Friday, November 30, 2012

Sunshine Blog Award

Thanks to my friend Kristy Shen over at Two Nerds. One Dream. Zero Results for tagging Thinking to Inking for the Sunshine Blog Award!  Kristy is a very talented writer (and her posts are hilarious.)  Hop over to her blog and say hello!

Sunshine blog award

As part of the award, I've been asked to answer a few questions.  So here goes...

1. What is your favorite Christmas/festive movie?

I am (and always will be) obsessed with The Nightmare Before Christmas.  It's one of those stories that makes me want to tell stories.  There was a time in my life when I watched the VHS (yes, VHS) so many times that the tape actually wore down.

Merry Christmas!
2. What is your favorite flower?

Flowers that grow in San Francisco

I love these yellow trumpet flowers.  They grow all over the place in San Francisco.  In fact, there is a tree of them growing next to my building.  I live on the second floor and my home office overlooks the tree - when the blinds are down and a hummingbird is feeding, they make this amazing, almost surreal, shadow.

3.  What is your favorite non-alcoholic beverage?

That's hilarious!

Oh, wait. You were serious.

Then I guess it would have to be Diet Coke. Delicious and caffeinated - two things that make me happy.

4.  What is your passion?

Writing has been my passion for as long as I can remember. I don't think I could pursue this crazy publishing thing if it weren't something I was truly, deeply passionate about.

I'm also really passionate about getting a dog. Specifically, I want this one:

Adorable Havanese puppyHavanese puppyHavanese puppy

I KNOW, right?  His or her name will be Monster or Muppet. The only thing holding me back is the pesky no-pet policy on my lease. Thank goodness for that negotiations class I took in business school (I hope...)

Stay tuned for updates on little Monster or Muppet!

5.  What is your favorite time of year?

Now that I live in SF, I'd have to go with Sept/Oct. The actual summer is really cold in San Francisco because the fog rolls in regularly (and by really cold I mean 50...I know, I know.  But it's cold to my thin skin!)  Our real summer starts in late summer/early fall, when we finally get sunny, happy 70 degree days.  Come visit!

6. What is your favorite time of day?

Nighttime.  Mornings remind me of alarm clocks, and alarm clocks make me sad.

7.  What is your favorite physical activity?

I go to a weekly Zumba class at my gym, and I luuuurv it.  It's like adult dance class.

crazy lady dancing in zumba class

That's not me, but that's probably what my face looks like during class.

8. What is your favorite vacation spot?

Oooh, this is a tough one because I love to travel.  This past May the hubby and I went to Barcelona to see a friend of ours and had an amazing time.  We're planning to go back this May, and may hit up Morocco or another country as well.

For our honeymoon we traveled around Japan and I fell in love with Kyoto.  We were married in the fall, so we were there when all the leaves were changing.  It was sooo beautiful.  

The Golden Temple in Kyoto

While I was in business school I had the opportunity to go to Columbia.  I never would have put Columbia on my list of top ten place to visit if I hadn't experienced it first hand.  Now I would recommend it to everyone, especially Cartagena.  So beautiful!!

CartagenaCartagena beachesCartagenaCartagena beach

And at least once a year I make a trip back to Texas to see the family. That's kind of like it's own country, right?


That's all I got!  Thanks again to Kristy for the award!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Villain of the Month: The White Witch (Jadis)

And the villain for this month…NanoWriMo! Just kidding (though, at this point, I am finding it a considerable nemesis). This month’s villain is The White Witch (a.k.a Jadis) of C.S. Lewis fame.

In case you’ve never read or seen The Chronicles of Narnia (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is #1), the Witch’s presence is first felt when the child protagonists climb through a wardrobe into a tyrannized land that is perpetually stuck in a non-Christmased winter. The land is under the reign of the White Witch who exemplifies the traits outlined in The Dictator’s Handbook (basic premise: economics of a “great” dictator is to always do the thing that will keep you in power regardless of any human cost.)

Here are some of the evil trademarks that have landed her on so many “Top Literary Villain” lists. Note: most of the techniques/tropes are borrowed from classic texts and made fresh for Lewis’s day.
  • ·      Perpetual winter. What a use of setting as characterization! And talk about power; this chick has power over even the elements. We’ve seen this power before in mythology (Persephone is kept in the underworld half the year while the rest of us suffer through sun-free days because her momma misses her), and winterizing as punishment is popular with good reason. If winter represents the dark times in our lives (great for growing humans and plants), then being trapped in perpetual winter is more than dangerous. It leaves us void of hope, and brings to mind societies trapped under oppressive regimes whose greatest indignity is being robbed of hope for a “sunny day.”
Writing Takeaway: If you want to make your audience hate you, tyrannize them in only “winter” (At SCBWI NYC last year, Chris Crutcher claims that he always strives to go as deeply funny as he goes deeply sad).

  •      Turning enemies to stone. Hmmm… sounds a bit like Medusa. Or to combine winter with this, Dante’s Inferno. Dante believed that the worst punishment was to be frozen at the center of hell. To be unable to move forward. To be able to see, but not react. Not move. What evil.
Writing Takeaway: Keep your plot moving so that you don’t turn your readers to stone.

  •  Network of spies. There is no privacy; even the trees are spies (and C.S. Lewis didn’t even have articles like this for inspiration) 

  •       Beautiful fa├žade. She’s beautiful. Taller than most. And inviting. And gives poisoned candy to children. In fact, she is so beautiful, rich, and powerful that she becomes paranoid/terrified that life as she knows it will be taken away (ironic that she is so scared she wants to force that kind of growth-punishing stagnation on herself) that she is willing to destroy children. Sounds like pretty much every dictatorship I’ve ever read about.

That said, happy winter, everybody (literally and metaphorically)! Feel free to enjoy the snow, storms, mittens, Chuao/La Maison/Marie Belle/Chocolate Springs etc. hot cocoa, and cozy fires because the summer is coming. The White Witch is not here; there will be spring again.  :)

My favorite way to warm up from the literal & metaphorical cold.
(La Maison NYC= $8 of happiness!)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Why First Drafts Suck and Why That's Okay

Hemingway writing

"The first draft of anything is sh*t." 
-Ernest Hemingway

I'm working on a new first draft. For the first time in over a year, I'm sitting down in front of my computer and staring at a blank page. Sometimes the words appear in my mind and flow seamlessly through my fingers to the screen. Sometimes I feel like I'm wrestling them into place. But either way, I'm pretty happy with my progress at the moment.

A few years ago, I wouldn't have called myself a writer by any stretch of the imagination. I had written a few short stories, but I was a perfectionist. This meant every sentence got dissected right after it was written—and more often than not, it got deleted because it sounded stupid, or I freaked out about it not having the right lyrical flow, or I thought of a better idea for the beginning ten pages in and deleted the whole thing to start over.

The idea of writing a novel crossed my mind and was immediately dismissed. I made up stories in my head all the time, but I knew writing them down would mean years of arduous deleting and rewriting.

Then came the turning point. My husband suggested something that had never occurred to me: why not just write the draft, without any changes? When I protested that I couldn't let the words sit there like that, he said I could use a separate document to note changes to go back and do later--but in the meantime, I could carry on with the draft.

Mind blown Burt

I tried out this process, and it really, really works for me. I outline the novel, and then I just write. Notes for what isn't working or what needs to be changed later or great new ideas go in a separate "Things to Change" document.

Now, here's the thing. My first drafts are hideous. Some people like to refer to first drafts as "vomit drafts," and this is most definitely accurate for mine. Locations change mid-stream. People who died in the last chapter magically jump back in because I thought of something else for them to do. Someone who starts out as mousy and shy in the first few chapters becomes a confident hussy in the last few.

But that's okay.

The magic happens in the revisions. I go straight down my Things to Change list and mold characterizations, plot, and setting into something that makes sense. Then I go over it again, and again (and about seven more times, but you don't really need to hear about all of those). 

Manuscript revision

The point is, writing this way lets me actually finish drafts. I've met an awful lot of people who tell me, "Oh, I'm writing a novel too. I started a few years ago and I have fifty pages done." They never got past the first draft. Now I tell them about my method. 

I've become a vomit draft evangelist! And I must be doing something right, because I've completed three novels and am working on my fourth.

What's your first draft process? Do you agonize over every word, or vomit it out?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Writers Resource: Word of Mouth Marketing Via Networking

I've worked in marketing for the last 10 years, and while I'm only in the agent querying stage of my writing journey, I can't help but imagine the magical day when I may have to put my day job skills to work to help sell my book.  *crosses fingers, toes, arms and legs* 

My day job has taught me that consumers love to share their opinions, and thanks to social media they have a way to share their opinions with the masses, for better or worse.  Companies want consumers to spread the word about their brands and products, and so many brands spend significant resources developing platforms that encourage and enable sharing.  

Think about the brands you purchased on your most recent trek to Target - every single one has a webpage, and most likely that webpage has some kind of rating/review tool to encourage visitors to review and comment about their products.  They probably have a Facebook page, and may even have a hashtag or Pintrest page. (Yes, brands use Pintrest too!)  Most likely they sponsor and/or contribute to a blog about topics related to their product category. When a new product launches, the marketers behind the scenes may send free samples to well known bloggers in the hopes that they will blog about it and you will read about it.  They may host a contest, encouraging you to like them on Facebook so your friends will learn about the new product.

Do any of these things sound familiar?  Yeah, turns out that brands with multi-million dollar budgets use some of the exact same tactics that authors use when trying to sell their books.

Of course the big difference is that brands have millions of dollars to help build awareness for their products, and awareness is how people know to go to their website, Facebook page or enter their contest in the first place. As a debut author, you're going to have to rely on the most valuable (and free) resource you have available to build awareness - your network.  

You will need people to read your story and go onto Goodreads, Amazon and Barnes and Nobles to rate and review your book.  Goodreads in particular requires several hundred reviews in order for a book to leverage its recommendation tool (here is a great article that explains how books are discovered on Goodreads.)  

That means you are going to need to rely on more than family and close friends - you're going to have to seek out people who will not only read your book, but engage in activities that will help to spread the word.

Here are a few things you can do today to help build a network of people that will spread the word about your book when your magical publishing day comes.

1.  Don't be a lurker

People want to support the people who support them, and one of the easiest ways to build a network is to actively network and engage with like-minded writers via social media.  You're probably already doing this to some degree, but how engaged are you?  Are you lurking around sites, forums and blogs, reading but never commenting?  If so, it's time to stop lurking and get to know the writing community.   
  • Don't just follow blogs - leave comments. Let people know that you're there. Tell them when they've written something that resonates with you. Tweet about the posts you've enjoyed or found interesting.
  •  Get involved in blog contests beyond simply entering. Leave encouraging posts for your fellow writers, even if you didn't make it into the final round.  If you see an entry that sounds fantastic, tell that person. Seek them out on twitter and share your encouraging words. If you see an entry you think needs some work, find a way to offer constructive and helpful criticism. Become a resource to your fellow writers.
  • Become actively involved on writing forums like AgentQuery Connect.  Get to know the others writers on there by engaging with them and supporting their efforts.  Don't just use the resources, be a resource for others by commenting on queries and offering help and feedback.
  • Don't just swap business cards at writing conferences - follow up. Send your new writer friend a note telling them it was nice to meet them.  Follow their blog and find them on twitter. Engage with them long after the conference is over.

2.  Use the 5:3:2 rule for social media networking

Nobody wants to be friends with the person who only talks shop, but nobody wants to network with someone who doesn't bring anything to the table. The key is balance.  For every 10 tweets/blogposts/etc:
  • 5 should be sharing content from others that is relevant to the writing community.
  • 3 should be sharing content from you that is relevant to the writing community, but not trying to sell something (i.e. progress made on your new WIP, a book you just read and loved.)
  • 2 should be something personal and non-writing related, so that people can get to know the non-writer you.

3.  Pay it forward

Become a reviewer.  Rate and review books on Goodreads, Amazon and B&N. If you hear that someone in your network is releasing a book, show your support for that person by buying their book and reviewing it.  Then spread the word.

Invite up and coming writers to guest blog.  Let them benefit from your network. Give other writers the awareness building platform that you one day hope to have.  

4.  Be genuine

Ever become friends with someone on Facebook only to have their person agenda constantly thrown at you?  Or maybe you started following a new author on twitter, and all they ever do is talk about their book.

Don't be that person.  Yes, you are building a network that you may one day need to lean on, but you're also opening yourself up to a new community of friends.  Treat them the way you want to be treated.  

What are some other tactics you've used to build your a network?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Next Big Thing (Week 24)

Today I'm part of a blog tag where writers talk about their work in progress. Last week I was tagged by Stacy Stokes, my blogmate and a friend of mine. This week, I'll talk about my work and then I'll pass the baton to another writer friend who will be sharing his wonderful work next week.

1.  What is the working title of your book?  Betty Noir

2.  Where did the idea come from for the book?  For years I’d watch some of my female students suddenly turn self-destructive and dark. Often I never knew what happened, but I always worried and wondered. I found that nothing I could say helped much until I started talking about the French concept of the Bete Noire – the darkness in us all, and how it’s always a struggle to fight back against it. They seemed to connect to the idea of the darkness being a separate voice/entity haunting them so I let my imagination run and wrote a book where it literally did.

3.  What genre does your book fall under?  YA novel in verse/prose, but from there it’s tricky. Maybe a darkly optimistic magic realism?

4.  Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
For Betty, how could I resist wanting Dakota Fanning? I could see her fabulously bubbly, then dark, and then a hopeful version of the two. For Holden, I’d like to resurrect James Dean or a young Johnny Depp, but I’d take Logan Lerman from today. As for Lindsay, I think Taylor Swift could be dork-a-licious and broken.

5.  What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?  Fifteen-year-old cheer captain Betty is literally raped and metaphorically "impregnated" with a dark voice that haunts her from the inside until Holden, a shy—and very appealing—artist, empowers her and stops her spiral of self-destruction by showing her the pictures he draws of the demon haunting her.

6.  Will your book be self-published or represented by and agency?  I would love to work with an agent. 

7.  How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?  Which one? The first draft was originally all in verse and took about three months, but then I re-wrote it in both prose (Betty) and verse (Noir), and that took about four months.

8.  What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?  One reader surprised me by saying that it reminded her a little of The Book Thief (I think because of its unusual narrative structure). Others have said Speak. I was reading a lot of Latin American magic realism short stories, John Green, and Sonya Sones when I wrote this; hopefully flavors of those brands of magic slipped in somehow.

9.  Who or what inspired you to write this book?  See question #1.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?  I guess I wanted to write a good love story. I suppose I thought about the kind of guy I wanted when I was a teen and blended it with elements of the great men I’ve met since then to create a bumbling and sweet little romance. And sometimes I try to be funny.

That's all I've got for now!

Tagged for next week (week 25) is one of my very talented writer friends. Check out his blog next Wednesday when it's his turn to post answers to these same questions about his own work in progress! 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Industry Month In Review: From Page to Screen (and Back Again)

Veronica Rossi's Under The Never SkyHaving had the pleasure of interviewing author Jay Asher for last month's From Book To Screen (and back again) series and still reeling from all the great information I learned from the Your Best Books Workshop in Charlotte (you can find great blog reviews from my fellow workshop attendees Janis Marziotto and Carol Baldwin),  I thought it would be fitting to have an Industry Month in Review that reflected on news that crossed the lines between screenwriting and novel writing. 
Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall

As we've seen, over the past few months, there have been a number of Young Adult novels optioned for film including dystopian and fantasy novels Marie Lu's Legend, Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone and YA Muse Veronica Rossi's Under The Never Sky and more contemporary fare John Green's The Fault In Our Stars and Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall. 

With the continued success of books to features such as the Hunger Games and Twilight series and the highly anticipated Divergent series not to mention books to television such as Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars, we're sure to see the film rights of YA novels continue to be picked up for some time.  

While we continue to blur the lines between books and screen, there are still fundamental principles that stand the test of any medium.  A friend directed me to an old post by Script Shadow entitled Ten Screenwriting Tips You Can Learn From The Breakfast Club, and even though it's from spring 2011, it help re-emphasize all the things I learned in Charlotte (plus I LOVE the Breakfast Club).  Crystal clear characters, challenging dialogue, and conflict.  They are things we hear over and over again but getting them right is the biggest challenge. 

The Breakfast Club

Finally, from one of the master authors whose bridged that page to screen gap many a times comes one of the best news stories of this year (for me at least).  A group of students in New Brunswick, Canada sent 1,100 letters asking Stephen King to please visit them before Halloween and guess what?  He did!  Here are a few tidbits from the man who wrote what some would consider the bible on writing:

Before his first story was accepted for publication King used to display rejection letters on a nail on his wall. After 60 or 70 rejections, the nail fell down.
“There’s always going to be room at the bottom, because people like me are going to croak.”

Finally, I have the pleasure today of also guest blogging for the YA Muses, you can check out my blog on "the best piece of writing advice I ever received" here.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Next Big Thing (Week 23)

Today I'm part of a blog tag where writers talk about their work in progress. Last week, I was tagged by Sakura Q. Eries, a friend of mine that I met through Agent QueryConnect. This week, I'll pass the baton to a few other writer friends. I've had the privilege of reading some of their work, and can attest to the fact that they are both wonderfully talented.  They will blog about Their Next Big Thing on November 14, but for now, here's the scoop on mine.

1.  What is the working title of your book?  Where the Staircase Ends

2.  Where did the idea come from for the book?  I had a dream and a girl walking up a staircase that lead into the sky. When I woke up, I had a compulsion to write the story down. I felt like I couldn't sleep until I did.

3.  What genre does your book fall under?  I originally thought it was YA Magical Realism, but I've since changed it to YA Supernatural Mystery following some advice from an agent.

4.  Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
For Taylor, my MC, I think Chloe Moretz would be perfect.

Chloe Moretz looks like the main character in my novel

While she's probably a bit too old, Deborah Ann Wall is a nice match for Sunny, Taylor's best friend.

I'm still on the hunt for the perfect Justin Cobb (the love interest de jour).

5.  What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?  After an accident, high school student Taylor Anderson must climb a seemingly endless staircase into the sky; a journey that reveals the surprising truth about her best friend's betrayal and the life Taylor thought she wanted to leave behind.

6.  Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?  My hope is that I will be repped by an agency and/or publishing house.

7.  How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?  The first draft took me just under three months.  Revising took a lot longer, but largely because I was researching the publishing industry and learning about the process.

8.  What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?  I've often had it compared to Gayle Forman's IF I STAY and Lauren Oliver's BEFORE I FALL.  I sometimes say that if THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN had a love child with the movie EASY A, it may have turned out a bit like my story.  :)


9.  Who or what inspired you to write this book?  I was inspired by friendships I had when I was in high school and junior high. No matter how good the friend, I remember that jealousy - over guys, over things, over situations - often caused tension in our relationships. Sunny and Taylor's relationship feels very real to me, and I wanted to capture that complexity in an honest and relatable way.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?  The story weaves two mysteries together - the mystery of the stairs and the mystery of why Taylor and Sunny's relationship crumbled. The scenes on the stairs are filled with magic and intrigue, while the contemporary portion of the story will hopefully have readers ripping through pages to find out what Sunny did to Taylor (and why) that ruined their friendship.

That's all I've got for now!

Tagged for next week (week 24) are some of my very talented writer friends. Check out their blogs next Wednesday, November 14, when it's their turn to post answers to these same questions about their own works in progress!

Tamara over at One Magic Bean Buyer
Lauren Monahan from right here at Thinking To Inking

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Curious Lives of Teenagers: Which Books are Exciting Teen Readers Today

When posed the question “what was the last book you read that captured you and stuck with you?” one honors sophomore English class responded.
Data suggests: a strong victory for The Hunger Games, many classics , a majority of  YA with some readers beginning to bridge into adult, and a disconcerting but small leaning to the primary source documents of dictators. Also notable: only one nod to the juggernaut of Harry Potter (I attribute this to Harry Potter readers having gone on to reading many more works after HP and this question only asked for the most recent work that touched the reader).

 Here are the books that move my students :
  • The Hunger Games  (9)
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2)
  • The Giver (2)
  • Forrest Gump
  • Transworld Surf Tahiti
  • Crank
  • Go Ask Alice
  • The Host
  • The Atlantis code
  • The Codex
  • Harry Potter
  • The Alphabet Book
  • The Help
  • I don’t read
  • Tunnels
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Beautiful
  • Looking for Alaska
  • The Last Child
  • The Firm
  • The Westing Game
  • 8-Lives Down
  • Mein Kampf (???)
  • Communist Manifesto
  • Elsewhere
  • Cat in the Hat
  • Narnia
  • The Book Thief
  • The Hobbit
  • The Fault in Our Stars
  • The Mortal Instruments Series
  • The Lucky One