Friday, February 26, 2010

Interview with AS King !!!! Plus Treasure Contest !!!

Guys!

When I was little, and people asked me what I wanted to be, I always answered with one simple word: "Pirate". And when later, I met my lovely Hubbie and he asked me which time of the earth I would have loved to be born in, I answered, "The time that I could have been a Pirate Queen". (He wanted to be in Ancient Greece, the wuss!)


Alas, I was doomed to living vicariously through the movie versions of Pirates of the Caribbean, which we ALL know decreased in quality as they multiplied.

So when I heard about this book EVERYWHERE and my buddy over at Presenting Lenore gushed about it, simply gushed, I knew I had to read it. So I got it. I read it and re-read it - three times, one right after another. Then I got on Twitter (this is why you should never Twitter drunk on alcohol or book love) and gushed FANGIRL on A.S, who took it like a champ, (well, maybe it wasn't so bad after all!) and then somehow I got her to agree to let me interview her.


I'm in awe of her lovely, wayward nature - she really and truly reminds me of myself. Or like the cooler version of myself. She is FANTASTICALLY BRILLIANT.

Anyways. I know, I know. Still fangirl. But this is a seriously awesome book. Take a look at the blurb:

In the late 17th century, famed pirate Emer Morrisey was on the cusp of escaping pirate life with her one true love and unfathomable riches when she was slain and cursed with the dust of 100 dogs. Three hundred years later, after one hundred lives as a dog, she returned to a human body—with her memories intact. Now she's a contemporary American teenager, and all she needs is a shovel and a ride to Jamaica.


How awesome is this, right? Dogs, Pirates, Booty (like treasure, you naughty things!) and True Love. How oh HOW can you go wrong?

So!

We begin.

Dearest ASK! Welcome to my humble blog! Let's cut straight to the chase, shall we?

JKB:
Let's talk about perverse never give up-edness. I know you put D100D aside in 2003 because no agent thought it would sell. Had you queried? What were you getting back as responses? Did you ever get the dreaded "I love this book but don't know how to sell it in this marketplace" one?


ASK:
You know—I can barely remember what they said anymore, but I’m sure I got that response and many others. This is the only book I queried on both sides of the Atlantic, so I managed to query a lot of UK agents, a few Irish agents (there weren’t many at the time) in 2003/early 2004 and then, when I got to the US in late 2004, I revised it again and queried US agents in 2005. That “I love this but can’t figure where I’d sell it” is something I’ve heard a lot. From agents and editors, depending on which book we’re talking about. It’s a standard answer, I think. I didn’t let it get me down and just started writing the next book. (Which got similar responses. *insert evil laugh.*)

JKB:
(LOL! No comment.) So how did D100D eventually make its brilliant, shining way out into the world?

ASK:
Well, when I found my agent, he took on three books of mine. The first (my 5
th) he shopped like crazy. No luck. We went into shopping the 7th then—again, like crazy. No luck. All along, D100D was around. I’d revised it for my agent, who wanted a different ending (which is not the ending anymore.) I’m not sure how many editors he sent it to, but anyway, one Friday, he forwarded an email to me from Andrew Karre over at Flux. It said something like, “I’ll want to talk to this author next week.”


I did not think this meant much. However, I figured it was a good idea to read the book over the weekend so I knew what we would be talking about, since I hadn’t read it in maybe 18 months. When I read it, I found about 20,000 extraneous words. When I talked to him on Monday, I said something like, “This might make you think I’m crazy, but I have to cut 20,000 words out of this book before we ever do anything with it.” He did not think I was crazy. He bought the book. I cut the words before we ever started working on it together, and the rest is history.

JKB:
Beautiful, beautiful history! :-D


I know you've been writing a long time, and have numerous short stories and awards to your credit. 'bout how long have you been writing now? How did you not stop when you decided to try for book publication? I mean, seven novels? Fifteen YEARS?

ASK:

I’ve been writing since 1994, I guess. Sixteen years now that it’s 2010. How did I not stop? I love writing. I want to write books. I know that sounds all simplistic and maybe contrary, but seriously. Why would I give up? To put it into better perspective, though, I should tell you that at that time, I was writing by myself—in a virtual cave—concerned with writing, not publishing. I was self-sufficient for the most part (I got paid for some of my literacy work, so that was good for the few bills I did have) and I chose that life so I could write.


As in: “We’re moving to this derelict farm so we can be self-sufficient and I can write novels without having to get a full-time job.” Some people sacrifice their social lives, some sacrifice sleep to write while working day jobs. I chose this way because I could, and Mr. King and I always wanted to drop out of the whole consumerism thing, so it made tons of sense for us. But to come back to the writing vs. publishing thing, my goal was to improve, find my voice and get my style right, not to publish a book. I knew that once I nailed those things, publication would eventually happen.

JKB:
I couldn't believe how refreshing it was to have TWO powerful, motivated, strong female characters in one brilliant book - and what's more, they were mystically connected! I know you've talked about how you got the idea for D100D, but who came up first in your head? Emer, or Saffron?

ASK:

Oh Emer came first. No question. The idea came from learning a lot about Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland, so that story went about three chapters before Saffron appeared on the page.

JKB:
And I must ask, because I could envision them so well and I ADORED the detail in these pages...were the capes for real? Because I LOVE THEM. :-) I would come back as a pirate just for the cape, I swear.

ASK:

The capes were made up in my head. But pirates did wear capes at the time, so I bet you could find one if you came back as a pirate. You might have to embroider them yourself, though.

JKB:
(Crap. I can't embroider. Better get on that.) How did you work with the multiple POVs that take place in the book? Lotsa revisions? Or beta readers?

ASK:

I didn’t have beta readers aside from Mr. King. (See virtual cave comment above.) I revised the crud out of this book over many years. That said, multiple POVs are part of how I write novels. Most of my books have them in one way or another, so I’m used to working with them. During the writing of my last two or three novels, I’ve developed a way to keep track more accurately by making headers for each part, making a table of contents, printing it, taping it together, highlighting each POV in a different color, and then rearranging or cutting, etc. to make sure it works. Multiple POV isn’t for everyone—writers or readers. But I like it and it’s just the way my stories come out.

JKB:
Do you have tons of betas?


Or in keeping with a unique outlook, do you dance in a circle five times with your completed manuscript, bury it under a full moon and sing a sea chanty over it before sending it to your agent?

ASK:

I have beta readers now—a few trusted eyes and brains. But usually, only I know when a book is ready. I liken this to the question, “Does my ass look fat in these jeans?” See—you can ask as many people as you want, but if you think your ass looks fat in the jeans, then nobody else’s opinion matters. I do let books sit a lot during revisions.


After a first draft, I give it a month or two, then after that first big chop-chop revision, I give it another month, etc. repeat, rinse, until I know. Then I let it sit for another month to make sure. Revise and give to Mr. King. He’s a great first reader. Then, I revise on any points he makes, and can usually trust myself enough to send to my agent.

JKB:
This is fantastic advice. So D100D came out, and was a critic's darling. EVERYONE loved this book. Did you do any marketing for yourself? Did you find anything in particular helpful?

ASK:

I would not call it a critic’s darling. (JKB: I WOULD) But yes, outside of the usual snarky anonymous review venues, many people did love the book. Marketing is a funny thing. I don’t have a lot of money, so I didn’t go all out on expensive stuff. I am a complete and utter tech geek and a slight recluse, so I really wanted to use the internet as much as I could. Mike over at ktf designs made me an awesome website.


The minute we got close enough to release, I started to blog regular contests, which is great, because the other kind of blogging is really hard for me, so contests helped me a lot, and they’re fun. I think the one thing I try to do when I’m online is remember that the internet is not a billboard. Don’t spam your book. Spam looks like spam. If you join a forum/blog/loop or two, don’t just show up to toss some book spam around. Help out. Be a part of the community. Let people get to know you. Be yourself. And my #1 advice for the entire journey = be nice.


I think the most helpful thing I did was—though I did not do it for marketing purposes—I drove around and got to know my local independent booksellers. Not only were they enthusiastic, awesome people who cared a lot about the same stuff I did, but many of them went out of their way to help me. I asked my friends in other cities to tell me the names of their favorite indie booksellers and when I got my ten ARCs (I asked my publicist for these, and I was very fortunate that he let me have them because ARCs are expensive) I sent or hand-delivered every one of them to these booksellers.


To my complete surprise, one of them read an ARC of my book and it eventually became an Indie Next List pick for teens. I think that was really good for the marketing of the book, no doubt, with the added bonus of my being able to talk about something that I believe in—community based businesses. All enthusiastic booksellers are important to a book, and to authors, so if you don’t have indies nearby, make sure to introduce yourself to all of your local booksellers. Some will look at you as if you’ve got three heads. That’s fine. But a great bookseller is someone who ultimately loves books and sells them very well. Giving them a reason to like you is never a bad thing.

JKB:
(That was not great advice - it is FABULOUS INFORMATION!)


What is the scariest part of being you: a published author with a fantastic book that won awards?


(Because honestly, although that's everyone's dream, what happens AFTER that happens? It's still same old same old, right?)

ASK:

It is the same old same old in some ways. I think most aspiring writers think that getting published is the END. But it’s not. Criticism still happens. Rejection still happens. Just
wait until you get your first editorial letter. This is hard work, and from what I can see, most of it is achieved after a sale. But it’s always worth it. You and your editor are partners who have one objective: to make the best book you can together.


Then, once you release, there are fan mail and good reviews on one side, and bad reviews and hate mail on the other side. Which is why it’s so so so so important to write because you love writing. I still love writing, so I still write books and get a total buzz out of it the way I always did back on my farm, by myself, with my chickens. If I had only been writing to publish? A lot of things about this business would have bummed me out.


Considering that, I guess the scariest part of being a published author for me is that I will one day lose the buzz, or the ideas, or the ability to write good books. On the business side, I suppose we’ve all heard enough publishing horror stories to fear that our careers could flush into the septic tank at any minute. I try to focus on the writing and keep my same values and ideals as top priorities. Recently, in fact, I’ve discovered that writing and publishing compare a lot to a past job of mine—breeding chickens. So, I try to stay Amy the chicken breeder—and make decisions based on the same logic she had when she was breeding chickens. Blog to come on that subject. With pictures.

JKB:
Good. Because I'm fond of chickens.


You are one heck of a wonderfully eclectic person, and as a fellow eclectic, could-be-insane person I heart you tons. How have you managed to keep that eclecticism in the dog-eat-dog world (pun intended) of publishing?

ASK:
I consider that a huge compliment, so thank you. My answer: I can’t change me, Jen. I can’t turn my blue eyes into brown ones and I can’t wear high heels or nail polish. I know who I am, and I’m happy with that person. I’ve been me for quite a while, now, and so far nothing has changed me. To relate this to writing, I know my voice and my style. It’s not for everyone. But neither am I. My mother used to say “Amy, people will either love you or they’ll hate you.” She was right. I’ve met people in my life who have done both. So, here I am. I’m a weirdo and I’m proud of it. I wave my freak flag high.

JKB:

Freaks unite! :-D


I know whilst in Ireland you bred rare poultry. What was your favourite breed? (I'm partial to the Silkies, myself!)

ASK:
I was very partial to bantam Modern Game because they were little, and weird and they stood up so tall and made such funny high-pitched noises. They were also really easy to keep in the muck of Ireland (you know it rains a lot, right?) because they were hard-feathered birds with long legs. I made my poultry-breeding living on Blue Orpingtons, though. We were a good match because Orpingtons are weird and really docile, and so am I.

Thanks Amy! You RAWK!

AND NOW:

I'm offering up a Treasure Chest (ARRR!!) of chocolate goodies with a copy of D100D topping for one of my darling readers! Our Dear Interviewee has been, throughout her life, a: breeder of rare poultry; a photographer; a master printer; a pizza delivery driver; an electrician; a self-sufficient smallholder; a swimming addict; and (her favorite job ever) a literacy teacher.

To be entered in the contest to win my German Chocolate and Book Treasure Chest (ARRR - well, it's mandatory, people!) comment here and tell me what all YOU'VE been in your life.

Since I bought an extra chocolate ration for myself (mmm with caramel inside!!!) I will report here what I've done: I've been a soda-jerk, a polo player, a Kakadu hiker, a Technical Writer, a polo groom, a breeder of rare sighthound dogs, a small business owner, a devoted world traveller, and a painter.

How about you? Comment to win! We'll keep it at a decent days amount, so let's say by Friday afternoon next I'll choose the winner!

ARR!!

It's not just me that loves this book. Go check out these Rad Reviews!


Presenting Lenore

The Book Muncher

We Heart This!

Cynthia Leitich Smith

Writer Unboxed


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Six Degrees of Coffee

The barista is sixteen. In the spring, she will graduate with a AA degree and transfer to a university to study for her bachelor’s.
She likes reading mystery novels and science fiction with a noir bent. She is extremely articulate and actually intellectually intimidating. It is easy to mistake her for a bubble-headed bleach blonde. She is anything but. I suspect she is smarter than all the rest of us in the shop put together.
A mother and twenty-something daughter are enjoying their coffee at the table across from me. The daughter is annoyed. Her mother has a bad habit of answering the phone and just talking away, despite the fact that her daughter is sitting across from her and that they are in a public coffee shop.
I repress the desire to take the mother’s cell phone and flush it down the toilet. I am certain the daughter would either applaud my efforts, or kick my ass.
At another table next to the mother and daughter team is a man, in his thirties, dressed similar to me, in slacks and a nice shirt. He is working on an expensive laptop, one of those awesome portables that have a good screen and a keyboard, but is thin. His laptop is twice as thin as mine. The keys make an IBM AT keyboard sound when pressed. He types fast.
The man is enjoying his coffee. He seems to be focused on a deadline, because he didn’t flirt with the barista when he ordered. Everyone flirts with the barista. Everyone with a pulse, that is. Perhaps he is a law researcher.
He has expensive shoes. From Nordstrom. Whatever this man does, he makes good money. Nice laptop, nice shoes, focused intent. I can dig it.
I cannot see his ring finger, so sorry, ladies, I do not know if he is married or not.
Stuffed in the corner behind me is Fantasy Dude. Fantasy Dude comes here to read and drink coffee, a Gigante Latte, sometimes iced. I see him here with a fantasy book almost every time I stop by. One time he came in with Stephen King’s Under the Dome. It took him only two days to read. Go, Fantasy Dude, Go!
I am sitting in Fantasy Dude’s chair. It’s the best chair in the shop, and would be perfect except there is no outlet near it . So when my laptop (not as nice as the laptop described above) runs out of juice, I have to move. He usually takes my spot in some unwritten Coffee Shop Chair Etiquette Rule. I like to think I’ve warmed it up for him.
Curse you laptop without an extended battery. Curse you!
The sixth person in the coffee shop is a writer. Usually, he is here working, needing no office, but only an internet connection. Sometimes he comes here to write for fun, having completed his work for the day.
Sometimes he comes here to observe.
But that really is the same thing, isn’t it?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Two Month Check-Up

I'm not a hard-core "January is the month to make New Year's Resolution" sort of girl. In fact, I'm pretty much of the belief that any day is a good day to make goals. This way, I am able to evaluate my needs, focus my resources, and head in the direction I want to go through-out the entire year. Who needs to wait until January to do that?
 

This being said, awareness of one's goals and destinations -- and doing frequent checks -- allows one to tweak or realign or detour until the goal is back in sight.

So, for all of you who created writing goals this past January (or whenever), where are you? How are you doing? Are you on track?

If you're not, what can you do to get back on the pathway? Is it your goal that needs fiddled with? Your Action Plan? Your choices?

If you haven't set writing goals, it's not too late. Without a distinct end in mind or a plan to get there, you're likely to end up treading water. The writing world is a fun place to be...but only if you're going somewhere.

Where are you going?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Donald Maass Workshop

The workshop was fantastic. What Donald does is help you look at your book from a different angle. You analyze the book from a "how can I make it better?" approach.

Our first exercise was to take a good look at your protagonist. What are her/his motivations? What's the goal.

They don't have one? You have a serious problem.

OK, let's say that they do have a motivation. How strong is it? Is it something that will drive them to do average things? You still have a problem.

To be a good story your protagonist has to be driven out of their comfort zone, and so do you. You have to put them through hell, and let them come out the other side a stronger person.

What will make your protagonist's motivation stronger?

Got it?

OK, now make it even worse.
Is your protagonist going to make it through? What if they fail? What if someone else has to come in and save the day?

OK, now make it even worse.

You get the idea? It's hard to think of putting your characters through situations that hurt them, but it's necessary. You are very emotionally in sync with your character, but the reader is not. In order to get your readers to care about your character, you have to put them through terrible trouble, otherwise, there isn't a story.

One part of the seminar for me was really cool. Donald asked to read dialog from one of our manuscripts. I happened to be close, so he picked mine.

His goal was to critique it, and make it better. After reading the passage, he was pretty much at a loss to do so. After a few minutes he did come up with some ideas, but he told me when he handed back my manuscript, that it was really hard, and that the scene was written very well.

Walking out of the room, my head barely fit through the door, but I'm better now.

Here is the scene. You have to read Lester's part as a redneck.

“So how did you find out about the affair?” Hicks asked.

Lester flushed red once more.

“She told me she wanted a di-vorce.”

“Just like that? No warning?”

Lester paused in thought for a moment.

“I guess she was gone a lot before it happened, but I never knew anything was happenin til she told me.”

“What did you do?” Hicks asked.

“Why the fuck do ya care bout this shit?” Lester asked.

“Answer the question Lester. The answers all go toward your guilt or innocence.”

“Well I don’t see how any a this makes a diffrence.”

“Answer the question please.” Hicks ordered.

Lester snarled.

“What do you think I did?”

“Did you hit her?”

He didn’t respond.

“I said did you hit her?”

Still no response.

“Answer the question.” Hicks barked.

“No, I never touched her.”

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Planning the end from the beginning

I've lost confidence in my ability to find my way through a story without mapping it out first.

I used to enjoy inventing characters and then trusting them to lead me through their stories. But now I've been burned by several of these characters, who have led me on convoluted journeys to dead ends.

So...

Now I find I have to take over, and plan the stories out myself - from the first step to the final destination. And rather than invest too heavily in writing an unmapped story, I will only write whose ending I know and like.

The question I haven't yet been able to answer is, does this kind of cautious writing stifle creativity?



Friday, February 19, 2010

Are you shooting yourself in the foot?

I know this sounds like an odd question, but bear with me.

Think about your present WIP. Tell me the first word that pops into your head. Or the first feeling.

Now think about your writing process. Tell me the first word that pops into your head. Or the first feeling.

Are you querying? No prob. Tell me the first word or feeling that pops into your head.

Now I want you to take a step back and look at those words.

What are you telling yourself about your writing, your passion, every day?

I believe this is really, really important. Because your brain is set up to bring about that which you think. You feel. If you're down on your WIP, it's gonna show. If you're feeling insecure and hating the agent search (and by association, yourself for putting yourself through it) it's gonna show.

Now I'm not saying that you need to go into the process with rainbows and puppies, all right? But these damaging thoughts:

- why am I trying anyway? I know it's a crapshoot.
- but so and so agent said NEVER to do this! If I do this, I'm stupid!
- oh crap, another rejection. This is NEVER gonna work.
- why can't I get past this stupid, stupid scene? I hate this scene! I hate you, scene!

and others only hurt your process. Remember, you're doing this because you love it and you're LEARNING, for crying out loud, with every sentence and scene and chapter and section and book you're doing. Don't knock yourself up about it! What's the point? Life is too short.

I do not pretend to know everything, and I can't and won't offer you advice on how to do anything I haven't done myself. But I struggled with this for a long time until I just had the paragraph thought you see above you, at the end of last year.

There's no rush! Publishing is not gonna break down tomorrow! It might substantially change, but that'll just mean you're a forerunner. If you don't get your book done, your agent, your book deal RIGHT THIS SECOND, life will not end.

It won't.

And if you can control your thoughts about your situation, it might - might - even get sweeter. Just a thought.

:-)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Word Games Writers Play


I love word games, as in family-style, sit around the table and play games. When I was doing all my tech writing a few decades ago (dating myself, here), I wish I would have played word games more often. Perhaps I would have moved on to creative writing sooner.

What are some of your favorite word games?

Scrabble: I got this version one year and love it. LOVE. It is an extra-sized board, has little ridges to keep the pieces in and wheels on the bottom to turn the board to face you. More importantly, it has more tiles! It’s the perfect Scrabble kit!

I have a variation of house rules, when playing with adults: forming three letter or less words causes you to take a drink of whatever alcoholic beverage has been set aside for this nefarious, but appropriate, purpose.

Bananagrams: This is my second favorite game. Ever. There is no taking turns. There is no set board. There isn’t even a time limit, although it is a speed game. The rule is simple: form a crossword with your tiles independently of the other players. Here are the simple rules. Look them over and you can see Bananagrams, for the writer in you, is a bit of the 'ole Awesomesauce.

Wordplay: This one is a bit more challenging than the other two above, but strangely more absorbing. Like Banagrams, everyone plays every round. From the product description: The spinner determines the letters and category for each round. For instance, the category might be "Food & Drink", and you may be looking for words that begin with a 'P' and contain an 'A' - 'Pizza' and 'Pasta' may come to mind, or maybe 'Pancakes' and 'Peaches'.

Lexogon: The last time I played this, I learned some new words from other people, so there you go. It’s a vocabulary game that isn’t as demanding as Scrabble, but it’s still a thinking game. From the product description: Find a word that uses the 3 clue letters in order, but arranged in the special way required by the current color category. For example, with the clue letters BGS and the category "first clue letter must be first; last clue letter must be last", a successful response would be BOGUS or BAGS.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Doing it Zombieland-Style


When it comes to Science Fiction and Fantasy, there are two camps of serious thought and one tent of musings:

1. Science fiction and fantasy must be integral to the plot. The elements are not a fashion accessory, clasped on for effect. In fact, if you removed the science fiction aspect, the story itself would disappear.

2. You can do whatever you please in the science fiction and fantasy worlds. After all, it's your world. The only rule that matters? Don't contradict yourself; insist upon consistency within your rules.

3. Write whatever sells. Indeed, make the neighbor a serial killing vampire.

Drawing Lines in the Sand

I contemplated these three sets of thought the other weekend when I finally got around to watching Zombieland. I've listened to heated debate (or perhaps supercilious sniffing) on the various sides and have found that each one has a valid point or two. But after watching Zombieland, which I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed in a sick, zombie-kind of way, I'm going to go pitch my tent in Camp 2.

I say this because I really think there could have been a story without the zombies; after all, it could have been a gang or killer bees or any other phenomenon that set the story into motion. Certainly, I preferred the zombies, but they didn't make the story happen. That point + the point that it was an enjoyable movie = Camp 2. Follow?

Drawing Hearts in the Sand

Why is this important enough to write about? Because my aha! was a rather simple one: the story was about relationships. And, ultimately, isn't that what every successful story is about? Character development depends, in part, upon fleshing out relationships and tying together frayed edges of disintegrating ones.

And relationships don't have to be between the living or the un-dead. When we learn that Tallahassee lost his son to zombies, we see a glimpse of the relationship he had with the boy. This allows us to understand his inner-workings a bit more and even predict his future behavior.

As humans, we're always looking for survival information. Perhaps the toughest rules we must learn to negotiate exist within relationships...and anything that enlightens us in that regard, whether it's another zombie movie or the next Twilight, is going to win big. What are you doing to build on the relationships within your own writing?

Monday, February 15, 2010

I Got Lucky


OK, all of you with the dirty minds, can stop right there. That's not what I meant.

This year I thought about going to the San Francisco Writer's Conference, but I decided against it. I am not quite done with my latest WIP, though I am so close I can almost taste it. I don't like to query or meet with agents until I am completely done. I need a couple of weeks for the book to seep into my consciousness before I can write the query, or feel comfortable talking about it to an agent.

So, I wasn't going to go. But the one reason that I wanted to go was because famed super agent Donald Maass, was going to be putting on one of his "Writing the Breakout Novel" classes. I have always wanted to go to one of them, and I almost went to the conference just for that class. But I didn't.

Now it was time for fate to step in, in the form of a huge snowstorm that pretty much shutdown the East Coast. It was such an apocalyptic storm that no one could go anywhere, and thus, Donald Maass wasn't able to get out here for his class. I was pretty happy that I hadn't paid the $600 for the conference, if I wasn't going to be able to get into his class.

The organizers got together in a football huddle (my guess anyway) and decided to move Donald's class to Monday, the day after the conference is over. I suspect that will mean that a lot of folks have already left for home, and the class will be much smaller. Just the way I like it.

So, yes, I'm going. I'm excited. Actually make that SUPER EXCITED!!

As you are reading this blog, I will be learning how to write the next breakout novel. I'll let you know what I learned, next week.

Anybody else going to be there? Anybody have any questions you want asked?

FYI, I heard that the snowstorm pretty much shut down Washington D.C., but nobody noticed. :-))

Friday, February 12, 2010

Hope and Dreams

Happy Friday!

I love posting on Fridays. I love remembering I *need* to post on Fridays, too. Sometimes baby brain makes this second love a problem. Like last week. Sorry.

So today I'd like to ask you - in a perfect world, with a perfect book, and a perfect book deal, as well as with your perfect agent...what one thing would you want most in the world? What would you get with your well-deserved gains?

Let's set aside reality for now. Let's look at the one thing, just for you, that you would purchase with your gigantic, humungous, ridiculous advance. (hee) Dream big!

Here, I'll go first.

This is mine. I adore Sweden, and while I wouldn't necessarily want to live there in the winter, the idea of a summer cottage (Red, of course, with blue and white shutters), blatting goats, honking geese and the wide wilderness of the moors there to go hiking through...ah, bliss. BLISS!

I would go there in the summer and take the kids/cats/hubs along. They'd have that one golden place that you always seem to remember having as an adult from when you were a kid, I'd be in my happy place, and my hubs would be unplugged from the internet (tho we'd have it, natch) and able to sleep on a hammock underneath whispering ash trees as a renewal.

*happy sigh*

That is what I want most in the world.

You? What would you get?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Delicious Dialog

I'm a sucker for dialog. A delectable bit of dialog in a book will stick with me forever.

When I was fourteen, this bit of fun was programmed into my genetic code during one hot summer night:

She waited, big smile on face and body undulating, while I applauded. Before I was done, two little boys flanked me and added shrill endorsements, along with clog steps. So I tipped them and told them to be missing; Wyoming flowed to me and took my arm. "Is it okay? Will I pass?"

"Wyoh, you look like a slot-machine sheila waiting for action."

"Why you dreklich choom! Do I look like slot-machine prices? Tourist!"

"Don't jump salty, beautiful. Name a gift. Then speak my name. If it's bread-and-honey, I own a hive."

"Uh--" She fisted me solidly in the ribs, grinned. "I was flying, cobber. If I ever bundle with you--not likely--we won't speak to the bee. Let's find that hotel."

--Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Yummy! Dialog like that makes me all squishy. I've never forgotten that passage. I think I liked the dialog better than the plot (don't tell my fellow Libertarian friends, they would string me up)!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Do You Know It All?


Well, do you? I'm sure you know a teenager or two who thinks s/he does. And honestly, the eye-rolling, sigh-humphing, drawn-out vocalisms are overly tedious to those of us who must endure them. But that's not the kind of "knowing" that I mean.

Think about it for a minute. No, seriously. Take a deep breath and consider: What do you know?

We're told from the moment we pick up the pen that we need to write what we know. For years, I threw up my hands, thinking, "Um. I know nothing." And then, after teaching for over a decade, I threw up my hands, thinking, "Um. I have zero desire to write about teaching." But that's not the point. That's not what I should be writing about. (Though, admittedly, all sorts of people really do write what they know. Kathy Reichs, for example.) It's deeper that that, however. Much deeper. It's about relationships and human interactions and growing up. It's about becoming a better person and learning about yourself and learning to think about others. In fact, writing is a little like growing up.

So think: What do you know? What do you want to know? What are you doing to find out?

Orson Scott Card explains that "a good storyteller's education never ends, because to tell stories perfectly you have to know everything about everything." He goes on to admit that, obviously, "none of actually achieves such complete knowledge -- but we should live as if we were trying to" (How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy 61).

This, then, is not about the protagonist or the lesson he desperately needs to learn. This is not about the pain your heroine undergoes, metal in a forge, to become the person she should be. This is about you, the author, learning, enduring, seeking, questioning, and more.

What do you do to learn? How do you research? How do you spark that creative genius within your soul? What's your magic process?

Monday, February 8, 2010

What's Your Favorite Part of the Writing Process?


  • Do you like to start a new book?
The good things about starting a new book, is that you get to dream up some new characters, new setting, and new plot. The bad thing about starting a new book is that it's like wandering through a forest, you might have an idea where the road home is located, but you don't know how to get there. This is not my favorite part of the process.

  • What about the middle of the book?
The good things about the middle of the book are that you have a much better idea of where you are going, have most of your characters in place, and maybe you know the ending. Sometimes I know the ending, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I think I know the ending, but it changes when I reach it. That's the great thing about writing, you get to make everything up. However, this is still not my favorite part of the process.

  • The end of the first draft?
For me, the end of the first draft is when I have written the entire story into a set of spiral bound notebooks. Once complete, I probably have 80% of the story complete. I say 80% because inevitably I still add scenes, and delete scenes in the type and edit process. I feel a great sense of accomplishment when this is complete, but I know there is still a lot of work to do.

  • First draft typed in?
This is a great feeling. I'm at this stage when all the text from the many notebooks I scribbled in, has finally made it to a Word file. It's at this point that I back it up to like twelve different places, you know, just in case. When I've reached this point, the book is 95% complete, and it feels like it's all downhill from there. Even though this is quite a thrill, it's still not my favorite part.

  • Reading through first draft?
Ding, ding, ding, ding, we have a winner. I love reading through the entire draft once it has all been typed in. Along the way I have done major editing, and the book is actually in pretty good shape. I read through the book, make all kinds of notes on the pages, and keep track of which scenes need to be lengthened, shortened, tweaked, tension added, more explanation, etc. By this time, I have forgotten most of the beginning of the book, and reading through it is like visiting it for the first time.

  • Revising the second draft?
This is probably my second favorite part. I usually wait a few weeks after the first draft was completed before I dive into this one.

  • Revising the nth draft?
After the second draft, I'm usually done with the book, and may not want to see it for quite a while.

So what's your favorite part of the writing process?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Success

What is the most important factor in success?
Is it hard work?
Is it talent?
Is it dumb luck?

Oh, I know it's easy to say they're all important. But what have you seen, and what do you think, really?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hack Writer Proofreading Tricks

When memorizing a piano piece, I learn the piece “backwards.” For example, on a twenty measure song, I will memorize measure 20, then measures 19 and 20, then measures 18, 19, and 20. By the time I reach measure 1, that song is seared into my poor brain.

Now, I’m not the world’s best proofreader of my own work. It is fair to say I sucked at it. Then, in a moment of clarity brought about by a particularly tasty tuna fish sammich and a crisp sauvignon blanc, I decided to proofread my novel going backwards, not page-by-page, but chapter-by-chapter.

I almost doubled my typo and grammatical boo-boo finding. It’s also a slower read. There is something about reading a disjoined novel this way that really brings out the focus on words and sentence structure, rather than falling back in love with my own writing. I already love my writing, Ms. Story, leave me be to fix the mistakes.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Scene Endings


With all this talk of prologues and epilogues I thought it would be interesting to take a look at ending a scene. The type of works that I write are thrillers. They are supposed to make you want to keep reading all night, instead of what you should be doing, which is sleeping. So what is it about writing scenes for this genre, that makes you want to keep going?

It's very cliche to think of ending every scene with a death defying cliffhanger, and I think your reader will catch on pretty quickly that's what you are doing. In fact trying to create your scenes so that you always end on some kind of do or die moment, will likely make the plot, and the book very predictable.

So how do you keep the reader going? How do you get them to want more?

There are probably lots of times when you do want to leave your protagonist hanging by his pinkie finger over a flaming pool of lava, but as I mentioned you can't do it at the end of every scene. What I do, is mix in questioning. It can be inner questioning or external questioning.

What I call inner questioning is when the character questions what they are doing. The following are simplified for ease of understanding. Your scenes will have extensive buildups.

"If I launch this virus, millions will be saved, but hundreds will also die. What should I do?"
OK, so that's a very dramatic one, but you need those.

"Why did I do that? What's going to happen to me now?"
No do or die, but depending on the consequences, it can be tense.

"Should I tell my friend that his wife is having an affair with a vampire?" (No, I don't write in that genre)

What I call external questioning is when one character waits for a response from another.

"Don't do it Max. They'll send us all to the slammer."

"Ellen, take those goggles off before you fry your brain."

"Hand me that wooden stake." (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Like everything else in story telling, once again it comes down to conflict. Leave the reader with a conflict, whether internal, external, or dramatic action, but mix it up, and keep them guessing. The more tension you leave them with, the more they will want to open up that next chapter.