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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Writing life, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Kickass Women of Science Fiction: Including Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Another Giveaway!

Some people say I’m a book pusher. I’m okay with that. I get impatient with friends when they still haven’t read that book I recommended at least A WEEK AGO, for heaven’s sake, so I just go online and send it to them. Pushy? Bossy? I will not apologize. People need to read certain books and yes, I do know what’s good for them.

Which is why I’m about to go full-on pushy once again, and not only recommend some books that you need to read RIGHT NOW to fulfill your need for kickass science fiction heroines, I’m also going to go the extra step of enforcing that by actually giving them away free to one lucky winner.

Diving into the Wreck ebook cover webFirst, Diving Into the Wreck, part of the Diving Universe series by Hugo Award-winning science fiction author Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I’ve been a fan and student of Kris’s for about 13 years, and have always viewed her as a pretty badass woman and author in her own right. But she also writes amazingly complicated and strong women characters who are always so much fun to spend time with. Kris has generously offered to give the lucky winner a signed copy of the book. She also answered some interview questions for me that I’ll share below, so hang on. It’s always fun to hear how other writers think.

 

The Lost WorldSecond is Michael Crichton’s The Lost World, and if you were a fan of his Jurassic Park you may think you already know all there is to know about this sequel, but I think perhaps you don’t. Because the reason I’m pushing it is that it has one of my favorite heroines of all time, Sarah Harding, who is both scientist and never-say-die person-you-most-want-with-you-in-a-crisis, and I am so inspired by her intelligence and toughness I actually reread this book about twice a year just to pump myself up. I think once you’ve experienced Sarah Harding for yourself, you’ll be totally hooked, too.

 

Parallelogram OmnibusThird is my own Parallelogram seriesWhy am I book-pushing my own series? Because I wrote it for a particular reason: to show two very different girls who are entirely kickass in their own separate ways. One is a scientific explorer, willing to try out all sorts of bizarre (and potentially hazardous) physics theories she’s come up with, and the other is a teen adventurer who has been raised by her very badass explorer grandmother to handle all sorts of physical risks with a cool head and a deep will to survive.

In my spare time I like to read a lot of true adventure books by real-life explorers, and I based the teenage adventurer Halli and her grandmother Ginny on two women explorers I really admire: Roz Savage, who rowed solo across the Atlantic (why not??), and Helen Thayer, who was the first person to ski solo and unsupported to the magnetic North Pole. When she was 50, by the way. So yeah, I think you should read Parallelogram for the same reason you should read the Rusch and Crichton books: because the girls and women in these books will entertain and inspire you.

I asked Kristine Kathryn Rusch a few questions about her own writing process and what inspires her to write the strong kinds of characters you’ll find in all of her work:

RB: What qualities do you admire in the heroine of your book Diving Into The Wreck? Did you write those qualities into her character on purpose, or did they develop over time on their own?

KKR: Boss is her own person. She only lets people call her Boss, and she won’t tell anyone her name, because it’s her business. What I love about Boss is that she is so secure in who she is. She knows what she can and cannot do, and she knows just how much she’s willing to tell/give in any situation. She admits when she’s wrong, and she analyzes everything. She’s very strong, but she also can be vulnerable.

My characters come fully formed, but they do reveal parts of themselves over time. Boss & I share a love of history, but she’s so much more adventurous than I am. She would go crazy in a room writing all day. I love it. I never add traits consciously. Subconsiously, who knows? I assume so. But the characters are real people to me, with their flaws and strengths, and that includes Boss.

RB: Who are some of your favorite kickass heroines in other people’s science fiction books and movies? What about them inspires you as a person and/or as a writer? (I’m a big fan of Ripley’s in the Alien series. When she’s rescuing the little girl Newt from the breeding area in Aliens and fighting off the queen alien and her posse–you’d better believe Ripley makes me want to be braver in real life.)

KKR: Favorite SF women. Honestly, that’s a tough one for me. Most of the sf I read is short fiction, and the characters are one-offs. None of the women in the stories I read rise to the level of favorite. I like Ripley–and she was inspiring to me–but is not someone who comes to mind easily.

In SF, my examples were always negative. For example, in Trek, I was so happy that Kathryn Janeway had her own ship. Then I saw the dang first episode, and when she was faced with a big issue that James T. Kirk could have solved in 45 minutes, she gave in, and made her crew suffer for **years**  I think most of the sf films/TV suffer from stupid women problems.

The strong women I read about appear in the mystery genre. I adore Sara Paretsky’s VI Warshawski. I used to love Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Malone, especially when I encountered her in the 1980s. The female lead detectives were unusual women, who did their own thing in a man’s world. They’re the inspiration for my sf heroines.

RB: This is a chicken-or-the-egg question: Do you give your characters some of your own kickass qualities of bravery, wisdom, compassion, etc.–or do you feel inspired as you write their stories to be more like them yourself?

KKR: LOL, Robin. I love that you think I have kickass qualities. I think my characters are more articulate than I am, smarter than I am, more adventurous than I am, and more courageous than I am. I am blunt and stubborn and difficult, and in my fiction, those qualities are virtues, so there’s some of me there. But these folks are not people I want to be: they’re people I want to meet.

RB: Which character of yours has changed you the most as a person? Why?

KKR: The character of mine who has changed me the most as a person is Smokey Dalton, from my Kris Nelscott mysteries. He’s an African-American detective in the late 1960s. He’s a true hero, in my opinion. But his situations are beyond difficult. I always put him in the middle of a historical situation, and then ask him to respond. Some of those historical situations–I keep thinking, if I were there, would I have had the courage to do what he did? Would I have known what to do? And the thing I admire most about Smokey: His world, horrid as it is, doesn’t break him. It makes him stronger. That has had a huge impact on me and my thinking and my writing.

RB: What do you prefer in your favorite heroines, whether it’s the ones you write, read, or watch: More stoic than compassionate, vice versa,or a particular ratio of both? (For me, 80% stoic, 20% compassionate.)

KKR: Compassion first. I quit reading a mystery series set in the Middle Ages because our heroine–a smart and active woman–had a baby, and then abandoned that baby to go on a crusade. Well, this is the Middle Ages, and yes, she might have done that historically, but it would take 2-3 years to return to that child, and there would be no guarantee that the child was safe or well cared for. So I quit reading right there. The woman was too selfish for me to read about. Stoic, yes. But willing to sacrifice someone she loved for her own ends. Not someone I want to read about.

RB: Bonus question: I know you’re a big fan of the time travel series OUTLANDER, as am I. (I just finished the fourth book. What a ride!) If you were in Claire’s position, catapulted back to 1745 Scotland, what skills would you want to bring to the mix? I love her medical knowledge–it’s such a huge asset. But is there some skill you’d find just as valuable?

KKR: Great question. I have a wide variety of historical knowledge and weird trivia. I know how to make a match for example, and I know how to sterilize a room (even back then) and I know what’ll happen when in most of the English-speaking world. So I like to think all of that will be beneficial. Knowing outspoken me, though, I’d probably be jailed as a witch and executed. :-) I also know that I’d be panicked as hell about dying of something preventable, like the cold that has felled me this week in 2015. If it became an infection in 1745, I could die. And I’d probably worry about that more than anything (except the food, which–yuck!) So as you can tell, I’m probably too much of a worrier to time travel safely.

SPEAKING OF TIME TRAVEL …

Kris and I both have novels in the Time Travel Story Bundle, which is on sale for just two more weeks. Here’s your chance to score a whole bunch of great fiction at an incredibly low price. Don’t miss it!

All_Covers_Large

And as soon as you buy the bundle, head on over to my GIVEAWAY PAGE and enter to win those three fabulous science fiction books! I push them because I love–the heroines in those books and you, Dear Readers. Enjoy!

0 Comments on Kickass Women of Science Fiction: Including Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Another Giveaway! as of 1/1/1900
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2. 8 Things Writers Do When Life is Crazy: The Crazy Writing Life


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Life has been crazy the last two weeks and I’ve struggled to keep up. There’s been a major family crisis, a funeral, major snow storms, and illnesses. In spite of all of that, people get up and go to work. Writers must do the same thing: when life throws us crazy, we spin it into something useful.

  1. Accounting. With April 15 almost upon us, I found the extra time at home useful for doing accounting. Not sexy. Not writing. But necessary stuff. (The fact that I’ve been in accounting hell has more to do with my background and abilities than with the rest of the craziness.) I wish I could give you advice on how to do accounting better, but alas, I can’t. You might want to read, though, Laurie Purdie Salas post on her writing income last year. She’s posted this every year since 2007, so you can see her career over a long period.
  2. Reading other blogs using Alltop.com. Several years ago, I followed blogs by subscribing to RSS feeds. The programs that made that easy are discontinued, and I’ve found myself reading fewer and fewer blogs–which isolates me from the community. Alltop.com is filling that space for me. It’s a service that lists the top blogs in many categories, pulls in headlines/teaser from their five latest posts and displays it in an at-a-glance format. I set it as my browser’s homepage, so I’m reminded to check out the latest conversations. Here’s my personal Alltop page. You can create one for yourself that lists your top blogs by creating an account and following their directions.
  3. Clean up your book’s listings at AuthorCentral.com. This continues to be a catch-all site for anything related to my books on Amazon/Kindle. From here, you can change/correct listings, upload cover images, monitor sales and reviews, and more. The links to Amazon Help here are the most useful. Usually, they’ll call you right away. If you only have 15 minutes to do something in the middle of a hectic situation, clean up your book’s description.
  4. Take pictures. I recently got a hand-me-down Digital SLR camera and I’ve been trying to learn how to use it. By keeping it out and available, I can snap off a shot here or there. These are so useful for blog posts, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and most social media sites. Great photography is a useful skill for communicating in any online venue these days. Basically, online you can provide text, images or audio. That’s it. You might as well practice the image thing, because it’s crucial.
  5. My husband, Dwight, doing a "faceprint" in the snow, while the grandkids watch.

    My husband, Dwight, doing a “faceprint” in the snow, while the grandkids watch.




    Olga, Olaf's special friend. This would be a great image to add text for accompany a blog post.

    Olga, Olaf’s special friend. Putting text on top of this image would make it a good advertisement for a blog post.

  6. Choose a writing prompt. It almost doesn’t matter what prompt. Just choose something that will allow you to write. Even in the midst of Life (with a capital L), you need words flowing out.
  7. Start a blog. Oh, my gosh! Start a blog in the midst of Life? Shrug. Why not. You need one. And there’s no good time to do it. So, just get it done. OK. Then, just work on your author website for five minutes.
  8. Cheer for other writers. A friend recently got an offer for her first contract. While I’m in the doldrums, it’s inspiring to see her joy. She’s worked hard for this and deserves success. Who can you cheer for? Who can you cheer up? Do you know that when I get the occasional email about my blog, it totally makes my day? You could do that for someone else. It’s writing; it’s getting your mind off your own swirl of problems; it’s amazingly uplifting to the person getting the email–and to the person writing it.
  9. Observe. Hey! All this craziness is grist for the mill. The best writers see the world at a slant and can communicate that unique perspective in compelling ways. If you’re in a place where the communication can’t happen, then observe all the more. It’s our basic task: pay attention. Don’t check out. Look, listen, taste, smell, feel–live to tell about the crazy times

Send me your good news! I’d love to hear it!

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3. Revision (part two of three)

Last month I posted about revision, starting with a few macro items. I’m here to talk about that even more.

2. Start building on your foundation.

With the macro, we talked about the foundations of the story. Or of a house, in our analogy. (Which is going to get pretty wonky, since I’ve never built a house. You’ll just have to roll with it.) So we’ve got the character and motivation, the worldbuilding, and the major conflicts, goals, and stakes.

For me, everything is interconnected. Characters and their choices drive the plot, the world affects how they behave — that sort of thing. So while I’m talking about everything separately, it’s important to remember that adjusting one aspect of the story will likely impact several others.

And what kind of things am I looking at on this level?

a) Characters and their motivations.

I know we did this one in the last post, but since the characters are the driving force of my stories, I check this in every step until there’s no question that my characters are behaving as they should. I take a closer look at individual scenes to make sure the character development is natural and progressing at a reasonable pace. Or regression, as the case may be. I also go through to make sure that they’re never the same person they were at the start of the scene or chapter.

What’s that mean? I mean the characters need to be active. They need to make decisions. Their situation need to change, even if it’s subtly. They can learn something that changes the way they view a problem. They can take action and be faced with the consequences — either good or bad. Action can be taken upon them, and they’ll be forced to react. Or it can be as subtle as an interaction with another character, and maybe the way they view that character is a little different now.

And that needs to happen in every scene.

b) Plot and conflict.

Speaking of scenes, let’s make sure they’re all useful. A long time ago, I was on the receiving end of some advice. Every scene needs to do two things: plot, character development, worldbuilding, or theme, and one of those things always needs to be plot. If plot is not happening, it either needs to be shoved into that scene, or that scene needs to be removed from the story. Every scene has to earn its place, after all.

Furthermore, does the plot make sense? If at any time there’s an easy solution that my characters aren’t taking, it needs to be really clear why. Someone’s breaking into their house, but they’re not calling the police — WHY? Maybe the characters are hiding a dead body in the basement and it would be a shame for the police to find it. Or whatever. But it needs to make sense why they don’t take the obvious actions.

In general, people will look for the simplest solution possible. Plots that could be solved within a few pages, if only the characters took the natural action, don’t make for good books. It’s not believable.

That said, simple, natural solutions can cause further problems. Going back to the stranger breaking into the house with the people who call the cops (because they don’t have a body in the basement after all), what if the cops come and make things worse? What if they’re on the robber’s side? Or the intruder leaves and the police don’t believe that someone broke into the house? What do the characters do from there? We have all kinds of opportunities to make things worse for the characters and find a plot that both makes sense and will fill an entire book.

c) Balance and movement.

Sometimes, I find my drafts have too many discovery scenes in a row. Or too many action scenes in a row. Or whatever. Too much of one thing at a time gets boring. (Yes, even if it’s action.) When you ride a roller coaster, it’s the steady drag upward that makes the steep drop even more thrilling. And if all you did was roll down the hill . . . even that would get boring. Stories need motion. Up and down. Side to side. They need change.

I like to go through my manuscripts to make sure I don’t have too many talky scenes in a row — or if I have several, make sure they all mean different things to the character, or are about different plots. They need to build tension.

Same for action scenes. (Which doesn’t have to mean sword fights, necessarily. They can be sword fights, of course, but they can also be car chases, kissing scenes, or characters putting their plans in motion.) Constant action, without highs and lows and change is pretty boring. A ten-page sword fight is only interesting if the reader cares about the outcome, and the situation changes rapidly. Maybe people are coming to watch. Maybe there’s money riding on the outcome. Then, an airplane is on a collision course with the fighters. And a meteor! And then someone’s delivering a baby! And more things that escalate the tension.

You get the idea. Things change. There’s movement. And there aren’t a lot of back to back talky scenes, or back to back action scenes without some kind of relief.

d) Structure: Beginning, middle, and end.

For this, I can mostly link to other blog posts about beginnings, middles, and ends. But this is another thing I take a look at when I’m revising. Do I have a solid beginning? A solid middle? A solid end? Have I resolved everything that needs to be resolved?


And that’s all I have room for this time. More next month!

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4. Volunteering: Marketing’s Best Kept Secret

Writing Life Banner

By

Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy RGB 72I’ve met very few writers who got excited over the idea of marketing and promotion–and those who did, were typically folks who did that for a living. Maybe it’s an aspect of a creative soul, but it’s not usually something that comes naturally to us. And the thought of pushing our work on others? -shudder-

I’ve always advocated that the best marketing strategies are the things we enjoy doing. Good marketing is all about making connections, and a great way to do that is by helping others. Volunteering is a fun, rewarding, and beneficial way to “promote” without promoting. For example, conferences need volunteers:

  • To pick up presenters from the airport and assist them during the conference
  • To help register attendees
  • To moderate panels and introduce speakers
  • To work book sale and refreshment tables
  • To help promote the conference through blog interviews or guest posts with presenters

All of these provide opportunities to meet and network with other local writers as well as industry professionals.

I’d belonged to various writers’ organization prior to selling my first novel, but it wasn’t until I joined my local chapter of SCBWI that I realized how valuable such groups could actually be. Up until then, I’d always been “on the outside,” paying my dues (literally) and attending the occasional conference, but never taking advantage of what the organizations had to offer. In fact, I was so clueless then I didn’t even know there were local chapters of the national groups.

Then I met a fellow author at one of my first book signings, and she encouraged me to check out Southern Breeze, which happened to be having their fall conference a few weeks later. I figured, why not? It was only a two-hour drive away, reasonably priced, and had a fun workshop schedule.

As I was registering, I noticed there was a box marked “want to volunteer?” Again I thought, why not? and checked it. Shortly thereafter someone contacted me, and I was signed up at the registration desk to help folks as they checked in. I spent the morning meeting and greeting other writers in my area and had a fantastic time. I was at that conference alone, but after that one hour I knew the names and faces of half the attendees (those in the M-Z section). What could have been a lonely conference was suddenly more welcoming, and guess what–a lot of those people went over and bought my brand-new book when they found out I was brand-new author.

That experience led me to volunteer to moderate the peer group critiques, then I helped out at the conference bookstore, then I became the bookstore liaison, and eventually the publicity coordinator for the region. Along the way, I’ve met some amazing people–from writers to editors to agents and other industry professionals I wouldn’t have been able to meet had I not be a volunteer. I’ve also had some wonderful opportunities offered to me. Best part of all of this–I had fun. Tons of it.

There lies the beauty of volunteering.

Obviously, volunteering for the sole purpose of promoting and shoving your work down everyone’s throat isn’t going to work (we can all spot a poser, right?); you honestly have to enjoy it. But ultimately, networking is what a professional conference or organization is for–to help the members of that organization advance their careers. You get out what you put into it.

Reasons to Volunteer: The Good Deed Side

Volunteering feels good, it’s helpful, and much appreciated. Many local events run on volunteers, and the more people who help out, the better the event is for everyone.

  • You’re supporting other writers
  • You’re sharing the task burden so those who run these events don’t burn out and get overwhelmed
  • You’re helping your organization raise money to educate writers
  • It’s a way to pay back any good fortune you’ve received
  • It’s a way to be part of the community you want to belong in

Reasons to Volunteer: The Business Side

Publishing is a business and these conferences are networking opportunities. The more connected you are, the better your chances of encountering something that can help your career.

  • Opportunities to meet and interact with authors, agents, editors, and publishers
  • Opportunities to speak or present workshops
  • A chance to be considered first (because they know you) when career opportunities present themselves–speaking engagements, awards, writing jobs, etc.
  • Opportunities to meet other authors who can team up with you to market and promote
  • Opportunities to promote your own work

Conferences take a lot of work by a lot of people, and they’re wonderful opportunities to connect with fellow writers and industry professionals. Volunteering can be an enormous benefit on both a professional, and a personal level.

Do you volunteer? Share your experiences!

And speaking of conferences…

Springmingle banner graphic

Calling all kidlit writers and illustrators: Springmingle ’15 Writers’ and Illustrators’ Conference will take place on March 13-15, 2015 in Decatur, GA. Meet editors and agents from industry-leading agencies and publishing houses—and the friendliest, most supportive colleagues one could ever hope to find. Attendees will find nearly a dozen workshop sessions, including: 101+ Reasons for Rejection, Writing La Vida Loca, and Traditional Picture Books in a Digital Age. Visit their website for a complete listing of workshops: https://southern-breeze.scbwi.org/events/springmingle-15/. Presented by SCBWI/Southern Breeze Region.

Janice Hardy is the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now. She lives in Georgia with her husband, one yard zombie, three cats, and a very nervous freshwater eel. Find out more about writing at her site, Fiction University, or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound

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5. Guest Post: The Unlikeliest Road From Fanfiction to Agenting

Industry Life

by

Jess Dallow

Note from Sooz: I’m DELIGHTED to introduce you all to the subrights and film/tv assistant at New Leaf Literary & Media. She has a great post today that I think will resonate with many of you just as it resonated with me. So many of us in writing and publishing got our starts working with fanfiction. But I’ll let Jess take it from here! :)

Up until a year ago, I thought I had a dirty little secret.

From the age of fourteen to thirty, I read, wrote, and beta read fanfiction. I didn’t know there was a name for it when I started (this was a world before fanfiction.net, message boards, and of course, Tumblr), but more than that, I never realized that these stories would end up changing the course of my life. I was a terrible student, but I was creative and happy, and the more I wrote, the more I honed skills I never quite knew I had. And when I ended up majoring in screenwriting, getting told by professors that my dialogue was too clunky and not realistic enough, I wrote more fanfiction. I watched more episodes (at that time it was hours upon hours of Law and Order: SVU), I listened harder, and I kept practicing. It wasn’t for a grade, there wasn’t so much pressure, and I taught myself to fix all of what was wrong. It was only months later when I started to get complimented on my dialogue and so I continued to switch back and forth between screenplays and fanfiction.

One was mandatory. The other taught me things school never did.

In the past sixteen years, I’ve spent time in three different fandoms religiously, and dabbled in a fourth. I hid it from the people in my everyday life, ashamed of a stigma that had been attached to fanfiction since it became whispered about like sin. Things like, “only people with no friends spend their time online, obsessed with a TV show”; “It’s just poorly written porn”; and any other number of insults that I’ve heard throughout the years. But in my secret online life, I started to get a reputation. I was a good writer, but more than that, I was an even better beta. I could look at someone’s work and see the bigger picture. I knew what was missing, what would make it better, but most of all, I discovered that as much as I liked writing, I loved writers more. I loved their enthusiasm and watching their work blossom and take shape and become something beautiful. The knowledge that I helped make someone else’s work stronger made me want to beta every story in every fandom, even if I had no time. I took on more than I could chew, started to write less, and fell in love with this life.

And then a year before I turned thirty, everything changed. A friend I knew through fanfic had written a novel and wanted me to beta it. I was flattered and excited, and I spent the entire weekend reading through it, making edits, and wishing deep down I could do this for a living. And instead of living a life that was no longer right for me, I left all my former dreams behind, including Los Angeles, where I had been living for the past eight years, and moved back to a city I swore I would never return to again. I took informational meetings at literary agencies and got an internship at the incredible New Leaf Literary and Media, Inc. It took less than three months until I was hired in a permanent position and where I’ve spent the last year.  Every day is an adventure and every day I am grateful.

Without fanfiction, without those years of writing and editing, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I wouldn’t have discovered incredible people along the way who believed in me and made me better; I wouldn’t have gotten dialogue down to a science; and most importantly I wouldn’t have discovered what I truly love. I’ve grown up with fanfiction writers who have later become published and I’ve met people who liked the idea of writing, but didn’t discover their life dreams of it until they wrote and posted for the world to see.

I realize now, it was never something to be ashamed of. So whether it’s writing or editing, or even just learning, embrace the fanfiction. It might just change your life.

Before moving back to her home state of New York, Jess Dallow spent eight years working at a talent agency in Hollywood. Deciding books and cold New York winters were more her speed, she became an intern at New Leaf Literary & Media before being hired as the subrights and film/tv assistant. In her spare time, Jess can be found at either Sprinkles or Chipotle, stuffing her face with cupcakes or guacamole (thankfully, not together). You can follow her on twitter.

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6. Five Years, Five Lessons

by

Alex Bracken

Alex

Hello, PubCrawlers! I’ve managed to thaw out my frozen little fingers enough on this absolutely freezing holiday weekend to bring you some news: today is my last post as a regular member of PubCrawl. I have loved my time here beyond words, and it feels wrong to say goodbye–it’s not goodbye at all! You’ll always find me in the comments, and (hopefully!) my friends here will have me back for guest posts every now and then. Before I launch into today’s post, I just want to thank all of YOU for your wonderful comments and thoughts you’ve shared from the beginning!

So much has changed for me over the past year, I’ve been a little more reflective than usual about my life as a writer and thought it was time to solidify five publishing truths for the five years I’ve been around the block. Many people assume that The Darkest Minds was my debut novel, but that’s not the case at all–my first novel, Brightly Woven, was published in 2010 by EgmontUSA. Which brings me to my first point:

1) You will survive set-backs. It’s so much easier to reflect back on this in retrospect, when you have distance between that initial panic and pain and the steadier ground you find, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to remind yourself of this. Setbacks come in all sizes, and usually when you least expect it. One of my biggest was when my first agent, the one who signed me after reading Brightly Woven, left the business right when I was really floundering in that post-debut what-do-I-do-next? state of mind. I’d just moved to New York, and (no joke) the only place I could get reception was leaning out of my bedroom window nine floors up, which added an extra layer of anguish to that particular conversation.

I was reassigned to a new agent within the agency and then spent the next six months wallowing that my new agent didn’t really want me and was too busy for me and we would never have the same relationship I did with my first agent. Well of course we wouldn’t have the same relationship–they’re two different people! I had to take the time to go back to the start and figure out how to rebuild that foundation. I so admire all of my fellow EgmontUSA authors, especially those on the verge of debuting, who are now being asked to do this very same thing in a much, much bigger way. Once the shock of the hit wears off, you will find it in yourself to figure out a way to heal and carry on.

2) This is a very small industry. Everyone has human moments where stress or frustration finally gets them in a stranglehold and sparks a reaction. My editor still teases me about a very emotional email I sent her trying to argue against certain edits she suggested. She understood that it was prompted by a mountain of stress and sleepless nights… and, well, in the grand scheme of authors acting up, it’s not something that’s all that noteworthy. But what I want to say here, as a gentle reminder, is that kidlit publishing is so, so, so small, and despite houses competing over projects and for sales, everyone is pretty friendly with one another. It’s so rare for anyone to stay at one house their whole career, and when they do move, they bring stories with them… and those stories can reach important ears. And, well, this is very true on the author side, too. It’s okay to have an off moment, but people will remember the way you made them feel, both good and bad.

3) Find friends at the same stage of the journey as you. This is so crucial and it relates to what I was saying above–everyone gets frustrated, everyone feels ignored, everyone has questions they’re too scared to ask anyone for fear of looking stupid. Your agent is a great resource for you on this front, but if you’ve decided to go a different route, finding other writers and creating a circle of trust is a great way to blow off some steam. This is such a strange little business that most people outside of it will have no idea what you’re talking about half of the time, even if they are a patient listener and willing to lend an ear. I was really, really lucky to meet Sarah before either of us ever sold a project–in addition to critiquing projects, we could bounce Is this normal? and Am I being a crazy person? questions off each other.

4) Are you having fun yet? There are certainly parts of the publication and drafting process that are NOT fun and leave you wanting to tear your hair out… but if no part of it is feeling fun to you–drafting, daydreaming new projects, what have you–then it might be time to take a breather, just for a little while, and reassess. It’s easy to get tunnel-vision about publication. You start thinking in terms of doing X, to get to Y, to get to Z–you convince yourself that the reward is the end (publication) rather than the process itself… but–I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times–it’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you want to make a career out of this, then you have to enjoy the work itself. Publication is one day. The rest of it takes months, sometimes even years.

5) Find YOUR balance. Here’s one thing I’ve struggled with a lot over the past five years: accepting that what works for others won’t necessarily work for me. I feel envious of other writers who can churn out book after book, seemingly without ever needing to take a break. I wish all the time I was funny enough to rock social media and be a real presence there. I’ve tried copying other people’s work schedules to see if they’ll work for me. And, well, they don’t. I have to take a break between projects, sometimes weeks, otherwise I’m too tapped-out to write anything worth reading. Social media is fun for me, but it’s also a source of anxiety that sucks up a lot of my time, energy, and emotional well-being. It is so much better to be honest with yourself/agent/editor about what you can handle rather than put yourself through the gauntlet of trying, and maybe failing, to get it done. To jack a sentiment from Thoreau: Be not simply good. Be good for something.

Alex lives in New York City where she writes like a fiend and lives in a charming apartment overflowing with books. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Darkest Minds series. You can visit her online at her website, Tumblr, or Twitter.

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7. Guest Post: The Five Elements Every Book Needs

Writing Life

 

by Peggy Eddleman

Peggy Eddleman1The Chinese have a theory that there are five different tastes in food— sweet, spicy, bitter, salty, and sour— and if you have each of these five elements in a meal, then food will be more satisfying. You won’t be searching in the fridge 30 minutes later for that something you can’t quite put your finger on that you are missing.

It’s the same thing for writing books. There are five elements that every book needs to make it every bit as satisfying.

1. Humor

Scientists say that laughing does two things: it helps us to bond with people, and it lessens tension and anxiety. Both are VERY important in fiction. We want our readers to bond with our characters. (As an added bonus, it’ll help the reader bond with you as the author!) And at key points, like right after an intense scene or even during a stressful scene, we can use it to lessen tension and anxiety.

2. Horror / Scariness

Even if horror isn’t your main genre, there are plenty of ways to occasionally frighten your reader. Even things as simple as having your character walk through a creepy setting or leaving a chapter at a cliffhanger will go a long way in adding horror to your book. The big key is to make your reader afraid: they don’t want to know what will happen; they want to worry about what might happen.

BothHardcoversNoBackground3. Mystery

A mystery in a book, such as information the character wants to find out, can keep a reader glued to the story. So build curiosity— even if it’s something like whether a character is a friend or foe, or what the key that they found goes to. Hint about things— like a monster, a treasure, or what’s around the next corner. But NEVER try to build a mystery by making things unclear. That’s confusion, not a mystery.

4. Action / Adventure

It’s a good idea to not go too long without action in your books. I’m not saying your characters have to run for their lives or jump off a cliff (although I am quite fond of characters jumping off a cliff :)). Action can be things as simple as running to make the train. Sneaking around somewhere they shouldn’t be. Being caught in a rainstorm. Something that gets the characters moving. Preferably fast.

5. A Sense of Wonder

Some genres— fantasy and scifi, especially— evoke a sense of wonder quite strongly. But it can be added in any genre through fascinating characters, looking at an everyday something very differently than you’ve looked at it before, or with an interesting setting. Think of where you’d love to go on vacation the most. You want to go there because of the sense of wonder that setting will evoke, right? Whenever you can, think about putting your characters in a more interesting setting. Why have a conversation happen in a boring kitchen, when it can happen in the woods, at a construction site, in a museum? Use things that will get the reader to stop and think about what is possible. To stop and look at something closely. The wonder they’ll create themselves.

If you put some of each of those 5 things in your book, when a reader finishes, they won’t be searching their Kindle for the something they’re missing that they can’t quite put their finger on. They’ll be texting all their friends about how they have to read your book.

Peggy grew up in an area filled with untamed places to explore, with parents who allowed her to be daring, and with resourceful siblings, which combined to make her middle grade years one giant action / adventure story. The magic of those years has never truly left Peggy, and she can’t help but tap into them as she writes books like Sky Jumpers and The Forbidden Flats. Today, Peggy lives at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Utah, and hangs out online at her website, blog, Twitter, and Facebook.

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8. Guest Post: From The Heart

Writing Life

 

by Pamela Voelkel

Amie here first: Today’s is a very special post, and we here at Pub Crawl want to encourage you to read it all the way through, and pass this news along to the readers in your life.

As you may be aware, Egmont USA recently closed its doors, leaving some wonderful authors without a home. Many people would have screamed in frustration at the unfairness of it all — all that work, then this! — but instead, Egmont’s Last List has handled the situation with grace and humour, and we all admire them so much. In the next few months, Pub(lishing) Crawl will be featuring Egmont authors as their books release, and we hope you’ll all join us in supporting them and celebrating their wonderful books.

You can find them in their new online home here, and if you’re a blogger and want to help show the Last Listers how ready the publishing community is to support them, we hope you’ll head over to the blog hop that Cuddlebuggery is hosting, and sign up. Let’s show Egmont’s Last List some love — you can do so in the comments below to enter today’s giveaway, and whether you enter or not, we hope you’ll let the Egmont authors know you’re right behind them!

Now, here’s Pamela:

Back CameraToday is a huge day for my co-author (and husband!) Jon and me because it marks the end of a ten year obsession. That’s how long we’ve been researching, writing and illustrating the Jaguar Stones books, a series of Maya-themed adventures for middle-schoolers.

So much has happened. So many family trips to Central America, so many interviews with archaeologists, so many nights at home in Vermont arguing about plot points or trying to coax a crashed computer back to life. And then there’s the journey to publication, the book tours (thank you, Egmont!) and school visits, the amazing emails from readers, and the way people just generally seem to like you better when they find out you write books for children.

So today, as the fourth and final Jaguar Stones book, THE LOST CITY, is released, I’d like to share my top ten moments from the last ten amazing years:

The first time we visited Egmont USA and the wonderful Alison Weiss had made a huge poster of a Maya stela to welcome us.

Discussing the perils of trying to make a living as a writer with another Egmont author, the great Walter Dean Myers. His advice? “Write fast!”

The sheer terror and excitement of being interviewed live by Al Roker for his book club segment on the Today Show.

The look of horror on Meredith Viera’s face when we took a wrong turn after our spot and nearly stumbled onto the news set in our pith helmets, like explorers looking for the source of the Nile.

JaguarThe day I forgot to pack food for a dawn walk in the jungle and fed my kids termites for breakfast. (A woody, carrotty taste, since you ask.)

The day Jon was peed on by a howler monkey.

The school visit where a boy who’d never spoken in class before raised his hand and said: “I am Maya.” We handed him the mic and he took it from there.

Being after-dinner speakers for an End Of The World party near Chichen Itza on December 22, 2012.

Something that can’t be told in bullet points, but so many faces, so many places, so many Maya people who told us their stories.

Being part of this incredible community of authors, bloggers, booksellers, editors, teachers and librarians who have rushed to support the last ever list from Egmont USA. Since our age range of readers aren’t online so much, we don’t do much blogging beyond our own website – and then shamefully sporadically. So it’s been astonishing to be swept up in this wave of love. I will never again say that writing is a lonely profession.

In that moment when we received the shock news from Egmont, it felt like everything was over just like that, and we were alone and forgotten in a publishing world that had its own problems to worry about. But then the emails began to pour in.

When Amie. suggested this piece, she said: “It’s the least I can do.” No, Amie. No, it really really isn’t. I never expected to associate the closure of my publisher with happy feelings. But thanks to Amie and to all you guys, and whatever happens next, it will be impossible not to look back and smile a little.

Amie says: Leave a comment below showing Egmont’s Last List some love, and enter to win a copy of all FOUR Jaguar Stones books, signed by the authors! (USA only, sorry internationals!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Pamela and Jon Voelkel are the author and illustrator of the Jaguar Stones series. You can find them at their series website, or on twitter! To research the Jaguar Stones, they and their three adventure-loving children have explored over forty Maya sites in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico; canoed down underground rivers; tracked howler monkeys in the jungle; and learned to make tortillas on an open fire. Jon’s most frightening experience was being lost in a pitch-black labyrinth under a Maya pyramid. Pamela’s most frightening experience was being interviewed by Al Roker on Today.

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9. Author v. Them: When to Revise for Critiquers


PB&J: Picture Books and All That Jazz: A Highlights Foundation Workshop

Join Leslie Helakoski and Darcy Pattison in Honesdale PA for a spring workshop, April 23-26, 2015. Full info here.
COMMENTS FROM THE 2014 WORKSHOP:
  • "This conference was great! A perfect mix of learning and practicing our craft."Peggy Campbell-Rush, 2014 attendee, Washington, NJ
  • "Darcy and Leslie were extremely accessible for advice, critique and casual conversation."Perri Hogan, 2014 attendee, Syracuse,NY


I am scared to work on my WIP story right now.
Why?
Because someone I respect read the story and said that it’s working well, but I think I need to make one change–a pretty big one–to make it even stronger. But Critiquer said it was great, as is. If I mess with it, will it – well, mess it up? Or will messing with it make it stronger like I suspect?

The Role of Critiques: Clearing up Confusion

This leaves me with a major question about the role of critiques. Basically, I get critiques to check how well I’m communicating. I don’t get critiques to see if my writing is any good (see this post on the good/bad question)

Good feedback includes a reader pointing out where they are confuse or where they lost interest.

Confusion, in early drafts, is often because my vision for the story isn’t solidified, which results in inconsistent portrayal of a character, or contradictory information.

“On page 11, you said Martha was mad, but when she meets Horace in page 15, she runs up and hugs him. Which is it? Mad or glad to see him?

Often, I want to say, “Both.”
But that doesn’t work, does it? If she is livid on page 11, she’d better show that fury on page 15. Else, why have her so mad on page 11?

Another inconsistency that escapes me in early drafts is points of fact or logic. In my WIP, the villain will use a drone to deliver something remotely. My idea about drones was that they are sort of airplane shaped, but the reviewer quickly sent me to YouTube to discover that they are more helicopter-like, but instead of one big blade on top, they have multiple rotating blades on top. Or at least, one current popular model looks like that. I could, of course, invent my own drone design for this story, but why? That would take valuable time away from the creation of characters and plot. My story isn’t ABOUT drones, so it’s not worth the effort. Instead, I’ll look at videos of several different models and synthesize something more factual than the current description.
Revise

The Role of Critiques: Reader Reaction

Again, I don’t care if you call my story good or bad. But I do want to know where a typical reader loses interest. WHERE is the key question. Not WHY? As the author, I should be able to pinpoint the why. I just need to know WHERE. When you tell me where you lose interest, I’ll look and go through a mental list of things that could be happening: the prose is awful, nothing is happening, the characters are boring, etc.

I can revise to keep your attention by using better prose, pumping up the action, writing more active character descriptions, putting more at risk in the main character’s life and so on.

The Trap of Critiques

The biggest problem for me today, though, is the trap of critiques; or perhaps to sat it differently, the problem is that someone said my story is Good. Good is the enemy of Best, goes the old proverb. But it’s good. Someone–a reader I respect–said it’s good. Do I trust that, or do I listen to the itch in my storyteller’s sense that I need to tweak this one spot, which will improve pacing later, and create BETTER?

I’m scared of messing it up badly. Of course, I can keep a copy of BEFORE; but the revision will take a lot of small changes and it will be hard to get back to the original. Will I take a chance or not? And if I make these changes, but then realize that it didn’t turn out for the best, will I be willing to do the work to undo everything? Commit or not? Today, I’m scared to work.

It’s a typical day for an author.

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10. Guest Post: Selling On Proposal

Writing Life

 

by Kara Taylor

i-3dhcRPx-X2There’s a ton of information out there for writers on the submission process, or what happens once you’ve signed with a literary agent and it’s time to take your book out like a nice, meaty gazelle to all the editor lions. Usually when an author says their manuscript is on sub, they’re talking about a complete book.

But what if you’ve been on the sub train before and have already got a book or two published? You’ve proven that you can finish an entire book in a timely manner, and you’d love the income and stability of another publishing contract—even if you don’t have a polished, complete manuscript ready to go.

prep school 1That’s when you should have an honest conversation with your agent about selling a book on proposal.

Full disclosure: My agent sold my latest book on proposal. I had just wrapped up a series for a publisher, and I’d started a new project I was really excited about. Instead of waiting until I had written the whole book, I showed my agent the first few chapters, plus a synopsis. She was even more excited than I was, and we mutually decided to submit it to a batch of editors.

Wizard that my agent is, she found an editor who was even more excited about the book than WE were, and by the end of the week, we’d accepted her offer.

The first rule of Selling on Proposal: There are no hard and fast rules.

prep school 2So what is a proposal anyway? Generally, I’d say a proposal consists of, at the very minimum, five sample chapters and a detailed synopsis of the book. My proposal had seven sample chapters—about 50 pages. I’ve also read a proposal that had sold on nearly 100 pages and a very detailed synopsis.

*Here’s a good time to mention the distinction between submitting on proposal and a contracted book. If your agent sells your manuscript in a multi-book deal, and you accept, you get to write more books for your publisher. Yay! You will probably have to have your editor approve the topic of your next book based on a proposal—especially if the first book you sold is a standalone and not the beginning of a series—but lets forget about contracted books and focus on submitting on proposal.

I’d heard that only bestsellers can sell on proposal, or that proposals don’t sell for as much money as completed manuscripts. Both proved false for me, but again, there are no real rules. This is publishing!

The second rule of Selling on Proposal: That proposal has to rock!

prep school 3Since you’re only showing editors a sample of your writing, it should be the best dang writing you’re capable of. A lot of writers get hives at the word “synopsis”, but the synopsis is where you have to sell all the twists and turns in your story and set it apart from other books in your genre. So while technically a proposal is an unfinished book, a proposal should never feel unfinished.

Easy, right? You’re probably thinking, “I’d rather just write the whole book at that point!” Which brings me to…

The third rule of Selling on Proposal: It’s okay if it’s not for you.

I see a lot of authors worry about selling on proposal, since it’s essentially selling an idea. The actual, finished book might not be what the editor who bought it was expecting. It’s true that delivering a book under a deadline is stressful, and some writers feel the quality of their work suffers when there’s pressure to produce.

My story ended happily: My editor and I are both very happy with how the book turned out. Now, let’s see what readers think next year!

KARA THOMAS is the author of THE DARKEST CORNERS, coming from Penguin Random House/Delacorte Press in Spring 2016. She also wrote the Prep School Confidential series (St. Martin’s Press) and the pilot The Revengers for the CW under the pen name Kara Taylor. She’s represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary & Media. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, or on the couch with her rescue cat, Felix.

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11. Revision (part one of ??)

by

Jodi Meadows

There have been a lot of posts covering the revision process, but since every writer is different — and every book is different — there’s always room for anther revision post. The request for this post came with a mention of revising a Nano project, so I’ll start with sorting out the most basic first draft a person can write. Like, it’s just a collection of words on paper. Things happen. To people. Maybe it makes sense. Maybe it doesn’t.

1. Start with the macro.

That is, make sure the structure of the book is solid. There’s no point in moving furniture around a house that doesn’t have a stable foundation, or has missing walls. I mean, you can’t even put a window in when you don’t have a wall.

So first, identify the things that are important to you. Those will be what you come back to in order to ensure you’re staying true to the story you want to tell. What is the story you want to tell? What’s the most important aspect? What’s the thing that drew you to the story in the first place?

Once you know all that, you can work toward bringing what you have closer to your vision.

What are these macro things you need in place? (Since you’re writing a book, not building a house.)

a) Character and motivations.

Make sure you know your characters. When they take action — or react to something — make it consistent with what you’ve already set up. Or if someone acts out of character, be sure the reader understands why they’re doing that.

Deciding a few things early on might help. “Gabrielle never runs from a fight,” or “Alexia chooses sneakiness over directness every time,” or “Sarah always sees the good in people.” If you can figure out some basic, character-defining statements early on (just for yourself, not to state in the book), then you’re going to have a much easier time building (or reinforcing) the foundations of your character.

As you go through the draft, make sure that every decision your characters make is true to what you’ve laid out. If every single one of your character is doing this, then you’re more likely to have a solid foundation for the story, with fewer “but wait, I thought–”

b) Worldbuilding.

Speaking of “but wait, I thought–“, make sure your worldbuilding is in order. If you haven’t done so already, lay out your rules. Check them for logic. I don’t care if you’re writing space opera, steampunk, or contemporary: your world has rules and you need to know what they are.

If you’re writing something set in the real world (or real world with a twist), make sure you know all there is to know about the locations where your story is set. (Laws — written and unwritten — history, driving distances, etc.) Research is your friend for making the reader feel like they are living in your world along with your characters.

If you’re adding an element of magic to the real world, make sure your new rules are logical and consistent.

And if you’re building a whole new world . . . same thing, but you’ll have to go through and invent not just the laws and elements of magic, but the geography and cultures and even the stars in the sky. Get your macro worldbuilding solid so the micro makes sense.

c) Major conflicts, goals, and stakes.

Pull out the biggest problems for your characters. Is it getting a date to Prom? Is it saving the world? Something in between?

Make sure you’ve identified the main issues. Often you’ll find a few main plots — a couple external and an internal. (Obviously there can be more plots than that, but we’re talking main plots/basic structures.) Do your characters work toward their goals? Are the goals and conflicts connected?

A quick way to weed out useless scenes is to figure out whether or not the scene drives the plot. If a scene doesn’t get the characters closer to — or farther from — their goals, chances are you can cut it. (Or find a way to make it work.)


Sooooo . . . this is a lot of just identifying what you have on the page, and I’m already at a fairly good-sized post. I guess that means I’m breaking this topic up into parts. How many parts? I don’t know.

Anyway, I hope this is helpful for getting some of the big-picture items in order! Anyone have anything to add?

Jodi Meadows lives and writes in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, with her husband, a Kippy*, and an alarming number of ferrets. She is a confessed book addict, and has wanted to be a writer ever since she decided against becoming an astronaut. She is the author of the INCARNATE Trilogy and THE ORPHAN QUEEN Duology (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen).
*A Kippy is a cat.

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12. The Big Idea: How to Find the Right Idea to Turn into a Book

 

Writing Life Banner

by

JJ

__

JJ

Where do you get your ideas from? is a question writers commonly receive, and is probably one of the hardest ones to answer. Part of that is because the Idea Generation process is different from writer to writer, and part of it is because many of us simply don’t know. We might as well say we get our ideas from IDËA, the Scandinavian idea superstore. Makes as much sense as anything else we might say.

However, speaking with other writers over the course of the past few months, I’ve noticed that many of us don’t lack for ideas; we just don’t know how to turn those ideas into novels. This is something I’ve struggled with on a current work-in-progress: I’ve had ideas about this book for years (eight years and eight completely rewritten drafts, to be precise), but it wasn’t until a few months ago that I finally figured out how to wrangle the Idea into an actual Novel.

When I look back at all the books I’ve written (finished, that is), I tried to pick apart why I managed to reach the end of this particular story when that one was an abject failure. Because I like programs and formulas and systems-building (even though I hate math), I managed to distill Idea Generation into three components.

Characters, Premise, Plot.

Sounds pretty simple, of course. All books have these three components, but identifying these components is sometimes harder than you think. (Or it was for me, anyway.) If your novel has two of these three components, then the odds of you being able to finish writing it are pretty high. However, if your novel has only one of them, then you’ll probably find yourself floundering somewhere in the dreaded “sagging middle”.

First, some definitions:

  1. Character: the people who populate the story. This is pretty self-explanatory, but I will get further into this in a bit.
  2. Premise: the “hook”, or setup of the novel. What we in the publishing industry might call “high-concept” or what my old boss used to call “the handle”—the “nugget” you can get a grip on.
  3. Plot: what happens, or the journey, both emotional and physical. I’ve briefly touched on the difference between Plot and Story before (although I may get into this a little more in-depth later), but for the sake of simplicity, we’ll call this point Plot.

Before, we start writing a book, I think I should note that it’s important to daydream. Daydreaming is the time when scraps of ideas come to you: the what ifs of Premise, the quirks of Character, the excitement of Plot. They may not necessarily be connected to each other, but all these scraps may become important or useful later. (Let’s call these wisps Story Seeds.) I think writing down these Story Seeds in a notebook or your phone is helpful, in case you might need something later.

How to decide what to work on.

This is different for everyone. Some people write because there’s a hole in their personal marketplace. Meaning, I want to read a book about zombie-engineers and I don’t see it on the shelves, so I’m going to write it myself. (Writing to the actual market is not the best idea.) Some people write to prove something wrong. As in, I read this book that I should have liked because it had all the elements I like in a book, but it was executed in a way I hated, so I’m going to fix it. (There is nothing wrong with this being your raison d’être for writing, by the way!) Still others have a character or an image that keeps coming back to them, and they want to figure out what the story is. Whatever the reason is, make sure it’s the “strongest”, the one you keep returning to, like worrying a loose tooth.

Identify which component your Story Seed(s) is(are).

I tend to start with Character. I often have an image of a person, a visual snapshot in my head. For example, in my current WIP, I had the image of a young girl, sitting on a rooftop in London, waiting for her best friend to arrive. Who was her best friend? What was the girl feeling? Anxious? Excited? Impatient? Why?

For the book I recently sold, I was suddenly struck by the image of a young woman in dingy 18th century clothes. She was in a barrow underground somewhere, and she was a musician. A composer. What was she doing there? Who was she? What was her family like?

Sometimes my Character Story Seeds come bundled with Premises, at which point I usually start writing, but sometimes they just float in the æther of my imagination, untethered to anything else. The Story Seeds I frequently come up with are Premise and Character. What if there was a system of magic where what was appropriate to practice was divided by class and gender? Why are there no California gothic stories? My Premise Story Seeds tend to drift and attach themselves to Characters without me having to think about it, but sometimes I have to go and pair up Story Seeds consciously.

I don’t talk much about Plot because I suck at it. This is generally because I’m a pantser, but when it comes down to it, I actively steal Plots from other things. Fairy tale retellings, movies I’ve seen, TV shows I’ve watched, etc. I don’t copy the Plots down to the letter, but stealing helps me find structure.

Identify which component(s) is(are) missing.

In the case of my current WIP, I was missing both Premise and Plot. For years, I lived with these characters; I knew their backstories, their histories, their futures, but what I did not know was The Point. Essentially, I didn’t know why other people should care about these characters. They didn’t have any purpose; they lived in an alternate past, but the alternate past was alternate because it needed to be to fit my characters, not because it served any other point.

I rewrote this book eight times. Between finishing other novels, I would keep coming back to this Story Seed. It wasn’t dead on the page, not like my retelling of The Magic Flute (that one just had a Plot, no Characters, and no real Premise either). I just needed to get the right elements together, the right chemicals, and get it started.

One night, I was watching Bear play a game of Magic the Gathering with his friends, which reminded me of one of my Premise Story Seeds. It was a system of magic I was noodling with, currently unattached to any Character Story Seeds or Plot Story Seeds. I had also been struggling with my WIP yet again just a few moments before and thought, Oh my god…what if my characters lived in this world with this magic system?

Boom. I had it now. Character and Premise. I started figuring out the Plot from there.

__

Of course, this system doesn’t work for everyone. But this is how I identified what wasn’t working in a current project. Why the “idea” wasn’t enough to fill a book. Hope this helps some of y’all!

What about you? What are your thoughts? How do you come up with your ideas for novels?

S. Jae-Jones (called JJ) is an artist, an adrenaline junkie, and the author of THE GOBLIN KING (Thomas Dunne, 2016). Before moving to grits country, she was YA fiction editor in New York City. A southern California native, she now lives in North Carolina, and many other places on the internet, including TwitterTumblr, and her blog.

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13. Multiple Perspectives

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By

Biljana Likic

biljana new picWriting from multiple perspectives is often a very rewarding way to convey the complexity of a plot. In stories that involve a lot of world-building, like high fantasy, it’s a good way of expanding the world you’re creating. You can better develop concepts like the reality of social status if your story that includes slaves isn’t entirely written from the viewpoint of a princess. You can also mess with readers. You can have a blacksmith plan to manipulate a swordsman, but when the actual manipulation is happening, it’s told from the swordsman’s oblivious perspective. There are few better ways to create those exciting situations where the reader knows what will happen but the character does not. There are even fewer better ways to orchestrate an event in such a manner that even the reader is unsure if what they’re reading is true, which of course keeps them reading.

Platitudes aside, there’s a massive, massive trap that everybody can fall into (and I most certainly have in the past) concerning multiple perspectives: too many viewpoints.

Consider this. You’ve come up with a world, you have your map, you mostly know what you want to happen, and you start writing. The general gist is a classic “Let’s overthrow the Villain,” where a whole cast of characters is developed through the archetypes of Hero’s support, Villain’s support, collateral damage, etc.

First we meet the Hero. This is where you describe the Eastern Flatlands the Hero’s living in. Then we meet the Thief, who’s out picking pockets in the Central Capital. Then comes the Villain, scheming in a remote castle on the Northern Coast, then the Mercenary trudging through the Western Alps, the Hunter in the Ancient Forest in the south, the Peasant in the Bread Bowl that’s consuming said forest…

Well that’s a wonderful lesson in geography, but I can almost guarantee you that people reading won’t give a damn about a single person from whose perspective the story has been told so far. That means there will be no investment, and when bad things start happening, they won’t care.

Why? Because the story’s being spread too thin.

When people invest in something, they expect returns. The first thing introduced is the Hero. The Hero will obviously be important. Afterwards, we have the Thief, Villain, Mercenary, Hunter, and Peasant. That’s five people established in their own separate geographical locations. If each person gets around 1500 words, then that’s at least seven thousand words about random people we don’t care about in places we can’t relate to, because the places are all new and the people are not the Hero. Before you know it, nearly 10k of your story has already gone by and you still haven’t even gotten around to the point where the Hero’s mentor dies. Not that we’ll care, because the last time we met the hero was thirty pages ago. By now, we’re already in love with the idea of a romantically attractive killer-for-hire in the mountains and wondering why he was replaced so quickly by boring hunters and peasants trying to feed their families.

So what happened here? It could just be that kind of story: you have six or seven big players around the edges of the world symbolically traveling towards the centre where they will find each other, interact, and blow our minds with how masterfully their stories end up weaving together. After all, in the grand scheme of things, 10k isn’t that many words, and if you develop the other voices well enough and make us invest in all of them, we probably won’t care as long as it’s good.

Ooooooor you spent so much time coming up with your world that your plot fell by the wayside. Moving on to a different character is less of a conscious decision and more of a way to procrastinate. Less, “This is excellent! I know exactly what will happen when I come back to the Hero!” and more “Mmmmmlet’s see…what does the Hero want now…I wonder what the Thief is doing…”

Because you know your world better than the people in it, you’re taking more time exploring it than your characters, and you end up writing about what it’s like to live in the Flatlands, on the Coast, or near the Alps, instead of focusing on your Kill the Villain plot. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with this, just that it results in you writing an exploration of a land instead of writing what you originally wanted: a gripping tale of adventure and intrigue.

The point isn’t to explore the world. …Well, it is. But the bigger point is to explore the plot, and then what you see of the world through that is the icing on the cake. Focus too much on your world and you risk making your plot stagnate.

Admittedly, what I’m saying heavily relies on all of those perspectives being disjointed travel diary entries by characters of various vocations. It’s difficult to explain this without actually showing you a piece of fiction, because the skeleton of the work still has potential. But in the event that the cause of all these perspectives is, in fact, the helpless floundering of a writer with a world too large for the plot, there are a few things you can do about it.

First, admit it. That’s always the toughest, because by this point, you probably like all the character’s you’ve come up with along the way.

Second, kill off those characters. Or at least tuck them away for now. Keep them alive in your notes, but cut them down for the moment.

Third, and most important. Choose one character that will be the theme of your story.

Say the Hero is your theme. Spend time establishing that character so that we have some understanding of their life and motivations. Give them dreams and goals, and then gradually, gradually, LIKE REALLY GRADUALLY, start introducing more and more characters. But only if their story can somehow relate back to the story of the theme character. For example, the Hero needs to find X, and the Mercenary needs to find X. However, the first hint we hear that the Hero needs to find X isn’t until 10k into the story, and then we don’t find out what that X is until 50k in. So when would you introduce the Mercenary? After 10k, when the Hero has discovered that X must be found.

The Mercenary, who was once just a random hot dude wandering the Alps, is suddenly the Hero’s direct competition for X. That’s what makes us care about him. Now, slotting him in from time to time to break up the voice of the Hero will not only be an effective way to develop the western part of your land, but also a way to tease the reader with what the hell X could be and how it relates to the Hero.

As your plot develops, do the same with the other perspectives. If the Hero’s reading a rare book 4k into the story, and the book is one the Thief, all the way in the Capital, desperately needs, there’s your in for introducing the Thief. Then 35k later when the Hero’s finally visiting the Capital with the book in hand, let the Thief be a Thief and have them make contact. This will also give you the fascinating opportunity to recreate the city from the eyes of the country bumpkin Hero after dozens of scenes of the city through the eyes of the savvy Thief.

The idea is that even though these characters are so far away from each other, even though they have no clue who the other is, they’re all connected to the theme character through their desires and ambitions. They all relate back to something about the Hero whose influence, like a catchy hook of a good piece of music, can be found even in the parts of the story focused on other characters.

Another thing this will do (just by virtue of it being done) is drastically improve the flow of your story.

Alternatively, if you don’t approve of the idea of a theme character, you scrap everything I’ve said above and do this instead: make it so that the multiple perspectives are from characters who know each other. This usually depends on them being in the same geographical location, but if you don’t want a theme character and you have the luxury of the characters being in the same place, here is a different way to write your multiple perspectives.

Pick up all your characters: Hero, Thief, Villain, Mercenary, Hunter, Peasant. Drop them all into one place. Create relationships between them: the Hero and the Thief are friends, the Thief buys meat from the Hunter, the Hunter also sells meat to the Mercenary, who works for the Villain, who owns the land the Peasant tills. This way, they all indirectly know each other. Which means that the first scene with the Hero can maybe include the Thief. The next scene with the Thief can include the Hunter, etc. If the Hero’s perspective includes a character who later contributes their own perspective, at best it’ll be freaking awesome to know what that character was thinking while you were in the mind of the Hero, and at worst it’ll be an interesting addition that adds depth to the complexity of your story. Also, in this way, you don’t have to worry about how people will remember who’s who since they’re ever-present within the perspectives of the others, not only within their own.

But, like I said, it depends on their geographical location. It also depends on if they know each other at all. It depends on the kind of story you want to write, and if you’re at all willing to bend to the idea of a theme character.

Moreover, it depends, as always, solely and entirely on your plot.

Biljana Likic is working on her fantasy WIPs and has nearly completed her MA in Medieval Studies, from which she can’t wait to graduate so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can follow her on Twitter.

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14. Novel Craft: Pottery Lessons

Hi folks, I'm writing a series about how certain artistic skills enhance other artistic skills. I am an artistic and crafty person. I buzz around art. I will dip my toe into most forms of expression. There are a few that I've focused on and have found that those experiences have informed my novel craft. This week I'm going to talk about pottery lessons.


Once upon a time back in my college days, I had the time learn how to throw pots. I have found that those long ago pottery lessons have always been with me as a writer.  At first, you need much support to even begin to throw a pot.  Someone else chooses your clay. She walks you through how to prepare it. You are give many hints on how condition the clay to make it suitable for throwing. Beginning writers need this same kind of support. I needed others to help me recognize my viable ideas versus my dead-in-the water ideas. I needed advice on how to approach ideas so that I could even get on the road to producing something that would engage readers. Seek out help in the beginning. 

Throwing a pot is about finding the center of the clay, and getting all the other clay to revolve around that center. At first it feels impossible. The clay bulges in weird ways. It will even go flying off the wheel. My hands and elbows would be scraped.  I practiced again and again.  Experience is everything. Finally the day came. I slapped the clay on the wheel and pressed it with my hands, and the clay instantly centered.  I had to have confidence and a steady hand. The first important step to writing is finding that story center.  Stories revolve around their centers.  It took much practice to throw the clay of an idea onto the wheel of my imagination and then center it with the force of my will.  I always feel that sense of knowing when I center a pot or center of a story. It is unimaginably satisfying. 

One more pottery lesson, once a pot is formed and hardened, it's time to fire it. A glaze is applied to the exterior of the greenware.  This glaze will harden into shiny coating when extreme temperature is applied.  All stories must go through a refiner's fire to come to elegant completion. This is a dangerous time for a pot and a story. I have worked hard to get it to this place, but the refiner's fire can destroy my work.   Pots crack, Glazes wonk. You may end up with something very different from your initial vision. You may end up with a muddy mess that has to be thrown into the scrap pile. Stories are the same. In writing, the fire is revision. Revision may lead to a new novel or it may lead to a worthless disaster. Regardless, it is the only way to success.  You may feel fear during revision time. You are right to be afraid. You will have to apply your hottest thought force to make your finished story emerge, and there is a good chance you will fail. Writing is not for the faint of heart. 

I hope these pottery lessons help you on your journey. One more week of lessons is ahead. Drop back by for it. 

Here is the doodle.



Here is a quote for your pocket: 

Beautiful forms and compositions are not made by chance, nor can they ever, in any material, be made at small expense. A composition for cheapness and not excellence of workmanship is the most frequent and certain cause of the rapid decay and entire destruction of arts and manufactures. Josiah Wedgwood.

0 Comments on Novel Craft: Pottery Lessons as of 1/24/2015 3:57:00 PM
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15. Who is Your Narrator Talking To?

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by

Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy RGB 72Every story has a narrator–some narrators are the protagonist, others tell the tale as a group, and some lurk in the shadows or hover above the story like an all-seeing-eye. Whichever point of view style a writer chooses, it’s pointing at someone.

In grand terms, it’s the reader, but it can be more subtle than that. Some novels break the fourth wall and address the reader directly, while others have their characters exist in a world that feels like we’re watching on closed circuit TV.

All of these point of view styles can work, and one isn’t preferable over the other. But if you’re struggling with your novel, or feeling like your point of view is off in some way and don’t know why, or just want to kick you novel up a notch, it might be worth identifying a few things:

  1. Who is your narrator?
  2. Who is he or she talking to?

Answering these two questions can help you pinpoint who is at the center of your story and the best way to convey that story to your readers.

Who is Your Narrator?

In most cases, this will be easy to answer. A first-person novel is clearly narrated by the first-person character. Same with a tight third person perspective. Third person omniscient has an outside narrator. But when you add more characters or write with a medium narrative distance, the narrator(s) can become less obvious or even get lost. If you’re unsure, ask yourself:

  • What point of view am I doing?
  • Who’s story is it?
  • Am I inside or outside of the point of view character’s head?
  • Do I share any information the point of view characters couldn’t know?
  • Once you know your narrator, think about who she’s narrating the story to.

Who is Your Narrator Talking To?

A common trope (especially with first person) is to treat the novel as if the protagonist was writing or had written down her story. These are the events that passed at a certain point in a certain life. The narrator is literally talking to the reader, intending the novel to be read by someone. But take a step back and think about what that means to the protagonist–the “reader” means something different to her than it does to us, because in her mind, it’s someone living in her world. If she’s writing about her struggles to overcome a natural disaster, she expects her readers to know about that disaster and understand it on a personal level. She’s probably not picturing people sitting in a comfy chair at Starbucks while they sip a latte, but assuming they’re either going through the same thing or are reading it after they survived it. She might even be writing this story to help them survive it.

If you keep that in mind, it can guide you in deciding what that narrator is going to share with that reader–what aspects of the world she might think are vital, what she wouldn’t bother explaining because it’s so well known to everyone, what secrets she might reveal or lessons learned she might pass on. There are things the intended recipient of this story is going to need to know.

Conversely, a third person omniscient narrator is often more like a camera recording the event, relaying the information with little or no judgment, and letting the reader decide what it means. The point of view characters aren’t specifically talking to anyone, and they might not know they’re being recorded at all. People act differently when they think no one is watching, and you can use that to your advantage with this kind of narrator. The narrator is putting the information out there for whoever wants to view it.

Of course, the narrator might have an agenda. Maybe the novel is one big propaganda piece designed to make the narrator look good or someone else look bad. The story could be trying to convince people of a lie. Maybe the narrator does convince readers, or maybe she doesn’t and readers can see through that lie to the real truth.

The novel might show just one side of a larger issue. The story is the narrator’s take on what she feels is the truth, even if it’s not accurate. The story (or her part of it) is what she thinks happened.

Or, the narrator is only talking to herself. It’s her internal monologue, a private peek at her world and her life, and she hopes no one else ever sees inside that life.

Even if narrators never expects anyone to hear or read their stories, they’re talking to someone. And knowing who that is can be a great tool when crafting or polishing a draft.

Taking some time to consider who your narrator is and who she’s talking to can add another layer to the story. It can color the details and bring out a richness just “telling” the story doesn’t achieve. That “person” never needs to be revealed, but having an idea of who it is can guide you to making the novel feel like it has a greater purpose. It’s not just a book, it was a story written to serve a larger goal.

Who is your narrator talking to?

Janice Hardy is the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now. She lives in Georgia with her husband, one yard zombie, three cats, and a very nervous freshwater eel. Find out more about writing at her site, Fiction University, or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound

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16. From Pantser to Plotter

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Kat Zhang

Kat ZhangThe more I write, the more of an outliner I become. I literally started the first draft of What’s Left of Me with nothing but a blank word document and Eva’s voice in my mind. The world-building, the other characters, the plot, all developed over the course of that first draft.

Of course, that meant the first draft wasn’t very good. Characters switched names halfway through. Plot lines were dropped, changed, or added. Settings morphed from scene to scene. The second, third, and fourth drafts were wobbly as well, as I slowly distilled all those rambling words into a coherent story.

For a long time,I figured that this was just how I wrote. I’d tried outlining, and it just didn’t seem to work for me—one attempt, in particular, had scared me away because it all but killed my enthusiasm for the story I’d been trying to write. I was definitely an exploratory writer, and watching a story fall into place was one of my favorite things.

But as I started writing more, and started needing to write faster, I began reconsidering things. Unlike a lot of writers, I’ve often enjoyed revision more than drafting, because it wasn’t until I started revising that the story started becoming clear. Not only that, but I was beginning to feel frustrated by how many words I’d always end up throwing away as I wrote draft after draft.

So I decided to give this outlining thing a second whirl. And while it’s a work in progress, I think it’s going pretty well. The trick is to find the right kind of outlining for you.

Here’s a collection of “beat sheets” (the term comes from screenwriting, I think, but as I’ve said before, there’s a lot novel-writers can learn from screenwriting craft) to get you started: http://jamigold.com/for-writers/worksheets-for-writers/

If you scroll through those, you’ll see that there are beat sheets for internal conflict, external conflict, romantic arcs, character-growth arcs, etc, etc. Personally, I don’t use any one exclusively, but it’s nice to keep a roadmap in your head while you outline, even if you end up going off that roadmap a bit (it’s okay to break rules, after all, as long as you know what you’re doing and why).

Nowadays, I’ve figured out that my old outlines were less than useful to me before I focused too much on external events. It was a lot of “And then they do this, and then this happens to them, and then this happens, and then they travel here…” rather than internal motivations. So when I started trying to draft based on these outlines, I felt frustrated because it felt like shoving my characters from one situation to another without any natural progression.

Now that I’ve changed my outlining to focus on not only external conflict, but internal conflict (and, even more importantly, how the two tie together), the whole process has become a lot more useful. Not only that, but I’ve come to enjoy drafting way more than I did before, because all the waffling and exploration (and resultant dead-ends) now happen during my outline process, when it’s a lot less heartbreaking to set aside 1000 words worth of outlining than 10,000 words worth of drafting!

What about you guys? Any more pantsers-turned-plotters? Anyone sure that they’ll never be tempted down this plotting path? :P

Kat Zhang loves traveling to places both real and fictional–the former allows for better souvenirs, but the latter allows for dragons, so it’s a tough pick. Her novel WHAT’S LEFT OF ME is about a girl struggling to survive in an alternate universe where people are born with two souls, and one is doomed to disappear. It is the first book in a trilogy and was published by HarperCollins in September of 2012.  Book 2, ONCE WE WERE, released September 2013, and Book 3, ECHOES OF US, released September 16, 2014. You can learn all about Kat at her site, or listen to her ramblings on twitter.

 

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17. What happens in the middle?

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Jodi Meadows

I’ve talked about beginnings (here, too) and endings (and here’s one from Sooz), but recently someone mentioned they’d really like some thoughts on middles.

A lot of times, when people get stuck in the middle of their book, it’s because they’re not totally sure what the middle is supposed to do.. Obviously the beginning sets up conflicts and the ending resolves them, but the middle? The middle is all opportunity to make things worse.

Here’s a handy numbered list.

1. Build on established conflicts.

Take a look at what you’ve already done. Build on that by reinforcing something the characters already know, or the reader knows, and show something in action.

  • If there’s a monster marauding through the city in the first part of the story but we haven’t seen it yet, this is a great time to give us a peek. (Cue JAWS theme.)
  • If someone’s threatened war, let them announce the war is on.
  • If there’s a plague, start killing side characters right in front of your main characters.

Show the reader that these conflicts you’ve set up are that serious by giving everyone a hint of what’s to come. The middle is the perfect spot for making everything real

2. Complicate established conflicts.

Yep, I’m counting this as different than building, because by complicating conflicts, you can use twists and reveals and other things to make everything worse.

  • Someone betrays our main characters.
  • Another character appears to shake things up.
  • The characters attempt to solve the problem and they make it worse.
  • Information is revealed and suddenly everything we thought was true is an awful lie.

I always feel like the middle is my last chance to introduce new complications to the story, be it characters or events. For me, introducing those later starts to feel a bit contrived, unless there’s a sequel and something at the very end happens to complicate the situation for the next book.

3. Nudge your characters toward the end.

You’ve just made everything awful. Give them something useful.

  • Information that can help them later (even if they don’t know it yet).
  • A hint about how they might solve the big problems.
  • Even give the poor characters a chance to plan to take some kind of action.

This is your chance to line up those last few dominos so everything can just go horribly (violently!?) wrong in the ending. Godspeed.

So, that’s my basic thoughts on middles. Anyone have anything to add?

Jodi Meadows lives and writes in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, with her husband, a Kippy*, and an alarming number of ferrets. She is a confessed book addict, and has wanted to be a writer ever since she decided against becoming an astronaut. She is the author of the INCARNATE Trilogy and THE ORPHAN QUEEN Duology (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen).
*A Kippy is a cat.

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18. New Year’s Resolutions: How To Make Them Stick!

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amie165c-twitter

First up: As you read this, I’m heading out on tour in the US! If you’re in Los Angeles, San Diego, Houston, Miami, New York, DC or Asheville, I’d love to meet you! If you’d like a signed book but can’t make a stop, the stores can arrange one for you. This is the only time I’ll be in the US in 2015, so come say hi, and make sure you tell me you’re a Pub Crawler! Now, on to today’s post…

It’s that time of year, and most of us jump in every January with a pile of new resolutions. Then, in December, most of us remember them with a guilty start, and wish we’d done better. It’s okay to admit it — you’re in a judgement free zone!

So, how do we do better? How do we make sure the resolutions we make in January actually impact our lives in 2015? At the bottom of this post I’m going to invite you to share yours, and I’d love to hear at the end of the year how you went!

To get us started, here are some of my writing-related resolutions for 2015:

1. Read 52 books — one for every week.

2. Complete drafts of two novels.

3. Yoga at least 5 days a week.

4. Do better at taking evenings off from writing.

5. Average 10,000 steps per day.

If you’re pondering what sort of resolutions to make, I recommend Marissa Meyer’s post on Business Plans for Writers, which I use every year to get myself thinking about my goals.

Goals and Aspirations

The main thing is to remember that there’s a difference between a goal and an aspiration. One you control, the other you don’t. Goals should be measurable, and they should be things you can personally do.

For example:

Goal: I’m going to be ready to query by March, and send out my first ten queries that month.

Aspiration: I’m going to sign with an agent in 2015.

Goal: I’m going to finish polishing my draft and send it to my agent by May.

Aspiration: I’m going to sell a novel this year.

See the difference? And the great thing about the goals is that they’re easily broken down into steps.

Mini-Goals

If you want to send out ten queries in March, you can set up mini-goals for January and February around researching agents, and finishing polishing up your query and your manuscript. Those mini-goals can make all the difference. Rather than getting to March and realising you’ve got a bazillion things to do if you want to make it (and really, either not making it, or not doing it as well as you could), you can make sure you’re on track by breaking down your goal and putting it in your diary.

For Example

Let’s take my goals. How will I achieve them?

1. Read 52 books — one for every week. I’ll achieve this by keeping a spreadsheet and tracking whether I’m up to date. I’ll have a goal of five books for each month, which gives me a little wriggle room. I’ll have a ready-to-go queue of books sitting on my mantlepiece so I can easily grab the next one, and I’ll make a folder on my e-reader of books I’m planning on reading next.

2. Complete drafts of two novels. I’d better do this one, since they’re both due to publishers this year! In consultation with my co-authors, I’ll set up mini-goals for where we want to be each month of the year, so we know we’re tracking on time.

3. Yoga at least 5 days a week. I’ll achieve this by pairing up with an accountability buddy (an accountabilibuddy, vital to resolutions!) and scheduling a class every week with her. I’ve got an app that has my favourite routines on it, and I’ll make sure I check in with my buddy to report on whether I’m doing it the rest of the time. I’ve also enlisted my husband to work out with me a couple of times a week. (By the way, if this doesn’t sound like a writing-related goal, just eavesdrop on a group of authors… the subject of back pain will come up soon enough!)

4. Do better at taking evenings off from writing. One of the disadvantages of loving your job to pieces is that you’re not always very good at stopping! I’m going to be achieving this one by setting a hard stop time each evening, and I’ve put notes in my diary to check in with myself on whether I’m achieving it. I’ve also enlisted a couple of friends to check regularly with me.

5. Average 10,000 steps per day. My biggest ally on this one will be my beloved treaddesk, but of course it takes more than that! I’ll be using my Fitbit to make sure I’m averaging 70,000 steps each week, and I’ve added a bunch of buddies on there who have promised to taunt me if I fall behind!

So, time to share! What are your goals, and how are you planning on breaking them down and achieving them this year? I’d love to hear!

Amie Kaufman is the co-author of THESE BROKEN STARS and THIS SHATTERED WORLD, out now from  from Disney-Hyperion (US) and Allen & Unwin (Australia). You can also grab a free short story set in the Starbound universe! Her new trilogy will start with ILLUMINAE, coming from Random House/Knopf in 2015. She is represented by Tracey Adams of Adams Literary. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr or Facebook, or sign up to her mailing list for exclusive sneak-peeks and giveaways. Amie lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her husband and rescue dog.

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19. Books vs. Babies!

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by

E.C. Myers

me_and_rPeople sometimes talk about books as if they are babies, raised by the author and ultimately sent into the world to make their fortunes. We even wish authors a “happy book birthday” on their publication day! In the last month, I’ve been thinking about the similarities and differences between “book babies” and actual babies, since I’m in the position to compare the two directly; as it happens (as it was meant to happen), my new book and our first baby were both scheduled to debut in the first week of November. :-o

My son turned up a little early, which made the launch of The Silence of Six slightly easier, but it has still been an interesting experience juggling my new life as a father with my life as a writer with a day job. I decided to put books and babies side by side in the chart below. Like books and babies, it’s still a work in progress, and I left a few things out. Do you have anything you would add or disagree with? Let me know in the comments below!

BooksvBabies

(click to embiggen)

E.C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts and raised by a single mother and the public library in Yonkers, New York. He is the author of the Andre Norton Award–winning young adult novel Fair Coin and Quantum Coin, as well as numerous short stories. His new novel, The Silence of Six, a thriller about teenage hackers and government conspiracies, is out now from Adaptive Books. You can find traces of him all over the internet, but especially at http://ecmyers.net and on Twitter: @ecmyers.

 

 

 

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20. Five Tumblrs for Writers

by

Alex Bracken

Alex

When I first joined Tumblr in 2009, I recognized it as a paradise for fandom–practically every fandom under the sun. I was a refugee from Livejournal, looking for a little corner of the internet that was–then at least–a little quieter. What I didn’t expect, though, was for it to provide invaluable writing resources as well.

Over the years, I’ve slowly gathered a list of writing-related Tumblr blogs that I read if not every day, at least every single week. Here are five, in particular, that I think are worth a visit. If you’re unfamiliar with Tumblr, or don’t have an account, I highly recommend bookmarking them and coming back to them later.

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In the mood to write, but waiting for the muse to stop by for a visit? While it’s not updated as frequently as it used to be, there are a lot of gems to be mined from Writing Prompts if you’re looking for inspiration or are looking to practice or experiment with different forms.

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I’ve really come to love reading Writing with Color, a Tumblr that focuses on bringing racial and ethnic diversity into writing and helping others identify microaggressions, stereotypes, and tropes in their stories. They also provide fantastic starting points for research, and talk a great deal about diversity in fantasy settings.

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The Writing Cafe is a fantastic resource for… well, just about anything. I mean, look at their tags page! If the idea of following a zillion Tumblrs feels daunting to you, try TWC. In addition to creating a lot of extremely helpful, original material for the site, they also have a great eye for reblogging others’ advice and guides.

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The one kind of scene I invariably struggle to write is the fight scene. Aside from just not knowing that much about fighting and weaponry in general (nevermind how quickly someone would actually die from a wound), I still struggle with making the scene’s action clear enough to the reader that they can always picture it. Enter How to Fight Write.

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Last but definitely not least, we have Write World. Like The Writing Cafe, they focus on all facets of writing–in their words “education and inspiration.” I’m obsessed with the images they use for their visual writing prompts. I even have their words list page bookmarked so I can get to it in a single click while drafting.

So tell me, have you guys found any helpful Tumblrs for writers out there? Share the wealth!

Alex lives in New York City where she writes like a fiend and lives in a charming apartment overflowing with books. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Darkest Minds and Never Fade. You can visit her online at her website, Tumblr, or Twitter.

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21. The Benefits of a Small Writers’ Conference

Writing Life Banner

by

Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy RGB 72Attending a writers’ conference can be both exhilarating and terrifying, but it’s almost always rewarding. There’s something wonderful about being in a room where everyone around you has the same passion, and no matter who you happen to sit next to, you know you have something in common. I always come away from a conference re-energized and ready to write, but I know not all writers share my enthusiasm about being around that many people.

If the idea of a large conference makes you nervous, then consider a smaller, local conference. These events can range from 20 to 250 people, with smaller workshops and a more relaxed crowd. Even better, local conferences are usually easier on the budget, but offer just as many helpful workshops and opportunities to meet agents and editors.

You’ll be able to:

  • Meet local writers and form friendships and/or critique groups
  • Interact with authors and conference faculty in a more intimate setting
  • Network with people in your area, from authors to editors to agents
  • Build confidence to attend a larger conference in the future
  • Work on your “professional author” skills in a smaller, less intimidating atmosphere
  • Attend workshops and sessions from top industry professionals
  • Get a feel for what you want from a conference in the future

Even if you enjoy large conferences (1000+ people), a smaller conference can be equally rewarding, and a nice change of pace. I find a mix of sizes provides me with the best variety of social, networking, and educational options. Sometimes I want as many workshops and I can get, other times I’d rather relax and have fun.

Finding a Local Writers’ Conference

In most cases, just Googling your state and “writers conference” will get you a list of possibilities, as most states have some kind of writers’ organization. Many of these have one or two events a year, from conferences to smaller meet and greets to single workshops at libraries or bookstores.

If you write genre, try looking at the local chapters of your national organizations. For example, my personal chapter of SCBWI is Southern Breeze, and they hold two conferences a year, plus workshops and other events all year round. Most genre organizations offer events as well. Here are a few to get you started:

Romance Writers of America (RWA) with over 145 local chapters

Society of Childrens’ Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) with over 80 regions around the world

Mystery Writers of America (MWA) with eleven regional chapters across the US

These are just a few of the organizations and local events, and there are a lot more if you check their individual sites.

Why You Should Attend a Local Writers’ Conference

To get out and meet people: Most of us write in a vacuum. We sit in a room somewhere, typing on a keyboard or scribing in a notebook, and we don’t mingle with our fellow writers. Maybe once in a while we attend a critique group or have lunch with writer pals, but for the most part, we’re alone.

This can lead to uncertainty and doubts about what being a writer is all about and what’s “normal” for writers. It’s easy to feel that bout of writer’s block means you suck as a writer when you don’t have other writers telling you they go through the exact same thing and feel the same way–and that it means nothing beyond you happen to be stuck right now. A local writers’ conference allows you to meet other writers and get a healthy perspective on this crazy profession.

To network: Besides being fun, you’ll meet people who might be able to help you in your career, or those you might be able to help in return. There are great networking opportunities that will be valuable no matter what stage you’re at in your career. Just because you’re a newbie now doesn’t mean you can’t make friends and contacts for when you do publish.

To learn: There’s only so much we can learn on our own, and a conference exposes us to different ways of thinking, writing, and being a writer. Aside from the workshops and sessions, it’s an opportunity to talk with other writers and learn from their experiences.

Even if a small conference can have value and they’re worth exploring. Check out what local conferences and events are in your area and see what they have to offer.

And if you happen to be a kidlit writer (picture books to young adult novels), might I suggest the upcoming conference from my own local chapter of SCBWI? Registration for Springmingle ’15 just opened, and this is a wonderful, relaxed conference for those who write for children and teens. It’s in Decatur, GA this year, so not only is it a great conference, but a fun weekend away–the downtown Decatur area is filled with shops and restaurants and things to do, and it’s all walking distance from the conference.

What are some of your favorite writers’ conferences?

Janice Hardy is the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now. She lives in Georgia with her husband, one yard zombie, three cats, and a very nervous freshwater eel. Find out more about writing at her site, Fiction University, or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound

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22. Gifts: Hope and a Future

Hi folks,

I'm continuing my series called Gifts.  In the Bible, in the book of Jeremiah, there is a startling prophesy that so resonates with me. A holy people have been sent into exile for seventy years, and they really need to know what is coming to put up with this long exile.

The Lord spoke to his people through Jeremiah.  He sent encouragement. I don't know if you have ever read something that you felt was speaking to your situation and your life.  I feel that about these words in Jeremiah.  This is what I hear.

Your writing life isn't where you want it to be right now, but I am the one who brought you to this place. Don't despair. I want you to keep writing and keep helping other writers. Enjoy any small success that comes your way. And also, the things you learned back you were in the thick of it, I want you to think about those things. Let your creative self prosper and don't complain that you don't have a place to share a voice, that you don't even know how to get there. That's a waste of your time.

Don't keep on taking on projects that aren't your vision. Those things are just wasting your time. You have to keep waiting and that might be for a very long time.  But I've got a plan and I'm going to put your writing life back together. I have plans for you, plans to help you write brilliant stories, plans to give you a hope and a future. Be patient. Wait for it. The good days are ahead. 

Hope this stirs you up like it does me. I hope that here words that speak to your situation and your life. I hope those words help you stay on the path. I am so glad we are journeying together. 


Here is the doodle. 


Here is a quote for your pocket. 

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves. William Shakespeare. 

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23. Please Nominate Fiction Notes!


MERRY CHRISTMAS!

PB&J: Picture Books and All That Jazz: A Highlights Foundation Workshop

Join Leslie Helakoski and Darcy Pattison in Honesdale PA for a spring workshop, April 23-26, 2015. It's a great Christmas present to yourself or a writer friend! Full info here.
COMMENTS FROM THE 2014 WORKSHOP:
  • "This conference was great! A perfect mix of learning and practicing our craft."Peggy Campbell-Rush, 2014 attendee, Washington, NJ
  • "Darcy and Leslie were extremely accessible for advice, critique and casual conversation."Perri Hogan, 2014 attendee, Syracuse,NY


The Write to Done blog has opened nominations for its 9th annual writing blog recognition. Readers, you were kind enough to nominate Fiction Notes and it was named a 2013 Top 10 Blog for Writers.

Fiction Notes is named a Top Writing Blog of 2013

Fiction Notes is named a Top Writing Blog of 2013

Please nominate Fiction Notes for the 2014 award!

Blogging has its own rewards, of course, but last year’s recognition for this blog, has kept me motivated to provide you with another year of posts. Thanks for the nomination last year. And thanks for all your friendships!

Deadline for nomination is December 24, 2014.

Here’s the guidelines:
To Nominate your favorite writing blog, you need to do 3 things in the comments section of this post:

1. Nominate only one writing blog. If you nominate many blogs, even in different comments, only your first vote will be counted.

2. Specify the correct web address of the blog you’ve nominated. (Fiction Notes at darcypattison.com)

3. Give reasons why you believe the blog you’ve nominated should win this year’s award.

Thanks so much! My motto is always, “I believe in YOUR story.”
I hope you also believe in Fiction Notes.


Darcy

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24. Last Day of 2014

The year is practically over so here I am again with my annual recap of the year that was as well as a squiz at what’s gunna happen in 2015.1

Books Out in 2014

This was my first year with a new solo novel since 2009. Five years in between solo novels!2 I was nervous but it seems to have gone quite well.

Razorhurst was published in July by Allen and Unwin in Australia and New Zealand. The reviews have been blush-making. Including being named a book of the week by the Sydney Morning Herald, of the month from Readings Books and making Readings’ top ten YA books of the year and top 50 books by Australian women in 2014 lists, as well being the Australian Independent Bookseller’s No. 1 Children’s Pick for July. Although Razorhurst isn’t out in the US until March it’s already received starred reviews from the School Library Journal as well as Kirkus.

Then, best of all, earlier this month I learned that Razorhurst has made the shortlist of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award (Young Adult), which is one of the biggest YA prizes in Australia.3

So, yeah, I’m more than happy with how Razorhurst has been received. Pinching myself, in fact.

Books Out in 2015 and 2016

I will have three books out in 2015. Two novels and a short story in a wonderful new anthology.

resized_9781743319789_224_297_FitSquareIn India this month my story, “Little Red Suit,” was published in Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean edited by Kirsty Murray, Payal Dhar and Anita Roy, but I’m going to pretend that’s 2015, as it will be published in Australia and New Zealand by Allen and Unwin in February. Isn’t that cover divine?

The anthology is an Indian-Australian collaboration with half the contributors from each country. Some of them worked in collaboration with each other to produce comics as well as short stories. I was partnered with Anita Roy and we critiqued each other’s stories. Hers is a corker. I can’t wait to see the finished book.

“Little Red Suit,” is a post-apocalyptic retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood.” Fairy tales were the first stories I ever told so it was lovely to return to the form. As I’ve mentioned, once or twice, I am not a natural short story writer. They are much more of a challenge for me than writing novels. So much so that I kind of want to turn this story into a novel. (Almost all of my short stories are secretly novels.) I hope you enjoy it.

RazorhurstUSIn March Soho Teen will publish the US edition of Razorhurst. I am very excited and will be over there in the US doing events in California and New York and Texas and possibly some other states. I will keep you posted. Yes, the Soho Teen edition will be available in Canada too.

Then in October I’ll have a brand new novel out with Allen and Unwin.

Let’s pause for a moment to digest that: in October there will be a brand new Justine Larbalestier novel, only a year later than my last one.

I know, brand new novels two years in a row! I’ve become a writing machine!

The new novel hasn’t been formally announced yet so I can’t tell you much about it other than it’s realism set in New York City, told from the point of view of a seventeen-year old Australian boy named Che.

The new novel will be published in the USA by Soho Press in March 2016.

What I wrote in 2014

I spent this year writing and rewriting the new novel. As well as rewrites, copyedits and etc. of Razorhurst. My novels, they go through many drafts.

And, me being me, I started a brand new novel out of nowhere, inspired by . . . you know what, it’s still a tiny whisper of a novel. I’ll wait until there’s a bit more before I start talking about it in public.

Then just a week or so ago I got the idea for yet another novel. So who knows which of those I’ll wind up finishing this year.

I continued blogging and managed to blog roughly once a week for most of the year. The most fun I had blogging this year was doing the Bestselling Women’s Fiction Book Club with Kate Elliott. I was very bummed when deadlines and travel forced us to call it quits. Here’s hoping we can get it started again some time in 2015.

I plan to blog even more next year. Er, tomorrow. Blogging, I love you no matter out of fashion you are. *hugs blogging*

Writing Plans for 2015

Well, obviously, there’ll be more rewrites and copyedits and etc for the new novel.

Then I plan to finish one of the novels that came out of nowhere. After that, well, who knows? Will I finally get back to the New York Depression-era novel(s)? The snow-boarding werewolves? The fairy godmother middle grade? Or one of the many other novels I’ve been working on for ages? Or something else that comes out of nowhere? Given that my last three novels came out of nowhere that would be the safest bet.

All of this writing is possible because I’m still managing my RSI as I described here. I’m continuing to be able to write as much as six hours a day. The few times I’ve written longer than that I have paid for it. It’s good to know my limits.

Travel in 2014

I was in the US briefly in June and then again in Sept-Nov, accompanying Scott on his Afterworlds tour. It felt like we went everywhere. Both coasts! Or all three if you count Texas as the third coast. Also Canada. It went fabulously well. Scott’s fans turned out in great numbers and many book sold and I met heaps of wonderful librarians and booksellers and readers and writers and some of them had already read Razorhurst thanks to my wonderful publicist at Soho Press, Meredith Barnes. It will be fun to go out on the road again in March.

Reading and Watching in 2014

My favourite new writers are Brandy Colbert and Courtney Summers, who both write realist contemporary YA, which I’ve gotta be honest is not my thing. That’s why I read a tonne of it this year: to learn and to grow. Both Colbert and Summers are dark and uncompromising almost bleak writers. Their books made me weep buckets. But there’s heart and hope in their novels too. I’m really looking forward to more from both of them. Courtney’s next book, All the Rage, will be out in early 2015.

I also read heaps of non-fiction this year. A Chosen Exile by Allyson Hobbs is a wonderful history of passing in the USA, which centres those who chose not to pass as much as those who did, and looks closely at the reason for deciding either way and how they changed over time. African-American family life is at the centre of this excellent history.

One of my fave new TV shows is Faking It because it’s silly and funny and kind of reminds me of my high school days at an alternative school though, you know, more scripted. I also love Cara Fi created and written by a dear friend, Sarah Dollard, who is a mighty talent. It’s set in Wales and is sweet and funny and feminist and touching and you should all watch it.

2014 was awful but there’s always hope

Although 2014 was a wonderful year for me professionally it was an awful year in both of my home countries, Australia and the USA, and in way too many other parts of the world. I would love to say that I’m full of hope for change in the future. I try to be. The movement that has grown out of the protests in Ferguson is inspiring and should fill us all with optimism. But then it happens all over again.

In Australia we have a government actively undoing what little progress had been made on climate change and stripping money from all the important institutions such as the ABC, CSIRO and SBS. This is the most anti-science, anti-culture and, well, anti-people government we’ve ever had. The already disgraceful policy on asylum seekers has gotten even worse and Aboriginal Australians continue to die in custody.

Argh. Make it stop!

May you have a wonderful 2014 full of whatever you love best and may the world become less unjust. Speaking out and creating art that truly reflects the world we live in goes part of the way to doing that. At least that’s what I hope.

  1. Yes, here in Sydney it is the 31st of December. I’m sorry that you live in the past.
  2. Yes, I had a co-edited anthology and a co-written novel in those five years but you would be amazed by how many people do not count collaborations as being a real novel by an author. I don’t get it either.
  3. If you’re from the US think Printz or National Book Award only plus money. That’s right in Australia if you win a literary award they give you money. Bizarre, I know.

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25. Parallelogram 4 Now Available for Pre-Order!

Parallelogram 4

Happy 2015! And here’s a new book for you!

Parallel universes. Time travel. And a race for teen amateur physicist Audie Masters to save her own life before it’s too late.

Enjoy the exciting, mind-bending conclusion to the PARALLELOGRAM series.

You’ll never look at your own life the same way again.

I am BEYOND ecstatic to be able to tell you that PARALLELOGRAM (Book 4: BEYOND THE PARALLEL) will be coming out January 20, 2015, and is available right now for pre-order! Yes! Finally!

This final book in the series took me a long, long time to write (as those of you who have been waiting for it can attest), but you’ll understand why once you read it. It’s full of adventure, mystery, love, some very cool science, and the return of what I hope are some of your favorite characters.

In celebration of the final book coming out, each of the first three books in the series will be a mere $2.99, and the new book will be only $4.99–but only until January 20. After that, all of them return to their regular prices.

So if you haven’t read the first three books in the series yet, now’s your chance. I’m your book nerd friend who’s saying, “Come on! Come on! Catch up so we can discuss it!”

Can’t wait to hear what you all think. I truly wrote this series for YOU!

You can pre-order Book 4 from:
Kindle
Nook
iTunes
Kobo

Thanks for being my readers! Hope you love the book!

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