Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Revisions Blog Party! Rock on!

Happy New Year, everybody! We're officially in the next decade and 2011 is going to rock! I can feel it.

Okay, so revisions aren't traditionally fun, but who says it has to be that way?

This year, if you don't have a critique partner (or group), get a few. Find them here or here or here.

Write, revise and edit on your own, and then trade critiques with someone else who either writes or reads in your genre.

Revising will be a heck of a lot more fun when you have company.

Here are my goals for 2011:

1. Finish my current YA urban fantasy with sci-fi elements.

2. Reread it for cohesiveness and flow. Draw arrows and be open to big picture changes. Look for high emotional stakes, rising conflicts, and character arcs.

3. Make necessary changes. Let sit for a week or two while I critique for my CPs and cleanse my palate of my own work.

4. Reread again slowly for language problems, redundancies, weak word choice or purple prose.

5. Use the five senses test to see if my readers can see, hear, smell, touch, and taste the world in 3D the way I do. If not, add in the sensations.

6. One last line-edit for mechanics, spellings, etc.

7. Submit to beta-readers. Listen to all suggestions. Implement the ones that make sense.

8. Let the work sit for another few weeks. Reread again. Make any glaring changes. If none, start querying.

I figure this process will take me through March. I'm tempted to finish writing and send it off before the market gets swarmed with ideas too similar to mine (it's happened and it was tragic), but I know revision is a vital step. I'd rather risk similar books coming out than submit something less than my best.

The easiest part for me is the mechanical editing. I'm sure I miss things here or there, but mostly I'm pretty good at cleaning up my own writing. The hardest thing will be story structure and emotional stakes. Those are aspects I feel leave room for improvement. I think you'll agree they're pretty important! So it'll be worth the extra work to get my MS in shape before querying. I'll feel done when I can read through it without that nagging doubt that something's not quite right. When perfectionist-me can read over it and feel satisfied, then it will be done*.

*No book is ever done until it's printed, but for the sake of the querying stage, I'll be done.

New to the party?

Add your link and groove to the imaginary beat. Since it's all in your head, it can't be bad, right?

Revision is often touted by published authors, agents, and editors alike as the most important step in getting a book published. Incredible things can happen for us in 2011 if we make revision a priority rather than an afterthought. Enjoy your New Year!!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Filling in the Gaps

File:Lower Antelope Canyon 478.jpg
Antelope Canyon

I've always been one of those writers who writes in a linear, if not chronological way. It's new for me to skip around, but this WIP has seriously kicked my butt in lots of ways. I've had to get creative, sneak up on it from different angles.

Here are some of the tricks I've been forced to use:

  • POV shift to get into another character's head and find out what happens off stage 
  • Switching the order of scenes (I'd never done this before)
  • Writing a blurb about the climax so I'd know how to get there
  • Brainstorming with CPs, parents, siblings
  • Reading aloud what I've already got
  • Inserting whole scenes in the middle
  • Rewriting entire scenes, taking big events out and replacing them with more relevant stuff
  • A whole lot of non-writing THINK time

It's been brutal, but it's been kind of fun, too. I've learned how to see flaws in my story arc, which is a big deal for me because story arc has historically been a weakness. After all the fiddling and tweaking, I'm at a point where it's become necessary to fill in the gaps. I've inserted a scene here, taken something out there, and the butterfly effect now demands a careful reread to make sure it all meshes. I should probably be dreading the huge task before me, but I'm actually kind of excited. See, I just spoke with my dad on the phone for well over an hour about scientific theory and how I can use it in my story. This reread is going to see the addition and replacement of some key words, hopefully making the story feel more real and attainable to the reader. I've also got some characterization to nail down. There are lots of good character milestones, but they need to be driven home and tied up. All this, and I haven't even written the ending. Once everything else feels like it flows naturally from one scene to another, I'm hoping the ending I outlined will feel more attainable to me. It's too nebulous right now. I know something about how it will end, but how will each event unfold? I'm getting closer to those answers with each page written. 

Even though this has been such a pain/joy to write, I know it's going to rock to finish it. The bigger they are, the harder they fall, and the better you feel when you've conquered them. 

What's your writing process? How do you fill in the gaps?

Reminder: write your New Year's Day post early and schedule it. I've got your topic right here. Be sure to sign up officially and follow others to see how they get things done.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Read Your Bookshelves in 2011? That's 420 Books!

Four hundred and twenty books! I counted. And listed all the titles on a Word document which is stapled and lying in front of me as I type this. If I follow through with my goal to read all the books in my collection (minus technical text books for hubz's degrees and the whole shelf of children's books), I'll have to read more than one book per day in 2011!

Hmm... might not be able to achieve this New Year's Resolution in one year.


I think it's worth a try. Even if it takes a couple years to achieve this goal, how cool would it be to point at my massive library and say, "Yes, I've read every book!"

So cool.

Plus, imagine the wealth of writing styles and random information I'll be able to draw from when writing my own fiction!

Thus, my insane goal of 2011 (and 2012 and 2013 and maybe 2014) is to read my bookshelves.

Your turn to count. How many books would you have to read per week if you chose to read your bookshelves in 2011? (Hint: subtract the books you've read in the last year. You don't need to read those again so soon.)

My purpose with this goal is to

a) learn more about all the subjects and genres I've been drawn to throughout the years,

b) complete the gaps in my public school education, particularly in math, economics, and history,

c) dissuade myself from spending oodles and oodles of my husband's hard-earned cash on shiny new books (oh, I'll still buy a few, but probably not nearly as many as in 2010).

First up: TWENTY books on motherhood, childcare, and developmental psychology. Yeah, I've got three shelves to go before I get to the middle grade fiction shelf, but that will be a compelling carrot for this crazy horse.

How many books on your shelf have you read? How many do you actually want to read? Take inventory and let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Goals and Guilt

Image from this site
Inspiration from Kristal's Operation Awesome post

Do your New Year's Resolutions make you feel guilty at the end of the year? Do you look at that gym membership and curse the loss of monthly funds to a goal that fizzled out about June? What about your writing goals? Can you really control whether or not you find an agent or an acquiring editor who is nuts about your work?

Here's my take on it: Goals are good. Make goals. Write down your goals, but focus on the parts you can control. 

I am definitely a fan of resolutions. I still have a notebook page of joint and individual goals my husband and I made as newlyweds, in the guise of predictions for the next five years. Yesterday we celebrated our five year anniversary. Not only had most of our 'predictions' come to fruition, but some had even surpassed our expectations. 

I believe in writing down what you want to accomplish. But it doesn't stress me if I don't meet all my goals. It gives me something to work on for the coming year. Give yourself a mixture of easily attainable goals and pie-in-the-sky goals, and celebrate what you've done at the end of the year. For the rest of it, reassess and recommit if it's still something you even want.

Getting an agent and getting published... they WILL happen, one of these years. All I have to do is keep expecting it to happen, keep working toward it, and that goal, too, will one day bow to my perseverance. 

What are your New Year's Resolutions? Not sure where to start? Start with this.

Join the fun!

Here are a few of my 2011 hopes and dreams, in no particular order:

1. Keep re-imagining my current WIP until the plot is water-tight, the characters are four-dimensional, and the  concept is completely unique. Then, and only then, revise it. 

2. Keep up with my critique group revisions each week.

3. Comb through my first novels to see what I can learn from my mistakes, and hopefully be encouraged by how much I've grown since then.

4. Be more engaged on the blogosphere by reading and commenting.

5. Run another marathon in Fall 2011. (to go with this: get rid of writer's butt)

6. Read all the books on my bookshelf. Take notes.

7. Teach son to read independently. Continue math play with manipulatives. Do more science experiments a la Beakman's world. (home preschool) 

8. Pimp my favorite authors' books across the web. Find new authors to love.

9. Make sure my husband knows he is loved, and has the time he needs to complete his master's program.

10. Keep a paper journal, and up  the ante on my personal scripture study so it's a nightly routine. 

Yeah, that's a good start. :)

Mary Kole wrote an amazing post on Dealing with Rejection that is actually more about the stages of a writing career and how you can get to where you want to be. Simply brilliant. Check it out!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas links, the You'd Better Not Pout edition

Squee! Three days to Christmas!!!

My second-born's first encounter with Santa.
He gets that bottom lip from his dad.

Here are a few must-see posts for your Wednesday enjoyment:

Top Ten Blogs for Writers is up, after much voting. Check it out.

Be Creative. Make Mistakes. Lindsay is on Operation Awesome today comparing writing to art and the process of making mistakes that sometimes turn out unexpectedly beautiful.

Christmas is like writing, another of Lindsay's famous writing metaphors, definitely worth a read.

Authoress Anon has a major announcement, if you haven't heard yet. It's so squee-worthy!

The Be Jolly By Golly Blogfest turned out phenomenal! If you missed it, there's lots of Christmas merriment to go around and plenty of sugarful recipes if you're looking for those! (link goes to my post, but you can see the master list if you click the Linky List in blue)

New Year's Revisions Blog Party is slowly gaining ground. Help us out by blogging, tweeting, or facebooking about it. The more, of course, the merrier. January seems to be the official blogfest month! Kick it off with this one and make your 2011 writing goals known.

Most of all, enjoy these excitement-filled days before Christmas. In no time at all, you'll be putting the decorations away and taking the tree down. Savor every moment. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Blogfest!!

Yep, I'm a sucker for fun, spirited, holiday-themed blogfests! I found this one (hosted by Melissa and Jen) on Jen Daiker's lovely blog.

The only problem is I'm supposed to be listing my... well, I'll just paste the rules for you:

1.Blog Post to be posted on December 20th (whatever time you desire)
2.Show pictures of your decorations, holiday lights & Christmas tree!
3.Share your favorite treat (Recipe included, chance for others to steal the yumminess!)
4.Share your favorite drink (Recipe included, chance for others to steal the alcohol – or non)
5.Last but not least… visit others!!! Take part in their holiday cheer!
(Linky list)

Guess what! No Christmas tree!! I know, the horror! But I can explain. We live in an apartment without a yard and I have two boys under 4 years old. This means that if I put anything breakable down low, it will be broken. As such, we've been putting off the Christmas tree ceremony. We were going to do it last night, but postponed it again till tonight. Anyway, enough of the craziness that is raising boys in a two-bedroom cubicle of an apartment. I'll show you what we have done for Christmas:


Gingerbread HOUSE!

Isn't this the most adorable gingerbread house and tree you've ever seen? And hey, I think that tree counts as our Christmas tree, right? Right? For now. I love the look on the 3yo's face. Good thing he has that handy toothbrush!

Favorite Treat (plus recipe):

Chocolaty Goodness is a great gift for the families you carol to on Christmas Eve. 

I'm gonna have to go with Chocolaty Goodness, a recipe my dad made up that is straight up raw cocoa powder, butter, honey, and wheat, with a few spices thrown in for good measure. 

I can't in good conscience post the recipe without linking to his marvelous health blog. Check out Coach G at Garner Healthy Living. And now for the recipe!
Chocolaty Goodness

2 c. cocoa powder
1 c. coconut oil (or ½ c. butter)
1 c. honey
2 c. wheat flour
A pinch of Redman’s salt*
A pinch of cinnamon
A pinch of cayenne or chili powder
*Redman's Real Salt is just a special salt that still includes all the minerals. It can be hard to find, so don't worry about it if you're only going to make this recipe once.

Mix it all together and spread out in a pan or on a plate. Chill in refrigerator. Because of the butter or coconut oil, the mixture will harden, so if you want to cut it into squares, do it while it's still soft but not sticky.

Another note: if you're sensitive to whole wheat, take this in small doses, especially at first. I've been snacking on wheat berries since I was a kid (yay, food storage!) so it doesn't phase me. Chocolaty goodness is my guilty pleasure every Christmas.

Favorite Drink (plus recipe):

There's really no competition for this one: EGGNOG!!

Some people make their own, but we drink it so fast, buying it is really the only option. But here's a recipe from

And now I am off to visit others!

Don't forget to sign up for the New Year's Revisions Blog Party! Resolutions never looked so good (to agents).

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A TOUCH MORTAL author Leah Clifford Q&A Today!

Death isn't what Eden expected. Where the hell is her release? Her quiet ending? Not that Eden remembers the details of her final hours, but one thing is for sure--becoming a Sider, trapped between life and death, was definitely not part of the plan...

For Eden, nothing seems to be coming easy. Somehow, word's gotten around that her power can kill her own kind. With desperate Siders already camping out on her doorstep, the last thing Eden needs is the rumor to spread. Especially since it's true...

When her ability pulls her into a feud between Fallen and Bound Angels, she'll have to figure out who to trust and get to the truth behind her death, even if the answers will alter heaven, hell and everything in-between.

Michelle's guest of honor on Operation Awesome today is the amazing Leah Clifford. A TOUCH MORTAL is the first in a three-book deal with GreenWillow/HarperCollins, and is slated to come out February 2011. 

Leah's opened up the blog to questions, and she'll be answering in the comments. Want to know how she got her agent? How many drafts of her query she sent out? How she felt when she learned about her three-book sale? If she snacks while she writes (whatever she eats, it's obviously working)? Here's an opportunity to pick the brain of a successful author. 

Her book is marked 'to-read' on goodreads by the likes of Elana Johnson (author of POSSESSION) and Kiersten White (PARANORMALCY author), other awesome, much-buzzed-about authors. 

Don't ask your questions here. Leah won't see them. 

Skip on over to the Q&A Post on Operation Awesome!

See you there. I'll be the one waving my hand around in the air like Hermione (but with questions instead of answers). ;)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sick Babies and a Book about Mortality

It's Friday!

Aside from my little guys waking me up before 3am this morning with their shared stomach bug, it's a pretty good day so far. Few things are more tragic than sick babies. My consolation is that the weekend is almost here, and weekends make everything better, even stomach bugs. *crosses fingers till they pale* I hope. 

It's my day to post on Operation Awesome, and I'm musing about storytelling vs wordsmithing (it's gotta be a word--it's just gotta). Pop on over and tell me which camp you fall into.

Also, the OA blog circle is abuzz with excitement over Leah Clifford's new book, A TOUCH MORTAL. 

Michelle, Lindsay, and Amparo are all pimping it. The exciting news is that Leah will be on the OA blog doing a Q&A about her upcoming book, her writing, whatever you think to ask, this SUNDAY!

Coming February 22, 2011

See you there!

If you haven't yet, be sure to sign up on Mr. Linky for the New Year's Revisions Blog Party.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray: My Review

A Great and Terrible Beauty (The Gemma Doyle Trilogy)
A Great and Terrible Beauty (The Gemma Doyle Trilogy)

Blurb on 
A Victorian boarding school story, a Gothic mansion mystery, a gossipy romp about a clique of girlfriends, and a dark other-worldly fantasy--jumble them all together and you have this complicated and unusual first novel. 
Sixteen-year-old Gemma has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother's death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls' academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique. Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions. Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions "for a bit of fun" and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the "others" and rebuild the Order. A Great and Terrible Beauty is an impressive first book in what should prove to be a fascinating trilogy.

Warning: This will not be a fair review. 

Why? Because I fell in love with Libba Bray's writing before I bought her book, so I knew already it was going to be a guilty pleasure.

I happened upon Libba Bray while I was surveying quotes on

Quotes like:
"But aren't many gardens beautiful because they are imperfect? ...Aren't the strange, new flowers that arise by mistake or misadventure as pleasing as the well-tended and planned?" 
 Libba Bray (The Sweet Far Thing)
"I do not want to pass the time. I want to grab hold of it and leave my mark upon the world." 
 Libba Bray (The Sweet Far Thing)
"There is a time in every life when paths are chosen, character is forged. I could have chosen a different path. But I didn’t. I failed myself." 
 Libba Bray (The Sweet Far Thing) 
 and my favorite,
"What Hamlet suffers from is a lack of zombies. Let us say Rosencrantz and Guildenstern show up—Ho-HO! Now you’ve got something that stirs the, um, something that stirs things that are stirrable. BOOM! A pack of ravenous flesh-eaters breaks open their heads and sucks out their eyeballs. No need for iambic pentameter because they are grunting, groaning annihilators of humanity with no time for meter. You’re not asleep in the back of English class anymore, are you? This is what I’m talking about. Zombies. Learn it, live it, love it." 
 Libba Bray

So when I stumbled upon A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY in T.J. Maxx's YA paperback section, I should have recognized the author right away, but I didn't. I even did my open-to-a-random-page-and-see-if-I-connect-to-the-writing thing before I bought it. I opened to a part where a maid is telling a creepy story to a couple of schoolgirls, and the writing was so compelling, I wanted to read on.

It wasn't until later that I made the connection between the Libba Bray on the cover and the quotes I'd enjoyed on goodreads. And then I moved the book up on my to-be-read pile because I couldn't wait to get more of that brilliance.

See, some people are storytellers and others are writers. Libba Bray is both, but first and foremost, she is a writer. And the way she spins words into elaborate and smooth silk is awe-inspiring. I didn't read A Great and Terrible Beauty. I drank it.  

Since I am a Christian, I am wary of books that make religion sound like whitewashed conformity, because I don't see it that way at all. Nothing whitewashed about the Bible, is there? In fact, the dark and light themes woven into every book in the Gemma Doyle series are also alive and well in Christianity. Since the author acknowledges those themes, I must deduce she doesn't mean her books to be anti-religion. It's all a part of the character's past and circumstance. For instance, most women relate to the ever-present discomfort of expectations Gemma Doyle is dealing with in a Victorian society complete with suitors with names like Bartelby Bumble and stuffy older brothers who expect you to be well-behaved at all times. I think the anti-religion overtones are necessary to the character of Gemma Doyle because she's in that discover-who-you-really-are phase of life in a very repressive circumstance, and it's natural she should rebel. It's also natural that she should compare the magic she's experiencing to the religion she's been raised with (or hasn't been raised with, in this case). So I didn't find that it detracted from the story at all, but should spur some interesting conversations between mothers and daughters who read these books together.

The suspense is delicious. I found my writer self taking mental notes about how she achieves it in some places. For instance, at the climax when they're running from danger, she has the characters call out for their friend, rather than simply stating that they couldn't find her. The cries of, "Where's Pippa?" interspersed with the action of fleeing a monster definitely amped up my heart rate. And even though the romantic interest is rarely present (or maybe because of that), the romantic suspense is delicious, as well.

FIVE STARS. I enjoyed reading A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY and look forward to the next in the series, though the resolution at the end of the book was good enough that I don't actually feel like I have to read the sequel right now. Kind of nice, actually, after the cliff-hangers of THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy. :)

Next up, THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak.

What are you reading? Does it make you think? Does it make you feel?

It's Kelly's day on Operation Awesome, so be sure to stop by and share your writerly achievements of 2010.

And don't forget to sign up for the New Year's Revisions Blog Party set for January first of 2011!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Package from Korea! (my CRITTERPALOOZA booty)

My goodies from Ellen Oh, via the Critterpalooza contest

I love contests, because contests have prizes, and it is ALWAYS fun to get something for free. :)

Ellen Oh sent me some Korean goodies and a book of my choice. (I chose MISTWOOD by Leah Cypess! Can't wait!) My son was so excited when the box came, he hardly had the patience for me to take a picture before he dove into the candy.

My almost-4yo giddy with dancing sugarplums

So since I have this great loot to remind me about Critter's cause, I'd be remiss if I didn't pass the reminder on to you, my awesome and always generous blog readers. 

Critter is being auctioned off in the next two days to the highest bidder and ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of the proceeds will go to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. That means owner Christy Evers and artist/creator Ian Sands aren't getting anything out of this, except the joy of giving. 

If you'd like to take part in the auction and possibly place the highest bid on CRITTER, whose been signed by the likes of Beth Revis of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, then do not pass GO, just skip straight over to...


Merry Christmas, everybody! I'm getting giddy myself with the visions of dancing sugarplums and family visits drawing nearer. I hope the season brings you as much joy wherever you are, and however you celebrate.

*******good vibes coming your way********

P.S. Monster big HOLIDAY 2010 SWAG BAG GIVEAWAY from The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Happy Monday! (The Masochistic Joy of Taming that Story)

So happy this morning! Why? Well, there are lots of reasons.

First, I woke up this morning to find these awesome links in my blog reader (okay, a few are oldie goodies):

And the other reason I'm so happy this morning is that my Work-In-Progress is finally going someplace again!


This is my top secret, high concept, epic urban fantasy story that's been kicking my butt since I started thinking about writing it. I've started it eight total times (seriously, eight drafts of first chapters in my folder). Each time, it felt off. A few times, I thought I'd finally found the MC's voice, or decided whose POV to narrate from, but something always happened that made me feel wrong about it (like an agent tweeting that dual POV was hard to do and newbie writers shouldn't attempt it, which led me to wonder if I'm still a newbie writer if I don't have an MFA). Or sometimes I'd get a wake up call from a CP or family member who'd tell me the voice changed drastically from chapter 1 to chapter 2, or that the MC wasn't likable. 


After several false starts, I decided to tackle this one for Nanowrimo. (ahem. That didn't quite work out.) I made important progress, but eventually resigned myself to the fact that this story isn't the writes-itself kind.

It's not even the write-in-a-month kind. (I love that kind and have written two such books, so I can feel the difference.) This book is the labor-until-you-bleed kind, the hold-my-calls-and-call-a-babysitter-because-this-is-going-to-take-a-while kind. You get the idea.

Even though it would be easier to dump this story and pick up one of my other ideas that just might be a writes-itself story, I can't let this one go. There's something SO satisfying about taming a difficult story. Each conquered plot twist and revealed character quirk or strength is cause for celebration. 

So today I'm celebrating! Because I'm 91 pages into it after months of struggle, and even though it is still far from perfect (or complete), it's getting there

Yep. I'm taming this story, one heart-wrenching scene at a time. 

Have you ever tamed a story? Or do you find yourself gravitating toward the stories that tell themselves? Any advice for me?

Don't forget to join us for a New Year's Revisions Blog Party on January 1st. Sign up today. :)

Thursday, December 9, 2010


I've been excited about this book ever since I happened upon the first chapter online!

And now, Razorbill/Penguin is helping author Beth Revis hold an Epic Contest of Epic just in time for Christmas.


There will be 100 prizes, including a grand prize you don't want to lose out on if you can possibly help it. Something I love about this contest that I have not seen before is that Beth won't be announcing the winners. She's just going to ship off the prizes quietly to your address and hope you get them in time for Christmas. Sweet!

Go check out the swag and book prizes right now. Like, right now.

Happy Christmas, everybody!

And don't forget to RSVP to our NEW YEAR'S REVISIONS BLOG PARTY before January 1st. It won't be the same without you.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

You're Invited: a New Year's Blog Party

Feel free to snag this button from my sidebar and spread the word!

We've all made New Year's Resolutions, but in 2011, I'm inviting you to make some 

New Year's Revisions!

Whether you did Nanowrimo or not, you've probably got something brilliant in need of a few revisions. This is a great chance to pick the brains of your fellow writers, to find out what revision tactics work for them, and what they're hoping to accomplish in 2011.

Join me, using the linky below. It's a promise to blog on January 1st about your 2011 Revision goals and insights. 

When you post, consider

  • What you plan to revise
  • The process you'll go through
  • How long you expect it to take
  • What you hope to accomplish
  • What the easiest thing will be
  • What the hardest thing will be
  • When you'll feel done

Revision is often touted by published authors, agents, and editors alike as the most important step in getting a book published. Incredible things can happen for us in 2011 if we make revision a priority rather than an afterthought.

Everything's more fun together, right? Right! Let's do this!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

When Rejection Makes Me Laugh

The obligatory picture of cute kids laughing over a symbol of the publishing industry

No, this is not one of those "You might be a writer if..." jokes.

This is much funnier than that (well, to me; courtesy laughter welcome). :)

This morning, I had a good laugh over a rejection letter.

See, I've been writing my whole life, but only seriously since about 2008, really seriously (with a critique group and deadlines) since July 2010.

In Winter 2008, I typed The End on my third book, a Nano novel that never had a beta reader or deep revision. (I've since realized it didn't really have an ending either.)

Like all newbie writers, I eagerly snail-mail queried five agents and e-submitted to one publisher, certain that one of these would like my novel idea enough to help me publish it. (Ah, sweet naivety!)

The agents all got back to me within the month with their polite no's, some more quickly than others. Really, I was spoiled and didn't know it, since in 2010, only half those agents would have responded at all. That's right, two and a half would now return my carefully crafted letter with silence. (hmm, The Half Agent... I feel a middle grade novel coming on.)

Amid my being spoiled by speedy rejection, I had a nine-pound baby. I mean, I had a whole pregnancy, potty-trained my older son, and then had the second baby. This year, at this moment, that second baby is fourteen months old. He walks, runs, and climbs on the kitchen table when I'm not looking. I've written two more books. I've run a marathon. My oldest son can write his name. My family moved to California, then moved again. I've read over fifty books. I've seen the first three Twilight movies.

This morning I opened my email and found a rejection from the 2008 publisher.

And that's how slow publishing is.

The end.

What? That didn't make you laugh? Maybe it's just me. (links to Natalie Whipple's inspiring post)

Moral of the story: Work hard. Live your life. Cast your nets, but don't wait for your miracle. Time is precious but unforgiving. Most of all, just keep swimming. 

TBR pile running dry? No? Well, check out Kelly's Best of 2010 for some middle grade goodness, anyway. You know you can't let that To-Be-Read stack dwindle below three feet!

And Krista at Mother. Write. Repeat. has an interview with the one and only Kathleen Ortiz, who is running a fabulous pre-Christmas contest, so check that out in your "spare time."

Happy Thursday, my friends. Friday is coming. I promise.

Just for funsies, what's the longest you've had to wait for a response from an agent or editor (either positive or negative)?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mystery Agent Contest Today! Update: CLOSED! Thanks, everyone!

Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? Wooo-ooo-ooo.

Do you have a completed adult or YA novel? Our December Mystery Agent is lurking on Operation Awesome to judge a one-line pitch contest, or maybe said agent is hiding away with Lindsay's cookies. We'll never tell.

First fifty entries are valid, and after that we close the comments, so if you have something that's really shiny (as in polished; please no Nano 2010 novels), all you need is a punchy one-line summary of your novel to get our M.A.'s particular attention. Full rules and considerations are over at the official contest post, which is where you should enter with title, genre, and sentence pitch:

Winner gets a full request from the judging agent. Woot! One sentence to a full request. I'd so enter this contest if I could. Good luck, everybody! I really hope you win!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Most Embarrassing Moments: Use them in your writing

We're all creative types here. Has this ever happened to you?

Something's just triggered an idea in your mind for a conversation between two sisters. Sister A is telling Sister B that the life Sister B has chosen as laundromat operator is meaningless and debasing to their family name, and she ought to suck it up and go back to college to get a real job. Sister B retaliates by saying that Sister A is a corporate bimbo who got where she is by stepping on everyone, and that she, Sister B, is happy at the laundromat where hours are flexible and she can actually make it to a 12:30 lunch on time and stay to wait for her manager sister who didn't show up until 1:45.

Well, by this time, Sister A is wearing one of those perfect, nobody-speaks-to-me-that-way-and-lives scowls. You want to be sure to get it just right: the way her eyebrows furrow, and that little crease above her nose, and the downturned lines of her mouth that even botox couldn't cure.

So that's what your face looks like when a timid voice behind you says, "Excuse me, could you hand me a package of pepperoni," and you remember that you're in a public place: the meat and cheese aisle at Fresh & Easy.

Do you smile, play it off like you weren't just making the ugliest face imaginable? Or do you hand her the meat and power-walk away? What would your characters do?

How about this? (men, you have my permission to skip this one)

You're in the gym doing Kegels on the treadmill, ya know, to kill two birds with one stone, and a man comes up behind you while you're totally focused on your nether-regions. "Hey, do you want me to leave the TV remote here?" You jump three feet in the air and almost fall off the tread.

Even though there's no way he knows what you were doing, you still turn red (or maybe that's just face-flush from the workout) and mutter something negatory so he'll walk away (okay, how is it possible that negatory is not a real word--did anybody else know this?).

Embarrassing moments. They happen to everyone. That little teen-sitcom-narrator voice in your head says, Awk-ward, and you try to move on and forget that it happened.

But I suggest holding on to them a little longer, before you suppress that memory forever. Use it.

To be human is to be awkward. That means that if you want to bring more humanity to your characters--even if they're green-skinned, multi-eye-balled aliens on Planet H--you can do it just by adding boogers. After all, we may all handle embarrassing situations differently, but boogers are universal.

What embarrassing situation did you inflict on your characters today?

p.s. Kristal has a very good post about chaos interfering with your writing life over on Operation Awesome, with a mention of the Mystery Agent contest which opens TOMORROW!! Is your one-line pitch ready?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Things that made my day

First, it's my day on Operation Awesome and I got to interview an amazing person, a teen philanthropist who also happens to write YA fantasy! Check out Riley Carney over there. She'll inspire you!

To make Thanksgiving easier on my three-year-old son, I asked him what he loves instead of what he's thankful for, as thankful for is kind of a mouthful for someone with such little lips.

He listed off:

Jamesy, Lukey, oranges, grapes, ice cream, and oranges.

I thought that was fitting for Thanksgiving. When you ask me what I love, or what I'm thankful for, the list comes down to people and food. What else is there, really?

So here are the things that made me smile upon my return to Blog World today:

This post from Amparo about what she's thankful for (you are so on my list, Amparo!)

The master of plays on words, Lindsay, sharing Thanksgiving love all the way from Britain! (I love you, too!)

Michelle celebrating her birthday! (Woo hoo! Happy belated!) and her book coming out SO SOON!

Kristal's fortune cookie wisdom (very inspiring, as usual)

and the happy emoticon smiling faces of Kelly and Angie on our group forum. 

These ladies get me through the dungeons of writer's block, and squee with me every time I break free of its chains. They call me on my crap when I get a character's voice or age all wrong, or when I'm stalling too much before the good stuff in a story. They commiserate with me over rejections, maybes, and the general slowness of the publishing industry. They put up with my (ahem) artistic temperament, and I don't know what I'd do without them. 

Thanks, ladies!! You are Operation Awesome. 

p.s. MYSTERY AGENT ALERT: December will have a M.A. judging one-line pitches. First fifty will make it in on the first of the month. Genres: all YA and adult subgenres except for Christian fiction, erotica, MG, and picture books. Polish 'em up! I hope you win!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Use Your Failures

(Apple II) Use your boxy original to craft a shiny, sleek next generation

I'm currently writing my fifth novel. That blows my mind when I actually sit down and think about it.


Of all the crazy things I've done in my life (and there have been a few), writing five books since 2008 is probably the one I'm second-most proud of. Childbearing being the shiny, uncontested first.

But writing books is second to that because it's similar to childbearing in many ways-- a long labor of love that results in something entirely unique, a new creation with its own fingerprints and innate personality.

Because each novel is born of a labor of love, we never really let them go completely, even if we delete them from our hard drive or scrap and start completely over. No matter how many novels we may write, we never really move on.

It's kind of like in X-Men when Rogue explains to Wolverine about the first boy she ever kissed (and sucked the life force from):

"I can still feel him... and it's the same way with you."

My early novels are far from perfect. Seven rounds of edits each would likely not repair what's wrong with them. But I'll always love them, always compare my new characters to my old ones and marvel at how much they've grown. I'll always wish I could have raised 'em right and sent them out into the world properly, instead of keeping them on memory sticks in various locations all over my house.

People say you've got to move on and keep writing and all that, and they're totally right. We can't spend all our time revising sub-par work when our writing style has grown so far beyond it that a total rewrite is the only sure course. We'd spend so much time and energy re-working something that might work better *gasp* scrapped for parts and incorporated into an entirely new story.

But that doesn't mean we can't still love our babies, and feel giddy when somebody recognizes the talent behind the newbie mistakes. And who knows? Maybe someday, you'll dust off that old MS and have a stroke of revision genius that makes your little baby into a full-grown salable book.

In the meantime, use what you've learned from your past work to make your WIP as shiny as possible. Never forget how flat characterization stifled your last book, or how a floppy plot arc made the book before that one fizzle out at the end. Use the pain of failure to succeed this time. And  don't worry if your WIP lets you down.

There's always the next book.  

Amparo's on Operation Awesome giving out inspiration: Why You Should Keep Going When the Going Sucks

Friday, November 19, 2010

Why Writers Matter

Confession: I've forgotten most of the titles, characters, and even major plot points from the million books in my junior high school library.

Books, books, books = a glimpse of heaven?

But I still remember "Pop-eyes," a breakfast mentioned once in one of those books: bread with a hole cut out of the middle (using a drinking glass) and fried with an egg to fill the center, topped with stewed tomatoes. This sounded so cool, I had to try it and it has since become one of my favorite comfort foods.

I still remember Caitlin: a romantic trilogy about a girl who thought she needed to be in control all the time, until she crippled a little kid in a car accident. I may be remembering some of the details wrong, but I remember Caitlin's abrasive, snobby personality--and that it was the first time I realized the snobby girl is just as insecure as the shy one. Everybody needs love, even if we're taught different ways of attracting it.

I remember being grossed out by a line from Jurassic Park that some boys in the library showed me just to see my reaction.

I remember having my library books confiscated in math, science, and yes, even English classes.

I remember being the weird kid who--people actually noticed--had a different paperback book every day or every other day.

I remember Anne of Green Gables dying her hair, hating her freckles, but secretly liking her nose. I remember her insisting that Ann with an e was more elegant than Ann without it. I remember Gilbert Blythe pulling her braids and hanging out with Josie but secretly loving Anne all the time.

I remember Elizabeth Bennet being witty and strong and a little irreverent in private. I remember Darcy being a jerk and then turning out to be a nice guy after all.

I remember Brittany being raped, and learning how to live all over again afterward.

Books shaped my life and, at various times, saved it.

Writers matter. The words you put down to explain, describe, embellish your reality matter. Writers help to shape the generational discussion! But they also influence a little seventh- and eighth-grader girl to think about the nerd, the snob, the jock, and the emo kid in a more compassionate, accepting way. They teach her fun new recipes and weird social rituals she would otherwise not be privy to.  They give her hope that someday she won't be the odd one out, that it gets better.

So I have to say thank you.

Thank you to the writers who reached me in the frailty of my adolescence. Thank you to the writers who are just beginning, but who will yet reach my children. It's not easy, but it's important.  

You're awesome. Consider yourselves validated.

If you're looking for other ways to make a difference, Angela Ackerman has one opportunity for you kidlit lovers. Read my interview with her, and then head over to the Critter Palooza! It won't be a party without you.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fools Rush In, but Winners Never Quit

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
Had enough adages?

I've got millions more:

  • Never say die.
  • Don't count your chickens before they hatch.
  • Ours is not to question why; ours is but to do or die.
  • Fail your way to success.
  • If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

Okay, I don't have a million. I have five.

This is my lame attempt at an introduction to a man with something important to say: Larry Brooks of the Storyfix web site talks today about how, in the literary industry, NO means I DON'T KNOW.

Go read his article, and then...

Don't rush in. But don't quit till you win.

Also worth a read: Kelly's post on The Limits of Hope