Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What Writers Are Thankful For

What Writers are Thankful for

  • When your writing playlist perfectly synchs with the emotional swells of your plot
  • The 2am buzz when the characters won’t let you sleep and you have to hear what they’re going to say next.
  • Eating decadent chocolate bon bons instead of real food as a reward for that extra thousand words
  • Quiet
  • Finding answers to the questions in your life while you’re looking for that perfect simile
  • Writing conferences (one of the few places where the phrase “listening to the voices inside my head” won’t get people backing away from you slowly).
  • Messaging that friend you made at a writing conference on Twitter who will tell you to how to keep writing after rejection.
  • The end of a first draft
  • A cozy blanket and a fireplace
  • Coming across a perfect setting in a classic novel and understanding why it’s perfect
  • Having a way to jump in to the thousands-year-long conversation of how to best live on this planet
  • The perfect writing chair
  • A room of one’s own
  • That dude with the wild ear hair you met in line at the grocery store for sharing with you his processed lunch meats conspiracy theory because you were needing to hear the cadence of a good rant
  • Fresh pens, even though all of your writing probably happens on a laptop.
  • Independent bookstores and their carefully curated recommendations sections
  • Finally figuring out how to fix a wonky character arc after staring at the ocean for days
  • Michael Jackson dance parties in your socks when you’ve hit your word count goal for the day (oh wait. That one might just be me :)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I’m also thankful for our little crew of writers and readers around here. I wish you well & please add anything I've forgotten in the comments. I could always use more things to be grateful for. 



Monday, November 24, 2014

Don't Sweat the Social Media

I had a great time at the Western PA SCBWI conference a few weeks ago. I signed up for four different informative sessions with editors and agents. My favorite of the four ended up being the one I was least sure about signing up for beforehand: Social Media for Writers.
I'm fairly active on Twitter (@trionabmurphy if you want to say hi!), I contribute to this blog, and I use Facebook to stay connected to friends and family. I'm social-media savvy, right? But little things sometimes crop up that make me doubt myself. Should I be vlogging in addition to blogging? I don't have a Facebook author page—but I'm not published yet so I don't need one, right? Is it a bad thing that I'm ignoring all those "X added you to their circle on Google+" notifications that I keep getting? What about LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram?

The social media session (hosted by the very smart and funny Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency) calmed me down. Ms. Lawrence's advice was to pick social media platforms that are comfortable for you to use and focus on those. Don't worry about being everywhere, because that will only cause you to spread yourself too thin and leave you with no time for the one thing you should be doing—namely writing. You won't drive yourself crazy trying to do everything. You might even have fun.

While a social media presence definitely makes you more visible to potential readers, the truth is that there's very little evidence that a big social media following translates directly into sales. So if social media's not your thing at all, don't worry. If you write good books, readers will find them. You might want to dip your toe into a platform or two for other reasons, though. (See this Twitter for Writers post for a few of them.)

My takeaway from the session? I'm going to keep blogging and tweeting, and I'm not going to worry so much about the other social media platforms. I'll take the time I would have spent on those and use it for getting those words on the page.
Do you have a favorite social media platform? How do you use it?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Not Gone Girl

With the premiere of Mockingjay, Part 1 just days away, it's a great time to celebrate the female protagonist. Be they strong, sweet or somewhat controversial, we're witnessing a surge in stories that finally show the many faucets of women. 
Creating Strong Female CharactersFrom Katniss (Hunger Games) and Hazel (The Fault In Our Stars) to more adult fare like Amy (Gone Girl) and Cheryl (Wild), we're seeing more and more of these complex female characters translating into big bucks both from book sales and on the big screen.  

A recent NY Times article with Gone Girl and Wild authors Gillian Flynn and Cheryl Strayed discusses their similarities - creating bluntly authentic, deeply engaging stories through characters that defy stereotypes.

While those are more adult fare, here is a list of inspirational YA heroines - perfect gifts for the upcoming holidays.  

Joss Whedon QuoteBut strong females don't just come from books, they also come from real life.  This is no more evident than in a recent article I read about Emily Wright, a girl who went from living an affluent private school lifestyle to homeless on the streets. Hers is a real story of struggle and triumph.  

So let's take this week to celebrate the complex girls and women in our lives, because the last thing we want is more of this

Monday, November 17, 2014

YA BOOK PICK: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Once a month, we choose an outstanding YA book to review. We want to spotlight books of interest to aspiring writers, as well as highlight some of our favorite books and authors!

This month's book pick is Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater, though this is really an ode to the entire Raven Cycle series.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue is the third book in what (I think) will be a four book series called the Raven Cycle, which started with The Raven Boys followed by The Dream Thieves.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):  There is danger in dreaming. But there is even more danger in waking up.

Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs.

The trick with found things though, is how easily they can be lost.

Friends can betray.
Mothers can disappear.
Visions can mislead.
Certainties can unravel.

Highlights:  It's hard for me not to get all fan-girly when I talk about Maggie Stiefvater's writing. She is, without a doubt, one of my all time favorites, and the Raven Cycle series highlights the many reasons why.

In The Raven Boys, Stiefvater does a flawless job of setting the stage and the world for the books to come.  The story is set in Henrietta, Virginia, where Blue Sargent lives with her psychic mother and their associates. The Raven Boys is the nickname for the boys attending the wealthy and prestigious Aglionby Academy, and Blue has spent all of her youth avoiding them. That is, until she meets Gansey, Adam and Ronan.

Stiefvater is the perfect example of a confident writer. She expertly places readers into the southern town of Henrietta, never explicitly telling readers about the undercurrent of magic, the ley lines or Gansey's quest to find and wake the king that may be buried somewhere in the Henreitta hills. She shows us these things little by little, letting the world unravel for readers one page at a time, until you're completely immersed and accepting of the magical elements in the story. While concepts like psychics and magic are commonly used in YA, this story feels completely unique, and the elements of magic are used in ways I haven't experienced in other paranormal/magical realism books before.

Stiefvater is also an expert at character development. Every character in the book is layered and distinct, with clear motivations and unique voices.  Which is no easy feat given the number of characters she introduces us to.

With series, so often I find that the second and third books never quite live up to the expectations set by the first. Not so with The Raven Cycle series. Blue Lily, Lily Blue was as good, if not better, than The Dream Thieves which was better than The Raven Boys, which on its own was a phenomenal read. And each story, while building on the central plotline developed in the first book, has it's own distinct sub-plot, which I found to be a refreshing approach and made each book independently enjoyable.

My only criticism is that I still have to wait a year to find out how the series will end.

Notes for writers:  Pay attention to the way Stiefvater introduces us to the magical elements of the story. There's a lot to be learned from her effortless way of world building via showing.

A good read for: Fans of paranormal and magical realism looking for something new and different.  Writers looking to get a better grasp of world building, showing vs. telling, and confident writing.

Have I mentioned how much I love this series?  And while I'm gushing about Maggie Stiefvater, let me also recommend The Scorpio Races, The Wolves of Mercy Falls, Sinner, and pretty much anything else she has ever written.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Thankful for the Backstory?

November is a time to be thankful, so that concept has been on my mind most of this month.   Of course, like many people, I am thankful for my friends and family.  I think that their stories are important and that they themselves help shape me.  Even though I love my family and friends, in my real life, they are often the backstory of me - important, but not always in the moment - not always what people want to know about me.

Thus, while loved one are important to us, they may not be so essential to others.  The other day I found this out the hard way.  I came across a man's professional website while trying to research his credentials. All I wanted to know about this person was his qualifications.  However, I had to read, or at least skim, through five whole paragraphs before I found my answers.  Even worse, the opening paragraph was all about his family.  I might have enjoyed all this information on the man if I had been able to find my answers up front.  But no, for nearly five paragraphs, he gave me his backstory.  At first I was a bit irritated, but then it made me realize that I am also horribly guilty of giving way too much backstory.  Oops!!  I did it again didn't I?!

Okay, okay.  So what's the deal with the backstory?!  I'm not going to say that there is anything wrong with the backstory.  I love the backstory!!  It can create meaning and understanding, but . . . it can also slow the story's pace and well. . . irritate readers.  Thus, I've heard many in the writing community caution against it.  Ah shoot, what's a writer to do?

Well, for starters, find out just how important the information is to your story.  If it isn't relevant, cut it.  I know, I know, that hurts, but your readers will probably thank you for it.  Next, make sure each scene has more current action than past action.  Give the readers what they want - action - and then sneak in some background history.  Weaving the past into the story from time to time will help create a balance between depth and pace.  Finally, putting the "meat" of the story up front will satisfy your readers making them curious to find out more.  Just don't make the readers work too hard for what they want; believe me they'll get irritated!

So, as you are busy writing and/or editing this month, remember to be thankful for all that is in your life, or even for that which is in your characters' lives, but don't get too bogged down in the backstory.  You have a story to tell and it is yours.  Now go out there and tell it!  And FYI, I really do love backstory so if you ever want to share it, I'd love to hear it! 
Nothing like a good backstory!