Saturday, January 31, 2009

Procrastinators Unite! ...tomorrow

The house is clean.

My weekend guests have come and gone.

The lesson plans for next week...well, let's face it, I'm gonna be winging it anyway.

The last of the most recent rounds of queries have been sent.

I can't wait any more.

I'm just gonna have to get started on the next WIP!

Husband, Take Note

I want this.

(Note: I usually find dolls creepy. It's because of Chucky. But I adore this one--it's super cute, my granny used to buy me Madame Alexander dolls, and it's Lucy. Lucy!)

Ignore the Man Behind the Curtain

Below there's a post on my 50 Books in 2009 Challenge. Go ahead and ignore it. I just wanted to create a post that I could link to (see it there, under the "currently reading" link?). I'm trying to clean up a bit. From now on, if you'd like to see the process of the Challenge, just click that link, and it'll take you to that post below this one. Beside each book I've read, there's a big READ! and I'll be collecting reviews there, too, in case you're interested.

Friday, January 30, 2009


Taken. Go see it.

Author Influence

I am reading a book right now--Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale--and it is brilliant. Seriously. I think it's the best book that I've ever read on writing (although I am not sure how helpful it would be to someone who isn't aware of the show). I digress.

The reason I'm writing this post is because in the first chapters of the book, the author makes it very clear that not only is he nonreligious, he's a bit anti-religion, specifically anti-Christian. Perhaps I should have known this before, given that Philip Pullman wrote the foreword.

It's not there much, but it is there. And I have to say that it taints my idea of the author--and the book itself--a bit.

This has happened to me before. When Pullman did so many interviews about being anti-Christian and wrote the His Dark Materials series as a reverse-Chronicles of Narnia, I was completely turned off. Whatever I liked about his books--and there were some of his that I loved--everything I read from him from that point on was completely tainted with his anti-Christian viewpoint. I can't help it. I'm fine if you're another religion, or if you're not a religion, but if you attack my viewpoint, I'm not fine with you or your work.

The author of the writing book I'm reading now isn't as anti-Christian as Pullman, but there are some dark undertones in some of his words that gives me a knee-jerk negative reaction.

So, I was wondering: If there is something about an author that you don't like--his view point, his opinion on something, his politics or religion--do you still like his books? If this has never happened to you before, could you find yourself reading a book that you liked, even if you knew the author was diametrically opposed to something you felt strongly about?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Follow Up: What Would You Do....

I love scenarios. :) So a follow up what if question:

If you knew that you would have to write 20 books--and write them well--and at the end of writing 20, only one would ever be published--but that one would not be published unless all 20 were written and perfected--but despite the hard work, the other 19 would not be published....would it be worth it? Is it worth putting that much time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears into 20 manuscript if you knew that only one would eventually be published?



Today, in Class

Upon reading The Scarlet Letter:

Me: So, the townspeople are mean to Pearl because she is the child of adultery.
Kid: What about the other kids? Do they play with her?
Me: Nope. They're scared of her, and think she's tainted with the sin of her mother.
Kid: Oh, so she's like Rudolph?


(I'll let that one just sink in a moment.) :)

Which Would You Do...

This is the sort of thing my brain thinks of before caffeine:

If you could have one book published--but only one book--and that book would 100% for sure be published, and you would 100% for sure have moderate success (a good advance, book tour, signings and readings--but we're not talking JK Rowling here), BUT after this happened you would 100% for sure never publish again (you can write all you want--just not be published)...would you do that instead of staying in the rat race of publication and trying to break out with your own chops, knowing the chances? Which would be better--guaranteed one perfect slam dunk, or just the chance to stay in the game and hope the ball comes your way?

(PS: I know forms of this question have circulated around the intarwebs before...but it is a really interesting thing--at least now, when I still haven't had caffeine--and I'd be very interested in knowing your thoughts)

So...which would you do?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Finding Time

Oh, boy. I'm drowning over here. I have just started a new school semester, and I'm teaching something that a) I have never taught before and b) I don't even like. So I am up all night writing new lesson plans, trying to find something engaging in a topic that I personally detest. On top of that, I am about a month behind in catching up on crits for one critique group, I'm trying to think of ways to help keep my other crit group alive. I've just come off revising my manuscript, am submitting it around now--with all the stress that entails.

In short, I'm a bit burned out.

And yet yesterday, when I found myself with twenty free minutes of time, a story poured out from my fingers.

Why is it that when we feel as if we have no time for anything, that's when some of the best writing comes forth?

I think it's because as writers, we never really quit writing. Every situation I am in, every conversation I have, every experience I feel--that's all source material. I tell myself "what if" stories during my drive to work; when I read something, spin-off plots form in my head. Even if I'm swamped in my daily life and even if I don't have time to even think about working on a plot for a new book...well, I'm still thinking about it. My brain is still going, still making stories, just as surely as my heart is still beating, still pumping blood.

And actually, the more stressed I am, the more overwhelmed by life and work and responsibilities...the better I am at writing. I think it's a combination between valuing what little writing time I do have and escaping in stories in my mind to avoid real life...which leads into short bursts of writing that's pretty effective.

So how about you? When do you write best--when you're super-stressed, or super-relaxed?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Shelli did an interview of Martha Mihalick from Greenwillow that is absolutely worth checking out. Martha was one of the speakers at the conference that I blogged about recently, and I'll be mailing my manuscript to her...sooooon....

Couple of good query info and critiques going on now: here and here (scroll for several of them).

Christy's done something pretty cool: a book trailer for a book before it's been published. This is an idea I've been toying with, and might follow in her creative footsteps soon. :)

Justine Larbalestier is analyzing what makes for good writing. This is basically what I try to do with my Writer's Reviews of books, so if you like them, check her out.

Heather found the cover for the sequel to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Can't wait! Can't wait!

Wait a minute...I didn't blog a review of The Hunger Games?! What the heck! That will be rectified soon...

Monday, January 26, 2009


Because this--this is just freaking awesome.

Author Interview: Ian Sands

I first became aware of author/illustrator Ian Sands when he posted this message to the SCBWI-Carolinas listserv:

"Someone at the conference said that if you could sell 7,000 books on your own you could get the attention of a publisher. I sold 10 books day one. Now I'm only short 6,990!! If you could each please get yourself 400 copies, that would be a real help!!"

Well, that got my attention! And although I could not buy myself 400 copies, I could throw an interview up here and maybe we can all ban together and buy 400 copies! :)

Ian Sands (whose blog is here) is a brillaint artist whose creativity sparkles. Just look at the dinosaur on the cover! Go on, look! And if that's not enough, then click here and check out more art. Ian was also featured recently on Christy Evers's blog.

So, without further ado, here's Ian's interview!

We can all read about your bio from the back of your book or your FAQ online. So, what's a completely random fact about you that most people don't know?

I always thought I would make a pretty good rodeo clown. I like bright clothing and I’m not afraid of cows. I also think I’d probably look better with a little makeup; at least some blush and maybe eye shadow. I have long lashes so I wouldn’t really require mascara and that would help keep the rodeo budget down.

As a child, what was your favorite book? Has your tastes changed since growing up?

How Fletcher Was Hatched by Wende and Harry Devlin. My taste hasn’t changed but my reading level has dropped. How Fletcher Was Hatched is a pretty long picture book by today’s standards. These days I’m more of a Click, Clack, Moo kind of guy.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

What do you want to be when you grow up is a horrible question we ask kids. It leaves the impression that what they are right now isn’t really it. As for adults, the question should be, what do you wish you had done as a kid? Followed by, why don’t you go do it?

How much of you is in your book? Is there a character like you? Is a situation in the book derived from real life?

Everything in How to Milk A Dinosaur is a true account from my life. That’s why it was so easy to write. It’s all true. I only changed the names to protect the innocent. In fact, I’m really Jules.

What was your timeline for the book? How long did it take to write, revise, submit, and finally, get published? How did you feel at these stages?

It took six months to write the first draft. I can’t say exactly how many revisions but I continually tweaked it for three years. During these stages I experienced a wide range of feelings and emotions. I remember one night in particular I was feeling extremely hungry. So I went to the kitchen and made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. That seemed to help and so I went back to writing.

If your reader could only take away one emotion, theme, or idea from the book, what would you want that to be?

There are so many life lessons in this book that it is hard to know where to start. I guess the obvious thing I would like kids to remember is; don’t touch your uncle’s stuff. Also, never drink or have other people drink beverages that are not FDA approved. And finally, if you are going to cheat on a pop quiz, don’t get caught.

What are your goals as an author? Where do you want to see yourself as a writer in 5, 10, 15 years?

In November I attempted NANO, trying to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. Considering the longest manuscript I ever wrote before this attempt was only 10,000 words, it should have been no surprise to me when I failed miserably! However, I learned that, given another few months, I could write a big boy book. So finishing that novel is my current goal.

What's the most surprising thing you've learned since becoming a writer?

The best surprises come after I’ve put a manuscript away for a time and then go back and read it and find all this funny stuff I forgot I had written. I laugh and wonder, wow, did I write that?

Beyond the typical—never give up, believe in yourself—what would be the single best advice you'd like to give to an aspiring author?

Learn to type. I never did but do what I say not what I do. This type of advice also works great with kids, especially teenagers.

What do you consider to be your strongest talent in writing? Your weakest?

Well, if I have to toot my own tuba, I think I’m funny. I also think I can find odd ways of looking at things. But other than that, everything is a weakness. I can’t type, I can’t speell, I got no grammar, I don’t understand structure sentence or proper word use; and I’m really stinky at puct’uation?

Worse than all that, everyone always says to be a writer you have to be a reader but I only have a fifth grade reading level and I’m super slow so I don’t read.

Basically, I don’t have any of the necessary skills and have no right to even consider myself a writer. But too bad because through the miracle of today’s modern technology, anyone can be a writer, especially in the market of children’s books!!

What's a writing pet peeve that you have?

I hate when I’m trying to write and my turtle climbs onto my lap and starts that “making biscuits” thing that turtles always do. It’s like, he knows I’m trying to write and he’s dong it on purpose.

Thanks, Ian, for the interview! (and sorry it took so long to get it online!) Meanwhile, everyone, I think you'd all better jump on making that buy-400-books-for-Ian goal!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Story of Inspiration: Nathan Fillion and Nate Mallory

As I try to focus on what my next project will be (a sequel to my other WIP, or an entirely different story--a murder mystery in space!), I have been thinking a lot about inspiration. See, I never really know what will have the most influence on a work until after I'm done. It's not just that things get cut (and they do), but it's also that I don't know where the story's going unitl after it's finished.

So I've been thinking a lot about how inspiration played out in my most recent WIP. Recently, I posted about Audrey Hepburn and Malta, but now it's time for some naked Mal.

If I'm going to have a picture of Nathan Fillion,
then why not a picture of naked Nathan Fillion?

The character Nate Mallory, the bad guy of my manuscript, was inspired by Nathan Fillion, a charming actor and all around good guy. The source of the inspiration is specifically from one show that Nathan starred in: Firefly. (The show is still on SciFi channel, by the way, even though Evil-Corporate-Overlord-FOX killed it.)

Firefly: The best television show ever made. Ever.

Originally, the inspiration for Nate Mallory lay only in the name: the actor's name Nathan Fillion contributed my character's first name, Nate, and Fillion's character's name Captain Mal Reynolds, became the last name for my character: Mallory. I wanted Mallory because of my Latin roots: the nickname Mal is reminiscent of the Latin word for "bad," and I used the name as a subtle hint that the character was the bad guy.

Of course, anyone who knows the show Firefly knows that Mal is actually the good guy. But that's not to say that my Mallory doesn't have any influence from this Mal. In Firefly, Mal flip-flops between right and wrong--he's a realistic guy who struggles with what the best thing to do may be, although he ultimately always makes decisions for what's good. My Mal also struggled between right and wrong...he just ultimately went for what's wrong.

Personality also played a part in it. Captain Mal is fun, but an action-orientated guy. He doesn't wait around for discussion. Neither does my Mr. Mallory. Captain Mal attracts people to him with his good personality and natural leadership abilities. So does my Mr. Mallory. Captain Mal is something of a sci-fi space cowboy--I put my Mr. Mallory in scuffed cowboy boots.

All of these sprinklings of inspiration are subtle. The husband, who loves Firefly more than me, didn't notice that Mr. Mallory was inspired by Captain Mal. But that's OK. I think the best kinds of inspiration are usually the subtle ones. I didn't want Mr. Mallory to be Captain Mal--I wanted him to be his own distinct character--but one who, maybe five hundred years in the future, might have co-captained the Firefly ship.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Urge to Create

Miss Snark's First Victim has a blog post up today about why we write. It's pretty good--she challenges writers to dig deeper, beyond the glib phrases many writers tend to toss around when the question is asked.

And I started out with an answer all ready. But I couldn't. Because all I could think about was this kid I met today.

The tragedy of life doesn't lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. --Benjamin Mays

So this kid I met. He had no goals in life at all. I am totally serious here. Today we were working on selecting topics for a paper. The students have to write 6-8 pages of a research paper on any topic they pick--any goal, dream, or favorite thing--and this kid could think of nothing.

Me: So, what do you like?
Kid: Nothing.
Me: What do you do for fun?
Kid: Play video games.
Me: Do you want to write about your favorite video game?
Kid: I don't have a favorite video game.
Me: Then why do you play?
Kid: Nothing else to do.
Me: What else do you like?
Kid: Nothing.

Repeat ad nauseum.

It wasn't that he didn't want to write the paper (or at least, it wasn't entirely that). It was that he could not write a paper on something he liked because there was nothing that he liked enough to do that on. Nothing. And there has never been a sadder moment for me as a teacher. No dreams. No goals. Nothing of joy in his life. He was an empty shell of a child.


After this, I read the post on Miss Snark's First Victim. My first instinct was to respond by saying this:
All humans have the urge to create, be it a physical object, a child, a thought or belief, or a story. In its essence, human motivation lies in creation, and writers choose to create through words.
But after working with this kid, I questioned the validity of this answer. A kid with no goals, no dreams, and no urge to create anything. It was an alien concept for me to experience. I have always had the urge to create, and that filters all I do in life. I have a very hard time just sitting there. Writing, cooking, sewing, calligraphy--I even consider reading to be a form of creation because of the thoughts I create as I read. Just because it's in my imagination doesn't mean it isn't a creation.

So it is perhaps facetious for me to claim that "all humans have the urge to create." Because that is clearly not the case.

I am very much interested in what you all think:
  1. Do you think that at least most humans have the urge to create?
  2. Is creation the source of your writing desire--and if not, what is?
  3. How would you inspire or reach out to a child with no goals in life?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Book Review Blog

Here's a new book review blog to bookmark: Rebecca's Recommended Reads, run by none other than my fellow crit member, Rebecca! Go check it out!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Colbertnation: Bringing Poetry to the Masses

Tried to embed it, but argh. Just click here for funny news + poetry + awesome.

A Few of My Favorite Things

I've been tagged by a couple of people for this meme (thanks guys; you make me feel so popular!). I've been thinking of doing less memes (do y'all really care about my thoughts on me?) but I liked the looks of this one a lot.

The Rules:
1. Link to the person who tagged you (thanks guys!)
2. Write down six (or seven) things that make you happy
3. Post these rules
4. Tag six (or seven) others
5. Notify me that you've tagged six others--or that you're not in a happy place right now...

Six (or seven) things that make me happy:
  1. Anticipation. In particular as I undergo the query process (it's a bit tortuous, yes, but also cool--submitting means you're not giving up, and it's something of a sweet spot between work and rejection)
  2. Blogging. I never thought I'd be that girl, the one who likes blogs, but I am. It's fun. It makes me feel connected in a lonely profession. It constantly challenges me to keep up to date with writing, publishing, and networking with authors.
  3. My dog. He loves me SO MUCH! Oh, yeah, and the husband. He loves me, too.
  4. Plans for the future. Call me an evil genius, but I like to have an idea of what I want to do next. I fear stagnation and inactivity, and I love knowing that there's something coming later.
  5. Writing. There is a simple joy in putting words on paper and telling a story that thrills me every time. I'm not one of those people who boldly proclaim "I have to write or I'd be driven crazy by my muse/the voices/etc." because I've never really felt that way, but it is an activity in which I find joy. Hair-ripping, frustrating joy, but joy regardless.
  6. Hope. I've been feeling a lot of that lately between ms. revisions and queries on the home front and politics and change on the national front. There just seems to be an extra serving of hope on my table right now, and I'm eating it up.
  7. And a bonus #7! Community. Between this blog, reading other blogs, reaching out to people via email, SCBWI, conferences, crit groups, etc., I am really starting to feel as if I am a part of the writing community. And y'all, it is a warm, fuzzy place to be.
I tag...everyone! If you wanna be tagged, then tag! You're it!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Praise Song for the Day by Elizabeth Alexander

Via Brooklyn Arden via Newsweek.

Praise Song for the Day

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others' eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, "Take out your pencils. Begin."

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, "I need to see what's on the other side; I know there's something better down the road."

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by "Love thy neighbor as thy self."

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light.

What are your thoughts on this?

Mine are these:

  • Because it is written for a political areana and because it was first revealed in an inaugeration, the words are inexplicably tied to politics for me. That was part of my problem with it yesterday--I was trying to be Hermione, sussing out a deeper meaning to the words. And it is true that there IS a deeper meaning here, that this is, as it was intended to be and presented to be, a political poem. This is a poem that is a reflection of the distrust of the last 4-8 years of presidency, a poem that sings out praise for the American people for persevering through that time, and a poem that promises...what else?...change.
  • Nevertheless, this is also an accurate (for the most part) portrayal of American attitude. Take this line: "A teacher says, 'Take out your pencils. Begin.'" This is, on the one hand, a part of a list of true American working spirit (the farmer, the music maker). But it is also a comment on the way education has turned in the past 12 years. With the No Child Left Behind Act (boo!hiss!), teaching has become more about tests than about education. I applaud Alexander for inserting this line--it shows the persevering spirit of education despite the "educational reforms" that equate to more testing.
  • And while the ending does call forth change--a mantra of Obama's--it also has an eternal quality to it. Yes, the poem is political, yes, it is intended for a controversial and political candidate and is, by its very nature, an artistic reflection of his politics. But the final message of the poem is simple and everlasting: love conquers all. And as cheesy as that is, as somewhat marred it is in the political areana--it is still true.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

On the Inaugural Speech

Remember in Harry Potter 5, when Umbridge is giving that speech, and Hermione's the only one who understands the subtleties of it but everyone else kinda goes asleep?

I totally feel that way about Obama's speech.

I'm off to find a transcript so I can read it slowly and carefully and maybe understand. :)

Monday, January 19, 2009

It's Snowing!

Great big fat drops of glorious snow! It's like God is throwing it down in giant fist-fulls! Yay!

Queries have been sent...

...let the obsessive checking of the email begin!

You Pick!

I am in a fantabulously amazing mood after sending out my first round of queries (including the one to the dream agent I mentioned earlier), and I thought I'd celebrate by writing some book reviews. Problem is, I've read so many between now and Christmas break that I'm not sure where to start. So you pick!

-Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist
-The Green Book
-The Tail of Emily Windsnap
-A Curse Dark as Gold

Which do you want me to review first?

Catching Up

A quick post today--I'm swamped with catching up on things in the writing world after being inundated with work in the teaching world. Here's what I've been working on this weekend:

1) I don't care what anyone else says, writing groups and critiques are helpful. When I can't think about my own work on minute longer, working on a friend's fantastic manuscript keeps me in writing mode and makes it easier to go back to my own work.

2) Queries are hard. After awhile, it's difficult to tell whether or not your story even makes sense when you condense it to a paragraph summary. However, your hook line is a great place to inject some voice that would otherwise be cut for space.

3) Synopses are hard. (see above; replace paragraph with page) This helped, though. In the end, what helped the most for me was to remember that there are two plots to the book: external and internal. Most people focus on the external plot of their book in the synopsis (what happened). But the internal plot (how what happened changed the character) is equally important to get across in the synopsis. My story isn't just about kids discovering magic and doing stuff with it--it's also about how the girl learns how to gain confidence and accept herself. Both are part of the story; both need to be in the synopsis.

4) All agents should have a web page. Just sayin'.

...So, I'm mostly caught up in teaching life, have a good stopping point in writing life...oh, yeah, I've got house life yet! I better go wash those dishes (finally). We are, after all, out of forks.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I should have just made a linkspam

But instead, I'll just post another random single link.

The 100 Things and Evil Overlord should do. A (hilarious) read for anyone who reads or writes about big baddies.


Query written: check.
Rewrite of first page: check.
Time spent writing two measly pages: 2 hours.

There's a Story in Here...

Wish I could write it, but I'd love to read it.

Today, at the Coffee House

I went to the coffee house today for my bi-weekly meeting with my local crit partner. Before my partner showed up, a regular at the coffee house leaned back over the couch in front of the blazing fire and looked at me.

"You're that girl writing the book, right?"

My partner and I can get kinda loud :)

"Yup," I said, hoping that she couldn't see my laptop, which did not show my new WIP or something productive, but was instead open on a LOLCat page.

"You know, I thought about writing a book. What are you writing, like reality stuff?"

"Um..." I can already tell this conversation will require gin in the coffee. "No, fantasy. For kids. You know, like Harry Potter."

"Oh, yeah, easy stuff. I think I'll just write a devotional book, based on my life. That won't be hard. You could make money off that sort of thing, couldn't you? Just get it published, and then you're set."

"Um... Yeah..."

Thank goodness Robyn showed up after that!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Hand, meet Five. *high five!*

After my silly rant, it's only fair to have a more positive post. And lucky me, I've got one right here!

As you all know, I entered Miss Snark's First Victim Secret Agent Are You Hooked competition (MSFVSAAYHC). And the feedback there has assured me that my work is (after a few very minor tweaks) ready for submission, which is really the kind of assurance that I needed.

Here's the run down:
People who were hooked/would read on: 19
People on the fence: 4
People between being hooked and on the fence (seemed to like it, but had serious reservations): 2
People not hooked: 0 (!!!)
People who didn't say one way other the other: 1

General things people liked:
-Cafeteria lady saying "change"
-Belle talking to the corndog

General things people thought needed work:
-Cut down on the word change in the first paragraph
-Move narration in first paragraph to somewhere later
-Worry that the book is about the new kid at school

You know what this tells me more than anything? That my revisions have worked. That first chapter--especially the first 3 or so pages--has been written and revised and rewritten and repeat so many times that I really have lost all perspective on it. But with this many people hooked or willing to read on, then that tells me I'm finally almost there. The vast majority of reservations people had dealt with easy fixes: I am going to revise the first few sentences--take out the word change, incorporate the friendless bit a little later.

And one of the biggest worries that people had with the first page was that the story would just be new kid deals with bullies at school--which, although a significant part--is really not what my story is about. My story is a fantasy, and Belle's outsider-ness is no more significant than Percy Jackson's. So I'm not worried about that!

In the end, I'm walking away with a huge amount of confidence that this book is ready. I am going through one more read through with a check list of little things to make sure fit and an eye for the grammar, and then...


I think all writers have these niggling fears of "is it good enough?" This contest and the commenters helped me to see that the answer was finally "yes." I highly recommend doing this, or something like it, whenever possible. No matter what stage your writing is in, feedback always helps.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Inside the Writer's Mind on a Morning Drive to Work:

I know! Aztecs! I can add Aztecs! That will solve everything! least as a writer, I can be fairly certain that my thoughts are unique!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Power of a Review

Last Friday, my husband wanted to take me out to a movie, but there was nothing in our po-dunk movie theater we wanted to see (there are four screens. Three of them were occupied with cartoon movies. I love some animation as much as the next girl, but sometimes you just want to see something blown up.).

Anyway, we ultimately went to the video rental place, and we came away with Eagle Eye. Not our top pick, but the top pick we both agreed on. I wasn't that excited about the movie--the trailer looked good to me, but the reviews I'd heard (both online and from friends) were terrible. But, like I said, I really just wanted to see things blown up.

Boy was I in for a surprise.

This movie ROCKED! I expected a weak plot surrounded by cool graphics--instead, I got a great plot with great graphics--and great characterization, tone, and emotion! I was totally blown away--and on the edge of my seat, gasping for what would happen. I was crying by the end...then I was cheering.

This all got me thinking: how much power does a review have? From the right person, one review can kill a movie or book from me. If my best friend, my mother, the husband, or even some colleagues whose opinion I respect say they hated the movie--I probably won't look at it again. (This killed the Marley and Me movie for me.) If I am borderline on whether to buy a book or see a movie, I will actively check out reviews--and if the review is too low, then I'm out. So in these cases, a review will absolutely and definitively drive me from the book/movie.

On the other hand, if I happen to hear a lot of review from random sources (i.e. blogs, TV, etc.) and these are not sources that I rely on heavily, but only look at for casual reading, then the reviews--positive or negative--tend to help me select a book/movie. Hear enough reviews enough times, and I'm actively seeking out the book/movie, even if the reviews weren't glowing.

So: if the source is right, one negative review is death for the book/movie....but if those few trusted sources have no opinion, then more reviews (positive or negative) can only help!

That all said, here's my review on what we, as writers, can learn from this book movie. And since we're breaking the rules by reviewing a movie instead of a book, I'm going to review in a different way. I'm going to use Kurt Vonnegut's 8 Simple Rules of Writing (which I blogged about before here)

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted. Check and check. If I am entertained and I think, then my time is well spent.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for. There are at least two characters here I root for--the main female and male roles. They are both sympathetic--the girl is a single mom trying to protect and save her son; the boy is something of a loser trying to make himself less of a loser in the wake of his twin brother's death.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water. They want more than water. They both are fighting for their lives--and the girl is also fighting for her son's life.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action. Absolutely. Even the little scenes--hiding in a crate, driving--reveal something new and deeper about each of the lead protags.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible. Highlight text for this one; spoilers ahead. The twin brother's death plays an important role in the plot of the movie--so the first inciting incident after a little initial character set-up is the funeral. Now, the story could have gone further back in the past--shown the brother before his death, shown more of the female protag's life before the story--but it didn't. It started us right at the latest possible moment to start the movie and still be comprehensive.
  6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of. Ohmygosh! It couldn't have possibly have done this more! Every time they try to turn the corner, something happens. Highlight for more: The mother's son is constantly threatened, the boy is faced with the truth about his twin brother and that begins to torture him. Add to that how several of the good guys die--and the end scene, where the boy must sacrifice himself to SAVE ALL OF AMERICA--AND when he does save all America he will look like a despicable traitor--!!!!!! How much more can you take?!
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia. Despite the teenage-boy-focused-trailers, this movie isn't really designed to appeal to the entire world. People who don't like soft Sci-Fi (along the line of I, Robot or Minority Report) will not like this. People who don't want to think AT ALL when watching a movie won't like this. People who are crazy scientific and know everything there is to know and hate it when movies bend the rules will hate this. But who cares? I liked it!
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages. This one is on the fence. Look, at the end, when Shia LeBouf's character shot into air, knowing that it would bring down every Secret Service man on his head in like two second, knowing that it would kill him but save everyone else--well, when that happened, the husband said about a minute before it happened that it would happen. But even with his (accurate) prophecy of what would happen, I STILL jumped out of my seat when it happened. I KNEW what would happen--but it still shocked me and thrilled me and kept me enraptured.
So, yeah, I liked the movie. And I totally recommend it! And you know what...I think Kurt Vonnegut would have liked it, too :)

Secret Agent

As you know, Miss Snark's First Victim is holding a Secret Agent contest where MG/YA authors can post the first 250 words of the story and see which one hooks a real live agent. Although I tried to email mine with a harpoon (with which to hook the agent, obvs) the harpoon didn't make it through the spam filter.

But my entry did! Please go check mine (and all the others) out--reading piles of first pages will give you a feeling of a day in the life of an agent--and will, hopefully, help us get a better understand of what really hooks a person into a book.

My Opinion on Myself

I just realized that I never really answered my own questions about whether or not writing = job or hobby (Please read that post first, or I'm afraid this one won't make sense) (and this is my opinion for me--I do think the answer to the question is entirely an individual response).

For me: I consider myself as having two jobs. One pays, one doesn't. In my own head, that's the way it is--I am a teacher and a writer. If I take a break from teaching (much) later to make/raise babies, I think I will introduce myself first as writer, then as housewife--primarily because I define job as money, and whichever job earns the most money (or has the potential to earn the most money) is the one I define as my primary job.

I don't think of writing as a hobby. If I defined it for myself as that, then I am afraid that I would not take it as seriously. I'm looking at my writing career as the old adage of "dress for the job you want." In my case, I'm acting like the job I want: blog, network, conference, writing schedule, crit groups, etc. Writing practice = building my resume.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Is Writing a Job?

Follow my crazy train (crazy-train?) of thought: Daphne Unfeasible (aka Agent Kate Testerman) posted a link to the blog of her client, Catherine Cheek, who was writing about writing and the day job, to which author Matthew Cody responded.

Catherine said this:
I think it's helpful to think of writing as a hobby instead of a career. For most of us, that's all it will ever be.

Matthew said this:
I’ve sold two books, but I’m the sole support of my family of three, therefore I teach English and ESL at the community college, which is a rewarding job with time off to write. I’m planning to have a day job for a long, long time, even if I sell more books, because that’s the reality of this business for most of us.

But on my taxes I put “Writer”.
When asked what I do for a living, I answer “Writer”.
My “hobby” is collecting comic books (yes I’m that kind of nerd).


Am I writer? I write, yes, but is it my profession?

I have a day job. I teach. I teach high school English. Which means I don't work 9-5. I work 8-3...and even if I get summers off, during the school year, I spend at least 10 hours a week outside of school on grading and lesson plans and faculty meetings and not stabbing myself in the eye with my red ink pen because they still don't know the difference between their, there, and they're.

That's the job I get paid (very little) for. If I have two things to do 1) revise manuscript or 2) grade essays that are due tomorrow--I grade the essays first, and am usually too tired afterwards to do anything else involving words and not involving gin. On official records, my profession is teacher. My w-2 comes from the school. I introduce myself to strangers as a teacher (in part to avoid the awful "have you been published?" question). I have been known to not mention writing to close personal friends (re: "have you been published?" question).


I do not treat writing as a hobby. I don't do it for fun. Or, I don't do it just for fun. I do it with the intent of (one day) making money from it. I spend money on it, and consider it an investment, not entertainment. I intend to explore writing off expenses in my taxes. I give myself deadlines--which usually hurt. If I have to either grade student essays or revise my manuscript--and I'm not working on a deadline for report cards that are due tomorrow--I revise the manuscript. I do not make a secret of my writing life, even if I'm not always forthcoming about it, and I'm happy to talk about books, publishing, and the like on a professional level. I read novels as research, not entertainment. I network. I send queries off. I behave like a professional at conferences.

Does that a writer make? Which is the dividing line: the paycheck, or the attitude?

Just(us) for You!

Justus's comments on my last post made me want to find some good info on voices for a post here. And look! The Bookshelf Muse did my work for me! Angela just posted a link to a great site about voice. :)

As she says:
This post offers some serious goodies for writers in the comment section, namely an open, frank conversation on what voice is, what it isn't and how to find it.

*phew!* I love it when I don't have to actually work :)

i wish i were that cat

Reality, Impossibility, and Logic

What does a novel need?
  • emotion
  • setting
  • character motivation
  • tone
  • voice
  • inciting action
  • reaction
  • resolution
  • antagonist
  • protagonist
  • conflict
...and so on.

On my morning drive to work (a very boring time where I waver between flipping between radio stations and testing my luck with just how far over the speed limit can I get away with) I can up with a theory. Considering I just sat down, there's a chance this theory is crap, but...

I think that in any given novel (at least the kind of novels I like), you only need one thing in the above list to be real. This must be authentic, or the reader will not like your book. The thing that must be real is:
  • voice
Of the rest of the things in the list, you can waver between real and not-real. However, what is not-real must be logical. For example, in Graceling, Katsa's emotions are not real--typically, no reasonable person on Earth would have her emotions. However, her emotions are logical given her character and situation. Perhaps a better word would be fantastic (as in fantasy, not as in awesome). Such as Joss Whedon's Firefly series: science fiction setting is, by definition fantastic, but he has rules to his world that make it logical.

However, typically a novel needs to have more realistic elements than not. For example, in the Harry Potter series, the setting, inciting action, and even the antagonist and protagonist are fantastical--but the emotion evoked by the characters, their tone, their reaction to the inciting action, the character motivation, and the conflict itself is very real. In other words--everything is real in the story, aside from the magic. Everything is real in Firefly, aside from the space ships and genetic engineering. Everything is real in Graceling, aside from the Graces.

This applies to "realistic" fiction as well. I was watching CSI:Miami last night (cheesy, I know, but the sunglasses and dramatic music make me laugh). In it, a boy kills another boy for a very stupid reason--but it was a reason that everything else in the story led up to. So, while his character motivation was a little fantastic, because everything else--setting, inciting action, reaction, antagonist--was realist, the entire plot worked. Had anything else been fantastic about the plot--if, for example, the inciting action had been something weird like an elephant falling on someone's head--the story would not at all be believable.

Example: Euripedes's Medea. In it, Medea has magical powers of foresight and potion making. OK, cool, I can handle that. Everything else--the antagonist, the conflict, the emotion, etc., are all firmly realistic. Until you get to the end. Then dragons show up. Kinda random, that. With a protagonist who's magical, but with nothing else magical, having a resolution that's magical is overdone.

I think this is on my mind because I am formulating a couple of different plots right now, and trying to decide which elements will be fantasy and which will be realistic. Do I make this character magical--or not? Do I resolve the conflict with magic--or not? In the end, I am going to have to weigh how much fantasy should be in the plot...and to build the realistic elements around it.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Opportunity: Today Only!!

Miss Snark's First Victim has a great opportunity for children's (MG/YA/PB) writers: a chance to submit your first page online, receive feedback from her blog readers, and be judged by a real agent who may pick up your work!

Details are here. But jump on it--this is only for today, or the first fifty entrants!!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Poetry Friday

The Veteran
by Dorothy Parker

When I was young and bold and strong,
Oh, right was right, and wrong was wrong!
My plume on high, my flag unfurled,
I rode away to right the world.
"Come out, you dogs, and fight!" said I,
And wept there was but once to die.

But I am old; and good and bad
Are woven in a crazy plaid.
I sit and say, "The world is so;
And he is wise who lets it go.
A battle lost, a battle won --
The difference is small, my son."

Inertia rides and riddles me;
The which is called Philosophy.

If When my book gets published, I think I'd like this poem at the beginning.

And I was so worried...

I have been afraid that my MG fantasy ms. was too dark. The ending's not entirely happy, and, well, let's just say there's a bit of blood at the end.

I am, apparently, not as hardcore as I thought I was.

First there was my mother, who read the completed ms. over break (she'd only read the first few early draft chapters). My mother reads super-sweet romance novels for fun and teaches fifth graders. She is not hardcore. She is something of a pansy.

"Did you like it?" I asked anxiously.

"Yeah, it was good." She's all casual.

"Not too dark?" My butt is on the edge of the seat.

"What was dark about it?"

"Mom! People get their hearts ripped out!"

"Yeah, but just a little."

Mom also assures me that her fifth graders would not mind the dark ending in the least. But still, I worried.

Then I started The Hunger Games.

I'm only about 30 pages in.

But I am not at all worried any more about my book being too dark any more!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

This is How to Critique

just kidding! :)

In all actuality, I've been thinking about critiques a lot lately, in part because I used them so much in re-writing, in part because my stack of TBC (to be critiqued) is growing daily :)

I think that I am more nit-picky than most people, and I blame my education for that. I'm old-school English lit major/teacher. I am used to making my students' papers bleed with my terrifying red pen; I have the reputation in school for pounding kids with essays (although many students have come back to me in the past thanking me for it).

So I do point out more grammar issues than I have seen from other crit members, and I do focus on things like word choice and language on a more minute level than is probably wanted by the person I am critiquing. I am trying to work on that, I promise.

However, my critiquing style also come from my own experience. The Amnesia Door is the 9th manuscript that I've written. The ninth. Two of them are un-save-ably bad, they are under the bed and they are staying there. Six of them are decent. One of them made it all the way to the acquiring committee at Random House, and although one editor wanted it, it was ultimately voted down.

And that rejection hurt. I felt like I was tripping at the finish line, that I was almost there, then sent back to the beginning.

The acquiring editor at RH was nice enough to send me a very extensive letter of feedback with the reasons why it ultimately wasn't right for RH and what should have been different. I showed the letter to my mom. "Oh," she said, "I thought that, too, you totally should have changed X." I showed the letter to my (then) fiance. "Yeah, I always thought Y should be Z." I showed the letter to the close friends who'd read the manuscript for me. "We didn't know why you didn't write W instead of V; we figured you knew what you were doing."

They all agreed with the editorial letter; they all had secretly felt that those changes (which were significant, such as POV, age of characters, resolution of the plot) should have been made, but none of them said anything. All I got back was smiley faces and "You can do it!" and "It's perfect the way it is!"

Now, this is my fault--I went to people who would inevitably give me positive feedback (relatives, friends). And, to be fair, I myself may not have been mature enough to take critical feedback for what it's worth.

But this is why I always try to point out everything that I think could potentially trip a person up when submitting to an agent or editor. Not because I'm a meanie, but because that is exactly how I want to be treated. Now, I seek out the harshest criticism I can find. I beg anyone and everyone to read my stuff, and in crit groups, I will sometimes go back to members and dig deeper--not because I'm a masochist, but because I want to know every little thing that can be changed. And I do believe in treating others the same way that you would like to be treated, so I do give as honest critical feedback that I possibly can.

I have only been a member of a crit group for a year, and I've come to realize that I do need to tone it down a bit--for time's sake, but also because there is a point where I can be too critical. Sometimes (probably often-times) it's the big picture critique that helps the most. I find myself skimming over comments on word choice and specifics in a sentence or a paragraph, but major revisions have stemmed from comments on bigger things, like plot, voice, characterization.

I think I've lost whatever point I was going to start off making. I guess it's just this: everyone critiques differently. Some are nitpicky (like me) some are supportive (like my mom). In the end, it's good to get many different opinions and many different sides of the story so that when you revise, you can consider others and thereby become more critical of yourself.

How do you critique? What are the most helpful kinds of critiques to you?

PS: This post in no way reflects anything about anyone's work that I am currently critiquing, now or in the future. I just found myself being very reflexive of my own critique practices and though I'd share.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

You Know It'll Work When...

...the idea just won't let you go.

This is a crappy time of the year for me. This week = final exam reviews and kids frantically writing their 6-page final essays. This weekend = reading 65 student essays and grading them. Next week = administering 3 different final exams. Next weekend = grading 65 final exams. Weekend after that = planning for and beginning and entirely new semester with new kids and (for the first time in five years) a new course that I've never taught before.

So, yeah, I'm tapping the gin bottle soon.

But no one cares about that. Here's what I'm really writing about:

Recently, I met a writer friend at a coffee shop to discuss our manuscripts. She read a scene where one of the characters (Ms. Wendt, the witchly teacher) gets angry. She pointed out that Ms. Wendt's anger is pretty mild and dropped quickly. This isn't the first time that I've heard that before, so as soon as she said it, I started thinking of ways to make that scene better. After all, she a pissed off witch--surely she can do more than yell!

An image started forming (she gets so angry she catches on fire), but it was a bit vague, so I just let it sit around in my brain all weekend. Then school started up, and I still kind of had it all in the back of my head, but I wasn't writing anything--I was too exhausted from school. Then we had a staff meeting that was mind-numbingly boring, and I started doodling because, let's be honest, I certainly wasn't going to do anything so crazy as pay attention.

And what I doodled was that scene that had been bouncing around my brain.

When an idea grabs you on one day and is coming out of your fingers in sketches half a week later, you know you've got a good scene.

So I'm not going to play around here. I'm going to go write that scene!

Nine Inch Nails Agree with Me

I'm sorry. I know I said I'd drop it, but...

Yesterday, the husband showed me a link to an article about Nine Inch Nails. NIN had recently released a new album (titled Ghosts I-IV) electronically. Under the Creative Commons license. Which means: they were giving it away.

And now it is number 1 on the Amazon albums sold lis

Forget about the deluxe artwork and the high-priced, limited-edition extras; Reznor actually sold more copies of the basic Ghosts I-IV albums through Amazon's MP3 store than did any other act in 2008. He beat out Coldplay, Death Cab for Cutie, Vampire Weekend, Beck, and hundreds of others, and he did it without a label and by giving the music away.
Here's what happened: People downloaded it for free. Some liked it and bought it--the rising culture of Gen Y today realizes appreciation = $ and are willing to pay for it (look at the recent donations being thrown at Wikipedia--in the millions; look at the success of freeware online). Sure, some never spent a penny on it--but they listened to it, and shared it with their friends, and they bought it. And any way you look at it, NIN eventually rose to be number 1--based on a free product.

Footnote: this isn't the first time this happened. As Michael Ayers points out in his recent blog post:
When they self-released “In Rainbows” back in October of 2007, they told fans they could pay anything they wanted- in a download format only. It was a sliding scale, based on how much you think Radiohead’s record is worth to you, and you got it.
Now, I know this isn't a music blog, it's a writing one. But the music industry is the best model for the publishing industry. Literary agent Caren Johnson cross posted Michael Ayers post about whether or not publishing can learn from the music industry:
...when the [music] industry had to make a decision about the future- at the beginning of this decade- they balked. Instead of embracing models of online distribution, they retaliated with suing fans, putting restrictions on the digital playback options, or even worse, continued thinking about the bottom line, instead of the quality of their product, or quality of their artist.
While I agree paper books won't ever go away, I also believe that whichever publisher first embraces ebooks in an efficient way will become the iPod of publishing....and what publisher wouldn't want that?

ETA: GalleyCat posted an update to this topic in their post from yesterday: and here's and interesting way to use ebooks to market that I'd not thought of, but do think would be effective.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

I Have Seen the Future...

...and it is palm-sized.

The husband done good for Christmas: an iPod Touch (aka iTouch). And it is fun. But it's also a little dangerous. See, you can download applications directly onto the iTouch. A checkers game? Done. More music? Downloaded. An e-reader? Done and done.

There's been a lot of noise about Kindle and how it will take over the electronic reading market. But Kindle costs $500 a pop, [ETA: they're now $359...recession?] they're relatively big, and they only do one thing: download and show books. iTouch is the future. iTouch costs between $280 (16gig) and $215 (8gig), fits in your pocket, and does everything: music, video, interwebs, picture viewing, etc. In other words: the kids will want one.

And you can download a program called Stanza that is an effective e-reader for iTouch. Many books (all classics, read: all mostly boring) are available for free through Stanza. [For a comparison between Kindle and iTouch+Stanza, check out this article]

This, not Kindle, is the future for e-readers. Portability, versatility, cost effectiveness. The iTouch with Stanza will have the same effect on books that the iPod did with music. This is the future, ladies and gentlemen, this is where electronic text is going.

But let's be honest--a complete free copy of Shakespeare's plays ain't gonna do much for most people. They want, say, Twilight.

And here's where my problem begins.

While the (boring) classics are free, the new, popular books are not. And they are rather pricey. An electronic copy of Twilight costs almost as much as a hard copy. In general, electronic copies aren't more than a buck or two cheaper (if that). And check out this article: the Amazon hardcover price of a book was actually cheaper than the electronic version!

And that ain't right.

I'm not the only one who thinks so: a recent Galley Cat article pointed out that readers tend to reject overpriced e-books.

Diatribe over, here's what I think the future really holds for e-books to be profitable and a success:
  • e-readers must be versatile and affordable (such as iTouch)
  • e-books should never cost more than $5
  • free e-book downloads should be included with the purchase price of a book (after all, I can rip music into my mp3 player after I buy a CD)
I know that I've ranted on this subject before, but...*sigh*. I'm a techie and a reader, and feel like we're this close to really making a breakthrough with electronic books. But things like overpriced readers (Kindle, I'm looking at you) and overpriced e-books (grrr...) just hold back the development of this market.

What do you think?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Awards and linkspam!

Oh, argh. Starting back to school already?! Blegh.

But here's a bit of sunshine on my (urgh!) first day back:

Tabitha nominated me for the Butterfly Award!
(which is doubly awesome as I love butterflies and used them as a theme to my wedding)

The Butterfly Award rules:

1. Put the logo on your blog.
2. Add a link to the person who awarded you.
3. Award up to 10 other blogs.
4. Add links to those blogs on yours.
5. Leave a message for your awardees on their blogs.

So, in return, I nominate:
Justus: if you have a baby and a writing career, you deserve every award out there
Lois: you just got a new blog, now you need some awards to pimp it with!
Christine: I'm beta reading her work, and trust me, she deserves an award for it :)
Vivian: I got the ARCs for winning the drawing on her blog, and it totally made my Christmas break awesome!

Anyway, linkspam:

Books + art = tattoos?

Just finished Graceling (book review to come soon), and was very happy to see that the next book comes out this year...and will probably be added to my fifty for 2009.

Angela Cerrito has a new writing challenge (with a critique prize) over on her blog.

Justine Larbalestier is giving writing advice. Go. Ask. Learn.

A new writing opportunity for short stories in YA/MG/just cool stuff.

Why did I never notice this before? Query Tracker seems like an awesome why to acquire and organize data on agents for queries.

I think one of my fifty in 2009 will be a Class of 2k9 book...

This may only interest me, but here's the new Doctor Who, funny hair and all. And I do like this new Cullen-mockery of him!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

How I Revised

OK, I promise, I'm almost done with this topic. How many times can I beat a dead horse anyway, right? :)

Anyway, I thought it might interest some about how I went about with these revisions, especially those (like me) who find revisions so very difficult.

First, I had some great feedback from beta readers. The very first people to read it were those who I knew would give me positive feedback and assure me that what I had here was a book, not a pile of wordy-crap. My mother, the husband, and a critique member who gives great positive feedback were my first readers. My mother loves everything I write without question. My crit member pointed out specifics in language and phrases. The husband gives me assurance that I am worth something; his feedback tends to be honest but supportive, and he challanges me not on plot or characterization, but in direction (i.e. he always wants me to write an anti-hero with a bad ending, not a happily ever after).

Second, I took the feedback to the next critical level. I've got two crit groups, and put my work to them, at least in the first few chapters, to get a sense of what worked/didn't in the plot. This helped me identify specifics about weak characterization, slow pacing, plot holes, and overused words.

From this point forward, I attacked revisions two-fold. One for language, one for plot.

  1. Went to Wordle and identified overused words. I blogged about it here, but ended up not going chapter by chapter with Wordle, as was my original intent. Doing the first three chapters separately, and then the entire ms. was enough.
  2. Then, using the words I discovered as overused in Wordle and the words that my various crit groups and beta readers helped me to identify as overused, I went through my document highlighting, bolding, underlining, and color-coding each example of an overused word. I did this using Word and the Replace function: I took each word, had Word find it and replace it with that word in bold, italics, underline, and a specific color to that word. Basically, I did this for the overused words I mentioned ealier, but I also did it for the combination "ly" to help me find adverbs, and am considering doing it for "ing" to help me attack weak gerunds.
  3. I then printed the color-coded manuscript, each page splashed with a bright over-used or weak word.
  4. I read through the entire manuscript. And although I did read every single word (and caught a few grammatical errors along the way), I focused more on the color-coded words. My eyes jumped naturally to them, but more importantly, they helped me to identify where my weaknesses lay. I had whole paragraphs where every verb in the paragraph was "was". It wasn't something I'd noticed before, and not something I noticed in the plain version of my manuscript, but it jumped out at me when it was color-coded. I apparently have a weak-word blindness in my own writing--I'm not aware that I do it, and I don't see it after it's done. I had to seek out and highlight those words specifically in order to catch them all.
  5. After going through the entire manuscript by hand using the color coded method, I then went back to the computer and changed the manuscript based on my written notes. It was tedious, but easier for me make the corrections on paper than on screen.
  1. I started with feedback from others. I am blind to my own work, so I sent it out to anyone who even looked liked they'd be remotely interested in even thinking about maybe taking a look at it. I didn't stand on a street corner and solicit strangers to read my work, but I did consider it.
  2. I treated my manuscript like a sick child: I always got a second opinion. If one critique member said one thing (unless it was obviously right or obviously not where I wanted to go with the manuscript), I went to someone else, preferably someone who had no connection with the first person, and asked specific questions. For example, the husband didn't like the way Chapter 1 ended, he thought it was too mild. So then I took it to a crit member, asked her to read Chapter 1 and included some specific questions, such as "Is the end too mild?" This gave me a more rounded opinion on things. If two people agreed on a point, I rewrote the scene. This does not mean I kept it that way--I just rewrote the scene, then compared them both in my head, then made a decision. Sometimes, the rewritten stuff was better. Sometimes it wasn't. Either way, I took the suggestions as seriously as I could, tried new angles, and forced myself to have a perspective about change.
  3. I put the entire manuscript in Scrivener. I think I might have had an easier time of things had I started with the program, but as it was, I did something that I advice my writing students to do with long essays: a backward outline. Everything was written without an outline. But once the manuscript was done, I made an outline (using the Corkboard function in Scrivener), and then got a close look at it from there. Doing so enabled me to six chapters into three--I realized there was so little of a scene change, that there was really no point in not combining them. I also completely cut an entire chapter after doing the outline and realizing that the only thing that happened was the kids went to point A, dithered around a bit, and left. That's a chapter full of nothing, so I cut the whole thing.
And that's what I did! It was a massive undertaking, I won't lie. I've never worked so hard at a revision. That said, it did seem to work in the end.

So, what nifty ways of editing and revising do you use?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Catching up....

...on comments on this blog and everyone else's! I should be back to speed soon.

Friday, January 2, 2009

A Comparison

First Draft
Total length: 75k words
Overused words (and the number of times I used them):
  • hissed = 21
  • just =286
  • asked = 234
  • were =359
  • had = 584
  • said = 748
  • that = 1087
  • was = 1207
Revised Draft
Total length: 68,500 words (cut 6,500 words)
Overused words:
  • hissed = 8 (cut 13--this was mostly just a chapter 1 problem)
  • just = 171 (cut 115)
  • asked = 211 (cut 23--but I'm OK with that number)
  • were = 270 (cut 89--I'm a little disappointed in that number)
  • had = 472 (cut 112)
  • said = 567 (cut 181--but shocked I still have this many)
  • that = 663 (cut 424--but again, shocked I still have so many)
  • was = 888 (cut 319. Man, those "was" suckers just creep right in.)
I have very mixed feelings about this. I do think I made the book tighter. I cut several chapters, combined several more, met my goal in cutting length. And I thought I was doing better on tightening the actual language--and although I cut almost a third of the "was"es and almost half of the "that"s, I still worry that the language itself isn't tight enough.

So...I'm going to set it aside. I'm too close now to be objective. I want to send this off to every agent I can find--and I've already begun looking--but instead, I am going to spend the next few weeks, maybe the next month, researching agents and getting the good list...but before I send off, I'm doing one last read-through of the novel to make sure it really is tight, complete, and the best that I can do.

A Year In Review

Got this meme from Kristin Cashore, author of Graceling, which I'm in the process of reading. I took some of the questions off just because they didn't apply. I tag anyone who wants to do it!

1. What did you do in 2008 that you'd never done before?

Start a blog! I can't believe it's less than a year old...and it's been much more fun (and rewarding) than I ever expected.

2. What are your New Year's resolutions for 2009?
See previous post :)

3. What countries did you visit?
England and France

4. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?
A white Christmas! And a published book with my name on it.

5. What date from 2008 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
I'm terrible with numbers, so I don't remember the date. But the day I found out I got National Boards (in teaching) was pretty sweet.

6. What was your biggest success?
National Boards in my teaching world, finishing The Amnesia Door in my writing world. Actually, not just finishing it, but also growing up enough as a writer to realize it needs change, seek out feedback, and apply criticism to revisions. Previously, I have been too quick to think I was done after typing The End, too willing to forgo serious revisions.

7. What was your biggest failure?
I wasted time with too much nothing.

8. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Thankfully, no.

9. What was the best thing you bought?
The husband's Christmas present--he really liked it! Also, I recently got this at an after Christmas sale, it is freaking awesome. Hmmm...I also like the books I bought this year...

10. Where did most of your money go?
Travel and writing (which includes books in my genre/age range for "research")

11. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
The election! Traveling to Europe with a gaggle of teenagers under my supervision! My own book! Reading and discovering new authors!

12. Compared to this time last year, are you a. happier or sadder? b. thinner or fatter? c. richer or poorer?
a. happier, b. no difference, c. richer--at least in security, happiness, peace, etc.

13. What do you wish you'd done more of?

14. What do you wish you'd done less of?

15. Did you fall in love in 2008?
I fell more in love with the husband as we crossed our one year anniversary, more in love with my parents as I grow up and appreciate them more, more in love with my friends who stand beside me even when I become self absorbed, more in love with my dog who loves me more than anything, more in love with my life as I achieve my dreams, more in love with my God who gave it all to me.

16. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
No, although I do have a friend who's really let me down, and I'm afraid our long friendship dissolve.

17. What was your favorite TV program?
Doctor Who! The perfect Doctor (David Tennant) and the perfect companion (Catherine Tate). And a brilliant plot line!

18. What was the best book you read?
My eyes have grown wide. How can I pick one? Let's see...I loved The Emerald Tablet because I loved knowing the author and feeling that connection between the writing world and the reading world. The Harry Potter books--that I read and re-read--are brilliant and something for me to aspire to.

19. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Nickel Creek, and the song "The Lighthouse". Very cool sounds.

20. What was your favorite film of this year?
Hancock was great. Did I am Legend come out this year? Apparently I love Will Smith.

21. What did you want and get?
A deeper sense of belonging in the writing world. I wanted to feel more like a writer, not a hack.

22. What did you want and not get?
A published book with my name on it.

23. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
A published book with my name on it. (I see a theme here.)

24. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008?

25. What kept you sane?
The husband.

26. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008.
Let it be.

Predictions for 2010

*puts on sparkly scarf, gypsy skirt, and lights some incense*

Yessss....I see many things in the future of publishing.

  1. YA (especially speculative YA) will continue to be very popular.
  2. Vampires will be less so. Many people think angels are going to be the new vampires, but I'm leaning towards some totally new fad. I don't think angels are going to last all year. Probably not werewolves or zombies either. But something new and different. Maybe a YA version of Rick Riordan's demi-gods, or something like that.
  3. Science fiction and steampunk are going to continue to rise in popularity. 
  4. YA is going to grow more intelligent. Less GossipGirl/Snarky/PopularMeanGirl stuff, more stuff where the plot is based on something you have to think about and less where the plot is based on people (girls) being mean to each other.
  5. Romantic triangles will continue to be popular, but the plot of a book is going to need more than a romantic triangle in order to survive in the future.
  6. YA is going to remain the genre where you can experiment--new, fun, exciting things will happen in YA more than adult literature, and it will be much better for it. 
  7. YA will increasingly become more accepted as a distinct genre style, not a target age range. As it should be.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A New Year, a New Beginning

Ha! A pun! With the new year came the end of revisions...or at least, what I consider to be the end of revisions. And as I turned over the very last page of my manuscript, bleeding with red ink and changes, I turned right back to page one.

See, I've always had trouble with the first page of the manuscript--which isn't that great of a thing considering that of all the pages of a manuscript, page one is arguably the most important. Without a knock-out page one, I can't sell the blasted thing.

But then again, the last page is important, too. And the second biggest problem people have with my manuscript is the last page. But after submerging myself in revisions for EIGHT STRAIGHT HOURS NOT EVEN PAUSING FOR SUSTENANCE, I came up with a new beginning for the new year!

I know some of you are probably sick of reading versions of my work, but I'm a writer, which means I will mooch feedback from wherever I can possibly glean it from. Besides, it's short :) Anyway, here's the just-off-the-press, I'll-probably-regret-this-later new first bit. Right now, my biggest worry is that a) it's not attention-grabbing enough, and b) it uses the word "change" too often. Oh, and c) that if I try to thrust another version of the first page at anyone else, one of my readers will paper-cut me to death.

Change had never done Belle Ravenna any favors. Moving from one coast to another last year had meant change: a new school, a new house, and no friends. But the first day of school was all about change—and maybe this would be the year things would finally change for the better. The start of eighth grade would give Belle the chance to reinvent herself, finally become the person she wanted to be.

Someone knocked into Belle as she picked up a chocolate milk. Ashleigh. Belle's corndog slid off her fries. The stick end landed in the ketchup.

"I hate it when the nobodies just stand there," Ashleigh said to the lunchroom in general. She paid for her salad, no dressing, and bottle of water.

"I hate it that you think you can just walk all over me," Belle told her corndog.

So much for reinventing herself. All that had changed since last year was her grade.

"$2.60." The lunch lady didn't look up as she held out her hand.

Belle handed her three dollars. "Have you ever wondered if maybe life should be different from how it is?"

"Change." The lunch lady handed the coins to Belle.

Belle stuffed them in her pocket, picked up the tray, and stepped into the lunchroom and its chaos. ...
Thanks in advance for any comments any one can provide--and please, don't hold back! And, as a special thank-you for helping me out with this manuscript and sharing this crazy ride of a blog and a manuscript development, I'm making a special pre-announcement: I'll be holding a contest very soon just for you, my wonderful, amazing blog readers!

PS: Thanks to Christine, who gave me the phrase "reinventing herself" during my Amnesia Door Chapter 1 Critique Revisionrama! :)