Tuesday, August 27, 2013

On Coming Out of the Writing Closet

Here's my secret: I've been living two separate lives for the past three years.

In life #1 I am a 9 to 5 marketing professional at a consumer products company.  I go to the gym after work. I go to happy hour with my work friends. I complain about Mondays and say awkward things like "at least it's Wednesday" and "thank God it's Friday" while making small talk in the elevator.

In life #2 I am a YA writer. I write on the weekends and nights. I dream about my characters and what they might say. I have CPs and Beta readers and a blog about writing. I chat about rejections and say awkward things like "Is this paragraph too voicey?" and "I think I just saw my MC in a Dunkin Donuts."

These worlds rarely cross, because I've worked hard at keeping my writing life secret from my personal/professional life.

When I did (on rare occasion) yack to someone outside of my closest inner circle about my writing, they looked at me like I had a pickle growing out of my forehead. So I told myself that I had to keep my writing life secret because non-writers just wouldn't understand.  Along with about five hundred other excuses.

But here's the thing - they were all just excuses. The real reason I never talked about writing is because I was afraid. Afraid that my book would never see the light of day. Afraid that people would probe too deep and see that I was only an aspiring writer. Afraid that people would think I was wasting my time.

And yet I wrote a book. I sat down and wrote an entire flipping novel. How is that something to be ashamed of?

The answer is that it's not. If you have the courage to put yourself out there, to write a book, and to just plain try YOU HAVE NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF.  Also, YOU ARE NOT AN ASPIRING WRITER.  If you wrote or are writing a book, then you are, in fact, a writer.

I'm not sure how many of you out there are like me, but just in case you're out there I thought I'd take a second to remind you of what you've done. You have written a book. That means that you have penned over 60,000 words of awesome, and probably way more than that if you count all the edits and revisions. You have given hundreds of hours of your free time to achieving a personal goal. Instead of talking about your dream, you actually went out and made it happen.  GOOD FOR YOU!  That is AMAZING. Don't let anyone make you think otherwise.

About a month ago I officially announced my pub news on Facebook, for all of my colleagues and non-writing friends to see. It was my version of a coming out, or the FB equivalent of slapping a sonogram picture up to announce you're eating for two. The response was unbelievably positive, and it made me realize how silly I have been.

Nobody cared about agents, pub houses, or even that it was getting published. Sure, there may have been one or two pickle-on-the-forehead looks, but overwhelmingly people were congratulatory, excited for me, and even giddy.  The details didn't matter - all they cared about was the fact that I wrote a book. I WROTE A BOOK.

How silly was I to keep that to myself all this time when I could have been celebrating?

So remember, folks: if you wrote a book, you are a success. Period. And if you love this crazy craft of writing, hopefully you will write another one and another one after that. Because it's what you love to do. And at the end of the day, that's all that matters.

Congrats, and happy writing!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Fun Times and New Beginnings

Can't believe how fast the summer has flown by (kids going back to school, hello?).  I mean every time I go to the grocery store and see Halloween displays, I feel that ice cold trickle down the spine that makes me want to bolt for the exit STAT.  

Wildcard StorymakersBut with all ends come new beginnings and in case you haven't heard, NYT Bestselling Author Veronica Rossi and Story Guru extraordinaire Lorin Oberweger have just launched their new venture Wildcard Storymakers - a premiere story studio.  Their game plan: 

To pair fresh ideas in middle grade, young adult, and new adult fiction with the writers meant to bring them to life.  

This dynamic trio (including Rossi's husband Michael) aren't starting off slow.  They've already inked a six-figure, three book deal for a new adult project (first book entitled BOOMERANG).  Can't wait to see what else they have coming out - at this rate, they may reach their yearly targets by Christmas!

The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth GilbertAnother writer who is embarking on a new journey is awesome conference organizer Jacqueline Garlick who will be launching her first self published YA novel Lumiere later this Fall.   Garlick has something most writers dream of: immense talent and infinite amounts of gusto - key ingredients if you want to stand out in the online crowd. Definitely one to watch in the coming year. 

Elizabeth Gilbert reading at the podium
Elizabeth Gilbert reading an excerpt from her new novel
Someone else who's also doing something new is NYT Bestselling Author Elizabeth Gilbert  (EAT, PRAY, LOVE).  Her first fiction novel THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS will be on sale October 1st.  I had the pleasure of attending Penguin Canada's Indigo Exclusive Event where Laurie Grassi, Books Editor at Chatelaine Magazine sat down for a one on one discussion with Gilbert. Open bar, an evening with the ladies and a free advanced copy of Gilbert's latest novel - what's more to love?

Finally, the sad news is that it's still eleven months till Comicon, the good news is I got to do it all over again, Canuck-style this weekend.  Happy I got a chance to sit in on Canadian YA novelist Adrienne Kress' Steampunk Author Panel, see some old super hero friends and meet some new ones! Here's a recap of Fan Expo 2013 in photo:

Daleks - Dr. Who's No. 1 Enemy 

Iron Man, Spiderman and R2D2 at Fan Expo
Spidey to R2: "Stop following us!"
Hulk Hogan at Fan Expo
Hulk Hogan, he wrestled our Mayor!
Ontario Ghostbusters
Vintage Stay Puft 
Ontario Ghostbusters
Ontario has a Ghostbuster Society - who knew?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Public Service Announcement: Back Up Your Work!

So I had this moment a few months ago. I fired up my computer, opened the document for my novel...

...and nothing happened. Blank screen. Absolutely no sign of the 60,000 words I'd written on my current WIP that weren't backed up anywhere.

"Come back," I told the document, as calmly as I could manage.

hammer to computer

And lo and behold, after a minute or two, it did. (Apparently it was just one of those computer hiccups. I've never had that particular problem before or since.)

After my heart restarted, I did what any sensible person would have done months earlier: backed up my work.

There are two main ways to do a data backup: onsite or offsite. Onsite refers to storage devices that you actually have in your person.

A USB drive (also called a memory stick, flash stick, thumb drive, or "that computer stick thingie" if you're my dad) is a common method of onsite storage. They plug into the USB port on your computer, they're easy to find and cheap (you can get basic ones for as low as $5), and it only takes seconds to back up your data.
usb drive
Another common method of onsite storage is an external hard drive. This is a device that usually holds tons and tons of data--in fact, I have a complete backup of everything on my computer on our external hard drive. These are a little more expensive, usually running about $100-$300. They also require more computer expertise to set up.

external hard drive
Onsite backups have some drawbacks. What if there's a fire and all of your backup devices are destroyed? Or what if you keep your USB drive in your laptop bag and the whole thing gets stolen?

For real peace of mind, you can combine onsite backups with offsite ones. While there are non-online backup services for companies, individuals are best served by choosing an online service. Once uploaded, your data will remain online (accessible only by you), and will be there if you need it.

A common method of backing up data offsite is using a service like Google Drive or Dropbox. Both of these websites offer plans that will allow you to back up a certain amount of data for free.

Drive & Dropbox

A lower-tech method of offsite backup is to email your documents to yourself periodically. As long as you can access your email, you'll have a backup of your work.

Twitter and blogs are full of horror stories from writers who didn't bother to back up and then lost tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands!) of words. Don't let it happen to you! No matter what your budget or level of computer expertise, you can always find a method of backing up your writing that will work for you.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Curious Lives of Teenagers: I Am...

When asked how they define themselves by finishing the sentence "I am..." this is what the subjects had to say...

  • the dancing queen.
  • still Mormon.
  • halfway done with high school and surprisingly sad.
  • legend.
  • me. There may be many like me, but I am my own.
  • a student, a sister, a friend, a daughter, an athelete, an almost herbivore, a perfectionist, a dreamer, but most importantly enjoying life as I travel through each day.
  • throwin' hunnets.
  • not yet Beyonce.
  • the Savior of Gotham.
  • physically pink but mentally yellow.
  • a girl who is so excited for summer and can't wait to go to Mexico
  • ratchet.
  • different. #2Chainz
  • a kid trying to find his way through high school, finally realizing that now will determine the rest of my life.
  • Ryan Lochte.
  • still looking for me.
  • a flame growing brighter, refusing to be extinguished by any challenging gust of wind.
  • a heart breaker, dream taker, love maker, don't you mess around with me.
  • an anxiety-ridden, depressed teen with PTSD and no friends. I am a pretty average teenager. (when voted upon, this one won as "best answer.")

Monday, August 12, 2013

YA Book Pick: Charm & Strange

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 CHARM & STRANGE, by Stephanie Kuehn.

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

Book cover for CHARM & STRANGE by Stephanie KuehnWhen you’ve been kept caged in the dark, it’s impossible to see the forest for the trees. It’s impossible to see anything, really. Not without bars . . .

Andrew Winston Winters is at war with himself.

He’s part Win, the lonely teenager exiled to a remote Vermont boarding school in the wake of a family tragedy. The guy who shuts all his classmates out, no matter the cost.

He’s part Drew, the angry young boy with violent impulses that control him. The boy who spent a fateful, long-ago summer with his brother and teenage cousins, only to endure a secret so monstrous it led three children to do the unthinkable.

Over the course of one night, while stuck at a party deep in the New England woods, Andrew battles both the pain of his past and the isolation of his present.

Before the sun rises, he’ll either surrender his sanity to the wild darkness inside his mind or make peace with the most elemental of truths—that choosing to live can mean so much more than not dying. 

First line:  I don't feel the presence of God here.

I was hooked when I read this first line.  It brings the reader straight into a situation that you know is not going to be your typical wake up the bedroom or hanging out at school scenario.  There is a darkness and sense of foreboding that surounds this first sentence.  So many questions are raised but it also reveals a lot about the protagonist and his voice.  

We know that Win is in a situation where he is clearly uncomfortable.  While there is a sense of loneliness that is very prevalent, there is also a tinge of hope.  He is a boy that believes in something more than what's concrete and static around him, he wants something more.


As much as the first line hooked me, Kuehn's ability to create provoking and poignant ends to each chapter is what kept me reading.  Each chapter's last sentence always evoked a sense of danger, poised a question or provided a thoughtful insight into a character's personality that made me want to know more.  

For example, the last two sentences of chapter two are:

For most kids, this milestone means a lot. 

For my brother, it meant everything. 

My interest is perked.  Win is reminiscing of a conversation he had with his brother about losing the believe in Santa Claus.  Something so innocent and yet it meant everything to his brother, why?  Why was it so important to hold onto this small belief?  I'm intrigued.

Kuehn also writes in an organized, non-linear fashion.  Each chapter switches from Win's present day living at the boarding school and flashbacks of his life before tragedy struck.  The family tragedy involved the death of siblings but Kuehn holds back.  She reveals information a little at a time, like peeling away the layers of an onion.  Each chapter reveals more about Win and the people around him but leaves the reader wanted more and reading faster in the hopes of getting more answers. 

Notes for Writers:  

Charm & Strange is a great example of a novel full of great twists and turns.  As many have mentioned, it's difficult to write about Kuehn's debut novel without revealing spoilers or major plot points.  I look at this as a plus because it shows that reviewers care about the experience that other readers will have when they read the book and they want them to have the same "oohs", "ahs" and "gasps!" that they did. 

A good read for: fans of contemporary YA as well as supernatural thrillers.  This novel is a great example of a dark teen male protagonist.

Get ready for a roller coaster ride of thrills and chills!

Special thanks to Martina Boone and Adventures in YA Publishing for sending me such a great novel as part of their Million Visitor giveaway! 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What Pacific Rim Can Teach Writers

I saw the movie Pacific Rim last week. From the advertising, I was expecting something big, loud, and dumb.
pacific rim poster
I mean, can you blame me?
But surprise--I loved the movie. Guillermo del Toro (screenwriter and director) and Travis Beacham (screenwriter) created an interesting, well-thought-out dystopian world where robots battle alien monsters from another dimension (I know, I know--but trust me, they pull it off!).

In the traditional post-movie analysis with my husband, I figured out the reasons I liked the movie so much, and I realized that a lot of them relate directly to novel writing.

1. Pacing.

Getting the flow of events right is vital to successful action movies--and there are a lot of films that do it wrong. Ever heard the advertising claim "nonstop action?"

more explosions

The problem with this is it doesn't give your characters (and therefore your viewers/readers) time to process what's happened or what's about to happen. Pacific Rim did a great job of blending robot-monster fight time with slower moments of character development. Which brings me to #2...

2. Character Consistency.

Sure, the big fight scenes in Pacific Rim were special-effects triumphs, but the only reason they worked for me was because I cared what happened to the characters. The movie gave us just enough backstory to make us sympathetic to the protagonist, and then it backed up our original impression of him by keeping him in character throughout the movie. He was a competent guy who thought before he acted, so he didn't suddenly start making rash decisions or crumpling under pressure.

The female lead (played wonderfully by Rinko Kikuchi) had a similar consistency of character. She was just as competent as the male lead, but had a tendency to get overly emotional--and this was consistent throughout the movie.

Hollywood movies often get this wrong--inconsistency of characters is a frequent complaint in unfavorable movie reviews--but spotting when it's done incorrectly can help you as a writer too.

3. Subtlety

So now you're looking back up at that poster and wondering what could possibly be subtle about this movie, right? The truth is, the little details and lack of big, loud moments are what really appealed to me. There's a love story, but it's basically just implied (the characters don't, for example, pause in the middle of fighting aliens to make out--because that would be ridiculous, right?). There's a touching evolution in the relationship between one of the secondary characters and his son, but it's painted with such a light brush that it feels real.

I don't know about you, but when I'm writing, I have a tendency to spell things out too much. If I've come up with a neat bit of character development or plot, I want to make sure the reader doesn't miss it. But this doesn't mean I should hit them over the head with it. If I keep the moments little and subtle, that doesn't mean the reader will miss it, it just means I'm trusting their intelligence.

Who would have guessed I'd learn so much about writing from a big, loud, dumb movie? Not me. But believe me, I'll be keeping an eye out for lessons when I go see Elysium next week.

Monday, August 5, 2013

SCBWI Los Angeles 2013

My Top Ten Take-Aways From SCBWI 2013
(Still don’t know how I chose only ten)
(Please excuse all of my mistakes. Conference-groggy.)

10. Trend-wise: picture books still going strong, middle-grade is a sweet-spot (but editors are turning away more than they’d like because they’re very selective; ms has to hit middle-grade sensibility), YA is still thriving, but so much competition it’s hard to stand out. Editors are currently buying a ton of contemporary realistic fiction, and while readers are still fans of paranormal and dystopian, they’re a little tired of it so it needs to be really fresh to catch someone’s eye. Overall, sales across the board are good. NA is looking promising.

9.  Don’t write to trends. Lauri Halse Anderson kept spitting when she said it. Not sure if she faked it or if there are loogies in the ballroom. I was too far away to see. There were over a thousand attendees. She also commanded everyone to sit by a campfire with people you care about and tell stories sometime in the next month.

8. See yourself as a brand. Figure out who you are/what you have to add to the conversation, and also where you are comfortable building your brand (social media platforms you like, etc.) Take the long-view, and work to your strengths.

7. Mike Jung played the ukulele and sang to settle his nerves in that reallyawkward time when people are sitting and staring at the speaker before the session time starts. Arthur Levine then hopped up out of the audience and they sang a duet about how everyone should buy Jung’s book. What a great way to turn a dead time into an opportunity to be unforgettable.

6. There is a lot of opportunity to make money by filling the needs of readers who don’t want the book to end. The properties may be marketed into apps, video games, etc. Many books are coming out of other mediums, like apps.

5.  Slow your roll. Matthew De La Pena seemed to be echoing the recent popular article of Palahnuk’s talking about too much telling and not enough fresh specific showing. He said that writers should only tell when information would surprise the reader. Not sure I fully agree; as a reader I love the dance between interiority and specific action (and my favorite parts of books are always the interiority), but since it’s a hot topic of conversation I assume there’s a deluge of bad and not judiciously cut interiority. I’m going home to “treasure hunt” where mine is (I’m sure there’s still way too much).

4. Carolyn Mackler played the song a Canadian rock star wrote for her about how there is no one like her. She says she plays it for her when scraping goop off her counters. She wants us to all keep playing similar theme songs in our heads reminding us that there is no one like us.

3. Richard Peck laid down the law in a fantastic speech/rant where he cautioned us that anyone who isn’t deeply and actively troubled by the fact that the government can track what we’re reading hasn’t spent enough time studying the history of the past century. (Love him).

2.  In case you haven’t heard Judy Blume’s classic advice to begin the story on the first day something changes, hear it now. It was repeated several times in the sessions I attended.

1. Lin Oliver (founder SCBWI), Stephen Mooser (founder SCBWI), and Andrea Davis Pinkney (Jump at the Sun) are my heroes. Not only are they fantastic writers, but they’ve all also all looked at the landscape of children's literature, found gaps people might fall through, and built significant bridges. Tonight, I can’t stop thinking about them. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Cover Reveal: THE FUNERAL SINGER by Linda Budzinski

I'm SO excited to get to reveal the amazing cover for THE FUNERAL SINGER by Linda Budzinski. Check out all the pretty...

THE FUNERAL SINGER by Linda Budzinski

Genre: YA Contemporary Romance
Pub date: September 24
Publisher: Swoon Romance
Author: Linda Budzinsku


Being a funeral singer was a dead-end job until it led her to him ...

Seventeen-year-old Melanie Martin has witnessed her share of lame eulogies and uninspired epitaphs while singing part-time at her dad's funeral home. She's determined to be more than a funeral singer, more than just someone's "beloved wife" or "loving mother."

When Mel's impromptu rendition of "Amazing Grace" at a local rock star's graveside service goes viral on YouTube, she becomes an Internet sensation, gains thousands of fans and followers, and snags a hot rock star boyfriend--Zed Logan, bass player for The Grime.

But instant fame isn’t easy—and neither is love. Especially when Mel realizes she’s falling for another guy—one who may just want her heart more than her voice …

Um, sounds amazing, right?  I can't wait to read it! Please help spread the word, and be sure to check it out on September 24!

About the author:
Linda Budzinski has worked in non-profit communications and marketing for more than 25 years, including 18 years within the funeral service industry. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, Joe, and their adorably fierce chihuahua, Demitria, and she is represented by Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger Agency. You can visit her website at www.lindabudzinski.com.