Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Royal Blue Bundles and Baby Steps

I can't help but be a little proud of being a Canuck this week.  While other countries were sending the royal British baby boy gifts like baby suits, shawls, condoms? (the Finns), and crocodiles (those darn Aussies), Canada decided to give the gift of knowledge!  

Eleven books (all recipients of the Governor-General's prize for children's literature) were presented to the tiny tot.  

These included:

The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier

Alphabeasts, by Wallace Edwards
Amos's Sweater, by Janet Lunn and Kim LaFave
Cat's Night Out, by Jon Klassan and Caroline Stutson
Le grow monstre qui aimait trop lire, by Lili Chartrand and Roger Girard
Imagine a Day, by Sarah L. Thomson and Rob Gonsalves
Lili et les poilus, by Caroline Merola
Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch
The Hockey Sweater, by Roch Carrier
The Party, by Barbara Reid
Virginia Wolf, by Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault

Great gifts not just for George but for any newborn closer to home. 

In other news, this marks the final day of Camp Nanowrimo.  

My stats: 13,000 words (or 36 printed pages). 

Not great, but I'm happy I got something accomplished this month!  Plus, with the help of some talented campers I managed to wring out a logline.  Let me know what you think:

Elizabeth Dodge (22), a rising star DEA agent on a personal mission to take down the Mexican drug cartel responsible for abducting her and murdering her best friend five years ago, becomes conflicted when she discovers that the man she's hunting may not be the villain she thought he was.

Congratulations to all my campmates who made it through the month and did something awesome!  

Special thanks to Lorin Oberweger who provided inspiration, a supportive Nanowrimo facebook page and a weekly chatroom through Free Expressions that was worth its weight in gold.

Now onto the next deadline!  I've still got a lot of work to do before September's Writing the Breakout Novel workshop with Donald Maass.  *gulp!*

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Writer's Resource: How To Build Your Writing Odometer

A few months ago my friend gave me a Fitbit. For those of you not familiar, it's a small device that tracks footsteps, calories burned, and time spent sleeping.
I didn't think that tracking my steps would make much of a difference. I already walk a lot, so if anything I was afraid I might be less inclined to go to the gym if I knew how much I'd already walked in a given day.

Much to my surprise, tracking my steps has had the opposite effect. I'm more active than I've ever been. Every day I try to break my step record. Lazy days have become active days, because I can't stand to see a low daily step score. Tracking my activity is probably the best thing I've done for my health in a long time.

So I started wondering if the same thing could work for my writing, and decided to make a writing odometer to help me track my progress.  I'm calling it my WritBit. Catchy, eh?  The idea is the same as the idea behind my Fitbit - track my progress, set goals, and hold myself accountable.

Here's how you, too, can create your own personal writing odometer:

 There are three basic things that any WritBit needs:

1. Progress Tracker
2. Goals
3. Accountability

We always talk about word count when it comes to tracking progress, but that's not a fair assessment.  Yes, to write a book you need to put new words onto the page. But what about when you're editing? Revising? Researching? These are all critical pieces to developing a successful story, so it's important that your WritBit takes into account ALL of your progress.

For me, I have three progress measures:
1. Total words written per week - I use a weekly measure because I simply can't write every single day given my work schedule.
2. Total hours spent working on my book per week- this includes time writing, but also any time spent doing anything that will contribute to my story.
3. Weekly words per hour - this combines #1 & #2 so I can understand how efficient I've been with my time.

For goals, it's important to understand what is achievable based on how you write. There is nothing more demotivating than an unachievable goal.  Things like NaNo don't work for me because I edit while I write. So when I've set NaNo-like goals for myself I end up failing epically, which basically makes me feel like sh*t about myself. 

Don't pick goals based on what works for other people - pick goals based on what works for you.

My weekly word count goal = 4,000 words.

Not huge, but achievable in my world.

So here's what my WritBit looks like for this week:

Total weekly word count:  2,423 (meh)
Words per hour: 807.6 (Yay! This is actually v. good for me)
Total weekly time spent writing: 3 hours (I know, I know, but it's been a crazy work week...and there were some fun parties this weekend. And So You Think You Can Dance is back on. And I may or may not have gotten sucked into Big Brother....*hangs head in shame*)

And that leads to the accountability piece. This only works if I actually hold myself accountable to the goals I set, and also understand what good vs. bad looks like. To up the stakes, I plan to post updates with my blog posts so I know the world will be watching, and judging.

And there you have it - my writing odometer.

What about you? How do you track your progress? What do you consider a successful writing day or week?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Writer's Conference Survival Guide Part 3: Networking

The third and final installment in my Writer's Conference Survival Guide is all about networking.

not gossiping, networking

By networking, I mean meeting like-minded people who are attending the conference with you. If you've been following this blog for a while, you might have read the story of how I got my agent. As I said in that post, I attribute most of my growth as a writer to the critique partners and support group I've built up over the past few years.

Conferences are fantastic places to find critique partners and groups. Case in point: I met Jenn, Stacy, and Lauren, my co-bloggers here at Thinking to Inking, at the first conference I ever attended. Especially if you don't have a critique group or writer friends who live nearby, you'll definitely want to network when you go to a writer's conference.

Here are some tips for getting the most out of your networking:

1. Bring business cards. You might feel a little sheepish about passing out business cards made before you're a published author, but trust me, they are really useful at conferences. Mine just have my name, contact info, and "writer" on them. You can make your own on your home printer, or order them online. and are inexpensive, good places to start. 

Tip: order a matte finish on your cards so you can jot notes like "writes adult SF/F" on them to remind you of details.
business card cartoon
2. During the conference, be friendly and interested in the people around you. If you're in line for food or waiting for a workshop to begin, start up a conversation with the person next to you. Ask them what they write. If you find someone who writes in a similar genre and your communication styles seem like a good match, don't be afraid to mention you're looking for critique partners.

3. If you're attending the conference with a spouse, best friend, or a whole group, make an effort to branch out. It's tempting to sit in the corner whispering with the person you know instead of meeting new people, but this is a golden opportunity that you don't want to waste. If you really want to force yourself out of your shell, sit apart from each other at mealtimes and talk to the people around you instead.
meeting new people

4. Sometimes the best connections are formed after conference hours, since most conference days end in the early evening. Networking is a lot like dating--if you feel like you're making a connection with someone, suggest you continue the conversation over dinner or drinks.

I'm off to the Midwest Writer's Workshop this Thursday for the second year in a row, so I'll get to put my own conference survival tips to work. Maybe I'll see some of you there!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Comicon Recap

My first time at Comicon in San Diego and it did not disappoint!  If you think that this is an event just for sci-fi die hards, then think again!  Sunday's schedule was chalk full of interesting YA fiction and writing panels including:

What's Hot In Young Adult Fiction moderated by Nathan Bransford and featuring top YA writers including Ransom Riggs (Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children) and Veronica Rossi (Through the Ever Night). 

Chronicle Books: Behind the Scenes of a Pop Culture Powerhouse

How to Create Your Own Novel: From the First Idea to Publishing, and What You Need to Sell Your Work to TV and Film

and for those Steampunk die-hards there was

Steampunk Generations: Views of a Genre from Both Ends of Time.

Here are just a few highlights (in picture) from Comicon 2013.

Keeping the peace at Comicon

Iron Man built in Lego
Iron Lego

Cylons at Comicon
Cylons directing traffic
Simpsons at Comicon
Mmmmm donut ball...
Chris Evans, Captain America Autograph Session
Captain America signing autographs

Enders Game Exhibit
Enders Game Exhibit
Steam Punk Panel at Comicon
Steampunk Panel

Buffy The Musical Sing A Long at Comicon
Xander introducing Buffy The Musical Sing-a-long.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Writer's Conference Survival Guide Part 2: Conference Etiquette

This week's conference survival topic is etiquette.


As I discussed in the first post of this series on overcoming nerves, going to a conference can be terrifying because of the ever-persistant thought that what you do or say might make or break the rest of your career. While this is probably not true, you do want to make a good impression. Don't be memorable in the worst way possible--as the person who thought the rules didn't apply to him or her.

Which brings us to the first tip.

1. Follow the rules. If the conference organizers ask you to arrive fifteen minutes early for your workshops, or to dress in business casual attire, or to leave your stock of self-published books at home, follow their instructions. It's common courtesy, and I guarantee you will incur the wrath of people who carefully followed the rules to the letter if you think you're the only one exempt.


2. Remember that agents and editors are people too. My friend did a great blog post on this subject, complete with many excellent GIFs. Keep the golden rule in mind: would you want pushy people trying to sell you something while you were in the bathroom, or interrupting a conversation with a friend to thrust a manuscript into your hands?

While many agents don't mind hearing your pitch outside of officially scheduled pitch sessions, use common sense to decide when it's an appropriate time. While hanging out at meals is generally acceptable, or maybe after a workshop session. It's always a good idea to ask first, though. Leading with, "Do you mind if I tell you about my book?" never hurts.

3. Be prepared. Think of the conference like a job interview. You'll make a better impression if you come prepared. Do some research on the agents, editors, and presenters who will be at the conference to determine if they'd be a good fit for your work. There's not much worse than giving your whole spiel to an industry professional only to hear something like, "Sounds great, but I don't represent adult books."

4. Use common courtesy. Here I'm talking about the basics. Turn off your cell phone when you're in a workshop or pitch session. Arrive on time for your appointments. Don't chew a snack noisily while someone is presenting. Don't interrupt if other people are talking, or monopolize the conversation if you're in a group setting. Don't corner agents or editors in a confined space like an elevator. No stalking!

please and thank you are magic words

Most of those may seem pretty obvious... but truthfully, I've seen ALL of those faux pas at the handful of conferences I've attended, so maybe it doesn't hurt to point them out.

Next week, I'll be talking about another important aspect of conferences: networking!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Curious Lives of Teenagers: Summertime

When subjects were given the prompt "Summer" here is how they responded:

  • To me, summer is old memories I have to keep locked away.
  • Marathon the entire summer
  • Skyping pretty places from a couch so I won't get tan.
  • Putting a fence around my yard so the boys won't get my milkshakes.
  • work= money $$$
  • running, swimming, lifting, getting a great summer body...just kidding, sleeping all day.
  • work, community service, alone time, read, friends, party, Facebook, travel.
  • friends in basketball.
  • happy, eating, tv, beach
  • The fine grains of sand in between my toes and the warm Mediterranean water lapping at my feet. Walking the streets of the ancient town at night with your family and landing yourself at a cute family-owned bistro. Getting full because the bread they brought you was the most delicious bread you have ever tasted. And, then going to sleep in an adorable beach front cottage that was free because your 5th cousin is the real estate agent.
  • Chartruese by Capital Cities
  • DGAF with my friends
  • Summertime= 1. Crazy midnight adventures 2. Denny's at 1 am 3. 12 hr. beach days 4. Summer love 5. Bridge jumping 6. Morph suiting in Walmart
  • listening to the Beach Boys, and driving the coast in a convertible.
  • waking up while it's still dark, taking the flourescent lit stairwell down to the parking garage before realizing I lost my keys yesterday. Hop on a bicycle, ride four miles to the park where it all started and greet the love of my life under our favorite fern.
  • reading books all day adn building schools in Italy.
  • Oh GG Ain't No Mountain
  • having rap battles with _______.
  • surf. surf. surf. surf. surf. surf. surf. surf. surf. surf. surf. surf. surf. surf. surf. surf. surf. surf. surf. surf. surf. surf. surf.
  • walking through the sugar white sand, I felt my feet as I've never felt them before. Even the wind felt different today, for some reason, but I knew why. It was the first day of summer vacation.
  • waves.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Feel Good Hump Day


It's day 10 of Camp NanoWriMo and while I'm a bit off from my word count goal, I chalk that up to "having" to celebrate both Canada and America's birthdays, not to mention a wedding to boot.  How could I not toast such happy occasions?  

So to continue the celebrations, I thought I would make Wednesday, fun day!  Here's a few MG/YA inspirations and chuckles to get you through your hump day. 

Feeling in a bit of a rut this morning, need some inspiration to write stories that will inspire a new generation? Check out this great vid of little girls doing what all little girls should be doing...rockin' out of course!

Not all of these reinvented famous book covers with a missing letter are YA novels but I was particularly fond of The Rave by Edgar Allan Poe and The Princess Brie by William Goldman.  I mean, who doesn't like a good cheese party?

The Rave by Edgar Allan PoeThe Princess Brie by William Goldman

Finally, a post isn't complete without some useful information. If you haven't read this already, you should. It's the Manuscript Wish List used by both agents and publishers to let writers know what they're looking for.  

Really interesting insight and up to date info that keeps you in the know on what's hip and happening as well as which agent(s) might be the best fit for your next query. 

Surprise!  You're now 10 minutes closer to the weekend!

Monday, July 8, 2013


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 pick is IF YOU FIND ME, by Emily Murdoch.

If You Find MeSynopsis (from Goodreads):  There are some things you can’t leave behind…

A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey’s younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency. Until that one fateful day their mother disappears for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys.

Now, Carey must face the truth of why her mother abducted her ten years ago, while haunted by a past that won’t let her go… a dark past that hides many a secret, including the reason Jenessa hasn’t spoken a word in over a year. Carey knows she must keep her sister close, and her secrets even closer, or risk watching her new life come crashing down.

First line:  Mama says no matter how poor folks are, whether you're a have, have-not, or break your mama's backs on the cracks in between, the world gives away the best stuff on the cheap.

This first line is a beautiful introduction to Carey's voice, which is riddled with gorgeous prose that shines through her thick Tennessee accent. My absolute favorite part of this book is Carey's voice, and I can't think of a better way to introduce the story than by giving us a glimpse into Carey's world view right out of the gate, which is peppered with optimism despite her situation, and often tinged with lessons taught by her mother, for better or worse.

Highlights:  Murdoch captures the voice of Carey in a heartbreaking and realistic way. As a result, Carey is a protagonist that will stay with you long after you finish the book.  Everything from her world view to her boundless devotion to her sister makes this story a poignant and devastatingly beautiful read. I absolutely could not put it down, and found myself rooting for Carey and her sister from page one.

Notes for writers: I've already gushed about how much I loved the voice in this story, but I'm going to gush some more, because Murdoch does an impeccable job of bringing Carey to life. Everything Carey sees and says is a direct reflection of her life growing up in a camper in the Tennessee woods. This is one of the best examples of a strong and unique protagonist's voice I've read in a very long time. I highly recommend it to any writer who wants to see a shining example of what agents/editors mean when they talk about the importance of voice to a story.

Murdoch also does an excellent job of building suspense by withholding key pieces of information from the reader.  Why won't her sister, Jenessa, speak? What happened out in the woods, and what is the mysterious "white star night" Carey keeps referencing?  The tiny hints throughout the book will keep you turning pages until you find out the answers.

A good read for: fans of contemporary YA, along with anyone looking to understand how to give their character's voice.

I hope you love it as much as I did.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Conference Survival Guide Part 1: Dealing with Nerves

Hello lovely readers! I hope the summer is treating you well, and that you're getting a lot of writing/editing/planning done.

Summer writing

Summer might be a slower time for the publishing industry as a whole, but it also means conference season is getting into full swing. Conferences can be a lot of time and work, but they can also be amazing springboards for your writing career.

I also attend conferences and trade shows for my career as a knitting pattern designer--in fact, I just got back from one last week. My husband and I are also gearing up to attending the Midwest Writer's Workshop at the end of this month. Inspired by this, I thought I'd do a series of conference survival tips.

Midwest Writer's Workshop

This week's topic is dealing with nerves.

Nervous man

I'm going to start with the obvious. Going to conferences is scary. First of all, you have to meet dozens, sometimes hundreds, of new people. Many writers are introverts by nature, so the idea of making conversation with that many people can be terrifying. Add to this the persistent worry that your entire career might depend on what you say or do at the conference, and you've got a nice panic attack waiting to happen.

My advice?

Fake it.

You can be quaking in your shoes, but the truth is, it doesn't matter as long as you don't act like it. I've heard conference attendees stammer through apologies for being so nervous and seen them actually cover their face with their hands. One lady actually stopped in the middle of speaking and told all of us she needed a moment to take some deep breaths to calm her nerves. The truth is, I wouldn't have known any of those people were even close to that level of nervousness if they hadn't come right out and told us.
Fake it till you make it

Faking confidence is hard, but it works. I've had people compliment me on how relaxed I seemed--when internally I was this close to running screaming from the room. Keep the focus on appearing confident and unconcerned, and I guarantee you'll fool almost anyone.

A few tips: do try taking deep breaths (but not during a speech, please!). Agent Gemma Cooper wrote a fantastic blog post with some excellent tips for conquering nerves that's well worth a read. Most importantly, keep the goal in mind. Whether you're there to pitch your work to an agent or editor, network with other writers, learn from workshops, or all of the above, focusing on the end goal can make all the difference.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Villain of the Month: Society

Edward Snowden leaked secret files about surveillance systems used by US intelligence (Guardian)
Image of Snowden from article linked below
 Sales of 1984, George Orwell's classic dystopian work, soared recently when Edward Snowden outed himself as the source who revealed that the U.S. government was collecting the metadata on all of its citizens. With such an evolution of technology in the past decade forcing "big brother" questions into the collective conscious of all of us, it's no wonder that dystopian novels have been front and center of the YA world for years now, and that Snowden's reveal has given him a cult-hero status amongst many Americans. 

So...while we've been hearing for a few seasons that publishers aren't looking for dystopian anymore, I can't imagine that they wouldn't start snatching up a few more now to be paired with all of the inevitable Snowden bios and "ripped from the headlines" stories and I think it just might be the time to take that maligned dystopian you have out of the drawer and start querying it again. This has also given me the opportunity to start deconstructing the key elements of society-as-villain in a dystopian novel.

* Government names dehumanize: Aside from a  singular key leader who may be hyper-humanized with a very specific name, usually the naming is vague. Numbers or titles are often popular, as are familial relations (brother, father, etc.) in order to strip away individuality/humanity though the familial titles do manage to maintain more warmth. It is always easier to hate a nameless thing.

* Protagonist names are often very humanizing: As we are meant to be sympathetic with the protagonist, the protagonist often has a very meaningful name. Often he/she is named after a relative, something beautiful in nature, or is simply unique (but often familiar sounding nonetheless).  

* Clinical terminology is dehumanizing, but also appealing: All forms of distancing language are in high use in a dystopian as at the core of a dystopian work is usually a deep-seated desire for life to be more clean and predictable than it is.

* Society is not a singular entity: With shared responsibility comes shared blame and it can be infuriating to not have a singular person on which to lay said blame. The lack of singular enemy enhances a sense of powerlessness and "raises the stakes". Often in a novel a singular entity will be given blame by the end. In real life a few singular persons are "thrown to the wolves" to receive the punishment for the collective entity. 

* Passive sentence construction/ overuse of "to be" verbs creates a sense of powerlessness: These enhance the clinical nature of the work and are highly distancing from the reader. Great dystopian writers often jar us by contrasting the cold distance of passive voice with the vital alive-ness of a protagonist who thinks and speaks in active verbs.

* The core desire of the society is often good, or at least began that way: While some dystopian societies have their starting point with a con artist who never intended good (though his rhetoric was almost certainly appealing to the good in his society), most were able to come into being by reaching to the citizens' sense of a greater good. Often the pattern is that men of the society gave over freedom in order to have a cleaner/safer/longer life, and then paid the consequences when society felt the old dictum "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."