Welcome! Please sit down, make yourself comfortable, and have a brownie or three...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lights Out (for a little break)

  I will be taking a blogging break until the end of December~ the little one and I are traveling to the rolling hills of Kentucky for a long visit with my sister and her two lovely girls.

While gone, I plan to:

Bond with family (others are driving over from Texas and Iowa for Thanksgiving)

Enjoy playing with my nieces

Do a little writing/revising

Enjoy late night ice-cream, television (I haven't watched a sitcom in a loooooong time...we have one TV in our house and it's usually set on a sports program), and the type of serious sisterly chats that can only be had over Moose Tracks ice cream topped with peanut-butter M&Ms.

See you next year!!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Author Crush: Why RL LaFevers Does It Right

I first fell in love with the books of RL LaFevers because of the little girl to the left. Her name? Theodosia Throckmorton. Theodosia's parents run the Museum of Legends and Antiquities in London, and Theodosia saves the world from dark magic throughout this wonderful historical fantasy series.

RL LaFevers (also known as Robin)
That's where RL LaFevers concentrates much of her writing~ the intersection of history and fantasy~ real-world places with magical and/or supernatural influences.

Why is this author my hero? Because she has a successful series in chapter books/lower middle grade, middle grade, and young adult categories (she writes young adult under the name Robin LaFevers)~ the age groups that I love to  focus my own reading and writing on. 

She's put in her dues in terms of working on her craft, and it's paid off in a big way. She queried agents and publishers before getting her break at a SCBWI conference, where super-agent Erin Murphy critiqued her manuscript for a contest. The rest is fantastic history :)

Why the massive crush? Because this is an author who I adore both for her pure writing ability AND for her career path. For me, Robin/RL is a perfect example of putting in tons of hours/hard work to build a career over time. And it's really great for fans who have been with her for awhile~ the young readers she first hooked with her Nathaniel Fludd series are now ready to devour her new YA series.

Finding your niche and executing it well, then being able to expand your interests/age groups and still sell books...well, that's the dream (by the way, I also love Sharon Creech's ability to write such a variety of single-title books, but that's a post for another day).

Ms. LaFevers is also a founder/contributor of Shrinking Violet Promotions, a blog dedicated to marketing for introverts. As an introvert, I really appreciate any guidance in this area. Since April of this year, the blog has been converted to a monthly column with Writer Unboxed, a blog about the craft and business of fiction.

If you're not following Writer Unboxed, get over there and correct that. The current post (written by Robin LaFevers) is:

Transformational Journeys: Working with Archetypes

Here are her websites: 

RL LaFevers, Children's Author

Robin LaFevers

Some of her books:

Nathaniel Fludd Series~

This series is a must read if you're looking to study an excellent voice in the category of chapter books/lower middle grade.

Even if you write for an older audience, I highly suggest buying one of the books in the series to keep as a reference on how to keep a plot moving with a minimum of words while really making your characters shine. I re-read these books from time to time because I tend to write long drafts that need to be stripped down to essential elements, plot points, and dialogue.

Theodosia Series~
I mentioned the Theodosia series above. She's a great middle grade character, full of curiosity, bravery, intelligence and vulnerability.

His Fair Assassin Series~
Um...this YA series is about assassin nuns in medieval France. If you're not the slightest bit intrigued by that, then I'm not sure what else to tell you.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day

I'm a mail-in voter, so I'm all set. 
Will you be hitting the polls today?


Friday, November 2, 2012

What Agents Say About National Novel Writing Month

I have never participated in National Novel Writing Month, but have a HUGE appreciation for those taking on the challenge. Knocking out 50,000 words in one month doesn't fit my writing style or my lifestyle~ I'm not about to adapt my sleep schedule with another infant on the way (got to soak up those Zzzzzs while they're available).

1,000 words a day is about my limit for long-term productivity. I've definitely written more during bursts of creativity and cooperation from the kids in terms of their napping/social calendar/sporting event schedules, but I work better under a little less pressure :) Plus, I'm a weenie and I'd rather cheer for everyone else!

So what do agents say about National Novel Writing Month. Contrary to what some think, agents and editors do not cringe at the concept of writing a novel (or a solid base of one) in a single month. Many a seasoned author rolls up his/her sleeves during November to crank out a load of words and many an agent cheers for writers who attempt to "win" NaNo~ check out these recent tweets from Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary:

My post this month will be about = DO EET! Seriously, I'm a huge fan. Go! Go! Go! *cheerleader*

Day Two of  = remember, for this adventure, just write every day. Forget about self-editing and just write. *cheers*

What agents and editors do seem to mind is the lack of follow-through.

Here are a few recent agent/editor thoughts from Twitter to keep in mind as you set your querying/submission goals for those fabulous NaNo projects:

Sarah LaPolla@sarahlapolla Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown, Ltd.
Oh hey, it's November. Happy #NaNoWriMo, participating writers! Write your heart out! (Then REVISE before querying!)

Brooks Sherman@byobrooks Brooks Sherman of FinePrint Literary Management
Writers starting #NaNoWriMo tomorrow: I applaud you. I also urge you not to query agents Dec. 1 with your new novel. It won't be ready yet.

Georgia N. McBride@Georgia_McBride Georgia McBride of Month9Books
Ppl, listen to the agents when they ask you NOT to query your #NaNo novel in December or even January. Revision takes time. #yalitchat

Elana Roth@ElanaRoth Elana Roth of Red Tree Literary
#NaNo is really your Word and Idea Vomit month. #yalitchat

And don't you freaking dare query me in December on a #NaNo project. #yalitchat

Best of luck and happy writing to all of you fabulous NaNo-ers!!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Spooky Literary Destinations

Halloween is this week, so I thought I’d bring you an encore presentation of last year's Halloween post. Here are five literary destinations that are surrounded by spookiness, but would still make for a fun family trip. 
*East Coasters, you are in my thoughts~ stay safe and warm!*

Drumroll, please (and a big thank you to Wikipedia for assistance):

Translyvania landscape
TRANSYLVANIA- This region of Romania  is the location of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a novel that’s said to be (in part) based on the real-life horror story of Vlad the Impaler, who was said to have killed between 40,000 to 100,000 Europeans.

Interestingly enough, Prince Charles announced a shared lineage with Vladdy/Dracula in order to promote saving the Transylvania forests. Go figure—see HERE for that interesting piece of news. 

Click HERE for Transylvania tourism info. It looks like a gorgeous and friendly place for a vacation :)

SLEEPY HOLLOW, NEW YORK- Both in written and Disney form, Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, is a beloved and spooky tale. It takes place in the Dutch settlement of Tarry Town (based on Tarrytown, New York) in an isolated glen called Sleepy Hollow.
Now you can visit the real village of Sleepy Hollow, New York! The town website is adorable, and it looks like they host one heck of a haunted hayride! There are tons of community events, many hosted in the lovely Irvington Town Hall. The image is of the Headless Horeseman Bridge.

SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS-Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible is a dramatization of the real-life Salem Witch trials. It is the town of Danvers, once known as Salem Village, that was the main site of the hangings of nineteen people (14 women, 5 men). One man was crushed to death by heavy stones, in an attempt to make him enter a plea. 29 people were convicted of the capital felony of witchcraft. Seriously interesting and sad stuff.

You should know that Danvers, the true site, changed its name specifically to avoid notoriety. Salem Town (Click HERE for a city guide) capitalized on its name and became the tourism mecca for witchcraft buffs everywhere. As one visitor from Chicago noted, “The whole thing mostly happened down the road? Well, that bites. And here I was just getting into this nice déjà vu historical groove.”

ESTES PARK, CO-Stephen King once wrote an itty-bitty book called The Shining. Ever heard of it? It’s about a man who takes a job as caretaker of The Overlook Hotel in a remote area of Colorado. It’s said that a stay at The Stanley Hotel (pictured to the left) in Estes Park, Colorado inspired Stephen King to write the book.
I’ve been to Estes Park many times, mostly because of its location as a gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.

It’s gorgeous and full of touristy shops. Jam-packed with visitors and locals alike. Mostly visitors, though. The town is a good hour from Denver, and the drive is beautiful. At 7,500 feet, the altitude somehow feels much, much higher than my home at 7,225 feet. Must be bigger mountains and the slightly isolated feel. And the ghosties, of course. Like most mountain towns in Colorado, the weather is unpredictable, making it the perfect inspiration for one of the creepiest stories (and movies) of the season.

ELSINORE, DENMARK- Much of the Shakespeare play Hamlet takes place in Elsinore Castle in the Kingdom of Denmark. The actual castle you would visit these days is called Kronborg Castle (click HERE for historical info).

It’s one of the top tourist attraction and historical sites in Denmark, and is surrounded by a fortress area near the port to Elsinore city. The harbor is near the entrance to the sound between Sweden and Denmark. This might not seem like a Halloween tale to you, but there are ghosts, murders, and intrigue galore (despite this sunny photo of the castle, it's said to be haunted. Yes, that's right,haunted. Now hand over the entrance fee and get in line to see for yourself).

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 26, 2012

On Vincent Van Gogh and Writing

Self-Portrait with Straw Hat, Winter 1887/88
After visiting the Denver Art Museum's Vincent Van Gogh exhibit last Saturday, I became convinced that, if he had enjoyed words as much as drawing/painting, the man could have had just as much success as a writer. Why? One word: dedication.

The paintings were, of course, gorgeous to see, but I found myself equally intrigued by the narration of the museum's audio, biographical information, and quotes displayed along the walls. For instance, did you know that Van Gogh (1853-1890) only painted for 10 years? He took it up at age 27 and died at 37, the majority of his well-known works being from the last two years of his life.

Having seen a Van Gogh/Gauguin exhibit in Chicago several years ago, I thought I was coming in with a decent amount of information. But I was blown away by the difference. Why? Because of writing.

My three years of writing have been an incredible journey of learning, practice, execution, critique, repeat (eh-hem: I'm definitely NOT claiming to be in the same talent pool as Van Gogh). The steps that Van Gogh took to become such an accomplished artist (though he didn't sell much during his lifetime) were so similar to posts I've read about the writer's journey, and I found myself inspired by the man's passion for his craft.

He did everything a writer would do. He studied the masters and made copies at first, before establishing his own style. He mingled with fellow artists, learning their techniques and incorporating them into his own paintings. He understood that a great deal of failure precedes success, and that success can be followed again by failure. The described intricacy and layering process that went into creating his work was very reminiscent of creating a novel. 
Woman with Cap, 1882/83

So I finished my drawings pretty well in pencil, indeed as much as possible. Then I fixed them, and dulled them with milk. And then I worked them up again with lithographic crayon where the deepest tones were, retouched them here and there with a brush or pen, with lampblack, and worked in the lighter parts with white body color...~ van Gogh on creating Woman with Cap, 1882/83~

Outlining, character sketching, filling in the plot and setting and dialogue until a fully realized world has been created....knowing when it's done, when it needs a rest, when it needs to be polished. I could go on and on about the parallels with writing, but it's the Friday before Halloween and I've got a 4-year-old threatening to change her costume AGAIN, so I'll keep this brief and leave you with a quote from the exhibit and two paintings from the last years of his life.
Starry, Starry Night, 1889
By the last two years of his life, spent mostly in Southern France, his hand could do what his brain imagined.

To me, that's what we writers strive for as we develop our craft. To imagine a world, a character, a story, and fully translate our idea onto paper. If you haven't read anything about NPR's Ira Glass and his commentary on "the gap," feel free to read his thoughts below.

Undergrowth with Two Figures, 1890~ possibly my favorite van Gogh painting

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste.

But there is this gap.

For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, your taste is still killer, and your taste is why your work disappoints you.

A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit.

Most everybody I know who does interesting, creative work went through a phase of years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing we want it to have.

And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know that it’s totally normal and the most important thing you can possibly do is do a lot of work.

Put yourself on deadline so that every week you will finish one story. Put yourself in a situation where you have to turn out the work, because it is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.

I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met.

It’s gonna take you a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

~Ira Glass 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Write a Synopsis, Disney Style

*I'm taking a sick day today~ this post is a repeat from March of last year*

Ah brevity, you taunt me so! We all know how hard those dreaded query letters and synopses are, not to mention loglines and 2 , 3, and 4-sentence pitches. Trying to keep them all straight in your head can be maddening.

My young daughter recently received a box set of Disney princess stories. They’re little board books, each with about 4 or 5 pages of text. Disney has apparently mastered the art of condensing. Could this be a lesson for constructing a brief synopsis??? Have a look at Disney's exact texts and judge for yourself:

Snow White (in 6 sentences)-
Once there was a sweet, kind princess named Snow White. The wicked Queen was jealous of Snow White’s beauty. Snow White had to run away. She stayed in a cottage with Seven Dwarves. The Queen tricked Snow White with a poisoned apple. But the Prince arrived and awoke Snow White with a kiss, and they lived happily ever after.

If my kid is my kid (and she is), at some point she’ll be asking,“What about the Queen? Isn’t she still around, trying to knock off Snow White?” Loose ends, Disney, loose ends.

Pocahontas (in 8 sentences)-
Pocahontas was a Native American. She loved nature. One day a ship from England arrived in America. Some of the Englishmen were greedy and mean. John Smith was kind and good. Pocahontas’s tribe wanted the Englishmen to leave. The Englishmen sailed away. But Pocahontas and John Smith would never forget each other.

So…the Englishmen left just like that, did they?

One more:

Cinderella (in 8 sentences)-
Cinderella was a gentle, charming girl who loved to dream. Cinderella’s stepsisters were cruel to her. Her Stepmother was even worse. The King sent an invitation to the royal ball. Cinderella was not allowed to go. But Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother helped. Cinderella and the Prince fell in love at first sight. It was a dream come true.

I must say, I resent all these wicked Stepmothers traipsing around fairy tales. It’s insulting (I’m a stepmom to two lovely kiddos). Plus, there’s no mention at all of those cute little mice!

So, which movie-book did the best/worst job of summarizing~ any opinions?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Writing Lessons from FF Coppola's The Black Stallion

Show vs. Tell.

As writers, we're often told to describe our characters' joy, sadness, and fear rather than state it as a fact. Communicating relationships through dialogue and body language is an important part of the craft of writing...so why am I about to show you a movie clip?

Because the 1979 version of The Black Stallion, produced by Francis Ford Coppola of Godfather fame, does an amazing job of showing the emotions and character development of the young protagonist, Alec (and of the stallion, for that matter).

Once Alec is saved by the wild stallion he admired on a traveling ship (the ship goes down, killing everyone else, including Alec's father), the two create a hesitant, then powerful bond on the beach where they survive until they're found by fisherman. There is little to no dialogue for quite awhile, and I found myself entranced.

I highly recommend renting this movie (or your local library may carry a copy!) as an exercise in creating powerful emotion with a lead character who goes through an incredible circumstance, but doesn't use much dialogue or internal thought to express himself during or after.

Throughout the film, we rely largely on Alec's body language and facial expressions to know what's in his heart. And the same exact thing goes for the horse. We really come to know the horse's personality in this film, which I love.

A movie works in images, but a writer uses words to paint those images and emotions. I found wondering how I would describe the scenes I was watching and saying to the hubby, "This is a PERFECT example of show, don't tell, and less is more." The beach scene of this movie is so very poignant and elegant that I had to share it...but I couldn't find an isolated movie clip.

I DID find a video that combines scenes. The clip is long (seven minutes), transitioning between the deserted island, and the race that Alec eventually enters with the stallion. It offers a variety of images from the film rather than a single scene, but will give you an idea of how the cinematography acts as a narrator. The clip focuses on the stallion as a character, not Alec.

If you like the imagery you see (even if you only have time to view a minute or so), I urge you to find a way to see this beautiful film.

*You might want to scroll forward to about a minute and thirty seconds if you're bored with the film shots at the beginning~ it picks up :)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Literary Halloween Costumes~ Katsa of Graceling vs. Katniss of The Hunger Games (and more!)

Halloween is just two weeks away, and I find myself wondering how many of you will be dressing yourselves or your wee ones in a literary costume.

In the category of strong, weapon-bearing females, it's a tough choice between Katsa of Kristin Cashore's Graceling and Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games.

Katniss has the cool bow and arrow, but Katsa would have more of a period/fantasy feel to her garb, giving her costume the slight edge in my mind.

…and we could always throw in Robin LaFever’s amazing character Ismae from the Grave Mercy series. Because nothing says Halloween like a crossbow.

Speaking of Ms. LaFevers, her middle grade books have great costume potential with Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist and Theodosia Throckmorton from the Theodosia series:

And speaking of awesome kidlit authors, does anybody out there have triplets? Consider the lovely author, storyqueen, and blogger Shelley Moore Thomas’s Good Knight series (you MUST read Shelley’s newest book The Seven Tales of Trinket), which features three adorable and mischievous dragons:

 And speaking of dragons, with the first installment of The Hobbit movie coming out this December, why not choose a costume from the Tolkien classic. Smaug, anyone?

 And speaking of books being made into movies, why not be Jay Gatsby (The Great Gatsby is coming to the big screen next summer) or Sherlock Holmes:


Or you could always go super cute and be a character from A.A. Milnes beloved Pooh Bear series or Max from Where the Wild Things Are:

And of course, there are plenty of places to find an adult or child Harry Potter costume, from Harry and Hermione to Dementors and Dumbledore. 


Have you ever dressed up as a literary character? Any other ideas?

*Click link to read GalleyCat's recent article on the topic: Halloween Costumes based on Books

Friday, October 12, 2012

Tweetalicious Advice from an Editor (and a contest for MG/YA/Adult manuscripts!)

Adrien-Luc Sanders  has won my awesome-dude-of-the-week award for his service to writers everywhere.

Tweeting advice and commentary from the handle @smoulderingsea, his hashtag #editortips is a well-known goldmine of information. Yes, keep in mind that not all editors think exactly alike, but also keep in mind that free advice from a Senior Editor at Entangled Publishing should always be welcomed (unlike a free/discount root canal...which goes under the category of "bargains to avoid"). See Entangled's editing team profiles HERE to find out more about him and his interests.

Here are a few tweets from this Tuesday's #editortips:

Adrien-Luc Sanders@smoulderingsea
If you start thinking "Well I need to explain all this before the story really starts..." Stop. Look at what you wrote. Delete. #editortips

Your main character doesn't have to be a good person. They have to be someone interesting readers can empathize with. #editortips

Even if your MC is good, they won't always do good things. In a moment of weakness, under duress, etc.--they'll do bad things. #editortips

The message to take away from all this is character complexity. No one is ever defined by one trait. No one remains constant. #editortips

Key characterization factor: plausible motivation. Readers don't get why the MC does what they do? Readers won't stick around. #editortips

While characters need to express their opinions to build voice, interjecting a snarky comment on *everything* derails the story. #editortips

Anyone can do snarky. The important thing is revealing who your character really is under the snark and cleverness. #editortips

While tropes can provide a skeleton for your story, don't fall back on them for everything. Twist them into something unique. #editortips

90% of the time, italicized first person thoughts can be rolled into third person to strengthen the overall voice and flow. #editortips

If you do use italicized first person thoughts, make sure not to over-use them. When it's every other paragraph, it's annoying. #editortips

There should never be a part of your book you label "boring, but necessary." If it's necessary, make it interesting. #editortips

Many don't seem to understand: you can make anything interesting. Bookshelves. Golf. Slime mold. That's what writers do. #editortips
**To find more advice from Adrien-Luc Sanders and others on Twitter, simply go to twitter.com and enter "#editortips" in the search box


Have a Middle Grade, Young Adult, or Adult manuscript ready to submit? Head over to Dee's blog and read the guidelines for the Hook, Line, & Sinker contest. Round 1 opens Saturday, October 13 at 11:00 am EDT.

Read about the agent line-up and wish lists HERE.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

An Agent's Advice on Manuscript Editing

I have a VERY quick post today, alerting you to something agent Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency posted late last week. If you're in any stage of editing a manuscript, you might want to click on the link below and give it a read :)

One Endings, Beginnings, and the stuff in between

PS~ I'm behind on visiting all of your blogs, but will try to catch up this week!

Friday, October 5, 2012

First Snow and October Book Releases

Though only a light dusting, the first snow arrived this morning, making me feel justified in buying a 30-pack of Swiss Miss hot chocolate packets earlier this week (in all fairness, we've got three kids and I'm drinking hot cocoa for two these days).

A more substantial downfall should hit this Saturday, when I get to drive to Denver to go see/meet Maggie Stiefvater (Shiver/Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy, The Scorpio Races, The Raven Boys) and Brenna Yovanoff (The Replacement, The Space Between) at a book signing!

Fabulous blog PUB(lishing) CRAWL just posted a bunch of October releases to keep an eye on. Since I'm partial to MG, I'll tease you with these three covers:

Click HERE to see the rest of the titles, and stay warm this weekend!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

America's Next Author Competition

Today's post is a quick FYI:

Digital book retailer eBookMall.com is launching its first annual America's Next Author competition, somewhat modeled after American Idol. In the search for new talent, readers will judge entries even before the official jury, and authors will get feedback about their writing.

To enter the contest, writers can sign up here and enter a short story between 2,500 and 5,000 words. Participants started entering stories on Sept. 13, 2012, and you have a week left to enter. Voting begins on Oct. 9, 2012.

In addition to being judged by visitors, stories will be read by a panel of experienced professionals from the publishing industry who will be overseeing the contest. These judges will read entries and provide feedback to authors. They will also nominate four additional wildcard authors, adding them into the final rounds of competition.

Entering the contest is free, and the grand prize is $5,000. 

To see the complete official rules for America’s Next Author, click here.

eBookMall.com offers digital books from the world’s biggest publishers, including Random House, Simon & Schuster and MacMillan. Books are available in PDF and ePub formats for Windows and Mac computers, Android tablets, dedicated eReaders and mobile phones.