Saturday, June 29, 2013

The In-between Stuff

For the same reason that I paint all the edges of a room first, I can’t write all my favorite scenes first and glue them together later. Just as the edges of a wall would never get painted if I started with the middle, that glue would never be applied to those scenes. Glue is boring to write. ;)

I do skip ahead once in a while if I’m stuck or I have a moment of inspiration, but for the most part, I write chronologically.

What about you? Do you like to skip around? Or do you start at the beginning and go straight through to the end?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Open Thread: Summer Reading List

Hello all! Sorry I'm not going to be my usual verbose self today - it's my last day at my current job, so naturally I have been keeping up an impressive juggling act all week. :)

So this time, I'm turning the mike over to you all to see what's on your summer reading lists. What awesome things have you read, or are on your shelf waiting for you to pick them up? As for me, due to my aforementioned transition, I haven't been able to finish much of anything lately, but with the short break I've scheduled for myself on the horizon, here's what I'm tackling first, in no particular order:

THE 5TH WAVE by Rick Yancey
ONE by Leigh Ann Kopans
I HUNT KILLERS by Barry Lyga
SHADOW AND BONE by Leigh Bardugo
THE CAGED GRAVES by Dianne Salerni

... and lots more I'm forgetting, I'm sure.

You're up, OAers! What are you looking forward to?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Positive Attitudes - Lessons from a 7 Year Old

Greetings from the depths of deadline drudgery ;-) This is a little something from a few years back, but it's something that I love to read over and over again.

It's just amazing what you can learn from your children :)

So much about surviving in this business depends on attitude. Rejections, critiques, reviews...they can all get to you if you don't have the right attitude about them. Keeping a positive attitude can be anything but easy.

But it is possible to have a positive attitude about anything if you choose. Something that was brought home to me as I watched my 7 year old open his presents on Christmas morning. He's a cute kid on any morning, but this Christmas, he was so flippin adorable I almost couldn't stand it. He didn't stop smiling once, not even when things didn't really go the way he wanted. For instance, he and his sister received desks (she for her art, he for his science and art projects). They were both very excited about them, and about the presents stacked on top.

Now, these presents went along with their desks (they were filled with office supplies, crayons, markers, stickers, etc). And since they both always get in my computer paper for their projects, I thought having their very own stash of paper would be fun. My son unwrapped his paper (it was the first present he unwrapped) and when he saw what it was, he said, "Oh you gotta be kidding! Paper?"

Now, he could have said this as "Oh you gotta be kidding, paper?" *insert sarcasm and exasperated eye roll* But it was said with a laugh and a smile. He put the paper to the side (instead of chucking it across the room) and moved on. Some kids would have reacted with a much different attitude. (And he has since had a lot of fun with that paper, so it's all good) :D

My favorite moment of the day came a few minutes later as he was going through his stocking. He found a box of those storybook lifesavers (which Santa forgot he didn't care for). He held them up, smile from ear to ear, laugh in his voice, and said "Awesome I hate these!"

Now, I think he was saying "awesome" and then realized what it was and switched to "I hate these" - but either way, he didn't throw a fit, he didn't even look disappointed, he just put them down and moved on. And gave the rest of us a good belly laugh at the same time :D

It got me thinking. How do we react when something doesn't go our way in the writing world? What do we do when a request that looked so promising comes back with a rejection? What do we do when a manuscript we thought was clean and polished and ready to go comes back from a critiquing with so much red you can't see the white of the pages anymore? Or when a book we've bled and sweated over is published and comes back with horrible reviews or sales numbers?

I realize everyone is going to have a moment where they want to quit, hit delete and never write again, or shoot off a nasty email to the person who sent that rejection or critique or terrible review. It's natural and totally understandable to feel supreme disappointment. We pour our hearts and souls into our work and it hurts when it doesn't make it.

You can't do anything about how other people view your work. You can't make an agent sign you, or make that editor buy your book, or make your crit partners send your manuscript with a big smiley face and a "PERFECT!" rating. But you can politely thank your crit partners and move on, even if you cried yourself to sleep over their comments, even if you'll never use one of their suggestions. They took time away from their own work to read yours. Just say thank you with a smile on your face and move on.

Got a bad reject or review? STAY AWAY FROM THE REPLY BUTTON. Resist the urge to tell that agent/editor/reviewer that they don't know what they are talking about. Maybe they don't. Maybe passing on your book will someday be the biggest regret they ever have. I'm sure the people who passed on Stephanie Meyer and JK Rowling and John Grisham give themselves a little kick every now and then. But it doesn't matter.

This business is subjective in the extreme. Everything depends on getting the right book in front of the right person at the EXACT right time - over and over again. You can't control any of that. But you can control your attitude when disappointment comes your way. You can have a minute of mourning for the shiny possibility that didn't pan out....and then put a smile on your face and move on. Bigger and better things will be waiting for you if you have a good attitude and keep on going. A bad attitude will burn a lot of bridges and wear you down.

If my son had thrown a fit over the paper or the unwanted candy, Christmas morning would have been miserable for everyone. There were much better presents under the tree, more delicious candy in the toe of his stocking. But he never would have found that out if he'd stopped unwrapping after the first disappointment (and to be honest, his attitude about that paper was so good I'm still not sure if he was disappointed or not).

Bottom line - you are going to wade through a lot of coal before you get to the good stuff. Having a bad attitude about it will make the journey miserable for you and everyone you are involved with. A good attitude will make even crappy candy and stacks of computer paper a lot more fun, and it will make finally finding that shiny new bike under the tree a much more rewarding moment.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

An MS Isn't Just For Reading

Since I've sprained my ankle for the third time in two weeks (I really shouldn't be let out of the house), I decided I'd see what goodies were in my previous posts file to share with you all.

Congratulations. After many long hours, days, weeks, months (sometimes years) of doing this:

You have turned you bubbling mass of ideas into a book type thing. Okay, a book. 

Now what? 

Obviously you've let it simmer. You've edited it into submission. You've passed it around your critique group/beta readers/people who read your stuff. But what about those printed copies?  The ones with the red pen of doom scrawled across them that sit in an unloved pile? 

Fear not, I have some handy uses:

1) Got an annoying door that won't stay open? Use that MS as a literary doorstop. When people trip over it you can tell them it's your book. Instant conversation starter. 

2) Stand on it for extra height when talking to taller people. 

3) Want a unique focal point? Wallpaper. A room covered in your words = priceless.

4) Do your friends/family/co-workers pester you to read your book? Give them a birthday/Christmas treat by wrapping their present in your pages. Not only will it look chic, but they'll get a sneak peak of your writing. Two birds, one MS. 

5) Build a fort. Okay, it may be the first small brick, but the foundations are important. And a book fort would be pretty awesome... until it rains.
I'm off to ice my ankle (and elevate it on a few drafts of old manuscripts). Any more creative uses for hard copy manuscripts I've missed?

A few quick reminders:
Got a query you'd like some feedback on? Angelica announced another awesome Query Critique Contest on Monday. Want a chance to win some feedback on your query? Enter here.
You can also enter the Copper Girl blog tour giveaway here.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Copper Girl Blog Tour!

Sara had always been careful.

She never spoke of magic, never associated with those suspected of handling magic, never thought of magic, and never, ever, let anyone see her mark. After all, the last thing she wanted was to end up missing, like her father and brother.

Then, a silver elf pushed his way into Sara's dream, and her life became anything but ordinary.

About the Author: Jennifer Allis Provost is a native New Englander who lives in a sprawling colonial along with her beautiful and precocious twins, a dog, a parrot (maroon bellied conure, to be exact), two cats, and a wonderful husband who never forgets to buy ice cream. As a child, she read anything and everything she could get her hands on, including a set of encyclopedias, but fantasy was always her favorite. She spends her days drinking vast amounts of coffee, arguing with her computer, and avoiding any and all domestic behavior.

Friend her on Facebook:
Follow her on Twitter: @parthalan

And of course, enter the giveaway!  The grand prize is a necklace (the token Micah gives Sara in the book),second prize is a signed ARC, and the third is a $10 B&N gift card!.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


It seemed like a good idea at the time.

My office, like most modern offices, cranked the air conditioning down to Arctic proportions during the summer months. Consequently, we workers arrived in the morning dressed in sandals and sleeveless tops, donned heavy sweaters upon reaching our desks, and ended up shivering by noon. Ironically, when our workday ended we were hit by a wall of oppressive heat the moment we stepped outside the main doors. No, this wasn’t a flawed system in the slightest.

That day, I wasn’t having it. I had the grand idea of spending my lunch hour outside, away from the icy wind stiffening my fingers and chilling my neck. After I unwound myself from the afghan I kept in my desk (and only used in the summer months), I gathered up my lunch and my phone and headed out for an impromptu picnic in my car.

What I hadn’t considered was that the office runs the air conditioning so cold because it was, well, hot outside. Very hot, in fact. So hot that the cheese was melting in my sandwich and the lettuce looked like something that had washed ashore months, maybe even years, ago. I was parked in the shade and had taken down my car’s convertible top, but I still couldn’t manage to get comfortable. I’d already shed my sandals and cardigan, which left me wearing my sundress and…

Dare I?

I glanced around the parking lot of Real Estate Evaluation Services, the ‘go-to firm for all your commercial real estate needs’, according to the brochures. No one, human or drone, was taking a noontime stroll, and, by virtue of my being on the far side of the lot, no cars were near mine. Most of my coworkers didn’t even have cars, so the lot was rarely more than half-full. What was more, from where I sat, I couldn’t even see the office.

I dared.

I took a deep breath and channeled my inner wild woman, then leaned the seat back and slipped off my panties. Removing that small bit of cotton made an incredible difference, and the heat became somewhat bearable. Enjoyable, even. Was that a breeze?

Ignoring my decrepit sandwich, I fully reclined the seat, set the alarm on my phone, and closed my eyes. A nap. Now that would make today bearable.

Suddenly, he is there.


Kissing me, holding me.

I know I'm dreaming, because he's perfect. His lips are soft but insistent, his hands gentle. I glide my fingers across his back, feeling thick cords of muscle, before sinking my fingers into his hair. It’s superfine, like cobwebs, and when I crack an eyelid, I learn that it’s silver. Not gray or white, but the elegant hue of antique candlesticks and fine flatware. Cool.

I squeeze my eyes shut again, not wanting the dream to end any sooner than it has to. He kisses me once more, and I can’t help melting against him. His hand travels up my leg, up past my hip… shit! No panties!

I try twisting away, but he already knows. I feel his mouth stretch into a smile, and he moves to nuzzle my neck. "What’s your name?" he murmurs.

"Sara," I reply. "Yours?"

"Micah." By now, his hands have traveled to my waist, and he slides one around to stroke the small of my back. "Why did you summon me, Sara?"

"I didn’t," I protest. "I don’t know how." I would say more, but he nibbles a trail from my neck to my shoulder, and pushes my dress to the side. As for me, I let him.

Micah raises his head, and I get a good look at him for the first time. His eyes are large and dark gray, like thunderheads, his features chiseled into warm caramel skin, and his unruly mop of silver hair seems to float around his head. He wears an odd, buff-colored leather shirt, made all the odder in this heat, and matching leather pants and boots. Boots?

"You did summon me," he insists. "My Sara, you must tell me why."

"Does it matter?" I ask. I pull him back to me, kissing him with all the passion I’ve never felt with anyone during my waking hours. Micah kisses me back, fingers deftly unbuttoning my dress while his other hand rubs my lower back. I’ve never felt so free, so alive as I do in Micah’s embrace, and I have no intention of rushing this. None at all.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Query Critique Call!

Critique entries now closed! Winner will be announced July 1, and critiqued query will go up July 8! B (And if you noticed that the entry count went down, I discovered that it was holding onto the May entries but that's not what I intended--should have duplicated rather than modified May's rafflecopter. Only the June entries are counted now for this drawing.)

First, some Mystery Agent Contest business:
For those of you who were hoping to pitch for our July Mystery Agent Contest, publishing summer has struck and it looks like we haven't lined up an agent for July (though, there are still a few days left in June so it's possible we'll find a last-minute pinch hitter).

But don't worry, August, September, and October are all lined up, and these Mystery Agents cover a wide variety of genres--that means even more opportunities to pitch your book!

In the meantime, we'll use some of that time to tackle a query critique here on Operation Awesome. I'm calling for brave souls who would like to get their query critiqued by me (Angelica), and other OAers who will chime in as their schedule allows. Plus, the public can add their thoughts and encouragement in the comments.

The Rafflecopter will be open until June 30th, and the critiqued query will go up on July 8. We're not requiring you to tweet, share on Facebook, or follow our blog(s) or Twitter accounts, but any of those are always appreciated! And we need a contact in your entry, but it's okay to disguise your email from bots by formatting it like youremail (at) gmail (dotcom).

So if you're up for joining us in this experiment, you must sign up below and then leave a comment telling us what age/genre your book is. This last bit has no bearing on whether you are selected since Rafflecopter does the choosing for us, but it's always interesting to see what you're working on. We will be emailing the winner and announcing their name on Twitter and Facebook on July 1, so it's worth your while to follow those accounts!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

See you back here on the 8th!

Saturday, June 22, 2013


Hello Everyone!

I just wanted to let you know that I signed an audio contract with Spencer Hill Press for Amarok! It is scheduled to be released by the end of this month.

 My narrator is Kevin Young. I feel so lucky to have him as the voice for my audiobook.

You can read more about Kevin Young and hear a sample of Amarok here:

A huge thank you to Spencer Hill Press~And to everyone at Operation Awesome for your support!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Too Good For Words

Story prompt: put this image into words... in dialogue 
Planetary nebulae are the remains of sun-like stars that have reached the end of their red giant stage, losing most of their atmosphere into space to form some of the most beautiful nebula in the Milky Way. (Courtesy: NASA, ESA, HEIC Heritage Collection)

One of my erstwhile hobbies is reading NDEs, or Near-Death Experiences. The people who write these books come from a variety of circumstances and are not all writers, obviously.

That would be weird.

Some of them hire writers to tell their stories and others do it themselves, feeling called to share what happened to them regardless of previous writing experience. Many of these books read like journals.

But every single one shares a common element: the too good for words problem.

Read a book about a near-death experience and you will invariably reach a part where the author tries to describe the Supreme Consciousness, God, Angels, the Gates of Heaven, or Pure Love. And to a person, these writers feel unequipped to undertake such a phenomenal task. There are no words. It's too beautiful for words. The limitations of our language make it impossible to convey.

"Regardless, it is impossible for me to adequately describe what I saw and what I felt. When I try to recount my experiences now, the description feels very pale. I feel as though I am trying to describe a three-dimensional experience while living in a two-dimensional world. The appropriate words, descriptions, and concepts don't even exist in our current language." - Dr. Mary C. Neal

While we may not all have near-death experiences, I think all writers have the same challenge when trying to write about one of the most basic human experiences: love. 

Also difficult to describe with full honors: fire, lightning, a smile. Frankly, these things are all too good for words.

But I guess love is the most difficult. In fact, my favorite writers haven't endeavored to describe love at all. They've simply illustrated it through a story about ordinary people and the choices they make.

What do you do, though, if you're actually writing about the supernatural? 

How would you describe a light above the brightness of the sun... without comparing it to the sun? It's a little like trying to describe the taste of salt to someone who has never tasted it before. We can always ask Becca and Angela to make a new entry for Supernatural in their Settings Thesaurus. But barring that, let's see how a few of our dead-and-risen friends managed to illustrate the unimaginable: 

  • "Their edges were blurred, as each spiritual being was dazzling and radiant. Their presence engulfed all of my senses, as though I could see, hear, feel, smell, and taste them all at once. Their brilliance was both blinding and invigorating." - Mary C. Neal, M.D. in To Heaven and Back: The True Story of a Doctor's Extraordinary Walk with God
  • "Suddenly, I was enveloped in this brilliant golden light. The light was more brilliant than the light emanating from the sun, many times more powerful and radiant than the sun itself. Yet, I was not blinded by it nor was I burned by it. Instead, the light was a source of energy that embraced my being." - Ned Dougherty in Fast Lane to Heaven
  • "... as I approached, I physically absorbed its radiance and felt the pure, complete, and utterly unconditional absolute love that emanated from the hall. It was the most beautiful and alluring thing I had ever seen or experienced. I knew with a profound certainty that it represented the last branch point of life, the gate through which each human being must pass." - Mary C. Neal, M.D. in To Heaven and Back: The True Story of a Doctor's Extraordinary Walk with God
  • "It was as if I were being born into a larger world, and the universe itself was like a giant cosmic womb...." - Eben Alexander, M.D. in Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife
  • "A sound, huge and booming like a glorious chant, came down from above, and I wondered if the winged beings were producing it. Again thinking about it later, it occurred to me that the joy of these creatures, as they soared along, was such that they had to make this noise--that if the joy didn't come out of them this way then they would simply not otherwise be able to contain it. The sound was palpable and almost material, like a rain that you can feel on your skin but that doesn't get you wet." - Eben Alexander, M.D. in Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife
  • "Seeing and hearing were not separate in this place where I now was. I could hear the visual beauty of the silvery bodies of those scintillating beings above, and I could see the surging, joyful perfection of what they sang. It seemed that you could not look at or listen to anything in this world without becoming a part of it--without joining with it in some mysterious way." - Eben Alexander, M.D. in Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife
  • "...found myself entering an immense void, completely dark, infinite in size, yet also infinitely comforting. Pitch black as it was, it was also brimming over with light: a light that seemed to come from a brilliant orb that I now sensed near me. An orb that was living and almost solid, as the songs of the angel beings had been.... but any descriptive word falls short." - Eben Alexander, M.D. in Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife
  • "I wasn't sure when the light in the room began to change; suddenly I was aware that it was brighter, a lot brighter, than it had been. I whirled to look at the night-light on the bedside table. Surely a single 15-watt bulb couldn't turn out that much light? I stared in astonishment as the brightness increased, coming from nowhere, seeming to shine everywhere at once. All the light bulbs in the ward couldn't give off that much light. All the bulbs in the world couldn't! It was impossibly bright: it was like a million welders' lamps all blazing at once.... now I saw that it was not a light but a Man who had entered the room, or rather, a Man made out of light, though this seemed no more possible to my mind than the incredible intensity of the brightness that made up His form.... Above all, with that same mysterious inner certainty, I knew that this Man loved me. Far more even than power, what emanated from this Presence was unconditional love. An astonishing love. A love beyond my wildest imagining. This love knew every unlovable thing about me...and accepted and loved me just the same." - George G. Ritchie with Elizabeth Sherrill in Return from Tomorrow
  • "'What about the insurance money coming when I'm seventy?' The words were out, in this strange realm where communication took place by thought instead of speech, before I could call them back. A few months ago I had taken out the standard life insurance policy offered to service men; in some subconscious part of me had I believed this piece of paper guaranteed life itself? If I'd suspected before that there was mirth in the Presence beside me, now I was sure of it: the brightness seemed to vibrate and shimmer with a kind of holy laughter--not at me and my silliness, not a mocking laughter, but a mirth that seemed to say that in spite of all error and tragedy, joy was more lasting still." - George G. Ritchie with Elizabeth Sherrill in Return from Tomorrow

What do you think? Did these descriptions make you feel there with them? Did they do justice to whatever it was they were describing? Or were they just nebulous hyperbole wrapped in enigma with a plethora of 'biggest's and 'brightest's? Could you do better?

These people all wrote what they say really happened to them, but as a science-fiction and fantasy writer I'm very interested in their words as examples of descriptive writing. I'm reminded of the artful way Jennifer Armentrout described her beings of light in the Lux series.

What works of fiction (or non-fiction) do you consult when faced with a description challenge?

Dark Crystal Tie-In Contest

The Dark Crystal was the scariest movie I remember watching as a kid. Well, that and maybe the Last Unicorn are probably tied for being most terrifying children's movie ever.  Heck, I'm almost 40 and whatever these things are still scare the crap out of me.

But, if you're brave enough, and you're interested in writing a tie-in to The Dark Crystal, The Jim Henson Company and the Penguin Young readers Group have an open submission for you!

They're asking for proposals for the prequel to the movie. Submissions should be 7,500-10,000 words and the final book should be around 50k words. It's under a tie-in contract so the prize for the author will be a flat $10,000.  It's not bad, but there are a few things to consider.

Just from skimming the rules, here's some main points. I advise you all to read the fine print.

1. The $10,000 is a one time payout. There are no royalties. This is pretty standard for tie-in novels.
2. You only need to submit a proposal. This is a big bonus. Most first time authors and many who already have a book out still submit on spec, which means they have to complete an entire manuscript before it goes on submission. Only established authors submit on proposal.
3. Here's the kicker (you knew there'd be one) and it's controversial. Whatever you submit will be their property. So if you submit a short story for this contest and don't win, Penguin Youth owns the story.

The last piece is a pretty nasty part of the contract. Everyone's mileage will vary whether they think it's acceptable or not. Personally, I wouldn't submit part of a novel or a quality short story I already had. Remember, after you submit to them, you can't submit that same piece anywhere else.

The contest starts Oct 1, 2013 until Dec 31, 2013. You can find out more about this contest here.

If you're participating, good luck!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Watch out for Limes! Lessons from School and Bookstore Visits

I've been doing a steady stream of school and bookstore events, reading and talking about my hardcover debut, Wonder Light: Unicorns of the Mist. Here are a few of the lessons I've learned so far:

1) Friday-Flip-Up Day rules still apply, even if it isn't Friday. I was getting ready for a school visit, and my husband laughed when he found out I was wearing the same shorts I wear under my judo gi underneath my flowery skirt.

"You never go into a school with a skirt on and no shorts underneath!" I said.

"You're not in elementary school anymore," he countered.

I kept my shorts on and made my way to the old, stuffy building on a hot spring day. Guess what the teacher had blowing full blast in his classroom? A huge floor fan. Marilyn Monroe, anyone?

I rest my case.

2) Watch out for limes. When killing a couple hours between school visits and a bookstore event, by all means, go to the food court and grab something to eat. But if you choose pad thai, you might want to skip the limes. I picked up a juicy wedge of lime and began to squeeze it over my noodles.

And got a stream of lime juice right in my eye.

My eye clamped shut and tears ran down my cheek. It stung so bad, I headed straight for the restroom to wash my eye out. I barely managed to make it to the bookstore looking put-together and not squinting like a pirate who'd lost her patch. That brings me to my next tip:

3) Wear waterproof mascara (prepared—and allergic, watery-eyed—girl that I am, I always do). You never know when a group of fourth-graders might present you with a beautiful book of their unicorn drawings, bringing tears to your poised, Professional Author eyes.

Monday, June 17, 2013

It's Your Choice

As a kid, my parents had a tactic that they’d use to help discipline guide my sister and me.
It went something like this…
“If you don’t [insert desired behavior: usually cleaning room, doing homework, or not fighting], you choose to [insert desired threat: usually going to room, forgoing something involving friends, or missing a much anticipated new episode of Fraggle Rock].”
Then they would end the ultimatum offer with the words: “It’s your choice.”
As a mom of two, I have to admit that I’ve adopted this tactic of choice with my son and daughter.  (Minus the Fraggle Rock part.)
What I like about the approach is that it gives my kids some control (or maybe illusion of control?) over their own destiny. They can’t blame anyone for the consequences of their actions, because they knew what was at stake and they actively made their decision.
Who knew my parents parenting tactics would have applicability to my writing craft?
It does.  It really does. So says Cheryl Klein, Scholastic editor extraordinaire.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I had the good fortune of taking Cheryl’s online master plotting course through Writer’s Digest earlier this spring.  I’m using what I learned through that class to revise my contemporary middle grade WIP. The goal is to have it finished up for WriteOnCon 2013 in August. (Do you know WriteOnCon? If not, you can find out more at
Part of my revision process at the moment is to look at the root of the action in my plot. Does the action result from my protagonist’s choices, good or bad? Or are things happening to her and she’s simply reacting? I know when I’m reading, the characters that find themselves in trouble as a result of their own doing are much more interesting than characters that find themselves in trouble because of the events happening to them.    
While revising, I’ve found opportunities to change scenes where my protagonist was reacting to or going along with other characters.  For example, in my MG WIP, my protagonist and her ex-best friend must deal with a rift in their friendship. In a current scene, the former best friend shows up at my protagonist’s house. With the ex-best friend there, my MC knows she can ask for the help she needs and the ex-best friend might be open to giving it. In revising that scene, I’m forcing my MC to make a choice: go through her ordeal alone or swallow her pride and call her ex-best friend to ask for help.  In the second scenario, not only does my protagonist have a hard choice to make, there is also more potential for conflict because my protagonist isn’t confident that her ex-best friend wants to reconcile.  
As I move forward, I’m looking at each scene, each chapter to find those places where I can present my main character with tough decisions, and then say to her, “It’s your choice.”
When it comes to my kids, I hope they make good choices.  When it comes to my characters, I hope their choices make for a good story.

How do the choices your characters make affect your story's plot? What would happen to your story if you gave your characters more or tougher choices?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Dude, Your Baby is UG-LY!

Okay, so no one would ever really say that. Would they?

This post isn’t really about babies. Not the real kind, anyway. In my last post I expressed my love for critiques. But where there is the receiving of critiques, there must also be the giving, right?

Don’t get me wrong. I love giving a critique almost as much as I love getting one. Critiquing the writing of others is awesome for recognizing things you do wrong in your own writing because a lot of us make the same mistakes. It also helps us look at our own work with a more critical eye. BUT… when it comes to hitting the send button on the email, I always think, “Oh no. What if this makes her hate me?” Especially if it’s a particularly thorough critique, where there’s lots of red on the screen. It kind of feels like I’m sending an email, saying:

“Dude, your baby is UG-LY! But here’s how I (self-proclaimed baby beauty expert) think you can make her prettier.”

How do you feel about critiquing the work of others? Do you worry they’ll take offense? Or do you just figure one good shredding deserves another, and they should just suck it up?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Suspension of disbelief

Happiest of Fridays, everyone!

Suspension of disbelief is a funny thing, especially in speculative fiction. You can make your readers believe in space travel, or ghosts, or all manner of magical powers, so long as you keep all your worldbuilding consistent and unexplained. But it's usually not the otherworldly things that can throw a person right out of the story.

Maybe your reader is from Boston, and your Massachusetts-set story refers to the subway system as the 'Metro.' (And you shouldn't do that, because I just clutched my heart in agony at the very thought.) Maybe your reader is pursuing their Masters in biochemistry, and the science in your book isn't quite working for them. It doesn't even have to be the reader's specialty. Sometimes it's just one of those tropes that rubs the reader the wrong way.

For me personally? My pet peeve is when writers fail to keep their characters' injuries consistent. I sometimes feel like I can hardly pick up a book or watch a TV show without a character talking perfectly clearly after they've just been throttled, or blithely walking around and bantering and fighting crime with a head injury or 'a few cracked ribs.' Not because I'm a sadist - hopefully not, anyway. But when the character can just glide through setbacks without even missing a step, it drains the stakes from the narrative for me. It's hard to get invested in a character when it seems they're going to achieve their goals without any problems.

(And I have a hard time understanding why any writer would pass up a chance to make their character suffer some more... which does sound a little sadistic, now that I type it out.)

Though the phrase "write what you know" is the one that gets bandied about in various creative writing classes, I don't agree with that - those would make for very boring books most of the time. But it's very important to know what you write, down to the smallest details. A throwaway line for one writer could be about something the reader knows back and front - and when a reader loses the thread of the story, sometimes it can be tricky to find it again.

What breaks your suspension of disbelief?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Social Media Deluge

Does it ever feel like you spend more time trying to promo yourself and your books than you do actually writing them? There always seems to be a new way to connect with readers or some fun way to procrastinate explore the internet.

I'm on Facebook (with a personal profile, a "professional" profile, AND an author page); Twitter; Pinterest; several blogs; a website; I still have a Myspace page I think; and now.....Tumblr.

I signed up for Tumblr quite a while ago. And then never did anything with it :D But it's something I've been encouraged to try so I signed up for a new one and have been trying to figure out what I'm doing ever since lol

Is anyone else out there on Tumblr? Do you have any tips? Because I really have no idea what I'm doing :D

This is me -

Come friend me, follow me, take my hand and show me how to use the crazy thing :D I can definitely use all the help I can get.

I'm curious....

Writers - how much time do you spend on social networking sites? Which platform is your favorite or do you find most effective?

Readers - what is your favorite way to connect with people and authors that you like?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Revision Face

Revision is always something that tends to be personal. We all have our different techniques on getting it done. Some days we open the laptop, get the document open and do ALL the things.
Other days...

So I thought I'd share a bit about my revision technique. And, for the funny, I'm using awesome pictures from hyperbole and a half to demonstrate:
I may start my revision process like this:

But once I get into the swing of things:

I'm in my own little world. It's MY time. I lock myself in my bedroom like a teenage boy with a stash of... whatever teenage boys lock themselves in their rooms with these days. I only come up for air to either a) get a drink b) eat c) perform whatever cleanliness/hygiene related function is needed. I wield the red pen of doom/delete key on all who cross my path until stupid hours!

Sometimes I fall into my procrastination place:


Because there's always something fun happening on Twitter/the blogosphere/YouTube that I NEED to see. But I know this is no good for my MC (who I usually leave in some dire situation).

So I begin again:

And I repeat the cycle until all my pages are edited.

The I start round two.

So how do you edit? Got any fun revision tips/procrastination tools you'd like to share? :)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Got Scrivener?

We've discussed it before, but how's it going for those of you who bought the program and tried it out? Is it worth the time and effort? Or is it just another program...

I'm tempted, since I won't be in full writing mode 'til fall, and they have a 20% off sale through June 14th.   

Monday, June 10, 2013

An Outdoor Room of My Own

There's a famous essay by Virginia Woolf about a woman needing "a room of her own" to write fiction, and for me that holds very true. For me to write new words (well, they're not entirely new--I merely put them in a certain order) in a draft, I need large blocks of uninterrupted time.

As I discovered when my husband was on sabbatical, having another person in the house doesn't lend itself to uninterrupted writing time. Even if he wasn't popping his head into my office to ask a question, I could often feel him not asking a question. Trying to wait until I took a break, but interrupting my concentration just the same. I can't even imagine what it would be like to have kids in that mix too! All you writing parents have my sincere admiration.

Anyway, my husband and I eventually came to an agreement that when my door was closed, that meant I was unavailable. But, my office is pretty small and sometimes it's cozy, and other times it feels confining. So I'm very glad that we were able to put up our gazebo kit and now I have this space to write in:

Can't wait to sit out there in a rainstorm! Plus, a touch of whimsy in the nearby garden art inspires me to be more playful and childlike.

What about you? Are you one of those writers who thrives on the chaos and noise in a busy coffee place? Do you wake up at odd hours just to have some peace and quiet?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Summertime, when the writing is easy

Ready to earn your writing badge? Join Camp NaNoWriMo or another writing challenge.
Is writing ever easy? Well, no. But this year, I'm going to try make summer my writing season, easy or not. I've got a file full of WIPs and outlines, and by the end of the summer I'm going to polish off a couple picture books and make solid progress on my next novel.

I know a lot of writers with day jobs as teachers and school librarians look forward to summer as a time to work on their writing. For a lot of writers, it's business as usual at the day job, with writing during nights and weekends. And other writers with children find summer their least productive time, when kids are home from school. Operation Awesome's Toni Kerr wrote about challenges and strategies for handling the season earlier this week. Becky Mahoney wrote about the frustrations and agonies of the summer publishing slow-down for writers who are querying or on sub.

For me, it's not a great time to write -- children, day job, and the distractions of summer fun. But I've realized no time is really good -- the only time is the time we have. So for me, this summer is it!

Need some inspiration? Summer is also the season for writers' conferences, retreats, and workshops, small and large. Here are a few of the biggest:

Camp NaNoWriMo - Pick your summer month, then write a novel during a month-long virtual writing retreat. Join now for the July session! 

ALA Chicago - The summer conference of the American Library Association is where librarians convene and rub elbows with writers like Alice Walker, Khaled Hosseini, Temple Grandin, and Ann Patchett. (June 27 - July 2)

The 42nd Annual SCBWI Summer Conference - The Los Angeles meeting of SCBWI is about craft and networking with fellow children's writers and illustrators, like Laurie Halse Anderson, Kirby Larson, Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett, and Richard Peck. And be sure to check your regional SCBWI for more events.  (August 2-5)

What are your summer plans? More writing? Less? What are your goals? Do you have any events on the calendar, or know of any others? Any books you're especially interested in reading?

Saturday, June 8, 2013


Triangles by Kimberly Ann Miller

 Coming soon! 

A few weeks ago I blogged about an exciting new novel by Kimberly Ann Miller. Triangles is published by Spencer Hill Press and is making its debut in just 10 days~~June 18th!!!  
“Photo credit Spencer Hill Press”

A cruise ship. A beautiful island. Two sexy guys. What could possibly go wrong? 

In the Bermuda Triangle—a lot.

Hoping to leave behind the reminders of her crappy life--her father's death years ago, her mother's medical problems, and the loser who’s practically stalking her--seventeen-year-old Autumn Taylor hops on a ship with her sister for a little distraction. When she wakes up in the Bermuda Triangle, she fears she's gone nuts for more than one reason: that loser’s suddenly claiming they're a happy couple... a hot guy is wrapping his arms around her and saying "Happy Anniversary"... and suddenly, she’s full of bruises, losing her hair, and getting IV medication. Autumn visits the ship's doctor, hoping for a pill or a shot to make the craziness go away. Instead, she's warned that these "alternate realities" could become permanent.

She just has to ask herself one question—how the hell is she going to get out of this mess?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

No Talking Animals?

It was one of the first things I learned when I started studying how to get started in the children's book industry—No talking animals. No problem there. I have files and files of ideas, and none of them involve talking animals.

I still see "No talking animals please" in the wish-lists and guidelines of agents and editors. But recently I was talking with a very enthusiastic fourth grade teacher who was planning on participating in National Novel Writing Month. He wanted to write a middle grade novel, so he brainstormed ideas and decided to let the kids pick.

He said, "They picked the talking animal idea because, you know, kids love talking animal books. You know, the Warrior series . . ."

For a moment I wondered if I should warn him, but then I thought of my own bookshelves, the books beloved by my children, and by me. The Redwall series, The Mistmantle Chronicles, Babe the Gallant Pig, The Autobiography of a Self-Educated Hamster, The Tale of Despereaux, The Ralph S. Mouse books, Charlotte's Web.

So why no talking animal books? Are they harder to do well? Are they more likely to be written by people who haven't studied the business and honed their craft? Is this one of those areas where grown-up tastes just don't match up with kids' preferences?

I didn't tell that teacher he might have trouble finding a home for a talking animal story. I'll bet he grows a lot as a writer trying NaNoWriMo for the first time, and who knows—he just might churn out some irresistible furry heroes and fang-bearing villains. Whatever happens to his book, I'll bet his class loves it.

Monday, June 3, 2013

That’s Not How I Walk: Compulsions and Understanding the Little Things About Our Characters

For my 40th birthday, my husband gave me an amazing gift: Cheryl Klein’s online master plotting course through Writer’s Digest. The course materials are based on Cheryl’s most excellent book SECOND SIGHT. It was an intense eight weeks of dissecting and analyzing plot using a draft manuscript (or, in my case, a partial draft manuscript). I want to do a series of posts on what I learned from taking Cheryl’s course without giving away too much of her plotting approach and advice. (Read her book! Take her course!)
One of the areas I want to really improve as a writer is in crafting complex characters. As Cheryl presented in her course, there are a few ways to structure plot, with a character-based structure being one of them. This was one of my favorite week of the course because it gave me food for thought on improving my characters while improving my middle grade plot.
She asked one question that created a watershed moment for me and my manuscript.
What’s your character’s compulsion?
This might seem like a familiar question. We probably all know what our characters want and why they want it. Motivation is key to our characters, especially the choices they'll make during their journey. But Cheryl’s use of the word “compulsion” got me thinking a bit differently about motivation.
One definition of compulsion is an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way.
Our characters do things, make choices, because of who they are to their very core. I know surface things about my main character, but did I really understand her compulsions and how they affect the small things about her?
When I started to dig into my main character’s compulsions, I made some pretty interesting discoveries. Those discoveries showed me where I had some mischaracterizations of her in my manuscript.
The one epiphany I found most interesting is that I had her walk all wrong.  In my opening scene, my MC is going to the local corner store. Along the way, she’s thinking and observing.  With a better understanding of my MC’s compulsion, I realize that this walk isn’t enjoyable for her, even if she is getting out of school and spending time in the sunshine.  And because it isn't enjoyable, her gait in my current draft is all wrong.
With a better understanding of my MC’s compulsion, I realize she needs to pick up the pace.
And so does the next draft of my manuscript.
What are some of the a-ha moments you’ve had with a character and what brought you to that realization?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Critiques Are Like Crack

I hope that title doesn't offend anyone. :) Everybody cool? Moving on.

I'm totally addicted to critiques. I love getting feedback on my writing. All feedback. Good, bad, ugly, whatever. Sure, sometimes, critiques make me feel like crap, but they're so awesome for showing me all the areas in which I'm sucking*. Then my mind starts churning, and I get all excited because I know I'm becoming a better writer and my story is improving as a result. And therein lies the high. ;) Just say no to crack, kids. That stuff is bad news. But critiques? They're all good.

So, what about you? How do you feel about critiques? Love? Hate? A little of both?

*This post reminded me of this commercial. It's definitely sucking. I love it! :) Critiques kind of feel like this, right?