Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Wow. Just, wow.

If you've read some of my older posts, you probably know I've been lacking on the writing  motivation front.  It's not that I don't love my WIP - I do. It's just that I'm tired. After two years of diligently writing, revising and submitting WHERE THE STAIRCASE ENDS, I was in major need of a break. So I took one. And ever since then I've been writing at a snail's pace.

But every now and then I have a moment of pure inspiration, usually triggered by reading a book that's so well written it makes me get off my @$$ and write. (Most recently this happened while reading Maggie Stiefvaten's The Dream Thieves. So. Effing. Good.)

But a few week's ago my inspiration came from an unexpected source - Youtube.  My husband sent me the below video and all I can say Just, wow.  It's such a great reminder that words are for more than stories - they can be cause for change. For expelling emotion. For bringing real world problems to life in a relateable way. For making people stop and take notice.

So without further ado, here is my most recent cause for writing motivation. I hope you're as moved by her vivid words as I am.

In case you need the direct link, click here.

Happy writing!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Curious Lives of Teenagers: Religion

The subjects were asked their thoughts on religion, here is what they responded:
  • Philosophy is the wise man's religion. We know the lack of knowledge of the purpose of everything. Yet we accept that we don't know, instead of accrediting it to a big man in gold.
  • I think religion is great for certain people, but not a fit for everyone. I also think people should not criticize others for what they believe, no matter what it may be.
  • I did not fear the Emperor, the Emporer feared me. --Wutang
  • I'm a Christian, however I have huge interest in philosophy, be it normative, skeptical, or critical. Critical literature about identity is interesting, as well as power. I love reading Hume, Hegel, Foucault, Nietzsche, Kant, Butler, Derrida, etc.
  • To be honest, I couldn't tell you because I don't know.
  • I myself am not a religious person, but I feel like if a person gains a sense of value or finds happiness through a belief system, that is all that matters. We can't dictate what each person wants to believe in.
  • I think that all history textbooks should teach equally about each religion not 5 pages on one religion (Islam) or 1paragraph on another (Christianity).
  • I believe that we will win.
  • Religion is used as motivation.
  • I grew up without a religious influence in my life; without believing in God, but entertaining the idea of a higher power. I do not believe in fate. Fate is too often used as an excuse by those who are afraid to take control and make decisions. Saying that I believe a certain philosophy, however, is also inaccurate, and I would like to believe that I take elements from different philosophies and tryly analyze and adapt them.
  • God is so good.
  • I'm not saying you have to believe in one certain religion, but just in something bigger than yourself.
  • I don't judge off of Religion because I think it's amazing how many beautiful beliefs there are in our world. But my view regarding my own religious values is truly confused. I'm not quite sure whether I will believe in a God or just simply in others.
  • Catholic all the way!
  • I don't believe in God, I believe in Science. Haveing a close family friend pass recently, I have turned to questioning religion and how now is the time I want to believe, but I can't, and that scares me. I believe in hope, though, and the feeling of peace.
  • I've been taught not to hide my religion. I'm a Christian and I'm proud of what I believe in. I believe being a Christian is more than going to church every Sunday but spending time in the word and being a light to others. It's more than just a religion to me; it's a lifestyle. I believe that I'm forgiven and that Jesus is my Savior.
  • I believe that religion causes too many problems in the world. Not for the religion itself, but people disagreeing with a religion that isn't their own. Worry about what you believe in. Not others. Less conflict.
  • Everyone shoudl be free to live. Peace. Happiness. Food.
  • I believe that religion is very important to society because it teaches people morality and gives them a purpose and something to look forward to. I believe that religion can make each individual a better person.
  • Religion has never been a game changer in my life. Like God is not the answer to all my problems. That doesn't mean I don't believe in a God but it is not a huge contribution to my life. Some people will do anything for a diety or a god just to get in to Heaven. Als o if there happened to be a God (still not saying I don't believe) he would not be and create terrible things like plague, hunger, war, and other things. In all religions they create problems for others (Christians & Jews), (Muslims and Jews), etc.
  • Science.
  • Why not believe in God? Why be Athiest? Athiesm confuses me.
  • Who gives a crap what other people think! Do what makes you happy! HAZZA!!!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Digging Deep...Real Deep

Cartoon Girl Writing and Thinking

It's been almost a month since I attended Donald Maass's Break Out Novel Workshop and I'm still reeling over all the things I learned (and I suspect I'll be reeling for quite some time). If you're looking for a workshop that will blow your socks off and challenge you to achieve your best, this is it.  

While I learned numerous tools and tips of the trade, I think by far the most important, and at the same time, most difficult is to make my work personal.  What does that mean?  Everyone can write a story, something with a plot and developed characters.  What makes a good story, a great story is not just the twists and turns or hitting the mark in the genre of the second.  It's what the story reveals about the author.  

There's the hero's journey, and then there's your journey, and a truly great book must have both. How does the story you're writing reflect what you believe, your experiences and what you want to say?  Why are you writing your manuscript in the first place?
Open book showing landscape with castle and road
Now I know what you're thinking.  "I'm writing a story about a fantastic new world in 2075, how the heck is that about me?" Now my story wasn't about a futuristic universe, but the way I stared blankly at Mr. Maass during our one-on-one pretty much said the same thing. 

This is where the fun part begins.  Is your protagonist a girl, a boy, an alien?  What type of family do they have.  What do they want?  Now think of your family.  Who are they, what are they like?  How do they make you feel?  What do you want?  Now is there an experience with your family that brings up strong emotions?  Can you look at your manuscript and see a point in time where your protagonist might feel the same way?  Now write those pages with your feelings.  It's not a simple activity and you may even fight against the process, but hey, no one said writing was easy, right?  If you keep at it, you'll discover things about your character that you never knew, and perhaps a few things about yourself along the way (it's way cheaper than therapy!). 

There are a lot of exercises that you can do to bring "u" out in your manuscript.  For more amazing tidbits and great writing advice, check out Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook and Writing 21st Century Fiction. I promise, you won't regret it!

Monday, October 21, 2013

YA Book Pick: FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell

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 FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love. 

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

First Line: "There was a boy in her room."

This is a great first line, because it sets up the conflict immediately. Our viewpoint character is someone who isn't comfortable having boys in her room. The next few lines make it clear that Cath has just arrived at her new dorm and is sort of freaking out about the newness of everything.

Highlights: Gosh, where to start? First, let me say that I devoured this book. I literally couldn't put it down. My YA fiction taste tends to skew more speculative, but this contemporary novel completely won me over (much like ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS and LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR by Stephanie Perkins--also highly recommended).

I gushed about Rainbow Rowell nailing the teenage voice in my review of her last book, ELEANOR & PARK. This book is even better. Cath, her sister Wren, the boys in her life, her roommate Reagan--any one of them could have stepped right out of life and into her book. The central romance is sweet without being cloying or sappy. Cath's fears and doubts about her love life will ring true for anyone, not just eighteen-year-olds.

The author's take on the subject of fandom and fanfiction writing is gentle, but also realistic. As someone who spent her teenage years obsessed with the TV show The X-Files, I saw a lot of myself in Cath. I think a lot of readers will be able to relate to this, no matter what their age.

A Good Read For: YA contemporary/romance writers searching for great examples of teenage voice or a slow-build romantic relationship. Although the book was marketed as YA rather than New Adult, it is set in the first year of college and therefore might be of interest to NA writers as well.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Very Superstitious - Blog Hop, Review and Giveaway!

 Guys, can I tell you how excited I am to be a part of the very Superstitious Blog hop and reveal?  And just in time for Halloween!

Synopsis (from Goodreads):  The stories are based on urban legends, myths, tribal tales and superstitions from around the world. A charity anthology to benefit SPCA International with stories by Shannon Delany, Jackie Morse Kessler, Stephanie Kuehnert, Jennifer Knight, Marianne Mancusi, Michelle E. Reed, Dianne Salerni and Pab Sungenis.

Win a FREE copy! (See Rafflecopter Below)
Buy it on Amazon now!
Add it to Goodreads

It's been FOREVER since I read an anthology, and this one reminded why I need to read more of them. I forgot how much fun short stories can be, especially during my work commute when I usually only have time for a chapter or two. And I love that there's a charitable cause associated with this one - sales benefit the SPCA, and many of the stories have animal-related themes, which made for a nice touch.

The eight stories link to a myth or superstition (hence the title) and cover everything from werewolves, ghosts and Chupacabra to Noah's Ark.  In truth, there wasn't one story I didn't enjoy, although there were a few standouts for me, including The Silverfoot Heretic, by Pab Sungenis, which had a unique and wonderfully creative twist on the Wizard of Oz, and The Rescue, by Shannon Delany, based on an old Fae myth where a man must choose to believe his longtime best friend or a local superstition.

Here's a little more about Shannon Delany, the author of one of my favorite stories in the anthology, The Rescue.  And don't forget to enter to win a FREE copy of Very Superstitious using the rafflecopter below!

About Shannon Delany:

 Shannon Delany's newest novel, WEATHER WITCH (St. Martin's Press) is already available for pre-order (which both stuns and delights Delany)!

Shannon Delany has written stories since she was a child. She began writing in earnest when her grandmother fell unexpectedly ill during a family vacation. In 2008 her greatly abbreviated version of 13 to Life (written in just five weeks) won the grand prize in the first-ever cell phone novel contest in the western world through .

Shannon was thrilled when St. Martin’s Press offered her a contract for a series about her 13 to Life characters. She expanded on the cell phone novel version, adding the subplots and characters she didn’t have time to during the contest. As paranormal as werewolves seem, the grief Shannon used to build Jess’s character is something she personally experienced with the loss of her own mother. Focusing on Jess and Pietr’s story of loss, love and dramatic and dangerous changes, Shannon came to better grips with her own struggle. The resulting novel has earned her blurbs from authors she respects most.

The first novel in Shannon’s YA paranormal series, 13 to Life, debuted June 22, 2010, and was followed by Secrets and Shadows, Bargains and Betrayals, Destiny and Deception, and the Rivals and Retribution (August 2012). Shannon has also debuted with interactive science fiction in her short story ("To Hel and Back") for Spirited: 13 to Haunting Tales (Leap Books) and will make her high fantasy debut with Month 9 Books' charity anthology titled Two and Twenty Dark Tales (October 2012, "Pieces of Eight" with musician Max Scialdone).

Shannon's new series (a steampunk trilogy titled WEATHER WITCH, also with St. Martin's Press) will launch June 25, 2013.

Connect with Shannon: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Check out the rest of the blog hop leading up to Halloween by clicking here:

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

On writing what you want, even when the market tells you not to

Some of you may have seen this article in Publisher's Weekly, where agents share their take on trends in YA. (If not, it's worth the read.)  The same day I read it, my husband dropped the October issue of New York magazine on my lap, and lo and behold there was an entire section in the magazine dedicated to a discussion around YA's popularity spike and the "YA sales bubble".

Seems like YA is on the tip of everyone's tongue these days.

And it's not surprising.  YA fiction sales have seen double digit growth the last few years, posting the kind of numbers that make any Wall Street Suit salivate. YA is big business, and big business attracts attention, investment, and lots and lots of bandwagoners.

According to Publisher's Weekly, some agents receive as many as 10,000 manuscripts a year these days, most of them YA. And agents say the quality is markedly better then it was several years ago. With so many writers fighting to jump out from the pack, it means there's more pressure then ever to have unique concepts, great writing, and that-something-special that no one seems to be able to define.

As if that weren't bad enough, the saturation of popular trends generated from books like Twilight and The Hunger Games means that certain genres fill up and burn out fast, so if you're not ahead of the trend, you're behind it. Submitting a paranormal or dystopian book to a publishing house these days is like sending a clove of garlic to a vampire.

It's enough to make any writer want to chuck her laptop out the window.

But here's the thing. For every example given, there's always a counter example. Take the vampire bubble. For years we've been hearing that agents and publishers are completely burned out on them, but then books like The Coldest Girl In Cold Town pop up on shelves with rave reviews and tons of buzz, proving that any genre, when given a new twist, can make a publisher sit up and listen.

That said, I *do* think it's important to be realistic with the stories we write.  If you are writing a story about a girl trapped in a love triangle with a vampire and a werewolf, even if it is beautifully written and perfect in every other way, you'll be hard pressed to get readers because that story has already been told. The trick with saturated genres is to be unique in some form or fashion, otherwise you will have an extremely difficult time breaking through the already difficult to break through clutter.

Does that mean you shouldn't write your vampire or dystopian story? Hell no. You need to write what you love and what your heart wants you to write. Writing is a craft that requires passion, and if you aren't writing something you're passionate about it will show through in your craft. If the book of your heart is a story about a vampire living in a dystopic world overrun with werewolves, angels and mermaids, then you need to write that book. Write the sh*t out of it. Don't let the numbers hold you back. Because there are always exceptions. You could be the exception. And we all need exceptions to give us hope and keep us writing when the going gets tough.

And here's the other thing: the "saturated" genres are still selling. Readers still want those stories, even if the publishing industry doesn't (at least for the moment). So if the traditional publishing route doesn't work out for you, but you still believe in the story and want it out into the world, what is there to stop you? It's your writing journey. You get to choose the path you take. Don't let the trends tell you what you can and can't do. Follow your heart instead. Write the story it wants you to write.

Maybe the YA trend is really a bubble waiting to burst, or maybe it's here to stay. We can't predict the future. But even if sales start to plummet and the public's attention shifts to newer, shinier things, who cares? There will always be someone out there who wants to read a good story. So why not write it for them?

Trends come and go, sales spike and tumble, but writing what you love will never be a bad decision, especially if it makes you happy.

And at the end of the day, that's all that really matters.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Curious Lives of Teenagers: Girl Fights

Backstabbing, trash talking, Twitterbashing, and the like all fit one stereotype: Girl Fights. This month, the subjects were surveyed on their thoughts about the subject, and the results are divided by gender. 

From the girls' perspectives:

  • I think it's girls fighting for dominance over an object, a person, or even each other.
  • Girl fights actually just suck. Oh my.
  • Girls are just ridiculous.
  • Girl fights are really just about a guy that really doesn't like either of them.
  • Girl fights are always about boys.
  • Girls who have drama like drama. It's not hard to avoid. Learn to treat people with respect and nine times out of ten you won't have issues with other girls. Be nice.
  • Girl fights basically consist of girls calling each other names due to boys, comments made about them, and other things.
  • Girl fights are caused by girls that feel the need to be the center of attention. In my opinion it makes you look dumb and insecure.
  • When girls argue obviously it's not serious because the next day they're the best of friends.
  • Girls never solve their issues.
  • Girl fights are the longest fights ever. Instead of confronting the source or girl you have a problem with, most girls use friends as their personal telephones.
  • I try not to involve myself in fights between girls, because let's face it -- an angry, hormonal teenage girl is scarier than a rabid gorilla chucking spiders at you.

From the boys' perspectives:

  • Girl fighting nowadays seems slightly more tamed although I have seen some unfold. I basically feel that the fighting that goes on is completely useless. Communicate something rather than backstab someone/gossip about them or fight with them.
  • Girls fight about the stupidest things like compliments. "You're so skinny," "no, I'm so fat," "no you aren't," "yeah I am." that kind of stupid thing pisses me off.
  • Girls are very secretive and backstabbing. It hurts a lot more than how boys fight, even though boys fight physically. Girls think everything out like a master plan.
  • Girl fights are when two friends fight over the internet, talk behind each others' backs, but still hang out with each other and compliment each other while inside they hate each other.
  • They're a joke. Any girl fight can be solved with a post on Instagram.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Is first person really the right choice for your novel?

It's the second week of October already--and you writers out there know what that means.

Halloween pumpkin field
Okay, yeah, it does mean Halloween is coming. But it also means THIS is coming:
NaNoWriMo badge
I'm not planning to officially participate in NaNo this year, because I already have about 90% of a first draft written. But what I am going to do is take the opportunity to give myself a kick in the revision pants. What better time than when thousands of other writers around the world are slaving away over their laptops, too?

The first big edit I'm making in this draft is to change the point of view from first person to third person limited. The change will mean hours and hours of painstaking work, but I really think it's the right choice for this story.

Which brings up a good question: how do you know which one is right for your story?

I know I tend to link to him a lot, but as usual, former agent Nathan Bransford has an insightful look at this topic on his blog. His perspective on where the narrative tension comes from in both POVs makes a lot of sense.

My last manuscript was in first person, so it seemed natural to jump right into the head of the main character in this one, too. But in that last manuscript, the feelings, reactions, and worldview of the viewpoint character were a major part of the story. 

This new one is a cross between an adventure story and a coming-of-age story, so it fits this description from this first vs. third person blog post of a good candidate for a third-person limited point of view: "Third-person limited offers a nice balance between a plot-driven story and a character-driven story. It is often a good choice when the outer events of your plot are closely tied to the protagonist's inner growth."

What do you think? Do you prefer the complete immersion in the character's head that first person perspective brings, or do you like a little distance?

Monday, October 7, 2013

On realizing my crazy marketing professor was right about this whole e-book thingy

When I was in business school, I had this crazy marketing professor who claimed that Amazon's new Kindle would revolutionize the way we read books. He predicted that the introduction of e-readers to the marketplace would force many traditional bookstores to close and shake the publishing industry to its core as millions of people converted to the ereader format.

I thought the guy was crazy. Not just because he wore Hawaiian shirts to class everyday and had a handlebar mustache that often carried bits of his lunch in it, but because I simply could not fathom a world where people would willingly abandon the paperback book.

Fast forward to today.

I've become an avid ebook reader, so much so that the idea of carrying an *actual* book seems about as practical as taking the stairs when there's an escalator right there. (Seriously, why?)

Since getting my nook (I'm one of those rare creatures that has not succumbed to the Kindle's lure, perhaps just to prove to my professor that Amazon will not take over the world like he predicted) I've found that I read more than I ever did in my paperback/hardcover days. In fact, I think I've double my annual reading level because it's just so damn easy to read anywhere and everywhere, and every book is just a click away.

I'm a total e-reader convert.

I'm not saying ebooks are perfect - I miss being able to easily flip back and forth between the cover blurb and the story, or stare at the cover artwork to see if I agree with the main character's picture. But the fact that my nook fits snugly into my purse so I can carry it with me everywhere far outweighs any downsides (including the hit my wallet has taken since my book buying has doubled.)  

I didn't think I could love ebooks any more - until I read about Authorgraph.

Now there's a way for authors to actually sign ebooks. How cool is that?  This is especially good news for authors who only publish in e-form.  Now when you give away books for contests or promos, you can include a personalized message to the winner.  Or imagine a world where you can do live ebook signings?  Now THAT would be freaking cool.

Even if you do get published in print format, having the option to autograph books in e-form is a boon to your marketing campaign.  E-books are lower in cost, so you can promote for less when you use this format vs. traditional print.

I suppose I should acknowledge that Professor Food-in-the-Stache was right.  E-books have revolutionized the publishing world, bookstores have closed, and Amazon, The Great Disruptor, is slowly climbing it's way to the number one retailer spot.

What's next? Flying cars?

Friday, October 4, 2013

To Self Pub or Not To Self Pub...

Self pub seems to be the hot topic these days.  Indeed we're seeing so many books on the scene, in Good Reads, fan fiction websites, Kobo, Amazon, you name it. It's everywhere, and for the average reader, this can be daunting.  How do you weed the good from the bad?  Where do you invest your time and energy? For writers, at first it may seem like a great idea, but most often, it's like running up a river with piranhas nipping at your toes. 

So how do you do it right? It's hard to think of your labour of love objectively.  I could probably go on and on about this topic but I'll highlight what I think are three key assets to break free of the self pub muck and have the potential to become a real indie breakout novel.

1. Independent Editors

You've invested months, maybe years of your time to create your piece de resistance. It sounds like music to your ears.  You pat yourself on the back for those witty lines or gorgeous paragraphs that paint a landscape worthy of being called a Monet with words.  

There lies the problem. 

It may be a masterpiece to you, but is it a masterpiece for the market?  Investing in an independent editor may seem like an unnecessary expense but you will soon find that the right one is invaluable.  Why? Because they've done it a thousand times, they know your market and they know story.  A great editor will also tell you the things you don't want to hear...that your story isn't perfect and they'll guide you to make changes to make it better.  Readers read books and often times they have no idea why they don't like it. They feel unfulfilled, bored, or frustrated with the protagonist.  An independent editor will help you to identify the issues in your manuscript that the readers can't communicate and fix them.  She's a secret I'd love to keep because she's that good, but if you're thinking of hiring one, check out Lorin Oberweger - might as well start with the best!

2. Covers
Lumiere by Jacqueline E. Garlick

Don't judge a book by its cover...unless what you're talking about is actually a book.  What sets self pub apart from trad pub is that you have the ultimate control. You can decide what your cover will look like.  Self pub author and workshop guru Jacqueline Garlick has one of the hottest anticipated releases this Fall with the first in her Illumination Paradox series LUMIERE.  Check out her post here where she outlines in detail the intensive process she went through to make her cover the gorgeous artwork it is today.  Many authors in this arena seem satisfied with using stock photos but Garlick took it one step further and created her own.  I know what you're thinking - another cost?  And yes, this can run upwards of several thousand dollars, but this is a product, it won't sell itself.  Think of the cover as your calling card and a reader's first impression. If it looks like it was slapped together in two minutes, you can bet most people will assume what's inside was done the same way. 

3. Marketing

We're writers, we don't promote.  We huddle in our corners and play in the fictional worlds we've created.  Unfortunately, if we continue to do so, the only ones who will come play with us are probably also in our heads.  If you want your book to be a success, you need to be out there, making a mark on your readers.  They need to feel connected with you and interested in what you say.  Since you don't have that publishing machine behind you, that's all the more reason to get out there and make a statement.  Otherwise, how is a reader going to decide between spending their time reading a NYT Bestselling YA Dystopian novel and your self pub book that's currently number 750 on the list (and that's actually good!). 

So my thoughts on self pub - it's a great option...for the right book.  Great cover, fantastic edits (combined with positive feedback from professionals) plus a solid dose of marketing  hutzpah courtesy of the writer = a book that will rise above the rest and become the beautiful needle in a haystack (in a good way!).