Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Grammar = No Tears

A popular post from May 2009

Have you ever shed tears over grammar? Or maybe you've been in denial that you need help . . . You'll find relief with Annette Lyon's newest book: There, Their, They're: A No-Tears Grammar Guide From the Word Nerd.

Only Annette could pull this off! Congrats!
And if you're interested in this easy-to-follow grammar guide, you can find it here.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Characterization: It’s hard to do

A popular post from July 2009

By Heather Moore

The other night I saw “The Proposal” with a friend of mine. Whether or not you like “chick flicks” there were some great characters in there. Yes, a little predictable, but sometimes when watching a movie and analyzing characters, the “aha” light goes on. It’s a little easier to define why one character works and is endearing or relatable, while another might not be, when you see a 2 hour movie.

But what I really want to discuss is a movie I saw a couple of weeks ago, called “New in Town.” Renee Zellweger’s character is a smart, classy, climbing-the-corporate-ladder type. (Incidentally this was the same character-type as Sandra Bullock in The Proposal—but Sandra played it oh-so-much better).

The plot for “New in Town” and Renee’s character were cliché-ish and quite predictable. Renee’s job was to go into a small-town manufacturing plant, that the corporation she worked for had purchased, and to make it profitable. But who shined in the movie was the secretary, played by Siobhan Hogan. She was quirky and her famous, but top-secret, Tapioca recipe became an integral part of the plot. Siobhan’s character “stole the show” and her naivety and small-town good-heartedness felt real, easy to relate to, and easy to picture her as your neighbor.

Here are the things that made up her character:
-Loves scrapbooking, finds value in it and spends time with her neighbors doing it.
-Is the type of person to invite others over for dinner, even if it’s just meatloaf. Which leads to that she’s the type of person who doesn’t put on airs. Meatloaf is good enough for her, so it’s good enough for anyone else.
-Generous and willing to share her Famous Tapioca. Yet, she will not give out the recipe no matter how she is bribed.
-She is trustworthy and trusts back. Also a peacemaker.
-She is a romantic and wants everyone to be happy.
-She lives in a very cold climate but makes the best of it.
-She states her opinion but doesn’t force it on anyone.
-She’s a bit naïve and goes through several upsets because of it.
-She is funny, but unassuming.
-Even when she is emotionally distraught, she makes Tapioca and takes it over to her “enemy”.

I hope this gives you a more rounded view of characterization. It’s not just about description, but about the core of the person. When faced with two choices, which choices would your character make?

For a quick study (and a quick read), I’d recommend Everything is Fine by Ann Dee Ellis. She is a YA author, and her characterization of Mazzy was impressive in that book.

Friday, January 13, 2017


A popular post from July 2009

Several years ago, I took a trip to New York with my sisters and mother. That's a story in and of itself (summary: fun, fun, good food, fun, fun, Broadway show, fun, fun!).

But there was one element of the trip that jumped out at me because of our personalities. And, because I'm a weird writer person, it's stayed with me all these years.

To understand, first, here's a bit of background on each of us:

Mom, since the time she was little, has been fascinated with all things Jewish. She's not a Jew, but I'm betting she knows more about Jewish history, humor, and even Jewish law than your average Jew does. She literally has bookshelves filled with this stuff. She was once offered a free subscription to some Jewish women's magazine because they thought she was Jewish.

My older sister is a foodie and former caterer. She loves hole-in-the-wall bakeries and can come up with recipes that would rival anything you'd find in one. Recently at such a bakery, she pointed to some cupcakes, rolled her eyes, and said, "I could do much better than that." (And she totally could.)

I'm . . . well, you know me. I'm the writer.

My little sister is very much into fashion. Aside from the time I showed up at her house early in the morning, there's not a time I've seen her in her adult life where she hasn't been properly coiffed and accessorized to the hilt.

Okay, so back to New York.

Driving through Manhattan, I flipped out. "Look! It's Random House! RANDOM HOUSE!!!!"

It was a HUGE building with massive lettering, but none of them noticed it, instead saying, "What? Where?" (And I think my little sister might have even said, "What's Random House?")

I saw a ton of other publisher names on buildings, and each time I squealed, imagining what was happening in the upper floors of each one.

As we walked through the streets of Manhattan later on, Mom gasped, stopped, and pointed. We all halted and backed up to see what amazing sight we'd missed. She pointed out an itty bitty Jewish store (seriously, like six feet wide) with the prettiest menorahs she'd ever seen. The other three of us had walked past without even seeing it; the place was one of a thousand windows we'd passed that day.

Not ten minutes later, my older sister was drooling and gaping at another window, and the rest of us had to backtrack to see the darling little bakery she found that displayed cakes that were practically works of art.

Throughout the entire trip, my younger sister, I swear, was drawn to every fashion spot there was as if they had a homing device on them.

It was as if each of us saw Manhattan through an entirely different lens. I wonder what things I missed because my lens was so different than Mom's or my sisters'. I was glad I had them all with me; I was able to have things pointed out that I would have missed because my lens didn't catch them. All four of us walked the same streets, went to the same sites, saw the same Broadway play. Yet we all actually saw different things.

As you write, think about your characters in the same way. What lens do each of your characters see their world through?

What things stand out to them in their regular world?

If they go someplace new and different, what will stand out to them there? What will they not notice so much because of who they are?

What interests, strengths, and weaknesses help to shape their world into the one they view as "real"?

The "real" New York probably doesn't exist; it's a place millions of people experience in millions of ways, because everyone has their own lens.

Be sure to give each of your characters their own lens too.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Subjunctive Mood: Was or Were?

A popular post from June 2009

by Annette Lyon

Today's topic sounds scary: subjunctive mood.

Wahahahaaa . . .

Really, there's no need to freak out. That's just a fancy term for something pretty simple.

Which word is correct in these sentences?

If only she was/were home, she could tell her mother the truth.

He wondered if she was/were cold and whether to offer his jacket.

One of those is subjunctive (and takes WERE), and the other isn't (takes WAS).

In reality, subjunctive isn't that big a deal. While I'm not an expert on all things subjunctive, I do know a few basic rules that can help clarify things.

Subjunctive mood simply refers to is a situation contrary to fact.
A line from a Carpenters Christmas song helps me remember the rule. It goes:
"I wish I were with you."
See? The singer isn’t with the loved one but wants to be there. What she is wishing for is contrary to fact.
So instead of: I wish I was with you.
It’s: I wish I were with you.
It's subjunctive. (So is our first example above: the girl isn't home, but if she WERE, she could tell her mother the truth.)
A common rule of thumb people use is watching out for the keyword if, which often signals subjunctive.
If I were taller, I might be able to make the basketball team.
That’s a correct usage of subjunctive mood, because again, the speaker is speaking contrary to fact. They aren’t tall. But if they were, then . . .
Big caveat:
Be wary about relying on if too much. There are plenty of cases where IF does NOT refer to something that’s contrary to fact, so the sentence isn’t subjunctive mood at all, and was is correct.
Such is the case with our second sentence above:
He wondered if she was/were cold and whether to offer his jacket.
In this sentence, nothing is being stated contrary to fact. He's wondering what the reality is—whether she's cold or not—he doesn't know.
Yes, the sentence has if in it, but that doesn’t automatically make it subjunctive. In this instance, WAS is correct.
Subjunctive rule of thumb: When the statement is contrary to fact, use were.

This post is adapted from a section of There, Their, They're: A No-Tears Guide to Grammar, available HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Monday, January 9, 2017

10 Random Things You Probably Didn't Know

A popular post from July 2009

by Annette Lyon

In today's post, I'm listing 10 things I've discovered over the years that a lot of writers learn over the years but are generally stuff you pick up along the way and aren't things you learn in your typical workshop class.

#1) Fake phone numbers always start with 555. In fact, no state in the U. S. will give out a phone number with this prefix for this very reason. It's reserved for fake numbers in TV, movies, and books. You'll notice it everywhere. Anytime a guy or girl on a show is giving out their number, it's 555-whatever. Sometimes they try to hide that fact by using the letters on the keypad (like "My number is JKL-4378," but JKL is still 555).

I'm just guessing that this came about after that song in the 80s that kept singing the number 867-5309 (you remember that song, right?). Whoever had that number surely had to change it.

#2) If a book is found in a book order (a happy day for any author, right?), then it's been sold at a huge discount. That means that even though the author will likely sell thousands, they'll get pennies per book. In one author's words, they get paid "in paper clips." And keep in mind, their agent gets 15% of those paper clips.

#3) Most books that are optioned for movies are never made into movies. An option means a person or company has paid the author for the rights to be the one to make the movie over a specified period, say three years. If that time runs out and they haven't made a movie, then the movie rights are up for grabs again. Options can be renewed by the same person/company or bought by someone else, and I've seen that happen. Hollywood is great at optioning. Not so good at actually making movies. That said, I'd be happy with getting an option. It would probably be more than I've made on royalties for a single novel.

#4) Most authors never meet their editors. Even if they live near one another. I lived within thirty minutes of my editor's office for my first two books and never met her. For my next three, I lived in the same city as her office, and finally met her around, oh, book five, I think. We had plenty of e-mail interchanges and phone calls, but there was really no reason for us to meet. We just didn't get around to it. We've seen each other several times since (ironically, usually at social events since she's left the company), and I find that's pretty typical.

#5) With some exceptions (usually at small houses), authors have no say in regards to their cover or title.

#6) As a corollary, sometimes (at least with the huge writers) you can tell how big someone is by how big their name is on the cover. With Danielle Steele and John Grisham, for example, there are times you have to hunt for the title because their names are so big on the cover. That's because of the authors' huge fan base. They don't really care what the book is called; they just want the next one.

#7) Grammatical bloopers, typos, and even factual errors can be put into a book without the author knowing it. This is done by well-meaning but idiot copy editors or others along the line who should be flogged, because the author is blamed for them, but he or she didn't get to see the final proof before the manuscript went to press.

#8) Some lucky writers get ARCs, or Advance Reader Copies. These are uncorrected galleys, meaning that it's the full story, and it looks like a full book, and it may or may not have the actual cover on it--but it hasn't been proofed yet, so it probably has typos and it may even have minor inconsistencies (Sarah's eyes might accidentally turn brown on page 218) or whatever.

ARCs are sent out to reviewers, particularly to large magazines like Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus Review, places where book reviews mean a lot. They require review copies 3 or 4 months before a book hits stores, which means they need it before it's actually gone to press. Hence the ARC, which isn't perfect, but it's as close as you're going to get it before the book is actually on shelves.

#9) There's a good chance your publisher will expect you to do 90% of the marketing and publicity. Just expect it. It's exhausting, and there's really no way of knowing what areas of your efforts are making a dent, but you keep plugging along hoping that something is working, because of:

#10) In publishing, they figure that the past predicts the future. If your last book didn't sell that well, then your next one won't either, they figure. That can mean a rejection. Or that can mean a new release date, during a time in the year when you'll have less competition against heavy-hitters. Or it can mean a gentle nudge to try a different genre. Or, again, it can mean a rejection.

On the flip side, if your last book was a whopping best-seller, then your publisher might be your new best friend, wondering what you can give them next and how fast. It's all a numbers game, a difficult road to travel. One not for the faint of heart.

Wow--didn't expect to go from something as light as fake phone numbers to something so serious.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Don't Get Mad; Get Published

A popular post from July 2009

By Julie Wright

My first experience with publishing a book happened blissfully enough. I sent the manuscript. They sent a contract. I signed it. They sent me my author copies and the ad copies of the magazines they'd advertised for me in. And we were in business.

Book two had much the same results.

Book three . . . not the same at all. You see, even published authors get rejected. Oddly enough, that book was my best work thus far into my career. I knew it was good. But my publisher thought it was too dark for my audience or whatever. So they passed on it.

That unexpected rejection shattered me into millions of pieces of self doubt. When I was finally put back together again enough to get back out there, I found I had contracted a disabling disease. I had JulieWrightus. It's a wretched disease. Don't bother looking it up at the mayo clinic's website. I can give you the symptoms here:

1. Chronic fear usually rearing its head in times of visiting the post office with a large envelope that includes a SASE.
2. A bizarre inability to speak without interjecting phrases such as, "I suck muddy rocks." or, "I'm nothing." or, "I'll never be a good writer like (insert favorite famous author here)."
3. Spontaneous bouts of weeping.
4. An irrational fear of checking email that has the subject line of query.
5. Jealous rage when other less worthy authors get contracts and you don't.

These are the symptoms. If you have three or more, then you too have JulieWrightus. Sorry. It's truly a crippling disease. But there is a cure.

Getting published.

Getting published won't keep all the symptoms away all the time. It won't keep you from feeling like a failure sometimes--we all have moments, but it will stave off the chronic feeling of failure.

The only way to get published is to keep trying.

I have over 100 rejections. One of my most amazing friends and mentors, Jessica Day George has 187. 187! That is a bunch! Brandon Sanderson has rejections; Shannon Hale has rejections; Stephen King has rejections; JK Rowling has rejections. I know of some people who have rejections numbering into the thousands. Yet these people are all published.

What do they all have in common that got them to this state of published bliss? They didn't quit. They didn't give in to the disease.

And though I had the disease so bad, the specialists (James Dashner and J Scott Savage) named it after me, I too found the cure. I got that manuscript published. And not with just any publisher, but the biggest publisher my little market had to offer. It was a great and glorious day when I was able to meet up with my previous publishers at a writing function. It was delicious to shake their hands, smile, and say, "Yes, I'm doing quite well, thank you."

I didn't outright gloat. How would that look? But I felt as though I'd shaken the shackles of my disease.

I was wrong.

Symptoms pop up all the time if I'm not careful--if I'm not constantly moving. I started writing for a different market which meant I needed a different publisher. This meant more queries, more rejections, more symptoms and random screams of, "I'm nothing!"

As I move forward in my career, there are lots of ways to be rejected: in reviews, on blogs, in emails . . .

When I landed my agent, J Scott Savage warned me, "I know you're excited about this step and it IS a huge step, but don't expect a book deal tomorrow. It takes time. I don't want you slipping back into JulieWrightus."

"I won't!" I said. "I plan on living in this moment for as long as I can."

And I've worked hard to keep moving forward and not wallowing. I keep writing new things, knowing that if I keep going--if I never quit--I can outrun the disease altogether.

Don't quit. If you have one rejection, don't quit. If you have 22 rejections, don't quit. If you have 122 rejections, don't quit.

And when you get those letters that say you aren't good enough?

You know they're wrong, so don't get mad; get published.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Query Letter Samples

A popular post from June 2009

Okay I promised to show the sample of the query letter which landed me my agent. This particular letter is at 100%. Which means every agent and editor I sent it to asked for at least a partial on the manuscript. Something I'd always been told about query letters is to never include an excerpt of your book in your query. No one likes it and it's bad form. I went ahead and included an excerpt for two reasons:
1. I knew the excerpt was good
2. It said so much more about the book than I could have.

So there are a lot of rules about query letters, but the really important ones are:
-Be professional
-Be intelligent (don't call your manuscript a fiction novel, because a novel *is* fiction)
-Have several people review your query to make certain you don't have a bunch of grammar errors going on

Your query letter should accomplish three things: It should tell the agent/editor about the plot, the characters, and the author.

Here's that sample:

Dear Awesome Agent,

“Wh—what happened?” My voice sounded foreign and hollow.
He stared down at me, his ashen face hard with lack of emotion. He seemed to be measuring me. I looked away, unable to meet the eyes that held no shred of compassion.
He took a deep breath as though he were about to lecture a child. “You’re dead, Summer Dawn Rae.”

The last thing Summer remembers from her own time was the truck smashing through the driver’s side of the car. She should have died in the crash. Instead, she is rescued by Taggert, a soldier from the year 2113. Sent by Professor Raik, a scientist with political power, Tag travels back in time to save teenagers who would otherwise have been killed in tragic accidents. Summer learns that she has been saved to help repopulate a dying world where men and women have been rendered sterile due to disease and genetic mutation.

But Summer mourns the loss of her twin sister—and quickly realizes things in the future are not exactly as they have been explained to her. She must make her way in a world lost to disease and insanity with only Tag to depend on for protection, friendship, and possibly something more. Fighting the crazies, the politics behind the crazy war, and the scientist’s true intentions, Tag and Summer realize that the future can’t be saved anywhere, except in the past with the twin sister Summer refuses to leave behind.

SR: The Revolution is a science fiction YA novel that is a cross between Uglies and Twilight. It’s a story proving the human heart is stronger than science, and the bond of sisterhood can change the face of the world.

I currently have two published YA contemporary novels: To Catch a Falling Star, and My Not-So-Fairy-Tale Life, as well as an adult paranormal romance novel, Loved Like That. To Catch a Falling Star won the best fiction award with my publishing house in 2001, and My Not-So-Fairy-Tale Life sold out of its first print run and is currently on a second printing in a niche market. I have a time travel YA book, Eyes Like Mine, releasing in July. I am an editor for Precision Editing Group, do school visits, and speak to youth groups on a regular basis.

Thank you for your generous time. I enjoyed spending time with you at the editor’s retreat here in Utah and look forward to hearing from you.


Julie Wright

And here is another query that I'd say had a 70% positive reaction:

Dear Awesome Agent,

Twelve-year-old Frederick Eugene Hazzard (Hap) works in his family magic shop, Hazzard's Magical Happenings. Knowing about magic the way he does, Hap knows that everything is illusion-and he doesn't believe in magic. He doesn't believe in the paranormal. And mostly, he doesn't believe in aliens. Hap's belief system is knocked out of orbit as he and his friend, Tara, are accidentally abducted by a ship full of aliens. With the Intergalactic Communications Enforcers (ICE) chasing the aliens and their human captain, Laney, Hap and Tara are reluctant guests for the travel to the other side of the universe.

There they meet Amar, the last living of the nine unknown scientists from India's mythology. He's sworn to protect the secrets hidden within the nine books of his brothers. The books contain information that, if placed in the wrong hands, would systematically destroy the universe. In a desperate attempt to get home, Hap and Tara unwittingly deliver the device that enables the books to be read to the space mafia boss, Don Nova, getting the scientist captured and sentenced to die in the process. Rescuing the scientist, getting back the prism, and escaping Nova's clutches requires courage, ingenuity, and a little pocket magic.

Now Hap and Tara must race Nova in a search spanning the universe for the missing nine books before the world and families they love are obliterated. Fighting Neubins, surviving intergalactic phone calls, and discovering the secrets of Stonehenge, the pyramids, ghosts, and the Nazca Lines is just the beginning in proving the universe really is a big place-a place only Hap Hazzard can save.

The Hazzardous Universe is a 67,000 word middle grade novel that includes a little soft science, a little mythology, and a whole lot of adventure. It easily fits in with other middle-grade boy adventure series such as Percy Jackson and the Olympians, or Fablehaven.

I currently have two published YA contemporary novels: To Catch a Falling Star, and My Not-So-Fairy-Tale Life, as well as an adult paranormal romance novel, Loved Like That. To Catch a Falling Star won the best fiction award with my publishing house in 2001, and My Not-So-Fairy-Tale Life sold out of its first print run and is currently on a second printing. I have another YA book (Eyes Like Mine, time travel) coming out summer of 2009. I won the fantasy/science fiction short story contest sponsored by Media Play for The Man in Mandalore. I write at least two books a year, am actively involved in school visits and speaking to youth. I am a member of SCBWI, and an editor for Precision Editing Group.

Thank you for your generous time. I look forward to hearing from you.


Julie Wright

You can see that even in a query letter, I have no clue how to be brief. Everyone says keep the query letters short. And they are absolutely right. But brevity isn't something I'm good at. If you can tell your story in a shorter frame, then by all means DO IT! For me, my letters are under a page--as they should be, and they tell about the three important things: the plot, the characters, and the author.

I hope the examples help. :)