Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Life, the Universe & Everything - Keynote Speaker

I just realized that I hadn't done a post on the keynote speaker from my LTUE Conference I attended. As it was amazing, I am going to quickly rectify that situation. The keynote speaker was Tracy Hickman co-creator of the Dragonlance Chronicles. The following are my notes and thoughts on the speech.

~ Principle #1 - No book lives until it is read. The reader creates the meaningful experience.
*Literature is an art form where the final performance takes place while the original artist is not present.
*The meaningful experience is found in the white space between the words. It is what happens when the reader and the writer's creation come together.
*It does NOT matter if you are published. It matters if you are read.

~ Principle #2 - The spirit of the work speaks to us through the white spaces between the words.

~ Principle #3 - The only constant is change... each thing we write and every experience we have cannot help but change us.

Tracy was awesome and really brought his points home. Each point is worth pondering.

I am going to a writer's conference this weekend (yippee!), so I won't be around much. I promise to have notes to share next week for anyone who is interested! :)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Insomnia - new WIP

I wasn't sure what to post today and I haven't gotten through enough Miss Snark for another post from her blog yet (not to worry, another is coming soon enough ;) I decided to post an excerpt from the beginning of my new WIP. This is my first time writing in first person POV so if you have any input or tips, I would love to have them.


Chapter 1: Trapped

Most people don’t know it, but they always make an appearance in their own dreams. They can’t always see themselves and sometimes feel like they’re only watching. But it doesn’t matter, they’re always there.

And I can always see them.

Another day, another dream—I leaned back against the wall, popped my neck to one side and closed my eyes. I hadn’t seen much, but I knew the long wall opposite me was covered, ceiling to floor, with shelves and shelves of books. That alone was enough to tell me that this probably wouldn’t be a dream I’d want to witness. Most dreams that began in public places were same old, same old—showing up naked to school, the office, the mall, you name it. This time it was the Beavercreek City Library. Come on! If I have to watch your dreams the least you could do is have some creativity, people!

Sighing, I smoothed my tense muscles and tried to get as much rest as was possible in someone else’s dream. The dreamer was a janitor at the library. Even though I hadn’t seen him in the dream yet, I knew it would be him. I was there late last night. After all this time, I should’ve known better than to meet his eyes as I’d walked out the door. I didn’t even know him. It hadn’t been my first mistake, and I was sure it wouldn’t be my last. I tried to be careful about whom I made eye contact with before sleeping, but I also refused to let these stupid visions rule my life.

The janitor’s voice invaded my thoughts. “No! This—isn’t—” Followed by a sharp gasp in the background and the screeching sound of a table moving along the vinyl floor. He was probably trying to hide behind it, poor old man. The next thing I heard was like fabric flapping in the wind.

Slightly odd, as there was no wind in the library, but it didn’t matter. Nothing was impossible in a dream. I’d learned that a long time ago.

“Aha! I’m no simple janitor! You won’t get away with this Clothespin Boy!”

Uh, okay, that’s new. I opened my eyes just a crack, but they flew open the rest of the way when I caught sight of the janitor standing on a table, clothed in black spandex with a red cape. I cracked up when I saw his rippling muscles beneath the shiny black material. The taut biceps were quite enhanced from earlier in the evening.

Way to go, Gramps!

His gray hair was streaked with midnight black and he raised one arm to point toward the back of the library. The pose reminded me of a comic book cover. I had to gasp in oxygen between my spasms of laughter.

When my finally eyes stopped watering, I focused my gaze toward the opposite end of the room. A broad staircase led toward a massive stained glass window portraying a field of yellow flowers. As the stairs reached the window there was a platform with two smaller staircases leading off from either side to the upper floor.

Frozen on his way up the stairs was a scrawny teenager clad completely in blue with a mask over his eyes. As though in slow motion, he spun to face the janitor. A nasty grin split his face. He raised the janitor’s uniform in the air and began ripping it to shreds. The pieces of blue denim fluttered gracefully to the floor. As one piece fell, I made out the name PAUL scrawled in red stitching. Through several missing teeth, the teen cackled, ripping another piece free from the uniform.

“This is your last warning, you delinquent. Leave my clothes alone! Clean up your mess—And do it now!” Paul bellowed across the room as he hopped lithely to the next table.

Oh, seriously? This is awesome! I’ve got to watch this janitor’s dreams more often! I rolled on the floor, clutching my stomach. It was a good thing he couldn’t hear me, because I’d hate to interrupt his little Superman fantasy.

Clothespin Boy, as Paul had called him, skipped backward up the stairs. His juvenile voice cracking as he crowed. More tufts of blue fabric flew about the room. With each rip, Paul jumped one table closer. Finally, he bounded onto the stairs next to the teenage boy. In one motion he snatched the uniform from the youth’s hands and used it to bind him to the railing. Applause erupted from around the room.

A woman with flowing black hair, rushed down the upper right stairs to the janitor. It took me a second to recognize her and I felt my jaw click as my mouth fell open. It was old Ms. Pinch, the librarian.

“Oh, Paul, you’re my hero!” She reached out and pulled him to her, throwing her arms around his neck.

The voice was a husky imitation that sounded nothing like Ms. Pinch’s normal angry whispers. She always got after me for turning my pages too noisily. “Parker! I expect you to keep it down, young man!” I snorted and shook my head.

Unfortunately, I looked up just in time to see Ms. Pinch draw her hero’s lips close and the rest of the room faded to black. The moment my area of the room darkened, I was jerked over to a new spot on the stairs with an excellent view of their old, withered lips attacking each other.

I whistled and muttered. “Right then, this is definitely something I don’t want to remember.” After slamming my eyelids shut against the unwelcome view, I tried to get comfortable against the wall.

My hands pressed into my ears, and I listened for a long moment to the thrumming inside my head. Sometimes I used to wonder if it was my actual heartbeat I was hearing or if it was some part of the dream that even the dreamer wasn’t aware of. After much debate—after all, I’d been sharing other peoples’ dreams for about five years now—I came to a conclusion. It must be mine. The dreamers didn’t even know I was here. Why would they bother giving me a heartbeat?

Besides, I liked it better this way. It felt like the only thing I had any control of in here. If I breathed quickly or got excited, it would speed up, if I relaxed, the gentle cadence would slow. My heartbeat was my link to reality.

The slow rhythm rocked me and I hummed the melody for a new tune I’d been trying to get down on my guitar. My best lyrics and songs usually came to life during these visions that I didn’t want to be a part of. Might as well work on the music, there was nothing else to do but wait for Paul to end the dream I was trapped in.

Friday, April 17, 2009

What I learned from Miss Snark - part 2

Yes, it is that time again! Another lesson from the book of Snarktacus! :) Sit down, and buckle your seat belts. We're in for a bumpy ride.

At the start of the book, the chapter, the scene--give us action. Don't give elaborate descriptions until the reader is hooked by what is going on... then you can describe. Tell us what is happening, THEN tell us everything else.

Using "looked like" or simile, takes a reader out of the narrative, it makes someone else interpret for you what they are seeing. Using "was" or metaphor pulls them right in and describes what the reader is seeing, instead of the intermediary. This is particularly important for first person POV.

The first step for good writing is imagining deeply. - put yourself in the story and drag it around you, smell it, feel it, taste it and pull the reader with you.

Characters reading e-mail or letters is in general uninteresting. Don't use this in the first 1/4 of your book or at least show us what it says by reactions and not by just pasting it in the book.

Everything doesn't have to be explained fully--particularly people. Unless the characters eye color is integral to the plot, it doesn't have to be mentioned--particularly not right off the bat.

The only reason to ever have your characters sitting around doing "nothing" is to make the reader and everyone else feel the underlying tension. If that tension is absent, then the scene is pointless.

In regards to over-writing - try not to repeat yourself. If you have already made the point in one way, resist the urge to further clarify with another statement. Trust your readers and they will trust you.

When you have relentless action pushing you forward you aren't paying attention to much except what's going on. Don't put in things that you wouldn't notice at that moment if you were in that exact situation. (the color of the drapes or whatever)

If you remove your reader from the action and the characters with over-writing, you will fail to grab their attention.

Sentences starting with "when" or "after" or "even so" can pull the reader out of the action, because it usually doesn't put you in the moment. Likewise, starting sentences with "but" and "so" can be really awkward, make sure it is absolutely necessary before doing it.

Building the emotional connection with your character is almost as important as building the story itself.

Phrases like "by the way/did I tell you/so it began/etc" in narration break the 4th wall and jerks the reader right out of the narrative.

That is is for today folks. I hope you learned as much as I did :)

I have family visiting for the weekend, so I will be around next week. Have a lovely weekend!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Agent for a Day

Yesterday, I spent most of the day polishing a new wood floor we installed over the weekend. In between coats, I participated in Agent for a Day on Nathan Bransford's blog. He invited writers to send in real or fictitious queries and then selected 46 of them to post on his blog. Interspersed in the mix were four query letters that worked, sent in by authors that the book is already published or will be soon.

Our job as the "Agent for a Day" was to go through the list, read them and respond with either a rejection or a request. We were only allowed 5 requests.

Let me tell you, it was so interesting. I started out with personalized rejections commenting on things that could be fixed, but it wasn't long before I was just tired of trying to point that out to people--or I got to one with so many things wrong that I didn't even know where to start.

I know understand why many/most agents send form rejections. It isn't their job to tell us what's wrong, it is our job to help each other figure that out.

Another thing that struck me as I was doing this was how many authors ignored some or most of the rules. And, as NB said, these queries are sent in by people who follow his blog and volunteered for this, these will be better than his regular slush pile. It stunned me how many people simply didn't follow any directions whatsoever.

In spite of this, I think most of those participating found themselves having a hard time deciding which requests to make. There were simply more great ideas than 5 and it was tough to narrow it down. One even put it in his form rejection "I am sorry to say I cannot request anything further at this time. I am only allowed 5 requests a day and I have used them all."

... Boy, I tell you what, if I got that on a form rejection I would be quite angry. I am sure we all get rejected by agents because it's just a bad day or whatever at some point... but to say that in the rejection would be foolish. I know he was just doing it for sake of the contest, but I just laughed when I read it.

Last note, but not least. I was sad to see that Nathan had to patrol the comments to keep people from being downright rude about queries. I'm so disappointed to see that. There are ways to help people know what is wrong without being hurtful and if you aren't skilled enough to use words in that way then you shouldn't be a writer. These people put #queryfail to shame.

On that note - say something nice to your writer friends today. Encourage them. We'll all be better off if we're in this together. :)

Oh, and look! My new floor!!

Friday, April 10, 2009

What I learned from Miss Snark - part I

I have taken on a momentous task. I have determined to start at Miss Snark's beginning and read through to the end. I have to say that I already wish I started writing a few years earlier so I could have been a part of the site when Her Great Snarkiness was still active.

But as I can't turn back time (yet! Doc Brown, I'll meet you in the mall parking lot tonight! Bring your 1.21 gigawatts baby! ), the next best thing is to read back and see what I missed. Without further ado , I present you with the things I've learned from Miss Snark this week. :)

~ Double verbs are BAD! Watch the had, was, were verbs and avoid them unless you really understand the past perfect tense and KNOW that is the correct way to convey what you want.

~ Writing is NOT the same as a police report. You don't have to include every fact, every detail, every causal link. Trust your audience enough to let them work to keep up with you. They won't mind, in fact, they will become more involved in the story.

~ The rhythm of your sentences is almost as important as the actual words. Shorter sentences at the start, building to longer ones in the middle. Falling off to shorter ones at the end. Not an ironclad rule, but practice and perfect this so that when you break the rule, you are doing it because it is a choice you make and not because you just don't know how else to do it.

~ Don't overwrite!

~ When you are trying to build tension, keep your sentences short and punchy. Long sentences drag down the reader and the intensity.

What I found really interesting about most of these rules is that it is more about perfecting the art than hard and fast rules. Almost every writing rule CAN be broken if you know what you are doing and choose to break the rule for the right reasons.

I feel educated, don't you? ;)

P.S. final tip of the day - if you get a chance to retire and run away with George Clooney... YOU TAKE IT!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I am humbled...

Forgive me if you have seen this before, but it is an article from the Washington Post a couple of years back. They had Joshua Bell, one of the finest classical violinists in the world, masquerade as a street performer.

It is a fascinating article on so many levels, but one part that really stood out to me was the part about the children. Every single child that passed tried to stop and watch--every single one.

And so today, I feel especially humbled to write YA.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Ouch! My pants!

Sometimes I just find myself needing a swift kick in the pants. You may not have noticed, (but I guarantee, I have enough for both of us) the fact that my little meters on the right haven't changed in awhile. This is for two reasons.

1 - I have a new project that I haven't put up there yet.

2 - I need a swift kick in the pants

I don't know about everyone else, but when I get back from vacation I often find myself playing catch-up on all the things I've missed while I've been gone. This is great and horribly efficient of me for the first few days, but this time it has somehow gone awry. I find myself planning out new projects and getting every little thing that crosses my mind done, but continuously putting my writing off.

My friends, this will not do. My new project is awesome! It is exciting! It is not, not, not less important than that 13th load of laundry or the banister that suddenly needs to be repainted! I will not let my vampiric house suck the writer out of me!

I will write!

I will create!

I will move that status bar!

Now, can someone remind me how? ;)

Friday, April 3, 2009

Hooray for positivity!

There is a wonderful post with wonderful comments that I think we all should check out today. I'm positively done with the negativity that has been roaming the net lately. Whether directed toward agents or writers it has turned into a hurtful mess.

So if you are in publishing and feeling underappreciated or like you have no power over a difficult situation, there is something you should read. Agent Jessica Faust of the BookEnds Literary Agency put up an awesome post today in an effort to kickoff some good karma in the industry. It's a wonderful #agentpass #authorpass that just can't help but make you feel warm and mushy inside.

I don't know about everyone else, but I can always do with some extra love.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Oh dear... #agentfail failed

I have now seen both sides of the spectrum and am forced to regretfully conclude that #queryfail participants showed more respect, restraint and professionalism than the majority of #agentfail participants.

As a writer I am frankly embarrassed. We were given a forum in which agents requested us to discuss things that we think could be improved and there is only one conclusion for what followed.

Writers behaved poorly.

There was unmitigated agent bashing and it only served to make writers look like petty, arrogant fools. Not only that, but the majority of those that behaved foolishly felt free to go all out and not pull any punches because they could do so in perfect anonymity. I think this was the beginning of the problem. #queryfail happened on twitter so we knew exactly which agent made what comments. They were held responsible for the things they were saying.

Many of the writers participating in #agentfail apparently felt no need to respond in kind. By far the majority were anonymous posters.

I'm not going to go into details of the many complaints on #agentfail that I believe to be unjust, disrespectful and flat out ridiculous. Instead, I'm going to highlight the relatively few valid points that were made.

1 - Writers don't like a "no response means no" policy to queries and submissions. They would prefer at the very least an auto-response stating that they received the material and a notification that they would be in contact IF they were interested.

2 - If an agent requests material then the agent should try to be ready to respond in the time frame they have requested, if not, the agent should drop us a note telling us they need an extension and how much longer they will need.

3 - Agents should keep their submission information up to date and available for prospective clients.

4 - Agents should be professional in their communications with writers--just as they would like writers to be professional with them.

this last note was my only contribution to #agentfail (I did not post it anonymously by the way)

5 - Agents should be more environmentally/technologically friendly and be accessible for e-mail queries and internet submissions.

If any of my writer friends would like to have a concise list of what should be expected from an agent. Please check out agent Rachelle Gardner's blog for an awesome post on that exact subject.