Monday, September 28, 2015

Mums The Word

In Texas we have this crazy, but strangely wonderful tradition called the homecoming mums. 

Apparently, boys and girls exchange and then wear mums (for girls) and garters (for boys) to the homecoming football game.  What are mums?  Really nothing more than piles and piles of flowers, ribbons, and trinkets.

Currently, I am in the middle of making both a mum and a garter and as I sit waist deep in flowers, ribbons, bears, stickers, and other various trinkets, I can't help but to think about writing.  Why?  Well, for starters I wish I was writing, but the real reason is that the mum making process is pretty similar to the writing process.

First comes research - internet and pinterest are wonderful tools by the way.
Second, gather materials.
Third, come up with a plan or outline.
Fourth, cut ribbons, decorate ribbons, and start to assemble ribbons.
Fifth, rearrange everything.
Sixth, edit.
Seventh, glue it all to together.
Eighth, exchange mums or garters and pray that the person likes all your hard work and that at the very least it all stays together.

So, what I've learned.  Writing is a process and that writing process can be a useful skill in live and can be applied to pretty much anything . . . even mums.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Writer's Resource: QueryTracker's Query Timeline

I wax rhapsodic about every so often, and it's time for another installment. I'm just starting a round of queries, so I'm visiting often to mark the agents I've found who might be good fits for my manuscript. There's a new feature for QueryTracker Premium subscribers that I'm finding really useful, so I thought I'd highlight it here!

At a glance, the query timeline tells you where an agent is in their query queue, as well as other information like how much they're requesting or rejecting and the length of time between the submission and the response. Although not everyone marks their queries in QueryTracker (obviously), it still provides a good snapshot of what you can expect.

Here's an example of an agent who has been extremely timely about replying to queries in the past 30 days. The red frowny faces are rejections, but the short length of the line indicates that at least they're quick rejections:
And here's someone who I wouldn't expect to hear from for a while:
This timeline, on the other hand, shows me at a glance that this agent is a quick responder and is actively requesting material (the smiley green faces). She's moving up in my queue!
While some might feel that this level of detail is a little too obsessive, I find that it actually helps me stop obsessing. Instead of wondering why I haven't heard back from someone who seemed to be such a good fit for my manuscript, I can see at a glance that the agent is a month behind on queries and stop worrying about it.

The query timeline is a feature only available to Premium members, but like I've said before, QT Premium membership is inexpensive—only $25 a year—and totally worth it for querying writers. You can find out about the rest of the Premium features here. No affiliation, just a happy customer!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

YA Book Pick: THE WALLS AROUND US by Nova Ren Suma

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 is THE WALLS AROUND US by Nova Ren Suma. 

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

“Ori’s dead because of what happened out behind the theater, in the tunnel made out of trees. She’s dead because she got sent to that place upstate, locked up with those monsters. And she got sent there because of me.”

On the outside, there's Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement.

On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there's Amber, locked up for so long she can't imagine freedom.

Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls' darkest mysteries…

What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one?

In prose that sings from line to line, Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and of innocence, and of what happens when one is mistaken for the other.

First Line: We went wild that hot night.

The first few pages of this book are an interesting read given the use of "we" instead of "I" for the first person narrative. The story starts from Amber's perspective, but in the beginning she speaks for the entire group of forty girls incarcerated at the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center. Amber tells us about a night when the girls find the guard stations unmanned, the doors open, and the prison suddenly not a prison anymore. It's the start of a page-turning and haunting mystery that will have you furiously flipping the pages to find out what the heck is going on and how in the world all of these events connect together.

Highlights: The writing. Oh, man, the writing. The prose is beautiful, atmospheric and haunting. This is also unlike anything I have read before. The twists are unique, unexpected and incredibly well executed.  It was my first Nova Ren Suma book, and I now plan to go back and read everything she's ever written.

The story is told from the perspectives of Amber and Violet. Violet is on the verge of graduating and making her ballet dreams a reality. Amber is cellmates with Orianna, Violet's former best friend and former fellow ballerina. At first, the choice of Amber as the second narrator felt like a strange one. Why not give Orianna a chance to tell her side of the story? Why Amber, who seems like a peripheral character to the conflict between Oriana and Violet?  But that is part of the brilliance of this story, and it all comes together in an expected and imaginative way.

Notes for writers: If you're considering a dual POV, this is a must read. The unexpected choice of Amber as the second POV is a fascinating one, and shows how sometimes the less obvious characters can make for a more interesting narrative. And as mentioned above, this book is beautifully written and can serve as great inspiration for those of us working to build our atmospheric prose muscle. 

A great read for: Anyone looking for a unique and beautifully written paranormal mystery. Writers looking for inspired dual POV narratives and beautiful prose.  In short, everyone needs to go and read this book right now!

Hope you love it as much as I did. Happy reading!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

When fiction becomes fact: 6 novels that predicted the future.

A friend of mine recently bought an Amazon Echo. If you're not familiar, it's a voice-activated device that can do everything from report the news to order your next shipment of toilet paper.  All you have to do is say "Alexa, order Charmin toilet paper" and she will place the order through Amazon. No pesky keyboards needed. You can even connect her to home devices including lights, AC, TV, and the garage door for an all-in-one voice-activated hands-free living experience.

If you're a science fiction reader, this probably doesn't sound that novel. Authors have been writing about voice activated technology for years.  Which strikes me as pretty incredible.

Here are a few of my favorite Sci-Fi stories that accurately predicted future technology.

 MT Anderson's FEED

In feed, people access the internet through implanted microchips. But before implants became all the rage, people used glasses very similar to Google's now defunct Google Glass.

Orson Scott Card's ENDER'S GAME

The characters in Ender's Game use a tablet computer device that is eerily similar to today's iPad.


In this series, food is deliver by an in-room wall system, appearing as if by magic. While we haven't quite invented the wall-delivery technology yet, a Barcelona-based company announced plans to launch a 3D printer that will print food...which will make something like this very feasible in the not-to-distant future.
Into the Still Blue

Characters living in the enclosed city of Reverie wear biometric suits to monitor their health, regulate their body temperatures and other science-y stuff. While we're note quite to the suit faze yet, an SF-based company has developed a band aid-like device that will be able to do things very similar to Rossi's imagined suits. It can even measure your calorie intake as you eat.

George Orwell
George Orwell's 1984

Orson's classic imagines a society where everyone is monitored by Big Brother...which bares a striking resemblance to many of the privacy discussions of late around data ownership.


In Douglas Adam's novel, travelers use a device that can translate any alien language instantaneously.  Turns out, there's now an app for that.

What about you? Read any fiction that turned into fact?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Ending A Series

I finally finished reading one of my favorite book series only to be disappointed by the ending.  As a fan, I was crushed.  This wasn't the first time I had been let down with the way an author concluded a series, but this was the hardest one for me to recover from. 

As a writer, I was left wondering . . . how then do I end my own series?  How do I stay true to my fans and to myself?  Where's the balance?

After many, many searches I came up with three good answers:

1. Be true to your book and your characters.  Find an end that seems natural and consistent.  In other words, Keep It Real!

2. Deliver what you promised or at the very least answer questions.  If you are lucky enough to have people fall in love with a character to read all the way through a series, then at least give the readers the answers to their questions - even if it isn't happy - just be sure to be detailed enough to show why it isn't happy.

3. Finally, make the reader either feel something or think something.  Again, if the readers have stayed with you this long congratulations.  Now just give those readers something to really remember your characters or your story. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

How to Give Good Feedback

I just started to read a friend's current work-in-progress, so the topic of how to give good feedback for a critique partner is on my mind! I've been reading manuscripts for writer friends for years now, so I'm starting to get a handle on what kind of notes are most useful.

In no particular order, here are some tips for giving good feedback to a critique partner.

1. Critique work you like.
This may sound obvious, but it's important. Before you agree to critique for someone, make sure you like their writing. It can be a genre you don't write and a completely different style to yours... but if you don't respect and enjoy the writing, the whole process will be painful, and your notes will be less than useful.

And on the flip side, this is also important if you're exchanging work. How can you take someone's critique notes seriously if you don't respect his or her work? I suggest starting with a small sample first. If you don't feel you would be a good person to critique the whole novel, just say so—and save both of you a lot of time and trouble.

(Luckily, I've critiqued for my current partner before and love her writing!)

2. Catalogue your reactions.
Some of the most valuable notes you can give your critique partner are your reactions to various parts of the novel. Were you stunned by the big twist? Say so! Appalled by something the hero did to the point where you kind of hate him for the rest of the book? That's important information for the writer to know. They may have intended for you to have that reaction—but they may not have, which would indicate that some revision might be in order.

It's also a good idea to make note of times when you put the book down or had to force yourself to continue. Spots where the story is dragging should be prime targets for revision.

3. Make suggestions, but don't be offended if they're ignored completely.
When I point out a problem, I'll often offer up a suggestion for fixing it. I never worry about whether that advice is taken, though. It's not my story! If my suggestion sparks some other idea for a fix in the mind of the writer, I consider it just as good as if they took it outright.

4. Note typos.
You might get different advice from different people on this one. I've heard some say that at this stage, typos are the last thing to worry about, but I don't agree. I'd be mortified to send work to an agent or publisher with typos, so I'm always grateful when beta readers point them out to me. It doesn't take long to note them as you read for bigger issues, so why not?

Finding good critique partners is one of the best things you can do to take your writing to the next level. Return the favor by giving helpful critiques yourself!