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1. Letters from your Characters

by Julie Eshbaugh

~~~

Julie(This post originally appeared in a slightly different form on my personal blog in October, 2010. I revisited it recently and decided to share it here.)

Wouldn’t it be great if, when you went to your mailbox today, you found a letter inside from the main character of your work-in-progress, telling you just how she feels about the central conflict of your story? Or maybe she wrote a love letter to another one of your characters, and somehow it was misdirected to you? Imagine what a resource a letter like that would be…

When I do my outlining for a new WIP, I write up a lot of backstory. I also do character sketches, to help me form a clear idea of each of my characters – not just hair color, eye color, and favorite movie, but what they would do on a perfect spring day, where they would go on vacation if money were no object, even how they feel about money, in general. I try to think of the most revealing questions possible. These sketches help me with the essentials of my characters, but they only get me so far.

That’s why I’ve taken to writing first-person narratives – letters to me, if you will – in the voice of each character. These narratives generally address the main conflict faced by that character in the story, and how she or he feels about it. Does she believe that the problem is insurmountable? Does she still have hope? Who is she counting on most to help her? Who does she expect to cause her the most trouble?

I also write first-person narratives by all the individuals involved in romantic relationships in my story. For each one, I ask the character to tell me:

What do you love most about this other person?

What would you miss the most if he or she were taken away?

When did you first feel an attraction and what triggered it?

And, well, I’m sure you can come up with a lot more questions along this line.

These letters are great tools to return to while drafting. They help me to maintain consistency within a character, but they also helped me see that, despite consistency, all well-rounded characters have internal conflicts they are dealing with. People are filled with contradictions. Your characters need to be, too, if they’re going to leap off the page as real people with real complexity.

When you ask your character to tell you how he feels about the central conflict, chances are his answer will be complicated. It won’t just be as simple as, “I hate my father and wish he were dead,” because where’s the true conflict in that? Nothing is ever that straightforward. If it were, in chapter one your character could pull out a shotgun and shoot his father and the story would be done. Instead, your character’s answer to how he feels about the central conflict will be layered, complex, and in some ways, contradictory.

For you, as the writer, the secret to your character’s arc lies hidden in these contradictions. Early in the story your character may respond most to the tug of one attitude toward the central conflict. But as the story moves along, he may feel the influence of another attitude toward that conflict, and he will begin to change. By the time he’s completed his character arc, he may find himself in a place of compromise between these two contradictory attitudes.

Do you think this method might work for you? Do you have any of your own unique methods of learning about your characters? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

  ~~~

Julie Eshbaugh writes fiction for young adults. She is the author of the upcoming Ivory & Bone (HarperCollins, 2016.) You can add Julie on Goodreads and follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

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2. Pick Six: The How to Create a Character Game

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by

Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy RGB 72For some writers, characters pop into being fully formed like Athena from Zeus’s forehead. For others, creating a character is a bit more laborious, filled with uncertainty where to start or what’s needed before they can start writing. Maybe the idea is more plot focused, or more about exploring an idea than a deep character journey, and those writers want to dive in and get started without hours of character development.

If creating characters don’t come easy to you (or even if they do and you just want to try something new) why not make a game out of it?

I recently wrote about the five major character personality traits, and these are great first steps to creating a character if you’re not sure where to start. They are:

  1. Openness/Intellect: Levels of curiosity and creativity, imagination and independence, how one responds to new experiences.
  2. Conscientiousness: Levels of organization and work ethic, self discipline and ambition, planning vs. spontaneity.
  3. Extraversion: Levels of sociability and enthusiasm, assertiveness and talkativeness.
  4. Agreeableness: Levels of friendliness and kindness, cooperative and trusting, how well-tempered someone is.
  5. Neuroticism/Emotional Stability: Levels of calmness and tranquility, confidence and sensitivity.

And for this activity, let’s add a #6: Desire/Need: The type of goal they’re after.

The Pick Six Game

What you’ll need: Six-sided dice or a random number generator, something to write down answers, your imagination.

The Rules (and I use the term loosely, as this is all about the fun):

  1. Choose traits for each category that fit your story. For example, for openness/intellect, you might choose “openness,” “curiosity,” and “independence.”
  2. List six options for each trait, ranging across the complete scale. For example, for openness, you might say “very open” at the top and “not open at all” at the bottom.
  3. Roll a six-sided dice or generate a number for each trait. Write that trait down. Do it for as many traits per category as you like.
  4. Adapt those traits to fit each other and your story.
  5. Create your character.

If you’re stuck on what to pick, here’s a sampling of possible options for each trait. Sometimes you’ll get things that seem to contradict each other, but treat those as opportunities to create an interesting character. The person who loves people but hates large groups has a reason for those two traits to co-exist, and that could make for some very interesting backstory and behavior.

Openness/Intellect: Levels of curiosity and creativity, imagination and independence, how one responds to new experiences.

  1. Loves new and varied experiences or Very curious or Very independent
  2. Open to new experiences in general or Fairly curious or Fairly independent
  3. Open to new experiences that are familiar or Somewhat curious or Somewhat independent
  4. Hesitant about new experiences or A little curious or Somewhat dependent
  5. Prefers not to have new experiences or Not very curious or Rather dependent
  6. Hates new experiences or Never curious or Very co-dependent

Example: I rolled a 2, 5, and 3 and got a person who is open to new experiences in general, but not very curious, who is also somewhat independent. So maybe they like to do their own thing, but if a friend drags them to try something new they’ll usually go along with it.

Conscientiousness: Levels of organization and work ethic, self discipline and ambition, planning vs. spontaneity.

  1. Control freak or Stoic or Personally driven
  2. Very organized or Very disciplined or Very ambitious
  3. Rather organized or Fairly disciplined or Has ambition
  4. Likes to plan or Spontaneous or Content with the status quo
  5. Rather unorganized or Tough to motivate or Rather lazy
  6. Very unorganized or Very undisciplined or Not ambitious

Example: I rolled a 4, 5, 6 and got a person who likes to plan, is tough to motivate, and isn’t very ambitious. So maybe they like to figure things out ahead of time and have no desire to change those plans once they’re made.

Extraversion: Levels of sociability and enthusiasm, assertiveness and talkativeness.

  1. Loves being around people or Fanatic or Overbearing
  2. Enjoys people or Intense or Decisive
  3. Comfortable with people or Eager or Confident
  4. A little shy or Calm or A little hesitant
  5. Prefers to be in small groups or Reserved or Fears confrontation
  6. Prefers to be alone or Never gets emotional or Meek

Example: I rolled a 1, 5, 5 and got a person who loves being around people, but is reserved and a little meek. So maybe they like being with people (or are scared to be alone?) but prefer to watch rather than join in.

Agreeableness: Levels of friendliness and kindness, cooperative and trusting, how well-tempered someone is.

  1. Puts others first or Team player or Trusts everyone
  2. Cares about people or Works well with others or Trusts most people
  3. Is nice to everyone or Likes to help or Trusts those they know
  4. Is polite to everyone or Does their part or Unsure of strangers
  5. A bit standoffish or Not good in groups or Suspicious
  6. Mean or Total loner or Paranoid

Example: I rolled a 3, 4, 5 and got a person who is nice to everyone, does their part to help out in groups, but is suspicious of those around them. So maybe they’ve been burned a lot in the past, and while they’re still willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, they’re expecting others to pull something or let them down and aren’t going to risk themselves.

Neuroticism/Emotional Stability: Levels of calmness and tranquility, confidence and sensitivity.

  1. Always calm under pressure or Very confident or Overly Sensitive
  2. Hard to ruffle or Believes in themselves or Empathetic
  3. Cool in most situations or Trusts their decisions or Compassionate
  4. Gets nervous when things are bad or Has occasional doubts or Self interested
  5. Overreacts or Second-guesses things or Apathetic
  6. Panics at the first sign of trouble or Can’t make a decision or Insensitive

Example: I rolled a 5, 1, 5 and got a person who overreacts, but is very sure that they’re right, and doesn’t care about what others think. So maybe this is someone who firmly believes things and can’t be talked out of them and doesn’t even want to hear what others might think about it.

Desire/Need: The type of goal they’re after.

  1. To escape something
  2. To achieve something
  3. To reach something
  4. To prevent something
  5. To find something
  6. To change something

Example: I rolled a 2 and got a person who is trying to achieve something. So maybe they want a job, or a promotion, or to become the lead wizard or captain of the next starship.

If I put this all together, I get a person who is open to new experiences in general, but not very curious, who is also somewhat independent. They like to plan, are tough to motivate, and aren’t very ambitious. They love being around people, but are reserved and a little meek. They’re nice to everyone, do their part to help out in groups, but are suspicious of those around them. They overreact, but are very sure that they’re right, and don’t care about what others think. Their goal is to achieve something.

Different people can interpret these traits in different ways, but I see someone who has a small, tight group of friends they trust and enjoy being with, and they have little desire to expand that circle or change the way things are. Once they get an idea in their head it’s hard to change their mind, and that can sometimes cause problems. Since the goal is to achieve something, maybe their problem is they need to break out of this safe environment for the first time and they don’t know how to do that. Or maybe, the group is changing and they can’t deal with that and want things to remain the same.

If I wanted to put this character into an existing novel I’d have more specific details here, but you should be able to see a character who can probably be dropped into any story and adapted to fit that story.

Naturally, add your own traits or change the levels on any of these to suit your story world or personal tastes better. You might even create a basic character template as a baseline for any new characters in the future, or to flesh out existing characters.

Try creating a character now and see what you come up with. Share in the comments!

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.

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3. On Handling Criticism

by

Alex Bracken

Alex

On Saturday morning, as I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, I came across an article written by another author, describing the great lengths she had gone to to track down and, I guess, expose a reviewer she felt was too harsh and inaccurate in her review of this author’s work. The author describes the supposed harassment she received from this reviewer in the weeks that followed, and, after some “light stalking” (there is no such thing as “light stalking,” just stalking) of this reviewer’s social media, she ultimately showed up on the reviewer’s doorstep to confront her. I think we are all in agreement that this act was 100% unacceptable behavior and terribly, horribly frightening for the reviewer who had every right to protect her identity online. I’m fairly certain you all know what I’m talking about, but rather than link you to the essay, I will point you in the direction of posts from Dear Author and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books for a better, balanced discussion.

What I want to talk about today are ways to cope with negative criticism as an author. We all receive it. We all see it. And if you haven’t reached that step of your career yet, well, you should expect it and start conditioning yourself to handle it now. It’s easy to think that you can take a rational stance when it comes to getting feedback about your work, but there are so many emotions at play here, that I think many authors are surprised by how gut-deep they feel negative words (and how easy it is to ignore the positive). I’ll be the first to admit that I was not great at coping when my first book was published in 2010. I stalked my Google Alerts and the book’s GoodReads page. Every good review was like a hit of wonderful sunshine-y rainbows, and I’d keep coming back for more… but then I’d see a critical review and it would smack me down into this dark “maybe I do suck” place. So what formed was a cycle and I knew I was going to have to break it if I wanted any sort of career.  Here is what has helped me:

1) Don’t read reviews. Plain and simple, do not read reviews, good or bad. This is the only thing that has ultimately saved my sanity and allowed me to be productive. It’s obviously easier said than done, especially when a book is first coming out and you’re dying to hear what people think. You will never be able to stop with just one review. I recommend staying off GoodReads entirely, but I actually do think it’s important for authors to have a presence there so they can update their books’ information pages and respond to questions and messages. If you find you need a hit of GR, I recommend bookmarking the Readers Questions page for each book or your author dashboard and really keeping to just those pages. You can also add books you’re currently reading without looking at your own books’ pages–don’t sneak a peek. If you find yourself with a crippling addiction to checking on the average or seeing if anyone new is reading it, block GoodReads on your browser.

My one exception to this rule is that I do read professional reviews from trade publications like PublishersWeekly and Kirkus Reviews, because those publications are used by librarians to see if they should purchase the books for their libraries. But you can always ask your editor to hold the reviews back if you really don’t want to see anything.

2) Remember that not every reader is on GoodReads. GR is a fantastic community of book lovers, but if you were to ask the average person on the street what they thought of it, a lot of people would just blink at you in confusion. Bad reviews may feel like someone is trying to mock or humiliate you (they’re not) for public consumption, but that public is actually just a fraction of the number of people reading your books. Don’t believe me? Check your royalty statement against the people who have marked the book as ‘read.’

3) We are all students. The goal of any writer should be to improve and grow with each book. No matter how perfect you think the story is, there is always room for improvement. Embrace that idea, and, if you must-must-must read reviews, learn to recognize a real critique someone is giving you versus a statement about their personal taste, the latter of which is completely out of your control. (eg “This author didn’t spend enough time developing the secondary characters.” versus “I didn’t like XX character. I thought they were annoying.”)

4) Trust reviewers to know their tastes. One thing I’ve learned over the years of getting to know book bloggers and reviewers is that they know what’s going to work for them and what’s not going to work for them. They can read another reviewer’s negative review and recognize, oh, s/he doesn’t like this element in books, but I do, and still purchase or request it. They can even recommend a book they, personally, didn’t like to another reviewer/friend who they think will.

5) Bad reviews are better than no reviews. Trust me.

5.5) THREE STARS MEANS “I LIKED IT.” THEY LIKED IT. THEY DID. IT’S NOT LIKE GETTING A “C” GRADE. THEY LIKED IT. GETTING THREE STARS IS ACTUALLY NICE, OKAY? REMEMBER THAT.

6) Keep the old adage in mind: taste is subjective. Think of your group of friends and family. Think about a movie you all saw, or a book you all read that you, personally loved. Not everyone agreed with you, right? Everyone found their own problem with the story or characters that they fixated on. Readers bring their own world with them to a story, and that informs how they read it and how they enjoy it. I think it was Dita Von Teese who said, “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, but there’s still going to be someone who hates peaches.” I will repeat that to myself over and over if I have to until it clicks in my brain. My epiphany moment came, again, with my first book. I was deep down into the GR rabbit hole, torturing myself by looking at all of the negative reviews, and had a moment of, “Well, what else has this reviewer hated?” Reader, this reviewer hated a lot of books that I myself had given five stars to.

7) Don’t respond to reviews, good or bad. Do not respond. DO NOT RESPOND. If someone includes you when they tweet out the link to the review, you can say thank you, but do not leave comments on their blog, do not leave comments on the GR review. Reviewers are reviewing the books for other readers, not for you. Not even for your publisher. Other readers.

8) Know that you can still be friends with bloggers, even if they didn’t like your book. You are not your book(s). You are an awesome person, and awesome people can be friends with other awesome people. Much like you can be friends with other authors never having read their books or not liking them very much. A negative review isn’t a sign that you’re being shunned, just that your book did not work for that reviewer. But, hey! You both love Sleepy Hollow, so why not chat about that on Twitter instead?

9) Make it so the people who love your work can find you and you can banish the negative voices. The best thing I ever did in this regard was set up a PO Box and an author email account for readers to contact me. Because the ones that are taking the time to write to you are the ones who either are thinking critically about your story enough to have pressing questions or because they love it. You might occasionally get a message from someone who has strong beliefs that contradict what you’re saying in your books, but those will always be fewer than the chorus of sweet, awesome voices of the readers you reached and affected on a personal level. If someone is being a troll on Twitter to you, block them. Done. If you track Tumblr tags of your name or book title, install an extension or plug-in like Tumblr Hatred that lets you hide posts you’d rather not see each time you check the tags.

10) Shake it off. Yes. Like TSwift is telling you to. One of my favorite lyrics in that song is Just think while you’ve been getting down and out about the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats of the world/You could’ve been getting down to this sick beat. Basically, your energy is WAY better spent thinking and caring about the people who like your book. As I said above, don’t ignore a hundred voices telling you they like your stuff in favor of the one or two voices who are basically just saying “eh… not my cup of tea.” There are certainly going to be reviews that are way harsher than that in your lifetime, ones you think go too far. The best response is still no response. It’s getting up from your computer and going to do something you love. Or, you know, turning off the internet and writing. Anything that affects your productivity isn’t worth your time.

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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4. Holding Yourself Accountable & Staying Motivated

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by

Susan Dennard

I’ve talked about productivity in great detail before. I’ve discussed how BICHOK is a sure-fire way to get your writing where it needs to be, how endurance can be increased, and how fear can often hold back your writing.

But what about those times when it’s just plain ol’ laziness that’s keeping you from the productivity you want? What about those days where you spend four hours at the computer and write all of 4 words because OMG! Look at all the pretties and shinies on the internet? And ungh, I’m hungry…and hey, when did that squirrel move into the tree outside my window?

Yeah, it’s kinda like that.

On those distraction-heavy days, my friend, it’s time to seek help elsewhere. It’s time to find SOMEONE ELSE to hold you accountable.

I mean, think about it: when you were in high school, you got your work done (or I hope you did…). Maybe it was at the last minute or maybe it wasn’t always your best work, but you finished. Why? Because someone else expected you to.

I’ve talked at great length about this with my author and solo-entrepreneur friends. We have no bosses! We have NO ONE to look over our shoulders and make sure we’re getting the work done.

Another thing we don’t have are people to validate us when we do make progress. So what if you had a great day writing–there’s no one there to be impressed or to pat you on the back or to say, “Great job! You deserve a raise.” We simply slog on, all alone.

But what if we put a dose of SOMEONE ELSE in our writing lives? What if we find (or start) a Twitter hashtag so we can make accountability partners? Or cheerleader/validation partners? Or what if we interact in forums or via email chains or Facebook groups? Writing is solitary, but it certainly doesn’t have to be.

I think camaraderie is one of the reasons that NaNoWriMo is SO successful for people! They’re all writing together, interacting, sharing, and keeping each other motivated.

So if you’re finding you need a bit more motivation in your life, I challenge you to find another writer who’ll hold you accountable and send you lots of smiley faces when you need ‘em. Heck, come join me in my forums–I’m definitely in need of some writing buddies!! Or add me as a friend for NaNoWriMo!

You tell me: Is this something you would ever do? Or do you already have someone like this in your writing life?

If you like what you read here, consider signing up for my newsletter, the Misfits & Daydreamers or swinging by my For Writers page!

SusanDennardBefore she settled down as a full-time novelist and writing instructor, Susan Dennard traveled the world as marine biologist. She is the author of the Something Strange and Deadly series as well as the forthcoming Witchlands series (Tor, 2015), and when not writing, she can be found hiking with her dogs, exploring tidal pools, or practicing her tap dance shuffles. You can learn more about Susan on her blogTwitterFacebook, or Pinterest.

 

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5. …which leads to books!

Remember how I said cleaning leads to writing? Yep, I’ve been busy. And I’m still busy, because I’m not exactly done. But I thought you’d be interested in an update and some recent releases, along with the coming attractions …

First, you can get these now:

LOVE PROOF is now out in audio! I love the narration Maria Hunter Welles did for it. And I didn’t announce it at the time (see above, been busy), but there are also audio editions of THE GOOD LIE, DOGGIRL, and REPLAY. I know. It’s a lot. Take your pick and listen away!

Also, I have a new short story collection out. It’s called A FEW STRANGE MATTERS, and it is. A little odd. But sometimes my mind needs a break from longer works like novels, and when I let my mind wander, it wanders. The collection has some contemporary, some science fiction, a little fantasy, some paranormal, and a couple of strange stories from the teen world. You might have read a few of them here and there, but I guarantee there are some you’ve never seen. Possibly because I wrote them under a pen name that none of you knew about. So take a look–I’ll be interested in hearing what you all think!

Now, for the coming attractions:

YES, PARALLELOGRAM 4 WILL BE OUT THIS FALL. That’s all I can say, because I have made the mistake before of giving you a pub date which turns out not to be true. But I promise you will feel satisfied and fulfilled when you read this final book in the series. I’m still working very hard to pull all the pieces together. Thank you for your questions (“When? WHEN??”) and your patience. I hate waiting, too. I get it. It’ll be along very soon.

And to make you even happier about all the time I’ve been hiding out, I’ll also have ANOTHER NEW BOOK for you by December, I believe. It’s fantasy, it’s epic, and it involves a girl warrior. Yessssss …

That’s my report for now. I have to go back to writing. I owe you all some books.

Happy Fall! ~Robin

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6. Book Recommendation: The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours

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By

Biljana Likic

So you’re writing that sweeping historical novel full of war and political intrigue, and you maybe need some inspiration. Where better to turn than to history books? Only problem is that they can be a bit dry, and at times the forced impartiality (“I must present this as facts uncoloured by my opinion!”) can make the prose frustratingly ambiguous. Then there’s the whole “history is written by the victor” thing. The phrase reveals the difficulties readers face when approaching historical writing. Not to mention, it’s practically impossible to write about a historical event in a completely detached way without it sounding like a recipe.

Honestly, it makes me glad I write fiction. The pressure of writing a history book is terrifying. What sources you include, and where you include them, and why…no matter how you organize them, there will always be an expert disagreeing with you.

Enter Gregory of Tours. He was a 6th century bishop of (you guessed it) Tours, France, and is our best contemporary source of the Merovingian dynasty in modern-day France and Germany. He wrote history, but it’s only in very recent times that we started giving him more credit as an actual historian. Why did it take so long? You only need to take a gander at all the wild stuff he says in his most famous work, The History of the Franks.

Here’s the deal. Remember the whole “no such thing as no bias” spiel? This is very apparent in Gregory. A lot of people read the Histories assuming they’re a moralistic work about how those who aren’t Catholic will suffer the demons of hell, and those that are will be saved in heaven. To be fair, it’s not a hard conclusion to reach. There’s one story of a priest conspiring against his superior, and as alleged punishment from God, on the morning the priest is getting ready to betray him, this happens: “He went off to the lavatory and while he was occupied in emptying his bowels he lost his soul instead.”

Lost his soul on the can. He quite literally shit himself to death. There are fewer effective ways to teach someone a lesson about going against a saintly authority.

But then, in another story, Queen Deuteria is afraid that her husband might “desire and take advantage of” their maturing daughter so she puts her in a cart drawn by untamed bulls and the daughter crashes into a river and dies. And this happens in like three sentences with no moral. No ceremony, no “The shadow of sin is cast upon the loveless mother!”, no “Don’t lust after your own daughter or else your wife might kill her (and also, sin)!”, only a few nearly parenthetical phrases, perhaps just to explain what happened to the daughter when the King later takes a new wife and refuses to take Deuteria back. I wonder why he’d do that.

So you have this one priest’s story taking up a few sizable, memorable paragraphs about him conspiring against his bishop, and then you have this other one of a horrific filicide told in a measly three sentences. That’s the fascinating thing about this work. It’s a bunch of to-the-point recitations of facts mixed together with wildly moralistic tales where common sicknesses and coincidences are explains away as God’s doing. In some sections it even reads like fantasy. It’s as full of people having prophetic dreams and being warned about the dangers ahead as it is of short side notes about a perfectly Christian king being poisoned just because…well…he was king, and he was poisoned.

But the reason the Histories are so valuable today, aside from being a long and spectacular feat of story-telling, is because there really is a genuinely massive amount of historical information within them. Every so often you’ll find entire letters Gregory directly transcribed so he could give us the primary source rather than rephrasing an event in his own words. Some of these letters survive in different forms and can be used to cross-reference events in the book. Others only survive through his writing. There is a ton of specificity about the Church, and especially about the history of the bishopric of Tours. There’s stuff in there about the actual daily lives of people living in the 6th century, their traditions, habits, and gossip, written by a person living in the 6th century. That is absolutely invaluable.

Not to mention a freaking amazing read. Merovingian kings and queens meant business. The backstabbing, the stealing of territory, copious amounts of regicide, broken alliances, queens abandoning their husbands for other kings because others were manlier and held more promise as conquerors… These people were ruthless. Contrast that with the general thread of what it means to be a good Christian weaving through the work, and you’ve got some damn awesome dichotomies going on.

So move this baby up your to-read list. Not only is it full of events that actually happened, making it an excellent book to read for personal research, but it’s also a great literary window into the workings of 6th century Continental Europe.

biljana new picBiljana Likic is working on her fantasy WIPs and has just started 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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7.

by

Jodi Meadows

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how much my other creative pursuits influence my writing — and even help me get through tough problems when I’m working.

There’s something about knitting, for me, that allows me to keep my hands busy and focus juuuuust a little, but frees the rest of my mind to work out a plot tangle or a question about character arcs. I’ve found the same thing in spinning (yarn, not exercise — ugh), and even calligraphy.

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I started wondering if some of my fellow Pub Crawlers had other creative outlets, as well. And yep. When I put out the call, they delivered.

JJJJ: I’ll start! When it comes to other creative outlets (or as I call them, other procrastinatory outlets ;-)), I tend to play my piano or guitar, draw, take pictures, or redesign my website. I think they all fulfill different functions; for example, I often redesign my website when I’m stuck or between drafts because fiddling with CSS and other types of code is soothing. There is something about typing one thing and have it show up as a concrete THING on the other end that is very, very comforting (especially when writing fiction, which is anything BUT concrete sometimes). I find it kind of mindless in the way algebra is mindless: simple enough to keep me occupied and let the subconscious wander free. (Which is why I am often redesigning my website when I am stuck.)

Music is less mindless to me, and I often play when I need to completely shut off and do something else for a while. I studied piano for 15 years, but when I play now, it’s less the classical stuff and more the “I just the heard the latest pop song and I want to do a cover” type of thing. Usually I cheat and figure out the chord progressions on my guitar first (I am a terrible, terrible, terrible formal musician. 15 years and I know fuck-all about theory.), or sometimes look up the tabs. Then I transfer the work to the piano. (Luckily, 99% of all the pop songs are the same four chords I-V-vi-IV.)

Sometimes, I doodle drawings of my characters. But that’s usually when I’m doing something ELSE and unable to write (that’s often at the day job). Doodling sketches of my characters keeps me in the right frame of mind for my story, but it also helps me figure out what they look like in my head. (I often post my doodles to Instagram and Tumblr. My doodles can also be found on my blog and Deviantart.)

I also take photographs.

If there’s a procrastinatory technique, then I will do it. ;-) Are you sensing a theme here?

SusanDennardSusan: I enjoy tap dancing, sewing, and blogging/newslettering. They all demand really different kinds of creative energy.

One thing that I started doing this year (and that I do a lot of now) is making my own body products and makeup. It’s like cooking crossed with chem lab. Lots of stirring and weighing and melting involved. Plus, you have to really understand how various butters or oils, oxides or clays interact–otherwise the consistency of the cream/lotion/lip gloss won’t be right. Or you might end up with a blush that’s TOO red or a pressed powder that’s so pale you look like a corpse. :) I find that all that mixing and melting and measuring requires just enough focus that I can’t totally zone out, but it also frees up enough headspace for my subconscious to work through story knots.

Erin BowmanErin: As most of you know, I was a web designer prior to jumping into writing. Design is still a huge outlet for me. Even though it’s related to writing, I absolutely love designing my own promotional materials (bookmarks, stickers, postcards, etc), as well as maintaining my website. I’m a bit type nerd, too, so I tend to collect (read: buy) way more fonts than I should.

Another huge distraction for me, while not necessarily creative, is getting outdoors. Walks, hikes, camping, canoeing . . . you name it. I find being outside, totally away from the computer/technology is one of the best ways to give my brain a break and reset the creative well, if you will.

Kat ZhangKat: I love all kinds of art, and I get really inspired watching people dance, or put on a play, or things like that. As for as things I actually do myself, though, I paint (mostly watercolor at the moment), and I’ve gotten into digital art (“painting” with a wacom tablet and photoshop) this past year or so. It’s a great creative outlet that’s not word-based.

I love photography as well, but since I’m mostly interested in portrait/lifestyle photography, my ability to do it is limited to the times when my friends are willing to play model ;)

I post a lot of both my art and my photography on my Tumblr :)

Janice HardyJanice: I’m a graphic designer by trade, and I think that’s helped me a lot with being able to handle feedback without taking it personally. Clients always ask for changes and comment on my “art” and it’s helped me be able to see my creative work as a product and not just an expression of myself, and how the creative process can be a group effort to great success.

The last few years I’ve been drawing and painting for fun, and crazy as it sounds, I’ve been painting Nerf guns and toys. All of the guns were bright orange and yellow plastic when I started. My husband gave me a huge AT-AT toy for my birthday that I’m dying to paint. It takes hours, but it’s a lot of fun and very absorbing. It’s a combination of spray paint, fine detail hand painting and dry brushing.

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I’m not sure how “creative” this is, but I’m a gamer and I’ve feel having to make decisions about what to do it games and thinking about what that character would do (their motivations) has helped me plot my novels easier. It forced me to think about cause and effect and how character choices created effects and consequences. There’s also a lot of creativity in designing a game for friends and running one, almost like writing a book where you have no control over the characters, hehe.

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 (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen).
*A Kippy is a cat.

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8. How Not to Quit

by Julie Eshbaugh

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JulieThis is my first post for PubCrawl since my big news came out. For those of you who have not yet heard, I am thrilled to announce that my debut novel, IVORY AND BONE, has sold to HarperCollins in a three book deal. Yay! Here’s the summary from Goodreads.com:

Pitched as a YA Clan of the Cave Bear, this fantastical debut with a unique narrative structure tells the story of two star-crossed teens whose competing clans share a dark history, and who must choose between trusting—or fighting—each other.

Sharing this news with the readers of this blog is nothing less than a dream come true. If you’ve been following PubCrawl for long (and maybe even its predecessor, Let The Words Flow,) you know that this didn’t happen for me overnight. I joined Let The Words Flow in 2010. I’m not sure exactly when I first set the goal of becoming a published novelist, (I feel like it crept up on me slowly, developing over time,) but I think it would be safe to say the goal was fully formed somewhere between the summer and fall of 2008, six years ago.

Six years… Six years of writing almost every day. Six years of setting word count goals, of giving up evenings out and favorite TV shows. Six years of getting up early and going to bed late so I could get the writing done.

None of that makes me unique or special – I know I’m far from alone in this. Over these six years, many of you have been pursuing your writing dreams right alongside me.  But since IVORY AND BONE was officially announced, I’ve been congratulated on my tenacity. A few people have said they were impressed that I never gave up.

The truth is, I almost never considered giving up. I rarely thought I was wasting my time. Thoughts of quitting only darkened my mind on the very worst of days, which, thankfully, were few.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, trying to figure out what exactly kept those thoughts at bay. I’ve come to realize that, while some of it can be credited to a naturally persistent (some might say stubborn,) disposition, much of my ability to persevere is owed to my fantastic support system. In hopes that this might help readers of this blog that may be dealing with the temptation to quit, here are my thoughts on the aspects of my life that have kept me going:

The people closest to me understand the creative process. This has probably been the biggest boost to my perseverance. Both my husband and son have their own creative pursuits. My son studies acting and filmmaking. My husband is a singer-songwriter. Since the day I met my husband, writing songs has been a part of his daily life. He has been a fantastic example for me of a person who relentlessly pursues his art. Not for glory or money or external validation, but for the art itself. Because he didn’t choose music; music chose him. His example has helped me to live as if writing chose me.

I have writer friends and critique partners who tirelessly cheer for me. Writing is lonely. By its nature, it’s solitary and isolating. That’s why I can’t overstate the impact my writing friends have had on me. To say they encouraged me would be a horrific understatement. When it felt like the whole world was telling me “no,” they screamed “YES!” Yes, you can do it. Yes, you’re good enough. Yes, you will get there. I cannot thank them enough. If you do not have friends like this around you, find them. Join a writing group. Engage with the online writing community. (The #amwriting hashtag on Twitter will lead you to lots of likeminded people.) Find people who understand what you’re trying to do. Find people who will cheer for you (and cheer for them, too!)

I blog about writing. Blogging may seem like just one more obligation, something that takes up more time and might make it even harder to keep pursuing your writing. And for some people, blogging does get in the way. But for me, blogging has been a godsend. It’s connected me with all of you who read this blog – writers and readers willing to exchange ideas with me. That process has helped me to form my identity as a writer. When you have a day job that takes up forty (plus) hours of your week, it’s easy to forget that you are a writer first. But this community keeps me focused, so thank you, thank you, THANK YOU. Thank you for supporting my posts, because every time I post I have the audacity to call myself a writer. It’s right there in my bio. Julie Eshbaugh writes fiction for young adults.

Of course, that statement in my bio is true, simply because I choose to make it true. I do write fiction for young adults. Nothing about that part of my life is going to change. Except now, I’ll have the guidance of an experienced editor. I’ll have the support of an established publisher. And sometime in 2016, some of the fiction I write for young adults will go out into the world as a book. :)

How about you? What keeps you writing? What’s pulled you through when you’ve been tempted to quit? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

  ~~~

Julie Eshbaugh writes fiction for young adults. She is the author of the upcoming Ivory & Bone (HarperCollins, 2016.) You can add Julie on Goodreads and follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

 

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9. What Scares You?

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by

JJ

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JJ

It’s October! (Already? Yeesh, where did September go? Or for that matter, where did the summer go?) And you know what means!

HAVING THE PANTS SCARED OFF YOU.

I’ve always been a fan of all things dark, morbid, and goth, and I think it’s pretty fitting that my relationship anniversary is in the month of October, so my fiance and I can celebrate by going to haunted houses/corn-mazes. Huzzah, horror!

Last year I wrote about the difference between horror and terror as a storytelling device, but this year I want to focus on the “types” or horror, or the sorts of stories that scare you. While my fiance and I both like horror, the horror stories to which we are drawn are very different. When it comes to horror movies in the theatre, he goes for the slasher-type, whereas I prefer ghost stories.

Blood, guts, and gore? Or the supernatural? Both types of horror stories are certainly valid. But because I am the sort of person who likes to dissect and categorize, I’ve divided the two of us into External and Internal Horror.

External Horror

Bear tends to like stories with an external danger: the serial killer on the loose, the deranged psychopath inflicting pain, etc. I call these External Horror narratives, stories in which there is a clear delineation between Good and Evil. (Cabin in the Woods skewers and plays into this sort of horror story quite well.) External Horror often has a high body count, and it is frequently gruesome. In External Horror narratives, the protagonist is the audience proxy, the point of entry for the viewer or reader into the story. Because the protagonist is the sole character you can trust, everything and everyone around him or her becomes suspect, which creates an atmosphere of fear, interspersed by spikes of terror. (The infamous “scare cut”.)

Internal Horror

On the other hand, I prefer stories in which the danger is not quite so distinct or discrete. I like stories about possessed objects, children, or houses, parents slowly losing their minds, murderers who turn out to the be the protagonist all along, etc. I call these Internal Horror stories, where the danger may or may not be “real”.  The protagonist is not the audience proxy in Internal Horror narratives, and instead of people or things around the protagonist, it’s the audience’s perception of events that can’t be trusted. Internal Horror stories tend to have less of a body count than External ones, and the scares tend to be less intense, but there is a constant level of tension that becomes nearly unbearable by the end. (The Shining is one of my favourite examples of the Internal Horror narrative.)

Of course, both Internal and External elements can exist in the same horror narrative. Rosemary’s Baby is a great example, as is American Psycho (the movie, not the book), both of which are some of my favourite horror stories.

What about you? What sort of horror stories do you like?

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S. Jae-Jones (called JJ) is a writer, artist, and adrenaline junkie. Before moving down to grits country, she was an editor at St. Martin’s Press in New York City, where she read and acquired YA. When not obsessing over books, she can be found rock climbing, skydiving, or taking her dog on ridiculously long hikes. A southern California native, she now lives in North Carolina with her doctor Bear, a stuffed baby harp seal named White-Harp, and a husky-dog called Bentley. Other places to find JJ include TwitterTumblr, and her blog.

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10. How To Build and Use a Treaddesk

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amie165c-twitterToday, we’re going to talk about the wonders of the treaddesk! Any writer will tell you that your back and shoulders suffer terribly if you spend too much time hunching over your desk. Especially when writing, we get lost in our work, and next thing, you’re shaped like a question mark.

Studies show that spending too much time sitting can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and a slew of other health problems. Your upper legs and your butt represent the biggest muscles in your body, and sitting still for hours on end effectively switches them off, which powers down your metabolism and circulation.

The answer? A treaddesk! Behold! (You can click for a much larger image.)

Treaddesk Front

Woah! What is it?

A treaddesk is a small desk attached to your treadmill. You can rest your laptop on it and type while you walk. Basically, a treaddesk is a way to keep you moving while you work, and the World Health Organisation and every official recommendation out there says you’ll feel healthier and live longer for it!

Looks expensive, my friend…

Doesn’t have to be! I’m sure there are folks out there who’ll build you a super expensive treaddesk, but it’s genuinely easy to DIY. I got hold of a second hand treadmill for $100, and my husband built the desk section out of some bits of wood we had lying around. It’s as good as anything I could have bought!

How did you build it?

I’ll start by saying that if you have any questions about this at all, please do ask them in the comments, and I’ll have my husband answer. But here are the basics:

  1. Check the right height–stand on the treadmill with your arms out at the height you’d like your laptop to be, and make a note of it.
  2. Construct your frame–in the simplest terms, you’re talking about a piece of L-shaped wood, pictured below.
  3. You can fasten the frame to the treadmill handles with black zip-ties. You can see one of them sticking out, just to the right of my mug. Again, click for a much larger image.
  4. That’s it! The ties stop it sliding off the frame, and we found putting a gap between the planks meant my laptop had good air circulation. We put it on, plugged in the laptop, and I was ready to go!

Treaddesk Side

Hooray for you, Amie, but I’m pretty sure I’m too uncoordinated — I’ll fall straight off the back!

You really won’t! Trust me, I once fell off the back of a treadmill in front of a whole football team, because my sister said something outrageous and I forgot to keep running. Not my most dignified moment! So I was definitely nervous I’d be too uncoordinated to walk and type at the same time. The key is to start out a little slower, and work your way up from there. I spend my first few days walking at a very slow 2kph, which is about 1.2mph. Now I spend 2 – 4 hours a day walking at 4kph, which is 2.5kph. That’s about regular walking pace, and I find it’s about the right speed to make sure I don’t move up and down too much to interfere with my typing. What’s most interesting to me is that I completely tune out while I’m doing it — after a couple of minutes, I forget I’m even on the treadmill, and an hour later I’m surprised to realise how long it’s been.

Okay. Maaaaaybe you’re onto something. Any special user tips?

Honestly, I was amazed by how easy I found it to adjust to using the treaddesk, but here’s what I came up with by way of beginner tips:

  1. Wear decent shoes, preferably sneakers.
  2. Start out slow, and work up from there.
  3. Check if you need to stretch afterwards–if you haven’t walked a lot, then your hips might get a little tight. Some gentle lunges will sort that out.
  4. If you’re not used to exercising, work your way up slowly, starting with half an hour or so.
  5. Make sure the treadmill comes to a complete stop before you dismount! (No seriously.)

Any questions about using the treaddesk, or building your own? Leave them in the comments!

Amie Kaufman is the co-author of THESE BROKEN STARS, a YA sci-fi novel out now from Disney-Hyperion (US) and Allen & Unwin (Australia). Book two, THIS SHATTERED WORLD, is coming on December 23rd, and in the meantime, you can 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 or on Facebook, or visit the These Broken Stars website for exclusive sneak-peeks and contests. Amie lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her husband and rescue dog.

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11. Writing and time management

by

Jodi Meadows

Late last night, I remembered that I needed to write a blog post to go up this morning. I sat around for a good thirty minutes, refreshing Twitter and having one of those shouting-across-the-house conversations with my husband, because neither one of us wanted to get up. Finally, I asked a friend what to write about. She said, “Time management.”

So I thought this would be an excellent time to give you an idea of how I get through my day. I keep a very strict schedule that never varies so that I get all of my work done and never have to do anything at the last minute.

8 hours — sleep
2 hours — email
2 hours — Twitter/other social media
1 hour — lunch/TV
1 hour — email (again!)
1 hour — researching something that will affect only one sentence out of the entire novel, like what type of trees grow where
30 minutes — Twitter/other social media
1 hour — trying to find the perfect font
30 minutes — think about sleeping
2 hours — nap
2 hours — try to figure out what that word was that I couldn’t think of earlier
1 hour — dinner/TV
2 hours — realize that no writing will get done today unless I squeak out a few words right now

So there it is, my foolproof time-management plan. This is how I am never behind on anything and my writing is always done weeks before my editor starts asking me about my book. Deadline schmedline. I got this. And if you follow my guidelines, you can, too.*

*It’ll also make your hair shinier!**
**This entire post may be a lie.***
***Or some parts might be true.

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 (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen).
*A Kippy is a cat.

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12. Finishing a Trilogy: Interview with Meagan Spooner, author of Skylark

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by Susan,

featuring

Meagan Spooner

meagan spoonerToday, I’m delighted to have Meagan Spooner back on the blog. The final book in her Skylark trilogy, Lark Ascending, just released last week, and if you haven’t yet read these books, then now’s the time!

For one, the books are EXCELLENT (and if you’re a fan of my Something Strange & Deadly, then you’ll definitely love Skylark).

For two, the book is only $0.99 on Kindle right now!!

For three, just read this summary and tell me you’re not intrigued:

Now, let’s get down to the interview!

Lark Ascending1. Alrighty, Meg. Biggest author inspirations/influences. Go!

Way too many to count! I’m one of those who firmly believe everything you read (or watch or listen to or see or eat…) goes into the imagination compost and shows up in your work when you least expect it. But some big ones include: Diana Wynne Jones, Garth Nix, Robin McKinley, Neil Gaiman, Peter Beagle, Philip Pullman, Tanith Lee, Tamora Pierce, Patricia C. Wrede, and pretty much every myth or fairy tale I’ve ever heard.

2. You have basically listed all of the authors on MY list as well. ;) Plotter or pantser or…plantser?

Definitely a pantser. When I first started writing Skylark, the first book in this trilogy, I had absolutely no idea where it was headed. There were a few twists and themes I knew I wanted to hit, but part of the joy of writing for me is the act of discovery. Often the ideas that come to me as I write, whether totally out of the blue or as a response or solution to some problem that pops up, are my best ones. Of the three, Lark Ascending is probably the most “planned” of the three, simply because most of the ideas in it came to me while writing Skylark and Shadowlark. I had all these awesome, epic scenes that I knew I wanted to hit in this third book. It was tons of fun.

3. I feel you on the “art of discovery” bit. So now that you’ve finished, how does it feel wrapping up an entire trilogy?

AMAZING. I think it’s no secret that writers often have a love-hate relationship with their books, particularly with their series books, and I’m definitely one of those. Like any long-term relationship, being with someone–or some story–for that many years means you know it inside and out. Its good, its bad, and everything in between. But despite every time I wanted to throw the story–and my computer along with it–out the window, seeing all three books lined up and knowing that I finished telling Lark’s story in a way that feels complete and satisfying—and TRUE—to me… that’s an amazing feeling.

4. Wow. I’m even more excited to read now. Okay, here’s a fan question: in the Skylark trilogy, which character do YOU identify most with?

Definitely Lark herself. Skylark was the first novel I ever wrote, and for me, at least, that meant that of all my characters, my main character was the one most drawn from my own thoughts and personality and experiences. Lark is an odd combination of things I wish I was, things I’m afraid I am, and things I one day hope to be. She’ll probably always be the character most like–and most unlike–me in all my books.

5. That’s TOTALLY how I feel about me with Eleanor! She’s both part of me and who I wish I could be. So cool. Now, final question: If Lark Ascending were a literary cocktail, what ingredients would it need?

Equal parts fantasy and dystopian with a shot of steampunk and a sprinkle of moral grey area. Garnish with a rebel uprising, and serve on the rocks.

 HA! Love the “garnish” bit. Nice touch. ;)

Okay, dear readers. To celebrate having Meg stop by, we’re doing a giveaway (international!)! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below, help us spread the word about Meg’s amazing series, and we’ll choose a winner next week.

Also: if you weren’t aware, both Meagan and her coauthor, Pub Crawl’s own Amie Kaufman, have a short story releasing tomorrow. It’s called This Night So Dark, and it’s free!! You definitely don’t want to miss it.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Meagan Spooner grew up reading and writing every spare moment of the day, while dreaming about life as an archaeologist, a marine biologist, an astronaut. She graduated from Hamilton College in New York with a degree in playwriting, and she currently lives and writes in Asheville, North Carolina. In her spare time she plays guitar, plays video games, plays with her cat, and reads. Learn more about her at her website.

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13. Collaboration: Two writers are better than one(?)

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by

E.C. Myers

Eugene_ClaraOne of my favorite young adult books (and films) is Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, written by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. These authors have written two other novels together, and Levithan also teamed up with John Green for another of my favorite books, Will Grayson, Will Grayson. I’m fascinated when writers work together to tell a story, and I’m curious about how these things come about, what their process is, and how the story develops along the way. After all, writing is supposed to be a lonely business, isn’t it?

I think most working writers will agree that all published stories are ultimately collaborations. There’s the critiques you get from your beta readers, feedback from your agent, changes from your editor. There’s also the input of copy editors and proofreaders, who can sometimes save a story at the last possible moment and catch all your mistakes. Your friends and family help you brainstorm, or happen to say something at just the right moment. Your read another story or watch a movie that inspires a brilliant idea for yours. Along the way, many of these suggestions are entirely optional — it’s still your book — but it’s good to listen and be open to anything that will make your book stronger. Your crit partners, agent, and editor all want it to be the best story it can be, and you know what? Even if you agree with them and make some changes, it’s still your book.

sat_121_2014So far, I have only collaborated with another author once, on a novelette titled “Lost in Natalie,” which was recently published in the summer issue of Space and Time magazine. I wrote it with my friend Mercurio D. Rivera, a critically acclaimed science fiction writer; he critiqued an early draft in our writing group and thought it was a great premise but the light, almost campy tone was jarring against the darker themes. He wanted to take a crack at working on it together, and I agreed. (There was also some sort-of-incest in the story, which I think is what really got him interested…)

The basic plot was about a guy who attends a sex party called a “swap meat” at which everyone switches bodies throughout the night. But there’s a police raid — because of course that kind of thing is totally illegal! — and he has to escape in someone else’s body. Hijinks ensue.

As this was our first collaboration with anyone, let alone each other, we approached it as sensibly as we could. Mercurio had my original draft, which he reworked into a new outline, and we decided to simply use that as a guide and alternate chapters, sending them to each other to pick up the thread like a round-robin game. As we reviewed the other’s section, we were free to make any changes we wanted — without tracked changes — no questions asked.

Mercurio kicked it off:

Attached is my stab at an opening scene for “Lost at the Swap Meat” (working title).  I’m afraid that my outline has sort of fallen apart.  Nonetheless, I’ll also send you the outline in its current state in a separate email.My skin is very thick; feel free to re-work any or all of this if it’s not working for you.

 

I worked on it. A few days later I sent him this:

Here’s my first pass on the second scene, along with some changes and additions to the first section, which was quite good. Wow, it really is porny though–where are we going to market this thing? Anyway. Feel free to change whatever you need to. I’ll choke down my pride :) I basically stuck to your outline here, and threw in some other threads we might explore or lose along the way.

 

I got it back a week later:

Tag!  You’re it!P.S.  Outline is broken.  Luckily you don’t normally write with one, right?
PPS. I ramped down the sexual flirting in the cab–I figured they’d be too shaken up from their near arrest, but I kept it in the apartment
PPPS  My latest scene sucks.  Please make brilliant
PPPPS “Conner” is now “Gustavo”– to make the characters slightly less white-bread

 

Gustavo? Okay. We changed that to Enrique at some point.

Look! It’s a whole day early! This latest scene is still a little rough, but I think we have some direction. I updated the outline with some ideas for the rest of the story, but feel free to ignore it if you can come up with something better. I am really excited about this and I like how it’s coming along–we’ll obviously have a lot of editing to do when we’re done, but nothing we can’t fix.

It’s coming in a little long as well, so I think we may have to trim a lot if we can’t sell it at that length and with its mature content. We’ll see after we finish.

Carry on! I expect something soon :)

And so it went. Back and forth. It was awesome.

collaborators

The collaborators (Photo by Matt Kressel)

Reading through our old e-mails, I was also working on my first draft of Fair Coin at the time, and at least one other short story. But I always looked forward to getting the next section from Mercurio, and my faster turnaround times kept him working and motivated. And the end result (many, many critiques and revisions later) was something better than either of us probably could have managed on our own.

Mercurio writes wonderful dark, thinky stories with beautiful prose, while I think my strengths are in dialogue and character, and our different approaches to plotting meshed very well. The story ended up having a really interesting, provocative theme and the ending is one of the best things “I’ve” written. I learned a lot from him in the process, and because we were constantly revising each other’s sections, and then our own sections and lines, the whole story smoothed out so even our friends couldn’t tell which scenes we wrote. (Actually, we barely remember anymore either. We’re each happy to take credit for the bits we like though.)

Moreover, our friendship survived the experience, and we eventually sold the story to a great market, so I count that a win. So why did this go so well? Being friends helped, but that also could have gotten in the way. First and foremost, we kept our egos out of the equation. We admire each other’s talents and instincts, and we respect each other. We’re both used to receiving constructive criticism and revising our work. It was also a lot of fun! We both loved the story and wanted it to reach its potential, and I am so energized by that creative process with other people.

You would think two writers would make the story go twice as quickly, but that isn’t always the case because you also have two people with schedules and responsibilities and lives to work around. Sharing the workload did help though, and I am often still amazed — and a little shocked — at what we created together. (A small caveat if you’re interested in checking out the story in Space and Time and are familiar with most of my other work: It is really not young adult.)

The experience of writing with Mercurio also prepared me for other projects down the line, including my new novel, The Silence of Six, which took a more collaborative process with my publisher than I was accustomed to. And I would definitely love to collaborate on another story or even a YA novel, with the right project and the right person. (E-mail me!)

Writers, have you collaborated on any stories? What was that like? What are some of your favorite collaborations?

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, will be out on November 5, 2014 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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14. Life as an Editor Married to an Author

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  by

Jordan Hamessley London

Jordan Hamessley LondonEarlier this month, my husband Matt London, experienced something as an author that I’ve experienced many times as an editor. He launched his middle grade debut novel, The 8th Continent. In my career I’ve witnessed many book launches and supported my authors through all that goes with the publishing process as their editor. With Matt and The 8th Continent, I finally experienced it as a family member.

Let’s rewind about a decade…

My husband and I both got our starts in the publishing world around the same time. In fact, if it weren’t for him, I might not even be an editor today. I had taken a semester off of college to do a national theatre tour and after I returned, I spent the majority of my time in his dorm room reading a book a day. One day, Matt said “You’re a freakishly fast reader. You really should find out how to be a reader for a publishing house or literary agent.” The next day, I applied for an internship at a lit agency, snagged the job, and started my long journey to becoming an editor.

Matt was always writing. Since college I’ve been his first reader on nearly everything he’s written. We dreamed of the day I would be an editor and he would be a published author and we’d be living in a big penthouse on Central Park West… The realities of publishing salaries and the life of a freelance author have made that last big a tad hard to fulfill, but as of this month, we have the first two boxes checked off.

As you can imagine, life in an apartment with one editor and one author can be tricky, so here’s how we have survived.

  • No Crossing the Streams: It was always important to us that we each support each other while keeping up boundaries. When Matt’s book went on submission, there was never a moment when we considered sending it to me or my imprint. In fact, when he received his offer from Razorbill, I was still working at Penguin, and the editor had no idea we were married until he went in for a meeting. Of course, over the years we’ve both made contacts from interactions we’ve had at various parties and book launch parties, but I never sent an email to anyone saying “Hey, my man has a book you should read.” That said, at non-publishing events we often get a side-eye when people ask us what we do. “I’m a children’s book author.” “I’m a children’s book editor.” Quickly followed by an “Uh-huh…”
  • Empathy: I have to say having lived with an author on submission, it does make me look at my long list of submissions with more empathy for the writers. They also have family members listening to them freak out over long submission times and why an agent or editor is tweeting about reading (or not reading) submissions. On the other hand, I’m able to say “Hey, editors are human and sometimes just want to spend some time playing video games (yes, we’re nerds) with their husband or watch some Scandal. Chill out.” We’ve both humanized the other side for each other.
  • Knowing When to Step Aside: Once Matt got his book deal, I told him that I was going to stand back and leave the editing up to his editor. These days I typically read a first draft before he sends it just to assure him it’s not terrible. I don’t read the book again until it’s finished. I know how it can be as an editor knowing that an author has a bevy of beta-readers and family members reading each draft and how those voices can occasionally muddy the editorial process, so I just don’t insert myself. That said, whenever he starts a new project, I’m always very excited to read his new work.
  • Perspective: After spending my entire publishing career living with me, Matt has had a leg up in what to expect as a debut author. He’s been to many events for my authors and has heard all of the behind-the-scenes information on every book I’ve edited, so he went into the publishing process understanding the reality of being a debut middle grade author and did always have me to fall back on if he had a question about part of the process.

So after nearly ten years of working toward our goal, Matt’s book came out this month and it has been amazing and crazy and I couldn’t be more proud of him. I know now firsthand how intense launch week is for an author and their family and want to send hugs to every author and family I’ve ever worked with.

Here’s to many more years of our crazy life in publishing.

Jordan Hamessley London is an Editor at Egmont USA, where she edits middle grade and YA. Her current titles include Isla J. Bick’s new series, The Dark Passages (#1 White Space), Bree DeSpain’s new series Into the Dark (#1 The Shadow Prince), and more. Prior to Egmont, Jordan worked at Grosset and Dunlap, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers where she edited Adam-Troy Castro’s middle grade horror series Gustav Gloom, Ben H. Winters and Adam F. Watkin’s book of horror poetry Literally Disturbed, Michelle Schusterman’s I Heart Band series, Adam F. Watkins’s alphabet picture book R is for Robot and more. When not editing, Jordan can be found on twitter talking about books, scary movies, and musical theater.

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15. The Tyrant Villain

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Biljana Likic

biljana new picA common trope in stories is the merciless ruler whose reign must be toppled by the hero. I admit to being guilty of shameless adherence to this archetype. My current fantasy WIP features a villainous tyrant on the throne, and boy, am I having a tough time making him convincing.

What are the first things you think of when you think of a tyrant? Madness? Cruelty? Lust for power? A god complex? All possibilities, all easy to come up with on the spot during a lazy bout of brainstorming. After these character flaws might come the political implications of what a tyrant is: an absolute ruler, a leader of vast armies, an arbitrary judge. When I started thinking about the things my tyrant might do, I came up with capricious murder, genocide, induced famine, city-razing, and general disregard towards the value of a human life. Personally, thinking about tyranny leaves me in desperate need of rainbows and cupcakes, so when I approached my fantasy, I perhaps hadn’t given my villain enough thought, and it wasn’t until recently that I forced myself to confront it.

I started with the character flaws. Madness, cruelty, lust for power, and a god complex. In no time, my tyrant was a caricature. But there was nothing wrong with that, as long as I worked towards fixing it. It’s always good to start with base flaws and virtues when trying to flesh out a character. Once you have those, though, you have to begin adding depth. The shock value of mindless murder wears off very quickly. What never becomes dull is the potential for logical reasoning behind the tyrant’s twisted actions. So we venture into the realm of “whys”.

Backstory

Every tyrant starts small. After all, I believe a god complex is created through experiences. Perhaps there’s a string of eerie coincidences and close calls with death that lead him (male, because my tyrant is male) to believe that somebody is watching over him. Following that, he starts comparing himself to others, and if his intelligence is above average, begins to truly believe that he’s better. Already suspecting his divine status, he just needs one friend to tell him what he wants to hear to become brainwashed by the seductive prospect that maybe he actually is a god. And since gods know better than people about what’s right and wrong, it’s a god’s job to guide them in the proper direction. And if that has to be done through absolute rule, so be it.

The idea is that the tyrant actually believes that what he’s doing is for the good of the people. He’s driven by what he thinks is right. Nobody views their own self as an evil person. He has a set of values by which he abides, shaped by his childhood and relationships, and everybody against them is in the wrong.

But he can’t just waltz into a palace and plop down onto a throne. He has to convince everybody else that he’s a god first; he has to earn his power. And he can’t earn his power until he has some kind of control over the people. Fear works, of course, but even then he needs soldiers to confirm it throughout the countryside. And the way he gets those soldiers is…

Charisma

A charismatic person is someone who displays magnetism and charm in everything they do: someone you would follow off a cliff if you didn’t stop and think about it. No tyrant gets to where he wants to be without the ability to lead an army. But armies aren’t stupid. Of course, mob mentality sometimes makes them act in questionable ways, but they wouldn’t follow just anybody. A tyrant is a person who has successfully won over a massive amount of people to do their bidding. You have to have insane talent for public speaking to pull that off, and you have to value the people around you who do their jobs well. So often, tyrants in media are portrayed as baby-killing cracks who behead their irreplaceable right-hand man when he accidentally bumps into them. And while he might end up doing that eventually (especially if he boards the crazy train) it’s important to remember that throughout history, those events were the beginning of the end of a tyrant’s career. Somebody always ends up killing him off. So unless you want your story to last about two pages, don’t make everybody hate the tyrant.

A more convincing reason for not making everybody hate the tyrant is that the hero has to have opposition, and the opposition has to be great. If everybody agrees that the world would be a better place without Emperor Quintus the Bat-Shit Insane, chances are somebody else will kill him before your hero can even walk.

But most importantly, a tyrant with charisma is disturbing. They make the reader feel like maybe they’re rooting for the wrong person. A charismatic villain is one that you dislike not necessarily because of the bloodbaths they cause, but because they trouble you by forcing you to challenge your own beliefs on things you thought you knew. They’re the kind of villain that you love to hate. You’re relieved when they’re gone, but you also miss them.

Doubt

Bringing this back to the characteristics of your tyrant, doubt is one that is essential. Doubt is the root of power lust. If the tyrant is a god, he should have no problem taking over the land. So why is it so much trouble? Probably because he still doesn’t have enough power. If the doubt is “Maybe I’m not a god,” the answer is to continue taking over lands until you prove that you are. If the doubt is “Maybe I’m wrong,” the answer is change the laws until they prove that you’re right.

There’s the old saying that absolute power corrupts absolutely, but the truth is, power corrupts those who don’t have it. If you want a corrupt tyrant, never give him absolute power, because then nothing would have to change. He would be satisfied. Instead, you have to always make sure to keep the tyrant unsatisfied with what he has by making him riddled with doubt over the sustainability of his empire. If he has full control over the people, don’t give him full control over himself, too. Don’t give him confidence in his own abilities to keep the people in his sway. If confidence is hidden from him, he’ll struggle to find it by going to extremes, and he’ll take it out on his people in an attempt to assert his rule. As time passes and his fist tightens, the penalty for tax evasion eventually turns from a few days in the stocks to death by stoning. Hunting on royal grounds slowly becomes punishable by the chopping off of limbs instead of a simple fine. The gradual increase in brutality has to be just that: gradual. A continuous one-upmanship against himself to see how far he can go. As the tyrant’s doubt rises, as madness settles in, the times change to reflect his state of mind, but the people’s memory of his greatness stalls any action against him. Because remember: the tyrant has charisma. There are people that like him, and might be blind to the changes until they begin to directly affect them. And as long as they don’t steal or hunt on royal grounds, the people think they’re safe. But because the tyrant is crazy, that’s not quite the case.

Eventually, the tyrant’s enemies become his own people. As a conqueror, when it was his armies against foreign armies, the distinction was clear. But as it turns into his armies against his own people, what does he do? How can he make the right decision? How far can he push until they turn against him? How much more control does he need until he can be sure that civil unrest will never happen? Who can he preemptively kill for the good of the peaceful state?

Commitment

Finally, we get to the most important point of all. Commit to your tyrant. As you continue to explore the possibilities within his character, you’ll be tempted to turn him into a victim. I did this in my fantasy WIP. Twice. With two separate characters that had started out as villains. Now they’re both misunderstood good guys. And it was when I almost did it a third time that I had to stop myself, because it would’ve made conflict impossible, and a story with no conflict is boring.

Always remember: your tyrant is a bad person. He kills. He destroys. He threatens humanity. Because you’re a fantastic writer and you developed his character so well, your knowledge of his motives will trick you into feeling empathetic towards him.

Don’t. He is a bad person.

You want to show his side of the argument, and you want to show it well enough to make the reader conflicted over his eventual defeat, but you have to maintain the status quo: He is the villain, and the hero has to defeat him. When he and the hero meet, they can’t just sit around and talk about their feelings over copious amounts of chocolate cake and then decide to hold hands and start over. Even if your hero ends up understanding him, they cannot agree. Because as soon as they agree, poof goes the conflict. The best stories are the ones where the differences in ideology are understandable, but irreconcilable.

And ultimately, how do you forgive cold-blooded murder? How do you forgive genocide? How do you forgive systematic oppression and mutilation of a people by their own leader?

You can’t. And even if, in the end, the tyrant is repentant, it’s too late. He must pay for his sins.

That’s the tragedy of a perfect villain: they are beyond saving, beyond any hope for atonement. But regardless of all their terrible actions, you are able to understand and pity them, because you can see the forks in the road at which they took the wrong turns.

Well. I don’t know that I’ll be able to write my tyrant like this. It takes quite a bit of skill, and I’m not sure I’m there yet. But this is my goal, and I hope these ramblings were useful to others struggling through the same obstacles as I am.

Biljana Likic is working on her fantasy WIPs and has just started 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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16. Perfect is the Enemy of Good

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Alex Bracken

Alex

Like a lot of writers, I wrestle with bouts of depression and anxiety. And by “wrestle,” I mean: when they come for me fully-loaded with self-doubt and frustration and exhaustion, I have to strong-arm the feelings back to get any work done and get on with life. I say that casually, I guess, but some days are easier than others and it’s taken me years to suss out one of the biggest culprits for turning me into an anxiety-ridden puddle of Alex goo. My enemy is perfectionism.

If we’re going to really dig into the Alex Archives, I first noticed this shadow trailing me in sixth grade. There were three prongs to this: the first was that I realized that there were kids in advanced classes, and I wasn’t one of them (And of course the question became What’s wrong with me that I’m not one of them?), I got ruthlessly bullied every single day riding home on the bus by an 8th grade girl who literally threw things at me and called me all sorts of really vile things, and I lost all of my “friends” I went into school with because–I kid you not–my parents wouldn’t let me get contacts, I was shy, and I didn’t dress the way they did. (This is especially sucky when you consider my parents didn’t want me to get contacts because I was 13 and had to get hard contact lenses which, let me tell you, are especially painful to wear in a dry desert climate and you have to actually train your eyes to wear.) And, yup, those former friends went on to become the popular girls. Classic.

I’m shading in this backstory as a way of telling you that for years–years–after, I could never shake the feeling that something was “wrong” with me, and I lived in fear of feeling embarrassed and judged like that again. To this day, it still takes me time to warm up to new people and social situations and shake off the “shame” of “embarrassing” myself by messing up somehow, or presenting myself as less than the Perfect Alex I’ve crafted in my head. It wasn’t ever that I couldn’t laugh at myself–just that I lived in terror of the moments people would laugh at me.

When my old nemesis comes around for a visit now, it’s usually in relation to my writing. I don’t cling to my stories and work and rework and rework and rework in a never-ending cycle of editing. I don’t have to turn in a perfectly clean draft to my editor to feel good about it. And while I do set hard goals for myself and work toward them, they’re not unrealistic.

My writing perfectionism manifests in procrastination.

It sounds sort of counterintuitive, right? The stereotype of a perfectionist is someone agonizing over a piece of work or a project and being trapped by a feeling that it’s just not quite good enough yet, let me work on it a little more… The stereotype implies that the perfectionist can launch themselves into a project without any sort of difficulty, when, in truth, it often leads to a kind of paralysis that makes it next to impossible to sit down and just begin. For me, it’s a beast that changes its face but never fully disappears.

In college and high school, I would work on papers and bang them out in one sitting and, true story, I would almost never proofread them beyond the proofreading I did while writing–I know. But I was so afraid of finding out that it sucked or was terrible that I couldn’t even bring myself to face it, let alone potentially fix it… which, uh, yeah, ran the risk of setting myself up for failure in a strange self-fulfilling prophecy.

Today, it’s tied into a fear of not wanting to disappoint readers and/or my publisher (the people who have put their faith in me), or that the book won’t ever live up to the vision of it I have in my head. I can tell myself a thousand times you can’t fix a blank page, and somehow, the anxiety only compounds, especially when I have a deadline looming and I’m not feeling exceptionally inspired. It doesn’t happen with every project, but, man, when it does I just feel crippled and useless. If you experience this, or this is sounding all-too-familiar, know that you are not alone and you can get through the gate.

In order to get through one of these episodes, I need to 1) trick my brain into thinking that what I’m working on isn’t actually that big of a deal by writing the scenes out by hand in a notebook instead of on the computer (which somehow feels more “final” and “official,” I suppose) and 2) divide the work up into smaller goals so I’m accomplishing even just a little bit each day. I usually write in the notebook right before bed, so the next day, or whenever I’m ready to transfer it to an actual Word document, I’ve already started and am on my way.

It’s not a perfect system, but, then again, I’m not perfect either.

perfectionism

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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17. Choosing a Point-of-View Character

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Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy RGB 72Not every novel is told from a single point of view. In mysteries or thrillers, it’s common for readers to see both sides of a tale with the protagonist and antagonist. Romances are often told from both the male and female leads. More epic tales–such as fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction– might use several characters to show various parts of the story.

No matter which point of view you choose, you want the right characters to be telling the story.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Point-of-View Character

Is more than one point-of-view character needed?

Giving a character a point of view is asking readers to invest time in her, so this character should be worthy of that. Seeing the story from her perspective should bring something valuable to the novel. If the only reason a character is a point-of-view character is because parts of the book can’t be told any other way, or because the protagonist wouldn’t be able to be there, that’s a red flag that the character is only there to dump information.

What do multiple points of view allow you to accomplish?

Look at the specific benefits each possible character brings to the story. How might seeing this other perspective enhance the plot? Deepen the theme? Illustrate some aspect of the world? Look beyond simple plot mechanics and consider what else this character might do to bring out the best in this story.

If you don’t see that character’s point of view, what is lost?

Sometimes it’s easier to identify what points of view are needed by what disappears if the story isn’t told from that perspective. Eliminating a point of view could also show where you’re giving away too much information and hurting your tension or lowering the suspense.

Does every potential point-of-view character have her own plot or story goal?

If there are too many plots unfolding at once, the novel can feel disjointed and have too many things going on. Each plotline should connect to the core conflict in some way and work with the other plots and subplots to tell a complete story. Too many plots can be a red flag for a book that feels shallow, because there’s no time to go into any character’s story in depth.

How do the points of view work together to tell a larger story?

Think about how these different perspectives work to advance the overall story. Does every character have moments that raise the stakes? Do they tie together on a thematic level? Do they create conflict for the other points of view? If the characters have little to do with each other, odds are they’re going to feel like separate stories.

The point-of-view character in the person the reader sees the novel through. Give them the best reasons you can for being there. A solid POV, no matter what type, gives you the freedom to let that character shine. Not only will that flesh out the character, but the world around them as well.

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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18. Guest Post: Lessons Learned from Hong Kong Movies

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Grady Hendrix

Horrorstor

Note from Sooz: I am so delighted to share a guest post from author Grady Hendrix today. Personally, I am desperate to soak up any writing wisdom he might be so kind as to share.

Because guys, his new book Horrostör is incredible. Like, I got a copy of this in the mail, opened the package and snickered at the cover (and how the entire book is laid out like an Ikea catalog). Then I started reading…

…and two hours later, I finished the book. I COULDN’T PUT IT DOWN. It was laugh-out-loud funny and also thoroughly terrifying. Plus, there was incredible character development, a thoroughly twisty plot, and OH MY GOSH, what an ending!!

Since I’m sure y’all are dying to read this book too now (seriously: everyone should read it.), then make sure you fill out the Rafflecopter form below! We’re giving away 2 copies (hooray!).

Now, I’ll hand over the mic to Sir Grady, writer extraordinaire.

When I was in college, I lived near the Music Palace and that gave me the better education by far. A vast, rotting hulk of a movie palace it showed Hong Kong double features for $6 and, being broke, that was a deal I couldn’t resist. The Music Palace led to me co-founding the New York Asian Film Festival, it led to me moving to Hong Kong, my wife and I bonded over our shared love for Stephen Chow’s Love on Delivery and the hand amputations in Always Be the Winners, and it taught me how to write. Because everything I learned about writing, I learned at the Music Palace.

Everything I learned about language, I learned from subtitles.

“Say if you find him lousy!” Uncle Bill shouts. “Thanks for elephant, it’ll be worse if it’s dinosaur,” mutters Lam Ching-ying. “Are you an archeologist or a sucker!” a cop screams in frustration. Hong Kong movies have to be subtitled in English, but that doesn’t mean the subtitles have to make sense. Recruiting random strangers off the street, or sometimes just making a production assistant stay up late with an out-of-date Cantonese-to-English dictionary, Hong Kong subtitles emerge looking like William Burroughs cut-ups. And I love them. Every time they stretch, push, bend, or otherwise mutate the English language I feel like a door is opening inside my brain. At this point in my life I’ve watched thousands of Hong Kong movies, and not a day goes by when I don’t find subtitles popping into my head. Stuck on a packed elevator? “It’s getting crowdy,” I think. Cut off by an annoying driver? “Damn you, stink man, try my melon!” rolls off my tongue. As I learned from Hong Kong movies, it’s not the actual words that are important. It’s the feeling.

Everything I learned about character, I learned from John Woo.

You may think that John Woo is all about the gunfights, but his secret weapon is his mastery of crafting iconic characters. He doesn’t need plots, he just drops his characters into the ring and lets their conflicting motives drive the story. Whether it’s happy-go-lucky Mark (Chow Yun-fat) in A Better Tomorrow who finally gets sick of being treated like an errand boy and decides to demand respect, or Jeff (Chow Yun-fat, again) in The Killer who’s wracked with guilt over blinding a bystander in an assassination and tries to earn enough money to get her a cornea transplant, or Ben, Frank, and Paul, trapped in Vietnam, one of them wanting to rescue a woman, one of them wanting to steal a crate of gold, and one of them just wanting to go home. In Woo’s movies there are simply characters who want things, and what they want and how they get it drives the story into some of the most insane action sequences ever put onscreen. Because character is action. Quite literally.

Everything I learned about plot, I learned from Comrades, Almost a Love Story

Plot means you throw everything horrible you can think of at your characters and watch them squirm, and by the end they need to be in a different place than where they began. No movie is better at this than Peter Chan’s Comrades, Almost a Love Story. When the movie begins, Leon Lai is a Mainlander who comes to Hong Kong to make money. He falls for local girl, Maggie Cheung, and then…complications. Chan (and screenwriter Ivy Ho) throw every conceivable twist at their two romantic leads and by the time the movie’s over these two characters may seem to be right back where they began, but the viewer isn’t. You’ll find yourself crying buckets of tears not over the main characters but over the people they’ve hurt on their way to “happiness.” Comrades is a movie where every time you think you know the story, you suddenly realize that it’s about something else entirely. Like a great magician, the creators distract your attention over there, and then take you by surprise from over here.

Everything I learned about writing scenes, I learned from Peking Opera Blues

I firmly believe that Peking Opera Blues is the greatest motion picture ever made. Period. Full stop. Movies don’t get any better than Tsui Hark’s tale of three women trying to keep their heads above water during the early 20th century when China was torn into factions by greedy warlords. And one thing he does better than anyone else is stage big fat setpieces that keep going, and going, and going. Just when you think a scene has gone as far as it can, it goes even further. Writers often skip from scene to scene, but great directors know that if you’re going to go through the trouble of lighting a scene, dressing a set, and placing your camera, then you better wring every last ounce of drama out of it. And so, for Tsui, even a scene of a character waking up becomes a slapstick ballet as her father enters her bedroom and she has to keep him from detecting any of the four other people hidden on her bed, armed with nothing more than a blanket. Rather than starting a new scene every ten minutes, Tsui digs deep and plays every spin, variation, and complication on every scene that he can possibly find, turning each one into a setpiece that’s packed with emotional and dramatic information.

Everything I learned about writing women, I learned from The Heroic Trio.

Hollywood has two models for women: mothers and whores. Sometimes they dish up a motherly whore, or a whorish mother, but that’s just about the entire emotional spectrum. I was lucky enough to see The Heroic Trio back in 1993 when it first came out, and in Johnnie To’s movie an evil undead Chinese eunuch from the past is living in an underground lair in a dystopian future, stealing babies to turn them into an army of feral monsters. Opposing him are Wonder Woman (Anita Mui), Thief Catcher (Maggie Cheung), and Invisible Girl (Michelle Yeoh). Wonder Woman is a devoted mother who doesn’t get to spend as much time as she wants with her family because she’s constantly saving the world from evil. Thief Catcher is only in it for the money, but she’ll ultimately do the right thing. And Invisible Girl starts out purely evil, but changes sides when Wonder Woman and Thief Catcher offer her what she’s been missing: friendship. I came out of that movie theater understanding that inside every woman is a Thief Catcher, an Invisible Girl, and a Wonder Woman. I do my best to write them that way.

Well, you have succeeded, my friend. I ADORED Amy in Horrorstör. Thank you so much for joining us, Grady! And for all you readers interested in absorbing more of his wisdom, he’ll be touring all week across the interwebs:

Finally, here’s the giveaway we promised!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Grady Hendrix writes fiction, also called “lies,” and he writes non-fiction, which people sometimes mistakenly pay him for. There is a science fiction book called Occupy Space that he is the author of, and also a fantasy book called Satan Loves You which he wrote as well. Along with his BFF from high school, Katie Crouch, he is the co-author of the YA series, The Magnolia League. With Ryan Dunlavey he was co-authored the Li’l Classix series, which are cartoon degradations of classic literature, and with his wife, and Ryan, he wrote Dirt Candy: A Cookbook, the first graphic novel cookbook in America. His fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Pseudopod, and the anthology, The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination.

He is very, very beautiful, but if you ever meet him, please do not let this make you uncomfortable. He does not judge.

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19. What’s the One Thing Your Character Can’t Live Without?

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Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy small RGB 72There are a myriad of ways to create characters. Problem is, there are so many of them that we can spend all of our time creating characters and never actually write the novel those characters exist in.

I tend to be a minimalist when creating characters, because I like to learn who they are by tossing them into the plot and seeing what they do. But it helps to have a starting point for those characters, otherwise they develop willy nilly and feel completely inconsistent and at odds with themselves. They make decisions based on plot (what I want) and not what they want.

When I first create a character, I like to ask: What is the one thing this character can’t live without?

This pinpoints what matters most to this character, and suggests the type of person he or she might be. Some characters can’t live without an item, such as a prized possession from their dead spouse, others can’t live without something loftier, like the freedom to choose their own destiny. Both of these characters will have unique approaches to how they interact with the story world.

That’s why it’s important to ask next: Why?

People value things for very different reasons, which in turn makes them very different in both personality and motivations. Valuing a possession could suggest a materialistic nature, or profound sentimentality, or even a fear of loss. A desire for freedom at all costs could create an idealistic dreamer or someone who’s afraid to commit to anything that might tie her down.

Once we understand why that character values that “thing” we know more or less how she’ll react in a situation.

This can also lead to some other fun and useful questions to ask, such as:

If this character lost that thing, how would she react?

This can suggest how the character might react to adversity in general. The person who sits down and cries for a week is probably not going to be an in-your-face confrontational type, while the person who seeks revenge on whoever took what she values is likely to react in a much more aggressive fashion.

What would this character do to avoid losing this thing?

This can suggest the lines a character might cross, or how much she’ll endure for something important to her. Can she be pushed beyond her limits? Would she betray her own morals? How far is she willing to go? If she’s willing to break laws or vows for this thing, where else might she be flexible with ethics or morality?

What would this character sacrifice to protect this thing?

This is a great way to determine what choices to throw at the character by forcing her to make such a sacrifice. It also helps with developing what else might be in the character’s life, or what she might not value as much even if she does care about it. Willing to let a tyrant oppresses a village as long as her family is left alone? Willing to give up that family for the greater good if it stops the tyrant? Maybe she’s willing to sacrifice herself for what she values.

Some characters start as wispy outlines, while others leap fully formed from our heads. No matter how they make it to the page, they all care about something more than anything else in their lives. Knowing what matters to them will help us turn them into real and compelling people our readers will remember.

Where do you start when you create a character?

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.

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20. Book Recommendation: Jeff VanderMeer’s WONDERBOOK

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Susan Dennard

WonderbookI’m a HUGE fan of books on writing. Like, I probably have an addiction and I know my husband would be REALLY happy if I’d throw out some of these gazillion craft books hogging up the basement…

Recently and sort of on a whim, I picked up Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction. I am so, so, SO glad I did. Seriously guys, this is my new favorite book on writing craft. Not only does this book give beginners everything they need to know to start crafting stories, but it’s an incredibly helpful book for experienced writers too.

Here’s the trailer:

Not only does VanderMeer introduce some awesome concepts and prose possibilities that I’d never considered before, but he also shares tons of essays from other authors on how THEY do things.

Then there’s all the art to go along with it!! A few of the crazy diagrams left my Muse spinning in the best possible way. Like this Hero’s Journey as depicted with a Mexican Luchador:

Mexican-Wrestler-Mono-myth-VanderMeer-Zerfoss-Wonderbook-2013

On top of all the graphics, there’s an interactive website to go along with the text. SO. MUCH. INFORMATION. It took me weeks to get through this book, and I enjoyed/savored every sentence.

So watch the trailer below, read an excerpt or the web extras, and maybe pick a copy of your own. I promise: all artists can gain something from this fantastic guide.

Jeff VanderMeer is the author of more than 20 books and a two-time winner of the World Fantasy Award. His books have made the year’s-best lists of Publishers Weekly, LA Weekly, the Washington Post, Amazon, the San Francisco Chronicle, and many more. He is the cofounder and codirector of Shared Worlds, a unique writing camp for teenagers, and has taught at Clarion, the world’s premiere fantasy/sci-fi workshop for adults. VanderMeer is based in Tallahassee, Florida.

SusanDennardBefore she settled down as a full-time novelist and writing instructor, Susan Dennard traveled the world as marine biologist. She is the author of the Something Strange and Deadly series as well as the forthcoming Witchlands series (Tor, 2015), and when not writing, she can be found hiking with her dogs, exploring tidal pools, or practicing her tap dance shuffles. You can learn more about Susan on her blogTwitterFacebook, or Pinterest.

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21. How Do I Look?

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JJ

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JJThe other day, as I was catching up on my TBR pile, I found myself being repeatedly thrown out of book. It wasn’t for lack of pace, uninteresting premise, or dull characterization; it was for the constant physical description of the main character.

Description is a tricky thing to handle in books, especially if the narration is told from the first person (as was the book I was reading). Sometimes I notice the description, other times I do not. Why? What makes for a smooth, almost invisible description of a character’s looks, and what makes for a jarring one?

Some of this is a matter of personal taste, of course; I am someone who prefers physical description of character’s in books rather vague.* But there are some writers who are very particular about their characters’ looks, and whether or not their descriptions throw me out of a narrative come down to a few things:

1. The description feels shoehorned in.

Your mileage may vary on this one, but nothing is more distracting than reading a passage where plot is moving forward, only to have it interrupted with descriptions of the character’s hair or eye color. For example, a sentence like this would jar me: She packed her bags, determined to flee the country. Before shutting the suitcase, she made sure she had enough blue and green blouses, to set off her sea-green eyes. Just because she was a fugitive of the law didn’t mean she had to look like one. 

I feel there is a time and a place for descriptions. When characters meet for the first time. When characters are being compared (or comparing themselves) to others. When a character’s looks affects how others perceive him or her. Think of all times you think of the way someone “looks” in real life; a character should be thinking along similar lines. For instance, when I look in the mirror, I am not lingering on my dark eyes, strong jaw, and sharp chin. I am wondering whether or not I look tired, or if the spaghetti I had for dinner left any marinara on my face.

2. The description feels, for the lack of a better word, too “favourable”.

This…is tough. While I prefer showing over telling in prose, there are some times when telling actually trumps showing. I especially feel this way when it comes to describing someone attractive. What people find attractive varies from individual to individual, and a detailed description of a character’s physically appealing qualities makes me roll my eyes. Phrases like her long, slender legs or his well-muscled forearms are perfectly fine, but instead of being shown physically that a character is attractive, I’d rather been shown emotionally.

So how to write description in such a way that isn’t distracting? I think people, when they come across others they haven’t met before, will focus on one or two things that stand out. Race/ethnicity, an unusual birthmark, or perhaps a haircut. J.K. Rowling does this quite well; Harry’s lightning-shaped scar, his untidy hair, and spectacles; Hermione’s bushy hair and too-big front teeth; Ron’s red hair, freckles, and lanky height. These are distinguishing physical characteristics that help the reader recognize the character, both on the page, and in other mediums, like the screen or fanart.

Very few people will notice the dimple in someone’s cheek, or the relentless symmetry of his or features upon first sight. It is only after some time that we begin to build mental images of each other. It is the same with characters; when presented with a laundry list of characteristics, I will probably forget what the character is supposed to look like. But if we get the details bit by bit, they reinforce and solidify a mental image, similar to how we would create mental images of those we know best.

What do you think? Do you have pet peeves or quirks that distract you when it comes to physical descriptions of characters in books? Leave us a comment below!

* There is one, rather important exception to this rule: I would rather be told, upfront and as soon as possible, if a character is NOT WHITE. It is all-too-easy to erase a character’s ethnicity—think of people’s reactions to Rue being black in The Hunger Games—and I prefer direct, irrefutable textual evidence of a character’s not-whiteness.

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S. Jae-Jones (called JJ) is a writer, artist, and adrenaline junkie. Before moving down to grits country, she was an editor at St. Martin’s Press in New York City, where she read and acquired YA. When not obsessing over books, she can be found rock climbing, skydiving, or taking her dog on ridiculously long hikes. A southern California native, she now lives in North Carolina with her doctor Bear, a stuffed baby harp seal named White-Harp, and a husky-dog called Bentley. Other places to find JJ include TwitterTumblr, and her blog.

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22. Momentum: Keep the Writing Coming


eBook Sale: August 26-31 only $0.99/regular $5.99

Available at these eBook stores Mims House eBookStore Nook Kindle Kobo iBookstore

AUDIO BOOK (Unabridged): Now Available!

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You’ve started! Hurrah!
Now, how do you keep going, especially when LIFE happens? As it invariably will!

Stop in the Middle

One strategy to keep momentum going is to stop in the middle of a sentence, paragraph, or scene. Those who recommend this suggest that you stop at an exciting moment, at a place that will be easy and apparent on how to proceed when you come back to it.

This makes sense. Creative people stop working on their craft at a very specific moment: they fail to start again. It’s rare for an artist/writer to stop working on a project. Of course, we all have drawers full of half-finished manuscripts. But the fact that they are half-finished might even be encouraging. No, instead, a writer may accomplish a big goal, say publication of the novel of their dreams. And then–nothing. Once that goal is accomplished, they fail to start again.

Leaving a work in the middle of something interesting means that you have a chance of coming back to it and actually picking it up again.

Keep Score

I am motivated by numbers. Give me a running tally of something and it motivates me to see that number increase. Writing is especially suited to keeping score: keep track of how many words you write each day and a running total for the project. You can do this manually, or with programs such as Scrivener. Some writers like to do this in public with a widget on their website or by posting on Facebook.
Momentum

Know Where You Are Going

Whether you are a panster or outliner, it helps to keep in mind something about the coming story. For pansters, maybe it’s a vague idea of the ending of the story. For outliners, it’s the next chapter or scene. Either way, I find that looking forward helps me come back to the work fresh and ready to move on.

Dealing with Life

Your job, in the midst of everything that life throws at you, is to find a way to move forward. When I taught freshman composition, one semester, I had a student who had major life challenges. His wife was six months pregnant and on total bed rest or she might lose the baby. His daughter was autistic and each night he sat with her doing homework to keep her from literally banging her head against the wall. He worked full time. I suggested that maybe he should drop out a semester until life was calmer. But he said that his employment was contingent on him being in school and working toward a degree. He couldn’t quit school or he had no job.

“How do I find time to write an essay?” he asked.

The simple answer is, “I don’t know.”

All I could say to him was that I had great sympathy for his situation and would encourage him as much as I could. But in the end, if he didn’t turn in an essay, I couldn’t give him a grade.

And in the end, we all stand before the complications of Life and must find a way to deal with those Life issues and still do the work that we are given to do.

How do you find the time to write?
I don’t know. I have great sympathy for you and I’m cheering for you and hoping that you make the effort because the world needs to hear your voice.
But in the end, you must find the solution to your own Life issues.
When you do, send me your good news!

P.S. My student DID turn in essays and wound up with a B for the semester.

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23. How Going to Military School = Writing a Book

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Guest Post by Joy N. Hensley

Joy N Hensley Author Photo

Jodi Meadows, my fifth-cousin-by-marriage, asked me to write this. “It should be funny,” she said. Apparently, she doesn’t remember reading Rites of Passage or the fact that I don’t/can’t do funny. Just like I can’t write poetry. (She’s a lot like my mom that way—see told you we’re related.)  Anyway, here goes. Remember: it’s not funny. Sorry/not sorry.

How Going to Military School = Writing a Book

  • Do it for yourself first—Military school is hard. It’s grueling. It’s like boot camp on crack because you add classes on top of everything else. If you’re doing it to prove something to yourself, then you’re more likely to succeed. If you’re doing it to impress someone else, it’s going to be hard to make it. There’s a lot of talk about trend in writing. What’s selling, what’s going to sell next. If you focus on that part, writing is going to be hard. Here’s the thing—the publishing industry moves slow. So by the time you’ve gone through writing, revising, subbing, selling…the trend is over. At its essence, writing is about telling a story. A story you can tell that no one else can. If you’re writing the story of your heart, then you’re more likely to succeed. If you’re writing toward a trend, it’s going to be hard to make it. 
  • Determination—Military school ain’t no walk in the park. You get yelled at, woken up insanely early, yelled at more, forced to do millions of push-ups and other forms of physical torture, and then yelled at again. In the case of Sam, the main character in Rites of Passage, you might also get bullied and hazed. But if you (like Sam) have heart and can remember why you’re there, you’ll make it through.  The same thing goes with writing. Writing a book from start to finish requires a certain amount of…chutzpah.  There will be pages and pages of words you write/love/delete/rewrite/revise, etc. There will be rejection, bad reviews, and days you want to stick your head in the sand. But if you have heart and can remember why you’re writing, you’ll make it through. 
  • Use critique but don’t sell your soul—When you’re marching/shooting/running an obstacle course, everyone seems to have a tip for doing it better/faster/more efficiently. The problem is, those tips work for them—they may not work for you. The tip-giver might be taller/faster/stronger/more daring than you. But think about what they said—don’t just toss it away. See if you can find something in there, however small, that might help. If you take what they give you and make it your own, you’re golden. Don’t feel bad if you don’t use it—this is your life.  It’s a lot the same with writing. Everyone reads your book with their own background knowledge. They may want your character to do one thing while you don’t think it fits. It took me a long time to realize I didn’t have to please everyone when I write. As long as I stay true to the story and make it as strong as I can, I’ll be happy. Every critique helps in some way. If you can take what critique partners give you and use it to strengthen your story, you’re golden. Don’t feel bad if you don’t use their suggestions—in the end, this is your story. 
  • It’s not you, it’s you ALL—In military school, it feels like a lot of attention is on you as an individual. To an extent, it is. One cadet out of step in a platoon is really obvious and looks pretty bad. But your platoon, your company, your battalion, when everyone works together and helps each other, it looks amazing. All you can do is your best and hope everyone else does their best, too. It’s the same way with books.  At some point your book is out of your hand. Other people get input—your editor, your design team, your publicist—everyone looks at the book from a different angle, checking that it’s in-step, that the uniform is polished and looking its best. The goal is the same, though: to put out the best possible book. All you can do is write the best book you can. Then you hope that everyone else does their best, too.

RitesofPassage Final Cover

Sam McKenna has never turned down a dare. And she’s not going to start with the last one her brother gave her before he died.

So Sam joins the first-ever class of girls at the prestigious Denmark Military Academy. She’s expecting push-ups and long runs, rope climbing and mud crawling. As a military brat, she can handle an obstacle course just as well as the boys. She’s even expecting the hostility she gets from some of the cadets who don’t think girls belong there. What she’s not expecting is her fiery attraction to her drill sergeant. But dating is strictly forbidden and Sam won’t risk her future, or the dare, on something so trivial . . . no matter how much she wants him.

As Sam struggles to prove herself, she discovers that some of the boys don’t just want her gone—they won’t rest until she gives up. When their petty threats turn to brutal hazing, bleeding into every corner of her life, she realizes they are not acting alone. A decades-old secret society is alive and active . . . and determined to force her out.

At any cost.

Now time’s running short. Sam must decide who she can trust . . . and choosing the wrong person could have deadly consequences.

RITES OF PASSAGE is available at bookstores and is also available at:

Indiebound, Books-A-Million, iBooks, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Book Depository.

If you want an autographed copy of RITES OF PASSAGE, please e-mail or call Anna-Lisa at my local independent bookstore: Books & Co….Toys, too! Let them know if you want it personalized. They’ll even gift-wrap it for you for free if you ask nicely!

E-mail: orders (at) booksandtoys (dot) us
Phone: (540) 463-4647

Joy N. Hensley is a former middle school teacher. She used to spend her twenty-minute lunch breaks hosting author Skype chats for her students. Once upon a time she went to a military school on a dare. She lives in Virginia with her husband and two children, finding as many ways as she can to never do another push-up again.

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24. Guest Post: Three tips to increase productivity when writing from home

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Michelle Krys

Here’s a story that might sound familiar. A few years ago, after I got a book deal, I dropped down from full-time work at my day job, to working just a few shifts every two weeks. I was ecstatic about all the writing I’d surely get done. But when I started writing every day, I made a disturbing discovery: I wasn’t getting any more work done in my eight new hours of free time than when I had to cram it all into the one free half hour I had all day. I would write 1000 words no matter how long I had to do it.

Last year, I blogged about some tricks I picked up to increase productivity when working from home (internet blocking apps and what have you), but since then, I’ve learned a few more helpful ways to kick my butt into gear when the pull of the internet is strong and another episode of Big Brother is on the PVR (don’t judge). And because I’m nice like that, I’ll share them with you.

1. Use a calendar system to record progress. (Red dot sticker for 1000 words, blue dot for 500, yellow for 250, etc). To give credit where credit’s due, I got the idea from Victoria Schwaab. It seems so juvenile, dare I say kindergarten-esque, to want to work hard for a sticker, but . . . I really want that sticker. A calendar with only a few pathetic red dots is so motivating. Conversely, a great week with many red dots is also motivating—I don’t want to sully my awesomely-full calendar with a bunch of yellow dots, or worse, no dots at all. It also doesn’t hurt that the calendar is in a prominent location in my home, there for all to see should I start slacking off.

2. Take more frequent breaks. It sounds counterintuitive, but there’s all sorts of research out there that says more frequent breaks improves the quality of work. I won’t bore you with that research, but basically: it’s a lot easier to focus on one thing when you’re only doing that thing for thirty minutes. Because I have epically horrible focus, I like to work for twenty minutes, then I’m “allowed” to take five minutes to unwind, check email, tweet, or what have you, before I start another twenty-minute session. After I reach 1000 words, I break for lunch, and then it’s back to work. Since I’ve started doing this, I’ve noticed a huge improvement in both my focus while writing and the quality of my work.

3. Push past “writer’s block”. When the words just aren’t coming, it’s easy to put it down to writer’s block and give up. And honestly? Sometimes I do that. Sometimes I just need a break. But since contracts and deadlines mean I don’t have the luxury of being able to take breaks every time I’m stuck, I’ve had to learn techniques to push forward. What I’ve learned is that most of the time, it’s just a matter of figuring out why the words aren’t coming. Maybe it’s that I don’t really know what I want to achieve with the scene, or maybe I’m not sure how I want to achieve it. Sometimes, it’s because I’m not sure where the scene will take the plot next, because even though I’ve outlined, my outlines are often written in broad strokes and finer details can cause major problems. Once I’ve figured out the reason I’m stuck, I can usually find my way back to the words. Laini Taylor says it best: “Never sit staring at a blank page or screen. If you find yourself stuck, write. Write about the scene you’re trying to write. Writing about is easier than writing, and chances are, it will give you your way in.”

HExedMichelle Krys is the author of HEXED and the upcoming sequel CHARMED. She works part-time as a NICU nurse and spends her free time writing books for teens. Michelle is probably not a witch, though she did belong to a witchcraft club in the fifth grade and “levitated” people in her bedroom, so that may be up for debate. Visit her at michellekrys.com or follow @MichelleKrys on Twitter.

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25. The Habit of Getting Ideas and Turning Them into Story

I no longer dread the question “Where do you get your ideas?” That’s because I finally figured out the answer.

Don’t get me wrong I’ve answered it a million times over my more than ten year career as a writer. I’ve nattered on about brain monkeys, ends of rainbows, stealing ideas from Maureen Johnson, ideas not being that important, blah blah blah.

The actual answer does not involve light bulbs or muses or brain monkeys or Maureen Johnson. Well, not directly. My true answer involves lots of work. I apologise for the lack of glamour.

Here’s what I realised: I’ve been practising getting ideas and turning them into stories for most of my life. Just as an athlete develops the muscles and reflexes necessary to be able to play their sport by training and playing for many, many years, so do writers develop their story-creating muscles.

I started when I was little. As I suspect many novelists do. I was one of those kids who was forever coming up with whatif scenarios.

My Parents: “Don’t answer the door if we’re not home.”

Me: “What if it it’s someone saying the house is on fire?”

MP: “They’d shout through the door.”

Me: “What if they’re mute?”

MP: “Aaaaaarrrggghhh!”

As you can see I’m already building a story. There’s a child at home alone, there’s a fire, and the only one who can warn the child cannot speak. What happens next? Will the parents get home in time? Will the child survive?

MP: “Don’t hit your sister!”1

Me: “But what if hitting her is the only way to kill the tiny alien that’s attempting to crawl in through her pores?”

MP: “There is no excuse for violence under any circumstances.”

Me: “But what if . . . ”

MP: “What if we say no more books for you until you turn 30?”

Me: *side eyes parents*

Here we have a world in which there are nano-aliens who can get inside us through our pores but who can also be destroyed by squashing them. What happens if they get inside us? Do they eat us? Turn us into pod people? How did they get here? Have they been here all along? Are they only after little sisters?

I played at what ifs almost every day of my childhood. When I wasn’t tormenting my parents and teachers I was making up stories for my sister and then for my friends.

If I lost a book before I’d finished it I’d make up the ending. Ditto for movies and tv shows I didn’t get to watch all of.2

It becomes a habit to start extrapolating possible stories out of, well, pretty much anything. Why is that banana peel on the ground directly outside a jewellery store? Genetically enhanced monkey jewel thief. Obviously.

When I overhear odds snatches of conversation I extrapolate the rest of the conversation and the story it’s part of. It’s fun to imagine whole lives and adventures for the people I overhear on the tram.

Having done this every day for decades now it’s no surprise I get ideas for novels many times a day. I see a fantastic tweet like this one:

BwK_T5jCEAAo08X

And I start thinking about writing a novel where a kid does that on their first day of school: walks in dressed very fine, holding a big sign that says FEMINIST. The rest of the novel would be them slaying the evil trolls, defeating the misogynist school board and principal, and saving the world.

When you get a bunch of writers together they often do this, bounce ideas off each other, extend them into a story. Whatif-ing each other for hours. It’s how collaborations often begin. That’s how Sarah Rees Brennan and I wound up writing Team Human together.

Of course, I pretty much never write the novel if I’ve already figured out how it ends. When ideas really spark for me I have to start typing. But even then I have oodles of half sketched out beginnings of novels, sometimes several chapters, sometimes just a paragraph or two, sometimes no more than a few lines. A very small percentage of these ever become novels. All that practise turning ideas into story pays off every time I finish another novel.

There is, alas, a huge distance between coming up with ideas, extrapolating a story, and turning them into a fully fledged novel. The first two are a matter of moments; the latter a matter of months, if not years. But without the ideas the novels never happen.

Finally, to tie this into Scott Westerfeld’s marvellous series on how to write YA, extrapolating about other people’s lives is a great way to build empathy, which Scott argues is one of the most important functions of a novel.

  1. I was a truly awful older sister. I’m not kidding. It speaks volumes as to what a fabulous sister I have that she forgives me.
  2. Punishment meted out by parents. Possibly for asking a few too many what ifs.

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