Monday, January 30, 2017
by Julie Wright
I've likely blogged on this topic before, but I'm a little redundant as a human anyway so bear with me. I read in Stephen King's book, On Writing (brilliant book, if you haven't read it, why haven't you?), that the first draft of a novel should be written with the door closed. This means that no one is watching. You can put in whatever cheesy line you want. You can make it be a bit absurd. You can riddle your manuscript with adverbs and metaphors that make no sense. You can go on at great length about the minutest of details. You can have lengthy bouts of exposition while you explore your own world and come up with back history.
There is great joy to be found in writing with the door closed. It is so painless.
Then the second draft happens. Mr. King says the second draft needs to be written with the door open. This is the draft we know our family, friends, and enemies will be reading. This is the draft for public review. Leaving the door open is painful.
I despise the process of opening the door. I've lost many great lines to the open door policy. Knowing my target audience, those lines couldn't stay and it broke my heart to hit the delete button. I also despise opening the door because I'm afraid I didn't edit all the absurdities out. Did I get rid of all those lengthy bouts of exposition? Did I really delete all the cheesy things my characters did and said?
If I didn't, someone will be sure to let me know about it. Reviews are so much fun that way. Or not. Open doors means that you, the author, are open to criticism.
I endorse writing the first draft with a closed door. You need to be allowed to write bad pages so you can move forward with the blocks and funks that come with writing a manuscript.
But that doesn't mean you should hide behind the door. You can fiddle forever with a manuscript and never really be done, but a point has to come where you just let go.
Janette Rallison wrote into one of our online writer's groups in response to the question, "when is enough, enough?" Janette responded, "If you've been working on it for four years, it's probably past time. Send it out and start working on your next manuscript."
The longest it has taken me to finish a manuscript was with my first one. I kept the door closed a whole lot of years. I started it when I was fifteen and finished when I was 24 years old. Nine years of hiding behind the door. Then I hid a few years longer by not submitting the manuscript. I finally submitted and had the book published when I was 29 years old.
Oddly enough, I finished my second manuscript in just under six months after getting the first one published. What was the difference?
I realized I could. By getting one out there, I *knew* I could do it again. Confidence is an amazing cure for writer's block. There is no such thing as second manuscript infertility. So if you're writing with the door closed and it's been a while, you might want to try opening that door up to all the possibilities out there.
Just curious, what was the longest amount of time you guys took on a manuscript?
Friday, January 27, 2017
by Annette Lyon
Wednesday, January 25, 2017
For some of you, parts of this post will be redundant--I'm sorry for that--but I can't deny that this topic has been on my mind a lot these last few weeks and then Julie's blog on opening the door ignited another line of thought. So bear with the repetition, there is a point I'm trying to make :-)
When I first met my husband--well, he wasn't my husband then, but you get my point--he told me about numerous of his relatives. One of them was his great aunt Elva. She was fiesty and a little bit intimidating, a passionate geneologist, and a talented writer. Elva didn't tell me she was a writer, Lee did. Apparently she wrote quite a bit--short stories, articles, essays. She read one to me a few years after Lee and I married (before I had written a lick) and it was really well done. I mean REALLY well done. I asked her if she'd ever published anything and she got embarrassed and put her writing binder back on the shelf. We didn't talk about her writing again until I published my first novel. Elva was somewhat was suspicious of it and even made some comments about writing only being PURE until it's published, then it's just a commercial venture. I took it with a grain of salt and since then have encountered dozens of people with the same attitude. In my opinion, it's an attitude of fear. As long as their writing is on a shelf at home, it's safe, they have control and no one will reject it. Thus, when another writer does what they can not (or will not) do, it pricks at them a little bit. This is how it was with Elva.
However, over the next few years she softened up a little and in time became genuinely interested, and maybe even a little bit proud, of me. And then she dropped a bombshell. She was writing a book. When she told me, she just glowed and it was one of those moments when I realized how far we had come. She shared the premise with me and I thought it sounded awesome. I encouraged her to finish it. It was fun to see this woman, in her seventies, so excited about her writing. She was finally ready to put it out there.
And then she was diagnosed.
Doctors didn't give her a time frame like they show in the movies. She had surgery, she had radiation and chemo. She traded her coarse red hair for a coarse red wig. At her funeral a year later I asked about the book and her son said he'd thrown it in a box.
And so the book was, and is, and always will be in the box. That's not to say that the time Elva spent writing was wasted--I'm the last person that would say that--and it's not to say that she missed anything in her life by not being published, I believe she was pretty happy. The only part of it that bothers me is that by the time she decided to open the door, there wasn't time left for her to finish her book. In addition, I believe that because she didn't give her writing much 'credit' it was not of value to her family either. Her son wasn't interested in her book or anything else when she died--but she'd never demanded respect for it either.
I recently had another friend who ran out of time. Anne was forty years younger than Elva was, but equally talented. She was also diagnosed, and she'd also written a book. The doctors didn't give her a time line either BUT there are a lot of differences between her and Elva. First, she opened the door for her writing a lot sooner than Elva did. Second, she was never suspect of anyone else's success. Third, she lived half as long as Elva did and didn't waste a moment. Fourth, the people in her life knew that she wrote, they respected it and because of that, I believe they always will.
Over the last 19 months of her life she wrote letters to her three daughters that will be given to them as they reach milestones in thier lives. She wrote out numerous experiences from her childhood that she wanted them to know. She finished the middle grade novel she'd been working on and submitted it to agents. She wrote, and had accepted, a magazine article and wrote a couple others. She wrote a picture book for families facing cancer and researched and queried agents. She was already well on her way to a satisfying writing career when her future took a detour, but instead of putting her talent 'in the box' she threw that door wide open even though it wasn't easy for her write amid surgeries, treatments, and still raising her children.
Anne's funeral is on Thursday and there is nothing about her death that is not heartbreaking, but while her words she wrote did not buy her more time here, her daughters have their mother because of the words she wrote and the time she spent to write them. Had she not continued writing after she was diagnosed, they would have missed out on precious things that I believe they will always treasure. THAT is an incredible gift.
I will always regret that I won't see Elva's book on the shelves--but I'm glad she wrote it. I wish she'd decided to open the door to her writing even ten years earlier. Who knows what would have happened if she had.
I will always regret that I don't get to watch Anne's career grow and flourish the way she deserved it to flourish--but I'm glad that she wrote every word she took the time to write down. And I'm so glad she decided to open the door when she did. Not all of us get a 'head's up' on when our time here will be over. Might we all use our time, and our talents, wisely.
Monday, January 23, 2017
By Heather Moore
When I meet writers who are looking to get published, they often ask me how I decide where to start my story, who the characters will be, and how I plot.
So as I’m preparing to write my next book, I thought I’d give you some insight into my process.
1. Thinking. Maybe mulling is the more correct word. I have to have the main character pretty well defined in my mind before starting to write. The secondary characters come into the story to support the main character—and sometimes they surprise even me.
2. Creating a schedule. Writing, of course, is not always controlled by that effervescent muse (Annette—I’m probably using effervescent wrong). Writing is part creativity, and part science. Editing definitely falls into the science category, as well as actually completing a book. Like any writer, I’m constantly pulled in different directions. But once I decide on a book, I need to create the schedule to get it completed, and limit any other stories in my head that are trying to derail priority number 1. For example, if I decide to turn in a book on December 1st to my publisher and I start on August 1st, I divide the word count by the number of writing days. And I leave a couple of weeks in for editing. August: 25,000 words (average 1,000 words a day, 5 days/week). September: 25,000 words, October: 25,000 words, November: 10,000 (2 weeks), 2 weeks of edits.
3. Character sketching. This is an evolving process and changes and grows as I get further into the writing process. For instance, when I write my first draft, my character motivations aren’t usually ironed out. I’m writing mostly plot and dialog. About half-way through draft 1, I’ve had to make solid decisions about my characters, so I’m adding information to my character sketches as I go. So during the 2nd draft, I’m inserting more characterization to the beginning of the book.
4. Point of view & tense: I take into consideration who my audience will be and who the most important characters are. Will the story happen in real time (present tense) or past tense? Will my characters speak in first person (ideal for YA), or third person? It’s a lot of work to change this part of the process, so doing your research beforehand will save you a lot of time later.
5. Conflict. This goes hand in hand with character sketching. I have to ask myself what is the main conflict of the book, and of each character.
6. Beginning. Now that I have some basics going and I actually sit down to write, I usually concentrate on where I want the story to begin. Not to say that the first chapter I write will be the actual first chapter of the book, but I start pretty near the beginning. Before I start a chapter/scene, I ask myself: “What is the point of the chapter? What will be accomplished? What will it show that may/may not be relevant to the story as a whole?”
7. Creating a scene. I create scenes in several phases. Phase 1: writing and not caring too much about “fleshing out” the characters or the description, but I am nailing down the direction of the scene. Phase 2: revising the scene and inserting more description, making more concrete decisions about the character. Phase 3: this will happen when the whole book is drafted and maybe new developments have happened along the way. So I now have to go back through each scene to make sure the story is properly directed. As you can see, creativity has just been replaced by careful analysis (science).
Okay, looking over this list makes me wonder why I even start a new book. Every writer has what works for them. My style might be convoluted, but you never know, it might work for you as well.
Friday, January 20, 2017
by Annette Lyon
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Monday, January 16, 2017
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
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!).
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
by Annette Lyon
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.
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.
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.
Monday, January 9, 2017
by Annette Lyon
Friday, January 6, 2017
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 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
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 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.
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.
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. :)
Monday, January 2, 2017
By Julie Wright
I can't cook. It's just not something I'm any good at. I'm guessing it has something to do with my lack of recipe literacy. My life is busy enough that I skim directions. I do a lot of guesswork and substitutions because I don't prepare enough in advance to know what ingredients I needed before actually cooking the meal. This is why my food ends up overcooked, undercooked, soggy, dried out, not exactly like the picture, and not exactly edible.
I have found that when I take the time to thoroughly read the instructions and actually follow them step for step, my husband smiles at mealtime and my kids don't complain and comment on how they wished Daddy had done the cooking. So I've found I actually *can* cook if I'm willing to take the time and follow the directions on the recipe.
I was able to attend a writing conference geared toward teens this last weekend and it was awesome. Teens are so filled with life that it's contagious. On one of the panels, someone asked about the query letter. Another person asked what, exactly, do editors/agents want to see when you submit to them. Do you submit one chapter? Five chapters? The whole thing?
I think it was J Scott Savage who said, "Submit whatever they ask for." And it was Jessica Day George who added, "But not more than they ask for."
In short: follow the directions. It takes a little more time to research each agency and publishing house to find out their individual submission guidelines, but the result is much preferred than you taking a guess at what might need to go into that envelope. Submission guidelines are important because they prove you are flexible, easy to deal with on a personal level, and they prove that you can take direction. Being an independent thinker with your submissions might make you feel empowered, as you enclose full manuscripts that weren't requested or 8X10 glossy portraits, but it won't make you look like you'd be easy to work with.
It's a first impression thing. Make your first impression count and follow the submission guidelines when you submit.