Wednesday, September 30, 2009

La Da Da Dee Da


One of my fav blogger buddies, Karen, tagged me the other day. You should go check her out, she's adorable. I have a mission...if I choose to accept it. ;)

I'm supposed to list 7 of my favorite songs. This is rough. I will try my very best to keep it at 7 but I could easily add 70 to my list and still not be satisfied.

1 - Amber by 311 - it just makes me happy to listen to.

2 - If I Had a Million Dollars by Barenaked Ladies "But not a real green dress, that's cruel"... need I say more?

3 - Open My Eyes by Buckcherry - I always love ballads by harder groups, it reminds me that even bad boys sometimes have a soft side.

4 - Addicted by Kelly Clarkson - I've never heard an unhealthier love song.

5 - Crushcrushcrush by Paramore - I don't care what they sing, I love it.

6 - Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol - I love their sound.

7 - My Happy Ending by Avril Lavigne - She's snarkiness personified. :)


*phew* that was hard. Okay, for my tagg-ies. You are officially assigned this task. And if you don't know these guys and their blogs, you should.

Natalie Bahm
Ray Veen
Jessie Oliveros
Terresa Wellborn
Kasie West
Candice Kennington
Patti Nielson

Monday, September 28, 2009

My Hero


I have to take a minute to brag about my 7-year-old. His name is William and as you can see, he's adorable. (And yes, he does have shorts on LOL, the team shirts were one size fits all)


On top of all that cuteness, he's the toughest little kid I know. He was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes a year and a half ago. He went from being slightly phobic of needles to having to take at least 4 shots a day overnight. Not even counting all the times we prick him to test his blood glucose levels.


He's handled it all like a champ. Now he volunteers for extra shots if he wants to have a snack or treat. He's learned to sense when he's high or low and knows what to do about it. Every year, he spends a few minutes with his school class the first week telling them about Diabetes and what it's like. He tests his blood sugar and shows them all how it's done. They're all very impressed.


On Saturday, we participated in Step Out for a Cure--the walk to raise money for Diabetes research. The picture above is from the finish line after the 2.5 mile walk. For the second year in a row, William's team has been in the top 5 fund-raising teams in the state. William alone raised $1400 this year.


I just wanted to take a minute and say how amazing he is. He's my hero.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Why Agents Are Cool

One of the most common questions asked by aspiring authors is "Do I need an agent to get published?"

Most agents will tell you no. You don't need an agent to get published. Does this mean you shouldn't get one? Not necessarily.

Today, I wanted to share some things I appreciate about agents. Some of the good things that tend to get overlooked.

1- Say it with me--commission. That's right. This is an entire industry that doesn't make a dime unless new books get published. They not only want to make their clients successful, they need to make their clients successful to survive. Here's the crazy part. They choose to do this. They love books and the industry enough that they are willing to deal with this unpredictable lifestyle.

2 - Two Words = Slush + Pile, need I say more?

3 - Revisions - not all agents are willing to help fine tune their clients manuscripts, but most are. I'm not talking about major overhauls, but most agents I've spoken with have a knack for finding that golden piece of advice that will take our books from pretty good to awesome.

4 - They are the bad guys, so we don't have to be - Agents have to be willing to get down and dirty and fight for what their clients need to be successful. They deal with any problems with the publisher so you don't have to call your editor crying on a daily basis.

So anyway, I've been thinking a lot lately about agents (an obvious side-effect of querying) and was inspired by Nathan Bransford's Writer Appreciation Week. I think agents deserve a little appreciation as well. Leave a comment about something you appreciate about agents. We could all do with some positivity. :)

Monday, September 21, 2009

I Love Smart People

I've made a discovery. Without warning, and clearly without knowledge, I've been surrounded by smart people. I don't know why they've chosen me--but I like it.

They are always there, to give advice, to help with decision making--it's like my own personal extra brain to help with my thinking process.

I ask them questions, and they answer. And their answers make sense. And the topics vary, everything from book questions to what color to paint my house. They know everything...

It's spooky.

My suggestion to all of you, find the smart people. Charm them into helping you. Or you could just do what I did--look like you seriously need help.

If you need it, they will come.

And also, thank you to my own personal smart people. You know who you are. ;)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Beginnings

I don't know a single writer that got the beginning right on their first try. Personally, I've written 7--that's right--SEVEN different beginnings for Oracle. I'm still on my first for Insomnia--but I'm seriously considering a new one.

Beginnings have so many jobs. They have to:

1 - Hook the reader
~ It can be with emotion, attitude, action, voice, whatever works! Know the in's and out's of your genre intimately.

2 - Establish a bond between the reader and the MC (Main Character)
~ Some relatable emotions: sympathy, likability, inner conflict, empathy

3 - Establish the tone of the story
~ Make it clear who your genre and audience are, keep it consistent

4 - Introduce conflict
~ Who and Why are the first questions that have to be answered. Your reader won't care where they are until they decide if they care about your characters.

5 - Compel the reader to KEEP READING
~ If your reader doesn't feel the NEED to do this, they might not continue--then it doesn't matter what else you do.


That is a serious amount to expect from the first chapter, it's no wonder they are so hard to write--but guess what. The first chapter probably isn't enough. You probably need to do that in the first page or two if you want to really grab that reader.

Another crucial part to a beginning is the promise. Every conflict expects a resolution. You are promising to resolve it in one way or another. It is important we keep that promise for the reader.

One of the hardest things about beginnings is deciding when to begin. Here are a few tips I've learned lately:

~ Make a Timeline
*** When does the story start chronologically? When does it start emotionally? How does it end? Try different things, different openings. The first beginning you write will almost never be the one you actually use. Always remember: Start Late/End Early. Allowing the reader to enter when the action does and leave when the action does keeps up the momentum.

~ Don't use Gimmicks or Crutches
*** A reader will see through action that is unessential to the story. Dreams, withholding information the Main Character knows, throwing in a shocking scene that otherwise has no point--these are almost always cheating. The story itself should hook the reader. The fact that they are reading your book means they are instilling a certain amount of trust in you to write it correctly. Don't cheat them, or that trust will be gone.

~ To Prologue, or Not to Prologue
*** How do you know if you need it? Nathan Bransford did a great post on this awhile back in which he said if the story was complete without it, then you should take it out. Prologues that are there to set the mood are unnecessary. Make the story set the mood. If a prologue is necessary then it should be short, self-contained, and comprehensible.

~ Trust Your Instincts (For me, this was the hardest one to learn)
*** Ultimately, this is your story. Only you know the right way to tell it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Editing Checklists


I'm back. I love vacations. Insomnia is flying along and I pulled almost no hair out when thinking about the requests I'm waiting on. Today I thought I'd talk a little more about editing.

Ever spend so much time editing that you begin to question your sanity?

Never fear, the checklist is here!

Final Editing Checklist (You should know the answers to every question before you can call your ms done.)

~ Is the voice passive or active
~ Is there a hook at the end of EVERY chapter/scene?
~ Is the setting full and complete without being superfluously descriptive.
~ Does the setting contribute to the story? Does it fit?
~ Does it tell or show?
~ Does it have illogical or unexplained POV shifting?
~ Does every character have a motivation? Do you know what they are?
~ Is the timeline consistent throughout?
~ Does the conflict use tension to propel the reader through the story?
~ Is there a balance of the Big 3? (Action, dialogue, and narrative)
~ Do you have a natural flow to the story?
~ Does anything push (or crash through) the boundaries of believability within your story?


These really help me when it comes to finding which point to focus on in my next edit. If you aren't comfortable with all of these areas--chances are you aren't done.

Now--who needs ice cream?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Too--Many--Hats

As writers we wear many hats. We have the writer hat, the editor hat, the revising hat, the rewriting hat, the cheerleader hat, the critique hat, the driving-myself-crazy-can't-I-leave-well enough-alone hat... and these are just that hats we wear for our careers. This doesn't include the countless family hats we also wear.

Sometimes our closet gets so cluttered with hats we can't find the right one. We get confused and lose pieces of our identities.

That's when we know it's time to step back, breathe deep, and take a break.

For me, that is this weekend. :)

So while I'm visiting the beaches of Southern Cali, I wanted to leave you with this thought? Do you still know where all your hats are and how to use them? If so, you might end up fabulous--like this guy, Sam Tsui.




Yep--that is all one person. Isn't he awesome? We can do great things with our hats, if we can just manage to use them all correctly.

Have a great weekend! :)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Self-Editing

I thought I'd do a couple of posts about things I've learned over the past year. Some of these will be thoughts I'm revisiting--others will be fresh, new and sparkly.

Because I spent the summer in full-on-edit-mode, I wanted to start there. Here is a basic editing checklist that works for me.

The Basic Editing Checklist
1 - page numbering and blank pages
2 - spelling and gramar errors
3 - avoid cliches like the plague (hahaha!)
4 - too many adverbs or adjectives (use SPARINGLY at most)
5 - tense consistency and subject/verb agreement
6 - find and replace your over-used words (really, just, some, that, then)
7 - weed out repetitions (including names that sound alike or change halfway through)
8 - look for POV breaks and page balances (balanced white space)
9 - take out any unnecessary (or over-creative) dialogue tags
10 - find someone to give you brutally honest feedback (several someones is better)

Four Self-Editing Tips
1 - Start with the basic editing checklist
2 - Have someone else read it (No, your Mom doesn't count)
3 - Always print off a hard copy and edit from there at least once
4 - Step back and work on something else for awhile then look at it with fresh eyes.

Do You Know Your Vices?

~ Figure out where you are weakest (characterization, plot, continuity, description balance, etc) and strengthen it.
~ Polish until it shines.
~ Trim the fat.- unnecessary characters, descriptions and loose ends- cut anything that doesn't advance the story, even if it's your favorite part!
~ Expand on what's left - dig deeper for all characters, make sure you understand them inside and out and bring them to life on the page.- add active, powerful scenes--pull the emotions out of your reader

What Now?
1 - Decide if you need to change hats again (writer hat, editor hat, re-writer hat)
2 - If needed, keep working -- make it even better!
3 - Time to celebrate and submit! Don't let your work sit on a shelf unless that was your only goal.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Keep Improving

One of the first things I learned at the first conference I attended was this: good writers keep improving. Every published author that I spoke to at that conference had something to say about it.

One best-selling author said every book in his series gets better. "If you can get through the first one, you'll love the rest."

Another kept trying to convince me to buy her latest book instead of starting at the beginning.

Consistently, every one of them thought their most recent work was better than their first.

I think this is the most important rule of writing. Keep learning. Keep improving. It is a major challenge to strive to make each paragraph better than the last--but that is why we do re-writes and edits. I know that by the time I finish a book, I've improved my skill from when I started it. So I go back and make it all as shiny as the end.

Writers improve in different ways. Some challenge themselves and do writing exercises. Others read--a LOT. Still others have read every book on writing ever printed. I do a combination of the three, and I think it works for me.

What do you do? How do you improve?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Go Read This!

One of my favorite, octopus wrapped agents, Janet Reid, posted today about being aware on blogs and twitter. She discusses how writers aren't invisible and will be googled by both agents and editors on their road to publication. Great post! Go check it out!

Also, happy Labor Day Weekend! :D *does holiday dance*

Friday, September 4, 2009

10 Things I Learned This Week



















1 - The motion depicted in this image hurts. Don't try it at home.

2 - When querying/waiting on submissions it is necessary to have many cheerleaders in the wings and a gallon of ice cream in the freezer.

3 - Cool people who love orange do get cool agents sometimes. (CONGRATS NATALIE! :D )

4 - Window insulation can also be used to replace skin when necessary.

5 - Clicking refresh on your e-mail browser does not encourage people to write you e-mails faster.

6 - Candles make everything better.

7 - I know a lot of VERY cool people... yes, I'm talking about you.

8 - Four-year-olds just "get it" sometimes.

9 - The best feeling in the world is hearing your first teenage fan gush about your book.

10 - I love feeling appreciated. (Thanks Nathan!)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Evolution of a Story


I'm feeling much better. Thanks everyone for the well-wishes. :) I really appreciated it. I am now up to 4 requests in a little over a week, so I'm very excited. *squeal*

Today, I wanted to write a little about how stories evolve. I don't know about everyone else, but my first draft looks NOTHING like my final. If it weren't for a few similar names, it could literally be a different book--a different genre even.

I thought I'd dig through my archives and find my original rough draft and post a scene from it... then post a similar one from my final. I've already posted my opening here so I think I'll do something else.

Okay, I found similar scenes that show some of Lexi's history and explain a little about why she hates her telekinesis.

ROUGH DRAFT VERSION

The combination of events that had brought Lexi to Oracle flashed through her head once again. Her parents’ deaths, the funeral, the unexpected move across the country… ghosts of the past haunted her. Lexi stared at the ceiling once more, but she was no longer seeing it. She became lost in the memories that invaded her dreams and transformed them into nightmares. Her trance continued up until the moment she saw the light fixture on the ceiling above her head begin to swinging wildly. Lexi’s eyes went wide and she bolted up from the bed wringing her hands together. Seeing the fixture shaking was like a bucket of ice water hitting her. She shook her head to clear it, her heart pounding in her ears.

“No Lexi,” she murmured.

She knew it did no good to wallow in her self-pity. To be honest it always got her in trouble. It didn’t change anything and generally only caused problems. The times she let her emotions be in charge were the times she would slip up, and lose control. Then the bad things would happen. Lexi was terrified of making those things happen.

Lexi had known for a long time that she was different. When she concentrated hard, got angry or upset, she could make things move with her mind. At first it was just a small vibration in an object, harmless. Lexi had even thought it was fun. Fun! Lexi scoffed, shaking her head, the irony was biting. There was nothing fun about it.

It had been almost a year since Lexi had let her mind do something like she had today. Not since she had first arrived in Oracle. It was the first day of her freshman year and she’d been getting ready for school. It had been similar to what had just happened. She was distracted from worrying about school, and the memories of her Parent’s accident had come flooding through her head.

“Ugh!” Lexi moaned and covered her eyes with her hands just thinking about it. Of course no one had seen her, but she’d managed to knock her dresser over. Moving to a new school is rarely a good experience. The fact that she had slipped and used her telekinetic abilities that morning had made her jumpy all day.


FINAL VERSION

She turned back to Aya, her expression dubious. “Are you saying? What—that he’s right? You healed me?”

“Yes.”

“How long have I been out?”

“Not long, it’s evening.”

Lexi raised one eyebrow. “It’s the same day?”

“Yes.”

“Sure, okay.” Lexi nodded after a long pause, and rubbed her fingers on her knees. “And did you use a normal wand or bring in a fairy to do the trick?”

Aya’s smile wavered for a moment, and her eyes hardened slightly.

“This is the least of the things that I’ll ask you to believe. You aren’t new to the incredible. Why are you fighting it?”

Lexi looked away. “I—I don’t know what you mean.”

Aya frowned. “Yes, you do.” Her statement left no room to argue, but Lexi shook her head. With a sigh, Aya moved closer to the bed, staring at her intently.

At first, Lexi felt only uncomfortable under her gaze. Then an intense pressure began building behind her forehead. It wasn’t painful, but she didn’t like it.

“Stop that, what are you doing?” Lexi leaned back into the pillows, but she couldn’t turn away. Her voice sounded small behind the rushing vacuum inside her head.

The memory crashed over her, pulling her under and tying her up with its motion. Her secret expanded on the wall for everyone to see.

╦ ╦ ╦

A young girl with dark curls sat on a pink, ruffled bedspread. Her pajamas were blue with pink bows. She bounced in place, unable to control her excitement. A blonde girl sat across from her.

“Just tell me. What’s so exciting?”

Lexi took a deep breath, but couldn’t contain her grin. “I’ve wanted to tell someone for so long, but I couldn’t. You’re the only one I really want to tell, Jo.”

Jo giggled, “All right, so tell me.”

“I—well, I can move things.” Her voice was so soft, it was barely audible.

“What do you mean, silly? Of course, you can move things.”

“But I can move things without touching them—just, you know, by thinking it.”

Jo looked at her for a moment, before laughing again. “Be serious!”

Lexi's brow furrowed. "No, I am serious. I’ll show you." She focused on a delicate glass ballerina on Jo's dresser. Jo laughed, but followed Lexi's gaze. The figurine lifted a couple of inches and hovered gracefully in the air.

Jo’s piercing scream tore through the room and Lexi jumped backward, her concentration broken. She’d expected Jo to be surprised, but not scared. The tiny ballerina fell back to the dresser and shattered.

She looked at Jo and blinked. Jo backed into a corner of the room and stared at Lexi in horror.

“Jo?” Lexi whispered, her eyes wide. Her feet moved forward of their own volition, but she stopped when her friend’s face went pale and she recoiled farther into the corner. Watching her felt like a bucket of ice water had been dumped down Lexi’s spine. As if through a haze, she watched Jo’s fingernails scratched at the walls around her, frantically searching for a way out.

Her best friend, her only friend, was desperate to escape her.

Lexi backed away, shaking her head, dazed. Scrambling for her backpack, she ran from the house. Her feet bare, and her pajamas damp with her tears.

╦ ╦ ╦

Lexi’s vacant eyes stared at the wall. It had been blank for a few minutes, but she couldn’t seem to drag them away. Her cheeks and shirt were wet with the tears that wouldn’t stop. They carved paths through the dirt on her face.

“I’m sorry.” Aya’s words pulled Lexi’s gaze from the wall. Aya’s face was a mixture of regret and pity. It was the pity that set her gut on fire.

“So you can just pull out anyone’s memories and display them for the world to see? That’s super.” Lexi’s voice bubbled fury as she rubbed her cheeks dry with the back of her hand. She refused to look at Cam, but could feel his eyes on her and was horrified. She felt weak. She hated feeling weak.

“Don’t do that to me again--ever.”

HMM...My Thoughts

I think the final scene is much more powerful, and although it kind of cheats--it isn't technically a flashback. :P

In the first draft--man those were some serious blocks of text--and loads of telling.

Lexi's voice is much clearer throughout the final draft... you can probably see that difference here.

Anyway, so how about your books? Can you see how the story evolved from beginning to end? Can you see how your writing evolved? What was the most important thing you learned through the process?