Hey Everyone! Hope the week is off to a fantastic start!
Just a quick note that I am blogging over on the League of Extraordinary Writers all week! You can check out my first couple posts here:
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Kid Lit Reviews welcomes Angela Shelton, author of The Adventures of Tilda Pinkerton Book 1: Crash-landing on Ooleeoo. Kid Lit Reviews generally does not delve into articles for authors unless there is something of interest to the young reader. Today will be an exception. Ms. Shelton is writing on the importance of the teacher-writer [...]Add a Comment
“If you’re interested in deepening your creative practice…then I suggest you sometimes forget about learning more. Let go of the learning. Unremember and unlearn. It’s not easy, but it’s worthwhile approaching your story with the eyes and ears of a child…”
To read more, click here.
This week, I’m sending you over to the website of Ramon Kubicek, a writer who’s been teaching Creative Writing for decades. He’s saying, ‘Forget everything I’ve ever said!”
In the run-up to the launch of my eBook, “Story Structure to Die for”, I can’t think of better advice. Whether you’re deep into a novel or journaling your way through winter…take a break! Reclaim your “beginner’s mind”.
Kubicek is paid to familiarize students with the fictional fact of life, but he realizes that a writer also needs freedom from the tyranny of knowledge.
To “finally say and write what you really want.”
Read Kubicek here.
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Today's post is being hosted at Cynsations. Peggy Thomas on Baring All - Anatomy of Nonfiction and Book Giveaway.
Now that I see the title, I have some major regrets (the low-cut blouse is one), but I'm also afraid I will be blocked from every school computer and banned from setting foot in a school again. But if you read the article you'll understand what I mean -- it's about turning the lens on yourself, analyzing what you do, and having the guts to share the good and the bad with others.
Post a comment on the guest blog at Cynsations for a chance to win a copy of Anatomy of Nonfiction and a free critique by me of a nonfiction picture book manuscript or 3 chapters of a larger nonfiction work.
I’ve long been a fan of “found art”, more recently “found poems”, and now “found blog posts”. This one I’ve lifted (with permission) from my “Meuse”.
Meuse and I go way back, all the way to Africa. We used to sit around funky hotel lobbies drinking Lion Lager and writing poetry. But that’s another story.
Today’s story is “found” because it was written as a disposable scrap of chit-chat. I think it deserves some circulation before being chucked. And furthermore, I can’t write this kind of cultural commentary. Music, rap, Lady Gaga—they’re not my forte. But calling psychopathic behaviour to account — yes, I’m all for that.
Here’s Meuse (basically thinking out loud):
(Note: Meuse is often droll and self-deprecating.)
Inexplicably, it jogged into mind an old notion of popular art and culture being a reflection of current times. Or is it a prediction of times to come?
This notion must have come out of my recent exposure to rap music, which I managed to avoid for 20 years. I thought it would be a good idea for a brief study.
I thought that Lady Gaga’s video would be as interesting and benign as P!NK’s “Family Portrait” video. What I found wasn’t exactly disturbing, but I did wonder what impression it leaves in the minds of the young teenage audience.
There seems to be a lot of violence and psychopathology on display in the most popular rap videos. Of course there is as much or more in newscasts and films. But I don’t recall pop musical culture in the ’50s and ’60s being as deeply violent or overtly psychopathological. Of course there was the madness of war, and the insanity of tribes like that of Charlie Manson.
Maybe young people are already far beyond what looks like excess in rap videos, and they see it entirely for the fantasy it is.
Even without rap videos there are going to be kids who bring guns to school to kill other kids. It may only be a function of news media penetration, but it appears to me that there has been an explosion of infanticide and parricide (Note: murder of parents by young children). I think it’s real.
So, does rap culture and its music cause adults and children to take up arms against each other? Or is it a reflection of a direction society is moving in? I think the latter. Rap isn’t showing the way. It’s showing where society already is. This has been an aspect of popular culture and art for 150 years or longer.
Is a shift happening now that has yet to be revealed?
I’m locked into a view of art and culture as I experienced it when I was young. Perhaps this narrow vision prevents me from seeing the social dynamic as it actually is today! Perhaps there is even more to understandAdd a Comment
Next week, Thursday October 14th, we will have a special guest post from Andrew Jacobson, co-author of THE FAMILIARS. Andrew and Adam are floating around the blogosphere this month for their Haunted Blog Tour, and Sisters in Scribe is lucky enough to be one of their stops! They're including a Familiars themed scavenger hunt and clues will be left at each stop. Now's the time to grab a copy of the book and start reading to play along! We'll also be giving away a copy of the book to one follower of Sisters in Scribe!
Running to save his life, Aldwyn, the street-wise orphan cat, ducks into a strange store. Moments later Jack, a young wizard-in-training, comes in to pick out his familiar – a magical animal companion. Aldwyn’s always been clever. But magical? Apparently Jack thinks so—and Aldwyn is happy to play along. Anything to get out of town!
Once home with Jack in Stone Runlet, Aldwyn thinks that he’s got it made—a life of ease with a boy who loves him. He just has to convince the other familiars—the know-it-all blue jay Skylar and the friendly tree frog Gilbert--that he’s the telekinetic cat he claims to be.
Then, after the sky lights up with an omen, the unthinkable happens. Jack and the other young wizards are captured by the evil queen of Vastia. Together Aldwyn, Skylar and Gilbert must save them—but how?
On their thrilling quest across the land, the familiars will face dangerous foes, unearth a shocking centuries old secret, and discover a mysterious destiny that will change them all forever.
ADAM JAY EPSTEIN spent his childhood in Great Neck, New York, while ANDREW JACOBSON grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but the two met in a parking garage out in Los Angeles. They have been writing for film and television together ever since. This is their first book.
One day, Adam asked Andrew, “Are you familiar with what a familiar is?” And from that simple question, Vastia was born, a fantastical world filled with the authors’ shared love of animals and magic. They wrote every word, sentence, and page together, sitting opposite each other.
Adam Jay Epstein lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Jane, their daughters, Penny and Olive, and a black-and-white alley cat who hangs out in their backyard. Andrew Jacobson lives with his wife, Ashley, and their dog, Elvis, four traffic lights away.
This Sunday, Valerie will be guest posting at author/agent Nathan Bransford's blog. Don't miss it!Display Comments Add a Comment
By Brodi Ashton
In 2008, with my first finished manuscript in hand, I was ready to query. To find that special someone who would take my story to the top. You know, to find THE ONE.
My sister-in-law (also a writer) devised a contest: first person to reach 100 rejections wins. We crafted our queries, did our research, and by the end of four months I won the race. I’d received 100 rejections. But I also won an agent. Everything’s downhill from there, right?
The agent submitted my book and after three months, we had 2 positive rejections (you know, the kind where they’re all, “I like it, but how would I sell it?”) and about 7 no-responses. Not the reaction we had expected.
Meanwhile, I wasn’t going to be one of those writers who put all of her flowers in one bouquet. I decided to write another book, so that when we had exhausted all possible avenues for book #1, I’d have something ready to go. My 13-year old niece read Book #2 in 24 hours; that had to be a good sign, right? (side note: warranted use of semi-colon, check.)
With your first book, you’re guaranteed the agent loves it, because he/she offered representation on it. But with your second, you never know. I gave my agent book #2 in January 2010. Three and a half months later, he was “still reading.”
Just like a clueless girlfriend, I made excuses for him. So what if my niece had taken 24 hours to read it? She’s really fast. So what if this second book was 20,000 words shorter than my first? I probably used bigger words. The story makes the reader want to savor it, not finish it. He probably doesn’t want it to end. (Agreed, that was the stupidest excuse.)
Determined to be proactive, I sent him a list of editors who had mentioned on blogs that they were looking for my type of book.
He responded with a resounding, “Um, let’s talk on the phone.”
That did not sound good. I’m sure you all know how frakkin’ hard it is to get an agent in the first place. My family and friends knew. Their advice before the dreaded phone call was, “Say what you have to say to keep him.”
But here’s what only a phone call could show: the passion was gone. He liked book #2 okay, but he didn’t love it. It was polished, but it wouldn’t make a splash. It didn’t need that much work as far as revisions went, but he probably couldn’t get to it for a few months. Maybe after the holidays. (That would’ve been 9 months later).
So, he wasn’t going to dump me. I could’ve kept him. But one thing was perfectly clear: there was no way he would be able to muster the passion necessary to make a sale, especially a debut sale, especially in today’s tight market. It wasn’t his fault. This business is subjective.
I knew we couldn’t go on like that. But was I really ready to dive into the query pool again? Could I face a hundred new rejections? Would I really be stupid enough to leave an agent? LEAVE an agent?
But the passion was gone. There was no way around it. He just wasn’t that into me anymore. As our phone conversation started wrapping up, I blurted out that this wasn’t going to work. He didn’t put up a fight, and we parted ways amicably.
I started querying the next day. (Yeah, I had a query written. I’m sort of a cup-half-empty type person.) Within a month, I had nine offers from wonderful agents who were passionate about book #2. And three weeks ago, I sold my debut trilogy to Balzer and Bray, Harper Collins in a pre-empt, after 48 hours on submission. All of this happened five months before my first agent would’ve even submitted it.
I don’t blame agent #1 for not loving my book, just as I don’t blame my high school boyfriend, who fell in love with someone else right before the Christmas Dance. (I totally blame the other girl, though, but I digress).
Point is, even though it hurts, you can’t help
I'm guest blogging over at NovelNovice.
By: T.H. Mafi
there you are, just staring at your computer or eating your carnival corndog or spacing out in the middle of a conversation when it hits you. A SHINY NEW IDEA. it’s beautiful and original and nothing like the rest of them and for a perfect moment you can already see your future together. you know you have to have it before someone else does and your next move is going to be critical. luckily, enough people commented on your blog today that you’re feeling confident. extra-attractive. you decide to make it yours.
everything is surreal. you can’t stop thinking about it no matter how hard you try and let’s be honest – you don’t really want to. you’re convinced that this time everything is going to be different. this is The One. the one that’s going to make agents cry over you, editors throw money at you, bestseller lists around the world make room for you at the top. maybe you have a title already? maybe you’ve even written a really excellent first paragraph? you don’t care. none of that matters. the only thing that really matters is Oprah is going off the air. she has no idea how much you were looking forward to that interview.
things are still pretty good. you’ve told Facebook and Twitter and the only five friends you know in the real world that you’re writing a new book and people seem moderately interested which is already better than last time. you haven’t really started writing yet, but you will. in fact, you’ve already got the first chapter written! and the more you read it, the more you’re convinced you’ve never written anything quite as incredible. you can’t wait to dive into the story! SERIOUSLY. you can just feeeeeel how amazing this is going to be. maybe you should buy a new outfit to celebrate.
well! you've written a few chapters! but GOSH you are just so BUSY these days and the kids are so CRAZY and work is just HECTIC and you've discovered all these really awesome websites recently and it's now become a "thing" of yours to refresh your email and update your Twitter and "Like" at least five things on Facebook before you open up that Word Document. but it's not like you're avoiding it or anything! it's just -- you're having a bit of a rough patch! but you'll work through it! you'll figure out this plot twist! well, first you'll figure out a plot but then! then things will work out! you just need to find a way to communicate your needs! relationships are ALL ABOUT DIALOGUE!
WELL MAYBE IF YOU WEREN’T SO DAMN NEEDY I WOULD PAY MORE ATTENTION TO YOU! DID YOU EVER THINK OF THAT? DID YOU EVER THINK THAT MAYBE I HAVE TO PAY THE BILLS AROUND HERE AND MAYBE I CAN’T SPEND EVERY FREE MOMENT OF MY LIFE STROKING YOUR FREAKING EGO AND MAYBE YOU SHOULD JUST WRITE YOURSELF ALREADY I’M SO SICK AND TIRED OF THIS CRAP I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHO YOU ARE ANYMORE WITH YOUR UGLY ADVERBS AND THOSE STUPID DANGLING PARTICIPLES YOU THINK MAKE YOU SOUND LIKE SHAKESPEARE GOD YOU'VE CHANGED INTO SOMETHING I CAN'T EVEN RECOGNIZE MAYBE WE SHOULD REALLY STOP FOOLING OURSELVES ABOUT THIS WHEN CLEARLY I'M THE ONLY ONE TRYING TO MAKE THIS WORK I HATE YOU SOOOO MUCHHHHHHHHH
you didn't even see it coming! I MEAN GOSH THINGS WERE GOING SO WELL! but there it was. sitting on the outskirts of your imagination the whole time, teasing you with promises of what could be. ANOTHER SHINY IDEA! it was wearing a flippy skirt and red lipstick and it sounded so intelligent you couldn't help but fall for its false proclamations. but you were too dazzled to realize that this new SNI was only a distraction. it was fleeting. unfulfilling. a concept with no tangible form. a cheap thrill with no literary value. you feel cheated. you feel dirty. YOU'RE SO ASHAMED.
you messed up. you never meant t
By: Livia Blackburne
You could say that fiction is about pain. When you boil them down, stories describe characters taking hits and trying to emerge as unscathed as possible. Neighborhood under attack by zombies? Run hard and hope you have some painkillers on hand if they catch you. Or what if it’s actually a friendly, attractive zombie who loves you? In that case, it’s all good -- until you realize that mortals and undead can never be together. Oh the agonies of unfulfilled love!
So stories and torment come hand in hand. As a reader, you’re with the characters, empathizing with their struggles and hoping for a happy ending. How does this work? What is it in our brains that lets us understand other people’s pain? Well I'm glad you asked, because neuroscientists have made some progress on this question.
How do you study empathy and pain? One current technique involves electric shocks and people who love each other.
Neuroscientist Tania Singer came up with a clever experiment. She recruited women with their significant others. Singer put the woman inside an fMRI brain scanner while the significant other sat outside. Both participants were connected to electrodes capable of administering a painful shock. (Now before my fellow neuroscientists accuse me of ruining our reputations, I should emphasize that these participants were paid handsomely and had the option to stop the experiment at any time.)
Throughout the experiment both the woman and her partner received shocks, and a computer screen indicated who was getting the painful treatment. Singer found that a certain network of brain regions in the woman’s brain activated when she was in pain. But what happened when the significant other was shocked instead? The same network lit up when the woman knew that her partner was getting shocked. It turns out that we process other people's pain with the same brain regions that we use to process our own.
This kind of makes sense. Think about the last time you read a passage about a painful experience. Depending on how engaging the writer was, you might have felt like you were suffering alongside the character. But that's not the whole story. Many people suffer in stories, but we’re not always upset about it. What happens if the person in pain is someone we don't like?
Singer and colleagues did another study asking that question. This time, they had participants play a game before the brain scan. Unbeknownst to the participants, some players in the game were actually actors working with the scientists. One actor's job was to play the game fairly, while the other actor’s job was to play in an obviously unfair way. You can guess which actor was more popular.
Then it was off to the scanner again. The real participant went inside the scanner, while the two actors sat outside. Again, shocks were delivered, and the computer screen indicated who was receiving the shock.
This time, the results depended on whether the participant was a man or a woman. Both genders had empathy-related brain activation when the fair player was in pain. However, the men had less empathy- related activation when the unfair player was shocked. What’s more, they had increased activation in reward-related brain areas when the unfair player got shocked. The men actually enjoyed it when the unfair player was in pain (“Bastard had it coming!”). After the experiment, Singer asked the men to rate their desire for revenge toward the unfair player. It turns out that amount of reward-related brain activation in men correlated with their desire for revenge. In guys at least, it seems that the response to someone else's pain depends on whether or not that person deserved it.
Now as with all studies, we should remember that this is only one data set and it needs to be replicated. Also, note this study does not distingui
Is there life after a query that strikes out with agents? My awesome client Jim Duncan, whose debut novel DEADWORLD will be published by Kensington next April, shares his experience. Make sure to catch the exciting contest on Jim's blog at the end of the post.
By: Jim Duncan
As you might guess from the title, I am not what one would call a good query writer. Mediocre at best. My wife (romance author Tracy Madison) whole-heartedly agrees with this assessment.
There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I will admit to not being a very good editor. It's very difficult for me to assess my own writing, and thus, I don't like doing it. Second, when it comes to certain aspects of the publishing process, I have little patience. When my book was done, I wanted to send out queries that moment.
Back in the old days of 2007, when I completed my novel for the first time, I had queries going out the next day. I made about half a dozen attempts, picked the one I liked the best and sent it out. I had done my research, making sure the agents wanted my genre, whether they took email or snail mail, getting their name correct, etc. I followed agent blogs like Nathan's, Miss Snark, Kristin Nelson, and others (there are a lot of good blogs for writers out there), to glean as much knowledge as I could about the process and how to make that query stand out. I failed. I received one of Nathan's polite form rejections.
What feedback I received (off of a roughly 90% rejection rate) did not like the multiple first person p.o.v.'s I used. Was I deterred? Of course not! I decided to rewrite the book in third person, because I felt very strongly about this story. Whether it was written well enough was another matter.
So, I wrote a new query, several versions in fact, and though I was not happy with any of them, I picked what I thought was the best of the lot and sent it out. There's that whole patience thing again. The results were marginally better, but still no real interest.
Knowing I can't write queries for shit, I figured that might be my biggest problem, so I wrote yet another and tried again a few months later. I sent it out to a couple of publishers who are open to submissions, and like all good writers should do, I began to work on my next book (can't stress this enough: keep writing!)
In the meantime, I had become a regular responder on Nathan's blog. I'd sent a couple of emails to him, suggestions for topics and such. Then, one fine day, I came up with a contest suggestion that became my 15 seconds of blog fame. Those of you who were around a year and a half ago may remember the Agent for a Day contest. At the time it generated the most hits ever on Nathan's blog (about 70k, and 15k comments). Through my willingness to participate and make suggestions, good or otherwise, I had cemented my name in Nathan's mind. We didn't become BFF's. It was some fortunate networking that happened out of interest as opposed to direct effort.
Then, I got the call. Kensington Publishing offered me a three book deal for my novel, Deadworld. Super excited? You bet. What struck me though, was the fact that they were buying my story as an urban fantasy. This entire time, I had been submitting it as a suspense/thriller. Head smack! What would have happened had I realized what genre my story was best suited for? Another good point learned well after the fact. Understand the market for your story!
With offer in hand, I really wanted to find an agent. I had no desire to do this on my own. I picked about a dozen agents that I had queried before and asked them if they would be interested in a second look because of the offer I had on the table. In hindsight, I didn't give them enough time, which was five days. I probably lost some potential agents with that. In the end, it came down to two.
Nathan, whom I'd already
By: Hannah Moskowitz
This post has nothing to do with writing and absolutely everything to do with being a writer.
The stereotype of a writer--the middle-aged man pounding feverishly at a typewriter, cigarette in his mouth, sending hard-copy manuscripts to his agent and protesting the change of every word--has yet to catch up with the reality of what being a writer entails today.
We are not locked in our attics alone. We are not even the romantic writers of the '20s, drinking coffee and discussing literature. We are a legion of overworked, underwashed normals, pounding away at our laptops and shooing the kids to the next room.
And more importantly, we are not alone.
If you are reading this blog, you have obviously already met at least one other writer (hello there.) Chances are, I'm not the only one. Agent, editor, and writer blogs, facebook, forums like Verla Kay and Absolute Write, and God, above all Twitter, mean that, at the very least, most writers are at least a friend of a friend of yours. The term 'networking' is so appropriate here, because, in actuality, we--writers, publishing professionals, book bloggers--are a net. A web of interconnected people.
We know the same people. The truth is, this world feels very big sometimes, and God knows everyone is talking about writing a novel, but when it comes down to it--the people who are really out there, querying, editing, submitting, representing, accepting, rejecting, publishing, copyediting, waiting...well, the truth is, there aren't that many of us after all.
Which is why the act of being a professional writer has come to mean much more than it used to. Fifty years ago, all most writers had to do was avoid getting arrested and not respond to bad reviews.
You have a much bigger job to undertake. And it's stressful, and it's scary, but it can also be one of the most rewarding parts of this job. Somedays, my writing is absolutely shitty, and the house is a mess, and I'm crying because I can't find my socks, but I have 557 blog followers and I said something funny on Twitter today, so at least this day isn't totally for the birds.
You may think that I am the worst possible person ever to talk about how to be a professional. I'm loud and I'm obnoxious and I had to edit about ten cuss words out of this post so I didn't offend Nathan's sensibilities.
Yep. That's me.
But I'm hoping all that will make me easier to listen to, because when people think 'professional,' they a lot of the time think boring, sanitized, safe. And that's not who you have to
be. I'm living proof over here. And I knew from the start that I was taking a big risk, but I hoped that people would find me interesting and remember me.
It's worked pretty well so far. And that, kittens, is the real reason you want to get out there and put on your professional face. So that people will remember you.
Now that I'm done babbling, here are some guidelines. How to be a successful professional writer, by yours truly. And these are not big, life-changing rules. These are just tricks. Tricky little tricks.
--GET ON TWITTER. I don't care what your objections are. I objected too. But it is hands-down the best way to connect with people you would never have the balls to approach any other way. You can follow someone, which causes them no pain or trouble whatsoever, and you can talk to them in a completely neutral, undemanding way.
--READ ABOUT BOOKS. What do Hunger Games, Twilight, Lord of the Rings, The Da Vinci Code, and a hell of a lot of other books have in common? Answer: I haven't read them.
I'm not proud. But I know I don't have nearly enough time to read as much as I should, so I make a point of reading *about* books I wish I had time to read. Know enough about popular books to be able to fake your way through a conversation. I can discuss Twilight with the best of 'em.
Having written five books, I have naturally developed a vast catalog of practices that work for me. Perhaps sharing a few I can help shorten someone’s path to publication. Someday I even hope to have one of mine published.
Number one: organize your material. I keep mine in plastic garbage bags. Then my research, drafts, and yes, even manuscript are set to file (curbside) when the project is done. Almost as critical is the skill of outlining. I call it outlaying. In the early stages of a book, I’ll spend many hours outlaying in the sun. Sometimes I combine this with another proven technique, mind-napping.
With fiction, pre-develop your characters. I write the names of mine on the back of my hand. That way I think of them wherever I go. Sometimes I draw little eyes on my hand and ink lips around my thumb and forefinger. Then I ask them questions and get them to speak: “s’alright?” “S’alright!”
Free your characters. Encourage them to have lives of their own. Meet them at parties, then follow them, pen in hand, on adventures you could have never dreamed of. The hero of my last novel left me, wrote his own book. A bestseller. Oprah called him. Not me. Him. I answered the phone: “Hi, Oprah! Sorry, Dirk Blowhard is indisposed. I just drowned him in the tub.”
Choose subject matter carefully. My first book idea, about the Wright Brothers’ earliest plane, didn’t fly.
Then I wrote about sexual bondage. The editor liked my submission, but couldn’t get the chain stores to stock me.
Know your subject and market. I wrote a book about car engines and then couldn’t find a distributor.
Be controversial, but not overly. While living in England, I wrote an expose on the House of Windsor. Three agents in black suits appeared at my door. They weren't literary agents. They told me I wouldn't be getting any royalties.
Stick with it. My first novel, ‘SNOWMAN IN SPRING’ ended up in a slush pile.
I wrote a guidebook, “How to get Married”. The editor rejected my proposal. I must have misinterpreted her advances, (which, it turns out, were for another writer). It was all starting to have a familiar ring.
Sure enough, when I proposed a book on antique firearms, she shot me down.
In the publishing biz, rejection happens. Take it in stride. It’s not personal, though it can feel pretty personal, right? I sent an article to a horticultural magazine, on farmstead flowers and fowl. The editor called it poppycock. Said the section on composting was pure crap.
For a barbering journal I penned, “The Race Against Hair Loss.” The editor called it balderdash. Even the part about selecting a toupee. Said the whole thing was a ‘bad piece’.
To get serious, establishing a routine that works is really the most important aspect of writing. People often ask me what specific techniques I use. Actually I would like them to.
I stand on my head for twenty minutes before writing. Blood rushing to my head sets off a neuron frenzy, prompting right brain left brain intercourse and an overall spiking of metabolic function. Then prone I utter a secret Jedi incantation that ends with "best seller come to da, Dah!" From there I go straight to the kitchen, cram a quick snack, rich in iron—raisin bran, maybe a donut. Then I might get lured by the tube for a few minutes, some old sitcoms… But soon, neural activity positively peaking (or more often starting into a post-sugar-high nose dive) I leap to my keyboard, and write!
Words flow from thoughts pent up in my mind as ideas crystallize, as in perfect mid air simpatico my fingers fly. Then, after a bit, usually I remember to turn on the computer.
A few tips worth sticky-noting to your forehead:
Index cards can be useful for outlining your plot. If your plot is in a cemetery that is windy, use rocks to weigh the cards down.
If you are subject to excessive distrac
By: Rachel Bertsche
Can you smell the sharpened pencils in the air? It's the delicious scent of another school year underway. Kids are cracking open new books and diving into the likes of Great Expectations or The Things They Carried or Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.
Though my school days are behind me, as the leaves start to fall (at least here in Chicago) I get the itch for new reading lists. A fresh literary start.
On my fall syllabus? The Hunger Games, of course (I'm so behind) and Freedom (I like to know what all the fuss is about) and whatever my book club demands of me. Currently that's The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf. I could go on, but thinking too much about all the to-be-read books on my shelves makes me anxious that I should stop blogging and start curling up in my book nook, pronto.
So to usher in the new school year, something light, bookish and BFFish (my personal blog, MWF Seeking BFF chronicles my search for a new, local best friend... preferably of the Babysitter's Club variety).
I present to you the literary characters (aside from the members of the BSC) with whom I would most like to be best friends:
1) Boy, The Giving Tree. Some say he’s selfish and greedy, I say he’s lonely. He loves his tree. He could use a BFF.
2) Jo March, Little Women. Or maybe Beth. For one of my college applications, I had to name which fictional character I most identified with. I chose Jo. But I wonder if we could really be best friends? We might be too similar. As much as I love her, I could see us bumping heads. I might benefit more from Beth’s warm heart… You know, before her gutwrenching end.
3) Ginny Weasley, Harry Potter series. She’s awesome. Half badass, half girly. Not as goody-two-shoes as Hermione, but just as brave. I can totally picture us whispering together in the corner.
4) Alice Cullen, Twilight. Whimsical, fiercely loyal, and loves to play dress up. That she can see into the future doesn’t hurt.
5) Harriet the Spy/Nancy Drew. I really wanted to be a child detective back in the day. Sadly, there were very few (read: zero) mysteries that needed solving in my hometown. But I would still very much like to be the sleuthy sidekick.
6) Lisbeth Salander, Millenium Trilogy. I would not want to be on her bad side. But she is crazy protective of her friends, could dig up dirt on anyone at anytime, and would be one of those never-a-dull-moment BFFs.
7) Skeeter Phelan, The Help. She’s passionate, determined, sneaky when she has to be. I think we could be good writing buddies. Read each other’s work, give honest critiques, take breaks to discuss Hilly’s horribleness.
8 ) Oskar Schell, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I'm aware that most people think Jonathan Safran Foer’s first book, Everything is Illuminated, is his best. But I fell in love with Oskar, and this novel, early on. He’s eager
By: Kay Elam
When I was writing my first novel, I knew it was a mystery, but I wasn’t sure of its sub-genre. At a writing conference I was telling someone about my book and they said, “Oh, it’s a cozy.” I simply agreed instead of admitting I’d never heard of such a thing. Since that conference I’ve found many people (including writers) aren’t aware of this popular sub-genre even if they’ve been reading cozies for years.
A cozy is fun. It’s a fast-paced, feel-good read that, when you put it down, you can hardly wait to get back to it. Clues (as well as a few wild-goose chases) are given so the reader will want to solve the mystery along with the sleuth. The victim is not someone with whom the reader has a real emotional attachment—he’s the villain after all—so the reader isn’t dismayed by his/her death. There are twists and turns as well as surprising revelations but, in the end, justice always prevails and the sleuth is the heroine (or hero).
The cozy’s heroine is usually an amateur sleuth (think Jessica Fletcher). This is a role she’s just fallen into because she’s intelligent, intuitive, and inquisitive. She’s usually connected to the crime by someone she knows or because she was nearby when it happened. Often she solves the crime to protect someone important to her. The sleuth is likable, though flawed in a way that is not going to offend the reader. (She eats in bed, is always late, smokes, gossips, smacks chewing gum, or has some other character defect that shows she's less than perfect—just like the reader.)
The sleuth has strong relationships, though not necessarily romantic. She has lots of friends, family, acquaintances who feed her missing links to solve the mystery. These characters are often eccentric, annoying, or amusing—just like people we all know. Frequently the protagonist has a friend or spouse who know facts about the crime that aren’t yet public. This could be a member of the police force (or the sheriff), the medical examiner, the district attorney, a nosy neighbor—you get the idea.
The cozy’s sleuth usually has another job—solving crimes is just something she does because somebody has to do it. She might be a business owner (florist, bookstore, hotel, caterer, etc.), doctor, lawyer, chef, librarian, journalist, tour guide, pet sitter, and so on—or she might be retired with extra time on her hands. Instead of or in addition to a profession, a cozy might center on hobbies such as crafts, puzzles, sewing, needlework/knitting, quilting, golf, tennis, gardening, and genealogy, among others. Some cozies have a theme like the holidays, animals (cats, dogs, horses, birds, etc.), or even religion.
There is often a romantic subplot, but no explicit sex scenes, and there is little, if any, profanity.
The murder in a cozy isn’t described with a lot of details. It usually happens before the book begins or at the very beginning. Sometimes there are multiple murders, but even they are usually off the page. They’re described in general terms—no blood and gore.
A cozy is often geographically specific, usually in a small town or village, but may also be in a “closed” setting like an office, hotel, train, etc. My novel is set in a well-known medium-sized city, but is limited to a specific section of town.
Of course there has to be law enforcement—but they are often short-staffed, kidnapped, out of town, or otherwise unavailable which is why a small town setting works so well. Procedural accuracy is often overlooked in this genre and the police seldom take the protagonist seriously. A lot of cozies are written as a part of a series becau
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