Friday, June 29, 2012

From My Work In Progress

Photo by Julian Beattie From Amy & Owen on
I dove back into my work in progress (working title: The Lightning Prince) and I'm just too impatient to wait to share it. So here's a little taste from the opening pages. Enjoy!


Cambria couldn’t ignore the cry. It resonated in her soul, pulling her further into the thick grass. The tangled weeds, slick with rain, twisted around her ankles. Thunder pounded the sky, shaking the earth beneath her. The driving wind blurred her vision and tore at her hair.

She pressed on. One foot in front of the other. The cry came again, softer and more like a groan.

Cambria’s foot struck something hard and she dropped to her knees, searching for something buried in the tall grass. The cold worked its way into her bones, numbing her hands and distorting any sense of what lay beneath her fingertips.

The smell of something warm and metallic burned her tongue. Cambria froze and popped upright, scanning the field for anything that might have left a wounded, or dead, animal behind.

A hand grasped her wrist, nearly shattering the bone with the force of its grip. She screamed and jumped to her feet, but the hand held tight, pulling her back with a desperate whimper.

Falling to her knees again, Cambria fumbled for her phone, using the screen to light the body in front of her.

The eyes staring up at her from behind a thick fringe of dark lashes weren’t real. They weren’t possible. The swirling shades of grey and brown and green, flecked with gold and black, were too variable, too alive, to be human.

She flicked her gaze over the rest of the face – drawn and ashen, marked with blood and dirt. She gingerly touched the swelling under his eye and he flinched.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

To Thine Own Self Be True

voice by P0RG on deviantART

I love snark. I love dry humor. The Princess Bride is one of the best written movies of all time. ALL TIME. But when I try to write like that, it falls completely flat. I see all these great queries, with snarky heroines and all kinds of voice. My heroines aren't snarky. They aren't witty or clever.

Now, my friend and critique partner Megan can write snark. Her characters are funny and sincere and say things like "full of sheet." I like to call her manuscript "fantastical snark." I love it. I love it, I love it, I love it.

Me? I write things that are beautiful but dark. I write sweet romances and creepy villains. I wish I could write like Megan. She tells me she wishes she could write like me.

I'm glad we each write in our own voices. There's something magical about natural voice. When you read something that jumps off the page and takes you to someplace you can't go on your own. You can't fake that. You can't force yourself to write like someone else. It will always sound false. So don't worry about writing like someone else. Find your voice and let it shine.

Friday, June 22, 2012

More Editing Tips

Last week I posted 10 self-editing tips for writers. Today I have a few more tricks I've picked up in my numerous rounds of edits. Hope you enjoy!

1.) Use a different font to edit than what you use to write. You'll see things differently because the words will look different on the page.

2.) Use different font colors to differentiate between points of view, scenes, etc to give yourself an idea of how everything balances.

3.) Use a text-to-speech programs (I use my Kindle) or read your draft aloud. I always pick up different things when listening vs. reading.

4.) Print a hard copy. I know if take a lot of paper and ink, but sometimes a computer screen just won't cut it.

5.) If you're using Word, utilize the document map in the side bar to see your chapter numbers. Don't want any duplicates!

Got any more tips for me? 

Friday, June 15, 2012

10 Self-Editing Tips for Writers

I don't often talk about the craft of writing. I suffer from trying to apply all advice all the time and loosing my voice. I'm hesitant to give advice because I believe the best thing you can do is write from your heart. For every piece of writing advice you read, there will be examples of extremely successful writers who do just the opposite. To quote Stephen King's review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

The part of speech that indicates insecurity ("Did you really hear me? Do you really understand me?") is the adverb, and Ms. Rowling seems to have never met one she didn't like, especially when it comes to dialogue attribution. Harry's godfather, Sirius, speaks "exasperatedly"; Mrs. Weasley (mother of Harry's best friend, Ron) speaks "sharply"; Tonks (a clumsy witch with punked-up, particolor hair) speaks "earnestly." As for Harry himself, he speaks quietly, automatically, nervously, slowly, and often given his current case of raving adolescence –– ANGRILY.

No one can argue J.K. Rowling hasn't been successful. She has written books that resonate with readers in a way that is almost impossible to top. Never taking writing advice - even from someone like Stephen King - as an iron-clad edict. Know this advice is out here and learn the WHY before blindly applying. Above all, stay true to you and your story.

All that being said, here are a few bits of advice I've picked up on self-editing to cut unnecessary words. Take what you can and ignore the rest!

1.) Adverbs. Yep. Most of the time, I don't need them. If readers can't tell a character spoke in anger, there might be a problem with the scene and just adding "angrily" isn't going to fix it. I run a search in Word for "ly" and examine each one to see if that extra description is needed at all, and if so, is there a stronger way I can write it? Usually there is.

2.) Passives. Why write "was/were running" when I can simplify to "ran"? Because when I'm drafting, I don't think about it. I just write. But when editing, I try to simplify as much as I can. It's clearer, more immediate and cuts word count.

3.) Began. Boy, this word pops up all over and almost 100% of the time, it doesn't add a thing. Again, why do I need "began to run" when I can skip straight to "ran"? When writing, it feels like to I need to explain the action is just starting, but isn't that obvious when you read it? If you're not sure, change it, then see if it jumps out during your next read through. It probably won't.

4.) That. Whenever this word pops up, I try the sentence without it. Often, it's still grammatically correct and conveys the same message without it. It just slips in. A lot.

5.) Just. Why do I use that word so much? I usually keep it in dialog. It seems more natural to me. But otherwise, it can go most of the time.

6.) Obvious descriptions. "Crossed her arms over her chest." Where else would she cross them? "Ground his teeth together." Can he grind them apart? As you read, think if there are ways to cut things that are implied.

7.) Seemed. This is a filter word. It creates distance. "The lights seemed to dim" vs. "the lights dimmed." If I'm in my character's head, of course it seemed that way to her. It's not needed.

8.) Dialog tags. I often write "he said" then give him an action. Most of the time, the action explains who is speaking, making the dialog tag unnecessary. (On a side note, try to keep dialog tags to "said" instead of "yelled," "muttered," "whined." Again, the context of the dialog should give the reader enough of the tone that they're not needed.)

9.) Comfort words. These change for everyone, but they're the words we use over and over and over because we like them. I use "eyes" FAR too much. I mentions eyes 200 times in 65,000 words right now. Know your writing (critique partners are invaluable for this) and know what words to look for. They're like a bad relationship - you keep going back, but you really don't need them.

10.) Names in dialog. There are times when one character would address another by name, but often, it just pads my word count and makes my dialog less authentic. Days go by that I don't address my husband by name. I use my son's name to catch his attention or correct his actions. Think about how you speak in real life and apply that to dialog. Don't use names unless absolutely necessary.

So there are some tips I've picked up. Remember, these are suggestions - not hard and fast laws. Take what you can, but don't let them ruin your voice or your love of writing.

Are there any I've missed? What are your favorite self-editing tips? Hooray for revising!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Squeee!! Or My CP has an AGENT!

Celebrate By Furryscaly on Flickr

My awesome, amazing, talented critique partner, Leigh Ann Kopans signed with Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary! Go check out Leigh Ann's blog to hear the whole story!

Leigh Ann & I meet, as writers do, through a pitch contest. I didn't win the contest, but I got a far more valuable prize - Leigh Ann! I had the pleasure of reading the first manuscript she queried. My husband teased me horribly for reading it on my Kindle while brushing my teeth. If you ever ask, she'll probably talk about how bad it was. It wasn't. I loved it.

Then Leigh Ann wrote ONE. And I cried. I've never wanted to hug a character as much as I want to hug Merrin. Someone, Leigh Ann tapped into that part of me that's still 14 years old and terrified of myself just as much as the world around me. Except that she didn't make that into weakness. She made it into strength. To quote my late night email after I started reading:

"This is one of those books that I love so much that I almost don't want to share because that will make it less "mine" - the last book I remember feeling that way about was A Wind in the Door. It's perfect. It's wonderful. It's heart breaking. This book needs to get published for all those girls who know the world is scary when you're little and who fear the things they want most and try, try, try to be more than ordinary."

Seriously, guys. It's that good! It almost made me want to quit writing because I will never write anything this beautiful and meaningful. Leigh Ann has grown so much as a writer and she has pour heart & soul into this story. And it shows.

But I had no idea why after Leigh Ann's aggressive query flurries and numerous contests (all while caring for 3 kids under 4, with #4 born in April!), she still hadn't been snapped up by an agent.

Now I know. ONE just needed to cross Tricia's desk! It's taken me a day to pull my thoughts together to form a coherent response. I love Leigh Ann, I love ONE and I CANNOT WAIT to see this book on shelves. Or to share it with my daughter once she's old enough to love it like I do.

Congratulations, Leigh Ann! You've worked so hard and come so far! I'm so proud to be you CP!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Shared Victory

Reposting because this seems more fitting than ever today!

From 9/26/2011
Ryan O'Neal of Sleeping At Last

Once upon a time, artists had patrons - wealthy men and women who gave them food, shelter and money so that they could pursue their art without the distraction of struggling for survival.

Not any more. Instead, all of us creative types have to stick together, to build each other up and support our artistic endeavors. Perhaps by virtue of living in Los Angeles, perhaps just by the kind of people I attract, I know a lot of artists. Most of us still work day jobs, still struggle to find creative energy after long days in the salt mines. We still stay up far too late or wake far too early because that creative passion burns inside us, demanding release, demanding we create.

Most of us have not received the kind of success our art deserves (yet).

When an artist I support does receive that kind of success - the success to pursue art without the need for a day job or the kind of critical acclaim true art warrents - I feel an incredible thrill. When über-talented Derek Hess (and Cleveland native) had a piece added to the permanent collection at the Louvre, I felt like is was victory for all us.

Ten years ago, my husband introduced me to Sleeping At Last, a band he discovered while living in Chicago his freshman year of college. It was love at first listen. I've followed their ups and downs (throughout the years, members have left the band, until today, Ryan is the sole full-time member), seen them live half a dozen times. I even watched two episides of Private Practice because they each featured a Sleeping At Last song. I listened to their album Keep No Score through my entire labor & delivery (so my son was LITERALLY born listening to Sleeping At Last). The poster for that album hangs over his crib. Their album Ghosts is my main soundtrack when writing Emma (there's a dance scene in The Alterae set to one of their songs in my head). I ramble on and on about them on facebook and twitter. I even quote song lyrics on this blog. I LOVE THIS BAND. I find so much inspiration in everything Ryan does.

This morning, Ryan announced that one of their songs will appear in the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1! (Insert squeals of delight on his behalf!) This is HUGE! We all know how powerful the Twilight franchise is - and I am so excited to see such an incredibly hard-working, dedicated artist share in that success! I really hope this will be the start of really big, really wonderful things for Sleeping At Last - and I fully expect you all to jump on the bandwagon now, before they're the hot new thing ;)

So keep the faith, keep making your art and may we all see success one day!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Speculative Fiction

Tell you a fairytale by LenaStinke on deviantArt

"... it is against the backdrop of fantasy and science-fiction that basic human truths can be best examined, magnified, and delighted in." 

Jennifer Azantian, literary agent at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency

Basic human truth. Isn't that what the best stories explore? Those books that show you something you didn't know about yourself or the world around you?

I love speculative fiction - fantasy, science fiction, futuristic, the whole gamut. Because at heart, I like simple, honest, quiet stories. Stories that might seem boring, except that with some fantastic twist, it becomes something more, something deeper (like a broken superpower that becomes a metaphor for all the broken parts in each of us. Go ONE!).

On my worst days, I feel like what I write isn't serious writing. It isn't literarture. Sometimes I worry that means it isn't important. But just because a book is about fairies or demons or space ships doesn't mean it can't add value to our lives.

I'm reminded of A Wind in the Door, in which Meg faces an evil that Unnames things. It's so wildly outside my experiences, but I will never forget the impact that story had on me. Sure, I love Meg and Calvin. Charles Wallace makes me cry. Madeleine L'Engle will forever be my writing idol. But it's more than that too. It taught me the value of identity. It taught me to treasure who I am, to not let anyone "unname" me. It taught me that the most insignificant of us have unimaginably important roles to play within our own stories.

So speculative fiction might not receive the same kind of critical acclaim as literary. It might not draw the same attention as contemporary in writing contests. The market might be crowded and oversaturated. But it is important. It is valuable. 

Whatever you write (or create for my non-writer readers), hold to it. It's important because it's important to you. It's important because it's true on some level. Be it frothy romance, way out there space opera or sparkly fantasy, embrace it. Don't let anyone "unname" you. Be true to yourself and your art will be true too - and that (in my opinion) is the highest calling of storytelling. 

As always, I welcome your thoughts! Do you like speculative fiction? Or are you a realist? Do you feel like your art isn't as valuable as someone else's? Share in the comments!