Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How Ideas Hit: The Magic Seeds of Story

When I get a new idea for a story, it comes in weird ways.

Like a random line will pop into my head:

"Usually the hiccups are not life threatening."

... and then I have the fun of creating a story around that idea. Why are the hiccups life threatening this time? Is my MC just really, really dramatic?

Another way I get story ideas is from morbid daydreams. I've had these since I was a child. I'd be sitting in a lecture or something, and suddenly I'd imagine I was being attacked on a date, or a giant spider was skittering toward me, or I was being threatened at the point of a gun. Now what? Yes, I realize I may be unstable. I like to think I'm just imaginative, like Anne of Green Gables or Tootie on Meet Me in St. Louis. If I get an idea this way, I don't have to worry about creating a conflict since the conflict comes already formed.

There's also the occasional regular dream that inspires a whole book. The cool thing about dreams is they can be about one tiny moment in full detail or they can cover a large space of time very quickly. Sometimes, miraculously, they do both. This makes outlining REALLY easy. :)

It's rare for me, but sometimes I'll get a character idea while I'm doing the dishes or jogging around the block. Like one time I was running back up the walkway in front of my place when a tiny dog surprised me. It had no leash or owner in sight! As a jogger, I'm deathly afraid of dogs without leashes or owners. Yeah, even the tiny ones. Then, out of the blue, a college-age guy turns the corner and calls out, "Mack! Come here!" The idea of a little dog like that sharing a name with a burly truck made me laugh (might have also been the relief that the little bugger wasn't going to eat me slowly and painfully). Someday I'll write about this guy who a) bought a tiny dog and b) gave it a really big name. It's not a story idea, but it's a start.

Reading is a surefire way to get creative juices flowing. I'm not the first person to notice this. Reading makes you want to write. Often, I'll read a traditionally bare-boned fairy tale with my kids and my mind automatically goes to fill in the details with intriguing questions. Was the ogre in Puss in Boots really bad? He lived in a castle, so he was some kind of ruler. Was he a tyrant? In what ways did he use his shape-shifting powers to wreak havoc on the peasants? Somehow the cat was able to kill the ogre and take over his castle on behalf of his own master, the Miller's son. Did the ogre have any family who live abroad and visit once a year? Are they all shape-shifters? What will happen when they come for Christmas looking like normal people? Fairy tales are fertile starting ground for all kinds of ideas.

Singing along to my favorite 1980's music. Power ballad lyrics get me every time. That emotion will often inspire scene ideas or a romantic plot arc (not the exact same romantic plot arc in the song).

There are many different ways these magic seeds pop into our lives. I think most of us have a plethora of ideas floating through our heads at any given time. Here's your friendly reminder to WRITE THEM DOWN as they come. Rush over to the computer and put them in your Ideas folder, or keep a pad of paper by the dishwasher.

You never know when the muse may leave you and you'll need a magic seed to get started again.

Hmm, that's got me wondering about a modern retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk... (if it hadn't already been done recently).

How do your initial ideas come?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How Critiquing Makes You a Better Writer

The other day I was reading somebody's unpublished book and I was like, "Wow, this part is beautiful and amazing and makes me want to weep."

Reading that made me a better writer (and probably a better person).

In the same manuscript, I spotted:
a) purple prose, where the writer takes originality an nth of a degree too far and ends up sounding artsy fartsy
b) an abundance of adverbs (is there a book with this title? because there totally should be)
c) run-on sentences that made me truly appreciate our good friend the period (.)

This person is a good writer, as evidenced by the above referenced awesome prose that made me want to weep. But they still had little drafting flaws that needed polishing. We all do. Finding those in someone else's work makes it easier to see them in my own.

And that makes me a better writer.

We're all learning and practicing by degrees, line upon line, precept upon precept (Isaiah 28:10). Critiquing helps with that. So if you're feeling a little stuck in your writing, read somebody else's work. It'll really help them out, and...

make you a better writer.

p.s. Sometimes feels like I'm preaching to the choir.

p.p.s. Matthew Rush has a new Afterglow Book Review up for Ghost Medicine by Andrew Smith (The Marbury Lens author's debut novel).

p.p.p.s. If you need a laugh, see this very brief but hilarious post by Kiersten White about an editorial note that made her day.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Foray into Revision Forest

WriteOnCon did two major things for me: 

1) taught me a lot about good writing (amazing articles over there if you have some time)
2) helped me see yet more flaws in my own writing

So ever since, I've been tampering with my WIP's beginning and avoiding the revisions I know must now be done. Today I'll make the foray back into Revision Forest with my Leatherman multi-purpose pocket knife of words: aka, the writerly blogosphere. Yeah, you guys are my best tool to use in Revision Forest. I plan to use posts like Amparo's (about plotting!) and Martha's (about believable romance!) to infuse my WIP with more awesomeness than it can handle.

If you're doing revisions, join me in some revision prep by starting with Amparo's post and heading over to WriteOnCon's linky schedule for any gems you may have missed during the conference.

Warning: Foraying into this forest might make you feel a little lost, but maps are included.

Happy Monday, everybody! What are your writing plans today?
(I'm transposing my third person limited into first person.)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Promises, Promises

Tomorrow, I will write/edit/read everything on my to-do list.

I'll make an editing schedule and keep it up every night.

As soon as I'm done reading this book, I'll get back to revisions.

These are just a few of the promises I've broken to myself and others who try to motivate me. It's like somewhere along the line, I decided every writing goal was a New Year's resolution to be bent, broken, and forgotten sometime mid-February.

It's not that I'm lazy. Okay, maybe a little bit. And easily distracted. And busy with other (worthwhile) things, like raising my kids, teaching important life skills (yes, I get the irony), and cleaning the bathrooms.

The thing with unreliable people is that eventually the people around them stop trusting them to keep promises. And while I do try to be reliable for other people (especially the physical, face to face people in my life), the same thing applies to self-trust. At some point, I don't believe myself anymore when I set a writing goal because I know the toilet will overflow or there will be a hurricane looming over the east coast, or I'll get diverted by a shiny object, and the goal will be forgotten. Usually I remember it the next day and try to get back on the horse.

But sometimes I just stop writing/editing/reading. For weeks at a time. I always come back to it because it's part of my soul. There are other parts of my soul, too, though. And they have a siren song all their own.

I wonder if there will ever be a time in my life when all those promises I made to myself will be fulfilled. Some books take a lifetime to write. Maybe some routines or habits take a lifetime to master.

I'm not going to end this post with a new promise. I'll just say I have hope and determination on my side. I've been described as tenacious. I've been compared to a fire.

I've accomplished many difficult things, from brutal survival situations to a marathon to natural childbirth, and I always come out stronger, if a bit bruised. And I can conquer myself, too.

I may not be making leaps and bounds toward my ultimate goals of publication and readership, but even baby steps will get me there someday.

There's one thing I can always promise:

When I want something badly enough, it happens.

Are you the promise-making type? How do you keep yourself in line?

Thursday, August 25, 2011


I'm not actually hibernating, but we are studying bears today for my son's preschool learning. In my search for a unit study on the topic, I found this childhood gem:

  Teddy Bear Action Song:Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, turn around
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear touch the ground
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear tie your shoe
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear that will do.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, go upstairs
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, brush your hair
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, turn off the light
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, say goodnight!

Aww, jump-rope memories from kindergarten! 

Can't wait to teach it to my kids after nap time. 

Every once in a while, writing takes a back-burner while I do intensive research on different curricula and restructure the way we do preschool. I found my file boxes while de-cluttering the other day, so that threw me into organizing more. Some of the things I made for my oldest a few years ago (apple-shaped red felt pieces, etc.) are now perfect for my two-year-old who's learning colors, letters, counting, and speaking. 

I know a lot of my fellow writers are teachers, and a few are fellow homeschoolers. Since my four-year-old is getting into thicker instruction (by thicker I mean, I really need to consolidate these three progress binders) and is reading early readers by himself, I decided to start a blog to chronicle our adventures and to help me spot routines that are working vs. ones that aren't. If you're into home learning or just curious, follow me at...

In other news, I can't believe it's already Thursday! What are your weekend plans?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

De-cluttering: a Writing Metaphor

Pic from this site about sorting through precious memories

Last night, my husband and I took everything out of our sons' bedroom closet and put it in the living room. This led to several hours of reminiscing (aww!) and trashing (why am I keeping this?) and repackaging (maybe these four little boxes of 'baby clothes 6-9 months' could go into one big box). This morning after the boys woke up, we went in and replaced their closet storage with the new and improved closet storage - stuff we can access more easily now that we know exactly where everything is and what its future purpose is. And there's markedly less junk in there.

So let's go back and look at those steps again, this time with an eye on your completed manuscript:


Aww! Remember that really quippy comeback Secondary Character said to other Secondary Character? Or that heart-rending description of the sun setting behind the mushroom cloud in the middle of the ocean? That needs to be framed or put into a photo album or something.

Or maybe we should let it go. (I'm looking at you, movie stub from five years ago!)


Why am I even keeping all these extra adverbs? And that's and then's? I know I talk about using them, but I never actually get around to it. They just take up space!


This characterization/important revelation isn't shining through with the current scene/plot arc. Hmm, wonder how I could put it so it's easier for readers to access...

See? Easy as cleaning your closet. 

But since neither of those activities is actually easy, here are a few rules of thumb when reminiscing about, trashing, and repackaging your word clutter.

  • Reminisce: Take criticism but follow your heart. You really don't want to regret throwing away those baby booties your grandmother made just because somebody said the colors looked like throw-up. And if you can frame your favorite parts so they stand out more, do it!
  • Trash: If you can read the sentence and it means the same wonderful thing without [deleted word], trash it! This is usually true of any then, that, and sentences that begin with conjunctions (another kryptonite for me).
  • Repackage: It's so tough to take everything out and put it back together in a neater package, but it's also the most important thing we can do for our stories. Try doing what you do with your boxes. If you take something out, put it in a pile/category (maybe in an outline or on note cards), and when the story is totally deconstructed, put them back in the way they should go. 
Most importantly, don't do it alone. Having somebody to run things past ("Honey, do you still use this shoe polish from ten years ago?") can really speed things up and keep things neat.

Happy de-cluttering!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My Husband the Alpha (Reader)

So technically, I'm not done with my WIP. (Thank you, Captain Obvious, since it's a work-in-progress which implies it isn't quite finished.)

That makes my husband an alpha reader rather than the more widely renowned beta reader. As alpha readers go, my husband has historically been less than helpful. A common remark from him is, "It's... good."

This vagueness comes from a good place. Because he loves me. And he wants to encourage me no matter how bad my writing may or may not be. But also because in the past, he didn't have a ton of other reading to compare with mine. So what kind of advice could he really give?

That's changed. (Not his loving me; that's undying, of course.)

Bill will tell you he's always liked reading, but the truth is he hadn't read any fiction in quite a while when we met. While dating (to avoid excessive make-outs), we read all the Harry Potter books together. Then he got busy with school and work and didn't feel as inclined to read fiction (plus we were married and could make out whenever we wanted). I introduced him to Twilight, then Percy Jackson. The latter made him fall in love with boyish middle grade. Since then, he's picked out a few books on his own: Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles and Inkheart by Cornelia Funke.

Now he's reading my book plus The Maze Runner by James Dashner. For a guy finishing up his master's in a technical management field, he's developed quite the eye for great fiction, specifically the younger voices, which is what I tend to write.

So when he finished a good portion of my book yesterday and said, "I think it would be better in first person," I picked my jaw up off the floor and took another look at my manuscript.

He was right.

There were some really telling phrases in there (hundreds) that would be all but annihilated if I told the story from my MC's point of view. I feel an odd combination of grateful and proud this morning as I set out to abolish the needless telling in my novel by following my awesome husband's advice.

I just want to use this forum to say a public THANK YOU to Bill for supporting me the way he does, and for wanting as badly as I do for my work to be published someday.

You're the reason I started believing in my writing again, sweetheart.


Who inspires you?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Bad Writing Days

My topic today is fitting for a blah Monday.

Bad Writing Days.

We all have those days. I'm not talking about writer's block or days when you decide not to write at all. I mean those days when you sit down at your Word document and try your damnedest to put something good down.

And everything comes out as word vomit.

This usually happens to me when I'm feeling hopeless to begin with. I start typing and out come the cliches. Then I think, I need to be more original, and out comes the purple prose. And just when I realize maybe I'm trying too hard, out come the rhetorical questions. They're my kryptonite.

It's sort of like an out-of-body experience. I'm watching myself get worse and worse but am powerless to stop it.

So usually what happens next is, I find something shiny to distract myself from the despair of being a sucky writer. Most recently? Angry birds. Don't try it - it's really addicting. And once I feel sufficiently distracted, I can usually go back to my work-in-progress with a better attitude, and the determination to make it work.

Unless it's a really bad writing day.

What do you do with your bad writing days? Do you call it a wash and delete it all or do you keep it and try to fashion that purple prose into something resembling good writing?

And just so this post isn't a total downer, here are some exercises for getting those creative juices flowing:

  • Pretend you're the villain in your story - no, really. If he wears a black cape, put on that cape and walk around the house plotting your hero's demise. It's not writing, but you might just get some useful villain catch-phrases out of the exercise.
  • Go to pandora and pick a song to be your MC's favorite. Get up and dance to it. Think about why it's his or her favorite and if it could be incorporated into the story someplace. If not, just let it wash over you while you plot your villain's demise.
  • Get out of the house/library/writing space and go someplace that fits your setting. Even if it's not the same state or country. Check out places your MC would normally go, like a high school or a local dance club. Pay attention to details. Bring your notebook to jot.
  • Become an expert on your MC via youtube. If your MC is a boxer, watch boxing videos. If she's a dancer, watch the dancing vids. Violinist. Swimmer. Tattoo artist. There's pretty much something for everyone, and you might even discover a new favorite hobby (bird watching?).
  • Eat a food you think a character might eat, even if it's french fries dipped in ice cream. What better way to get into character?
  • Take a nap if you can. Not only will sleeping put your brain in a better, healthier place, there's also a possibility you'll be inspired by a dream. If nothing else, at least you'll feel different when you wake up.
And when it comes to Bad Writing Days, different is always better.

Happy Monday!! *cheesy grin*

Saturday, August 20, 2011

New book, new blog design

My new work-in-progress is dark. One of the primary themes is darkness vs. light, heaven vs. hell, and so on and so forth. Above is my mock cover, just playing around on If you're wondering what that blob is, it's a planet shaped into a human heart, bursting with light (which is actually more than just a theme in the story; it's a paranormal element). 

So I'm not much of a cover designer... BUT I did go ahead and redecorate my blog and I'm happy with the way it turned out (thank you, More importantly, Lucy likes it.

I hope you don't hate me for ditching the orange swirls. I do still love them, but while that cheerful vibe matched my last MC, Lucy needed something a little more subdued. Here's what I've discovered about her so far:

Lucy Belle 
  • Dreads conflict and avoids it at all costs, mostly due to her empath abilities.
  • Usually succeeds in blending in, which also helps in avoiding conflict.
  • Loves, loves, loves old books - if they're falling apart, even better.
  • Doesn't like eating in public, but enjoys going dancing with her best friends.
  • Is bold and funny around her closest friends.
  • Secretly wants to be an actress like her late mother, but is terrified to try.
  • Didn't do anything to stand out in high school and regrets it.
  • Can be very irresponsible when tempted.
  • More prone to guilt and sympathy than normal people.
  • Could eat Smooth and Melty Mints all day.
  • Believes in fate and soulmates, and has trouble seeing beyond that box.
  • Sings like an angel, but never performs.
  • Is completely powerless when it comes to the magic touch of a certain charming devil.
Also, she likes old movies, especially of the vampire variety. I've had a lot of fun getting to know Lucy and the people she surrounds herself with. I hope someday to introduce her to you more formally. 

Until then, keep on writing and I'll do the same! Done any characterization exercises lately?

Happy Weekend, Blog Buddies!!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Blog Chain: The Brave New World of Self-Publishing

What would they think of self-publishing?
Like everyone else, my views on self-publishing are evolving with the publishing industry itself. At WriteOnCon the past few days, I saw quite a few agents give a nod to self-publishing as a legitimate way to reach readers with novellas or niche market projects, even when you already have an agent and are going traditional with more commercially appealing novels.

I think this new openness is a good thing because it means authors (and the agents/editors who help them) have more options than ever before.

It's also a bad thing. Why do I say that? Because as a still developing writer, the temptation to put my work out there is pretty constant... and I'm not ready. And even if/when I do feel my work is ready for wide readership, there are still plenty of market considerations (complexities) that I don't fully grasp.

Most agents come to agenting through an internship or apprenticeship model, learning the ins and outs of contracts and marketing from more experienced agents. While this does perpetuate a sameness in the traditional publishing world that may block out innovative ideas, it's also probably the best possible way for the reins to pass hands in the publishing industry.

Like it or not, literary agents still know a lot more than the average author about publishing rights, international publishing, and even marketing (though authors are taking on more marketing responsibilities through social networking). And if you ever want to go from self-publishing into traditional publishing (which I think most of the authors I know still do), an agent is still a really handy team member to have.

These factors considered, I'm not against self-publishing at all. I know authors can study up on these complexities and become experts in their own rite. And amazon makes it so freaking easy to just upload your novel and start selling it for less than a dollar. It seems like you don't even need all that stuffy publishing industry knowledge.

In fact, I've considered as a way to make a quick buck. But I didn't consider it for very long. See, after looking at the steps involved, I realized I'm still not ready.

I'm not ready to fork out the money for a professional editor and a professional cover artist. I'm not ready to take on all the responsibility for selling my own work. I've tried selling a product in the past and I sucked at it. If the future is me having to stand on a corner and say, "Read my book, you'll love it," I'm pretty much screwed. Yeah, there's blogging, and that's a little different from the street corner approach. :) But still, self-marketing is much easier for me to imagine if I'm backed by a traditional publisher and a supportive agent who all want me to succeed, too.

So that's how I feel about me self-publishing. As far as you self-publishing, I say YOU GO, GIRL! or GUY! I've read two (yeah, that's it so far) incredible, polished, riveting self-published novels. They were put out by experienced authors, who both have agents, and are both still working toward traditional publishing success as well. They're happy with their choice. Meanwhile, their books are doing great! Because they're great books. They took their time. They did it right. And that rocks.

Are your feelings on this topic as convoluted as mine? 

Check out others on the blog chain: Kate before me, and Michelle H. up next. Previously, we heard from  Sandra and Matt on this super fun topic!

p.s. It's also my day to blog at Operation Awesome and I'm taking some funny/embarrassing stuff from my WriteOnCon forums experience to talk about world-building: No Really. Literally.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

My WriteOnCon Favorites So Far...

Such a great week with WriteOnCon! The chats have been phenomenal. The feedback in the forums has been priceless. But what I really want to talk about are the author presentations.

Mindbendingly brilliant.

Like this vlog about FAILURE by author Beth Revis of Across the Universe.

Or this post on RESPECTING your readers and the craft by author Kiersten White of the Paranormalcy trilogy.

Author Tara Hudson of Hereafter wrote brilliantly on PACING and how to keep readers reading.

Tom Leveen, author of Party, offers a fabulous list of reasons YOUR NOVEL ISN'T SUBMISSION READY.

Basically, is one giant WINfest.

There's more going on today, and I'm sure the forums will stay up tomorrow and for a while, so if you'd like to post your query or critique someone else's, head over there and register.

While you're there, check out my:

query for MUSED, young adult contemp fantasy
query for LOVE ME OR LET ME DIE, young adult paranormal romance
first 250 words LOVE ME OR LET ME DIE
five pages of LOVE ME OR LET ME DIE

You do need to register (FREE) to participate in the forums, and agents will be lurking throughout the day at random times. :)  (I have friends who have gotten requests, so it's totally worth a look!)

Good luck and have fun on this the last day of WriteOnCon 2011.

p.s. I've joined a Blog Chain of epicness and will be taking my turn tomorrow. You can read the other posts by Sandra, Matt, and Kate if you'd like a sneak peak of our current topic. :)

Here's the list of Blog Chain bloggers:
New members:



PK Hrezo






Michelle M.







Michelle H.


Monday, August 15, 2011

To all my friends at WriteOnCon...

A HUMONGOUS, MONSTROUS, EPIC THANK YOU for going above and beyond even what we've come to expect from last year's awesome debut!

I know it must have taken a lot of collaboration and hard work, and want to express how grateful I am. I'm sure I'm not alone in this...

Blog buddies can comment if you want to say thank you, too. :)

Also, my awesome blog buddies, don't forget to add me as a friend on WriteOnCon so we can see each other's forum posts/query letters, etc. and cheer each other along. WriteOnCon STARTS TOMORROW!!

And, of course, an epic THANK YOU to the industry pros who are lending their priceless experience and services to help keep this conference FREE and FABULOUS!

P.S. Don't forget to donate on the WriteOnCon website if you can afford it - help keep it free for everyone. Good luck to everyone participating in the query/pitch events and enjoy the live chats with agents and editors!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fate and Inspiration as Writing Tools

This past year, for me, was a year of plodding, disjointed writing. I spent the whole time working on a project I should be revising right now, but I'm too sick of it. Like any other project, it started out with promise and I was excited about the pseudo-unique premise.

But every time I started to write it, something felt off. I tried outlining. I tried pantsing. I tried writing whole scenes from another character's POV. I wrote several scenes from other characters' POVs. And I built up an Excerpts file (my recycling bin for stuff I don't end up using) that was bigger than the draft document itself.

I wrung my hands in frustration. I banged my head on the computer desk. But no matter what I did or how many brilliant brainstorming sessions I had with my writing friends, I still felt lost in this huge dark forest of words. 

I finished the third draft of that book a month ago and after one beta read, I'm ready to put it back on the shelf to simmer. The thing still resembles a patchwork quilt -and not a pretty square one!

Contrast that experience with the project I'm working on now. My characters came out with names that fit perfectly and personalities that spoke to me. It's been about a month, and I'm almost done with the first draft. If I buckled down, I could finish it over the weekend (but I won't because it's my husband's birthday and family totally comes first). The first spurt had me writing 11k words in one day/night. I felt inspired, fated to write this story. 

I know it isn't anywhere near perfect or complete, even once this draft is done, but it's already five times better than the project I slaved over for a year. I'm grateful, and I also feel awful about it. My poor, awful story that had such a promising concept and never got off the ground!

It's got me wondering sincerely if Fate and Inspiration really are the greatest tools of writing, after all is said and done.

Or do you think that year pulling my cart through the mire with that other project is what made the new one ride more smoothly? 

Because I believe in Hard Work, too. Even more than I believe in Inspiration, and definitely more than I believe in Fate.

Still, if I didn't know any better, I'd say there was a muse out there after all.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Thursday, August 11, 2011

You tell me: too much inner monologue?

How much is too much when it comes to all that thinking stuff?

Some call it interiority and others, inner monologue, but whatever the name, it's vital to help us relate to a character.

My question (because I've been facing this dilemma myself) is, how much is too much?

The third book I ever wrote was a science fiction work of art, or so I thought at the time. Rereading it today, I can see how scene after scene got mucked up in my main character's mind. There was a good reason for that: the book had a sort of Inception-like weirdness and was in fact about the human mind. But still, rereading it, I see an overabundance of thinking scenes.

It's something I've striven to avoid in my later books, but now my CPs often cite me with the opposite problem: not enough interiority.

Where my first few (YA-ish) books were easily over 70k or 80k, my new bare-bones style of writing ekes out novellas of 30k-40k which I then have to embellish with stuff like description and inner monologue. I don't mind writing this way because it is actually easier for me to add these things in than to take things out later. My problem is knowing when to stop. 

So since I've been at either extreme, I'm asking you.

How do you know when your character is thinking aloud too much vs. not thinking at all?

Does it depend on the genre? Or is there a hard-and-fast rule?

In other epic, wonderful news, The Mystery Agent is revealed and her one-sentence pitch winners announced!!

And four days remain until WriteOnCon!!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Revise Like Crazy - WriteOnCon in 5 Days! (and other links)

Which got me thinking... we've got five days left to get our manuscripts in tip-top shape for conference pitching! In the case of this online conference, that basically means posting your query in the forums and crossing your fingers. :)

The list of participating NinjaAgents is packed with phenomenal literary agents with a good eye for great fiction, and great publishing contacts. Check all those out at the link. Lindsay's linked to the forums so you can get all registered and ready!

  • Michelle wrote a very insightful post on Knowing Your Audience as a writer. Of course, I'm revolting against age-ism in all its forms, but she has a very good point about knowing at least what type of reader your aiming to reach.

  • Angela Ackerman of The Bookshelf Muse just shared a new find: The Writer's Resource! Check it out. It's pretty much amazing. And at The Bookshelf Muse, there is a series of helpful posts:

Conflict vs. Tension

On Tension Building

Writing Charismatic Characters

  • I'm late to this party, but just pre-ordered E.J. Patten's much anticipated book called Return to Exile, the first in The Hunter Chronicles trilogy, published by Simon and Schuster. Here he talks about landing his uber-agent Steven Malk, the risk he had to take in working with him without a guarantee, and why it's all been worth it. Follow him on twitter to count down with him to his book release on September 6th. And read his blog. He's hilarious.

Here's the cover and blurb from goodreads:

Eleven years ago, a shattered band of ancient hunters captured an unimaginable evil and Phineas T. Pimiscule rescued his nephew, Sky, from the wreckage of that great battle. For eleven years, Sky Weathers has studied traps, puzzles, science, and the secret lore of the Hunters of Legend, believing it all a game. For eleven years, Sky and his family have hidden from dark enemies while, unbeknownst to Sky, his uncle Phineas sacrificed everything to protect them. For eleven years, Sky Weathers has known nothing of that day. But on the eve of Sky’s twelfth birthday and his family’s long-awaited return to Exile, everything changes. Phineas has disappeared, and Sky finds himself forced to confront the mysterious secrets he’s denied for so long: why did his family leave Exile on that day so long ago? What, exactly, has Phineas been preparing him for? And, the biggest mystery of all, who is Sky really and why does everyone want to kill him?!
Happy Browsing, Everybody!! Thanks for all your support on my excerpt yesterday! You gave me a much needed confidence boost! *happy sigh* I have the best blog buddies.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: LOVE ME OR LET ME DIE

I know it's a bit self-indulgent to post clips of your own work. But I'm excited about this story, have spent many late nights writing it, and I'm feeling self-indulgent. So here's a taste of the dark paranormal romance I'm writing with a few holes in the narrative for which I hope you'll forgive me. My main character Lucy is eighteen in the summer after graduation. I'm still trying to decide if that makes it YA or the mythical beast called New Adult. I think the rest is self-explanatory. 

Lucy decided her stupid empath abilities were to blame for the kiss with Chase. He was feeling attracted. Ergot, she was feeling it, too, secondhand. But it wasn't real. Not like what she had with Nick.
She sighed into her pillow and swore not to think about Chase for another second. Saturdays were for Nick. Every day was for Nick.
.... {removed spoilers}
She'd sworn not to think about Chase, and she totally wasn't. She was thinking about herself—her abilities. Just because he shared those abilities didn't mean she had to think about what he did with them.
"Gah!" She buried her head underneath the pillow. It was like Mac's mean trick one day on set when she was bored. "I dare you not to think of a giant, flashing red number twenty-four." Then he'd walked away, and Lucy had tried really hard not to think of that stupid flashing number. She still saw it sometimes when she closed her eyes. The forbidden thought that wouldn't leave.
That was Chase Gillan. 
She called Nick on the drive over to the costume shop. She only wanted to hear his voice, to remember why she'd fallen head over heels for him. To forget the red flashing twenty-four in her mental rear-view mirror.  
"Good morning, my light," his sleepy voice purred.
If there was anything Nick was made for, it was making Lucy forget. She almost ran a stop sign. "Hey, sexy," she answered. "I miss you. Thanks for the flowers."
"Of course." She could hear his smile through the phone.
... {spoilers removed}
She'd been tossing in bed last night for another reason besides Chase and his confusing kiss. No matter how she figured things, Nick had something to do with her burgeoning sensitivity to the paranormal. So could she trust him with her secrets? Did he already know?
Lucy could really use some of that famous lucent clarity about now. 

Thanks for the shout-out, Tiffany!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Writing Lesson of the Day: Stressed Out Character

Now for Lesson Number 3:

Stress out your characters.


Your main character should be yelling, "I need a vacation!"

Think of Harry Potter (because it's just a freaking awesome example of everything). He felt some stress from homework and exams and starting at a new (magic!) school. Add in Quidditch, which his dad was apparently amazing at, and everyone expected him to be amazing, too. There were budding friendships conflicted by Ron and Hermione's love/hate vibe. And meanwhile, everybody knew who he was and either idolized him from babyhood or hated his guts before he even said hello.

Worst of all, nobody knew if the murderer who killed his parents and a bunch of other people was really dead. Most people seemed to think he wasn't. Then partway through the book, he gets the news that Voldemort is coming after him, the 11-year-old who somehow made him disappear.

Yeah, that eleven-year-old knew stress. Over seven books, it just gets worse until in the fifth book readers started to complain that Harry was impossible to live with. Well yeah! Dude was 15 and going through hell!

But even though it would have made a delightful, fun book if Harry's only stresses were new magic school, new magic sports team, new magic friends, it wouldn't be the epic story we're all familiar with.

So when you're writing, don't shy away from the stresses you usually shy away from in your personal life. Nobody wants to have the level of stress Harry Potter had at age 11. But we all want to read about him overcoming those stresses. That's what fiction is all about.

Is your main character past due on his mortgage and stuck in a salary freeze with hospital bills rolling in? That's great, but now you need to set some loan sharks after him and his wife.

Ramp up the stakes. Just when they think they've got it figured out, change the rules.

...Until your character really does need a vacation. And then, when they've survived the worst you can throw at them, for pete's sake, give them that vacation! :)

This Writing Lesson brought to you by Sprouts apple cinnamon granola and six hours of sleep.

See Lesson Number 1


Lesson Number 2

Friday, August 5, 2011

Start in the Middle

Start in the middle...

And see how it fits together.

I pulled a Stephenie Meyer and started writing a dark paranormal romance based on a dream.

It's not about vampires, and my MC isn't in high school. But there's one other similarity between Twilight and my WIP:

I started writing in the middle. 

Remember how Stephenie Meyer dreamed up that delicious meadow scene about a boy and a girl having an intense conversation: how they shouldn't be together because he wanted to kill her?

It didn't make sense as a beginning because the reader would have no idea how they met, how their romance developed to the point where this was even an issue. And it would have been hard to believe they had time to develop a romance before he just gave in to temptation and ate her.

So Meyer had to write a new beginning that met up with the meadow scene, one that made you WANT them to be together. 

It's an intriguing concept, writing the main conflict first. When we dream, our minds take us through stories, but beginning, middle, and end aren't as crisp as a novel. Often, we're thrown right into the dark hallway, running for our lives. Our minds fill in the details later: drug dealers chasing us because they think we have their designer drug, a monster who wants to eat our faces off, whatever it is.

In other words, you take off running and catch up with yourself later. There's a writing philosophy in there somewhere. And I think I want to embrace it and give it passionate kisses, because it's helped me to write almost a complete novel in a month without forcing it.

I'm still working on connecting the new beginning to the middle-beginning. My dream gave me the main conflict - a creepy, bone-chilling conflict. But it didn't give me any backstory. That was for me to fill in. Getting to know the girl in my dream (who isn't me but I wouldn't mind it during those steamy scenes), and getting to know the villain who's chasing her - it's been an exciting adventure.

Sure, there have been a few bumps, times when the new backstory rendered a shocking revelation in the second half obsolete. But it's just your typical first draft plot holes, things you face no matter what you write first.

My main take-away from this experience has been this: When I write first the scene that's screaming to be written, it makes the rest worth writing.

Wishing I'd tried this sooner.

What do you think? Midnight craziness on my part or is there something to this?

Epic Contest: The Micro Synopsis judged by John Cusick

Agent (and author of Girl Parts) John Cusick is doing a contest at YAtopia!

John Cusick tweets here

An epic contest!

The Micro Synopsis...

Can you write a synopsis for your MG or YA book (beginning, middle, and end) in THREE sentences? I tried it. It was hard. You can try it, too.

Enter in the comments HERE.

P.S. WriteOnCon, my favorite online conference in THE WORLD is starting in ten days. TEN days.

p.p.s. I'm now fairly certain the SHIFT key works. Good luck in the micro synopsis contest, my friends!

p.p.p.s. I'm over at Operation Awesome today talking about EPIPHANY!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Introducing Becky Mahoney!

Becky is our newest Afterglow contributor, and a writer whose one-line pitch has won more than one Mystery Agents' praise in the monthly Operation Awesome contests.

She wrote this:

Genre: YA Fantasy/Horror
When the population of a nearby city vanishes overnight, aspiring detective Kalinda joins the search party - but the city isn't empty.  

Yesterday, she wrote about joining Afterglow and her first reviewToday she's hanging out over there to answer questions. 

Here's her bio to get your curiosity working:

I'm a twenty-something assistant extraordinaire with a love of good food, animated films, and budget-busting fashion. I'm an aspiring YA author, and I write fantasy, mystery, and horror - sometimes a mix of all three!

Head over to her blog and welcome her, to the blogosphere (she's only been blogging since June), to Afterglow Book Reviews, and onto your reading list. Also, meet her on twitter.

p.s. 11 days left till WriteOnCon, the annual free online writing conference for kidlit-ers (that sounds dirty; maybe I won't use that word again) that is a DO-NOT-MISS event.

 p.p.s. I wrote 5k words last night. Pret-ty proud of my myself. *rolling on my toes like a kid with a good report card* You can see by my progress bar in the sidebar, I'm 70% done with this dark paranormal romance. Yay!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Interview with children's author Michelle Raynor: A Magical World

Michelle McLean writes children's books under the name Michelle Raynor, and her first one came out this summer! A Magical World, illustrated by Toni Wilson.

Alex and his sister Izzy are stuck inside during one stormy, rainy week. But, they still manage to have the most spectacular adventures. They sail the seven seas on a pirate ship, swing on jungle vines, swim through the ocean, roam with the dinosaurs, and visit many other fantastic places! Just how, they never tell a soul. They simply smile and wink and zip their lips, and then disappear into their room. Into a wonderful, magical world.

I got the opportunity to ask her some questions about her writing and specifically about this wonderful book and what it's like writing in vastly different genres, from picture books to regency fiction to humorous how-to's. I hope you enjoy reading her answers as much as I did! Here's Michelle!

Michelle McLean

Katrina:      How pivotal were your own children in the inspiration of A Magical World?

Michelle: Extremely J In fact, they were my little co-authors for this book. The power went out one stormy afternoon and the kids were bored and a little scared by the thunder. I often make up bedtime stories for my kids, so we sat down and I started telling them a story. Every time the kids in the story would disappear into their magic world, I let the kids tell me where they’d like to go. We ended up on a pirate ship, in the jungle, as dinosaurs and race cars. And it all ended up in the book J I also let the kids choose the names of the characters in the book.

Katrina:      There’s a misconception that children’s books are somehow easier to write because they’re shorter. How long did it take you to get A Magical World ready for press?

Michelle: I can actually get the first draft out pretty quickly. Revisions take longer, though not nearly as long as a novel, of course J To be honest, I’m not sure how long it took me to get A Magical World done…I wrote it several years ago and it languished in a file until recently. LOL. If I’m not working on any other projects at the same time, with all focus on the picture book, I can get one done in a couple weeks. Not counting the illustrations, of course, though Toni Wilson, my illustrator for this book, is INCREDIBLE. She can get a final copy picture done in 2 or 3 days.

Katrina:      I love a good subplot in a picture book. Whose idea was the rubber ducky on each page?

Michelle: That was my illustrator’s idea. Actually, I think her son came up with it. We added a couple in just to see how it would look and we just fell in love with the cute little guy :D

Katrina:     How many books in this series have you already written, or plan to write?

Michelle: This particular book is a stand alone, but my next book is the first in the My Favorites series. The first book will be My Favorite Kind of Toot and will hopefully be out by the end of the summer. I have three other books in this series done so far (manuscripts, not with pictures yet), including My Favorite Kind of Kiss, My Favorite Kind of Cuddle, and My Favorite Kind of Sneeze. I have a few others ready to work on – there are endless possibilities for this series J

I am also working on another book in a totally different style, with a good friend of mine, writer and artist Lisa Amowitz. Our book is called Lyria’s Extraordinary Wish and is much more lyrical/poetic with just stunning pictures. My books with Toni are much more cutely humorous J

Katrina:      Do you listen to any different kind of music when you write for children as opposed to when you write for teens and adults?

Michelle: I don’t generally listen to music when I write, period, though I will sometimes listen to the Film Scores station on Pandora or classical music when writing for teens/adults. (Editing is a different matter, as is “getting in the mood” – I have playlists for that). For my kids’ books, I don’t listen to music. I get that first draft out very quickly, usually just a day. And then I have to go back through and clean everything up J When I do my kids’ books I tend to go into short periods of extreme concentration that music just doesn’t help J

Katrina:      You’re one of those rare cross-genre authors! Tell us a little about what you’ve published in the past and what you plan to publish in the future?

Michelle: You know, one thing I love about what I do is the variety. Writing different genres allows me to explore several different sides of my creativity and it’s just a blast. Plus, since my NF books and novels are (or will be) published traditionally, and my picture books are self-published, I get to experience both sides of the industry. It really is incredibly interesting being involved in both worlds.

My very first published book was the NF Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers. I have two new NF books currently on submission – Poetry Pointers, and How to Put the Analysis in Your Literary Essay. I am working on revisions on a historical novel with my agent right now and will hopefully be submitting that soon.

And as I said above, My Favorite Kind of Toot should be out by the end of the summer. I’ll probably release one more picture book by the end of the year, though I haven’t decided which one just yet J Lisa and I are going to go the traditional route with Lyria’s Extraordinary Wish and will be subbing that out in the next few months.

Katrina:      Those sound so cute! What’s your advice to children who want to write books for publication?

Michelle: Write what you love and what you’d want to read. And don’t give up no matter how hard it is. There are a lot of setbacks, a lot of disappointment, and it can take a very long time. But if this is what you really want to do, then do it, no matter what J

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

Michelle: A lot of people ask me about why I chose to write under a pen name – first off, my agent suggested it J Though I originally was opposed to the idea (I really wanted to see MY name on the shelves), I ended up agreeing. Since I write in multiple genres that are so vastly different, I thought it would be a good idea to use different names to help keep my audiences separate. If I just wrote YA and adult novels, I probably would have stuck with one name.

But I want my picture book readers to be able to easily find more picture books, my non-fiction readers to easily find more NF books, and my novel readers to easily find more novels. If I wrote everything under one name then a novel reader might do a search and find NF books or picture books and assume I didn’t have any other novels, etc. Writing under different names helps me avoid any confusion.

So, my NF books are under my own name, Michelle McLean. My picture books are under Michelle Raynor (the last name is a mixture of my children’s names), and my novels are under MacKenna Marquis (my niece’s name and my maiden name – my full maiden name is already in use by another writer) J

Thank you!

Where to find A Magical World:

Smashwords – (epub version for any ereader available here) 

Apple (via the iBookstore)

Lulu (paperback version)

Coming soon to Borders for Kobo, Sony, and Scrollmotion

Monday, August 1, 2011

Mystery Agent Contest for August

Mystery Agent contest is going on RIGHT NOW over here. CONTEST NOW CLOSED.
If you have a completed novel in one of the listed genres, our agent would love to see your one-line pitch. Entry limit 50, so don't hesitate. :)

SUCCESS STORY: Max Gladstone's THREE PARTS DEAD which won Weronika's undivided attention in the December 2010 Mystery Agent contest at Operation Awesome, has been sold to TOR! Story here.

Shallee McArthur reviewed TRUE SPIRIT by Jessica Watson, a true narrative of a girl's solo sailing trip around the world. It sounds uh-MAY-zing! 

What are you up to this fine Monday morning? (Pacific time, it's still morning.) :)