Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What is your Winter Read?

Going into the silent season, I am thinking a lot about how much I love to read certain books again and again when there's snow on the ground. I'm listening to the audio book of JANE EYRE - a book that I try to re-read each winter. I am loving every moment of it. Some books just seem perfect for colder weather, the kind of book you want to sink into - mental protection against the waning sun and the dropping mercury. Why doesn't someone make a list of Winter Snow Reads, when we're always hit with Summer Beach Read lists come July?

Let's make a list. In comments, let me know:
1) What new books are you looking forward to reading this winter?
2) What books are you looking forward to get re-acquainted with this winter? (You+hot beverage+book+blanket=ReaderBliss)
3) What is your favorite winter themed book?

I'm signing off for the holidays today. I hope you all have an amazing holiday - and wish you a shed load of prosperity and peace for the new year.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The End Is The Start

You may have heard that I'm breaking up with Pants(ing). As part of my new path to a less painful writing process (and less revision, hopefully) I'm reading all sorts of books (like, Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland) and watching tutorials on Writer's Digest. (Two good ones: Secrets of Story Structure and Plot by Martha Alderson and First Draft Outline by Karen S. Wiesner )

So much is changing in my writing process. Right now, I'm not terrified, but I reserve the right to be terrified later. But I'm excited. I'm asking questions that I usually only ask when I get stuck (about 40K words in...) and I'm doing lots of research (see below) all before writing the first word.

My research featuring Danny Kaye, Karen Ann Quinlan and Persistent Vegetative States. 

The most interesting bit of advice I've gleaned from plotters is to start with the end. I've heard this advice before and frankly it's always sounded bogus to me. I mean, how can I know what the end is if I haven't dragged my MC through the ringer first to see what the end is? I was firmly in the camp that uses the analogy that you are unearthing an existing story - you are digging it out with your words.

This is a great analogy and I used to want to be an archeologist (I blame a very young and gorgeous, Frank Langella in the movie Sphinx for my interest in archeology.) But after I get over my own protests about writing the end first, (sputter, sputter!) it's sort of growing on me. I mean, if I write the end first, then I know. I'm not going along for the ride, hoping I figure it out. I know the end and I only have to get there.

If this doesn't seem like a significant difference, maybe you're doing this already. But for me, it's a seismic shift in attitude. And it means the hard work happens NOW. I have to do all the thinking and untangling and making sure the logic works all the way through no. No fun language, gorgeous scenery description, poetry or intense emotions (the FUN STUFF) until I figure out the bones.

This is an experiment. As one commenter mentioned on my last blog about this - she's a pantser who tried plotting and is now a hybrid - I may try it and decide to go back to the old way. But I don't think I'll ever go back completely to pantsing. Because knowing the end is giving me a window on the beginning.

So, is the end the beginning for you, or do you want NO SPOILERS, not even for you?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

I'm Breaking Up with Pants

Or Pantsing. Or being a Pantser. Whatever. Me and Seat o' The Pants writing are going on a hiatus.

You know, if you're a writer (or friends with a writer- you have my sympathies) that writers generally fall into one of two categories in how they approach writing. They either plot out their story before writing the first word (PLOTTERS) or they plunge in head long into their first draft (PANTSERS).

When looking at my non writing life, I thought I was naturally a pantser. I cook without recipes (except baking, because that's science) and I never look at instructions unless I absolutely have to (as in the case of every piece of IKEA furniture I've ever assembled.) I like to figure things out as I go, manually build things because I often find I understand the pieces of the thing I'm putting together better when I've flailed around with them a bit.

I won't break out a cookbook or ever find the instructions for hooking up the blu ray. I refuse. BUT I'm starting my next WIP and I am PLOTTING dear friends. Here's why.

My last WIP (the rewrite of which is currently with Beta readers) was a beautiful, intriguing hot mess. There was so much good in there, dammit. But IT DIDN'T HAVE STRAIGHT BONES. I only realized that after the fact (oh, and when my agent told me it was close, but no cigar.) And it killed me that I'd spent six months building the faulty thing and then another six months doing an extensive rewrite. I mean, yes the resulting rewrite (in my opinion) is better than the first version (Betas will hopefully agree with me - does anyone else hate waiting on betas as much as I do...anyway) but it was painful. Wracking crying jags, ripping out clumps of hair, moaning into my pillow - that kind of painful.

In the past, I would have taken the view that the only way to GET to that good rewrite was to go through the pain. But now I'm not so sure.

So this new WIP is starting differently. I'm researching. I'm making lists on whiteboards. I've signed up for Writers' Digest tutorials and am watching First Draft Outline by Karen S. Wiesner. She's serious about plotting and though I'm not naturally inclined, I can learn plotting. I don't know if Plotting and I will stay together or if I'll eventually go back to Pantsing (If she'll even have me) but I do know that sometimes a style of writing feels right not because it IS right, but because it's what you're comfortable with. And comfort is the natural enemy of good writing. So I'm going to go get uncomfortable.

Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid? How do you make yourself uncomfortable in the service of good writing?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Food in Fiction

I'm one of those people who don't like overly detailed descriptions of a character's looks. I want the barest brushstrokes to guide my inner vision - a proximate height, a build and coloring. A penchant for long flowing skirts and army boots. That's enough. Any more and I feel tied down. Especially in a main character where I hope to inhabit this person, go along with her story and emotions. If she's got grey-green eyes with blond eyebrows, seven freckles per cheek and a nose like a button mushroom. I lose some interest. Because I'm being told exactly what to see, instead of letting my imagination sketch in the image.

The exact opposite is true for descriptions of food. So many books skim over the details of meals the protagonists eat - It was a fine meal with excellent wine. They ate well of many delicacies. He grabbed a sandwich and a bag of chips. WHAT MEAL? WHAT DELICACIES? WAS IT DORITOS OR FUNYONS?

These are questions I must have answers to. Because, more than a person's physical description, food description anchors the time, place and mood. Food should give clues about characters. What they worry about, what they indulge in. Because we have to eat so often (say, compared to a boa constrictor) we get to make new choices several times a day. Those choices reflect on us, even more than the clothes we wear and our hair cuts - choices we make less often.

In Maggie Stiefvater's THE SCORPIO RACES, there's food and blood and hunger. And there are November Cakes. November Cakes are not only a food item - an expensive luxury for Puck Connelly and her brothers - they're also a symbol of the isle of Thisby and the violent, chaotic and profitable festival they hold each November. It represents the lifeblood of the island, how dependent they are on the tourists that flock to see the Scorpio Races. November Cakes are part of the culture.

No one dies for a November Cake. A November Cake doesn't win the Scorpio Races. But the description of food in THE SCORPIO RACES is as much a character in the book as any other. It is vital.

Don't let your main character walk out of her next scene carrying a bag of nondescript sustenance - leave that for the Soylent food-substitute crowd. Treat food in fiction like the rich layer of meaning it should be.

I stumbled upon a website - Food Adventures (in fiction)  - and immediately fell in love. They have a picture of - and recipe to make - November Cakes. I'm going to try them this weekend.

What about you? How do you handle food in your fiction?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

PK Hrezo's BUTTERMAN (TIME) TRAVEL INC. Cover Reveal and blogfest

Without further ado, I give you the epic cover of the soon to be released (soon, as in on 11/12/13) book by PK Hrezo.

If you don't know PK, you damn well should. She's extremely talented, smart and fun. And I can prove it. First, look at the cover - so fun, right? It's got a epic, you're going on an adventure feel to it. And here's a little about the book to whet your appetite:

Welcome to Butterman Travel, Incorporated
We are a full service agency designed to meet all your exclusive time travel needs. Family-owned and operated, we offer clients one hundred years of time travel experience. A place where you can rest assured, safety and reliability always come first.
Anxious to attend a special event from the past? Or for a glimpse of what the future holds?
You’ve come to the right place. We’re a fully accredited operation, offering an array of services; including, but not limited to: customized travel plans, professionally piloted operations, and personal trip guides. *Terms and conditions do apply
Conference us directly from our Website. Our frontline reservation specialist, Bianca Butterman, will handle all your inquiries in a professional and efficient manner, offering a tentative itinerary and free fare quote, so you can make the most of your time trip.
We look forward to serving you at Butterman Travel, Inc., where time is always in your hands. 
Where can you find PK Hrezo?

Amazing concept, isn't it? I mean, who wouldn't want to go back in time to see a specific event, be a witness to history?

Um. Me.

So when I signed up for this blogfest, I thought I'd have trouble narrowing it down to one place and time. And, being the total pantser I am, I figured I'd just come up with something last minute.

But at the last minute I realized that all the times and places I want to go back to are tinged with sadness. I want to see my grandmother again. I want to see my friend Jenny again (and I wrote about that here, last time I thought about time travel.) Because they've passed, they are truly irretrievable - except in my memory. So assuming Butterman's is very expensive (and I think they must be, because I've seen their business cards and they are pretty fancy.) I couldn't go back in time to, say, be a flapper (GREAT GATSBY, THE DIVINERS) or late 19th, early 20th century New York (THE ALIENIST, TIME AND AGAIN - which is about time travel BTW.) though those would be my first picks, because I'd be too tempted to see some very missed loved ones again.

Anyway I've got a severe weakness for nostalgia, so it's probably a good thing that Butterman's fees are too dear for me. I will stick to the time machines I have at my fingertips - my stacks of books.

Where would YOU go if you could travel in time?

This is a blog hop, so please visit others on the hop!


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Why Voice is Important

Voice. The way your writing speaks. It's what agents all say they want. An authentic, strong voice. But how do you 'get' voice? How do you learn to imbue your writing with voice?

I don't have a clue.

I've been told my writing has a strong voice, and I'm happy about that, because to me voice is like being told you have pretty eyes. Thanks, dude, but they showed up when I did. I didn't have to go looking for it. (Now, plotting and pacing? I'm out looking for those guys every day.)

So, can voice be taught? And what's the difference between good voice and bad voice and weak voice? Again, I'm so not helpful here. It's one of those things I know when I see it/hear it. (Like, in the movie Reality Bites, when Winona Ryder is on a job interview and she struggles to answer the question, What is irony? She says she knows when she hears it. Crap. Just dated myself.)

But in my other, copywriting life, I've been working on explainer videos and this has given me insight to voice. An explainer video is exactly what it sounds like, a video that explains what a company does. This video is uploaded on to the company's site or Youtube and hopefully generates enough buzz to help get the word out and eventually get sales.

Below are two explainer videos for products that I think are successful all because of voice. They are both hard sells: Disposable razors and (I swear it's true) deodorant you spray into your toilet so your poop doesn't smell (so many issues with this product, so many ways it is wrong.)

Disposable razors are cheap and easy to come by - so why mail order them? This video answers that question.

A product called Poop-Pourri. In a sanitized world, we now have to sanitize our poop? This product is not for me...however. This explainer video made me curious, and more importantly it made the ridiculousness of the product funny - like I was in on the joke. It's really effective.

So, how do you work on voice in your writing?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Listen to the Sound of My Voice (Audiobooks that are Aural Candy)

Well, don't. I actually hate the sound of my voice. But lately, I've been recording myself reading my WIP (on my iphone, with voice memo) and playing the excruciating music back. Why? Because I trust my ears.

This is probably not new advice to you. I heard "read your work out loud" a lot at my first writers conference. It seemed a bit gimmicky, you know? And I did that anyway, with any sentence that was giving me trouble. I'd read it a loud and hear the clunking word right away, fix it and move on.

But since I've been listening to a lot of books lately - I have an Audible subscription - I realize that words read out loud are a lot less forgiving than words read on the page. There are books I won't listen to as audiobooks because I can't get lost in them. I get stopped by repetitive phrasing, by too many dialogue tags, too may 'sighs.'

So listening to books is a kind of litmus test. There are books that I want to read (and enjoy reading) that will go directly to my Kindle. Other books, usually books that I've been waiting to read and want to hold in my hands and ONLY concentrate on reading, I buy, then wait twitchily until the kids are asleep and I can delve. And there are some books that I know are going to be best as voices in my head.

When you can read on your phone, on an e-reader, via your car stereo and more, how do you decide which way you'll read a book?

Below are some of the best audiobooks I've read lately.

CODE NAME VERITY - Elizabeth Wein
Like the book wasn't genius enough. The two actresses who trade off the narration are brilliant. They are able to slip in and out of spot on accents and go from the dizzying heights of flying a plane to the horrific lows of being tortured by Nazis. All without a drop of self indulgence. I would listen to this again in a heart beat because it's so rich.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE - Margaret Atwood
I read THE HANDMAID'S TALE in college and liked it fine. But hearing Clare Danes read it made me love it. She imbues the narrator's story with so much depth and realness, that I easily slotted myself into her oppressive, mundane life. It made the story much more terrifying.

Another story I read in book form when I was younger. Now, hearing it I have the amazing feeling that I'm in the story, I'm 'watching' Bastian as he watches Atreyu and the unfolding story. It doesn't matter that I know what is going to happen, I'm happy to be along for the ride.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Nerdiest Thing About Me

In celebration of Cassie Mae's new book HOW TO DATE A NERD, I've joined her blog hop - The Nerdiest Thing About Me. Before I get to that stunning revelation, I want to tell you a little about Cassie's new book.

Zoe has a great pair of legs, perky boobs, and wears exactly what she needs to show it all off. She works hard for the easy sleazy ‘you only wish you were me’ reputation, burying who she really is—an all-out nerd.

The only time Zoe gets to be herself is when she hides under her comforter to read X-Men comics, sending jealousy stabs at everyone who attends Comic-Con. Keeping up her popular rep is too important, and she’s so damn insecure to care about the consequences. But when Zoe’s sister takes her car for a ‘crash and burn into a tree’ joyride, her parents get her a replacement. A manual. Something she doesn’t know how to operate, but her next door neighbor Zak sure as heck does.

Zak’s a geek to the core, shunned by everyone in school for playing Dungeons and Dragons at lunch and wearing “Use the Force” t-shirts. And Zoe’s got it bad for the boy. Only Zak doesn’t want Popular Zoe. He wants Geek Zoe.

Click here to go to Goodreads for more info and to put HOW TO DATE A NERD on your TBR pile!

So - what's the nerdiest thing about me? Where to start? Obviously I'm a book nerd - any writer worth their salt is obsessed by books. (Side Note: "What is a nerd?" My nine year old daughter asked me recently. "A nerd is someone who is passionate about something and doesn't care what other people think of their passion." "Oh. I thought it was something bad." "NO!," I said. "I'm a nerd about books and music," I told her. This did not convince her.)

But I think I'm AM music nerd. I listen to a lot of music. Music is my poetry (not knocking poetry here.) I have trouble doing work - paid or writing - without some kind of soundtrack. I know there's a great divide with writers as to whether they can write with music or with silence better. I am not a silent type of writer.

The nerdy part I can describe two ways. First, when we were drafting names (in an Excel document. See? I told you I was a nerd) for our first daughter, I was brainstorming with my husband. I said to him, "Do you like 'Charlotte'?" because it was on my maybe list. He immediately said, "Sometimes." Which made me love him even more than I did before. Because Charlotte Sometimes is a great Cure song and we are music nerds.

Second illustration of my music nerdery. Husband and I don't get to go out much but every so often a movie comes out that we move heaven and earth (and shovel cash at our babysitter) to go and see together. This summer that movie was THE WORLD'S END. At the climactic end, against an old school goth soundtrack - I nearly had an aneurysm of joy. Because I'm a nerd.

What's your secret Nerd Power?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

My Mother the Cheerleader

My mom is probably something like your mom. At times annoying, other times wonderful - always bringing up a mix of complex feelings. She's got the ability to make me happiest and angriest and often that's in the same conversation.

And one more thing: she's a relentless cheerleader.

This is why my mom is NOT one of my crit partners. She cannot see when a plot has more holes than the road she lives on. She doesn't see the problem with having a villain who's motivation is weak or murky. Frankly, she thinks I'm a wonderful writer and she's enjoying my book very much and why doesn't everyone else think the same? I take everything she says with a shaker full of salt.

But even so, I need her cheers. I have lots of people telling me what to do differently in my WIP - what's working and what isn't and each CP has ideas on how to make things better -wildly different ideas, of course. CPs are my mirrors, reflections of how my work is perceived. I get to take those reflections and make sense of them, weave them together into coherence. In other words, I have to make it work.

My mom is having surgery today. It's not terribly serious, but when you're 75 any surgery can be serious. When we skyped yesterday and I wanted to hear all about her surgery, her preparations and who was going to call me after the surgery (my mom lives in Uruguay so I cannot be with her and yeah, it's kind of killing me a little) she only wanted to talk about my WIP. How much she liked it, how it reminded her of people she knew when she was little - a cousin here, an aunt there who had some magic in them. I said, 'thank you' and told her that I was really having trouble with it, it was driving me crazy.

"That's okay," she said. "You'll do it. You just have to work."

Of course I only have to work. It's the simplest advice and the hardest to follow when you just want to give up. But my mother believes that what I'm doing is worthwhile. And I can't believe how much that makes a difference to me. My mom believes in me because she has to. But because she does, I will keep working.

I'm amazed that her opinion is still so important to me.

Besos, Mama

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Farmers and Writers

A woman stands in a field of corn, running her hands along the silky tops of her ripening crop. A man sits in a cramped dark office, whiteboards filled with scribbled plot notes on one side, tottering piles of research on the other. What could these two people have in common?

A lot, it seems.

Farmers toil, oh man do they toil, without any guarantee that the crop will be good. A lot is out of their hands. Even the best soil, best seeds, best weather conditions of a season can end in blight. A freak storm or a draught can funnel months of back breaking work (and money) down the drain.

Writers do the same thing, farming with words instead of tractors. Toil, toil toil with no clear expectation of success. I'm not even talking about publishing success - writers don't even know if they are going to finish something they love (hands up, how many trunked projects do you have in your digital drawers?) never mind something that is viable. So many things can go wrong when you are writing - and writers are famous for making their own bad weather (I'm talking to you, Evil Inner Critic.)

I started thinking of Farmers and Writers after hearing about a Philadelphia publisher with a business model that resembles a CSA (Customer Supported Agriculture.) The Head and Hand Press is accepting 'shares' ($50) in exchange for a 'literary harvest.' It's an intriguing idea, isn't it? But is it a workable model? That remains to be seen. But it's just another creative way in which publishing is seeking to change the status quo.

Even when writers are successful, published and loved, they can come up against the same stormy conditions, the same plague of locusts or potato blight or whatever. I was reading THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray when I came across this blog post by her - a post where she publicly, hilariously (and I say, bravely) detailed her struggles with writing the second book in this series. I was flabbergasted. I LOVED THE DIVINERS. I thought it was frigging brilliant. I couldn't understand how a writer who made THAT book could ever have any trouble writing anything. I mean, didn't she have it down? Weren't her other brilliant books proof against that kind of struggle?

Nope. Writing is struggle. Creating is struggle. And success or failure doesn't change that. The work is the same.

Happy Harvest.

Monday, July 15, 2013

White Screen of Death

Sparky died this weekend. Well, I don't know that he's dead, but he doesn't sound at all well. I'm ashamed to admit that, before he took ill, I did not name my trusty laptop. My constant companion, my Starbucks buddy, the keeper of all my FEELS and THOUGHTS and WORK. But as he lay pulsating weakly in the hands of Genius Jonathan, I felt the need to name him. Thus Sparky was baptized, because I'm hoping, like the dog in Frankenweenie, that he makes a full, if slightly glitchy, recovery.

Saturday morning, a day I had cleared the decks and the house so I could spend hours writing, Sparky presented me with what is an actual term among Apple people: White Screen of Death. It means your computer is not happy with how it's been treated and it's basically going on a hunger strike.

I'm distraught.

But I'm hoping this obstacle is a gift in disguise. Because I've been stuck. I'm rewriting a book I love and it's complicated and problematic and I love it so much I want to strangle it. I don't have writer's block, words are coming like a deluge. BUT THEY ARE THE WRONG WORDS. So now that all I have to write words with (I'm writing this at the LIBRARY and there's a time limit *sob*) paper and pen and work out my story problems on whiteboard and stickies, I'm hoping that I can find the RIGHT words.

I hate writing in longhand because my handwriting is so bad that it distracts me. I'll write a sentence, then read it and say to myself "Who writes an 'A' like that? it looks like an undercooked biscuit. And the 'r's' are pretty much only a suggestion of a letter."

Is this enough of a mental shift to jolt me out of my plotting snafu? Will Sparky live or will I have to sell something (like a kidney) to afford a new computer? What do you do when technology fails you? And do you have pretty handwriting? If so, I want to see proof.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell

Oh. How I love this book. I don't usually do book reviews because I'm crap about being objective. I have very strong reactions to books - and if I don't, that's an even bigger problem. So, please don't look for a coherent, clear-eyed account of this book's strengths and weaknesses. Instead, let me tell you how this book moved me.

Eleanor is a misfit in a time when being a misfit was in no way cool. She's the wrong size, wears the wrong clothes and is angry. Maybe her biggest sin is that she isn't 'nice.' That just means that she is truthful about how she feels, she doesn't pretend to have softer, gentler feelings than she has. And for a girl in the 80's that is practically unforgiveable. Park doesn't quite fit in their small town either. He's half American, half Korean. He's into alternative music and he's small, effeminate in a high school dominated by jocks. This isn't a John Hughes movie. The underdog doesn't suddenly get their heart's desire after some mild discomfort. 

Eleanor's mother is not on her side - staying in an abusive relationship even though she knows it jepaordizes her kids. This is one of the many things I think Rowell does so right. Eleanor's mother doesn't come off as a stereotypical abused woman. She's not stupid and she's not evil. She's complicated, she's trapped even though she's complicit in that trap. And Eleanor is poor. Dirt, can't-afford-toothbrushes-or soap kind of poor. Rowell does a beautiful job of showing the embarrassment and shame and fierce rebellious pride that Eleanor can't hide. 

When Eleanor and Park connect it's through art. Comics (The Watchmen, in fact. Oh man how my 16 year old self would have been all over Park like a mongoose on a snake. But I digress.) then through music. 

I grew up in this time period, it's not an abstraction for me. The bands that Park listens to, I listened to. So every musical reference in the book - from the description of the heart-stirring opening chords of Joy Divisions Love Will Tear Us Apart, to the Prefab Sprout t-shirt Park wears, all of it tugs at me, brings up my own memories, acts like a time machine directly to my sixteenth year of life when love felt like danger and salvation. As I read, I tried to ask myself, if I wasn't so invested in the time period, the details, would I love this book the same way? Maybe not. But I do know that the writing is exquisite. And I've never seen dual POV used so successfully. Usually, when I see dual POV in YA I wonder what obstacle it's being used to overcome. But with Eleanor & Park, the dual POV was essential. It was a main line right into their heads, their hearts. And the description of the music is what convinces me, finally, that even if the music connecting them was old-timey swing or Norwegian Death Metal, I'd still have fallen madly, deeply in love with Eleanor & Park. 

They get together and you know it's impossible. The suspense builds because you know it can't last, you know, logically that (see previous 'this is not a john hughes movie' note) love doesn't conquer all. But you hope like hell. At the end, Rowell doesn't disappoint. She leaves us with hope. And with Eleanor, worthy of her queenly name, a heroine that is strong just because she holds on to who she is.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Read Like It's Your Job

Because, when you are a writer, it is your job. Yes you have to write, bum in seat, pound out the words. But you must read. It's fuel.*

you will trip over books in my house

you really will

Nothing gives me greater pleasure than declaring my book and audiobook purchases as a business expense on my taxes. I feel like I'm cheating the system (but I'm not, I've asked my accountant) because I get to do something I adore and it's absolutely a vital part of my writing job. I imagine that, if I were an agent, I wouldn't love reading so much, because there are things I'd have to read (query letters, partials, fulls) that I may not enjoy. But as a writer I can be the titular magpie and read whatever shiny thing catches my eye. It all goes in the hopper.

I read constantly. I usually have two or three books on the go at once - one audiobook and two ink + paper books and sometimes something on the kindle as well. Some reading is for crit partners and beta readers, but most falls into two categories: My genre/peers and My interests (which is not always what I write at all.)

One thing that's helped me stay on track is the Goodreads reading challenge. You can see my books here. and see how I'm progressing on my reading goal of 40 books this year.

Here are my favorite books from the last six months. In the coming weeks I'll be reviewing each of them. And when I say reviewing, I mean spewing such reader/writer love and awe and gushing that you'll need an umbrella.

ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell
WILD AWAKE by Hilary Smith
THE ONLY ONES by Aaron Starmer
WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead
CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein

So, what are you reading? What have you loved this year and what's been a disappointment?

*when I say fuel, I absolutely do NOT mean plagiarism. This is something I hear from new writers - the fear that if they read too much, and in their genre, they might accidentally swipe something they read somewhere else. My short answer to this is - read so much that you are AWASH in words. That your brain is churning with words from lots of sources that you can't even begin to lift a phrase, sentence or paragraph. My long answer is coming in another blog post soon. :)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Hiatus - Real World Calling

Just a quick note to say this blog be on HIATUS until July. Two reasons: I have a s**t ton of work to do on a writing project and my paymasters (those nice non-profits who pay me) want me to actually do work. June is a busy time for events and conferences. So! Have a good rest of Spring and see you in the hotness that is July!

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Writing Kind

Writers are kind. Let's go from that starting point. Yes, there is jealousy, pettiness and drama (and here, I'm only talking about myself) but there is so much kindness out there, it's a little staggering.

Writing is hard. It's not Stephen Hawking hard, but it is soul-baring hard. When you write (and send your little boat of words out into the world) you are pretty damn naked. You wrote it and now others will judge - whether it's crit partners, beta readers, agents, publishers or whomever. You write, others read - and reading equals judgement (it has to.) So it's a scary proposition to put your writing out there. What I've found in the last three years of being part of the online writing community writ large is that kindness is the watchword.

Writers read for each other. They blog about each other. They retweet and encourage and help with pitch contests and recommendations. Part of our work is in helping others know what we know, reaching a hand behind and pulling others up, saying this is what I did, maybe that helps you.

My writing friend Jenny Herrera sent me a Writing Kind. She didn't wait for me to get a book deal or wait for a book launch or anything seminal. She sent me a care package when I finished writing a book. A simple thing I did and a really kind thing she did.
here's what was in the package:

  • a batch of popcorn-chocolate chip cookies that she baked (which my kids ate most of)
  • a writing book that reminds me to never lose HOPE.
  • note cards/bookplates
  • a cool pin (with cartoon birds on it, which eldest stuck to her backpack)
  • a CD she burned for me of some of her fav songs (and these have become some of my favs)
  • a note basically saying that she was proud of me for finishing.

That's it. Simple, not too extravagant, but priceless in what it did for my spirit. 

I'm going to pay that forward to another writing friend. Someone who is fighting the good fight drafting her WIP and someone who has done a lot of good for other writers (myself included.) IT'S A SEKRIT! that's the point. 

So what I'm saying is this: 1) Find a writing friend who may need a little encouragement
2) Put together a care package that will make them feel the warm & fuzzies 3) send it to them now - don't wait until they 'achieve' something - they've already achieved a lot. Celebrate now. 

I'm calling this stealth act of baked goods & encouragement The Writing Kind. 
And I'm buying Jenny a gigantic three-umbrella drink when I see her this summer.

How have you been Writing Kind? And who's been Writing Kind to you?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Don't Plant Your Bad Days - They Grow into Weeks

I'm having a bad day. I could trace the origin to this bad day down several tangled roots: Being husbandless on my anniversary (not his fault, poor guy) Being stuck on my current revising project and the mounting pile of psychological gunk that goes along with that (more on this later.) Being drawn into a work project and a school volunteer project at the same time with the same force. Being unable to understand the way my 9 year olds mind work and being unable to help her when she doesn't understand herself either. But the origin, the twin rocks these bad day roots are wrapped around are doubt and her bastard child fear.

I don't have a manhattan job anymore, so I can't afford a manhattan therapist. But If I were sitting across from Ruth right now, plucking at the fringe on the throw pillow in my lap, here's what I'd say about Doubt:

I doubt that I'll ever get published.
I doubt that even if I do get published that it will be as good as the work of my peers.
I doubt there's a point to keeping this writing dream alive when I could be more productive, monetarily productive, doing something else.
I doubt that the time I spend in my fabricated worlds is worth the time I don't spend with my kids.
I doubt I have the stamina 
I doubt I have the moxie
I doubt I have the talent.
I doubt.

But a doubt is really only as strong as a whisper, as substantial as a shadow. I'm hoping to bring the doubts out into the antiseptic sunshine. By sharing my doubts with you, I'm hoping to throttle the little bastards, as well as my little bad days. As the great Tom Waits says:


“I used to have some little bad days, and I kept them in a little box. And one day, I threw them out into the yard. "Oh, it's just a couple little innocent bad days." Well, we had a big rain. I don't know what it was growing in but I think we used to put eggshells out there and coffee grounds, too. Don't plant your bad days. They grow into weeks. The weeks grow into months. Before you know it you got yourself a bad year. Take it from me. Choke those little bad days. Choke 'em down to nothin'. They're your days. Choke 'em!”

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Five Things Never to Say to a Writer

I am in the middle of a new/old project revise and am in the WEEEEEEDS. I'm a smidge exasperated and a heap exhilarated so I guess I'm in a good place. But my blog? Not so much. So, instead of insightful, academic-level spoutings (cuz, that's what you normally get, right?) I've got a list for you to distribute to your non-writing friends, family and neighbors. What NOT to say to a writer.

"You're still doing that writing thing?"
Variations: Weren't you doing some writing hobby? You're still on that jag? Oh, I thought you'd moved on to something more practical..."
Rudeness level: 3 slaps
Polite response:  "Yup, I just keep plugging away at it. Got to have dreams, right?"
Mean (realistic) response: You still have that crappy, drone-like job working for the soul-crushing corporate pigs? OR you can just blast Sonic Youth's Kool Thing in their faces - especially Kim Gordon's deadpan "Are You Gonna Liberate us Girls from Male White Corporate Oppression?"

"Oh, I want to write a book too. I have some notes scribbled on a napkin, can you look at it?"
Variations: "I wrote a book once. It was genius. No one understood it, it was so ahead of its time." "Everyone's writing books. It's like the easiest thing it the world, right? I mean, suburban housewives, fifteen year old girls. How hard can it be?"
Rudeness level: 1 slap
Polite Response: "I'd be happy to take a look at your book idea. I can send you some information on professional organizations that can get you started."
Mean (realistic) response: You do not want to write a book. You only think you do because you see authors on the TODAY show and you want to be on the TODAY show too. If you had any idea how hard it is to write and then how much harder it is to be published, you wouldn't be so damn cavalier. I mean, do you go up to Rocket Scientists and tell them that you could totally do their job if you had the right lab coat?

"So you're like the next (Suzanne Collins, Stephanie Meyer, James Patterson -fill in the blank)"
Variations: "Does your book have vampires?" "I don't really like books with fantasy/reality/zombies/people/pets/mermaids/buildings or words."
Rudeness level: 1 slap (2 if they compare you to someone while sneering.)
Polite Response: No, I won't be the next anyone. I'm just hoping to be the next 'me'
Mean (realistic) response: Comparing me to someone, even someone famous and successful just makes me feel like you think I'm a sham. Sure there are some writers who will just write whatever they think is popular to try to get published and showered with gold coins* - I am not one of them! I write because I have stories in me that would bust out Aliens-style if I didn't write them down.
(*BTW, I would not say no to gold coins. Especially chocolate ones.)

"So, what's your book about?"
Variations: No variations. This says it all.
Rudeness level: 0 slaps, but man, I hate this question. When asked by people outside of the writing world, whatever you say will sound wrong. Even the elevator pitch you prepared for agent pitch fests will not be enough for this person. They will look at you blankly and say, "Oh. That sounds nice." and you will die a little inside
Response: *FLAIL* say you have to go to the bathroom. Escape.

"You wrote a book? What's it called? Maybe I can pick it up at Barnes & Noble."
Variations: "Have I heard of you?" "I have a book club, maybe we can read it for book club."
Rudeness level: 1/2 a slap. This is not really even rude, it's just uncomfortable. Again, non-writers don't understand the wide river that must be crossed between writing a book and having it published. Some authors never make it, or they have to build their own little boat (the SS Self Publish) to ford the river.
Response: "No, not published yet. Working towards it. You know, the way the publishing industry works is really quite interesting. Let me elucidate using long, boring anecdotes and circuitous storytelling until you beg me to let you leave..."


"When are you going to get a real job?"
Variations: "How about a real job? Does your wife/husband mind you slacking off all day? Must be a  nice life having to do nothing but write all day."
Rudeness level: off the chart slaps, nija hands of speed slaps.
Response: There is no response that is adequate for this question. Break up with your boyfriend or hang up on your Aunt Mildred (or whoever the rude person saying this was.) Sometimes, rudeness is an incurable disease.

What do you wish people would stop asking you about your writing? What do you wish they WOULD ask?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

How to Say Goodbye to your MS

You've hit send. You're done with the book (unless someone - your agent, a publisher, an editor, your mom comes to you with edits/revisions.) How do you move on to your next project? How do you stop obsessively thinking about the people and world you created - spent months or years shaping - to move on to the next project?

Every writer gets to this point, regardless of whether you are published or not. For whatever reason, more tinkering cannot be done on your baby. You need to let her go (SNIFF!)

Here are my tips for saying goodbye to your ms and moving on to your next Work In Progress.

1) Bask in the Glory That is You (I know this is grammatically awkward, but cut me some slack.)
You wrote a book. Regardless of what happens now, nothing and nobody can take that away from you. My excellent writer pal, Jenny Herrera sent me a care package, just because I finished a book. (Obviously, she is awesome and I will have to work hard to reach that level of awesome.) She sent me homemade cookies (choc chip w/ popcorn!!! go harass her for the recipe, it's amazing.) an inspiring writing book, oranges, a funny pin, book plates - just things that let me know she was proud of me. But she wouldn't have been able to do that if I hadn't told people that I'd finished FIND ME. So brag a little. Post your accomplishment on Facebook. Tweet about it. Call your friends. Let them throw some love on you. Then throw some love on yourself, too. Take this moment, before anything else can color your perception of yourself or your book to realize that YES. YOU WROTE A BOOK. That is something most people have never done, and will never do.

2) Take a Break (part 1)
The state of my housekeeping during the last weeks of revising was, shall we say, less than stellar. My hedges were overgrown, I forgot to send snacks in for my pre-schooler's school (the shame burns) and the lady at the Burger King was starting to call me by name. Everything took a backseat to the book. Now I can cook. I can plant my seedlings. I can work on my other (non-writing) projects. I can have clean underpants. The Villasante household is humming along again and I've even completed my taxes (4 days to spare, WOO HOO!) Take a few days to take care of non writing business. This will make you feel less frantic when you jump back into writing.

3) Take a Break (part 2)
You've been in your writing cave, working and re-working your ideas. If you are smart, you've also been reading the whole time -feeding the hopper of your mind with how other writers craft. All good. But now that you're not actively crafting, you need to step up your exposure to culture. Art. Writing. Music. History. News. Your kids art show in the gym. NATURE (especially now that the world is exploding in floral gorgeousness.) Nourish your writing soul with things that are not necessarily writing. I'm not saying don't read. But I am saying PLAY. All these things will feed your future writing.

4) Start Again - And Don't Panic
The first time I said goodbye to a book, I took the advice of starting a new project to heart. How do you stand the waiting (which is indeed, Tom Petty, the hardest part)? You start your next project, says everyone, ever. All well and good. But what they don't tell you is that you'll feel like you're two-timing your last ms. You'll feel the pull of the world you left on your new, fledgeling work. It's kind of unfair. You're last manuscript is gorgeous, polished and refined. You're new WIP is messy, kind of short and shallow. OF COURSE if you compare the two, you're going to prefer your last ms. You might not feel the same passion for your new project as you did for the one you just left. This is normal. I remember feeling quite depressed, when I started FIND ME almost a year ago, that it wasn't as good as my last book. I felt like it wasn't taking off, it didn't POP. It took me two solid months of writing FIND ME to feel like I'd found the story's groove. So: Don't give up on the new project too quickly. Don't compare it to the last project. Don't feel badly if you don't fall in love with it right away. Writing love will grow.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Snow White is Bad Ass

I don't usually write about movies because I usually only watch ankle-biter movies (The Croods, anyone?) I am still trying to watch a backlog of shows/movies on my dvr and please don't ask me if I've seen Girls or the new season of Game of Thrones because I haven't. I have no cable and I have no time.

But a tiny miracle happened last friday. I was in New York for work (paid, event planning work, not writing work) and I had a big gap of time between meetings. I decided to get wild and see a BIG GIRL movie. At an ART HOUSE theatre. When I went to undergrad in NYC, the Angelika Film Center used to be my second home (along with the even more obscure Anthology Film Archives.) I got myself a Jamba juice and a box of Junior Mints and sat down to watch the movie that fit into my schedule.

Thank the Film Gods, that movie was Blancanieves. A silent, black and white film set in Seville, Spain in the 1920's and based on the Snow White fairy tale - how much more art house can you get?

Oh man, I was in love from the first frame. I'm not big on proselytizing - you watch what you're interested in, I'll watch what I'm interested in. BUT YOU MUST SEE THIS MOVIE. (Didactic messaging over.)

I can't stop thinking about this movie. It's so beautiful smart and affecting. AND THERE ARE NO WORDS spoken in it. How did it manage to break my heart, hold my attention and make me besotted with NO WORDS? It's that good, I swear. Hunt down your your nearest arty movie house and trek to see this. It's worth traveling for. And the music? I didn't think I liked Flamenco music. So imagine my surprise when I spent twenty euros on Amazon Espana to buy the soundtrack.

With apologies to Kristen Stewart and Lilly Collins, Macarena Garcia is now the most stunning, badass Snow White ever. (And it doesn't hurt that, when I saw Macarena in this movie I thought - "Whoa, that's really close to what Mop (the MC in FIND ME) looks like.")

This trailer doesn't even do the movie justice. I promise, I'll stop gushing. Tomorrow.

Post Script
This is a movie. And the movie has bullfighting in it. I don't condone bullfighting (or cockfighting or bunnyfighting or any other situations when people make animals fight for profit.) but in the context of this film it makes sense. That is all.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

How I Revise Pt. 2

On Tuesday, I posted about my revision process. Below is part two of that post. One thing that I'm surprised by is that I'm spending as much time and energy (if not more) revising this ms (my first after getting an agent) as I did before I had an agent. The work needed to get it done doesn't change and I still fight against the urge to say "It's good enough, I'll send it anyway." Real Actual Hilary has a great post about  the Ten Best Things You Can Do For Your Manuscript. Number one? Revise until there is no 'anyway.' Wise advice.

Part 1 of the post is here.

4) Make big changes. I tackle the big changes first. It may be a character that is flat, or has murky motivation. I re-write scenes, write new scenes, tear my hair out. I'll give you an example. From feedback, I knew I needed some context earlier in the ms that would give an action later in the book more meaning. So I wrote a scene. THREE TIMES. Until it was right. It was painful, I won't lie. It was the time during revision that I started to hate my ms. This is IMPORTANT. I think you need to hate your manuscript - at some time, just a little. Because it means that you see it clearly, warts and all. Hate it and then fix what you hate. It's the road to falling back in love with your ms.

5) Make little changes. Now is the time to change a name that has been bothering you. Or an action that didn't feel like it made sense to the character (She wouldn't say it that way. or She doesn't drink decaf.) This is also when you do two or three spell/grammar checks. Any awkward phrasing or weird spelling will out. I insisted on spelling abstainer as obstainer until the third draft - and not one Beta reader caught this spelling mistake. Also, watch out for crutch words - words that you are using too often and too lazily, almost without thinking. This is the time to weed those out, find alternate words to get your meaning across.

6) Print out you ms, get out your red pen and your little flags. I don't know why, but for me there is something profoundly different between reading on a screen and reading on paper. As soon as I print out the ms, a boatload of changes jump out at me. This is when the words you misspelled that spell checker didn't catch (like when you used they're instead of their) will rear they're ugly heads. It's also when you should read your words out loud. I'm not saying you have to read the entire thing out loud - though some people do this to good effect - but anytime a paragraph seems slightly awkward, or you find yourself re-reading a section, read it out loud. You'll hear what's wrong with it immediately.

7) Kill your darlings. You've heard this one before. You know you have to do it. And you may have been snipping with delicate rose shears until now, pruning, shaping. Good. But now is the time to be ruthless. If it's not serving the story or your character's voice - even if it's some really good writing - kill it. I did this yesterday with a phrase that I really liked. "Like a battering ram against a paper house." It's visual, it's evocative, poetic. But it was not working hard enough, not pulling it's weight. It doesn't add to the action of the paragraph. I cut it. Cut until it hurts, it will make your ms stronger.

8) One More Time.  After I go through all my little flags and make my changes, I put the ms down and read someone else's book. Right now I'm reading CROWN OF EMBERS by Rae Carson and IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS by Cat Winters. Think of this as a palate cleanser, to get the taste of your own words out of your mind. The next day (or sometimes two days later) I'll take out my ms ONE MORE TIME and read the entire thing from beginning to end. If there are any sections that I've still not made my peace with, anything that's still jarring me, I go back to revision mode. I resist the urge to say it's good enough until I read the last page with a smile and a sigh.

So, now a question for you - How do you know when your ms is ready? How do you know the difference between between endless tinkering and fruitful revising?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

How I Revise Pt. 1

Notice I didn't say, "How To Revise." Because I know two things about revising: Everyone does it differently and you should constantly be revising (hee hee, see what I did there?) your technique, adding new tricks and tools to your Revising Tool Box.

I'm on the very last pass of my ms before sending it to my ninja agent. While I'm nervous about her reading it (PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF VODKA LOVE IT AS MUCH AS I DO!) I'm also so proud of it that I could burst. Ultimately you need to be in that place with your ms - you need to feel that it's the best thing you've ever done. And you can only get to that place if you've been Ming the Merciless while revising.

Here's how I do it:

1) Rewrite. I write the first draft, then immediately go back and revise it into a second draft. Why? I do this because I'm a pantser, not a plotter. I don't know where I'm going in the story until I get there, so when I get to the end I'm often like, "Who knew that guy was a jerk?" Which is fine, but I need to go back through the draft make sure those connections make sense, that the seeds of the ending are there in the beginning. If you are a plotter and know exactly where you are going, you may not need this step. But it can't hurt.

2) Beta readers. I wrote extensively on Betas here a while back. To sum up - you need them and you need to be very clear on what feedback you are looking for. Then, you need to carefully consider that feedback. Some advice might make total sense immediately, while other advice might be painful to hear. Read the feedback and consider it carefully. Consider the source, meaning, every reader has their biases. Be aware of where your Betas are coming from so you can weigh their feedback accordingly. Finally - do not let your ego get in the way. If feedback is wounding your ego, it's probably on target.

3) Wait. At least a day between getting your Beta feedback and starting revisions. It's a wonderful thing what your subconscious can come up with while you are sleeping or watching the Vampire Diaries - as long as you give it a bit of time. Sit with the feedback. It's the pause that refreshes.*


Which will be coming on Thursday!

In the meantime a question: What's your revision style?

*I forget which soft drink this slogan is from, but whoever you are, please don't sue me. I love fizzy drinks!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Guest Blogger: Sharon Bayliss, author of THE CHARGE

You guys are in for a treat today! Sharon Bayliss who's debut, THE CHARGE is out this month from Curiosity Quills, is going to share her path to publication. It's not a traditional path. Sharon had lots of ups and downs. But her journey shows that there are many paths to publication - more now than ever. Writer's need to be aware of all off them - and be open to different opportunities when they come up. 

Check out more (including an excerpt) on THE CHARGE here. And, after Sharon's post, there are a bunch of really interesting links that will make you fall in love with THE CHARGE even more.

No one could call me an overnight success. I've been chasing my dream of publication for fifteen years. Granted, I have had a lot of distractions during that time, college, marriage, know, life in general, but I always returned to work on my goal of publishing a novel.

I am proud to say that on March 2, 2013, my dream came true. I published my debut novel, The Charge, with Curiosity Quills Press.

So how did I finally get it done? 

In 2009 I started writing the novel that would eventually become The Charge. It went through so many drafts and total overhauls, early beta readers can only barely recognize the final published result. In the summer of 2011, I did my first round of serious querying. I went the "normal" route of querying agents. I had a few positive moments, some blog contest wins and an occasional positive query reply, but overall, the query process was soul-draining and ultimately unsuccessful.

Fortunately, I wasn't thwarted. After rewriting my query almost fifty times (yes, I counted), I finally realized and accepted that the query wasn't the problem. There were problems with the basic structure of the story.

So, I essentially started over. And this time, I write the query first. When I felt like I had an awesome query after only a few tries, I knew I had finally figured it out. 

I got to work re-writing the story and when I was done, it just felt different. I knew I had gotten it right. I had two amazing beta readers look over The Charge, one of which was none other than Alexandra Villasante! They made some excellent suggestions and I went to work on yet another significant revision. 

One problem Alex pointed out was that The Charge didn't fit well into the YA genre (which was where I had been querying it) because my main character was 18 and out on his own. I agreed, but aging him up or down proved difficult. Read more about my journey to discover the new adult category in the article, "18-Year-Old Characters are Strictly Prohibited."

Despite the categorization problem, I felt excited and confident about The Charge, so I set out to query agents again and entered some contests. And...

Still nothing.

Although I felt like I had made significant strides and was very proud of The Charge, the general consensus from the agents was, "no."

I didn't want to shelve The Charge, but I was discouraged and decided to at least move on to something else for a while. So, I wrote a completely different novel (but that's a whole other story). I was feeling very excited about this new novel and was about to start querying it, but then something unexpected happened.

The publishing industry moves slowly and I'm not very patient. So, I had moved on before The Charge had really gotten a chance. I hadn't thought about The Charge in a while, then I learned that it had made it through the first round of the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Competition. Then, a month later, The Charge became a quarterfinalist. I didn't move to the semi-finalist round, but I did win a very positive Publishers Weekly review.

My success in the ABNA contest made me rethink everything. The expert judges and the Publishers Weekly reviewer thought it was great! The agents who read my query may not have fallen in love, or thought they would have trouble fitting it into the correct marketing box, but that didn't mean the book wasn't worth publishing. So, with my renewed confidence, I tried something new, I queried small publishers directly. And since small publishers were open to the "New Adult" category, I was able to query it in the category it really belonged in.

It didn't take long at all for me to get some full requests, and in about a nanosecond in publishing time, Curiosity Quills Press made me an offer.

I have to admit, I was thrilled but also discombobulated. Things had happened quickly and not the way I had expected. I had no agent to help me negotiate the contract. Even after lots of research and consulting with friends, there was no way to be 100% certain that I was doing the right thing. But my gut told me it was the right thing to do, and I know I made the right choice.

My journey to publication was long and often painful, but I believe it all happened for a reason. Nothing worth doing is ever easy.

Thank you for inviting me to your blog, Alex, and for all your support along the way!

Thanks Sharon! What a great journey and an awesome book. Now, do YOU want to enter for a chance to win a copy of THE CHARGE? Of course you do!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Connect with Sharon on the interwebs!

Description: uriosity Quills Press: Literary Marauders
Sharon Bayliss is a native of Austin, Texas and works her day job in the field of social work. When she’s not writing, she enjoys living in her “happily-ever-after” with her husband and two young sons. She can be found eating Tex-Mex on patios, wearing flip-flops, and playing in the mud (which she calls gardening). You can connect with Sharon at and

Description: uriosity Quills Press: Literary MaraudersDescription: uriosity Quills Press: Literary Marauders

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