Friday, July 29, 2011

Only You Can Write It

How does this artwork make you feel?

Created by design team Linda and John Meyers for the VIA advertising agency in Portland, Maine, who recently moved into an ancient public library. (Photo: Wary Meyers) (
I found it here.

For me it's like a Rorschach test for my mood toward reading/writing goals. If I'm overwhelmed by "assigned" reading and floundering in my own edits, it feels like an avalanche about to crush me. 

But if I'm reading a bunch of amazing books, staying on top of my own writing goals, and excited for some not-yet-released, much-buzzed-about books, it's an oasis in the desert!

That's the fantastic thing about art. It reaches you where you are.

That's what fiction does, too.

You see an alien. I see an angel.

That's why every writer matters, because no two people get exactly the same impression from any given object, idea, or situation. Only you can write the book you're writing. Only you will extrapolate those themes from that relationship. A hundred people could write about the same rainstorm, and we'd have a hundred completely different human experiences that make us feel a thousand different combinations of emotion.

And that's just beautiful.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What are you doing August 16th? WRITEONCON!!

It's almost August!

Know what that means for all us writers across the blogosphere? The world's best, webbiest, and free-est writing conference is on its way!

You can register for this online amazing-ness right here at Registration will get you set for participating in the forums, which you will definitely want to do. Feedback from other writers, and lurking agents? Yeah, that's the place for that.

Just like last year, the conference is free (which is incredible and all kinds of happymaking). But you can and totally should donate what you can in the bottom right corner of their website.

Below you can read about last year's inaugural WriteOnCon conference from the perspective of each organizer-unit-thingy (mostly individuals, except for LiLa).

  1. Author Elana Johnson of POSSESSION, about WriteOnCon
  2. Creator of the famous Agent Spotlight, Casey McCormick, about WriteOnCon
  3. Bookanista Shannon Messenger, also of WriteOnCon
  4. Web genius and writer Jen Stayrook of WriteOnCon
  5. Bookanista Jamie Harrington of the pink hair avatar, and WriteOnCon
  6. Authors Lisa and Laura Roecker of THE LIAR SOCIETY, about WriteOnCon

Okay, words from Elana Johnson about this year's conference:
Trust me when I say you’re going to want to have your best behavior on, your query letter polished, and your schedule from Tuesday, August 16 – Thursday, August 18 cleared.
You heard the woman!

p.s. August 1st will see a Mystery Agent contest at Operation Awesome. Standard rules apply (one-sentence pitch, completed novels only, first fifty to comment make it in). See the official August 1st post for details, but the range of genres is pretty wide and varied, so just polish that pitch and plan on entering if you're feeling ready. Can't wait to see what you've got!!  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Write, Read, Repeat

Two weeks ago I went on a writing binge, pumping out 22k in five days. It. felt. awesome! I'm still working on that project at a slightly slower pace. I'm about half-way through an anticipated 50k words. But the reason for my slowdown was...

A reading binge. I read five novels in the past week. Yeah, not getting a lot of sleep these days. So before I talk about why I'm acting crazy, I just want to take a moment to acknowledge that extremes like this are not healthy and I don't recommend you forfeit sleep to do all the reading and writing you want to do. I experienced a creative spike after some slow writing months and just went with it.

But I do want to point out a significant truth for writers that became more pronounced during my writing/reading binges:

You can't really be a writer if you don't read, too.

It takes a reader to write a really good book. While you read, you're picking up on subtext and the natural swing of a story arc, and maybe even consciously taking note of clever prose or innovative, raw dialogue you'd like to emulate. More than that, you're reaffirming in your own mind the importance of STORY. You're falling in love with fiction over and over again, which helps with the key problem facing most novelists: motivation.  

So if you're feeling stressed as a writer, not meeting your word quota, or just need to remember why you write, head over to Afterglow Book Reviews and fall in love with some books that got five stars. I promise your writing will improve.

Two days, two amazing books! Read my Afterglow reviews of THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner and the brand new SUPERNATURALLY by Kiersten White

Get primed for our August 1st Mystery Agent contest at Operation Awesome! Lindsay's shared a bunch of helpful links for working your one-line pitch.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Embrace the Villain Cliche

Get this stunning piece here.

You'll remember I took awesome notes from Jeff Savage's and Gregg Luke's conference session on VILLAINS last May. Their breakdown on the topic is definitely worth a read.

Lately, I've been thinking about villains again, since my dream-to-book project has a pretty tempting villain. He's beautiful and charismatic, warm and affectionate - and too perfect. It's supposed to be this way because it's the reason our heroine doesn't see what he really is until it's almost too late, but it got me thinking about cliche villains. Why do we gravitate toward villain cliches?

I think it's because a) all evil is evil and b) we thrive on symbols.

a) All evil is evil:

This means we come to associate one evil guy with another evil guy, even if they're actually very different. We do this in our daily lives, shying away from the cocky surfer dude because we were seriously wounded by a cocky surfer dude in the past (Jace Wayland, anyone?). So it's natural that we'll do the same thing in storytelling. We create universal villains, people with traits we all associate with evil tendencies.

In children's stories, villains are historically either really fat and gluttonous or really skinny and creepy emaciated, like there's no life in them and they have to feed off other people. Cliches almost always deal in extremes. The challenge is to personalize them, make them unique.

In young adult stories, the bad guy tends to be super charismatic and often extra confident, like Aro in Twilight or Sebastian in the Mortal Instruments series. This is probably because so many of us have been burned by the popular guy in high school. We easily believe that guy is rotten deep down, and it kind of helps us get over hurt feelings to imagine him that way.

Often the bad guy is deluded, seduced by power or principles to take things too far the other way. Sometimes he's straight-up crazy. But he's always evil, and he's always powerful.

He has to be powerful.

We need to fear him, or at least fear for the protagonist of the story, and we can't do that if the bad guy is overly goofy. That's why in Meet the Robinsons (Disney movie), there's the hard-to-fear Bowler Hat Guy, but his scariness is solidified by the bowler hat itself, Doris, who's actually a vindictive robot bent on annihilating the happy future our protagonist wants to create.

b) We thrive on symbols

If somebody has a pet raven, it's easy to suspect them of evil doings. Ravens are historically the harbingers of death and bad luck. Conversely, when Dumbledore has a pet phoenix, we think he's the coolest guy in the world and kind of invincible, since a phoenix can rise from its own ashes.

Clothes: Your villain doesn't have to wear black cloaks all the time, but clothing and jewelry are opportunities (often missed opportunities) to plug in villainous symbolism.

For instance, a guy wearing a ring that looks like a snake biting its own tail is probably bad news. Anybody with a collection of skull charm bracelets should be on the reader's terror alert list. One of my villains wears a black leather jacket even though my story takes place in temperate weather. This gives the protagonist something to look out for (and be afraid of), and it also makes the villain a bit more menacing.

On the other hand, you can use these cliches to trick the reader, and they love it. The guy with the skull charm bracelet is just misunderstood. The real bad guy wears polo shirts and a class ring. But be careful how you do that, because the opposites thing can be just as cliche these days. You can do the double agent thing: guy wears an upside-down pentagram around his neck, which the heroine thinks is cool, and she thinks her mom is dumb for suspecting him of devil worship... until he ends up trying to sacrifice her once he finds out she's a virgin. That way you have her think he could be bad, but he's not, but he really is. Double agent.

Scars. Bad guys have scars. But then, so does Harry Potter. The trick is knowing as the writer where the scar came from. Maybe your rotten dude wants everyone to think he's really bad-A, but secretly he got that slash across his face from a freak can-opener accident.

Maybe that gray streak in his greased black hair is comb-in dye.

There are endless ways to tweak cliches to work FOR you rather than against you. So give it a spin.

Who's your favorite fictional villain?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Three Books in Three Days: Mortal Instruments

The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare: City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass 

These books are compelling. It's amazing how much trouble I had putting them down to... you know... live and stuff.

They're not skinny books, either, people. I was stuck in them for days! But now that I'm out, I want to say two things:

1) Kudos to Cassandra Clare for writing a nuanced, detailed, epic fantasy series that's also accessible to the average reader. As an aspiring writer, I am humbled and awed by the skill and planning this obviously took. I instantly fell in love with the two main characters, Clary and Jace, and was tortured along with them every step of the way. Meanwhile, the supporting characters, even down to the most minuscule, had a story arc and a dream, which made it even more fun. Speaking of fun, the voice is fantastic! It's a rich kind of parallel universe, the Shadowhunters' world, but there are modern pop references and both warm and wry humor to keep it from being too like a traditional epic fantasy (for people who aren't into that).

2) I gave each of these books four stars because while I loved them, there were things about the author's style that felt cumbersome to me. This is similar to my reaction to the Twilight series. LOVED the passion and the detail, but at the same time felt a little overwhelmed by the detail. :) When I come across paragraphs describing turrets or mountains, my brain locks and skims. If this isn't a problem for you, you'll likely love these books even more than I did.

I followed the advice of a few reviewers and stopped after the third Mortal Instruments book, waiting for the last three books to be completed (I hear book 4 isn't resolved as well as book 3 and I don't want to drive myself crazy until books 5 and 6 come out). I might have died at the end of Suzanne Collin's middle book, Catching Fire, had I not been able to pick Mockingjay up the very same day. Unresolved endings drive me nuts.

Overall, I'm delighted to have been introduced to another favorite author, Cassandra Clare, and look forward to reading Clockwork Angel, the first in a series of prequels to the Mortal Instruments series.

Have you read them? How did they make you feel?



Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Big Picture Revision

Imagine you've just put together a very complicated 1000-piece puzzle. It was tricky, but you beat it. All the pieces are in place... except one. You count the pieces. There are 1000 pieces. It should be perfect, but it's not. Somehow you put the puzzle together wrong, leaving a hole where none should be.

It's time for revisions. Not polishing-the-pieces revisions. Taking-the-whole-puzzle-apart-and-putting-it-back-together revisions.


That's how I feel today. I'm working on BIG PICTURE revision. That's not the line-editing type where you change out "floated" for "walked" or get rid of excess adverbs. That's the kind where you pull up full-grown sunflowers by their roots and try to replant them elsewhere.

Too many metaphors?

Sorry. I'm in BIG PICTURE revision mode, which means my brain is in creative overdrive. It's fun because I get to write completely new scenes and plug them in, or add in a sneaky character detail that I just now thought of to make my villain more present, even though he's kind of behind the scenes like Voldemort.

But as I get closer to the end, I'm getting anxious. At some point, I'll have all 1000 pieces put together again, and I'm terrified of that gaping hole that shouldn't be there. What if it's always there? What if I can't close it up with some brilliant plot twist or rational explanation?

Writer fail.

How do you organize your big picture edits so they don't sneak up on you with a million untied strings at the end?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Author Interview: Angela J. Townsend of FROZEN FURY

Kidnapped by a band of deranged mountain men in the Alaskan wilderness, Amber Hatchet is driven by one harrowing thought: these monsters might have her eleven-year-old son. But her attempts to escape lead to the unearthing of deadly secrets, ones better left buried. Amber's only hope lies with her husband, Jack Hatchet, confident Manhattan attorney and swindler extraordinaire. Problem is, Jack cares more about protecting his shady backroom deals than the life of his wife. In fact, he'd prefer her dead, rather than alive.

Introducing Angela J. Townsend, author of FROZEN FURY!

Katrina: What was it about FROZEN FURY’s story that made you just have to write it?

Angela: I love fast paced seat-of-your pants type of action. I’ve been accused of being episodic but really it is just my writing style.

Katrina: The rawness with which you write about the frozen wild suggests real life experience to me. Are you a wild mountain woman? How did you write so realistically about such an inhabitable place?

Angela: Living and growing up in the mountains my entire life made writing Frozen Fury effortless. I am more at home in the woods than in any city. There is something mysterious about a forest. Something magical draws me to them. Even though they can be quite spooky, I feel very much at home in their protective folds.

Katrina: How many books have you written? 

Angela: I’ve written over twenty novels total. My friend Angela Ackerman of The Bookshelf Muse said, “Angie, you are such a prolific writer.” I had to laugh because suddenly I realized that I really was. I mean it never occurred to me that someone else wouldn't have that many completed novels. Two of my manuscripts are in submission with my agent.

Katrina: What’s your advice to writers who are just starting out?

Angela: Don’t give up. Remember writing is a subjective art. But try to listen. I mean really listen to criticism you are receiving. My agent, Jill Corcoran, gave me the best advice of my career. When I was adamant about not revising a certain part of my story. She said, “Kill your baby Angie.” As terrible as it sounds, sometimes you have to “kill your baby” in order to move forward. My story was much stronger afterwards. I never hesitate to make changes now.

Katrina: What’s the one thing you simply can’t write without? Pen? Laptop? Juju beans?

Angela: I write in distraction. By that I mean I love noise, crowded restaurants. I cannot write without my Celtic music blaring away in my headphones and a candle burning on my desk.

Katrina: What motivates you to write on days you just don’t feel like writing?

Angela: I never really have days I don’t want to write. To me writing is a gift I don’t take for granted. With the economy being in such sad shape, most of us have full time jobs or other things that pull us away. Writing is like breathing to me—I have to do it.

Katrina: Favorite movie or TV show of all time?

Angela: I love movies, especially with popcorn--my favorite food ;) I love Out of Africa, Braveheart, Titanic, Michael Collins, Harry Potter, Riverdance, Lord of the dance and anything Bruce Lee. I can’t name just one!

Katrina: Goodreads shows FROZEN FURY was previously published by a small press. What’s different in the new incarnation? What made you decide to reincarnate it?

Angela: As with anyone who is steady in their craft, my writing improves with each novel. I wanted to polish my old version to make it stronger and publish it again.

Katrina: Who did the spectacular cover art for FROZEN FURY?

Angela: LFD Designs--affordable and awesome. 
Ooh, thank you for the recommendation!

Katrina: Make up your own question here. What do you wish someone would ask you?

Angela: On getting an agent. You have to do the work it takes before you can agent shop. I have so many authors who send me samples of their work wanting to know why they were rejected. I often tell people, you have to have a polished project. Don’t rush it. Because I’m a country girl, I will relate it to horses. When trading horses it’s much harder to sell an unbroke horse than one that’s had lots of time under the saddle. You wrote the book now take the time to polish before submitting it. Don’t try to sell something that is half-finished.            

Thank you so much, Angie! I love your advice to new writers and your analogy about selling an unbroken horse. I'm still a newbie when it comes to queries and have definitely jumped the gun in the past. Thanks for sharing your wisdom! 

Everybody who hasn't yet, check out FROZEN FURY on Amazon Kindle.

Kidnapped by a band of deranged mountain men in the Alaskan wilderness, Amber Hatchet is driven by one harrowing thought: these monsters might have her eleven-year-old son. But her attempts to escape lead to the unearthing of deadly secrets, ones better left buried. Amber's only hope lies with her husband, Jack Hatchet, confident Manhattan attorney and swindler extraordinaire. Problem is, Jack cares more about protecting his shady backroom deals than the life of his wife. In fact, he'd prefer her dead, rather than alive.

Find Angela Online at: 
Her writing website
Her art website
Operation Awesome

Amazon Kindle

Midnight Writing: My Guilty Pleasure

The other night I was lying in bed after a Ghost Whisperer marathon with my husband. He was about to drift off to sleep in that infuriating way husbands do (I don't think he's ever had insomnia a day in his life) when he made some joke offhand about dreams.


Book idea. I do love writing about dreams and all the possible twists on that human phenomenon. So I lay in bed for a good ten minutes trying to decide if I should go to sleep or keep thinking about the book idea.

Psh! As if I had a choice!

The book idea kept swirling around in my mind, growing into a substantial plot with some pretty lovable characters, darn it. And I just couldn't say no to them anymore. So I slipped out of bed in complete darkness and tip-toed into the living room to get on the desktop computer where I do my best writing.

I wrote 1700 words without even trying. It was bliss. And then I went to bed.

Does this happen to you? Do you secretly love it or hate it?


Amparo linked to 10 Killer Queries That Worked from her favorite authors. That's a don't-want-to-miss lesson in how to pitch your work to an agent. 

Kristal's continuing her series on self-publishing on Operation Awesome, today featuring our own Angela Townsend's recently published adult novel, FROZEN FURY

Monday, July 4, 2011


I love the Fourth of July, aka Independence Day. It's got to be my favorite holiday, save Christmas only. What's not to love?


Sunshine and Outdoors

Bright colors


Concerts in the Park

BBQ's and Great Food

Family, if you're lucky


Of course, I've been partial to July 4th since childhood for the simple fact that my birthday is five days later on the 9th. :) I'm sure that's affected my love of Independence Day somewhat.

But really it's the feeling I get on July 4th, so much like the feelings Christmas brings: love, gratitude, pride in my culture, and plain old cheerful celebration. Every year it seems to get harder to find a professional fireworks ceremony, probably in part because we moved to California a few years back and the laws are stricter. But even on the years when my babies are too small to be up at 10pm listening to the pop-pop-pop of fireworks, I feel that same Independence Day spirit. It's love of country, yeah. But it's more than that. It's love of her people, as diverse and devoted and wonderful as they are. "The flag still stands for freedom and they can't take that away." Happy Independence Day! Cheers to a country always trying to be better than its old self.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Help! Shiny New Idea Invasion

Pic borrowed from the awesome Nicole Zoltack

It came without warning. They always do, those SHINY new ideas. They think they're so special just because they're shiny. And new.

Well, here's the deal. I already have a work-in-progress! I don't have time for you, Shiny New Idea.

Darn it. I can't say no to you, either.

Looks like I'll be taking a brief break to write a middle grade book about dragons. I know. Ridiculous, right? Well, I need a break from my WIP, anyway, because she's been running hot-and-cold lately, not giving me the inspiration I need, which is incredibly ironic if you only knew the subject matter. :)

Here we go, Irish dragons. Let's get this over with.

Anybody else having trouble focusing on just one project?

P.S. I'm on Afterglow today, reviewing FROZEN FURY by Angela J. Townsend. Love her work! Good thing, too, because she's one of my CPs and I get to read her work all the time. Jealous? Well, now you can read it, too.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Mystery Agent Contest for July is up and GOING!

One-sentence pitch contest is hopping over at Operation Awesome right now! Stop by and share your pitch. Rules and details in the OFFICIAL CONTEST POST.

We're included in YA Highway's fabulous Field Trip Friday, all the links fit to prinks. Awesome!