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I am woefully behind in progressing through the James Patterson Master Class on writing. It is not because it is a bad class (my thoughts so far here and here) but because I have so many other things going on it is hard for me to make the time to watch the videos. A few weeks ago I got am email inviting me to submit a writing sample to be critiqued by Patterson himself and even though I did not take advantage of the opportunity, having no fictional work in progress, I thought it was a pretty cool thing and felt a bit bad that I did not have any fiction in progress to submit and see just what kind of feedback was on offer.
Today in my email I received a message that my friends are eligible for a $15 discount of the price of a Master Class, any Master Class it seems. So if you are interested in taking Patterson’s fiction class or trying out any of the other classes on offer, if you sign up by midnight PST on September 8th, enter the code PTS86W.
There is a great article called Silence in the Library that you all might be interested in reading. It is written by an archivist and discusses the issue of naming that those who catalog materials must deal with. Before I went to library school I could honestly say I never once thought about how materials were cataloged, that someone had to figure out what subject headings and keywords and other metadata to add to them. And then when I did think about it I wondered, really, how hard could it be?
I am not a cataloger, but I had the pain and pleasure of finding out just how important these folks are in more ways than you can imagine. Because we all know that naming is important and it bumps into issues like privilege and race and class all the time. Library cataloging is not immune to any of the issues. Catalogers struggle with it every day. Not only do they have to figure out what to call materials so you, the library patron can actually find and borrow them, but they also very often consider the implications of how materials are named. Librarians at the reference desk often get all the glory when they help a patron find something, but those behind the scenes catalogers are owed a great deal of credit for creating the metadata that allows that reference librarian to help you.
Anyway, the article is great and delves into a bit of the issues and implications of naming and how librarians have the opportunity to be silent radicals. Give it a read you will have a new appreciation for librarians and archivists.
The death of a villain can inspire a wide range of emotions, from happiness and gratitude, to sorrow and remorse. I love me a good villain, and some of my favourite story moments are the amazing death scenes some villains are granted. That is, of course, assuming the death is indeed amazing and not an affront to their character arc. I am so in love with the closure of a good villain death that a bad one can ruin the entire story for me.
So without further ado, here are some pet peeves of mine: cheap villain death tropes I’d love to see gone forever, and how they can maybe be flipped around.
Oftentimes a cheap villain death is the result of a deus ex machina: the hero doesn’t actually have the means to kill the villain because they’re too damn awesome, so the villain accidentally dies when they slip and fall off a cliff during the final fight. Unless the hero has actual control over how the villain dies, such as a clever plan to lure them to the edge, this is the cheapest of cheap deaths.
Accidental death can only work if the villain is immediately replaced by an even greater threat to the hero that has somehow been vaguely hinted at or foreshadowed beforehand so it doesn’t come out of nowhere. Perhaps they’re fighting on an active volcano that suddenly explodes and kills the villain. The foreshadowing is in the fact that it’s active, and the bigger threat is the indiscriminate firebombing and hot ash the hero now has to escape—bigger, because volcanoes don’t think, so the hero can’t guess what its next move might be. This will still feel a little cheap if it’s not well done, however, because as it’s your story, you can choose when the volcano blows, and choosing to kill an antagonist with a natural disaster over which the hero has no control is underwhelming. The other problem in this kind of scenario is that as soon as the hero is out of the volcano’s range, safety is within reach even if the volcano hasn’t been destroyed, compared to the hero still being in constant potential danger if the villain were still alive.
The only good kind of accidental death is when the new threat is worse than the old, it has an active agenda, and it’s not directly connected to the villain. In fact, in these situations, this big annoyance of mine can be totally turned around into something brilliant. If the new threat is something which even the old villain had no concept of, you’re not only effectively upping the ante by making the old villain look like a schoolyard bully, you’re also vastly expanding your universe. If you set up your story well, dropping hints here and there of all the possible people (or monsters) in such a way that a new threat is plausible, you can follow up the old villain with a new, terrifying and vast enemy that will make your hero feel incredibly small and will eventually make the victory that much sweeter. But in this case, the old villain isn’t the true villain of the story; they’re more of a stepping stone. And since stepping stones are not an ending but part of the journey, the old villain’s accidental death won’t feel cheap: it’ll lead to something bigger.
Death is also cheap when the villain’s intelligence is insulted. More than any, I hate this kind of death the most. If the villain is really smart, the hero’s going to have a hell of a time luring them to a cliff. Unless they have no choice, the odds that smart characters would willingly put themselves in dangerous positions are very low. There is nothing more frustrating than watching an otherwise remarkable and cerebral villain suddenly become a half-wit so that the hero can defeat them. Not to mention it makes the hero’s victory completely hollow. The most satisfying time to defeat an enemy is when their faculties are at full power, anyway. Why blunt their intellect if you’ve worked so hard to write them as smart, effectively making the reader anticipate an ending where they’re finally outsmarted?
The only time this convenient stupidity can be forgiven is in comedy. This kind of thing can make for a good punchline. However, it also relies on your story being a parody. Otherwise, it’s a glaring continuity error and an unfair way of treating both your villain and hero, because following the kill, the hero will develop a reputation of only being able to defeat enemies when they mysteriously become very weak.
My final pet peeve is a classic villain trait: arrogance. It’s a frustrating reason for a villain’s death, mostly because it isn’t very original, but also because I have a personal bias toward villains that don’t think of themselves as unbeatable, since people act in more interesting ways if they think they’re being threatened. If we revisit the accidental death scenario, and consider again why it’s better for the new, bigger threat to have little to no connection to the old villain, another reason would be that if the new threat were the villain’s fault, their character becomes an archetype for hubris: “His ego made him blind,” “He thought he could control the strain.” This isn’t a terrible thing, but if manmade threats are the worst possible ones in your world, you could argue that you’re restricting yourself.
They also make for really annoying characters. The ones that yell “I’m invincible!” as they’re dying are pathetic, and I always thought they cast a shadow over the hero’s victory. Not to mention, defeating a villain whose fatal flaw is hubris tends to involve a formulaic take-down by people who ultimately come across as preachy and say things like “You can’t play God,” or “He flew too close to the sun.”
However, hubris can be a genuinely interesting character trait. And there are times when I really enjoy it. But I’ve noticed that every single one of those times, the hubris was something I discovered afterwards upon reflection; something that wasn’t told to me, but that I began to understand as I considered the story from start to finish. In other words, if you’re going to give your villain a god complex, no need to shout it from the hills. Subtlety is a pretty nice touch.
So there they are. Three massive and common villain death pet peeves of my very own. Obviously, they are tailored to my personal tastes. I’d love to hear yours.
Summer is always tough for me. My daughter is home, which means being Mom takes up most of my days. My new job as an acquisitions editor added more work to my already full plate. On top of that, I'm booked solid with my own editing clients for the rest of 2015. So yeah, I haven't been writing as much. But things are going to change soon.
School begins on Monday, and that means I'll be working full days again. My plan is to devote mornings to me and afternoons to Seek. Splitting my day up will allow me time to edit for my clients and write for me, while still handling my duties for Leap Books. Or at least that's the plan. ;)
I'm going to miss my daughter though. She's my buddy. There's nothing I love more than being with her, but I know she is excited to start a new school year (Third grade already? How did she get so big?) and see all of her friends again. So here's to a great start to the school year and life getting back to a routine.
We have a quiet week to slip into the back to school routine, but there are a few things coming up that you may want to either mark on your calendars or go ahead and register. An event I am particularly excited about is a one-day workshop:
Kimberly Morris is the author of over 60 books for children and young adults, many of them for popular series including Disney Fairies, That’s So Raven, Mary-Kate and Ashley, Animorphs, Sweet Valley, and Generation Girl. Her credits include read-aloud stories for the Muppets, Muppet Babies, and Fraggle Rock, and animated television scripts for the classic ThunderCats.
Writers tend to fall into one of two categories: gardeners and architects. The latter group is also called “plotters” for their meticulous plotting and careful structural setup. This workshop is for the second group, and will examine methods and techniques for helping these writers grow their characters into their plots so that they come to life and feel like more than pieces of the plot-machine.
We write a sentence, a paragraph, a page, crafting them to do what we want them to do. Maybe we even polish a bit to make them do the job even better. We’re happy.
Then someone criticizes what we’ve written. The natural reaction is to defend the work—after all, it’s doing what we want it to.
At least we think it is. But, in many years as a creative in advertising (copywriter, creative director), I received daily critiques of my work from colleagues, bosses, and clients. I learned early on that it doesn’t work to argue. In fact, it can work against you.
The way I see it, if someone points out what they believe is a shortcoming, there’s at least a 50-50 chance that they’re right. If they’re experienced in the area the writing concerns, the odds are even more in favor of them being right. If you argue instead of considering the validity of the criticism, you lose an opportunity to make your work even better.
So I learned early on to stifle the defense and rethink everything. If, after analysis, I felt it was still right, then I’d argue. If not, I'd rewrite, and always ended up with a stronger way to do the job.
A case in point
Here's the opening line of a page a talented writer submitted to FtQ for a flogging:
His father was raging again.
In the critique, I suggested deleting the sentence and I labeled it “telling.” The writer argued with my opinion, both in a comment and then in emails to me. Satisfied with their belief, this writer won't be doing anything to strengthen what I saw as a weak line.
So, okay, let’s analyze that opening line for what it actually does, and then we’ll examine its merits.
Keep in mind that I come at this from the point of view that you need to make every word count, especially on your opening page.
First, what is “showing?” It is providing the reader with story elements in a scene that they see, or hear, or maybe even smell. “Show” means literally that—description of action, something happening; picturing what is seen; delivering the sounds in the scene.
“Tell” means to inform, to deliver information. A typical use of telling in fiction is to summarize scenes or actions or dialogue. Whenever you see summary, it’s telling. And there are many times in a novel or memoir where “telling” is exactly the right thing to do.
So what about that opening line? Showing or telling? A poll is coming.
The first clue that this sentence is “telling” is the word “again.” Interestingly, the writer says in their comment that “again” SHOWS that the man is repeating his raging. Really? Do we see him rage and then rage again? That would be showing. No, “again” tells us that this has happened before.
What about “was raging?” Is that showing us rage? Here are things that come to my mind if I want to show rage:
spittle flying from a mouth
a mouth that’s yelling, loudly
a flushed face
clenched fists, waving arms, pacing, or all of those things
sweat beading a face
a swollen vein in a forehead
glaring eyes, bulging eyes
gestures such as pointing, threatening with a fist
If you want to show me rage, you show me those kinds of things. “Was raging” is, in essence, a summary of all those things that go to make up (show) rage.
So here’s a poll: do you think “His father was raging again.” is “showing” or “telling?” Come back after the poll.
The sentence starts with “His,” a personal pronoun. The thing about pronouns, with the frequent exception of “it,” is that they have antecedents—or should have. It is the antecedent that gives the pronoun meaning. Using “his” in this way gives no clue as to the person to whom it refers. We can understand, vaguely, that there is a male involved. But that’s it.
If you hear a friend say, "She is beautiful," you know your friend is referring to a singular, feminine being or object, but with just the pronoun she, you don't know if the discussion concerns a woman, a cheetah, or an automobile. You cannot picture the she (emphasis mine) until you know the antecedent, the word that this pronoun refers to or replaces.
In essence, the use of “His” in the opening line under discussion is virtually meaningless. The reader pictures nothing, imagines nothing, gets almost nothing from “him.”
So how often do you think you should have meaningless words in your narrative?
That vague “his” robbed the opening line of people power
Research into what images have the most stopping power in a magazine or newspaper ad studied what things were most likely to make a reader pause at an ad, or even stop to look more closely.
The answer was faces. Guaranteed best way to arrest a reader. We human beings are most interested in people. In a story, we are interested in what happens to them. For me, that’s a powerful argument for launching your story with an immediate scene that brings a person or persons to life and shows them doing something that raises compelling story questions.
In this case, the "his" was a boy who was being treated badly by his father. I would have been much more engaged if that opening sentence served to lead the way into what he was experiencing. At some point I could still be "told" that this was happening again, but later in the page would have served just fine.
That’s not to say this is the only way to successfully start a story. On the other hand, if you can start a story that way and hook a reader, why not?
LEE & LOW BOOKS has two writing contests for unpublished authors of color: the New Voices Award, for picture book manuscripts, and the New Visions Award, for middle grade and young adult manuscripts.Both contests, which are now open for submissions aim to recognize the diverse voices and talent among new authors of color who might otherwise remain under the radar of mainstream publishing.
In this guest post, we wanted to highlight another groundbreaking writing contest that’s bringing attention to marginalized voices and fostering a love of writing in students: the Celebrate America Writing Contest run by the American Immigration Council. Coming into its 19th year, the Celebrate America Writing Contest for fifth graders has been bringing attention to the contributions of immigrants in America through the eyes and pens of our youngest writers.
In this guest post, Claire Tesh, Senior Manager of Education at the American Immigration Council, discusses the mission of the Celebrate America Writing Contest and how it has helped to shape the immigration narrative.
It is impossible to escape the negative vitriol and hateful rhetoric around the issue of immigration that dominates the headlines, talk radio, popular culture, and in some cases the dinner table. In an effort to educate children and communities about the value of immigration to our society The American Immigration Council teams up with schools and community groups to provide young people the resources and information necessary to think critically about immigration from both a historical and contemporary perspective, while working collaboratively and learning about themselves and their communities.
The American Immigration Council developed “Celebrate America,” an annual national creative writing contest for fifth graders, because they are at the age where they are discovering their place in the world both locally and globally. They are also finding their own voice, opinions and ideas through writing, creating and sharing. Students at this age start making sense of current events; they have a better working knowledge of basic history, and have a sense of global awareness.
Thousands of Entries
“Celebrate America” began 19 years ago with just a couple dozen entries. Today it has grown to over 5,000 entries annually! Since 1997 a total of close to 75,000 students have participated in two dozen cities, in nearly 750 schools and community centers across the nation.
As the lead on the contest since 2006, I have read thousands of entries and have attended numerous events featuring the writers. It is difficult to pick just one example, but in 2008 the winning entry America is a Refuge really showed how much a 10-12 year old can comprehend about the issue. That year, the winner, Cameron Busby, explained to a reporter from the Tucson Citizen that “I want to be a horror writer when I grow up,” and in order to tell the story of America being a place people come to be safe and thrive, he used bits and pieces of some of his classmate’s true horror stories of their own or their family member’s immigration journeys. This excerpt shows the young writer’s entry and how he made sense of injustice and how America has always been a nation symbolic as a beacon for hope:
A small child holds out a hoping
a crumb of bread,
or even a penny just to be fed
Hoping America is a refuge. A
child weeps over her mother’s
the tears streaming down her
Praying America is a refuge.
Part of the reason why it’s a popular contest is because it fits neatly with the fifth grade curriculum and it is easy for teachers to implement by offering timely lessons and expository learning opportunities from classroom visits by experts to interactive web-based games. The contest is unique in that it allows for any written work that captures the essence of why the writer is proud that America is a nation of immigrants and students can express themselves through narrative, descriptive, expository, or persuasive writings, poetry, and other forms of written expressions. The teaching and learning opportunities the contest brings to both the classroom and the community has made it very popular and most teachers who participate do so year after year.In the Classroom
Monica Chun, a teacher from Seattle who has participated in the contest for several years and whose student, Erin Stark, was a national winner in 2013, starts the assignment by asking students to ask their relatives at home a question: “Who was the first person in our family to come to America?” No matter what ethnicity or how recent or distant a family’s arrival be, every student is going to have a unique answer to this question.
Involving the Community
”Celebrate America” encourages youth, families and surrounding communities to evaluate and appreciate the effects of immigration in their own lives. The unique contest includes the following components:
Immigration attorneys or trained volunteers visit classrooms, whether in person or virtually. The visitors give short presentations about the history of American immigration and the contributions immigrants have made over the years;
Teachers complement the contest by implementing lessons about immigration, social justice and diversity into their curriculum;
The American Immigration Council provides classrooms with innovative, relevant, and interactive lessons and resources;
Communities organize events, naturalization ceremonies and other celebrations to showcase the local winners;
The winning entry from each locale is sent to the national office and judged by well-known journalists, immigration judges and award winning authors;
The winning entry is read into the Congressional record, a flag is flown over the Capitol in the winner’s honor and the winner reads their entry at a 700+ person event that celebrates immigration; and
In the submissions the youth voice brings hope that there will be solutions to the immigration debate.
The American Immigration Council believes that teachers, parents, and students are essential to building a collective movement toward a better future: in our classrooms, in our schools, and in the larger society. With the community’s engagement, educators, parents and students can help bridge this divide and approach the issue of immigration with intelligence and empathy.
The contest has an impact not only in the schools and communities that participate, but also in the halls of Congress. Each year when the winning entry is read into the Congressional Record, it is rewarding to know that our leaders are hearing words of wisdom from a young person who has big ideas and who has chosen to use their voice to invite others to learn about immigration and to celebrate America’s diversity.
When the winning entries are read to new citizens at naturalization ceremonies or at dinner galas in communities of all sizes, almost every attendee has tears in their eyes because the young readers are speaking from their hearts and they represent the future. Each and every year the young writers continue to surprise us with the depth and empathy in their writings whether it is their common sense solutions to an immigration system or the story of their own immigrant background. Any writer, no matter how old and how experienced, should look at these entries to get a sense for authentic voice and various styles of writing. The thousands of students who submit to the contest get recognized in their communities and the affect is exponential because students start in the classroom and their voice continues to be shared within their schools, within their communities and beyond.
The students participating in “Celebrate America” are America’s future citizens, voters, educators and activists and it is truly an honor to shape the contest so that it provides some of the tools to think critically about immigration and to learn to explore the economic and moral effects of immigration policy as they engage in the public debates. But, today as we try to navigate the complicated maze that is immigration law and policy, it is through their incredible choice of words, that they are our guides, our teachers, and our voices of reason.
For further information on eligibility and submission process:
Happy Monday! Monday Mishmash is a weekly meme dedicated to sharing what's on your mind. Feel free to grab the button and post your own Mishmash.
Here's what's on my mind today:
Editing Surprise, surprise, I'm editing this week. ;) I have client edits and Seek edits to work on.
Writing I didn't get back to work on my novella last week. :( Maybe this week? Hopefully.
Happy birthday to my mom! My mom's birthday is tomorrow. It's also my cat's birthday on the same day. Happy day before your birthday, Mom! (She reads these posts, so feel free to wish her a great day.)
Our Little Secret Blitz sign-up Sign ups are open for the Our Little Secret Release blitz. No blog needed. Sign up here.
First Seek Acquisitions I acquired my first two titles for Leap Books Seek. I loved these books. Here is the announcement in Publisher's Weekly.
Fish Detectives is now available! My newest picture book, Fish Detectives, is now available.
When a treasure chest mysteriously shows up in the goldfish tank, it's a case for Horatio and Alexander, Fish Detectives. But a diver is guarding the treasure, and he's not talking. Horatio and Alexander will need all their comet goldfish speed and know how to crack this case. Suggested age range for readers: 4-8. Get it on Amazon.
(with my book due to my editor in fewer than two weeks)
SJKD;FIEWBNTBISLndjkfilgWEYGTBEHWYGF832G353BSJDKFNVIUNIo47brtntrlbyt23f5lbdishiuetblb t84295GAIUBFSEWG weuhi4b5laytbwoty4gbqtklhbglayeg8o8blef KBEDFIWEYRL . . . That is actually a lie, but it was fun to write. My brain is tired but present, and mostly orderly. I have an entire edited ms. before me, with separate lists of things I need to do to implement said edits; I only need time to carry them out. I may not have enough time to carry them all out, and this distresses me extremely; but I will do the best I can, which is all anyone can do, and trust I'll get to revise it better still later. Onward! Or better: Excelsior!
One of the many books I am currently reading is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. I have not read it since my freshman year of high school and so was really surprised by the “sketch” that precedes it, “The Custom House.” I had no recollection of this whatsoever. It’s no wonder really since it has not much of anything to do with the novel itself. Yes, there is some set up, but it is mostly Hawthorne writing about his time working at the Custom House as a Customs officer. It is mind numbingly dull for the most part so I skimmed.
I normally don’t skim, but good gravy, Hawthorne really drones on! There are, however, some rather amusing bits. Like when he complains about how soul-sucking his work is:
I had ceased to be a writer of tolerably poor tales and essays, and had become a tolerably good Surveyor of the Customs. That was all. But, nevertheless, it is anything but agreeable to be haunted by suspicion that one’s intellect is dwindling away, or exhaling, without your consciousness, like the ether out of a phial; so that, at every glance, you find a smaller and less volatile residuum.
Now you’d think he spent long days toiling away by the sound of that, yes? Unfortunately I can’t find the highlight in my ebook at the moment, but I burst out laughing as he goes on and on and then comes out that he works about three hours a day and is so exhausted by it that when he gets home he has no energy left to write.
Was time different back then? Was an hour longer than sixty minutes? Three hours of work a day and he can’t muster up the energy to work on his book? I think there aren’t many writers who wouldn’t love the chance to work three hours a day and then have all the rest of the day to themselves! Clearly Hawthorne was a sensitive soul and it is best he lived when he did because he would be completely crushed in today’s world.
Or perhaps he was just making excuses for a bad case of writer’s block. I think that likely to be the case because he touches that note of despair a few times throughout his sketch until he finally decides that he will never get The Scarlet Letter written unless he quits his job. Which he did. And obviously he managed to get the book written too.
But wow, I’d really like one of those three-hour work days to despair over!
The last few weeks have seen me getting back into writing full-time again, hence my long blog hiatus. And with writing comes, of course, editing and revising, and then revising again, and well, you know how it goes. An endless cycle of chop, change, doubt, re-organization, and finally having to say, "That's it! This book is FINISHED. No more edits until a copy editor tells me what to do." It wasn't easy to settle back into a writing routine. Most days I just wanted to go through my photos from Taiwan and play with watercolors. Fun ways to make the hours fly, but nothing that was going to get my WIP ready for a potential agent or publisher. In order to instill some discipline into my writing life, I desperately needed to remind myself of all the things I've ever taught and encouraged my own writing students to do. (Sometimes you have to be your own teacher!) Grabbing a new dry erase board and pen, I made myself a flow chart listing the top 12 ways to get me and my manuscript back into the writing zone. Here's what I came up with:
Focus. Boy, did I need this one. After Taiwan, my mind was a mess: I wanted to work on my novel, only to then want to write poetry, or work on a screenplay, or hey, what about that Young Adult thing in my filing cabinet, or no, a picture book might be even better. . . . After several false starts, I knew this had to stop. I had to narrow my vision, forget about the other projects (they're all lined up in boxes ready to be tackled one at a time), and concentrate solely on the most important manuscript, the one I was working on before I went on my trip. That's it. Just one manuscript at a time.
Mindfulness. Because I so desperately wanted that manuscript finished, I started to slash words, sentences, and paragraphs without thinking about how much work had gone into creating them. It seemed easier to toss phrases and pages that were bothering me rather than try to improve or rewrite them. After several hours of draconian "ruthless revising" I went back and retrieved all those toss-outs, learning that it was far better to savor each unwanted word, sentence, and paragraph until I knew how I could either fix or use them elsewhere in the story to their advantage.
Brevity. That said, sometimes my choices were right. Less is better in a manuscript. Focusing with mindfulness, I looked for all the ways I could say what I wanted to say without having to say it twice or with too much description.
Let go. It was imperative that I let go of everything that was blocking my way forward or eating my time: unrealistic expectations that I could be finished in a few days (leading to speed-editing); unnecessary shopping trips; housework that was simply routine and not because the house was dirty; and especially social media sites, including, unfortunately, my blog. It was hard, but I got so much done. And I'm back now!
Ritual. For some people it's lighting a candle before they start work, or choosing a favorite pen. My writing ritual, at least for this current book, was to make myself a cup of jasmine green tea, go out of my office and upstairs to my breakfast nook, and read a Chinese poem (translated into English!) from The White Pony before I began freewriting or editing. It was a great system, and one I intend to continue with my next project.
Music. I've always loved the idea of writing to music, and have enjoyed doing so when I've been in workshops or seminars, but it's often something I forget to do on my own. Recently I bought a small portable radio that I can use in both my office and the breakfast nook (or anywhere else for that matter). I've found it very helpful to put on what I used to call "elevator" or "waiting for the dentist" music to calm me down and set the tone of my writing session.
Magazine or artwork prompts. Using cut-out images from magazines, old books, and catalogs has always been my go-to story starter. Whether the pictures are of fashion models or reproductions of famous artworks, I couldn't live without my image library. For my current WIP I thought I had more than enough pictures to keep the story flowing, but I also realized many of the images had become somewhat stale--I had looked at them so often I had stopped seeing them. Starting a new collection solely for the last stage of the book seemed to revive all my interest in the story again, and gave me a fresh perspective on the older pictures when I paired them up with the new ones.
Meditation. I've never been a "good meditator" (whatever that means), having hopeless monkey mind and a tendency to squirm when I have to sit still without a book or a pen in my hand. That said, I have always appreciated the need to be quiet for a bit before I start my day or any creative work. The secret I've learned is to not set a time: "I will meditate for twenty minutes straight or else!" but just to give myself permission to stop and not be so busy-busy from the minute I get up or the second I sit down to write. Take a breath, take a minute, relax. Let go.
Choose a path/theme/genre/medium. My usual working style when starting anything new is to just let it happen. More times than not, genre or theme is something I choose for my work after my first draft. This time, though, and following through with #1: Focus, I decided to study and develop my genre/theme before I did anything else. It was a good decision--I found myself taking less side trips and getting right to the heart of my story a whole lot faster than in the past.
"How can I help?" It's nice to help other people, wonderful, in fact, but how often do we stop to help ourselves? I once read a quote that has always stayed with me about how the writer would never work for a boss as mean as she was to herself. Me neither--nothing but constant criticism, impossible deadlines, food and drink deprivation, and definitely no bathroom breaks allowed! When I'm writing, I can be horrible to myself. To break this tyranny, I wrote a "Letter to Me" asking what kind of help I needed to change the pattern. Some of my reply includes writing in 25-minute increments, followed by 15 minutes of anything non-writing related; rewarding myself with something special at the end of each day (can be as simple and inexpensive as a new library book); and making sure I put my writing, rather than the laundry, first.
Find a problem, brainstorm a solution. Halfway through my manuscript I realized I was being far too darn nice to my characters. I hated it when anything bad happened to them, so I'd hurriedly make it all better so they wouldn't suffer. Bad idea. Characters crave suffering--it's what makes them whole in the end! My solution was to make lists of terrible things that could go wrong for each of them, and then brainstorm several dozen ways to prolong the trouble. The lists also gave me ways to solve the problems without relying on coincidence or magic wands.
Write a gratitude or daily achievement list (especially after a rejection or a bad writing day). Not every writing day is a good day. In fact, a lot of them can be downright horrible, or at least they can seem to be until you really examine how the day went. Writing a gratitude list at the end of every day is an amazing practice. I like to go for a list of twelve. Even if the best I can do is write, "I have enough ink in my printer to send my manuscript out again." Or, "I got rid of four typos in Chapter 3," it's a win. (It's also positive proof that you're making progress, a good thing to remember and remind yourself when you don't even have ink in the printer.)
Tip of the Day: My absolute all-time favorite writing tip ever: Take a nap. Yes! Seriously! Napping can be a real creativity-saver, and it doesn't have to take up a lot of time. Whether it's in the middle of a hot Saturday afternoon, or as soon as you come home from work, don't fight the need to snooze--use it. To turn naps into real productivity, always have pen and paper right by your side so that as soon as you wake up, you can start writing. The results can be miraculous--new insights, new characters, new energy. I love it. So what works for you? Drop a line in the comments section and let me know some of your favorite tips, too. Thanks for visiting! Add a Comment
Now that Seek's open submissions period is over, I wanted to share some things I saw on the other side of the submissions desk. I hope you find this helpful.
First, let's start with the negative—things I saw that I wish I hadn't. These are things I beg you not to do when querying.
Queries that didn't follow submission guidelines I get that every publisher (and agent) tends to have specific submission guidelines and it can be overwhelming for authors, but please take the time to follow them. If you don't, it shows us you don't value our time or our preferences. That's no way to start a relationship with someone.
Queries that aren't at all what I'm looking for I received queries for young adult books and early readers, yet my submission guidelines specifically say I'm looking for middle grade books. Querying with a book that isn't what an editor is looking for is wasting everyone's time, including your own. Besides, who wants an unnecessary rejection?
Misspelling the editor's name. I understand Kelly is both a girl's name and a boy's name; however, a simple Google search brings up only one Kelly Hashway—me. And I have my picture all over the place. I'm not Mr. Hashway. I also got a lot of "Dear Ms. Hathaway" queries. I'm not related to Anne Hathaway or any other Hathaways. If you can't take the time to proofread to ensure you're spelling an editor's name correctly, you're telling me you don't care. That doesn't make me care much in return. :(
Replies asking if the author can revise and resubmit If an editor loves your writing and concept but thinks the book needs work, he/she will tell you to revise and resubmit. Please don't email me and ask if you can—or worse, just assume you can. If I took the time to give you helpful feedback, use it to move forward and get ready for your next submission.
Forget to include a query I kid you not. I received more than one query that didn't have a query letter. They were simply "here's my attached manuscript" messages. I didn't even know what the books were called. If you can't care enough to describe your book to me or even tell me the title, I'm not going to be the least bit excited to read your pages.
Okay, enough negativity. Let's move on to the positives—things I saw and loved. These are the things you should do when querying:
Be professional I had several people who know me from this blog or other social media sites query me and they still addressed me as Ms. Hashway or Mrs. Hashway instead of Kelly. Kudos to you, because even though I was thinking, "Oh yay, INSERT NAME HERE is querying me" I still handle all query letters equally. Yes, I had to pass on queries from people I know, and yes it made me sad. But this is a business and we have to remember that.
Appreciate any feedback you get, because it's rare I got the nicest response from a pass. I didn't know this person at all, but they responded to my pass to thank me for getting back to them in such a timely manner and for offering helpful feedback. I'm not going to lie. I got a few others like this one and they kept me going when my inbox was spilling over. This showed me these people get it. They get how busy editors are and appreciate that an editor took the time to offer feedback when it's not mandatory. These are people I'll remember if they cross my inbox again.
Okay, there are other things you should do, but I think you can figure them out from my list of things you shouldn't do. Do you have any query tips to add to my list? Feel free to share in the comments.
I’m in the process of outlining the sequel to my debut YA novel, Ivory and Bone, so I’ve been thinking a lot about conflict and the purpose it fills in a story.
“Joe went to the store and bought a dozen eggs,” is not much of a story, mainly because it doesn’t contain any conflict.
Joe went to the store and picked up a carton of eggs. On the way to the register, a cart came out of nowhere and smashed into him, breaking the eggs. He picked up a second carton, but slipped in a puddle of melting ice cream, and all the eggs broke. He picked up a third carton of eggs, but realized they were past their sell-by date. Just then, Joe noticed the doughnut case. Five minutes later, Joe was on his way home with a dozen doughnuts.
That second example is a story (albeit a boring story,) because it has conflict. But it is boooooring. And at least part of the reason this story is boring is because the conflict doesn’t have any meaning. It doesn’t tell us anything about Joe, his character, or the choices he makes. It doesn’t make us care. It doesn’t resonate.
I’ve been thinking about these concepts as I consider the conflicts my own characters encounter. There are so many ways to put an obstacle in your character’s path, but they won’t all serve the story equally well.
Let’s go back to Joe. All of the obstacles he encountered to buying the eggs were impersonal and did little to develop or reveal Joe as a character or make us care about him (except, maybe, for his final decision to buy doughnuts instead of eggs!) They also held no hint of something interesting about Joe and his quest for eggs that was yet to be discovered.
But what if we revisit those obstacles and tweak them just a bit?
Joe went to the store and picked up a carton of eggs. On the way to the register, a cart came out of nowhere and smashed into him, breaking the eggs. Looking up, Joe spotted a man running away down the frozen foods aisle. The man gave one quick glance over his shoulder, and Joe thought he looked like his grandfather, but that was impossible. His grandfather had died just last month of coronary heart disease complicated by uncontrolled high cholesterol, and Joe did not believe in ghosts.
Joe picked up a second carton, but he slipped in a puddle of melting ice cream, and all the eggs broke. As he lay sprawled on the floor, Joe noticed that a sign emblazoned “Caution-Wet Floor” had been folded and set to the side, where it wouldn’t be noticed. Had someone intentionally sabotaged the dairy aisle?
Joe picked up a third carton of eggs, but realized they were past their sell-by date. A strange chill ran over Joe’s skin, as he wondered if someone—or something—was determined to thwart his quest for eggs.
Just then, Joe noticed the doughnut case. Five minutes later, he was on his way home with a dozen doughnuts, hoping he had put the trauma of the dairy aisle behind him.
Joe’s story is finally becoming a bit more interesting, because the conflict is beginning to take on some meaning. We know that Joe recently lost his grandfather. We know that eating eggs may have contributed to the cause of his grandfather’s death. We know that Joe’s obstacles may have been more than coincidences, since there are signs that the cart and the ice cream puddle may have been deliberately intended to thwart his progress.
To us as readers, Joe’s struggles become more interesting when we see the personal meaning behind them. The conflict now reveals a bit about his character. It raises questions in our minds about the source of the conflict and what may come next. We care more about Joe—we may even relate to him and root for him.
Consider the first book of Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy. The inciting incident occurs when the main character, Katniss Everdeen, is sent to the Games. It would have been enough if Katniss’s name had been pulled from the bowl at the reaping, triggering the main conflict of the story. But instead, the name of Katniss’s little sister, Prim, is pulled from the bowl, and Katniss volunteers to go to the Games in her place.
This is a fantastic example of conflict that resonates. If Katniss’s own name had been called, the story would have gone in the same direction. But because she volunteers, the conflict now tells us about her character, it makes the struggle she faces more personal, and gives us cause to relate to her and root for her. It’s a small choice that makes a huge difference.
What are your thoughts on conflict that resonates? Can you think of other examples from books or movies? Do you strive for meaningful conflict in your own writing? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
Jenny raised various issues but this one resonated with me the most
Struggling writers are not often the best judges of struggling writing.
She made me wonder whether there was a critiquer's journey in the same way there is a writer’s journey. Could a critique group become stuck in one of the four stages of learning?
Quick reminder for those that have forgotten or have never heard of the four stages of learning. Unconscious Incompetence We don't know what we don't know Conscious Incompetence We know what we don't know and are shocked! Conscious Competence We are applying what we know but it's like walking through treacle with delicious little pools of bubbly, uplifting, lemonade every now and then. Unconscious Competence We know everything (ha!) and can write via a mind meld with our characters.
So I wondered - what can a critique group do if it thinks it's stuck in one of the stages, as Jenny was suggesting. How does a critique group kick itself out of conscious incompetence when it doesn’t know what it doesn’t know?
I love our critique group in York. We’re fun, chatty and extremely supportive. As you can see.
But, what if we were one of those groups stuck in the treacle and didn't know it? Was Jenny talking about us? Were we moving on with our knowledge and application or were we repeating the same suggestions each meeting? Were we listening? Were we really discovering what we needed to learn?
So, as an experiment I suggested we changed the way we critique.
Normally we skill share in the morning and critique in the afternoon. This was so that we could go home to digest the comments, cry into our wine, forget the trauma. There was no discussion of the work. It's possible we were concerned that people would begin defending their work if we had a discussion time. Or not.
So we swapped around. We critiqued in the morning using our usual format - Each critiquer has one minute to give a verbal critique, then hands over a written critique. The author being critiqued makes notes but says nothing.
We then had lunch and some breathing space to digest the food and comments.
Then we spent the afternoon discussing the issues the critiques raised - both specific to the author's work but also broadened out to discuss the issues in other literature. It worked brilliantly. Everyone pitched in with examples and analysis. We even walked through Morag Macrea’s scene of a girl having her head stuffed down the toilet, so that she could see it clearly. I was that girl.
These were just some of the issues we were able to identify and discuss:
· Which stories had an inciting incident and which didn’t.
· Which story had multiple inciting incidents and needed a prune.
· Which story had an amazing opening line that set the wrong tone for the story and why.
· Which ordinary world confused the reader and why.
· Which stories had a lack of clarity in action scenes.
· Which stories had too much backstory in the opening chapters.
This led to suggested homework:
· Analyse your favourite books and identify their inciting incidents so that you really understand what an inciting incident is.
· Persuade, demand, order, friends and family to act out the action if you can’t see it in your head. Walk through it or use toys.
· Analyse how other authors deal with back story.
· Identify the essential information the reader needs in your opening scenes.
This was probably the best critique session we've had. So that's what I'll be blogging about on Notes From the Slushpile. The issues raised in our critique sessions. Hopefully we'll add to your knowledge, encourage insightful critiquing and get you out of the treacle and into the pools of bubbly, lemony pop and beyond.
Maureen Lynas blogs intermittently on her own blog which she creatively named - Maureen Lynas
Happy Monday! Monday Mishmash is a weekly meme dedicated to sharing what's on your mind. Feel free to grab the button and post your own Mishmash.
Here's what's on my mind today:
Our Little Secret Is Up for Pre-Order! Guys, I'm SO excited for this book. You have no idea. The pre-order went up last Friday and it's only $3.99, which makes me happy. You can pre-order your copy here.
Seek's Open Submissions Period Is Over My open submissions period has ended. I want to thank everyone who queried me. I have two acquisitions I'll be sharing soon and I have four full manuscripts on my Kindle waiting for me to make decisions on. On Wednesday, I'll share some tips from what I saw in my query inbox. Be sure to come back for that.
Editing With life getting back to normal after open submissions, I'll be editing for clients again this week.
Writing Finding writing time has been tricky lately. I had to stop working on a novella, but I'm hoping to get back to it by the end of the week. Fingers crossed.
Vacations This summer we didn't get to go on the vacation we wanted, so we are planning a trip to Aruba for next summer. I know it's a long time from now, but I'm already excited.
Hi folks, this month there is no series. These topics all stand alone. It's my birthday month and I want to dig deep and be more. Here's one thing I've been thinking about. Welcome to my meandering.
I cringe every time I hear the dreaded words: I'm a Type A personality -- high achiever, driven, worker, leader, competitive. Man, if you need the most cookies, take them. On my worst days, I'm a type D and on my better days I am a Type C. I lack assertiveness. Type As are always apologizing for being Type As even though they are thrilled by their achievements and are determined to achieve more. Uh, this is not humility. Here's the deal Type As, every personality type has a downside.
Don't think this a Type A bashing post. Type As are getting the most cookies, so chill. Type Bs don't care if they have any cookies or not. Type Cs would like cookies but are too shy to ask. And Type D, those folks needs therapy, drugs and understanding. But I digress, back to Type As. They are missing out some good stuff. I was with a friend at a yogurt shop nodding knowingly about not being a type A. We both have felt that "odd person out" feeling about not being Type A.
We were laughing about typical Type A stuff. They think that everyone wants to be them and are sold are on the idea that you must be positive and have it all together 24/7. The rest of us types cringe, continue to play Candy Crush, enjoy the frozen yogurt, and wander off topic by discussing the hotness of actor Robert Vaughn from the old TV show Man from U.N.C.L.E. vs hotness of David McCallum, who is now a nice old man on a show call NCIS. This would drive type As crazy...but we were happy as clams. That's right, not stressed, not organized, and totally chill. YAY!
So how does personality play into my life: I would like a writing cookie, but if it means I can't smell the roses, do my own thing, and daydream days away, no cookies for me. I also need lots of time to read books, enjoy good conversations, and afternoons poolside. In kindergarten, Mrs. Crabtree impressed on me the importance of being yourself. She believed that every child would shine and made sure that every student in her class had a moment to do so. Overall she taught me that life is about our relationships and nothing else.
You are needed. We are all needed. So "Not Type As" take a deep breath. It is okay.
I will be back next week with more.
Here is a doodle.
A quote for your pocket.
Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it. Bruce Lee
Happy Monday! Monday Mishmash is a weekly meme dedicated to sharing what's on your mind. Feel free to grab the button and post your own Mishmash.
Here's what's on my mind today:
Our Little Secret Cover Reveal Last Thursday was the cover and blurb reveal for Our Little Secret, which releases September 15 through Limitless Publishing. This is a YA contemporary romance under my pen name Ashelyn Drake.
Becca Daniels needs to get a passing grade in Trig. Becca Daniels wants to spend more time with her best friend Tori’s twin brother Toby. What she has is a brain that refuses to understand math and a best friend with a strict “No dating the brother” rule. When her grade hits rock bottom, Becca has no choice but to get a tutor. Lucky for her, Toby is a math genius and more than willing to help her out. Turns out Becca isn’t the only one who hates Tori’s dating rule. What starts out as an innocent tutoring session quickly evolves into late night texts and hidden kisses. But the closer Becca gets to Toby, the greater the risk that she’ll lose her best friend. When their secret relationship threatens to destroy more than just her friendship with Tori, Becca will have to figure out how much she’s willing to risk to keep the guy of her dreams. Add the book on Goodreads.
Piper Morgan Joins the Circus Cover Reveal Stephanie Faris has a cover reveal today for Piper Morgan Joins the Circus. How adorable is this cover?
When Piper Morgan has to move to a new town, she is sad to leave behind her friends, but excited for a new adventure. She is determined to have fun, be brave and find new friends. And after learning her mom’s new job will be with the Big Top Circus, Piper can’t wait to learn all about life under the big top, see all the cool animals, and meet the Little Explorers, the other kids who travel with the show. She’s even more excited to learn that she gets to be a part of the Little Explorers and help them end each show with a routine to get the audience on their feet and dancing along!
But during Piper’s grand debut, her high kicks and pointed toes don't go quite as planned. After causing a dance disaster, she has to prove to everyone--especially queen of the Little Explorers, Lexie--that she belongs in the spotlight.
Leap Books Seek Submissions Since Seek is open to unagented submissions, my inbox has been flooded! lol I'm blown away by how many submissions I've received. Guess what I'll be busy reading this week. I'll be announcing my first acquisitions soon too. :)
Galley Proofs The galley of Our Little Secret has been proofed. Eeeee! I'm so excited for this book. I just loved this story so much.
Ashelyn Drake Blog Has Moved After a run-in with Wordpress on my cover reveal day (AHHH!!!) last week, I decided to move Ashelyn's blog to Blogspot. I'm much more comfortable on Blogspot. Ashelyn's website will remain on Wordpress and there is a link to the new blog in the menu bar there now. If you'd like to follow Ashelyn's blog, you can find it here.
Recently, I have been contemplating what it means to serialize a novel. We wouldn’t have Charles Dickens without serial publishing – nearly all of his novels were serialized back in the day, when magazines published a chapter from stories like A Tale of Two Cities or Bleak House every week or month. Though we moved away from that form of novel publishing, websites like Wattpad have created a resurgence, particularly with YA stories. Writers are able to publish one chapter or segment at a time and obtain reader input as the story progresses, quite possibly changing what the narrative may have otherwise been in a traditionally published format.
I was lucky enough to have Heather Demetrios, author of Something Real and I’ll Meet You There to name a few, answer some of my questions regarding her experiences with this form of publishing, based on her serialized novel, The Lexie Project. If you’ve read Something Real by Heather then you’ll recognize some of the characters in The Lexie Project. Anyone considering launching a serialized or multi-platform project should take Heather’s answers to heart – she has put a lot of work and thought into the story and the social platform, and is ready and willing to share her lessons and expertise. Check out her interview below!
Me: First, tell us about The Lexie Project!
Heather: The Lexie Project is a young/new adult multi-platform story that is being written in real time with crowd sourcing. It’s a satirical look at reality TV and fame: think The Lizzie Bennet Diaries meets Clueless and Keeping Up With The Kardashians. My readers send me comments about what they hope Lexie will do in the future and I take that into consideration as I write. I also incorporate real life current events into the narrative, which takes it to unexpected and interesting places! I’m posting a chapter a week on Wattpad and on The Lexie Project website in addition to blogging as Lexie, tweeting as Lexie, and engaging with readers on Lexie’s other social media sites. I’ve hired an actress to play Lexie in videos and on Instagram. Lexie’s roommate is a YouTube star and so I’ve also hired another actress to play her and post videos. There’s even a podcast interview series with Lexie and “famed” celeb podcaster T.J. Maxxx. As you can see, the story very much incorporates our real life connection to social media and other forms of online media. All the social media and blogging is extra—the story reads as a complete novel on Wattpad itself, so for readers who don’t want to be online too much, they can still have full access to Lexie’s narrative.
Me: Something Real was traditionally published. The Lexie Project is a serialized web novel. What was it about a serial web platform that allowed you to tell this story in a way you couldn’t with traditional publishing?
Heather: I wanted the narrative to have the feel of reality TV and reflect the real-time life of a young celebrity. A novel takes lots of time to write and at least eighteen months between the time it sells and appears on bookshelves. Lexie is nineteen, very much enmeshed in our world of instant gratification fame. I wanted readers to get a sense of what her life is like, how she responds as things happen, whether that be an angry tweet using a hastag that is trending right now (like #SingleBecause) or selfie posted on Instagram. Lexie isn’t going to wait two or more years to tell you how she feels about something—she isn’t even going to wait an hour. In a way, we’ve all become our own biographers, curating our life story as we live it via our social media. Lexie’s doing the same.
Me: What should writers consider before choosing to serialize their own novels on a forum like Wattpad, versus attempting traditional or even self-publishing?
Heather: The first thing is that you don’t get paid writing a story this way and there’s no guarantee it will get picked up by a publisher down the road. Macmillan (my publisher for Lexie’s companion novel, Something Real) has been super supportive, but this project is not under contract with them—and I don’t know if it ever will be. I’m taking a risk here. Of course, I want the book to be published traditionally after I complete the online aspect of it. I think it has potential to do really well in that arena, as well. Not all readers are going to want to access Lexie’s story online. Plus, there’s the benefit of fun extras and editing and the other important things that go into a traditionally published, vetted book that readers who’ve already accessed Lexie online would like to have, as well. But I also see multi-platform storytelling as a part of publishing’s future and I want to get in on the ground level, be a maven of sorts.
Another major consideration writers should think about is the time a multi-platform project takes. Spoiler alert: it’s taking over my life. I currently have five books under traditional publishing contracts for which I receive advances to live off of. If I didn’t have those, I wouldn’t be doing this right now. Having those and Lexie…well, you can imagine how much sleep and free time I get.
Finally, your story has to work for a multi-platform project. Some stories aren’t best told this way. I mean, would you want to read M.T. Anderson’s Octavian Nothing this way? No. But you might want to read Feed like this. I have plans for a multi-platform sci-fi, but it’s going to look very different from Lexie. And I have plans for other novels—both adult and young adult—that are only going to be found in book form. You’ve got to do right by your story and characters first and foremost. The rest is gravy.
Me:Do you think the fact that you have been traditionally published provided the foundation for this project? Or is this something you could have done without first being traditionally published?
Heather: Frankly, I think starting this way would be a waste of time for any writer who hopes to be traditionally published and make a living off of their words. You do hear stories about publishers picking up books by Wattpad writers with a huge following, but the return on that investment—from what I’ve heard—isn’t always paying off for the publisher. That’s not to say you can’t break into publishing this way—I just wouldn’t bank on it. I think the fact that I’m traditionally published gives me an immediate fan base and readership. But even for me, it’s slow going. That’s part of why you can access the story both on Wattpad and Lexie’s website (which is a Tumblr platform). I knew my adult readers weren’t really on Wattpad and wouldn’t be super keen on learning how to navigate yet another social media site.
Me: What is the most important thing you have learned from this process? The biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?
Heather: I’ve actually started a blog series called Lessons From Lexie, because I’m really interested in tracking this experience. It’s, as I often say, both the Wild West of storytelling and YA on crack. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that it’s going to take five times as long to do it as you think it would. You have to be on point like nobody’s business. There are so many things outside the story to keep track of, so if you’re not careful, it can be very easy to let the writing get lazy or to just go with the easiest or most sensational plot choices. My biggest challenge, then, has been not losing sight of crafting Lexie with the same care and attention on all story levels as I do with my other books. So far, so good—but it’s a lot of work.
Me: Finally, If you could give a writer planning to serialize his/her novel one piece of advice, what would it be?
Heather: Plan as much as you can and never put any writing out there that isn’t stellar. Usually, my readers don’t get to see my work until it’s been looked at by loads of readers, copy-edited, and vetted by gate keepers and my agent. My books go through a writing and editorial process that takes years. The chapters I post for Lexie—since I’m crowd sourcing and incorporating current events—get less than seven days. When you work this way, you’re putting your first draft out there, no matter how many betas you have or how much you revise your weekly installment. That takes a lot of hubris. You need strong, solid craft and experience. You also need to be deeply grounded in your story and characters. I had a whole novel—Something Real—to get me to where I needed to be with Lexie. So there’s a lot that has to happen behind the scenes before you get online. Multi-platform storytelling is not for the faint of heart or anyone who isn’t a perfectionist—so be warned.
All of Heather’s advice and wisdom is spot-on, so I want to thank Heather for taking the time to talk to our readers about serial publishing and The Lexie Project! You can find more information about Heather and her books on her website, listed below, or read The Lexie Project on Wattpad. Let me know your thoughts below!
About Heather: When she’s not traipsing around the world or spending time in imaginary places, Heather Demetrios lives with her husband in New York City. Originally from Los Angeles, she now calls the East Coast home. Heather has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a recipient of the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award for her debut novel, Something Real. Her other novels include Exquisite Captive, the first in the Dark Caravan Cycle fantasy series, I’ll Meet You There and the multi-platform serial novel, The Lexie Project. She is the founder of Live Your What, a project dedicated to creating writing opportunities for underserved youth. Find out more about Heather and her books at www.heatherdemetrios.com, or come hang out with her on Twitter (@HDemetrios) and any number of social media sites.
I posted this on Facebook yesterday, and received a GINORMOUS LACK of comments.
I have been at this writing for children game for well over 20 years, so I am no cute young thing!
I am beginning to wonder if the plethora of self published books for the genre I write, has made rising to the top, being noticed, and actually selling books, a no win proposition. I do have another MS in the wings, but I am seriously considering letting it slide.
The buying public has so many choices these days. I wrack my brains on a daily basis, for new and intriguing ploys that might grab a reader or two--a review or two. Yet I am not getting the readership I want for my books. All my fellow writers are on Facebook etc doing the same thing. Without spending like a drunken sailor, for professional promotional help, how do we get our books into the hands and minds of today's kids? Schools and Skype are an option I have mined deeply. My kids and family are not interested in spreading the word--busy with their own needs.
So now I am considering retirement--actually spending quality time with my dear husband and enjoying our garden. Having the time to read some of the wonderful new books I keep adding to my Pinterest boards--both for adults and kids.
When I visit a classroom, one of the first things I often say to kids is, "Today, please don't erase. I want to see ALL the great work you are doing as a writer. When you erase, your work disappears!" Often, this is what kids are accustomed to and they continue working away. But sometimes, kids stare at me as if I've got two heads.
While my time on the other side of the submissions desk has been brief so far, I've already learned a lot. And since it's taught me more about being an author on submission, I want to share something very important with you all. Here it is. You don't just want a book contract. You want an editor who LOVES your book every bit as much as you do.
When I first started writing, I had this illusion that all I needed was a contract. Someone who would put my book in print. I was wrong. Obviously, we all strive for book deals, but you shouldn't JUST want a contract. You should want an editor who loves your book so much they have to have it.
I've gotten a lot of submissions during my open submissions period at Seek. I'm talking flooded inbox. I've seen a lot of good manuscripts. Notice I said good. The problem is, I can't offer a contract on a good manuscript. I have to wish I wrote your book because it's that amazing. I have to not be able to get your book out of my mind. I have to keep checking my email to see if you've responded to my offer yet. That's how much I need to love your book.
Why, you ask? I've gotten to work on books at Seek that were acquired before I came on board. Let me tell you how many times I read each book. Oh wait, I lost count. It's a lot. A LOT. If I can't get excited to read your book over and over again, I'm not the right editor for your book. Luckily, the books I've worked on have been books I love. I look forward to reading them countless times, and I love the stories more each time I read them.
Think of your personal book collection. We all have those books we reread time and time again because they hold special places in our hearts and our memories. They're written in, dog-eared, and filled with Post-It notes. Those are the book I offer on. So if I offer on your book, know I will champion it with all I have. That's the editor you want for the book you've poured your heart and soul into. Don't accept anything else, because you don't deserve anything less than that.
This year marks our sixteenth annual New Voices Award, Lee & Low’s writing contest for unpublished writers of color.
In this blog series, past New Voices winners gather to give advice for aspiring writers. This month, we’re talking about what “voice” means to an author.
When discussing the various elements of writing craft, “voice” seems to be the most difficult to pin down. You can’t plot it on a chart or even clearly define what the word means, and yet it is one of the most important elements of a story. Editors (and readers) are always looking for strong, distinct voices. It is an invisible string that echoes throughout a story and pulls the reader in. And when an author or character’s voice is nonexistent or inconsistent, it is the first thing we notice.
Voice builds trust between the author, characters, and readers. To develop a strong voice that will ring true, an author needs to understand both the story and him/herself as a writer. What is the tone of the story? Who are your characters? If a key feature—gender, age, cultural background—of the main character changes, would the voice change? It should! There are many ways to approach “voice,” and below, Linda Boyden and Paula Yoo share their techniques.
The Blue Roses was my first published book. I had written many picture book manuscripts prior to it, most of which are still gathering dust and mold, but now I see how that process was vital for me to evolve as a writer. I developed the voice of this main character, Rosalie, by experimenting.
I wrote many versions of the book. I considered writing it inthird person, having one of the adult
characters do the narrating for about a nano-second; in my heart I knew this was Rosalie’s story and no one else’s, but that didn’t stop me from more experimenting. I tried having her voice be that of a child, but Papa’s death would have been too harsh an experience for a child to deal with objectively. Instead, Rosalie narrates as her adult self, after having had enough time to smooth the edges of her loss. So experiment until you understand the heart of your character; that’s where you’ll find their true voice.
For me, voice comes out of nowhere. I can’t predict when I will find the “voice” of my story. Voice is not only the way my main character narrates the story (his/her style of speaking, their point of view, their personality) but also in the tone of the entire story (humorous, tragic, touching). Sometimes I find my “voice” AFTER I do a ton of research and preparation, such as figuring out the story beats and plot twists and the character’s emotional journey/arc. Sometimes the voice finds ME first—I’ll just start writing a story from the point of view of a character that has taken over me because he/she has something important and unique to say. Ultimately, I think “voice” for me comes from my heart. What moves me emotionally when I write? What about a story or character makes me laugh or cry? For me, “Voice” is the heart of my story—what emotions do I want to bring out in not only in my readers but also in myself? You can write a book that has the most original and surprising plot, the most compelling and fascinating characters, and a unique setting. But if there is no EMOTION, then that book falls flat. That’s where “Voice” comes in—“Voice” determines the emotion behind the story. I wish I could give a more specific answer with facts and evidence, but when it comes to writing from the heart, there is no formula.