Tuesday, July 31, 2012

On writer's block, or GIVE ME ALL YOUR INVISIBLE GUNS, MICHAEL

Someone asked penmonkey extraordinaire Chuck Wendig how to get over performance anxiety as a writer. You can see the full question and Chuck's brilliant answer here, on terribleminds.com. I had the same problem for.... oh, fifteen years or so. Here's how I got over it, in one simple phrase.

Don't write THE story; write A story.

Oh, that's not enough? Here's an object lesson from pop culture. Watch this 11-second clip.




That's Michael Scott from The Office, explaining why he ruins every single scene in his improv class by crashing through an invisible door with an invisible gun and going into FBI stand-off mode. No one else can tell an interesting story because Michael always wants to tell THE MOST EXCITING STORY because he's worried that without invisible guns, he'll be powerless. So the teacher confiscates all of his invisible guns.

So let's assume WRITING THE WORLD'S BEST STORY = Michael busting into a room with guns. Or, in the case of a writer, a golden gun. Because we all want to write the perfect story, right?

I would like to join Chuck in collecting all of your invisible guns.

Let's break it down.

1. THERE ARE INFINITE GREAT STORIES THAT DO NOT INVOLVE GUNS.
Put 100 people in a room. Tell them, "A normal boy named Harry goes to a new school and something weird happens. Write a story." You will get 100 vastly different stories. Harry will be different. His new school will be different. The weird thing that happens will be different. What will set the stories apart won't be the concept--it'll be the writing. J.K. Rowling didn't do anything new-- she just did it really well. And without a single gun.

2. THE WRITING, NOT THE GUN, MAKES THE STORY AMAZING.
Just as an improv scene's success is based on the actor's skills and experience and not the invisible gun, the writing is more important to a story than the subject. You must write stories in order to improve as a writer. It doesn't matter how great your story idea is. It's not going to be THE perfect story. It's not going to be a bestseller. It's not going to sell for a bajillion dollars. You have to write a lot of crap before you get even close to that, so you might as well assume you're going to write crap for a while. Adding a gun isn't going to make your crap look like gold.

3. BEAT YOUR GUN INTO A PLOWSHARE AND GET TO WORK.
Go to writing groups. Go to critique groups. Do flash fiction. Challenge yourself to tell 140-character stories on Twitter. Force yourself to share your stories publicly, as the public can always tell crap from gold. Sacrifice your work and your pride and learn, bit by painful bit, to accept criticism. Everyone starts writing crap. No one gets to start at the front of the line. Get used to the idea that there are tons of stories out there, waiting to be told, and that none of them are THE ONE. You don't see Eddie Izzard or Louis CK pulling out an invisible gun every five minutes during their stand-up routines, do you? No.

4. LEARN TO RECOGNIZE WHEN YOU HAVE UNEARTHED GOLD WITH YOUR GUN-PLOW.
Maybe you have a flash fiction piece that received some favorable comments. Maybe you sold a short story. Maybe someone in your writing group said something nice about a sentence or a character. Figure out what made that story or character work. Maybe you're good at humor, action, deep characters, clever twists. DO THAT THING MORE. That right there? That's your real weapon.

5. REMEMBER THAT GOLDEN GUNS BEGIN AS LUMPS OF GOLD.
Let's say you've internalized 1-4. You're getting pretty good at this writing thing. You have a great idea, a character and a story that excite you. You have the raw materials to make that golden gun. Should you sit down at the keyboard and think OMIGOD, THIS HAS TO BE PERFECT?

NO. Because nobody makes a golden gun on the first try.

Just remember that the first draft is going to be crap. You can always go back and fix it, polish it up, add more elements to your story. It's never too late to change something or, hell, rip the entire thing to shreds and start over. Lots of great and published writers do this with every book. I saw no less than 3 traditionally published, well-known writers bemoaning their huge revision letters on Twitter just this morning.

Great writing takes time. Great stories take time and reworking. Your story doesn't have to be perfect after the first draft, your second draft... or your seventeenth draft. Ask me how I know.

In conclusion, NO ONE WINS BY STARTING OUT WITH A GUN.

Now forget being perfect and go write A story, ANY story. YOUR story.

*







Sunday, July 29, 2012

flash fiction: Gatsby

Instructions: Write a short story about a character named Gatsby in 10 sentences.

*

Gatsby was all she had left, after the fire. He reclined on the inn's dark wood floor in an elegant heap, silently judging her with shimmering yellow eyes. No matter what she did, no matter how many doors she closed in the suite, the cat was there beside her, posing against a bookshelf or in a sunbeam like a black-and-white photo from Vanity Fair. Bathing himself with one elegant paw, running it over and over his black fur in the style of a panther hidden in the jungle trees, waiting to strike from the darkness. Reminding her of the pretentious impotence of the life she'd left behind. She had though herself so superior and manipulative, winning the heart of a rich man's son. And she had thought herself so clever and strong, winning her freedom and fortune with one twist of a stove knob and the flick of a match. If not for her dead husband's cat, the damnable, accusing, purebred, thinks-his-butt-don't-stink cat, she could have finally been happy. That's what she told herself as she picked up the axe. That's what she told herself as she hacked and hacked and hacked at the empty space on the elegant parquet floor, trying to kill the thing that was already gone yet would never really leave.

Found on the floor of my studio while cleaning.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

what next?

I'm about to finish up my last big deadline until book 3 is due this winter. Unless something really exciting happens, that means I have a couple of months of freedom.

SWEET FREEDOM!

And that means I'm going to need to pick up a new project. Here are the front runners:

1. New MG idea - THE WIND LASS - adventure, girl protagonist, kinda steampunky, kinda magic, involves travel by camel-pulled balloon and breaking a curse.

2. Finish BLACK PARADE, a YA about a contemporary teen girl who goes into a coma and ends up in Sang as a Bludman. Inspired by the video/song The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance.

3. Finish SPARROWHAWK, a historical fantasy YA about a teen girl, underground goblins, and The Crystal Palace in London. Inspired by the ball in Labyrinth. And yes, the Goblin King *is* rather hot.

4. Polish PAYBACK, a contemporary YA about the first day of dystopian rule. What would happen if credit card companies could kill you? It's finished but needs a lot of revision.

5. Something entirely different.

Show of hands? Bueller? Bueller?

What should I work on next?

*

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

my past life

I had a revelation today while glowering through the dishes and cooking dinner.

I know who I was in a past life.

Consider this:

THINGS DELILAH LOVES:
* antiquated fashion, especially with dapper jackets, vests, breeches, hats, and boots
* boys with long hair
* riding horses, shooting bows and guns, and gallivanting through the forest
* art, poetry, books, and writing
* pretty things
* pocket watches
* swoopy velvet couches and, specifically, lounging on them
* damask

THINGS DELILAH DISLIKES
* cleaning
* cooking
* doing laundry
* doing anything she's told, ever

I think it's clear. In my past life, I was either Lord Akeldama or Lord John Grey.

I was a fop, old chap, and a darned good'un.

Let's get back to that post-haste, yes?

*

Anybody else know who they were in a past life, even a bookish one?

*

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

junk in/from my steampunk trunk


One of my favorite things about dressing steampunk is the way that having a big caboose makes your waist look smaller. Whether you're adding a bustle, a ruffle, or side panniers, big hips and a bodacious booty are actually a plus.

And when you have an amazing and talented friend who can mastermind turning a bodacious booty bustle ruffle into a PURSE?

Yeah.


There it is. It's gorgeous. Made from a bag of fabric scraps from Damsel in this Dress, the bustle has a hidden secret.

PENS.


No, really. It's a PURSE. The top ruffles flip cleverly open to reveal a big purse, including four specially sized compartments for my phone, camera, and Sharpies. Everything I need at a con or event, right there on my butt.

I am so very HAPPY.

My friend Stephanie makes this kind of magic all the time. Not only is she an incredibly talented seamstress with mad design skills and a fantastic eye, but she's also one of the nicest, kindest, most generous, most supportive people I've ever met.

I've been a little down lately, what with all the hate and negativity and political commentary that keeps popping up on Facebook and Twitter. I have a bad habit of retreating into books and writing when I start to doubt my faith in humanity. But having good friends and making beautiful things helps me find my center again. Thanks, Steph, for totally making my day! The Rice Krispy Treats helped, too. <3

Oh, and if you call it a fannypack? I'll thwap you with my parasol.

*

Sunday, July 22, 2012

on perspective and cockroaches

Last night, I sat under an old gazebo and watched cockroaches do it.

I know, I know-- it's totally gross.

But it was also... kind of fascinating. They had gathered around a scuffed place on the wood, crawling up and around each other. About six of them. Like they were planning something. World domination, perhaps? And then two of them had a conversation with their antennae. And then they did it, right there.

If this scene had occurred in my house, I would have been disgusted. Much smashing and screeching and the oozing of cream-filled carapaces would have occurred. But because it happened outside, in the dark, in an old gazebo, surrounded by drizzle, after a margarita and at least ten feet away from me, it was educational. And fascinating.

I think it's a good reminder for writers that perspective can change a scene entirely.

The action? Something so simple. Two roaches mating. Unfortunately, it happens millions of times a day, all over the world.

But the scene is different from their perspective. From the creepy eyes of their pals. From me, an animal trivia buff. From my friend, who was far more disgusted than I was, possibly because she was still eating her cupcake. And the scene would have been far different, had it taken place in my kitchen, in my bathroom, in Buckingham Palace, on the floor of a McDonalds, or in the confines of a zoo terrarium. It would have been really different if they had been irradiated, ten-foot-tall mutant roaches.

Now forget the roaches and think about two people having a discussion and all the little things that could change the scene completely. How cold or hot is it, and is the cold or hot affecting the people involved? Is it a busy street with onlookers, or a quiet scene in the living room, or a stolen scene in a closed cemetery? Is it two guys, two girls, a guy and a girl? Do they have a history together? Is one scared or angry? Did one of the characters suffer a tragedy or a victory today? And are you writing first person or third or omniscient third? And, most importantly, how would they react if there was suddenly an enclave of roaches hellbent on making baby roaches just a few feet away?

Because here's another universal truth: it's impossible to watch cockroaches doin' it and not talk about cockroaches doin' it.

You learn something new every day... it's just not usually that gross.

*


Thursday, July 19, 2012

scattered thoughts on editing

A big revision is due tomorrow. I haven't missed a deadline yet. I'm not halfway done on this pass. So let's make this quick.

1. Try not to use an unusual word twice on one page. "The" or "man" is fine. "Frittered" or "posthumous" not so much. Words should never catch a reader's attention enough to draw them out of the story.

2. Remember to switch up your nouns when referring to the same thing over and over again on the same page. He/him/the old man/ the sailor/the grizzled seaman/Jack. Repetition is bad news.

3. If you forget a little detail, keep a list nearby as a reminder. I have one that says things like "hats off on the ship" and "remember gloves" and "neckline of blue dress." Consistency is important, especially when you make one change that ripples down. Your readers will notice minor details that you might lose track of while revising.

4. Every writer and every book has a word or phrase that's overused. In general, I use "little" a little too much. In this book, everything is done "darkly". I suggest going to Wordle and creating a word cloud for your book. The phrase/word you use the most will be the biggest word in the cloud, and then you can use Find to kill it throughout the document.

5. When you're in a big rush, don't stop to blog, even though it's important.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

a musical journey in an airship brothel

Here's the Spotify playlist I listened to while furiously hammering out the first draft of WICKED AS SHE WANTS, aka Blud book 2:


It's long. Etherial, girl-power-y, magical. You can listen to it here.

Now, here's the playlist I've been mainlining like powdered cupcake crack during one of the toughest, most deeply surgical revisions I've ever done.



It's shorter. Vicious. Hammering. Slinky at times, riddled with bursts of beauty but dark and relentless.

The book changed, and the music changed with it. *I* changed with it.

The book you want to write isn't always the book you end up writing, and that's not always the book you end up with.

The good news? The end result is usually a lot better.

Remember that change can be good. Find the music to get you there.

*


Monday, July 16, 2012

How to Know When Your Rejection Bladder is Busted

Last week, I discussed dealing with rejection as a writer. But that post assumes that you're determined to keep going.

What happens when you want to give up?

Here are some questions to ask yourself when you're trying to decide how badly you want to be traditionally published.

1. Do you want this?

2. Do you really, really want this? So badly that it obsesses you?

3. If you quit, would you miss it? Would you hate yourself? Would you worry that you had given up just before you finally made that breakthrough?

4. How far are you willing to go? Will you take a class? Find a critique partner or group? Go to a conference? Pay a professional editor? Buy some books on writing? Read some blogs? Spend more time reading?

5. Have you taken a really good look at why your query or story isn't working? Have you requested and received criticism? Have you applied it? Are you still making the same mistakes?

6. If you're querying, have you exhausted the entire pool of agents? Have you submitted your work to small and large presses that accept unagented work? Did any agents offer to look again after a requested revision? Are there any other contacts or avenues you can try, like signing up for pitch sessions at a conference?

7. If you have answered yes to every question, have you started writing your next book?

The bald truth is that getting published is hard as hell. It takes work. You have to write millions of words. You have to read thousands of books. You have to take classes and read books on craft and plot and do internet research. You have to open yourself up to criticism, knowing that the criticism is going to hurt your ego. You have to constantly strive to perfect your writing and know that wherever you are in your journey, there's always something new to learn.

You will see people succeed all around you. You will walk into bookstores and instead of thinking, "Yay, books!", you will think, "These guys are lucky bastards." Even if those lucky bastards spent ten years getting their first book on shelves and ten more years getting noticed, you will see only their success, never their struggle.

You will feel inadequate.

But.

When you're in the depths of despair, there's always hope. I found my hope by sending out queries. Each time I received a rejection, I sent another query out into the world. Another little packet of hope. Hope might be different for you-- a short story bought, a kind word from a critique group, a good story idea that keeps you busy. That little spark of hope is what keeps you going.

So here's what you need to decide: Will you ever forgive yourself if you give up now?

If the answer is no, keep going.

*

Sunday, July 15, 2012

end result trumps process


Did you see a different post here, a moment ago?

Nevermind.

Instead, I present you with a picture of me on the first day of FandomFest,
when I got to announce my last book sale.

This is how I'm going to look when I finish this big revision.

TRIUMPHANT.

And slightly mad.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

On Rejection: Or, Everybody Gets Punched in the Grief Bone

In exploring some writing themes this week, I've been asked one question several times:

How do you deal with rejection, and how do you keep going when you want to quit?

It's a good question, but a painful one. Here's the honest truth:

If you want to be published, you are going to be rejected A LOT.

First by agents. Then by editors. Then by readers and book bloggers.

So here's how I deal with it.

1. Separate yourself from your work.
When people offer criticism of your story or novel, they are not criticizing *you*. Learn to embrace criticism, consider it carefully, and use it to improve your writing.

2. SEPARATE YOURSELF FROM YOUR WORK.
I'm really serious about this one. Until you've made this mental leap, you don't need to bother trying to get published, whether traditionally or via self-publishing. You'll just make yourself miserable.

3. Never, ever respond to rejection with anger.
If you're prone to knee-jerk reactions, put a brick on your knee. You will never get an agent, sell a book, or find new readers by being a defensive jerk. You're never going to change someone's mind on the internet. Responding to an agent's rejection with an inflammatory email doesn't just blackball you from that agent; publishing is a small world, and word gets around. And responding to negative book reviews is like rolling around in chum and jumping into a shark tank.

4. When possible, use rejection to your advantage.
If you are very lucky and getting close, an agent might offer some advice on your writing. And this is great! Remember that these people spend all day reading books. Although opinions may vary, they know their stuff. I even thanked some of the agents who rejected me in the Acknowledgments of my first book. If your agented book gets to the submission table and the editor is kind enough to explain why they didn't buy it, pay very close attention. No matter how talented you are, there's always something about your writing that can be improved.

5. But! Try to avoid reading negative book reviews.
At first, I read the one-star reviews, hoping to find ways to improve my next book. But, honestly, by the time someone gives you a bad review, their complaints are more painful than uplifting and about something that you can't change, like your book cover or, say, the fact that vampires are *so* done. And negative reviews can sometimes criticize the writer instead of the writing, which will feel like a personal attack, even if it isn't one. I believe that once the book is out in the world, reviewers have every right to say whatever they wish... just please don't tell me about it, because it makes me feel terrible.

6. If it makes you feel better, look at the Amazon or Goodreads reviews for your very favorite book.
Chances are, thousands of people hate it. That always makes me feel better. I mean, there are people out there who didn't finish Outlander or thought it was the worst book ever written. Of course people are going to hate my book! No matter how good your writing might be, it still comes down to personal taste.

7. When all else fails, inch towards daylight.
I borrowed this concept from fantasy writer Matt Stover. No matter how bad the situation is, you can probably move one inch, right? Rejection is like that. When I was querying, I sent out a new query every time I received a rejection. It made me feel like there was one more bit of hope out in the world. And when I finally realized that my first book was dead in the water, I opened a blank document and started writing the next book. Any forward motion is better than holding still.

8. Remember that every writer has been rejected.
Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer-- every writer who now lives in their own castle has been rejected by agents and editors, often dozens of times. Publishing is finicky and strange and random. I've never heard of a single writer who struck it big with their first query, their first book, and their first huge sale. Most "instant success" stories involve years of hard, thankless toil and a box (or inbox) full of form rejections.

9. Never make major decisions based on rejection.
If you're going to give up writing, don't do it because of rejection. If you're going to self-publish, don't do it because you're sick of being rejected. Do it because you want complete creative control of your story and are willing to do the work and do it right, hiring a professional editor and cover artist. Don't quit your job or break up with someone or do anything major right after being rejected. Rejection destroys your ability to look at the big picture unemotionally and make informed decisions.

10. Don't think it gets any easier.
Rejection never gets easy. I still cry when I get big edit letters outlining how flawed my books are and how much work they still require. I have books my agent doesn't like enough to move forward. I have books go out on submission and not sell. Revising is always hard. Hitting DELETE always makes me wince. When I'm sitting at a book signing, and someone stands in front of me and picks up my book and then puts it right back and doesn't even make eye contact, it's like being punched in the grief bone.

Every stage of a writing career involves being rejected, and that's why the list goes right back to #1:

SEPARATE YOURSELF FROM YOUR WORK.

Any other questions? Ask away!

*

Friday, July 13, 2012

Look, Ma! I'm on TV!


Last night, I lucked into a fun interview with Ben at Tyrus Books, a fantastic crime and litfic press. Our conversation ran from my publishing story, to how I dealt with rejection when I wanted to give up, to why I can't tell my grandmother the name of my book, to why I don't think I could ever go the self-pub route. There's also a lot of laughing and product placement for Crystal Light.

Ben will be doing a different G+ hangout chat every Thursday night at 9pm EST with different writers and publishing people. You can tweet questions to @TyrusBooks on Twitter to hear them answered live or check the shows out on YouTube later.

If you've been on the fence about Twitter, here's one of the reasons I love it so much: You have the chance to connect with interesting people. I "met" Ben several years ago, before I was agented, much less with two book sales under my corset. He was recommending great new music for Amphetazine, and I was following anyone who had a bookish word in their bio, hoping to learn more about how to get published. Although he doesn't publish my genre and I don't read or write in his, we found mutual respect and interesting Twitter conversation. And now, here we are, three years later, making a live TV show, hoping to help other writers on their own publishing journeys.

Thanks for interviewing me, Ben. And thanks for connecting us, Twitter!

*




Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Breakfast Book Club: Or, How 80s Movies Can Help You Write


Writing requires rebellion, lying, stamina, beauty, and brains. 
Also, lockers. For storing all those deleted drafts and abandoned ideas.

I like 80s movies. I like writing. Here are 10 quotes to help you land the giant airplane of words on the foamed runway of victory without using that pesky autopilot.

1. Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn. ~Better Off Dead
So... that's how first drafts happen.

2. Looks like I picked a bad day to quit sniffing glue. ~Airplane!
If you're doing something difficult like writing or revising, now is not the time to go on a diet or start a new exercise regimen. Focus on one thing at a time. Note: This is why I talk a lot about cupcakes while I'm writing.

3. When I'm around you, I find myself showing off, which is the idiot's version of being interesting. ~LA Story
If you're showing off in your writing, people will notice. If your writing is excellent, nothing will stand out. Aim for Unconscious Competence, as described in this great article on rejection by a respected kidlit agent.

4. I am looking for a 'dare to be great' situation. ~Say Anything
Some people wait for "the one". The perfect idea, the perfect character. But any character or situation can be great, if you make it so. The writing is the most important part.

5. In this life, there are nothing but possibilities. ~Empire Records
Your story can go any direction at any time. If it's getting stale, introduce a new character, a new secret, a new revelation. Don't box yourself in by becoming to dedicated to one idea or destination. Don't force it.

6. The next time I have to come in here I'm crackin' skulls. ~The Breakfast Club
a) So... that's how revision happens.
b) There should always be a threat hanging over your characters' heads. Secrets that could be revealed. A crazy wife in the attic. A ticking clock or looming doom will up the energy and keep the characters and the readers guessing.

7. Mopery is exposing yourself to a blind person. ~Revenge of the Nerds
That is, know your audience. Romance readers won't want a complex description of an electric generator. Science fiction readers won't want to know how many grommets are on the corset. Amish love story readers won't want a grisly murder. Don't waste your time on things that will bore or disinterest your readers.

8. "Rue the day?" Who talks like that? ~ Real Genius
Word choice is tantamount to voice. A Russian aristocrat from the 1890s won't say, "Yeah, I guess I'm alright, but whatever." When you're writing and revising dialog, try reading it out loud to make sure the words would really be part of that character's vocabulary and voice. When in doubt, google a phrase to see when it came into common usage.

9. You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. ~The Princess Bride
Having Thesaurus.com on your dashboard is a great boon to writers, but make sure you really, truly know what a word means before you proudly tuck in a fifty-cent term. Know the difference between your/you're, their/they're/there, and lay/laid/lie. When in doubt, look it up. One wrong word can pull the reader entirely out of your story and give them reason to doubt you.

10. Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. ~Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Action is great. Energy moves the story. But make sure you add in quiet moments for your characters to process what's happenings. During the big fight scene is not the place for your protagonist to contemplate her relationship with her mother, but maybe just afterward, when she's in the hospital, would be a better time. Knowing why a character feels the way they feel helps us connect with them.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

This is Why I Write


See that gummy little pirate? Without him, I probably wouldn't be a writer.

I mean, before him, I blogged and did reviews and wrote snappy copy for brochures. But I never thought I was capable of writing an actual novel until he was about 9 months old.

And that's when I went crazy.

Why? Oh, lots of reasons. The constant demands of two children under three, the lack of sleep, the nighttime hallucinations.

That's right-- my first viable book was inspired by HALLUCINATIONS.

I was in the dark, trying to coax him to sleep, when I hallucinated that there were rats in the house who were actually tiny, magical, terrible people.

So I wrote it, because when you're so sleepy that you're hallucinating, sometimes you forget what is and is not possible. I had forgotten my limits. I had forgotten the fear of failing. I accepted that things were going to be messy and strange for a while, and that book became my path to sanity.

That's the book that attracted my agent, and that's the agent who sold my next book.

My son is almost four now, and I've written ten books since the day that picture was taken. I write when my children are asleep, when they're at school, when they're crouched under a blanket fort, watching Happy Feet on a portable DVD player. My writing may have grown out of a moment of weakness and, yes, madness. But it's become a career and part of my identity. Now, I don't know what I would do without it.

Everyone has a breaking point, and for me, it was lying awake at night beside a restless baby, crying on his bald little head, trying to figure out how to be a mother when I couldn't function as a person. Writing became my island, my escape. It gave me something to focus on outside of myself and my children and my family. I think everyone needs that island.

The next step will be writing a book my children can actually read, preferably something with a cover that doesn't include a half-naked dude.

And the dedication will read:

To my own favorite monsters, who started everything. 
I helped make you, and then you helped make me. With thanks and love, Mom.

*

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How to Kill Your Darlings

Sorry, honey. But the tighter you clutch it, the more it needs to go. You have to kill your darlings if you want to move forward as a writer. Here's how.

1. BUT THIS IS WHERE IT HAS TO BEGIN. Really? Says who? What would happen if it started earlier? Faster? Did you start with a dream, a character looking in the mirror, or a scene that involves disgusting bodily functions? Are you completely unwilling to compromise that first line at all? If so, you probably need to kill it. Resave your doc and start hacking.

2. BUT THIS IS THE PERFECT METAPHOR. Um, guess what? No one really cares. Being cute/clever doesn't win over the reader. Type the word "like" into the Find search box and see if you can slice out any of that gristle. Of course, *I* don't have to-- my agent murders them all like a badger at a kitten tea party.

3. BUT I CAN'T LET THAT CHARACTER SUFFER. You want to hear a book idea that never sold? "The perfect girl lived a happy life and got everything she wanted. The end." If you want the reader to care about your protagonist, she has to be just as flawed and strange as the rest of us. Don't make her a pariah, but make sure she has quirks, fears, struggles, and secret pain. And then see what else you can throw at her. Suffering makes us unique and ties us together, and we don't tend to like people who avoid the Noid of Turmoil.

4. BUT I NEED THIS SCENE. I see. You need it. But why? Because it moves your plot and character arc forward as no other scene can, or because it's cute or pretty or clever or came to you in a dream? If a scene isn't working and you keep trying to force it like a falling Tetris block, it might need to go. Or maybe that block fits somewhere else. The point is, if it sticks out like a sore thumb, prune it.

5. BUT THE NAME IS CLEVER. Oh, honey. No. You may not name your angel-masquerading-as-a-teen Michael Gregori. You are disallowed from calling a vampire Vlad or Spike. You are strictly forbidden from naming the villain Cruella deVil. I mean, seriously, do you think some poor woman gave birth to a chubby, yummy baby and said, "YOU WILL ONE DAY BE CRUEL, CRUELLA. MUAHAHA!" No. A name may "sound" good or dark or have a nice ring to it, but you're not fooling anyone anymore. Adolf and Damian were once really popular names and didn't take on nefarious feels until society dubbed it so. Most guys are actually named John or Jack or Steve. True story.

6. BUT THAT'S NOT THE WAY THE STORY GOES. Guess what, buttercup? If an agent wants to see revisions or an editor buys your story, things are going to change. How much do you want to move forward? What sacrifices are you willing to make? If you're not willing to change something for an agent, how willing will you be when an editor tells you flat-out that they require further changes to your precious angel? As I see it, once someone has sent me a check, I no longer own the story. They're my boss, and I have to make them happy, and if that means my heroine is now named Helga and she has a magical wooden leg, SO BE IT. If you don't want to play by those rules, I suggest you never try to have a book traditionally published and just write because you love it, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

7. BUT WHAT IF I CUT OUT THE WORDS AND THEY'RE GONE FOREVER AND IT'S NEVER THAT GOOD AGAIN AND WOE? Um, that's why you save the old draft and rename it before making changes. Hell, email it to yourself, if you're paranoid. Then start over fresh, bravely slicing paragraphs and giving yourself vast tracts of white space to fill with shiny new words. I've written ten books in three years now, and here's the honest-to-God truth: I've never once gone back to the original after making revisions. Throw your old shoes in the closet, lace on the new pair, take off running, and never look back.

8. BUT THIS IS HOW IT ENDS. Really? Show me where that's carved in stone. There are infinite ways to end a story and infinite ways to write those endings. What the writer wants to say isn't always what the reader wants to hear, and the ending will majorly determine if someone who finishes this book will pick up your next book. If an agent, editor, or writer you trust suggests a different way to end your book, at least consider it. It's easy to cling to the ending, just as it's easy to cling to the beginning.

9. BUT YOU SAID WE WERE DONE. Bad news. One round of revisions is rarely enough. Sometimes, the first big revision doesn't fully knit the story together. Sometimes, it just shows you how messed up things really are. And sometimes, like me, you rush through it and get sent firmly back with a smacked nose to do the dirty work. Even if your first big, painful, surgical, messy revision fixes things, you'll still have to go in repeatedly to smooth things over and pretty them up. And then come the copy edits. Heaven help you.

10. BUT EVERYONE WILL LOVE IT. Let me kill this darling for you right now: not everyone will love your book. Some people will probably hate it. Many people will feel indifferent, won't finish it, or will find things about it that make them squawk vehemently in their reviews. Kill the darling within you that wants to be universally liked. Kill the part of you that lets other people determine your value based on the number of roses or bullets or kissy-lips they give you on their blog. Kill that soft, squishy place in your heart that actually reads the one-star reviews. Kill that last darling, darling, and you'll be free.

Any other thoughts on the killing of darlings?

*

Monday, July 9, 2012

Revision Won't Kill You (Probably)

Revising is:

*necessary
*often painful
*demanding
*worthwhile
*serious
*the equivalent of surgery
*something that even the most famous and talented writers do
*something that you, therefore, will have to do, no matter what your mom says

Revising is not:

*fun
*easy
*something that can be done in two days
*something that you should feel antagonistic about
*something that you only need to do once
*something that can be done lightly or playfully
*something that you can cheat at
*more exciting than eating pistachio gelato

Revising requires:

*looking at the big picture
*being willing to make sweeping changes
*being open to hitting the delete button a lot
*closely considering motivation, plot, pacing, and the character arc
*taking notes, making comments on comments, drawing a timeline, or graphing things out
*spreadsheets
*knowing when to hold on and when to let go and when to fight for things you need
*lots of coffee
*lots of sugary pastries/chocolate as goal-inspired treats
*not drinking the entire bottle of wine, even when you want to

Not putting your all into your revisions means:

*your writing won't improve
*your agent and editor will say nasty things behind your back
*you're not learning anything
*your book is still broken has not yet reached its full potential (revised! thanks to my editor!)
*you're holding yourself back

Revising will not:

*ruin your book
*kill you (probably)

Therefore, I invite you to join me in fighting the good fight. Revising is not the battle, it's the war.

ON MY WORD, UNLEASH TRACK CHANGES!
*

Sunday, July 8, 2012

10 Tips for Barfing a Book

See that picture?

That's a picture of me, barfing.

Metaphorically.

Because I was writing a first draft, and I tend to think of my first drafts like barf.

That is to say... they come out fast and furious in one big, violent rush that I can't really stop. And what comes out is messy, chunky, and made of lots of disparate elements blended ungracefully together.

Oddly enough, the final book, I hope, is more like a five-course meal. That starts as barf and gets edited, rearranged, and polished until it's presentable. And the great thing about barfing is that anyone can do it!

So here's my guide to barfing out a first draft.*

1. DON'T LOOK BACK. If you reread what you wrote yesterday or the paragraph you just finished, you might find yourself caught in an endless loop of polishing. Barrel firmly forwards, willy-nilly and pell-mell, even if you know you'll have to change something later. First drafts are skeletons. You can add muscle and skin to pretty it up later. Even Stephen King admits his first drafts suck.

2. DON'T BE SCARED TO MESS UP. Here's the big secret: YOU'RE GOING TO MESS UP. Probably a lot. I do. Don't let it stop you. You can change point of view or tense half-way through your draft. You can change *anything* at any time, right up until your work is in print. Accept that mistakes, typos, and major draft surgery are part of the process. Fix it on the second draft.

3. IF YOU GET STUCK, DROP A GUMDROP AND KEEP GOING. If I'm not sure about something, can't get a scene to work, or need to do some more research, sometimes I'll just mark it with [need more] or [insert party scene here] or [kill him somehow and make it good] and keep going. Don't get hung up on something you can fill in later, when you've got it all figured out. That's how Hansel and Gretel got out of the forest, right?

4. BE SELFISH. If you feel passionate about writing, then carve out what you need. Time, space, all the Hershey's Kisses. For at least a little while, the people who love you should honor and understand your need to pursue your goal. Yes, it will grate on their nerves if it goes on too long, but the first draft is the most crucial part. You might need to stay up late writing instead of watching Game of Thrones or go out for a few hours in the afternoon to write. It's okay. Everyone deserves space to pursue their dreams.

5. HAVE A PLAYLIST. I have an album or playlist for every single book or novella I've written. I keep them on Spotify, and when I'm stuck or getting ready to pound out a scene, I listen to it. The playlist is thematically or dramatically related to the story and drops me right back into that world. I do a lot of problem-solving in the car while rocking out or in the bathtub while trancing out. Trust the playlist.

6. DON'T LET ANYONE READ ANYTHING UNTIL IT'S DONE AND POLISHED. Don't let your significant other, critique group, writing partner, or online friends read ANYTHING, EVER. The slightest nose wiggle or indifferent shrug can kill your passion for a story. Get the first draft out, then give yourself at least one more draft to polish it before letting that baby deer wobble out into the world.

7. MEDITATE. Not in lotus position or anything. Sometimes, when a writer starts out fast and furious and then rolls to a halt, it can mean that they haven't thought through the story far enough. Think about it as you fall asleep, as you wake up, while driving. Take notes. Imagine the scene, possibly even outline it before you write it. If you don't know where you're going, you don't know how to get there.

8. MAKE EACH SCENE YOUR FAVORITE. You know how there are some scenes in books that you just skim through, and it feels like the writer was just filling in space to get to the exciting/juicy scene after it? You don't want to do that. There should be something in each scene that you look forward to writing, whether it's snappy dialog or intriguing world-building or the first whiff of a later twist. If the scene is boring for you to write and edit, your readers will get bored, too.

9. SET UP IDEAL CONDITIONS. My recipe for 10,000 words per day involves getting dressed up in a pretty skirt and heels, going to a favorite coffee shop, putting in noise-canceling earbuds and my playlist, ordering coffee and a treat, and writing uninterrupted for as long as possible. Your recipe may be totally different, but once you know what it is, set up your opportunities to optimize output as often as possible. And don't waste your time trying to work in uncomfortable or annoying conditions. Set yourself up for success!

10. BE OPEN TO POSSIBILITY. Sometimes the best characters walk in out of nowhere and steal the scene. Sometimes your character makes a decision you weren't expecting, and it changes the entire course of the story. Sometimes you discover something entirely new during dialog. Let it happen. Your subconscious is brilliant and will feed you lines from offstage, if you let it.

Go forth and barf!


*
If anyone has any questions about writing, please ask! I'll do my best to answer.

*

*Mileage may vary. Every writer is different, every book is different. Find your way. I believe in you!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

no flash; plenty of fiction


Had an AMAZING time tonight at the Second Annual Fantastical Mystery Tour.

Sorry the pic is all waggly-- we forgot to turn on the flash.

To the left is my good friend, urban fantasy author James R. Tuck, writer of the Deacon Chalk, Occult Bounty Hunter series from Kensington.

To the right is new friend Kalayna Price, who writes the Alex Craft books from Roc. Her third book, Grave Memory, launched this week, and she was kind and generous enough to invite several other authors around the southeast to sign with her.

And now, I'm staying in a hotel with a vault in the lobby.

That's right. A VAULT.


They turned it into a martini bar. We went inside for a minute. But nothing inside could compare to the door, so we left.

One of the neatest things about tonight was getting to meet people who had read the book and enjoyed it. In case you're wondering if your kind words or dog-eared paperback mean anything to an author, I tell you honestly that THEY MEAN THE WORLD. Brandon, Terry, Vikki, Samantha, Melissa, Karen, Sara, Emily, Barbara, Cody, and everyone who stepped up with a smile: THANK YOU! Y'all rock!

I also met amazing authors, heard some interesting stories, enjoyed a lot of book talk, and ate some danged good caramel cake.

In conclusion, I'm lucky as hell.
*

Friday, July 6, 2012

the exception to the rule

See that?

That's something you've never seen before, even if you've been reading my blog since 2007.

That's me eating... pie.

And I hate pie.

Usually.

But occasionally, I'll succumb to my grandmother's chocolate pie.


Or a quarter-pan of the Butterscotch Pie at Greenwood's Restaurant in my home town.

The only dessert they serve is pie, you see. And if it comes down to pie or nothing?

I choose pie.

Well, as long as it doesn't include any sort of fruit or meringue or coconut. Blech.

It's a big part of me, how much I hate pie. For someone so serious about their love of cake that they use it in their online profiles, there needs to be some strange, eccentric negative. I love cake; I hate pie. It's part of what makes me a character. And so when I'm writing, I always try to think about those little details that make characters deeper. For every positive in a character, there's a negative. For everything they love, there's something they hate with equal fervor. They have to be real, and that means they have to be quirky.

So that's my gift to you. Make up a character who hates pie.

Then wait until the day they actually eat pie... and never let 'em forget.

*

Thursday, July 5, 2012

I survived the zombiepocalypse!

Well, kinda.

See, were were having a great time on the way home from FandomFest in Louisville, Kentucky. Me, MG author Janice Hardy, urban fantasy author James R. Tuck, and book reviewer and bibliophile Carol Malcolm. We got into Tennessee, hit up an Olive Garden, shopped for fireworks, and molested a giant, patriotic gorilla.

Okay, so maybe that was just me.

Back in the car, we pulled onto the highway, and that's when it happened.

The speed dropped, and then the cars in front of us slowly rolled to a halt. They didn't budge. People began to get out and step onto the median.

And we realized the zombies were finally here.

We were hungry. We had to pee. And we decided then and there that if we had to eat someone, it was going to be Carol, mainly because she was outside talking to the dude in the black truck and couldn't hear us plotting.

So we smiled and took a picture.


I've always wanted to stand in the middle of a highway.

Four hours later, we began to creep forward. The highway ahead was empty in the darkness, and they shuttled us wordlessly off a ramp and forced us away from the glowing warmth of the gas station. The long line of lights strung out into the night, every car and semi-trailer crowding down a Tennessee back road. If I had been alone and without a GPS, I would have been terrified.

The first gas station we found-- it had been ravaged. The aisles empty, the pumps cut off, the bathrooms barely better than outhouses.

"Four dead," people whispered, waiting in line to buy the last of the food. "Been closed for seven hours."

"Guess it didn't matter that we got dessert," we said.

Back on the road, we watched the gas gauge. 51 miles left... 47 miles... 42 miles. We started staring at the farmhouses we passed, silently weighing the options. Luckily, Janice's GPS could win Jeopardy, and we were soon right back on track.

The rest of the night blurs together. We found gas. We found a truck stop Wendy's that was miraculously open at 1:19am because the manager was under the impression that they were in the next time zone and it was only 12:19. Silly fools! French fries have never tasted so good.

We drove through rain, through lightning, through weird, sideways hail. There were unexplained lights in the sky over the twisting mountains and one big explosion in the trees. We're pretty sure we saw aliens. Well, I was.

When we got home at 4:30am, though, I knew three things in my heart: It was a grand adventure, and I have amazing friends, and I'm really glad we didn't eat Carol.

*

Note:  I did not drive, which is probably a big part of why we made it home safely. Janice got us through the traffic jam, and James got us through the mountains. They can WRITE, and they can also PERFORM MIRACLES.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

new friends, new heroes



The best part of FandomFest was meeting amazing people. From readers who were kind enough to pick up my book to the booksellers at Joseph-Beth who were kind enough to sell it to other authors who gave amazing panels to, yes, shaking the hand of Norman Reedus in a hotel bar, I was overwhelmed with awesomeness.

And since being home, I've been caught in a whirlwind of social media, connecting with those new friends in more permanent ways. I'm adding Tweeps, following people on Facebook and telling them how fantastic they are, and hunting out blogs that I'm glad to add to my radar. But something stood out today in the best possible way, and I have to share it.

I'll admit that I wasn't familiar with the work of author Jim C. Hines until FandomFest. I mostly read YA and paranormal romance, but whenever I meet someone warm and friendly and funny, I'm soon asking them which book of theirs I can't live without and then shoving it into their hands at the most awkward moment possible. And, for the record, I can't wait to read Jim's Princess Series, which finally answers my question regarding why princesses can't spend less time mooning about the forest and more time kicking ass.

But what really got to me was a tab across the top of his website.

RAPE.

I would never have expected to see that word prominently displayed on an author's website, and I had to click it. As it turns out, when teenage Jim learned that one of his friends had been raped, he dedicated years of training and education to helping other rape victims. And his website has a detailed list of resources for people dealing with rape, including the victims themselves and people, like Jim, who wish to make a difference.

I've mentioned it before on this blog, but I was raped when I was 17. My rapist was an A student, a community leader, and the son of two high school teachers. And when I told friends what he did, many of them didn't believe me, and it was heartbreaking, and for that reason I told no one else. The fact that when faced with the same confession, Jim went to such trouble to help his friend and others like her has me in tears over my breakfast.

That's not only an amazing friend, but an amazing person.

In getting into the YA genre, as mentioned before, I'm hoping for more chances to speak to teens about issues like rape, depression, and suicide, things that played a major part in my life at that age. I hope that one day, I can make a difference, too, just like Jim.

So I want to encourage anyone needing help with rape issues to go here, on Jim's page. And if you're a reader who enjoys fantasy and likes to put their money where their heart is, check out his books.

When I met Jim, I shook his hand. Next time I see him, I'll probably tear up and hugattack him. Even 17 years later, just knowing that someone cares means the world.

You never know when you're making a difference to someone.

*

Monday, July 2, 2012

silly goose

I am still recovering from FandomFest.

Which was amazing.

While I wait for my brain to grow back, I will leave you with this photo of me being goosed by a lawn jockey outside of a Kentucky bourbon bar.