Monday, December 24, 2007
We'll be back soon. In the meantime, check out the latest Monday Mania.
Have a fabulous holiday!
Monday, December 17, 2007
(April of last year)
In 1864, Gregor Mendel published a study revealing the results of an experiment that used ________ to determine the principles of genetics.
A. Pisum sativum
B. Garden peas
D. All of the above
I rolled my eyes and circled ‘D’. This was a trick question since Pisum sativum and legumes were each terms for ‘pea.’ The question was especially tricky since you not only needed to know the correct answer (peas), but you also needed to know that the other two choices were still, technically, peas.
Pencils swished and tapped and, for one student directly behind me, screeched against paper; there were mutterings and the occasional deep sigh; the smell of sweat and fear was thick in the air.
I finished the last question of the section I was on (the two major kingdoms of unicellular organisms are: C. Protista and Monera.) and sucked in a deep breath, stretching my arms above my head and letting my gaze travel across the room. Because the final took so long, the two honors classes had been combined and the students seated in alphabetical order.
The twenty tables in the testing room were arranged in two symmetrical rows. The tables were designed to seat four people but with the scratch paper, calculators and extra pencils each student brought, plus snacks and water bottles, the tables were pretty crowded with just three of us at each one.
I was in the first seat of the first row, second table. This was because my last name was Bean. Abigail Bean. Next to me was Riley Porsche Bennett. I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye. She was the kind of pretty that made your breath catch in your throat. The kind that made you want to ask her to be still and not speak for a moment so you could just look at her. She had long, silky brown hair that was pulled back into a stylish ponytail. Her eyes were ice blue and her lips were full and naturally pink. Yeah, she was pretty, but she was also meaner than a deadly parasite and dumber than a single-cell organism.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
The holiday bustle is in full swing. Everyone is checking their lists twice. Lines are already obscenely long and panic fills the eyes of many a shopper.
Slow down. Breathe. If you haven’t finished your gift shopping, what are a few more days?
NOW is the time to send out those queries. Like most of us, other writers are preparing for the holidays, planning vacations, sending out cards to everyone they’ve known since a toddler.
But the agents are still in their offices, putting in full days . . . reading queries, requesting partials. Yet, the writers aren’t submitting at their usual pace.
Right now, agents are in the “zone” or the “evil dry spell” as referred to by Kristen Nelson, of Nelson Literary Agency:
Ms. Nelson says, “For unrepresented writers, this is actually a good thing because that means we are looking furiously for something new to take on because in the dry spell, we start reading our queries faster. We ask for more sample pages then we might ordinarily. We’ll take a chance on reading full manuscript of a work that maybe didn’t win us over entirely initially in the sample pages but because it’s so dry, we’re more lenient and will request a full.”
Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown Literary calls it the “December Publishing Coma”
He says, “This is a time when agents and editors alike catch up on their reading and try and get things in order for submissions in the new year. So if you are polishing off a query, go ahead and send it now (but I'd avoid the week around Christmas and New Years).”
So get busy. Put off that shopping and work on your queries!
Monday, December 10, 2007
Critique Archive 0013:
· The USSR invades Afghanistan.
· Sony introduces the Walkman at a retail price of two hundred dollars.
· The price of gas is a staggering eighty-six cents per gallon.
· China institutes the one-child-per-family rule to help control the population.
· The Knacks are at the top of the charts with, ‘My Sharona’.
· Fonzie is king (“Eyyy,”).
· Robin Williams is running around in really tight pants, coining phrases such as “Shazbit” and of course “Nanu, nanu”.
· In the Sahara desert, it snows for thirty minutes.
· The world says goodbye to long-time idol John Wayne.
· And, on August 22nd at 12:26 a.m I enter the world
OK, so maybe me for John Wayne isn’t the best trade you’ve ever heard of but one would think that at five pounds some odd ounces I was fairly cute at least. I’d like to go on and on about how I was born. I’d like to tell you about how my entire family gathered around, happily anticipating my arrival and how joyous they were when I finally came. How they passed me around from one person to the next, cooing and smiling and tickling my little toes. I’d like to tell you all of these things and more, but I can’t. Although I’m sure my mother at least was happy to see me, this is a story that I cannot tell because it’s a story I’ve never heard. No one has ever told me about the day I was born. There is no baby book of which I’m aware to record the memories, no pictures that I have seen. The earliest picture I recall seeing of myself was taken when I was nearly a year old, practically bald with a rather large forehead.
Friday, November 30, 2007
People talk about it all the time: I love their style! The style of their writing was so unique. The style of the writing left me a little cold.
So what is style? What does it mean and how do I find it?
Style is one of those things that is rather vague and transitory, it's very difficult to define and sometimes hard to pick off with absoluteness. J.K. Rowling has a style, as does Tom Clancy and Amy Tan, it's not what they write--it's how they tell the story. If J.K. Rowling every writes an action packed spy novel, you can bet it will sound very different from Tom Clancy. Even within genres with similar story lines, the stories will sound different, enough that a reader might love Danielle Steele and hate Catherine Coulter even though they both write romance. It's the style that brings the author behind the words to life. They way they use the words and share interpretation and sensory information is what makes their story stand out.
In addition to the fact that every author has a style, most authors struggle to find it. They want to sound like Mary Higgins Clark, but kind of like wearing you're big brother's pants, it doesn't fit and therefore it's uncomfortable and unflattering. They are sure that if they sounded like Ken Follett they would get published. Wrong. You will get published when you find out what you sound like, and when you find the place that you are most comfortable. That's not to say you won't have room for improvement. One of my style points is to avoid description, and I've had to work on that because description is an important elements of writing fiction. But because I know my base, I can move out from that part and incorporate new elements that make my voice stronger, richer, better understood.
I'm sure this is still clear as mud--it's taken me years to understand style and yet two weeks ago when a teacher in whose class I was presenting asked me to talk about style I froze. It is a very difficult thing to "teach". However, there are some great books that can help you discover your style: The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron and The Elements of Style by William Strunk, jr. and E.B. White, are two of my favorite resources when I find my own style slipping through my fingers as I'm seduced by the idea that if I sounded a bit more elegant, or intense, or dramatic--more like THAT author--the writing would be better overall. But my style is mine, and when I try to ignore that I sound mechanical and well, not myself.
To illustrate this, I've included a report my daughter wrote for her health class. She had me read through it for editing purposes and I was just tickled by the style behind her words. It sounds just like her and somehow she made Lung Cancer an entertaining topic. I could read every report in her class without names and know this one was hers because of the style she has when she writes. And that is our challenge, to find out how we best sound like us:
Your lungs, like all of your other organs and body parts, help you stay healthy and alive. Your lungs are located in the chest area. Your lungs are a big organ, so it takes up most of the room in the chest area One thing that I thought was interesting was that your lungs aren’t the same size, crazy! The left lung is a little bit smaller than your right. So there’s room for the heart. You probably already know that the lungs help you breathe, inhale air, exhale air, and talk. So their a BIG deal. But if your lungs stopped working, BOOM! Your gone for good. So of course you want to keep your lungs healthy. But how can you damage them?
One of the ways is smoking. Everyone knows that smoking and taking drugs are bad, even if people do those things, they still know it. Drugs are very scary things. They don’t only ruin your lungs, but also your skin, teeth, fingers and toes, fingernails, toenails, and of course the way people think of you. Some reasons why people take drugs are because they think it makes them cooler (only makes them less cool ), to relieve stress, they get offered and addicted, etc. What can it do to your lungs? A lot.
It causes lung cancer. You may think it’s just another of those cancers. But every cancer is dangerous. Lung cancer is one of the most deadly cancers. Lung cancer kills more than colon, prostate, lymph and breast cancer combined! That’s a lot of deaths!
Most cases of lung cancer could’ve been prevented by NOT SMOKING! 90% of cases of lung cancer are caused by smoking. Every cigarette increases your risk of getting lung cancer. Lung cancer also may cause fatigue, loss of appetite and weight loss.
Because lung cancer doesn’t cause signs or symptoms in it’s earliest stages, its often advanced by the time it's diagnosed, but when there is a symptom, the most common way of knowing is a cough.
Also be alert for:
Smokers cough that worsens
Coughing up blood
Shortness of breath
Hoarseness that lasts for more than two weeks
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Can you tell if you like a book from the very first page? What makes you continue reading to the second page?
Readers are different from agents and editors. Most readers will give a writer a fairly decent chance to pull them in. In fact, I can remember several books that I’ve recently read that didn’t fully pull me in until 50-100 pages. But I kept reading because someone had recommended the book to me. So I gave it a chance.
But what about an agent?
They don’t give you a chance if the first page doesn’t pull them in. This may seem like an almost impossible feat. But if you go around your house and gather your favorite books, then read the first page—ask yourself what compels you to keep reading.
Recently I finished a manuscript. I emailed the prologue to Josi, since she had included an excellent prologue in one of her books. She read it and promptly said that I needed to drop the first three pages. Not that the writing wasn’t good, or the story, but she wanted to be drawn in from the first page.
The competition is crazy out there. Write your novel. Then get someone who will be exceptionally honest to read it. Finally, get out the chocolate and Kleenex and start editing.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Take a guess at what type of letter I recently received that included the following phrase:
"You are a fantastic writer"
No, it wasn't from a reader (although I've certainly welcomed the few letters like that when they've arrived). It was a rejection letter.
The reason this particular publishing company gave for passing on the project is the bane of many writers’ existence. Regardless of how the reason is phrased, it all boils down to the same thing: Money.
Publishing is a business, and if a company thinks that they’ll likely sell 15,000 copies of a book that’s moderately good and only 1,000 copies of a darn-tootin’ amazing piece that just isn’t quite as marketable, take a guess on which they’ll pick.
Some presses do take on the occasional book that they know won’t sell much—but they’re only able to publish it out of love because they’re making enough money on the cash cows they’re already selling. It’s the best-sellers that essentially finance the work of the occasional little fish they give a chance to, regardless of quality.
In my case, the target demographic was deemed too small to make the financial investment viable for them.
In your case, it could be any number of other things:
- The genre is currently saturated.
- The genre is no longer "hot" and sales are declining
- A book very similar was recently published (by them or a competing house)
- A similar book was recently submitted by a best-selling author (guess whose they’d rather take, a big-name author who will sell thousands just by having their name on the cover, or an unknown writer?)
- The target audience is unproven as eager book-buyers
- The publisher is unsure how to market the book and reach its target readers
- The manuscript is too long to make a profitable product with an unknown writer (Note how short the first Harry Potter book was. There’s no way anyone would have let even JK Rowling get away with a 700+ page tome her first time around. She wasn't the mighty JK then.)
- The book has lots of sub-genres, making it difficult to classify
- You don’t fit the publisher’s typical tone/voice/style
- And so on.
None of those mean your book isn’t well done or publication-worthy. It just means that the publisher isn’t ready to take a financial risk on a project that may or may not throw them into the red.
What do you do? Study the markets. Find where you belong. Revise your manuscript if need be so you can fit those requirements. Or find another market that's a better fit.
What you don’t do is throw it on the garbage heap.
Sure, indulge in self-pity and some Rocky Road for a little while. Then get back out there, keep writing, and submit again. And again.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
I took a test and invite you all to do the same. I may not be great . . . but I got an A :) Mrs. Brown would be so proud!
You Scored an A
You got 10/10 questions correct.
It's pretty obvious that you don't make basic grammatical errors.
If anything, you're annoyed when people make simple mistakes on their blogs.
As far as people with bad grammar go, you know they're only human.
And it's humanity and its current condition that truly disturb you sometimes.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Critique Archive 0012:
Hannah was a princess. She was not an ordinary princess. She lived in a regular house, but to Hannah it was really a castle.
Each morning she made her royal bed and lined up her dolls on the pillow. “You must protect the castle until I return,” she commanded a soft white bear.
Hannah changed into her shimmering pink gown. Then she took her place at the grand balcony, which was really her bedroom window. “Hello, royal subjects,” she called to the children riding bikes below.
She moved to her mirror or “looking glass” as she lovingly called it. After brushing her hair, she carefully fixed a fancy silver crown on top of her head. Then she stepped into her sparkling slippers and did a ballerina twirl in the middle of the rug. Pleased with her outfit, Hannah began to feel hungry.
She tiptoed to her mother’s room.
“Oh Queen,” Hannah whispered. “I’m hungry.”
Unfortunately, her mother didn’t always look like a queen, especially in the morning. “In a minute,” her mother said with a groan.
Hannah went to the kitchen and waited. And waited. She waited at least one-hundred minutes, and still her mother didn’t come. It was just too long for a princess to wait.
She climbed onto the counter and took down the prettiest bowl. Her dress snagged the drawer, and ripped. “Uh oh,” she muttered. But that didn’t stop her search, and she found her favorite cereal. There was just enough for a hungry princess.
Monday, November 19, 2007
If you'd like to submit a FIRST PAGE or QUERY LETTER for Monday Mania, please email us at: email@example.com
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
(Remember, there is no bad drama at family dinners . . . just good writing material.)
Thursday, November 15, 2007
When I was a newbie, it would have killed me to give away the end of the book in a synopsis. As a reader, I never read the end first . . . so combining the two together, it seemed that if I gave away the end of my book in a synopsis I was going to ruin the reading experience.
But agents want to know the end. Recently I read a blog written by Nathan Bransford, an agent with Curtis Brown Literary. Bransford recommends that a synopsis be 2-3 pages, double spaced, unless otherwise specified by an agent or editor.
Bransford’s excellent advice includes:
“A synopsis is not an opportunity to talk about every single character and every single plot point in a "and then this happened and then this happened" fashion. A synopsis needs to do two things: 1) it needs to cover all of the major characters and major plot points (including the ending) and 2) it needs to make the work come alive. If your synopsis reads like "and then this happened and then this happened" and it's confusing and dull, well, you might want to revise that baby.”
Bransford also said, “A good place to start for a model on how to write a good synopsis is to mimic book cover copy, only also include in the synopsis what happens in the end.”
As a published writer, I understand that it’s important to be able to write a concise synopsis of your novel. Once you have a synopsis nailed down, it’s easier to write a hook or a pitch, and of course that query letter.
With my publisher, I turn in a synopsis to the editor after the book has been accepted. This synopsis goes to the committee and gives them the insight they need to position and market the book. Also the backliner and marketing blurbs are easier to put together with a handy synopsis. Like Josi, I write the synopsis after I’ve finished the manuscript. Too many things can change if you write it while your book is still in progress. Josi also cautioned writers against holding back what happens at the end of their novels.
So, to make a long blog short. Go ahead. Spill the ending.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
As I judged a writing contest this last week, several commonalities struck me about the entries.
A few things cropped up over and over again:
- Point of View issues: No point of view. Or poor execution of point of view. Or some funky version of an omniscient narrator. None of which worked.
- Telling instead of showing, which is especially weak when it’s during moments that should be tense or emotional.
- Punctuation mistakes. Not only were sentences punctuated incorrectly (which editors hate), but a lot of the time the wrong punctuation made the text plain old hard to decipher. Good punctuation acts as sign posts so the reader knows what belongs where, who’s doing what, and where the pauses belong. It’s worth learning how to do it right.
- Awkward or stilted dialogue.
- “It was all a dream” cop-out endings.
- Starting in a boring place—often way too early—and including lots of extra back story and other elements that didn’t belong to the core story.
- Padding sentences with extra baggage, like the piece that used the term, “a forest of trees.” (As opposed to what, a forest of pretzels?)
As I made my way through the entries and jotted notes in the margins, I found a pattern: The worst entries had very little red ink, while best ones were covered with my scribbles.
At first that made no sense.
After a little reflection, the reason dawned on me: The best entries were ready for polishing. I could indicate redundancies, awkward sentences, or motivation issues. I could make concrete suggestions for improving a paragraph or a description. These authors knew enough to take such suggestions and run with them. They have the basics down and just need someone to point the way down the path and give them a nudge to get going.
What I’ll call the “non-winning” entries were on a different level altogether, and not in a good way. The majority had major problems—problems that went beyond what I could suggest or help with in a quick margin note. With these writers,“Show this,” “Begin with the moment of change,” or, “Be sure to keep a consistent point of view,” would be like speaking a foreign language to them.
So I had to sit and stare at those stories to figure out what to say to their creators. Where do you begin to point out a path to someone when they aren’t even on the map? To use a different metaphor, I can’t suggest how to decorate a house when the foundation isn’t even in place.
I tried to give some kind of constructive suggestions to everyone, but it was tough. The non-winning folks got a lot of “fun image”-type comments and have large sections with no red ink at all, while the winning entries almost look like I bled on them.
I feel bad about that; I hope the winners don’t get discouraged but instead see the feedback as a chance to grow and improve as writers.
Next time you enter a contest or get feedback from an agent or editor, keep this in mind: The more specific the criticism, chances are, the better writer you are. If you stunk, there would be no way to point out every weakness; the judge/editor/agent on the other end wouldn’t know where to start.
The moral of today’s post: Never look at feedback as merely cutting you down. Instead, open your arms and let it in. It only goes to show that you’re already good, and weighing the suggestions carefully will only make you better.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
I turned, anticipating a romantic interlude, but what I got instead was triumph. His eyes glittered with knowledge. "THAT," he said. "Is why Stephenie Meyer's Twilight is a best seller."
I blinked. "What?" I wanted to slap him outright for making me think romantically when he was only using me as a test market.
Then he pinned me to the counter and ran his finger down my jawline and kissed me again. Dang, but he's good. I almost did slap him, but had to catch my breath.
He laughed. "See?" he said. "She caters to the romantic inklings of every silly girl in America." Then I raised my fist. A slap wouldn't be good enough. He needed to be punched since I was one of those silly American girls. He grinned. "Not that I don't like kissing you, babe. I do, but I listened to the audio book of Twilight and found that the plot is lame, and nothing happens except for some girl living out her fantasy of having a superhero type guy smother her in soft hormone-inducing kisses."
My husband is all detached logic, and I really was fuming by this point since I really liked Twilight. I told him it had a brilliant plot.
"Ah, but what is the plot?" he asked.
"A young girl falls in love with a vampire and . . . and . . ."
He's making fun of me now. "And what?"
"Well, there's that other vampire that tries to kill her . . ."
"Not until the end, and she passes out for that--which is one of the lamest things ever. The story finally gets exciting and the main character sleeps through it? No, babe. The book sold well because it caters to female hormones."
I see his point of view. And as much as I still want to punch the man . . . he has a good point. But I don't think this is a bad thing. If you're writing a best seller and you cater to the audience for which you write . . . that's still brilliance in my book.
And the fact that each girl reading the book felt as if Edward's kisses were on her neck, is proof in the power of "show--don't tell."
We can all take a lesson from this and know the audience we're catering to, and make the book riveting enough that our audience feels that they--personally--are experiencing it.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Critique Archive 0011:
I hope you’ll find interest in Queen, a 120,000 word thriller that brings together a lethal plot, captivating history, and one toxic legend of the Queen of Sheba.
Undercover Israeli agent, Omar Zagouri, is a man who hates his job and wants to kill his boss for stealing his girlfriend. When he stumbles onto a tomb in Northern Jerusalem, he unknowingly discovers the final clue in the legend of the Queen of Sheba. Omar is thrown into the heart of deception as wealthy collectors, seedy government officials, and ruthless archaeologists scramble to find the queen’s tomb. Will Omar be able to prevent the greatest discovery of the century from becoming the most deadly?
Woven in this modern-day thriller is the story of the Queen of Sheba in ancient Arabia. Drawing on my own experience of living in the Middle East as well as extensive research, this novel unites myth with possibility.
My publishing credits include a four-volume hardcover historical series set in 600 B.C. Arabia.
I’ve enclosed the opening pages of Queen. I appreciate your time.
Friday, November 9, 2007
A couple years ago I started writing what I called a suspense novel. About 75 pages into it I decided maybe I ought to read up on writing suspense novels, since I'd never done it before. I got the book "How to Write Killer Fiction" by Carolyn Wheat and I realized that I was not writing a suspense after all, instead I was writing a mystery.
Now, I freely admit that suspense and mystery have seemed a bit interchangeable to me in the past. They are both a kind of Whodunit, and they are both intense and fast paced, however there are some specific differences that need to understood a so that you can pitch your book correctly and fulfill the 'contract' with the reader that picks up your book expecting a specific experience. Here is a summary of what I've learned.
*Crime to be solved happens offstage
*Reader is two steps behind Main Character (MC)
*MC usually a detective or sleuth
*MC uses skills already possessed
*Intellectually satisfying ending
*Danger already took place
*Story is about what happens to someone else
*Central question: Who did it?
*We see the action that begins the story
*Reader is two steps ahead of MC
*MC can be anyone
*MC learns new skills and grows
*Emotionally satisfying ending
*Danger throughout the story
*Story is about what happens to MC
*Central question : Will the Hero survive?
In the book, Wheat compares a mystery to a carnival fun house, where the floors shift and things aren't what they seem, you have to pay close attention to find your way out. A suspense, on the other hand, is compared to a roller coaster ride, intense, heart pounding, pervaded with fear of survival.
There are some cross overs, books that use both elements but it's usually pretty easy to determine which type overshadows the other one--calling your book a mystery suspense really won't work.
Through reading this book I learned that I use a lot of suspense elements in my books, but not so much mystery. It helped explain why writing this book was different and harder than anything else I had written--it was totally new.
I recommend the book How To Write Killer Fiction to anyone that would like a crash course in either mystery or suspense as Wheat offered great information on both genres. I'm still working on my mystery--it's been a slow process and I'm still learning a lot but it's been fun to try something new.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
I recently pulled out an ancient manuscript of mine and read through the first few pages. At first I was pleasantly surprised; the writing and dialogue weren't too bad. I still thought the language was fresh and fun.
One big problem, though: the point of view was nonexistent.
While some of my favorite authors, like L M Montgomery and Charles Dickens, could get away with either not having a point of view or using an omniscient point of view (where the narrator can see into everyone's head--and DOES, at any point), that method is far less likely to get your work into print today.
Readers and editors expect a clear point of view. Who's head are we in? Whatever is seen, thought, heard, felt, experienced, and (most importantly) interpreted, is through one person's eyes in that particular scene. You can have a few points of view in a novel, although more than 3-5 can get cumbersome.
Below are three pitfalls to avoid so your readers aren't getting dizzy trying to keep it all straight.
Pitfall #1: Hopping heads
As I said, you can have more than one point of view per book. Just don't hop between them willynilly. Don't switch even in the course of a scene. And absolutely never do what an author I recently read did by switching points of view at paragraph breaks--at nearly every paragraph break. It was hard to connect with the characters' thoughts and reactions when every few lines we're seeing the story through a different lens. The experience was flat at best and jarring at worst.
Pitfall #2: The Boring POV
Don't pick a random POV for each scene, showing the story from one person's head just because they happen to be there. Maybe another key person in the scene would provide a different--better--angle for the story.
Think about who has the most to lose. Often that's the right POV to pick. Maybe there's someone who has the possibility for misinterpretation of what's happening. Pick that POV. Who will react the strongest to the conflict in this scene? Latch onto that. Whichever POV you pick should help the scene be the most effective dramatically.
Pitfall #3: The POV Intrusion
This particular pitfall is so easy to fall into and not even realize it. The POV Intrusion is when the author is being so careful to stay inside one person's head that they get a little too carried away with pointing it out.
If we're in Sally's POV and she's waiting at a crosswalk, we don't need to be told that she sees a red car drive by. If the red car drives by (and we're in her POV), we can easily assume that she saw it. Same goes with all the other senses. Don't tell us that she heard the car's engine or noticed the cloud of exhaust. Just describe the sound of the engine, the smell of the exhaust.
This may sound like a little thing, but it's not: Every time you use a POV Intrusion, you're throwing up a flag to your reader that says, "POV Alert! Did you see it?" That pulls the reader out of the story.
Worse, it makes your reader less connected to your character. If Sally sees or notices something, the reader doesn't. It effectively keeps your reader one step away from the vicarious experience you're trying to create.
On the flip side, if you describe Sally's experience without the POV intrusion, the reader will feel it too, almost as if it's happening to them. In short, you've shown instead of told.
Point of view can be tricky, but it's a skill that's worth learning, especially if it gets your readers so entrenched in your story that they forget they aren't your characters.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
It seems to me his problem is not one of ability. He writes all the time. I believe his issue lies more with motivation and very likely, a dash of fear.
At a recent conference I learned a little about goal setting. I already do most of what the instructor told us we needed to do in order to have successful careers, but my goals are thoughts in the back of my head, never written down . . . not really.
Never before had anyone explained to me the fine art of good organization and the importance of goal setting with rewards.
It isn't enough for the would-be-writer to say, "I'm going to write a book." Because at the end of that sentence remains words left unsaid. The sentence really is this, "I'm going to write a book SOMEDAY."
Someday always seems so distant. We always have time to worry about things SOMEDAY. But what happens if your someday doesn't come because you never sat down and decided on a concrete goal?
Kay Lockner suggested that first off you need to define a career goal such as: I want to be a best selling author. Best selling is a pretty subjective goal so she suggests you narrow it down into something tangible. Give you concept of "best-selling" a number. In some markets 2000 books is considered best-selling. So you need to determine what best selling means to you.
Next she suggests you consider what this goal will do to your life. Will it offer you financial security? Will it offer you truckloads of fan mail? Will it offer you time to spend with your family? Will it offer you the chance to live a career you love? When you figure out how you want this to impact your life. Write that down along with your goal.
Next you need to do some "snap" planning that will push you along the road to your ultimate goal. Along with the goal you need a target date for completion. If your goal is to finish a novel, then you need a date by which you must complete the novel. Then you need to have three milestone goals so that you can check your progress along the way.
The milestone goals are dates. For example my goal is to complete "the Nightmare Givers" by December 31st. My first milestone is the full introduction of all main characters by October 31st (which I've met. My second milestone is that I must come to the middle of the story where all issues are introduced and all obstacles in the way by November 31st. By December 31st, all obstacles must be removed and they live happily ever after (or happily until the sequel).
You need to set three smaller goals in order to achieve the larger one. She breaks it up into "goal-genre" if you will.
- Production goal--this is where you create the product. This is the "how many words am I going to write a day" goal.
- Marketing goal--this is where you plan on how you're going to get the manuscript read by others.
- Wildcard goal--this can be anything (hence the name). You can have a goal to establish an internet presence or read a few books on the craft of writing.
What I really really love about this is you get to reward yourself when you achieve small goals and reward yourself even more when you achieve the big ones.
So if you meet your target date for getting to chapter ten, you get a movie night, or a manicure, or a new miter saw. You cannot reward yourself with stuff you're going to do anyway. If you get a manicure every week, then what point is there in using that for your motivation?
For me, a simple reward isn't good enough. I take away things I love, and only return them to myself when I achieve my goals. For instance I love to read. I love love love to read. I love to read in a way that could be considered an unhealthy addiction. So, in order to get my writing done, I buy new books that I desperately want to read, then set those books on my shelf at my writing desk so I have to stare at them, knowing I cannot have them until I achieve my goal.Whatever reward you pick for yourself, make sure it's one that is properly motivating as well as properly accessible. Don't make a Caribbean cruise your reward if you know there isn't a snowball's chance in the hot place you can afford it. But do make sure it's something that will put a fire in your belly. Because whatever your reward for reaching your goal . . . you totally deserve it!
Monday, November 5, 2007
Critique Archive 0010:
The Carrot Skin Factor
(YA novel—approx. 53,000 words)
Tomorrow night, Yankee Stadium will be attacked by a group of rebels known as the Gaddi-Anons. Can four teens and a whacky inventor discover the meaning of ‘Crying the Neck’ in time to save thousands from disaster?
Fifteen-year old Zack’s life sucks. His divorced parents have no time for him. Following a creepy midnight encounter, Zack and his three friends find a mysterious gadget called DINGO (Delivers Information, Navigates, Goes Overseas) belonging to a British inventor and secret agent, Hunter MacMurray. It's weird the things DINGO can do and foresee using holograms, known as Dingograms. One snag—the operator must be crazy about carrots.
A mysterious clue (Crying the Neck) takes the four from Connecticut , USA , to Cornwall , England , transporting by DINGO. Will Zack's fears let everyone down? Is Libby’s faith the waste of time Zack thinks it is? Suspense builds to a surprise ending—not only do they win the fight, but it turns out Hunter is Zack’s mom’s lost brother.
I decided to contact you after researching many literary agents as you have found homes for exciting YA books in the past. Enclosed is a synopsis. I have completed the entire manuscript—a fast paced suspense with mystery and science fiction for readers age twelve to seventeen.
As for my qualifications, I have three published books, one of which is short stories for Young Adults; and over seventeen years of published magazine articles and fiction for both youth and adult readers.
Thank you for your time. If I am a writer you can represent, please may I send the full manuscript? I enclose an SASE for your response.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Sometime in junior high, I decided to be a writer. I wrote poetry and short stories, but I looked forward to the day when I would grow up and write novels. It took me several years to get there. Only eleven years ago I completed my first, the story of my mother’s childhood. My second novel was born three years later from a random idea. It was followed two years ago by a book based on my own teenage years, then last year I completed a historical set in the time of the Aztecs that I had been working on for nearly twelve years.
So, four complete novels reside on my computer hard drive. All have been through my critique group, revised, and prepared for publication. And that’s where the problem lies. Despite the fact that I’ve queried several editors and agents, I’ve not yet sold one of these manuscripts. Like many want-to-be authors, I could just give up and set my dreams aside, but after all these years and the amount of work I’ve already put into them, I don’t want to.
I decided to face my audience. All four of my books are meant to be read by teenagers, and every day I see over one-hundred teens in my Honors English classrooms. Copies in hand, I approached several of my best editors. “Would you be willing to read and critique this for me?” The response has been overwhelmingly positive. At last, the chance for the student to tell the teacher what they need to fix.
With delicious glee, the students were off, taking their task seriously. I’ll admit, I was nervous. Sending my babies off to faceless readers was one thing, but knowing I would see my new editors face-to-face every day for the rest of the school year was frightening. “What if they don’t like it? What if they think I’m a terrible writer? Will I be able to fix anything they don’t understand?”
As manuscripts started to come back to me, I discovered that sending them home with kids was the best thing I could do. The responses have been positive; the comments specific and helpful. As I’ve started revision based on my target reader’s input, I feel my manuscripts will be better than ever.
Writers need feedback to improve their work, and no response is as constructive as that from a real audience. Sure, agents and editors may hone my work, but the kids—they are the ones who will really matter when the books finally get published.
Friday, November 2, 2007
By Josi S. Kilpack
Earlier this week my friend Anne Bradshaw forwarded some advice from Dave Wolverton, a very successful and well published author. It was full of wonderful information about things that might interfere with your writing such as medication, depression, too much caffeine etc. I found many very valuable things in what he had to say. Hopefully Anne will let us know how we can get on his "Kick in the Butt" e-mails, as I couldn't seem to find his website in the 47 seconds I allotted to research for this blog.
Amid the info were some suggestions on how to find what works best for you. He mentioned things like finding what time of day you're most creative, and then working out a schedule so you can write at that time. For just a moment I closed my eyes and fantasized I was a single, non-mother that was either a) an heiress or b) so successful in my writing I didn't have to work another job and could treat my writing as if it were my only Dependant. Then I opened my eyes to a cup being shoved in my face followed by the words "I need a drink", my desk piled with homework, the phone ringing, and someone announcing that the cat had peed on the carpet again.
Fact is, I have no idea what time of day I'm most creative because I have not yet reached a point of being able to schedule my writing--it is still fitting into the nooks and cranny's of daily life where my family and home responsibilities keep it terribly suppressed. However, the way I write has changed a lot since I started writing and the last few days have allowed me to think of things that have worked for me. My life, as is any writer's--even those that do have a schedule--is a constant work in progress and one thing to keep in mind about the beauty of writing is that it is so flexible. I can write at 1:00 a.m. or 11:30. I can write at home, or on the bus, or in a plane or on a train. I can write both here an there, I can write most anywhere!
The key is being able to evaluate what works NOW, this week, this month, this year, and then making it important enough to do.
Things that have worked for me:
*One day for me, one day for them--If I can spend one day catching up on laundry, phone calls, bills, vacuuming and running errands, the next day can allow all those things to slip a little. Often having three hours of total writing time in one day is more effective than one hour every day because I can stay more focused. I tend to work harder on my days 'off' writing so that the days 'on' can be more effective.
*Planning in advance--By looking at tomorrow's calendar I can see where my free (ha, ha) time lies and can often determine where I can fit my writing in. Knowing this in advance helps me stay on target.
*Setting a timer--this is especially effective when I'm feeling blocked and don't want to write, or I'm super busy. I'll set the timer for 10, 20, 45 minutes and write for that amount of time. When it dings I'm able to feel proud of making the commitment and go on to other things.
*Take it with you--I find I can write in the car for about 30 minutes without getting sick. I can write on a plane for hours (my husband loves that). I have both a laptop and an Alphasmart that are very portable. Whether for trips or just really busy days, I can take my writing with me.
*Goals--sometimes I just want to get a certain amount of writing done. I either want a word count to applaud my efforts, or a time commitment. Shooting for a specific target often sharpens my aim, whether my goal is 3,000 words a week or 5 hours of writing. You can use a stop watch to track it, write it down, or challenge a friend. Either way you have a bigger reason to write than just to say you've done it.
What's worked for other people, but not necessarily me:
*Getting up earlier than the rest of the house and using the alone time to put your words down--this doesn't work for me because we're up at 4:45 anyway.
*Staying up later than everyone else, when the day is behind you and all else is washed, asleep, folded, or put off until tomorrow--this doesn't work for me unless I have a GREAT idea. seeing as how we get up so early, bedtime can't be pushed off for long.
*A set schedule is something I drool over. The idea of having a set time every day that you always right truly makes me heart all aflutter, however, it's not my life. . . yet. If you can discipline this kind of structure into your writing you don't have to work so hard to fit it in which would just be heavenly.
*Blocking out huge chunks of time, or even days, to focus only on writing is another dream I have. Brandon Sanderson wrote an entire book in 16 days, and Jeff savage worked a more than full time job and wrote a book in I think 40 days or something insane like that. It takes cooperation from the other people in your life, for sure, but if you can get 5 hours to yourself, or even a weekend--wow! One day, this will be my life. I'm sure of it.
The point is that what works for one person won't necessarily work for another--even if you're lives are very similar. I know many stay-at-home-mom's that find writing time in completely different ways than I do. But remember the plane, train, box thing--you can write any way that works for you.
Got any ideas I didn't mention? I'm taking notes.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
This is a tough question. You can browse Writer’s Market, subscribe to Writer’s Digest, search through AgentQuery.com, read submission guidelines . . . all great sources. But lately I’ve found many interesting tidbits on BLOGS. Yes, there are some agents who run blogs and they have fabulous information.
On October 25, Johnathan Lyons of Lyons Literary said he’s looking for the following three books:
“A serious treatment on the rise of cable television, filled with behind-the-scenes interviews with both the suits and artists who made it happen. Journalism credentials necessary.
American history in the 19th century. The issue chosen needs to be specific, but with enough umph to carry a whole book. I also think that there's room for more history books focusing on a single year or even a few months (April 1865 is a great example).
A gritty, hard-boiled urban fantasy mystery series. Imagine Lehane or Connelly, but paranormal. Must be set on earth in the present or very near future.”
On October 8, the agents at BookEnds Literary said they are looking for:
“I would love to add some really strong and scary romantic suspense to my list, and when looking at paranormal I have been gravitating toward work that leans to fantasy. I’ve also noticed an upswing in the historical market and I’m very excited about that.
I’m most actively looking for suspense and thrillers—books that make my heart race and my eyes widen with excitement. I would love to find a fresh new voice that could be compared to Karin Slaughter, Lisa Jackson, or Barry Eisler.
Women’s fiction is probably one of the harder genres for me to break down. What do I look for in women’s fiction? I think it’s the relationship. I love Elizabeth Berg, and Jennifer Wiener for me has been hit and miss (I did like Good in Bed, but not In Her Shoes). I like characters who are obviously flawed but who we can all relate to. I love stories about friendship and women who break out of a mold. Either way I want to see the heroine grow and change throughout the book.
For those writing nonfiction the key is platform, platform, platform.
And as for YA. I don’t represent it. I believe I’ve gotten on some YA lists so there’s obvious confusion, but it isn’t something I’m actively looking for at this time.”
“I am looking for fiction with a strong hook and voice, including mysteries of all kinds, romantic suspense, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, thrillers. I am open to seeing young adult fiction that is edgy, hip, or topical. I haven’t represented any Christian fiction, science fiction, and spiritual fiction. I look for highly commercial books that will appeal to a wide market. I prefer a brief email query to see if I’d like to take a look at more. I’m attracted to fiction on the dark side; however, I represent a number of cozy mystery writers whose stories are light and often humorous.
In nonfiction I am looking for health and wellness, business, psychology, parenting, career, finance, self-help.”
“I represent a wide range of genres, including westerns, romance, women’s fiction, crime novels, cozy mysteries, true crime, and pop culture. However, the areas in which I’m currently interested in expanding are women’s fiction and romance.
I gravitate toward the more serious women’s fiction in the vein of Jodi Piccoult. I’d love to see more great Southern fiction. I’m also in the mood for great romance. Lately, I’m hungry for more terrific historicals.
I, too, would love to find a great romantic suspense author. I love Lisa Jackson and Sandra Brown. I think the “ultimate” book for me would be a romantic suspense that’s reminiscent of those old gothics I loved by Phyllis Whitney, but modern enough to succeed in today’s market.”
(If you are interested in submitting to these agencies, please read their submission guidelines in their entirety)
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
In a recent post I discussed common archetypes for characters and what their roles are in a story.
One of them is the Threshold Guardian. Often the TG is an actual person (the troll on the bridge who refuses to let you pass), but other times it's an event (Cinderella's dress is ripped to shreds, so she can't go to the ball).
Generally speaking, the Threshold Guardian isn't the main antagonist to your hero, although the TG might be one of the antagonist's underlings. But the big battle to defeat that person will come later.
What the Threshold Guardian does is throw up a brick wall to your character's progress, preventing your hero from making a big step forward in the story--a crucial step, something absolutely needed for the hero's growth and, possibly, survival.
At it's simplest, the meeting with the TG is a test. The hero's job is to prove himself or herself worthy of being a the hero of the story. It's also to prove just how badly the hero wants the goal at the end. (How much does Dorothy really want to get home?)
Your hero will encounter more than one Threshold Guardian, and always at pivotal moments, when two possiblilities are faced: turning back or making a big leap forward when the Threshold Guardian is overcome.
Lately as I've been contemplating this particular archetype, similarities to real-life situations have surfaced in my mind.
All too often we get a rejection on a manuscript or run into some other barrier in our writing or elsewhere in life and feel as if we have failed, that we've reached a dead end, that the universe doesn't want us to progress.
What if instead we seized the problem and recognized that these blocks are tests? What if we moved forward to prove ourselves, to show how badly we want to reach the goal at the end--so we know for ourselves just how much we want it and deserve it?
These are moments where the future hangs in the balance, and the direction the scales will tip is based entirely on what your next step will be.
Will you throw in the towel, deciding that this test is actually the end of the road? Or will you analyze your manuscript again to figure out why it wasn't acceptance-worthy? Will you rewrite and submit again? Will you quit? Will you whine and complain?
We are the heros of our own stories. When a problem rears its ugly head, recognize it as a Theshold Guardian and what that means: It's an obstacle that will give you the chance to grow, to learn, and to prove yourself.
Most of all, it's a temporary obstacle. And it's worth getting around, defeating, or making allies with so you can continue your progress, eventually reaching the end of the yellow brick road so you can click your ruby slippers.
Monday, October 29, 2007
Critique Archive 0009:
THE TRAITOR'S SON
October 1998, Heathrow Airport, England:
The lady turned on him like a snapping turtle. “I don’t want you sitting next to me.”
One open seat near the window, and the young man was forced to take a seat further into the terminal. The lady aside, the young man mused on his positive experiences, unaware that his change of seating brought him into range as a target. In the midst of hundreds of people waiting to board the jumbo jet, he should have been safe.
To the gentleman dubbed by his co-workers as the assassin for his skill in identifying new talent, location was never a consideration. He was a professional and his target was well marked. Wasting no time, he moved in for the kill. “Is this seat available?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
The young man’s choice two years earlier placed the mark on him. The mark was simple but complicated – rather it was a combination of four marks innocent by themselves, but deadly when combined with the fifth. Short hair, clean-shaven, white shirt and tie, and a dark suit.
The assassin slid into the seat next to his victim and with cloaked words, began his assault. "Returning home from a mission are you, Elder Jones?"
The fifth deadly mark: A rectangular nametag emblazoned with, ‘Elder Jones, Misión de Espaňa-Málaga, La Iglesia de Jesucristo de los Santos de los Ǘltimos Días.
The assassin: An Air Force Senior Master Sergeant (SMSgt). Three-time Air Force Recruiter of the Year, his target would seal up the fourth award as he headed into retirement. While not a religious person, he knew his target well. He’d almost yielded to the enticings of the spirit and joined the LDS church as a young man before something went wrong – terribly wrong. A struggling young staff sergeant, he was caught in a web that by association nearly cost him his career.
The Sergeant could almost mouth the young Elder’s response. "Yes, I've been out two years, probably the best two years of my life." It was nearly always the same. If he’d heard anything less, he would have marched into a fast retreat.
The Sergeant knew what he was doing. As the Air Force's top recruiter, he prided himself on his ability to attract top notch young men and women into the service; those with the stability to finish their commitment and go on to make the Air Force their career. Knowing the training and discipline the Mormon Church instilled in these young missionaries, he had brought many of them into the service by going the extra mile.
Friday, October 26, 2007
As has been stated, several of us PEGs went to the Eden Writers' Conference last weekend. It was really well done, and heavy on marketing and PR. They had representatives from a company called AuthorMBA that focuses on helping authors "Brand" themselves and get their name out there in the right way. I love the name of their company--AuthorMBA--because it points out just how important the business aspects of writing and publishing are. They are only growing in importance and it's exciting to have such talented women (though there might be men on there too) offering up their know-how so that we can stay ahead of the game.
My head was spinning with all the information they gave and after the conference I checked them out and read up on them a little bit. I find them very intriguing and they have a daily blog that has given some great advice. Us writer types are always looking for tips, tricks, and advice, right? So, in the spirit of sharing something I found to be of value--I invite you to check out AuthorMBA.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
So he wrote Fablehaven (now a NY Times Bestseller).
Brandon said that he wished he'd asked himself the following 3 questions before writing his first book (hence the reason it's not published):
1. What audience am I trying to reach?
2. How do I let the audience know about my book?
3. Will my book fulfill their expectations?
You need one sentence that describes your book so that you can talk about it. Then you also need a paragraph description that describes your book. This is not just advice from an author, it's also essential when you are meeting face to face with an editor or agent. In fact, today, Jessica Faust of BookEnds Literary Agency is critiquing pitches on her blog.
Brandon Mull also said:
1. Pay attention to your life--get ideas from those around you (i.e. quirky characteristics)
2. Be an observer all the time
3. Be persistent
4. Get your book in front of the DECISION MAKER (a challenge for every writer)
5. Network if you know people who know people
6. Think about places that you have any claim or tie (His example was that he based his Candy Shop book on a real elementary school. When he went to the town to speak to the kids and sell books, he sold 500 books.)
7. Don't make the jump into full-time writing until you're making more than your day job.
8. Internet groups--make friends with the moderators and you'll get featured on their shout outs.
9. Capture emails by having a sign-up on your website for newsletters, etc.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
This last weekend I attended a writing conference, where literary agent Christina Hogrebe of the Jane Rotrosen Agency spoke.
Among other things, she addressed the dreaded query letter and what she personally likes to see in one.
When she reads queries, she's not expecting the first line to be a catchy hook that draws her into what the book is about. In fact, when she described her ideal query, the description of the book was nowhere near the first couple of paragraphs. In her workshop, she read several queries that worked, meaning that the authors later became her clients.
Not one of those letters had a catchy hook in the first line.
What did they have? Here's what Ms. Hogrebe herself said, according to my notes, about what she likes to see in a query:
1) Show that you've done your research.
Right off the bat, explain how you found this agent and why you think this agency is right for you.
First and foremost, this means not using the same query letter for each agency you're trying to woo. Yes, that means extra work on your part (you'll have to research the agency and find out what they've sold), but agents appreciate the effort and like knowing that they aren't one of eighteen people cc:ed on your query e-mail.
Mention it if you met the agent at a conference, were referred by another client, found them on a website, or found their name elsewhere.
Also explain why you and the agency are a match. "I know you represent author XYZ, whose work is in the same genre and style as mine, so I believe we'd be a good fit," can get your foot in the door. Note that you don't say it's just like XYZ's work or (worse) that yours is better.
2) If you've had another agent before, say so.
Also explain why the relationship ended.
3) Explain your publishing history, if you have one.
No, published letters to the editor of your local paper don't count. Mention any "real" publishing credits (by that she meant something published with a press where there is a selection/rejection process for quality). This will not only lift you in the agent's estimation, but it will also help when trying to sell your work to editors (and then to their marketing departments) down the road.
4) Write a brief (one paragraph) blurb about your book.
Make sure it's, in her words, "great copy," and mentions any selling points. In other words, what will make your book sell?
5) Share your knowledge of the market.
Do this not by saying you're the next Tom Clancy, but by making a gentler comparison: "Fans of Tom Clancy will appreciate this book."
One solid reminder: Writers slave over their manuscripts, then often dash off a quick letter to sell the thing they've invested so much into. Don't make that mistake. Write a solid letter. Have others read it. Proof it (several times). And then send it in.
Have heart: while it's tough to break out of the query slush pile, it does happen. When Hogrebe read several of her clients' queries, she dispelled the myth that no one gets an agent that way.
The competition is stiff, but climbing out of that slush pile can be done. Stand out from the crowd by including those things agents really want to see.
I'll have to recreate my brilliant post for next week. In the meantime I have a quote for writerly people.
Zest. Gusto. How rarely one hears these words used. How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter, creating by them. Yet if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road to where he wants to go, I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto.--Ray Bradbury
Monday, October 22, 2007
Janette Rallison submitted the first page of a novel she's writing. Feel free to make comments, but please keep them constructive.
Critique Archive 0008:
A fairy godmother’s guide to saving troubled teenagers.
Extra credit report
For Master Sagewick Goldengill
Thank you for allowing me to raise my semester grade through this extra credit project. Here is some pertinent background information about the troubled teenage souls involved, and how using fairy skills I was able to improve their dreary little lives, thus proving I have mastered the magic necessary to pass apprentice level.
(page break here)
Boys weren’t a problem for Anne. They only paid attention to her while asking for help with homework. She always knew the answers. See, no problem at all.
It wasn’t because she wasn’t pretty enough. She was. She had long dark hair the color of milk chocolate, hair that she usually wore pulled back into a pony tail because that way it took her two minutes to do and didn’t fall into her face while she looked down at her school work.
Her eyes were the same candy bar color—and really who doesn’t like chocolate? Certainly not the boys in her senior class. Her eyes were pretty enough even behind the glasses she always wore. It was unfortunately, her air of extreme competence that scared them away. In many times and places—as she slid things in and out of an immaculately organized locker, as she encouraged the students in her tutoring sessions—she didn’t seem to be a teenage girl at all. She was somebody’s mother, just waiting to happen.
Many perfumes promise to lure men to women. None of them reek of motherhood. None of them proclaim the wearer to be tidy, thrifty, and sensible. At least not in high school. Those traits become attractive much later on, when guys wake up and realize they’re not living somebody else’s life.
So there was Anne, walking out of the school building with a backpack which was heavier than it needed to be, because after all it couldn’t hurt to read over her Shakespeare assignment one more time. As happens with most important life changing events, she was not thinking about anything important at all. If she had thought of Hunter that day, those wishes, those half formed sighs of longing had faded as soon as the bell rang after calculus. He had picked up his books and tucked them under his arm without a glance in her direction.
Critique Archive 0007:
- Twin Cars -
“Ben, it’s almost midnight,” Mom yelled up from the family room. “Are you going to go get David or not?”
“Yeah, I’m going,” I called back. “Just a sec. I need to save my game first.” I was right in the middle of my favorite computer game, and it wasn’t all that easy to just quit, unless I wanted to start all over again the next time. Mom never could understand that. After a few more of my favorite moves and maneuvers, I finally got to a breaking point and exited out.
“Which car do you want me to take?” I yelled down the stairs. Mom and Dad were down there watching a movie for their Friday-night date.
“Your mom’s, I guess,” Dad answered. “Mine’s almost out of gas . . . unless you want to fill it up on your way.”
“No, thanks,” I answered. I grabbed the red key ring from the hook on the wall and headed for the garage.
I still couldn’t get over Mom and Dad’s twin cars. They had identical Toyota Corollas. Dad had bought his the year before, and they both liked it so well that when it came time for Mom to have a new car, she decided to get another one just like it. Except for hers being a year newer, they were exactly the same in every possible way—right down to being absolutely spotless inside and out. Mom and Dad both came majorly unglued if any of us kids ever left so much as a gum wrapper on the seats. And heaven forbid we would ever even think about climbing in the car with dirty feet. Holy Schmoly, the whole world would come to an abrupt end.
Of course, they were different colors. We had to be able to tell them apart somehow. I didn’t know what Dad was thinking, though. If it had been me, I’d have given the ugly green one to Mom and kept the shiny new red one for myself.
Exiting the kitchen, I automatically headed for the nearest vehicle. Mom always parked hers by the door, presumably because she was the one with groceries to unload all the time. And Dad, being the perfect gentlemen, parked on the far side without any complaint . . . most of the time, anyway.
I was almost to the driver’s door when I just happened to glance at Dad’s twin car and realized
that Mom’s red one was over there. They were parked in the wrong spots.
“I hate it when they do that,” I mumbled to myself.
If Dad was driving Mom’s car for some odd reason, he always hit his own button on the garage door opener and then parked in his spot without even thinking about it. If we had one big garage door instead of two separate ones, that wouldn’t be a problem.
I reversed direction and headed around to the driver’s door of Mom’s red car.
It was then that I just happened to glance back at Dad’s car … and saw the real problem. At first all I could do was stare. Then I reversed direction again and went straight back in the house.
“Hey, Dad,” I yelled down the stairs, “you said to take Mom’s car, right? The red one?”
“That’s what I said,” he answered. “Why? Is it out of gas, too?”
I could just imagine him poking Mom in the ribs and winking at her.
“It can’t be,” Mom answered to Dad. “I just filled it up yesterday.”
“No, that’s not it,” I answered. “The problem is Dad’s car.”
“What about my car?” he asked, suddenly sounding very serious.
“Well … you better come and see for yourself. You’re not going to believe this.”
“Why? What happened?”
By that time, the video had been paused, and both of them were dashing up the stairs with that don’t-tell-me-you-crashed-my-car kind of look on their faces.
I just silently led them to the garage, threw open the door, and stepped back to watch. Predictably, they both just stood there staring, looking back and forth at the twin cars, over and over.
“I … I don’t understand,” Mom finally managed. “They’re both … red.”
“Duh,” I said. “You get an A-plus in Eye Test.”
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Let me recap (by generous paraphrasing):
Carla Neggers (8 million books sold): You need to be able to visualize your novel as a whole. This may include listing the chapters/scenes on a page, and the characters that are involved in each scene. In writing suspense, this helps you see if all the pieces are coming together in the appropriate way.
Antonio Sacre (International storyteller): Everyone has a story inside. The important thing is to find the commonality that we all have within us. Then other's will relate to your story/characters.
Chris Schoebinger (Senior Acquisitions Editor of Shadow Mountain/Deseret Book): When you finish your manuscript find three honest people (not family members) who will give you honest feedback. We receive 1,000 queries a year--we accept 1% of those.
Laurie Liss (Sterling Lord Literistic Agency): If you aren't writing from your heart, I don't want to read it. What is your platform? Establish a platform.
Nancy Berland (Voted best of the best Publicist by RWA): You need an internet presence . . . start with website and blogging. You need a publicist if 1)You are a new author; 2) Break-out book; 3) Your career has taken off and you have no time to promote. Recommends "blog-touring".
Gene Nelson (Executive Director of Provo Library): Your librarian is your best friend. Northern Utah spends 15 million a year on books. Librarians buy books based on reviews. Coordinate a library event and do an author signing/speaking engagement. Give your ARC to the library book buyer. People who frequent the library are also book buyers. Book people are book people.
Jennifer Slattery (Publicity Manager, Harper Collins): Book Tours are not cost-effective unless you are a major author. Promote through internet.
Richard Paul Evans (NY Times Bestselling Author): Create an email list. Everyone you meet should be invited to join your newsletter list.
Overwhelming Majority: You need to be able to describe your book in one SHORT paragraph.
Recommended Reading (must have): The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to use News Releases, Blogs, Podcasting, Viral Marketing and Online Media to Reach Buyers Directly by David Meerman Scott
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
One of the banes of the computer age is the usually wonderful invention of the spell checker on your word processor.
The problem occurs when you type something that is wrong but that is technically a word—just not the one you meant.
One of my personal demons is the word, "from." I tend to type it as "form." Spell check will never catch that, so I have to be vigilant on that as well as other words.
But one major problem is that sometimes we aren’t sure ourselves which word we mean, or our fingers pick the wrong one.
Two common sets of mistakes involve pronouns: it and they. A quick review of the issues involved can help clarify:
It’s vs. Its
This one is so prevalent it’s almost epidemic.
It’s is a contraction of two words, IT and IS, and they’re connected with the apostrophe, in exactly the same way that DO and NOT are connected with one in the word, don’t.
Somehow because we add an apostrophe to people’s names when making them possessive (such as Bob’s cat/Mary’s car), people assume we do the same with pronouns.
Not so. Think of other possessive pronouns.
You wouldn't ever consider writing hi’s or he’r or who’se or thei’r.
Likewise, we don’t write it’s tire when referring to the car’s flat. The pronoun should be ITS.
Some examples of correct usage:
It’s going to be a hot day. (IT IS going to be a hot day.)
It’s a golden retriever. (IT IS a golden retriever.)
The tree has shed its leaves.
The truck was rear-ended, so its bed needs to be replaced.
The triple threat. But if you take just a second to think about which one you need, making the right choice is really very simple.
This is simply the possessive form of they.
Their house has a beautiful maple out front.
For the second year in a row, their business ranked #2 in sales.
Add the word "over" to this one, and you’ll never get meaning wrong. There (or over there) refers to a location.
Put your coat down there.
I’ve been to Paris and hope to visit there again.
We’re back to the wonderful world of contractions. How do you know that? By the trusty apostrophe hanging around. This time the two words it’s shoving together are THEY and ARE.
They’re such a great couple.
I love home-grown tomatoes; they’re much more flavorful than store-bought.
Always, always print out and reread your work to make sure your fingers didn’t type a mistake that your spell checker won’t catch. It only takes a few extra seconds, but the time is well spent if it makes you look professional.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
- A query letter
- A synopsis (usually one page, but have several different lengths on the ready, such as the two page, the seven page and the fifteen page)
- the first three chapters or first fifty pages of the manuscript.
That's it. That's your entire arsenal against the slushpiles of doom.
And yet, how many people really spend enough time on that part of the writing process? Most of the time, the query letter is the first thing any agent or editor will see. The query letter doesn't show them your brilliance with analogies, or the your immense battle scene in chapter thirty-nine. The query letter has a hard time showing off your tear jerker ending. And if the query letter sucks muddy rocks, then the editor/agent will never see anything else.
It is just as important to workshop your query letter to several sets of eyes as it is to workshop your actual book. I sent my new query letter to six of my most trusted author friends who I count on to play it straight with me.
I'd be shooting myself in the foot if I didn't spend time editing and rewriting that most pivotal piece of paper. Your query is your hook. If you bait it right, you'll cast out and reel in a request for the first three chapters.
The first paragraphs of those three chapters are your hook. If you bait it right, you'll cast out and reel in a request for the full manuscript.
I spent months and months writing this novel. I will take the time to make sure my query is worthy of a partial request. I will take time to make sure my partial is worthy of a full manuscript request.
Jeff Savage (aka Scott Savage) asks this question, "Does your first sentence earn you the right to a second one?"
Monday, October 15, 2007
Critique Archive 0006:
Dear Ms. Agent, October 15, 2007
Like all aspiring authors, I am seeking an excellent agent for my manuscript. I am also looking for an agency that is willing to represent an author who has published successfully in a regional market, but would like to make the transition to national.
MY NOVEL is a romantic suspense novel set in the 1930’s, with roots in Providence, Rhode Island. The main character's story touches upon mental illness, falling in love during the greatest recession in America, and finding the answers to a troubled past in war-torn Europe. This manuscript is written in first-person and is approximately 90,000 words.
I have won writing awards at several local contests (from the League of Utah Writers). I'm also a member of a critique group.
Please contact me by phone, email or mail if the excerpt from MY NOVEL holds interest.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
What is a “talking head”? Maybe you remember the 1970's, when the punk singing group Talking Heads first made their debut. Or you might have heard the term “talking heads” used to refer to cable news anchors, TV or radio personalities who sit behind a desk and share their opinions.
I’ve often used the phrase “talking heads” in my language arts classroom. No, not to refer to those students who are so busy chatting that they don’t learn anything, although that has been tempting at times. I refer to a style developing writers often use, offering pages of dialogue, bouncing the reader back and forth like a ping pong ball, but failing to establish a sense of place, develop characterization, or move the story forward through action. Sometimes the reader can follow the author’s intention, but still come away from the work feeling they need to know more.
Here’s a sample passage adapted from the award-winning novel Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse to illustrate what can happen when writers fail to use more than dialogue to tell their story.
“Wear this in health,” Hannah had whispered.
“Come,” Papa said.
“Quickly, Rifka,” Papa whispered. “The boys, and Mama, and I must hide before light.”
“You can distract the guards, can’t you, little sister?” Nathan said.
“Yes,” I answered.
What is happening in this selection? Who are the characters? What do you know about them? Where are they? You probably don’t know all the answers to these questions after reading nothing but this adaptation.
Here’s the same passage in its original form. Notice the difference in information about where the characters are, what is being asked of them, and the action that is to come.
“Wear this in health,” Hannah had whispered in my ear as she draped a shawl over my shoulders early this morning, before we slipped from your house into the dark.
“Come,” Papa said, leading us through the woods to the train station.
I looked back to the flickering lights of your house, Tovah.
“Quickly, Rifka,” Papa whispered. “The boys, and Mama, and I must hide before light.”
“You can distract the guards, can’t you, little sister?” Nathan said, putting an arm around me. In the darkness, I could not see his eyes, but I felt them studying me.
“Yes,” I answered, not wanting to disappoint him.
You have probably figured out that these people are trying to escape from somewhere, despite danger and their own fears. These details were not clear in the first version.
If you want your reader to become engaged in your story, care about your characters, and leave the story with a sense of fulfillment. Add the rich details that take your reader right into the setting and the scene. Readers don’t want to follow a ping pong game, they want to make a connection with the characters. Don’t let your character’s dialogue stand alone as nothing more than “talking heads.”
Friday, October 12, 2007
It's my day to share something brilliant, but it also happens to be the day that LDSpublisher posted a guest post I sent her. Sooooooooooooo, if you don't mind, please follow this link and read what I had to say over there. Thanks much.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Over the past few weeks while attending booksignings, I've had several people ask me the same question. "How do you find time to write?"
In the beginning, writing was an escape. It was something I did because I felt so much better and more fulfilled after. But once my first book in a series came out, it turned into a different game. Now I had a deadline, and I had to write toward it. So "finding time" wasn't just something I did when I felt like it, but it was something I had to fit into a busy schedule.
Appropriately, in Jack Bickham's The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, the first chapter is about not making excuses to not write. Well, we all have excuses, and many times they are very valid. But sometimes, they aren't.
Author, James Dashner, made this analogy to a recent audience when asked the same question. "How many of you watched an hour of television last night?" Most hands went up. "How many of you watched two hours?" A few hands went down. "How many of you watched three hours?" Several hands went down, but at least a half-dozen remained in the air. "Last night instead of watching T.V., I wrote for three hours."
Julie Wright owns a store with her husband, works a full-time job (starting at 5:00 a.m. each day) and manages to write one or two books a year. How does she do it? She doesn't make excuses.
Writing is hard work. It takes persistence, perseverence, self-motivation . . . you get the picture. I love Bickham's advice for the days that we have excuses not to write: "type one double-spaced page of excuses, date is carefully, and file it in a special place . . . you must do this every time you don't work." (3)
Bickham also says that no excuse is good enough. As a mother, I know there are many excuses that are good enough, so that's why it's important to set realistic goals and stick to them. But his message is loud and clear--at least to me . . . Writers write. Non-writers make excuses.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
I want to hug my daughter's third-grade teacher. She has come up with a fabulous way of helping students draft stories with great conflict, stories that have several steps and aren't simply a recounting of summer vacation.
At a recent parent-teacher conference, I got to read my daughter's latest story, written using the concept Mrs. P. had taught, which she in turn got from a book (which I'm admitting right now I haven't read) called Fortunately, by Remy Charlip.
Each line of the book begins with either "fortunately" or "unfortunately."
I'll quote a bit from my daughter's story (with her permission) so you see how it works. She began what happened after Ned from the original story got to the party he had been invited to:
Unfortunately, tigers burst into the party.
Fortunately, everyone ran out of the room safely.
Unfortunately, he got lost.
Fortunately, he found a plane.
Unfortunately, there was no pilot.
Fortunately, he knew how to drive a plane.
Unfortunately, he fell asleep.
Fortunately, there was another person on the plane.
Unfortunately, he could not drive it.
Fortunately, the boy woke up.
Unfortunately, they crashed.
Fortunately, the plane landed in a flower bed.
Unfortunately, there were bees in the flower bed.
Fortunately, the bees went after someone else.
Unfortunately, they were just getting more bees.
Fortunately, the boy could run faster than the bees could fly.
Unfortunately, he smashed into a door.
Fortunately, it was his house and he got in safely.
See how this works? Something good happens, and then something messes that up, which propels the character into the next situation. The reader thinks it's a good time to take a breath, that everything will work out. But of course it doesn't. Not until the very end.
While I don't recommend beginning every scene of your book with "fortunately" or "unfortunately," the amazing thing here is that this is pretty much how your book should work, too, just on a slightly more complex level.
One situation should lead causally to the next one, which leads to the next.
Good things happen, but then they get messed up, leading to the next thing.
If your story doesn't have enough "unfortunately" moments, it's going to be dry and slow-paced.
Take a look at your plot and see if you can't shake it up by going between the highs and lows that we learned from good old Ned and Mrs. P.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Often times, writers refer to manuscripts as their child. They created it, breathed life into it, making it belong to them in every way. And since we refer to a manuscript as a living breathing being . . . it stands to reason that a manuscript experiences the same emotions and pitfalls of humanity. It stands to reason that every manuscript experiences a midlife crisis.
Middle ages and middle pages have more in common than a few letters.
We understand the beginning of life. It's filled with wonder and discovery and excitement. The end is filled with wisdom and an excitement of it's own as the actual climatic end draws near. But the middle? What are we to do with the middle?
If it's a romance, the beginning is so they can meet. The ending is so they can finally confess their ardent love and admiration. And the middle is where your characters learn exactly what it is they so love and admire.
If the book is a mystery, the beginning is the crime. The ending is where we find out who's guilty after all. And the middle is the setbacks and push forwards as we collect clues that lead us to the ultimate discovery.
So we understand the purpose of the middle. It is our bridge from the beginning to the end. But why does it feel like our bridge comes with a horrible sagging defect in the center that forces us to tread through the freezing water underneath after all?
One of my friends from high school is an artist. She once told me that every work of art has an ugly stage. When I'm cleaning cupboards and I rip everything out to reorganize it, invariably my kids and husband will come in and tell me I made a worse mess. I chant her statement to myself.
Well sometimes the middle feels like the ugly stage.
But it shouldn't. In life, the middle is where you finally have some wisdom, and you're still young enough to have it matter. In books, the middle is the meat of your story. It's where all the good stuff happens. And consequently the middle has a beginning middle and end too.
The middle beginning: This is where you start the "suffering chain" for your protagonist. The "suffering chain" is where you make their life and end goal impossible. You flesh out secondary characters and give them purpose in the protagonist's life. You make sure we understand the antagonist's goals.
The middle of the middle: This is where you have lots of choices. Someone said at a writer's conference once that the middle middle needs a betrayer (whether real of imagined) of some sort. I don't think it needs one but if you want one, the middle middle is as good a place as any to throw it in. The middle middle is where you squeeze the protagonist into tighter spots and limit their ability to get out of those spots. This is where, in a love story, the character recognizes they love the other person and find themselves impulsively offering over a kiss or whatever. Then immediately regret the action. In Pride and Prejudice, the middle consists of Darcy confessing his love to an unwilling Elizabeth. He was squeezed into a tight spot emotionally until he acted out irrationally. This is a good place for your character to act out too soon and irrationally creating a longer chain of suffering for the protagonist.
The end of the middle (or beginning of the end)?: Your character needs to wrap up all the little issues here. The big issue needs to be saved until the actual end, but the little things need wrapped now. Do not introduce new characters unless they can be quick about their business and aren't pivotal to the plot. You must force the protagonist into serious action here. In order to be likable, the protagonist must have made several small choices for themselves, but here is where they must shine with action. They must be forced and squeezed ever tighter until they can only choose the one final thing that will lead to the actual end.
Then you can have them ride off into the sunset or finally show the widow who murdered her husband (or show that the widow murdered her husband, whichever works for you)
Like in life, the middle is better when we don't fill it with "filler." Empty calories don't lead to satisfying endings. If we want our middle to have zip and energy, then we need to stick with your basic food groups and save the ice cream for dessert.
Monday, October 8, 2007
Critique Archive 0005:
It had been fifty years since I last visited my parents’ home in Foster Center. The farm had been bought and sold and the land divided. At my grand niece’s wedding reception, one of the old-timers, like me, told me my folks’ place was still standing, although abandoned. It was the last farmhouse remaining on the east side of the creek.
When the festivities died down I drove to the home where I’d spent my youth. The road was paved, a few sidewalks had cropped up, and newer homes replaced the old. I had previously returned to Foster on brief visits for family functions, but I’d never stayed long. Now, at the age of seventy-five, I was going home.
The farmhouse sat a half-mile from the new road. The trees surrounding the property were immense and bent with age, and the house was smaller than I remembered. Driving down the rutted lane, I parked and climbed out of the car. I ascended the creaky steps to the front porch. Leaves were strewn everywhere, and some of the boards were rotted through. I pulled open the screen, surprised it was still there, and pushed the front door open. After stepping into the dim interior of the empty house, I unfastened a stubborn window and open it. Fading light entered the room, revealing dust and cobwebs. A rocking chair, resembling my mother’s, stood alone in the center of the floor. I could almost see my siblings sitting near her knees, laughing at her silly stories, as the rocker creaked back and forth.
I brushed off some of the dust and caressed the smooth curving wood—it felt cool to the touch—then I dragged the chair to the porch. Twilight had begun to fade, but the weather was still warm. I sat and began to rock, just as my father had, just as my mother had.
Closing my eyes, I listened to the crickets begin their song. Memories flooded through my mind and once again I was a young woman of nineteen.