Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Trends I've Seen in Revisions

  • Whenever I write "that + verb", I could have just written the participle instead. (Example: "They went to the doors that led outside" vs. "They went to the doors leading outside.")
  • Whenever I follow "So-and-so said" with a sentence, I could just cut the said and make one sentence. ("You do it," Belle said. She nodded towards Robert. --> "You do it." Belle nodded towards Robert.)
  • I can easily take out one in every four or so instances of "that" and not change anything but the word count.
  • If the sentence reads the same when I take out "just," then I should just take "just" out.
  • Whenever I write "was + a word that ends with -ing," I should just change it to that verb in imperfect tense. (Example: She was running. --> She ran.)

I know these rules, heck, I teach these rules...but for some reason, when I write, I forget them.

Revision update: Only 100 more pages to go. I might not get it all in the computer, but I will finish the paper revision before the New Year's ball drops!!!

New Year's Resolutions: Writer's Version

Goals are important. But it's also important to focus your goals on who you are and what you can do. So I'm going to make some writing resolutions that are all me. I'm not going to resolve to get published this year--I can only control that to a certain extent. Below are the things that I can do...and will do.

  • Attend another writing conference
  • Completely finish revisions on WIP and submit to agents/editors
  • Completely finish first draft of new WIP
  • Save money for the SCBWI NY conference
  • Continue networking in the writing community

So, what are your goals?

What I Learned

Is there really a difference between "Robert was muttering to Esperanza as Belle came closer," and "Robert muttered to Esperanza as Belle came closer."

Yes. Yes, there is.

*sigh* Back to cutting and rearranging and argh.

I Found Her

The perfect agent. There was a book I read recently that acknowledged her in the credits. I thought, "There might be something to this agent. This book isn't that different from mine." Then I decided to look up the agents of a few other authors who I know stack up nicely against my own manuscript.

And it was all the same agent.

You know you're a writer when you seriously consider stalking an agent.

But she's the one. The Dream Agent. The one I will query in 2009.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Man, This is Gonna Be Harder than I Thought

It'll be fine, I told myself. I'll have two weeks of vacation. Sure, the first week will be spent working on Christmas stuff--finishing presents, baking the last cookies, visiting relatives. But that leaves me with an entire week after that to work.

But, oh.

There's after-Christmas shopping (I got a new vaccuum for half off!), there's friends I've not seen in forever to visit (hi, Jennifer!), there's the veritable stack of wonderfully amazing books that I got for Christmas to read (including Graceling and The Hunger Games and the wonderful books that Vivian sent), there's the brand-spanking-new interwebs full of Facebook and LinkedIn and Cyanide and Happiness, there's the stack of dishes I've not done since Christmas Eve. And then yesterday, my friend told me about how the sequel to about the only video game I actually like, just came out (in case you're interested, the game is Kingdom Hearts--the only video game that I have ever liked enough to play twice, and one of the few I actually finished--and the sequel, which I bought yesterday, is Chain of Memories).

And then there's the book...just staring at me...and the calendar that's ticking closer and closer to December 31 and my goal to finish revisions.

Maybe it is a good thing that I don't have the luxury of quitting the day job and writing full time. I somehow think I'd be less productive with more time!!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Do You Read Author's Notes?

Unless they're pages of acknowledgments, I love author's notes. The best (to me) are the ones that delve into history--I always like it when a book has something historical in it, a small detail or allusion, and the author reveals that in the notes.

There are a lot of historical and literary allusions in my book. I'm going to take a stab at writing an Author's Note at the end--put the real history in there, but keep it a bit light and funny.

1) Do you read author's notes? Would that be something you'd like to see in a book?

and

2) Do you think I should include that in a manuscript if I ever get a request?

Linkspam!

Oh, interwebs, I loves you. I finally have interwebs at home! No more using the school computer between cramming lit down little kiddie's brains! Whee!

So, of course, the first thing I did when we got that satellite dish tacked up on our chimney (the old one, not the one that was smoking), was to gorge myself on interwebs. I have not slept in many moons, but I have re-discovered the life-sucking entity known as YouTube.

And I found some cool stuff for the linkspam!

First: What? NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Also: What? WTF? (but I must admit, if I ever became so successful that I had a perfume made out of one of my books, I would wear it daily, even if it did smell of freesia)

I am trying to find a text copy for this, but until then, you can dl it here: Neil Gaimon's "A Writer's Prayer" I like what he says about its creation:
A Writer's Prayer was written shortly before I began American Gods. I knew the first two verses when I began it, and the conclusion was there when I reached it. This is why I love writing.
Why, yes. I am behind my peers technologically. I have finally joined Facebook. I hesitated because MySpace made me feel like a pedophile--not that I am one, it's just so...uh...obviously aimed at angsty teenagers and inundated with teen porn--but Facebook is nice and not creepy.

Anyways, be my friend!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Hopefully...

...I hope that I have interwebs now. That's the goal--but just in case something happened and I don't have interwebs, I might not be around for another week. Just lettin' ya know! I should be able to keep posting on twitter, though. *Sigh* I'm so addicted to technology.

Writer's Review: JK Rowling's Tales of Beedle the Bard

God, I'm jealous of JK Rowling. There's the millions, of course (dollars and fans and copies of books sold). But not only that--she also gets to write Tales of Beedle the Bard.

This is not a Harry Potter book--Harry's not in there at all, and the style isn't that of the HP books. Instead, this is a supplemental book (much like the "school books" JK published for charity--and btw, Tales is pubbed for charity, too). The Tales are mentioned in the last HP book--and here they are presented for all of us to read, too.

Take a moment and think about the enormity of this. She's creating her world on a whole new level. We don't have to imagine the book as we read the HP story--we can hold Tales in our hand and know exactly what Ron is talking about when he mentions Babbity Rabbity. This takes story creation and fictional worlds to a whole new level, and brings readers into the fictional world at a whole new amazing level.

And that's why I'm jealous. Her millions (of everything) aside, she gets to make her fictional world more alive than almost any other author in existence.

PS--This totally isn't the traditional Writer's Review I do...but how can I talk about style and structure? It's JK. Just go buy it and revel in the experience.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Writing Program Review: Scrivener

As a rule, I don't like writing programs. I find most of the stuff out there for writers to be a waste of time. Why bother with a writing program that can color code my notes when I could just write the book?

But Justine Larbalestier recommends Scrivener--very highly. As does Holly Black.

The Good:
  • Organization of notes and files, including pictures. If I want to describe a statue in my story, I've got the picture of it right there, one simple click away, and can go to it without minimizing or closing my writing.
  • Corkboard-style organization of chapters. I wrote brief synopses of each chapter on the "notecard" that is attached to it. Those notecards are automatically placed on a virtual corkboard in the order of the chapter--so I can see how the story is flowing, much like a story board, but with notes directly applied to each chapter in a logical way.
  • Easy to access notes. In the sidebar beside each chapter, I can write notes about the chapter, or I can write notes about the entire manuscript. Then, as I revise, I can check up on "fixing that scene with Ashleigh in the lunchroom" or I can make sure I "keep up with Audrey Hepburn theme and acting motivation."
  • Easy to use labels that mark a chapter as "done", "first draft", "needs work", etc. Now I know where to go to which chapter and can jump to that chapter easily.

The Bad:
  • I would really like to be able to have the folders auto-renumber to the chapters. I combined Chapters 1 and 2--which meant in my manuscript, the chapters went from 1 to 3. It would have been awesome if Scrivener automatically renumbered the chapters, but instead I have to go through and renumber them myself. There's a reason why this feature isn't there, but it's still a detracting factor for me.
  • Outdated manuscript formatting. Many agents say they no longer like Courior font (as it was used for typesetting in the past, but no longer), but that's the default font for the ms. format here. You can change it, but it's a pain. Also, the way the chapter breaks work is a little old fashioned. So I'm not using the manuscript format that comes with the program, but instead am using my own format.
In all, I think this program is worth it, and am seriously considering purchasing it after break (I'm in the month free trial now). However, it would have been easier to use if I had started writing with it, instead of putting it in after writing. I suspect the entire program will be much more beneficial if I use it with my new WIP, although the revision notes are helpful.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Unknown Lands

So, you've got a great idea for a story. It's awesome. But you need to set it in a country you've never been to. Ever. And you have no idea how to do it.

I'm not an expert on this at all, but here's some ideas that may or may not be helpful.

First: the tools you need:
  • Interwebs: This should be your first branch. Look for travel blogs, look at Wikipedia, look at Google images. Don't just find the pages of the tourism bureau; find real, authentic pictures by people who were there, and read real accounts from people who were there.
  • Travel Channel, NatGeo Channel, etc: Do not rely on the "easy" tourism channels. Samantha Brown can only help so much. Andrew Zimmerman will provide much more realistic detail.
  • Research the obscure: foods, language, customs. Never assume. Check out all details.
  • Don't underestimate Google Earth. Check out where your place is in location to everything else that's relevant--such as the equator, or the next closest city. Check out surface details, and see if the place you're using is popular enough to have street level views.
OK--so, how do you go about using all this research?

1. Identify what you need. In general, the foreign country is just setting--so you'll need all the typical things you'd need with setting.
  • Sight: Look up pictures of the place you want to write about--and don't just look up post-card pics. Look up real life pics taken by people who were there--get a sense of how crowded the place is, what the other things nearby are. For a fictional story I wrote about the Egyptian Pyramids, I looked up all the classic pictures of them--you know, the pretty ones.
  • But then I went on Google Earth and looked up where they were in relationship to Cairo--pretty close. Then I looked up blogs by people who had been to the pyramids on tours, and they talked about how abrupt the change from city to tourist trap was. These were all details I incorporated later.
  • Sound, Smell, Feeling: You're going to have to stretch your imagination here. What sounds would you hear in this setting? What smells? How would it feel? Logic works here--the pyramids would have sounds of many different languages as tourists talk, would smell of camels and an earthy scent of sand, would feel hot and dry. Look up facts--what kind of weather, temperature, etc. do you see?
  • PS--Don't be afraid to contact people. What does it hurt? Look up people who write travel blogs--just google it--and email them. Most people love to talk about their adventures and are thrilled to help.
2. Research the little details. One authentic small detail--especially a little known one, or a close observation--counts more than paragraphs of false description. So if your characters are sitting down to a meal, find a traditional recipe, recreate it at home, and describe that. If they have a holiday, research the details of that holiday and include that. Recreate as much as you can that doesn't come from a tour book--research the little, everyday stuff, and include that. That will make things much more authentic.

3. Don't focus on stuff you don't know. Need to write a story about two characters on the top of the Eiffel Tower, but have never been? If you can't find someone who knows what it's like and can describe it, or if you're not confident in your faking of it, then don't include it. Just say they're at the top of the Eiffel Tower, but don't add the details that you assume are true. Keep it simple.


...so, what exotic locations do you think you'll try? And how will you research them?

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Story of Inspiration: Malta

About half way through The Amnesia Door, I got stuck. It's not surprising. I'm not an outliner, and I tried to make a problem in my story (how to escape the Amnesia Door) so difficult that even I couldn't solve it...and I couldn't. The door was too good, and my characters couldn't figure out how to break it...but neither could I. (btw, the post about when I originally got stuck is here, seems like a long time ago, now)

When I first thought of the Amnesia Door, I pictured a bright electric blue door, something that totally stood out in the uniformity of a school. But as I was brainstorming the problem, I remember where the original idea for the door came from: Malta.

The brightly painted doors of Malta fascinated me!

I went to Malta my sophomore year of college, as part of a short exchange program through my university's education program. Ostentatiously, I and my fellow travelers were supposed to be evaluating Maltese education systems. But there were just three school visits, and the rest of our days were spent sight-seeing.

Click on the map for a larger image. Find the boot of Italy, then the island of Sicily. Malta is the speck below that.

Many of the doors in Malta were brightly painted, in every shade of the rainbow, and they all stood out in stark contrast to the uniform limestone walls. I loved it--I saw the doors as a mark of individuality for each home. So, naturally, when I started writing a story about doors, my memories of the Maltese doors came up. And then, when my story came to a screeching halt, I remembered the original inspiration for the door--Malta--and decided to send my characters there.

I always had the image of the forest of wands that I describe in the manuscript, but decided to put that forest of wands in Malta as a sort of homage to the painted door inspiration, and also just to get the characters moving. Where should I had a forest of wands? Well, I remembered on my tours that around the coast of Malta are large towers that were originally used as look-outs and warning posts. So, I incorporated the towers into the story, citing them as the secret entryway to the forest of wands.

Torri Hamrija, the Lookout Tower near the Hagar Qim archaeology digs.
In my story, the forest of wands is under the tower.

From my novel:
In the distance, nearly on the edge of the cliff overlooking the Mediterranean, stood a low, squat limestone tower of the same dusty yellow that the ruins seemed to be made of.

"That's Torri ─Žamrijja," Mr. Mallory said. "One of thirteen towers made in the 1500s as a safe portal to the lignum vitae forests."

When I thought of the towers, I was immediately reminded of the archeology digs at Hagar Qim, one of my most favorite locations in Malta. There were links to my story here, too. I remembered vividly the carvings on the altars at the prehistoric temple--carvings of trees, just like the "wand forest" I had in my book.

A tree grows in Malta.

From my novel:
"Come over here," Mr. Mallory said, drawing Robert, Esperanza, and Belle away from the group that had swarmed around them and through a narrow porthole door carved into the stone. The room was small, and if it weren't for the fact that there was no roof, Belle would have felt trapped and closed in. The only thing of interest in the stark room was a pedestal-style table with a long, box-shape base that had a many-limbed tree carved into each of the four sides.
Not only were there carvings of trees, but the other prominent carving was of a spiral design that archaeologists think represented eternal life. This design became the same as my characters' alchemist mark, the magic symbol that marked them as alchemists.

Swirly!

From my novel:
He pointed to some relief carvings that popped out from the lower edge of a half-broken wall. They were spirals that made intertwining circles, like connected curlicues. "Recognize this?" Mr. Mallory asked.

They all shook their heads.

"Oh, come on," Mr. Mallory said, grinning at them. He held up his hand, which glowed under the sunlight.

"The alchemist mark?" Belle asked, looking from the symbol embedded deep within his palm to the carvings on the ancient wall.

When I thought of Hagar Qim, I couldn't help but think of the overall design. The pre-historics were clever. They worshipped a "Venus" character, a fat woman that represented fertility. The design of the building was shaped like the goddess they worshipped.

Artist rendition of the Hagar Qim temple design.


A sculpture of the Maltese Venus

This, of course, became the basis of the minor
character Fat Venus in my story. Here she is:
She was fat, grotesquely fat, but she seemed graceful nonetheless. Still, Belle couldn't help staring at the way the fat rolled over the woman's knees and elbows, at how there were three distinct rolls of fat underneath the woman's Grecian-style dress. Her breasts hung low wobbled as she walked.

There were other images from Malta that stood out in my memory. The streets of Mdina, the silent city, evoked powerful feelings of peace and goodness in me...so the first good alchemist introduced, Saul, comes from there.
Even in the most crowded parts of the city, it was quiet and peaceful.
You could absolutely lose yourself here.

From the novel:
They had yet to see any other people; Belle could hardly even hear any other people. All the streets were lovely and peaceful—but they were also deserted and labyrinthine, and the walls surrounding them rose several stories high, so high, in fact, that it was sometimes hard to see the sky.
And the capital city, Valleta, was beautiful and powerful. It was a strong city, as evidenced by the fort-turned-park that has an interesting tower:

Click for a closer look--ears and eyes are carved in the tower,
to symbolize a city that hears and see everything.


From the novel:
"Look," Esperanza whispered loudly, pointing to the tower in which the man stood. On each of the six sides of the tower—or at least, on each of the sides they could see (two sides hung over the wall, out of their site), a different object was carved. Over the man's head was carved a long-necked bird leaning over, its beak nearly at its feet. But to the left of him, there was a giant ear, and to the right, a giant eye. The giant eye blinked. Its stone pupil moved around, gazing at each member of the crowd in turn. The ear twitched nervously.

So, this is the story of how Malta influenced my story. What started as just a blue door developed into characters, setting, fantasy, and, ultimately, a whole new plot.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Why We Aren't Doomed

(Disclaimer: most of these links came via Editorial Ass or The Swivet. Just givin' props here.)

There's been lots of doom-n-gloom in the publishing world lately. Lay-offs (Merry Christmas!), less books being published, random panic attacks at what might happen with scary technology and e-books...

But no worries. For serious, people, we live in an intellectual society whose history and thriving future depend upon the written word. Books are not going away. If anything, the advent of Harry Potter and sparklevires from Twilight shows an increase in popular fiction and an increase in young readers--and the more young readers reading, the better chances we have of getting paid for our scratches on paper.

Here's my (entirely un-authoritative) take on it all:
  • Doom: E-books will take over the world and destroy publishing! Reality: Good. It's about damn time.
    • Kindle looks awesome. I want one. I want a second generation one, and I want to carry it around with me and open it up randomly and hope people comment on it so that I can snobbily say, "Oh, this? This is an e-reader. There are books in here. I carry my library with me like a snail carries his home. Why, yes, I am that intellectual."
    • Here's the thing: we are moving into a technological era. This is a good thing. It is good that books and the publishing world is keeping up with. And, unlike the music industry that totally screwed up file sharing, we're at the ground level with ebooks and are developing e-readers (such as Kindle) that are efficiently designed for our needs and developing the methods in which books are shared electronically. In other words, books aren't getting blindsided like the music industry was with the introduction of mp3 players. We're at the ground level and in a unique opportunity to make e-books popular and viable new outlets for writing.
    • E-books are another form of publishing. More e-books = more of your written work out there = wider exposure = wider audience = more people read your books = you sell more books.
    • Possible doom of the future: DRM and unfair prices on e-books (both of which will develop literary piracy).
  • Doom: The publishing houses are closing/laying off/losing business/will DIE! Reality: Good. It's about damn time.
    • Here's the thing. The way publishing works now doesn't work. The fact that a bookseller can return an author's book with no repercussions at all means that they can order as many books as they want, then get their money back on what doesn't sell, then throw away the left-overs. Which is a waste of money for the publishers in both production and shipping. And when the publisher makes less money, the author makes less money. It's a never-ending cycle of wasted resources, or, as Richard Curtis put it: "...the consignment system of selling books is bleeding the publishing industry to death. Try as they might, the smartest people in our field have failed to find a way to make money under an arrangement that makes books returnable to publishers."
    • Editorial Ass has blogged many times about this topic, and it makes sense. As long as the book stores, publishers and authors are ultimately working against each other, each looking out only for their own profit, we will continue to have crashes like the one we had in October. But because of these continuing crashes, the publishing industry will change--for the better, in ways that are more profitable for all involved. In fact...
    • ...it's already begun. HarperStudio will sell books to Borders on a non-returnable basis. This means that the HS books that Borders buys, the store cannot return to the publisher. Which means that the store won't buy more stock than it can sell just because it can. Which means that stock won't be returned to HS when it isn't sold, which means less shipping costs and less waste in destroying the unsold books. Which does mean that Borders may end up with some unsold books...which will then be sold at a clearance price--and while that means the book is cheaper and profits the bookstore less, it also means the book is sold and might develop a larger audience and fan base (and more future customers). Everyone wins
So what are we all worried about? Publishing isn't sinking--but it is changing. And the changes are for the better. Like any change, it can hurt. Especially for those in the publishing industry who have lost their jobs, those new writers (like me) who might not get as fair a chance from hesitant agents/editors, and those newly acquired writers who might get lost in the shuffle. But change must happen...and will lead to an even stronger, more thriving publishing industry for the future.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

And now I'm Twittering...

...gonna see how this works out. Trial twitterings begin now! (Check out sidebar for update)

Thanks Again...

Thanks again to everyone who helped me with my revision of Chapter 1. I just submitted it to the Firebrand Literary Agency first Query Holiday. For the rest of break, I plan on finishing my final rounds of revisions. Here's hoping!

Holiday Break!

Yes! Holiday break is officially broke--I'm off for two weeks! The dog, as you can see, is happy, too: when I'm off, he gets to stay inside with me, instead of outside in the freezing cold. He is amenable to this situation.

Updates are going to be a little sporadic in the coming weeks, and commenting may cease, depending on whether or not I get the interwebs for a Christmas present to myself. Just FYI.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Pitch Opportunity

BookEnds is giving a great gift to its blog readers: a chance to have your pitch critiqued by the agents. Go sign up for it now! And, for the curious, here's my latest revision of my own pitch (edited first sentences):

Belle Ravenna thought starting eighth grade meant change. Maybe class bully Ashleigh would move on to another victim, gorgeous Matt would finally notice her, or, at the very least, she’d make some real friends. But of all the changes Belle hoped for, she never dreamed of how much she would change after discovering that her new English teacher was a witch.

Magical Ms. Wendt may be able to have Sophocles as a guest speaker, but she can’t escape the prison of her own classroom. Trapped behind an enchanted blue door that alters her students’ memories of magic, Ms. Wendt has little hope of rescue—although Belle and her classmates want to help their teacher, they only recall her imprisonment within the classroom. When the new science teacher introduces the kids to alchemy, Belle thinks that may be the key to saving Ms. Wendt. The more Belle learns about alchemy, though, the more she suspect that her science teacher wants to use it to steal Ms. Wendt’s magic…and if she helps, she’ll get some of that magic for her own. Caught between one teacher who wants freedom and another who wants magic, Belle must choose between fighting for what she thinks is right and taking what she knows she wants.

Based loosely on the Greek myth of Bellerophon, The Amnesia Door is a 70k word MG novel intended for tween girls.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Blood-Red Pencil

I recently found this copy-editing blog, and one post jumped out at me. It's all about empty fillers in your writing. Here's some examples they used:
When Rachel stared at her, Lina blinked and cocked her head, then groaned.

Lara smirked at Betty, then shook her head and grinned.
Now, I asked myself, what's wrong with those? They're descriptive, give me a sense of what the character was doing...what's wrong? How is that filler?

Well, to be honest, it's not entirely filler....but it's still not good writing. There's nothing new there. And you might not realize how tired those adjectives and verbs are until you look at a passage that actually is innovative:
Then, like a dog hearing a sound on some inaudible frequency, he cocked his head. (Katherine V. Forrest, Daughters of an Amber Dawn, 2002)
That's better. It's fine if your character cocks her head to listen--but add something else, make it something more--make it something new.

Haiku Contest

Justus posted a heads up about a contest agent Rachelle Gardner posted--write a haiku about writing or Christmas for a chance at either a $20 Amazon gift card or (!!) a ten page crit. It's fun--here's my entry:

So easy to write
A plethora of new words
But cutting them--oh!

Go enter!

The Morning After

Last night, I started playing around with Scrivener. I was up past midnight, fiddling with the settings, formatting the documents, etc. And when I woke up this morning, it was not a meet-the-sunshine-with-a-smile kind of wake-up. See, random words, paragraphs, and even whole chapters had been "eaten" by the program. There was nothing but big blank white spots throughout the whole thing...and I couldn't get the deleted stuff back. I drove my 40 minute drive to work with the thought of all the work I had fixing my manuscript plaguing my mind. Could I remember the turns of phrase I used? Could I replace what was lost--and would it be as good as the original?

As I put my key into my classroom door, I suddenly realized...

...none of that had happened. It had all been a nightmare that I had last night after staying up too late working on the manuscript. My pages hadn't been deleted, my manuscript was perfectly fine, and I was ready to throw myself off a bridge because of a particularly realistic memory of a dream.

Whew!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Linkspam!

Andrew Karre at Carolrhoda Books is opening submissions for YA novels for a short time. If you're ready with that YA novel, click here to submit. It sounds like a good opportunity.

Miss Snark's First Victim's latest contest: your worst sentence ever.

James Patterson's got a website up with book recommendations for kids. I
t's well organized and features some new, unusual voices. I'm finding lots of new books in my target age range and genre that I'm going to check out for "research."

What's to Come...

For the next three days, I'm going to be writing and scheduling posts for the two-and-a-half-week Christmas break (I love teaching! ...but wait until finals, then I won't love it any more). So the posts should go up, but little commenting will ensue :)

So, upcoming:
  • A post about the writing program Scrivener (just downloaded it and plan on exploring it over break)
  • A post about locations as inspiration
  • A post about researching and using foreign locations if you've never been there before (thanks, Lady Glamis!)
  • A review of JK Rowling's new book, The Tales of Beedle the Bard
  • A post about how publishing isn't dead and we all shouldn't run for the trees (thanks, Angela!)
  • I'll have a review of Magyk after the break...I probably won't finish reading it until then...
  • And a post about frogs! (just kidding!)

Am I Caught Up?

I only realized today that I had missed returning a critique to someone. Am I missing anyone else? Please let me know if I've dropped the ball! I fell behind a swarm of emails and would hate to accidentally ignore someone!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What do YOU want?

I am going to have a bit of free time in the next couple of days, and thought I'd get some posts scheduled. I will have little to no internet access next week and the week after, but would like to keep posts going at least on a limited basis.

So...what kinds of things would you like me to post about? Are there any topics out there that you're particularly interested in? I'm certainly not an expert, but I'm all for doing a bit of research and digging.

Monday, December 15, 2008

How Much for E-Books?

Galleycat just posted an article on the pricing of e-books, which is really just a report on this original article.

It raises some good points. How much should e-books cost the consumer? There's certainly little to no production or holding costs. But it's important for the book price to be a fair assessment of the value.

The article makes a good comparison of used books to e-books, and draws this (accurate) conclusion:
...the sensible reader will know which books get put on a library list and which books they buy—and that won’t be to hardback-priced best-sellers infested with DRM.
Here's my take:
  • E-books cost very little on the publisher's end
  • E-books provide me as a consumer with very little--there's no book on my shelf, in the end
  • E-books are not that convenient; the average person has a laptop, not a e-reader
  • Pirating is much more likely with higher prices
  • DRMs will drive pirating up, not down
  • The easier (in convenience and cost) it is to buy an e-book, the more that will be sold
  • The more e-books sold, the more paper books sold
  • ...therefore, E-book should be sold for no more than $5, and should be as easy to download as technologically possible!
What do you think? How much should e-books cost? Why?

Author Photo Shoot!

I recently had an article published in my local SCBWI chapter's magazine, Pen and Palette, which is available online for SCBWI-C members. They wanted a picture of me to put beside the article and shudder. See, I'm usually the one behind the camera, so I have very few recent pics of me. And I'm just not that photogenic--and it doesn't help that I'm aware of the fact that I'm not photogenic, because then I always put on this fake smile or something when I see a camera coming at my face. So when P&P asked for a pic, I had to take one quick using my Apple laptop's built in camera and...well, let's just say I decided this weekend that I needed a photo shoot. I needed a picture of myself that wasn't taken after a long hard day of beating literature into youths' minds.

I love digital cameras. Then you can take 1,000 pictures--which is about how many the husband had to take before I found a picture of myself I actually liked. It's this one, and the only reason I don't have on a fake smile and one eye crossed is because he surprised me with the camera as I was coming out from behind the tree.

So there it is, my semi-professional at least I'm not cross-eyed-and-drooling picture! And I actually liked this picture so much that I tried to re-create it, and came out looking like a hair model.



And that's it! My adventure in photography!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Story of Inspiration: Audrey Hepburn and Ms. Wendt

I very rarely have an image of a specific person in mind when I write a character. If I base a character on a person, I usually base that character on myself--not in an autobiographical way, but my main character usually has my outlook on life or a particular interest, etc.

With this last manuscript, there was one character who did have a specific inspiration. Ms. Wendt--the witchy teacher of the kids. And while her teaching style came pretty much from me, there was another inspiration for her:


How can anyone not be inspired by her?


When I thought about this character, the Audrey Hepburn inspiration came gradually. I didn't intend for it to happen. It started with description. I wanted a character who had an almost ethereal beauty, and since Audrey's always been my ideal, I described Ms. Wendt in that way. In my mind, she looked like this:

Audrey Hepburn in the movie Sabrina.

So, my description of Ms. Wendt ended up like this:
Although short, she stood up so straight that she seemed taller. Her close cropped hair framed her pixie face, but although she looked delicate, her eyes held a fierce flash that belied gentleness.
But although Ms. Wendt appears small and gentle (like Audrey), I wanted her to have an element of sadness and sorrow. And then I remembered this:


Breakfast is better with diamonds.

To me, this scene has always been one of the saddest scenes Audrey ever played--because it's sadness without words. You see her longing and sorrow in her face, her eyes, her movement--but she doesn't say it. This is the epitome of show, not tell. When writing Ms. Wendt, I really strove to show her sorrow long before she ever revealed why she was sad. It came out like this:
Belle watched her teacher's face pale for just a moment before her features froze into a perfect smiling mask. ...[later] Something—a look of sadness? Anger?—passed over Ms. Wendt's face.
During revisions, I became aware of how heavily I was using my image of Ms. Wendt as Audrey. I added this scene as a sort of homage to it all:
She looked just like Audrey Hepburn had in Breakfast at Tiffany's, at the beginning of the movie, when Audrey's character ate a bagel in front of the store window of Tiffany's jewelry store, and her stony face tried to hide a deep, almost painful longing for a life she would never, ever have.

In many ways, Audrey Hepburn grew to represent much more than just Ms. Wendt's physical appearance in the novel. In my revisions, I gave the main character, Belle, something of an Audrey Hepburn obsession. I did this for several reasons. By that point, I identified Ms. Wendt so closely with Audrey Hepburn that Belle's obsession with the actress gradually shifted to an obsession with Ms. Wendt--Belle originally wants to be like Audrey, then wants to be like Ms. Wendt. But Audrey represented for both of these characters certain attributes that they both (unconsciously) shared.
Being alone--Ms. Wendt and Belle both consider themselves solitary characters.

Although both Belle and Ms. Wendt feel alone, they also both have a sense of being surrounded by others.
Belle describes it as , "It was as if everyone else was flying, and she was slogging through water."


There is also a sense of giving up things for both characters. Ms. Wendt has given up freedom,
but Belle feels that she is giving up her chance of happiness and magic. There is a bit of the martyr in each.

And finally, each of the two feel a stoic sense of responsibility.
They do the right thing, even though it doesn't feel good.
They don't pretend it's easy or makes them happy--they just do it.

In the end, I don't think that many readers will pick up on how great an influence Audrey Hepburn as both a character and a person made on my work. It's subtle, but things from physical descriptions to motivation to attitude were all influenced to an extent by this amazing woman. This is how inspiration works best for me. If I had gone into the work trying to make Ms. Wendt be Audrey Hepburn or obviously linking together characters' internal attitude to her, I think the work would have been weaker. Because it developed gradually, naturally, it worked much better within my own writing.

So, how about you? What kinds of people/things/places inspire you?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Statistics and Numbers for Friday

Editorial Anonymous just posted about an interesting topic--a year-in review, if you will, of her slush pile.
  • 15,000 manuscripts in slush
  • 50% were "inappropriate, illiterate, or crazy"
  • 47% were "just poorly-written, or aimed at the wrong age level, or derivative of much better (and better-known) writers, as well as having several concept/plotting/arc issues"
  • 3% were "nice, but manuscripts that no consumer was going to spend her money on when she's got so many other choices"
  • .02%--3 of the original 15,000--were worthy of publication at her house

This is more than a little depressing. .02% of her slush was published at her house?! That's depressing for the editor and the writer!

But... I don't think I'm in the first 50%. After that last SCBWI conference, where I met crazy, I know I ain't crazy (not that crazy). And I'm not illiterate, and while my book is dark at times, I don't think it's inappropriate. So, I'm better than half! The next 47% is a bit rougher. I don't think my book is poorly written, at least, it won't be after the revisions. And the one thing everyone agrees on is that the age range is gold. I don't think my work is derivative at all--it's certainly not intentionally derivative, and I've not heard of any similar works (and actually struggle to find comparisons with it). So, bets are that I'm past that 47%, too.

So, 97% of 15,000 = 14,550. So, yay! I'm better than 14,550!

Um, but that leaves 450.

Now the remaining 450, that last 3% were nice but not marketable. And, realistically, I might be in that range. But 2 of the remaining 450 were publishable. Heck, I'm willing to say that more than the 2 were publishable--it's just that 2 were publishable for that house. Even so, my odds are a lot better at being 1 of the 450 than 1 of 15,000.

So, while those stats do seem pretty bleak...they actually aren't that bad!

NBPTS and Writing

First, before anything else at all: thank you to everyone who has either emailed me comments about my new first chapter or posted them on either blog. Seriously. Thank you.

Segue.

My day job is teaching fifteen year old hormone driven demons about the intricacies of Lao-Tzu's Tao te Ching and the structure of Holocaust literature. It's an uphill battle. And it doesn't pay much. But it pays a tiny bit more now that I just recieved my National Board Certification. For those not in the education field, this is basically just a piece of paper saying I'm qualified to teach anywhere in the nation, not just my state. But it was hell to get. There were portfolios and videos and tests reminiscent of the GREs and argh. Much angst went into the process, which took me a year and was more difficult than getting my MA in Literature. But I remember, last May, when I mailed my submission in to Texas or wherever it goes, I remember as I taped up that box thinking, There is no way I could have done any better. And since then, as me and the seven other teachers who applied for it last school year waited and waited and waited to see if we got it, that thought was really my only comfort. I could not have done any better. I really did do my level best. If the box came back and I'd failed, I still could not have done any better than I had--and I worried that if I failed, I may as well give up, because what could I have changed? In the end, I passed, and it was a relief, and even though I didn't get the perfect score, I got pretty darn close. And even now, when it's all graded and done, I still can't think of a thing I'd change about my entry.

Segue.

That's what I'm trying to do with this story. Looking back, I used to send manuscripts out, and then when I got rejection letters, I'd realize, Oh! I should have changed this! And then I'd rewrite a scene or two, and send stuff out, and realize, Oh! I should have changed this, too! Even now, if you were to pull out some of those mss. that I so glibly sent out a year ago, I know that there is a lot I would have to change. I think about it, every once in awhile, how I've got completed manuscripts just sitting there, but I don't send them out now because, honestly, I just cringe at the thought.

Here's what I want need to do: Get the manuscript so perfect that there is nothing that I could change. I want to be at the point where, even if I'm rejected by everyone, I can't think of a single word I'd change, a comma I'd delete, or a chapter I'd move around. And while this seems like the obvious thing to do, it isn't. How many times have I thought an old manuscript was perfect before, just to find out how wrong I was?

This does not mean that I won't be open to editing. I know that if when I get published, my editor will certainly make changes, and they may be large ones. I'm cool with that. I knew when I submitted for my NatBoards, the graders would not think it was perfect. I'm open to change, especially under the guidance of an agent or editor. All I want is to be able to ship my manuscript off, knowing that no matter what, I did my level best.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

This is cute...

...a bailout plan for writers.

help?

I think my book is almost ready. I'm still going through word choice--changing verbs and overused words, etc., and don't really plan on attacking that until Christmas break. However, I am most worried about getting Chapter 1 perfect--it's the first impression, after all, and without a strong Chapter 1, I know I won't be going any further in the pubbing game.

So...

Would anyone like to check out my new chapter 1? I've had beta readers and critiquers and all read it, but some of them have read so many different versions for me that I'm afraid they'll scream if I thrust one more chapter on them. And I'd really like to get an idea of what people who haven't read it will think will happen--although anyone who has read it before, I'd love to know if you think this is an improvement.

The new first chapter is here. I've got a poll and enabled comments as well. I would appreciate anything, from a "this works" or "this doens't work" to something more detailed. I really would--and if anyone would like me to read a chapter or two in return, I'd be more than happy to return the favor!

Side note to people who have read Chapter 1 before: I cut most of the original Chapter 1 here, and combined it with the original Chapter 2. My goal was to keep a bit of the suspense at the beginning, but still get to the magic by the end of the chapter...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Marketing Questions

BookEnds Literary posted some of the questions they see publishers ask new clients to answer when they sign a book. When I first saw this, I thought, neat. It didn't apply to me, right? I'm not published yet--and if when I do get published, I'll worry about it then. But--the kinds of questions this asks is stuff I should know before and as I am writing, and would help me stay focused. So here it is--the BookEnds questions, followed by my own answers.


  • What are the main points about you and/or the book that should be emphasized to the media? My book: A contemporary fantasy for the tween age group about a girl who isn't sure about whether doing the right thing is worth it when she gets a chance to have everything she's ever wanted. About me: A high school teacher with experience in the age range, a Masters degree in literature, and Nationally Board Certified.
  • Who do you think will buy your book (i.e., your market)? Tween girls--although I do hope to have some crossover with tween boys with a strong male secondary character.
  • If you could construct an interview for yourself, what questions would you want to be asked? Can you come up with about 5 to 10 questions and answers for this self-interview? 1) How did your career as a teacher influence your book? --Several of the characters in the novel are based on actual students I have had--and the teacher is based on myself! Although I'm not an imprisoned witch, I do have an unconventional way of teaching, and much of Ms. Wendt's attitude is my own. 2) What would you say to kids who read your book and would like to become writers themselves? --First, live life. Given the choice to close yourself up in a room and write or experience something new, go with the new experience. Once you've done new things and really explored the world around you, then you are ready to write. 3) In your story, the characters travel to the remote Mediterranean island of Malta. Have you ever been there, and what was it like? --I traveled to Malta my sophomore year of college. It was a wonderful experience. That was the first time I'd ever traveled internationally (excluding Mexico), and it really was like stepping into an entirely different world. Since then, I've gone to 6 other countries, but Malta was my first, and my most magical. I tried to accurately show the landscape of some of my favorite places in Malta: Hagar Qim archeology dig, Valletta, and the medieval-esque streets of the Silent City. And while the Torri might not really be entryways into ancient alchemical forests, Malta's a place of mystery and magic unlike any other I've been to. ...um....I can't think of any more questions! This section is getting long--I'm moving on.
  • Are there any anniversaries, occasions or events upcoming to which we might tie the publicity for your book? As the book takes place at the beginning of the school year, I think marketing it late August/early September would be best, to coincide with that time.
  • Is there any competition for your book? How are the other books alike? How are they dissimilar? I think that while there are many MG fantasies on the market (in fact, much of the MG market is fantasy), my book is different because: 1) it's not the children who are magical; 2) there is a slightly edgier/darker tone to the magic; 3) there are consequences to the magic. The closest book currently on market is the YA novel by Justine Larbalestier, Magic or Madness, where the magical characters have dark consequences for using or not using their magic.
  • What was your inspiration for the book? There were several. Part of my reason in writing this novel is to be different. I wanted a book with magic--that was always my favorite kind of book to read or write--but I didn't want magic to solve all the problems. Actually, I wanted magic to be a bit of the problem itself. And I thought the idea of having the kid find out she is magical was a bit overdone--or at least, I couldn't think of a way to do that in a unique way. So I gave the magic to the teacher, not the kids. And I also wanted to show a hard decision for the main character. I didn't want things to be black and white. I didn't want the villain to be black or white, either--I wanted to give him motivation and logic behind his evil-ness that some people--including the main character--could actually sympathize with. And finally, I wanted to use an obscure myth as background for the book. I was looking for new creatures to write about--not just dragons and unicorns again--and wanted something that really hadn't been written about before. I found the chimera, which, of course, led to Bellerophon, the hero who fought him, and Belle Ravenna was born.
  • Who are your favorite authors? CS Lewis, Patricia Wrede, Robin McKinley, JK Rowling
  • Tell us anything about you as a working writer that you think might be interesting or unusual. I wrote my first novel in college because I was bored with my professors' lectures. Even now, I always write best when I'm somewhere where I'm bored. I pretend to take notes, but I'm really plotting!
  • What do you hope readers will learn/discover from reading your book? I hope they think about how there are shades of gray in our decisions, and that often, people are not all good or bad, but have reasons for doing what they do, even if it seems wrong. Also, a large part of my book is about accepting yourself for who you are, and not letting others--even yourself--look down upon you, while at the same time not striving and changing yourself to be different from who you really are.
Was this helpful? For me, it was. I not only envisioned new things about my writing, but I can see how doing something like this would help in starting a new WIP--it may help keep me focused on the main points.

What about you? If you were to answer these questions, what would you say? Share in the comments--or if you post about it on your blog, share a link so we can all see!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mini-Linkspam

I just found this great book list by Elizabeth Bunce, author of A Curse as Dark as Gold, and plan on picking up lots of new books based on these suggestions. It's well organized with some good classics and some totally new books I've not heard of before.

How did I miss this?! After some great feedback, I'm rewriting--and maybe cutting--my first chapter of my mss. BUT I am totally going to have that completely done for this opportunity to submit the first chapter to Firebrand Literary Agency!

I've Got Nothing


I'm still riding off a high that can only be produced when a writer gets back awesomely wonderful amazingly brilliant the best ever kind of feedback from two writers she totally respects and can't believe how astoundingly good that kind of feeling really is.

So I've got nothing--except a great big smile akin to the Grinch after his heart grows two sizes that day.

Monday, December 8, 2008

First Lines

Christine has a post about first lines up at her blog, and from feedback from critiquers and beta readers, I'm giving new thought into my own first lines (and chapter) in my WIP. Miss Snark's First Victim recently had a "first line critique" where people posted their first two lines and readers commented on whether or not it was an adequate hook. Mine is here, but there are over 80 on her site, and they're worth reading, just to see what grabs us and what doesn't. I don't know about you, but I often get a little blind to my own writing and need others to point that sort of thing out.

Book Review: PJ Hoover's The Emerald Tablet


I know. I'm bad. Or at least the husband tells me so. See, I put PJ Hoover's book, The Emerald Tablet, on my Christmas wish list, but then I went ahead and ordered it for myself anyway. I couldn't help it! All I needed was one more item in my shopping cart with Amazon and I got the free super-saver discount, and I'd been wanting it for just about forever, and er, yeah. The husband didn't buy it either. I'm banned from Amazon until after Christmas. Course, he doesn't know that I also just ordered JK Rowling's Tales of Beedle the Bard, but I totally ordered that before I got banned! (as far as he knows)

It came on Friday--perfect timing as I'd given up on the other book that I'd been reading. The good news: I actually had something good to read this weekend! The bad news: it's all finished...now what am I going to read?!

Five Sentence Summary: Benjamin Holt and his best friend Andy are used to being the smartest kids in school--to say nothing of the telekinesis and telepathy they practice. Nevertheless, Benjamin's off to summer school, but this is not your typical summer school. This is summer school for people who aren't human--as Benjamin had always assumed he was--but who are telegens, people from an ancient race that was the foundation of Atlantis (and the island nation Benjamin's people are from, Lemuria) and is the source of most ultra-intelligent "humans" and the gods of mythology. At summer school, Benjamin's no longer top of his class, but at least his lessons are on telepathy, telekinesis, and teleportation. Benjamin doesn't have time to worry too much about school, though, because he's just found out he's got to save the world.

So what can we, as writers, learn from this novel?

1. Location, location, location: Aside from a fully developed fantasy world, Benjamin and his pals travel to various locations around the world in search of keys. Kids love to explore, and they love to experience new things. In the course of this novel, kids don't just see what Lemuria is like, they also discover real-life exotic locations like Tibet and poetic-fantasies like Coleridge's mythical Xanadu. The protags get to go places and explore locations that most people never will (and some locations that are impossible to see)--and they take their readers along for the ride. Varying locations between reality and fantasy and exploring new worlds adds an entirely new dimension to the novel and give the reader a truly unique experience.

2. Unique magic: There are tons of MG and YA fantasies out there. Kids discovering magic and special powers is a trope of the genre. But what sets this book apart is that the magic is unique. It's not magic-wand-Harry-Potter. It's not ooo-I'm-magic-for-no-logical-reason. It's not a Tolkein rip-off. It really is a fully realized unique method of magic that I, at least, had not seen in a book before. While the method of magic--telepathy, teleportation, etc.--is not new, the logic behind it, the reasons for it, and the way in which the kids use it is new, and really sets the novel apart. Additionally, the objects invented within the novel, such as mangifiers and the Geodine, are just brilliant--creative, but also logical.

3. Injected humor: While the overall plot is pretty serious--save the world, stop the evil guys from coming--there is injected humor throughout that keeps the story entertaining. The chapter headers sometimes have those one-line or one-word zingers that made me laugh out loud, but more than that is Jack. Jack is a side character in the novel that befriends Benjamin, and while his role in the story is important, I felt that part of his role was to lighten the mood, much like Fred and George Weasley in the Harry Potter books. When things got a bit too serious, or a bit too dark, or a bit to mission-oriented, Jack would pop up and remind us all that it's also fun! His appearances were rare, but gold every time.

4. Foreshadow: The first of a series, this book could stand alone--but the hints of what's to come make it a pretty sweet taste of the rest of the series. There are just enough subtle hints that make me wonder how the rest of the series will play out. Is Joey, who's just mentioned at the very beginning and very end, going to be significant? What about the twins...their powers may be key in the future (to say nothing of the twin rulers of Lemuria)? And Ryan Jordan and his friend Jonathon seems pretty fishy to me.... In addition to the hints of the future books, there's also a fair sprinkling of hints and key objects within the first novel itself. The twins' gift to Benjamin comes up again; the lesson on astronomy plays a key role later one; a character we meet early on is more than he seems... This is the kind of thing that keeps readers up at night, long after the husband has said if I keep the light on any longer, he's going to sleep with the dog.

The Bottom Line: Let's be honest. This is a Hero's Journey, like many other MG fantasies out there. But the magic, intertwining plot, travels to exotic locations, and sprinklings of humor make this novel not your typical fantasy...and an excellent, hard-to-put-down read!

Side note: My one quibble? I didn't understand the cover. Were those buildings supposed to be Lemuria? I assumed so, but still didn't really understand. Until I started writing this and tried to look up a picture of the Emerald Buddha...and found this:

Oh! My brain popped here--now the cover makes sense!

For more pictures of the Emerald Buddha temple, check out this site.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Poetry Friday: On Revisions

I steal all my best poetry. This one came from Bowen Press:

"Character and Life"
by Jane Hirshfield

The young novelist held underwater
the head of the character in his
book he loved best.
In the book, and as he wrote,
he counted until he
was sure it was finished.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Black Wednesday

Wow. That came as a bit of a blindside to me--while I knew publishing was in trouble, I was a bit surprised at so much trouble (read: layoffs) at one time.

I don't know much about economics, so here's my only thoughts:
  1. That sucks.
  2. A salute and raised glass and prayer for those laid off just before Christmas.
  3. I doubt there will be a bail out plan for publishing.
  4. The best article on how to interpret and react to these events is here.
  5. Despite it all, publishing won't die, books won't fade, readers won't quit reading, and writers (especially this one) won't quit writing.
As for a solution? How about a new economic plan for all of America--the publishing industry is just one more victim of our recession. But the best advice to help the industry we love seems to be:

Go buy a book!!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Word Choice

I was going over my notes from critiquers today as I (finally) printed my ms., and noticed that more than once, a critiquer suggested that I pick a simpler word, that the word I had (i.e. petulant) was above the heads of mg-ers. While I totally respect her opinion and am fully aware that I often use vocabulary above my students' heads, I wonder if I should change the words? On the one hand, it makes sense to write to the audience's level--on the other hand, it feels like doing that would mean "dumbing down" my ms. What do y'all think?

Monday, December 1, 2008

So, what's next?

I finished the massively oppressive rewrite on my WIP. So, what next?

  • Submit samples to an editor. I've chosen to submit to Stacy Whitman in part because she is someone who I'd intended to submit to while she still worked as an editor at Wizards of the West Coast (with a different novel), and in part because, from her blog and past experience, I trust her to make a great critique that tells me what direction I should go in with future revisions.
  • You know that rule about always taking off one accessory before leaving the house? I'm making up a writing rule: always take off 5k words before submitting to agents/editors. So that will be an immediate thing that I focus on changing.
  • I've gone through my manuscript highlighting all the "overused" words I mentioned in a post below. I am then going to print the manuscript off and go over it with my red pen--slashing away at over-used words, bad dialog tags, adverbs, and weak verbs.
  • I'm going to ask around (read: plea) with anyone I know for a read-through of the WIP.
  • After taking in all comments, changes, etc....I'll submit to agents/editors. I've already picked out the top three dream agents I'd like to have. Goal: submit by January 2009. Which means revisions = December.
And that's it...The Plan. I've already submitted my chapters to Stacy Whitman, already gotten my highlighted ms. printed. Now all I've got to do is start slashing away!