moment, that you are one Harriet Beecher Stowe (if you don't know who that is, you better back up even further. Like maybe to junior high). So, Ms. Stowe, here you sit, ready to embark upon a sweeping epic on the timeless and resonant theme of freedom. It's June in 1851, of course, and freedom is a hot topic. Everyone's talking about it. It's the perfect time for a novel about freedom to hit the steam-powered printing presses of New York. So what do you do, Ms. Stowe? You start outlining what will become a massive polemic on the evils of slavery, complete with a cast of thousands, as you begin in Mississippi and work your way east, north, west, covering the continent from San Francisco to Tallahassee. Not a single one of the 31 states of the Union escapes your blazing pen. You are Icarus, soaring to the sun. You are Prometheus, bringing the fire of the gods to the hands of mortal men. 

And you're making a terrible mistake.

Thankfully, neither you nor I are Harriet Beecher Stowe. Thankfully, Ms. Stowe didn't write a sweeping polemic on the evils of slavery. Instead, she wrote about people. Individuals. An old slave named Tom. She focused on a particular person and his personal struggles, and consequentially, she wrote one of the most poignant and influential novels about freedom ever penned.

In his priceless little book Hooked: write fiction that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go, Les Edgerton gives an example of how powerful details can be. A parent tells their kid to eat their spinach because "There are eighty kazillion people in China who would love to have what you're wasting." When Edgerton asks his creative writing class if this question ever actually persuaded them to eat that spinach, the reply was a nearly unanimous no. "'Now,' I say, 'what if your mom or dad had said, "Junior, eat all of your spinach. Old Lady Smithers, who lives just two doors down, has lost her job and her unemployment just ran out. Just last night, I caught her going through our garbage can looking for scraps of bread. She'd sure like that spinach!"'" A good deal more convicting, wouldn't you say?

"Eighty kazillion starving Chinese" is a faceless, meaningless problem. It's impersonal. Distant. But we can see Old Lady Smithers digging through garbage cans, and we can feel her pain--because she's close and real and cannot be ignored.

Get your writing down to the level of individuals. Don't write about sacrifice; write about a young single mom who works three jobs on two hours of sleep each night just so her kids can have new shoes for school. Don't write about the horrors of war. Write about a skinny Libyan boy running from refugee camp to refugee camp, trying to find his lost parents and instead finding himself forced to become a child soldier. Write about people, not ideas; if you want to talk about ideas, become a politician or something. You're a writer. Your job is to reach your audience on a close, personal, unavoidable level. Don't give us China; give us Old Lady Smithers.

Think about your favorite books. How many of them are charged by the lofty and the grandiose? Do you fall in love with an entire army--or the lonely, terrified soldier who just wants to go back home to Birmingham? When you watch the news, do you pay more attention to a story about how widespread an earthquake in China is--or a close-knit Chinese family displaced and separated by the catastrophe? 

Let your ideas be side effects of your story. Freedom was a side effect of Uncle Tom. Obsession was a side effect of Moby Dick. Love was a side effect of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. As soon as you sacrifice your characters and plot to your idea, however noble it may be, you have sacrificed the work itself. Write stories, not treatises. 

As Les Edgerton concludes: 

Always get your story down to the level of individuals. We can see individuals. We can't see the forces of Capitalism vs. the forces of Communism.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Magical Mash-Up

How's this for a cheery thought?

"What has been will be again,
   What has been done will be done again.
     There is nothing new under the sun."
                            Ecclesiastes 1:9

No, I'm not here to tell you any attempt at originality is doomed to fail; I'm here to offer a back door to it. Or maybe even a sewer pipe; you may have to crawl, you may have get dirty, but look at the bright side--no one's expecting you to come climbing up through the shower drain! And isn't that what originality is all about? No, no, not showers--stick with me here--but surprise. Unpredictability. Spontaneity. Originality.

If you're like me, you've probably had head-banging sessions over this word. And not the Rolling Stones kind. The literal banging-your-head-into-the-wall kind of thing. The pressure to be original in a world where there is "nothing new under the sun" can be agony--if you're trying to get through the front door. 

But if you follow me through that sewer pipe--or back door, if you have a sensitive stomach--then maybe, after you've slapped on a few band-aids, you can save yourself and the wall a lot of needless pain and step into a future positively shiny with new possibilities.

Okay, disclaimer: this isn't some kind of new idea; it's been done before, many, many times by many, many people in literature, film, television, Glee, and everyplace else. Which is exactly why I'm bringing it up now. It works.

The mash-up.

I have a deck of cards. They don't feature stoic queens and kings who look in dire need of some Pepto-Bismal; they feature genres. I have a card for steampunk, and western, and post-apocalyptic, and dystopian, and farce, and forbidden love. Sometimes, when I'm bored, I take them out, shuffle them, turn them all face down, and play Match.

The results can make me cringe, laugh, and--sometimes--gallop across the room to the computer, where I can set the magical pair down in the stone of MS Word. 

The thing is, this can work with practically anything: movie titles (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days meets Alien, anyone? Or how about The Godfather meets Toy Story? Meh...) books (God forbid, do not say Twilight meets The Hunger Games), or heck, even people, places, and times (Marie Antoinette in 1940's New York)! Okay, the mix-ups won't always work, and sometimes they just plain stink, but the potential here should be invigorating to anyone with pen, paper, and a little imagination.

I know you are all very intelligent people, so I know you can see what the point of all this is. But for those of you who just love zingy one-liners which crisply summarize everything pizzazzily (yes, it's a word--I just invented it), here you go (no promise of zinginess or pizzazz): If you want to be original without the agony of being original, try a mash-up. 

And then imagine the glorious tones of James Earl Jones (Trekkies, don't shoot me, but honestly--who else could it be?) booming across a starry night sky: Mash-ups... the final frontier... 

And off you go.

Oh, and always keep in mind: There are some mash-ups which should really never, ever, ever be let out to roam free and terrorize the general populace:

Friday, August 19, 2011

Best Books on Writing

Hullo hullo!

It's time for a much-needed post, I think. I haven't been lazy, you should know, just busy writing, editing, and now querying Perfectly Pia. And the worst thing about querying is the waiting. Well, I guess it's not that bad, since it means I now have time to do some blogging.

Anyway, today I want to throw out two books to all you writers out there. If you've been writing for a while and frequently browse the writing section in your local Barnes & Noble, you'll recognise the titles. These are, in my opinion, the best two books on writing you could find. And any self-respecting would-be author should probably not write another sentence until these two books are thoroughly read. I did take a two-day break from writing to read them, and wish I'd read them years ago. They'll change the way you write and the way you think about writing in wonderful ways.

The first is the timeless classic The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White:

This glorious little tome is the remedy to weak or uninteresting prose. It's short, sweet,  unapologetic, and cuts to the bones of writing. Categorized into useful chapters and numbered rules, Elements is a quick read and an easy book to come back to for quick references, and pretty much any writer who is going to recommend to you the best book on writing is going to recommend this one. My favorite rule from Strunk: OMIT NEEDLESS WORDS. 'Nuff said.

Speaking of writers who recommend Elements, one of these has also written a fabulous book on writing called, well, On Writing.

The first section of this book is actually King's memoir, in which he focuses on the events in his life which made him the writer he is. You may be tempted to skip this section, since, after all, we're writers and barely have time to write, let alone read someone else's biography. But before you skip ahead to the good stuff, give the memoir a try. It'll suck you in, a tendency King seems to have in his writing. And often it's laugh-out-loud funny. Most of the book does deal with writing, and King's approach is the most humble, honest, and passionate I've seen from a writer talking about his craft. King has a unique and enviable way of making you feel like he's sitting across the table from you with a cup of coffee, just talkin', you know, bein' folks. His conversational tone is addictive and makes what looks like a massive book fly by in a couple of hours. I enjoyed every minute of On Writing, and know I'm a better writer for having taken the time to read it.

So my advice to you? Get them (borrow if you must, but I suggest buying so you can come back to them again and again), read them, and keep a highlighter very close to hand. You'll need it.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Dear, Lovely Readers:

I understand I have not posted in several weeks. :(

Just a note to say I'm not really slacking off. I've just been nose-deep in writing. Perfectly Pia is within days of completion, and in order to have it ready to pitch at an upcoming conference (to fabulous agents Jenny Bent and/or Miriam Kriss fingers crossed!) I have devoted all my time to writing like a fiend. 

Apologies for the negligence; I will be back soon.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Shelley Waters/ Victoria Marini First-Page Contest Submission

Here's my entry for Shelley's contest!

My book is a 107,000 YA fantasy entitled The Heiress of Rhiangar. Here goes!

It was, Miles concluded, an awkward position. He was trapped with his back against the north gate, every avenue of escape blocked by the advancing princess. She grinned, winked, and shook a coy finger at him.
"Not thinking of running again, are you?" Princess Brianette asked.
"Actually, I am," he replied, juggling several possibilities in his thoughts. Go left and trample the rare mourning lily his master so prized. Go right and have to fight his way through thorn-riddled shrubs. Going forward would require shoving the princess out of the way, which he did not dare do. Looks like it'll have to be right.
"You odd little flower boy." Little? She did realize, didn't she, that he had two years on top of her fourteen? Leave it to a princess to ignore such details concerning her lowly subjects. "You know, boy, you are the only one in the palace who acts this way towards me? It is not natural."
"Not natural? To want to keep my head on my shoulders, Highness?"
A bubble of frustrated laughter fluttered from her lips. "What, you think my father would have you beheaded, just because of one teensy kiss? You are an incomprehensible fool."
"Better a fool than a criminal, my lady, which is what I would be if someone saw us now." It was easy for her to say. She was the princess here, not him. Apprentice gardeners didn't enjoy the same degree of leniency in the courts of Chrysanthem. It was true Brianette had yet to actually be caught during one of her escapades, but Miles didn't intend to be anywhere nearby when it did happen. 

Here are the details of the contest:

Be a Writer Site Ninja!

There are so many fabulous writing websites out there, and I’m sure I’ve not even discovered half of them. Each one is a little bit different from the others, it seems, and is pertinent to a different stage of the writing process. So wherever you are with that first, second, or nineteenth novel, there’s a site for you!

What I’ve done here is list the websites I’ve found most useful for each of the stages of writing a novel, and the order in which they can be used.

PHASE: Writing

Okay, let’s face it, this is the longest and most grueling part of the process. It involves draft after draft, a pile of scrapped chapters, failed characters, ruinous endings. It takes time, tears, energy, and often you must sacrifice a little bit of every other area of life to it. Your grades fall, your house stays a wreck, your friends wonder if you died and didn’t even take time off from writing to schedule your own funeral. You feel like you’re writing in circles. You’re stuck in the reincarnation cycle, and you can’t find that door labeled “Nirvana” anywhere.

The key to not getting burned out? There are several. The Forum on this sight is small, tight-knit, and friendly. It’s also very helpful. Most Attractive Feature: you post your first 13 lines and get feedback on just those lines, based on the theory that that’s as much time as an agent is going to give you before they toss your ms—and your dreams—into the dumpster. Want to build up those publishing credits before you start querying? Send out short stories! They take a day to write, a day to revise, and a minute to email. Send them out in droves; chances are someone will pick one up. And voila! A publishing credit! And sometimes—and arguably even sweeter—a cool 7 cents per word payment. Those 7 cents add up quick. Just so you can check back every few days and remind yourself that yes, people are selling their books every day, so it is possible, now stop stalling and get back to your ms. Just because its fun to imagine your book on the home page. A sort of private pep rally, y’know. At least, it is for me.

PHASE: Feedback

Your manuscript is finished… but is it any good? You need beta readers, baby! Here’s where you can find them: This site, run by HarperCollins, is going to require as much giving as taking. If you want feedback, you’re gonna have to give it. Best idea is to get connected in the forums on the site and find crit partners through that. But there’s a sweet little reward for those who put in the time and make a lot of connections: If you’re book becomes one of the most-backed books on the site in a given month, you get a free read and review from HarperCollins! This runs on a kind of karma system. You crit, you get credits, you get critted back. For a novel, you can put in an RFDR (request for dedicated readers) which will get you a few faithful readers who will go chapter by chapter and give you their feedback.
***Whatever way you decide to get beta readers, remember you’re going to have to give as much time as you ask for, and sometimes more. It’s only fair. Be prepared to do as much reading as you do writing. And it’s good for you! Critiquing others’ work and making contacts with other writers can be one of the greatest rewards of the writing process. Enjoy it!

PHASE: Query Writing

Ah, the dreaded query letter. They say you should take an entire month just to work on your measly, one-page query. Yikes much? But its true. The query is everything, unless you plan to use the back door of self-publishing. And do not send out a query until you’ve had a lot of feedback. I can only recommend one site for this: A wonderful site with great feedback, and fueled as always by the give-and-take karma principle. These people are nice, but they can be brutal. Good practice for the next phase, querying—toughens up your skin a bit. But take the critiques graciously and with a pinch of salt, and know your query will be all the better for it.

PHASE: Querying

The query is polished, gleaming, riveting… everything you dreamed it would be. Now it’s time to put on the old armor and prepare to do battle with the publishing world. Okay, well, maybe not battle. Let’s be optimistic here. It isn’t You versus The Agent… but sometimes it does feel that way. Be prepared to receive rejections, both helpful and many generic forms. Keep the armor handy and don’t let anything make you give up. The key here is perseverance, just like you learned on those TV shows as a kid. When it comes to querying, it always comes to research. These are the sites you’ll need to be acquainted with:

www.publishersmarketplace.comBoth of these sites have agent directories, and lists of agent contact info, recent sales, preferred genres, and other pertinent information. Are all your agents trust-worthy? Find out here. Great advice on finding an agent and a lot of great agent interviews. Lots of great interviews with agents.

By FAR the most helpful site I’ve found for this phase of the process is:
It lists thousands of agents and publishers, as well as any other sites where additional information on the agents can be found such as interviews and marketplace listings, as well as agents’ personal websites, blogs, and twitter accounts. Plus, other querytracker users will leave frequent and helpful comments about their own querying experience with each agent. You can also run reports on how often an agent asks for partials or fulls, their average response times, and what genres they most often ask to see. There is also a forum on the site which helps you get feedback on your first five pages, your query, your synopsis, and other things. The best thing is that you can keep track of each query you send, the responses you get, and the agents you still want to query. You can personalize your list of agents you want to contact and keep track of the queries as they go out and come back in. Immensely helpful, especially if you are by nature unorganized. And it sure beats an Excel spreadsheet!

Whatever phase you are in in the writing process, there’s probably a site out there that will help. Beware anyone who asks you for money, though, unless it’s a proven service like Writer’s Digest or Publisher’s Marketplace and you want all those extra fancies that come with paid membership.

Have fun, be wary, and write on!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Book Cover!

I joined today in an effort to find more beta readers (living in a tiny town like I do, they are pretty hard to come by) and when I saw the fabulous covers people had with their books, I decided to make one myself. So I fooled around with a few programs (ArtExplosion Publisher, Manga Studio Debut, and voila! Hopefully one day I'll have a fancy publisher who will make a much, much better one, but for now...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Writers on Writing

Some of my favorite quotes about writing! Enjoy!

Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.  ~E.L. Doctorow

Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very;" your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.  ~Mark Twain

Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.  ~Anton Chekhov

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood.  I'd type a little faster.  ~Isaac Asimov

A writer and nothing else:  a man alone in a room with the English language, trying to get human feelings right.  ~John K. Hutchens, New York Herald Tribune, 10 September 1961

Do not put statements in the negative form.
And don't start sentences with a conjunction.
If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a
great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
De-accession euphemisms.
If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.
~William Safire, "Great Rules of Writing"

Be obscure clearly.  ~E.B. White 

When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing.  ~Enrique Jardiel Poncela

What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he's staring out of the window.  ~Burton Rascoe (I dare insert "husband" instead :)

The best time for planning a book is while you're doing the dishes.  ~Agatha Christie (so, so true)

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.  ~Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 19 August 1851

Write your first draft with your heart.  Re-write with your head.  ~From the movie Finding Forrester

Loafing is the most productive part of a writer's life.  ~James Norman Hall

The best style is the style you don't notice.  ~Somerset Maugham

I want to write books that unlock the traffic jam in everybody's head.  ~John Updike