Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What Writers Are Thankful For

What Writers are Thankful for

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

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



Monday, November 24, 2014

Don't Sweat the Social Media

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Not Gone Girl

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Thankful for the Backstory?

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Announcement: New Team Members!!!

With great delight, I'd like to introduce you to a couple of fabulous writers who will be joining the Thinking to Inking team: Karen & Mitchell Clayton!

This dynamic mother/son writing duo is here to give us some tips from the inside of the teen world (Mitchell) and what it's like to write with a partner.

So, to get to know them a little better, here is a note from the wonderful Karen Clayton:

I am a stay-at-home-mom of three very active boys.  When I am not scraping cereal off the walls, planning classroom parties, or taxiing kids around town, I enjoy hiking, Tae Kwon Do, scrapbooking, quilting, and of course writing.  I have a BA in Anthropology from Baylor University and have either taught or subbed for grades K through 12, thus I am familiar with kids of all ages. 

Mitchell is a typical teenage boy.  He enjoys Tae Kwon Do, football, hiking, windsurfing, sailing, SUPing, shooting, longboarding, Theatre, and Choir.  Although he prefers sports over the arts, he has won awards for both Theatre and Choir.  He has even been invited to sing at Carnegie Hall.  When he isn’t out being a boy, he likes to apply his expertise into his writing to help bring his characters to life. 

As a family, we enjoy taking trips to National Parks and then writing about them.  Working together is both fun and challenging, but always interesting!  That’s our story.  What’s yours?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Writer's Conference Basics

scbwi logo

I'm off to the Western PA SCBWI conference in Pittsburgh this weekend (with my husband and four-month-old baby in tow—wish me luck!). This will be the fifth writer's conference I've attended. I feel like I'm finally starting to get the hang of them.

If you're a long-time reader of Thinking to Inking, you might remember the conference survival guide I posted last year. This time, rather than advice on nerves or particulars of etiquette, I want to focus on the basic three things that I think are needed for a successful conference.

1. Do some research.
I've seen this over and over again at each conference I've attended. Do at least enough research before you go to know how traditional publishing works, what an agent or editor does, and what type of book you're writing. I've actually heard people ask agents questions in seminars like, "What genre is my fiction novel about my life?" or "Why do I need an agent? Don't you just want to take a cut of my money?" Trust me, you don't want to be THAT guy/girl.

2. Don't be a jerk.
This one is similar to #1, but it gets its own number because it's just as important. Agents, editors, conference organizers, published writers—they're all people too. (A friend of mine wrote an excellent blog post about agents in particular.) They have good and bad days, times when they feel overwhelmed, and times when they really just need to go to the bathroom or go outside for some air. You'll get your chance to talk to them. Treat them politely.

This one gets all capital letters because it's really, really important. Follow the rules. If the pre-conference materials say to print out ten copies of your first five pages, DO IT. Supposed to be there at 10:30 am for registration? That's when you should arrive. Someone tells you that you have a certain time slot to pitch to an agent? Be there on time, ready to go. Conferences are set up to work as smoothly as possible, and it's people who don't follow directions that create snags and problems.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Writing for Reluctant Readers

Great new art installation at our school library done by student artists.
(Had to show it off somewhere)

I took on a new challenge teaching at my school this year, and am teaching a reading-intervention class. The kids are really bright and cool, but a lot of them hate reading. I mean HATE reading. It's been interesting watching them peruse the books and reject most of them. They may sound obvious, but here are some of the trends I've noticed about the books that get snatched up first:

1. Think Thin! Since it often takes them longer to finish a book, or they just hate the process of reading, they'll go for a thin more challenging book (higher reading level) over a longer less challenging (lower reading level book) almost every time.

2. Short Chapters. When they flip through the books, they want to get a quick sense of accomplishment by finishing a chapter. Help them get it.

3. Smart Writing. Just because they might not have strong reading skills yet, their thinking skills are often fantastic so engage their smartest selves. They can even handle tougher vocab or history if the rest is compelling enough, and they want to understand their surroundings as much as anyone.

4. Action. They usually want stuff to happen, and keep happening.

5. A Contemporary Cover. Sleek & edgy are always a win.

6. Pictures. My graphic novels are often nabbed first.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

MURDER OF MAGPIES Bloghop, Interview and Giveaway!

Cover for Murder of MagpiesHappy belated Halloween, everyone! What better way to celebrate Halloween than by sharing an exciting new release with a murderous theme? I'm excited to introduce you all to Sarah Bromley's debut novel A MURDER OF MAGPIES. I had the opportunity to ask Sarah a few questions about her writing process, her debut, and her words of wisdom for those of us still in the trenches. Hope you enjoy the interview, and don't forget to scroll to the bottom for a chance to win a copy!

How long did it take you to write A MURDER OF MAGPIES from start to finish?

It was roughly five or six months from start to finish, but I’ve revised it a number of times over the years to make it the story I always wanted it to be.

What was the inspiration for your story?

I have Romani on my mother’s side of the family, so certainly some of the superstitions I grew up with were part of the inspiration, and I’m fascinated by psychic abilities. All the women in my family have a kind of weird intuition about things and are very empathic, we tend to be able to feel things and know things we shouldn’t. It’s very odd, and that certainly played into developing Vayda and Jonah’s Mind Games.

If you had your pick, what movie star(s) would you pick to play the main character(s)?

It’s hard to pinpoint because there’s no one who looks exactly like what’s in my head, and what’s in my head won’t be what’s in a reader’s head. But when I have to pick, Ariel Winter from “Modern Family” is very Vayda-like and Landon Liboiron from “Hemlock Grove” is close to what I had in my mind for Ward.

Where's your favorite place to write?

I have two places: one is the screened-in porch behind my house where I can be outside, shaded, and stare at the woods, and the other is the antique desk I’ve rehabbed in my office. It’s covered with oddities like Victorian spectacles and poison bottles. I share my office with my daughter’s guinea pig, Annabel Lee, and there’s almost always one of my three dogs with me.

The cover is fantastic. How much input did you get to put into the design? And tell the truth - how many times a day do you stare at it? ;-)

Thank you! I love the cover and stare at it way more than I should! Early on, I was able to give input in some of the key themes of the book, and the designer came up with something that captures the overall atmosphere in the story. I ultimately picked the font from the ones we were kicking around. It’s rare to have some input, and I’d actually been an art student in college during my first semester, so I was thrilled.

Do you have any trunked manuscripts? If so, how did you know it was time to move on?

Oh, Lord, yes. I put aside projects when I think I’ve learned what I was supposed to from them. Sometimes a story just doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s not the right time or market. Sometimes you don’t have the skill yet to tackle such a big idea … and the awesome thing about writing is that you can keep working at it and improving, maybe even come back to a project. I’m a very gut-based writer, so if it doesn’t “feel” right or the rhythm is somehow off, I can sense it.

I see you're represented by Miriam Kriss of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. How long did you query, and how did you know she was "the one?"

I queried one book for roughly nine months before setting it aside after a disastrous revise and resubmit that I felt hurt the book’s integrity. Then I wrote a new book and queried it for about three months before my agent requested the full manuscript. Eleven days later, she emailed me to offer representation. It’s been four years, and I can’t imagine trusting my word gremlins to anyone else. Miriam is incredibly savvy, and she’s her authors’ biggest advocate. There’s such a level of trust and respect that needs to be present in an agent-author relationship, and we just clicked better than I did with any of the other agents.

Any words of wisdom you can share with writers still working their way through the query trenches?

You must have persistence and faith that your work is good and keep trying for it. Be open to criticism but incorporate only changes that truly resonate with you.

What did you learn from the publication process that surprised you?
How important it is to have author friends who have gone through this already because they are a steadying source of calm when you feel nervous. And you will be nervous. And elated. And grateful for the chance to have a dream made reality.

Congrats on the launch of your book, and thanks for the time!

Thank you for having me!

Title: A Murder of Magpies
Publication date: October 28, 2014
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Sarah Bromley

Winter in Black Orchard, Wisconsin, is long and dark, and sixteen-year-old Vayda Silver prays the snow will keep the truth and secrecy of the last two years buried. Hiding from the past with her father and twin brother, Vayda knows the rules: never return to the town of her mother’s murder, and never work a Mind Game where someone might see.

No one can know the toll emotions take on Vayda, how emotion becomes energy in her hands, or how she can’t control the destruction she causes. But it’s not long before her powers can no longer be contained. The truth is dangerously close to being exposed, placing Vayda and her family at risk.

Until someone quiets the chaos inside her.

Unwanted. That’s all Ward Ravenscroft has ever been. To cope, he numbs the pain of rejection by denying himself emotions of any kind. Yet Vayda stirs something in him. He can’t explain the hold she has on him–inspiring him with both hope and fear. He claims not to scare easily, except he doesn’t know what her powers can do. Yet.

Just as Vadya and Ward draw closer, she finds the past isn’t so easily buried. And when it follows the Silvers to Black Orchard, it has murder in mind.


Displaying Sarah Bromley.jpgSarah Bromley lives near St. Louis with her husband, three children, and two dogs. She likes the quiet hours of morning when she can drink coffee in peace, stare into the woods behind her house, and wonder what monsters live there. When she’s not writing or wrangling small children, she can be found volunteering at a stable for disabled riders.

Link to raffle copter here