Sunday, February 28, 2010

In My Mailbox - 14

In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren.

One Lonely Degree by C.K. Kelly Martin

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Something Wicked by Alan M. Gratz
The Long Wait For Tomorrow by Joaquin Dorfman
I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith
What Happened To Lani Garver by Carol Plum-Ucci
The Body of Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci
Willow by Julia Hoban
Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

Friday, February 26, 2010

Epic! Fail! February

So some of you might remember this post where I declared that February would be the month that I Got Stuff Done(!). Namely revisions on my WIP Whisper. Such big plans I had. Like finishing revisions, working on my query and synopsis, maybe even wrapping up my other WIP. Two hours after my Focus February post, my grandma died. What followed was a month of physical and emotional exhaustion taking care of my grandma's stuff. It's been difficult and what free time I did have I was just too drained to revise.

But I did manage to do a few things. I posted my opening on Secret Agent and got some great feedback. And this week I posted a section of dialogue over at Miss Snark's First Victim's Talkin' Heads crit roundup. My entry is (#48) here if you're interested. I've already gotten some great feedback and done some revising again. "Mutual Attraction" is not really a good description for what's going on in that scene but I was in a time crunch and couldn't think of anything better. Still, it's one of my favorite scenes in the book. With one of my favorite characters.

Anyhoo. I've declared February a loss as far as revisions go, but I'm all set for some of my own personal March Madness! I have to get my WIP revised because the one good thing that came out of my time away from writing is a very Shiny New Idea that I really really want to start working on. It's so different from anything else I've written and I can't wait to get started on it, but I won't let myself until I finish my WIP revisions and get it out to my Crit group.

I'm on a mission in March to Get Stuff Done(!) for real. And maybe have a contest or two. What about you? Do you have any March Madness goals?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Keeping Track of Shiny New Ideas

This is my weekly post over at my crit group's blog Sisters In Scribe. Check it out!

If you're like me, whenever you're in the middle of doing something that requires all of your focus (say, revising your novel *cough*) that's when you get hit with a Shiny New Idea(!) I find if I don't do something with those ideas, right away, I lose the spark and can't always get it back.

What I do, is as soon as a SNI hits, I write it down. In as much detail as possible. I keep each shiny new idea in it's own notebook. Specifically, Mead Five Star 1 Subject Notebooks, like these:
(I am perhaps, a little obsessed with them.) I buy them in every color possible because I have synesthesia and the color of the notebook is important to me. Seriously. Like, my current SNI is in a dark blue notebook. I could never write it in say a red, or lime green one, because the story is most definitely not lime green. Which sounds crazy, but trust me when I say this all makes sense. Anyhoo.

I like to free write.

Generally, I start with the bio of my main character. Most of my ideas start with either a character or a "what if". My current SNI started with a "what if" about a boy. So I knew both the situation and the character.

I label a blank page CHARACTER(S) and scribble down everything I know about this character, and usually, just the act of doing this reveals more and more info about the character and the plot.

After that, I label a new blank page BASIC INFO and write out the basics of the plot starting with a logline, like: A boy does ________ and learns _______. Or whatever. Then I go into more detail. Again, just the act of putting down vague ideas makes them clearer and adds in more detail.

I never pressure myself about this. This is all fun. It's like cleaning out a closet. I try to take every single thought I have about this idea and just get it on paper so that later I can go through it and know what I was thinking, the vibe of the story, etc.

I think in scenes so once I have my character and basic situation (plot) I tend to have a jumble of visual images and emotions of things that happen in the story. I start a new page labeled - can you guess? Yep, SCENES and I try to write out everything I see and hear (my ideas tend to play out like movies in my head) about the scene. I then ask myself, what happened? What lead up to this moment? Why is this happening? What happens after this? I write out all the dialogue I "hear", even if it doesn't totally make sense, because I don't want to miss anything that just might be brilliant.

The best thing about this process is that it opens up my mind to more ideas about the story. I discover new characters, and events within the story world, and that keeps it brewing in the back of my mind while I'm working on what I'm supposed to be doing. I will usually come back several times to add thoughts, new character details, songs for a playlist, etc. It also gives me piece of mind that my story will still be there when I have the time to devote to it.

By the time I'm ready to work on that story, I usually have my main character's voice, all my key scenes and plot twists worked out.

Using a separate notebook for each idea gives me the added bonus of feeling productive. I get a rush when I look at my stack of ideas and know that I have some cool ideas that I'm excited about waiting for me. I don't feel lost, or overwhelmed because I've already done most of the work in just a few minutes of stolen minutes of free time each day.

What about you? Do you have any writing obsessions like my notebooks? What do you do with your Shiny New Ideas?

Waiting on Wednesday 12 - Guardian of the Dead

Waiting On Wednesday is hosted by Breaking The Spine. This week's choice is:

Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey - Release date April 1, 2010

In less than a day I had been harassed, enchanted, shouted at, cried on, and clawed. I’d been cold, scared, dirty, exhausted, hungry, and miserable. And up until now, I’d been mildly impressed with my ability to cope.

At her boarding school in New Zealand, Ellie Spencer is like any ordinary teen: she hangs out with her best friend, Kevin; obsesses over her crush on a mysterious boy; and her biggest worry is her paper deadline. Then everything changes: In the foggy woods near the school, something ancient and deadly is waiting.

Karen Healey introduces a savvy and spirited heroine with a strong, fresh voice. Full of deliciously creepy details, this adventure is a deftly crafted story of Māori mythology, romance, betrayal, and war.

Guardian of the Dead is Karen Healey's debut novel. Is it on your Debut Authors Challenge List? I think I'm most excited about this book because of it's setting and use of Māori mythology, it sounds really intriguing, different, and exciting. Can't wait to read it!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

In My Mailbox - 12 and 13

In My Mailbox comes from Kristi at The Story Siren.

I didn't get a chance to post last week, so here's my IMM for the last two weeks. I've been pretty stressed lately, and when I'm stressed, I buy books online, late at night, when I should be sleeping.

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa*
Albatross by Josie Bloss
Light Beneath Ferns by Anne Spollen
The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, & Lauren Myracle

Heartless (Pretty Little Liars #7) by Sara Shepard
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

* is for my Debut Authors Challenge List

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The All-Important First Chapter

Last week I entered Miss Snark's First Victim's Secret Agent contest (see my entry here) and got some GREAT feedback on my work. Since the contest deals with the first 250 words, all of which I rewrote for the contest, I thought this was a great time to talk about first chapters.

This is my weekly writing post at my crit partners' blog Sisters In Scribe.

Last summer I attended the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. I took a workshop on first chapters called "Frontloading: The Crucial First Chapter" and the thing I learned that stuck with me the most was that the first chapter is a promise to the reader. It tells them what kind of story they're going to be getting, and what to expect. This is true, even if you don't intend for your first chapter to do that, because it's the way we read. Breaking that promise can frustrate, and disappoint your reader.

That doesn't mean you should give everything away. You don't have to reveal your plot twists, but if your book is a sci-fi thriller, don't let your first chapter read like chick-lit.

By the end of the first chapter, the reader should have some sense of what the main conflict of the book is going to be. They don't need to know all the details, but they should be able to tell the genre, have a good sense of who (what type of person)the main character is, and how their world is changing. Knowing these things sets up anticipation in the reader, it makes them want to read on and see how the events unfold. Not knowing these things makes the reader wonder what the heck this book is about, and if they should even bother to read on and see what happens.

Here's an example of a book with a great first chapter:

The Hunger Games - In the first chapter of The Hunger Games we get to see Katniss' everyday world. We learn about the Hunger Games and the Reaping and the high chance that Gale and Katniss will be picked. We see that Katniss is responsible and protective of her sister, Prim, whose name is in the Reaping for the first time. And in the very last sentence of the chapter there's a shock as Prim's name is called. This is a GREAT end of a first chapter. As a reader we are left with a sense of dread. We know what Katniss must do, and we know that we're in for an exciting ride because we're going to experience the Hunger Games with Katniss. We're also introduced to the mechanics of Collin's writing - cliffhanger chapters. Both with story and with structure, she has shown us what to expect, and how to read her book. And she delivers. (Seriously, if you have not read this book yet, go get it NOW.)

Now imagine if The Hunger Games started differently. What if the first chapter was an ordinary day at school for Katniss, followed by time at home dealing with her mother and sister. Suzanne Collins could've started there and gone into greater detail about Katniss' troubled relationship with her mom, given us more history on the District, how life in The Seam works, etc. She could've had the Reaping happen in chapter 3. If she had though, she probably would've lost a lot of readers. I know I would've been flipping back to the cover over and over again, wondering when these supposedly awesome Hunger Games were going to start. I probably would've put the book down before the action started and picked up something else.

The first chapter is the last chapter in disguise.
- Richard Peck

I read this quote for the first time not long ago and was struck by how true it was. Richard Peck says that when he finishes his first draft, he always throws out the first chapter without reading it and writes a new one.

I thought about why it is that the first chapter is usually the one that needs the most work and I think I figured out at least part of why this is true.

Usually, at the beginning of a story I am bursting with ideas and information. I know my main character is this, and her love interest is that, and then this, this, and this are going to happen, all because of THAT! And so I'm excited to get to that stuff, and I start laying down all the pieces and facts necessary for the later events to occur.

I've come to realize the first chapter, (and the whole first draft really) but especially in the first draft, the first chapter is really just notes to myself. It's me getting that info out there so that I can remember to make it happen when the time comes.

After the first chapter, my writing tends to smooth out. I let things unfold the way they should, revealing information only when it's necessary. Most of the time this results in duplicate information. Things appear once, in the first chapter where they're not really needed, and again later on where they belong.

How to fix your first chapter.
I'm no expert, but here are a few tips that work for me:

  • Rewrite it from scratch.
  • Look for and remove exposition that doesn't come into play until later in the story.
  • Start at the moment closest to the beginning of the main conflict of your story as possible.
  • Make sure your chapter has action, and not just a character thinking about or looking at stuff.
  • Make sure the main conflict of your book is set up.
  • Ask people to read the first chapter by itself. What do they think the book is about? Do they want to keep reading?

You know you're on the right track if people have a sense of where your book is going to go and they want to go along with it.

What about you? What are some of your first chapter tips? What are some of your favorite first chapters?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Win a LINGER ARC and other awesome YA ARCS!

Linger Cover LargeIn Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, Grace and Sam found each other.  Now, in Linger, they must fight to be together. For Grace, this means defying her parents and keeping a very dangerous secret about her own well-being. For Sam, this means grappling with his werewolf past . . . and figuring out a way to survive into the future. Add into the mix a new wolf named Cole, whose own past has the potential to destroy the whole pack.  And Isabelle, who already lost her brother to the wolves . . . and is nonetheless drawn to Cole.

At turns harrowing and euphoric, Linger is a spellbinding love story that explores both sides of love -- the light and the dark, the warm and the cold -- in a way you will never forget.

Comes out in stores everywhere July 20th. Pre-order here.

Enter to win an advanced review copies of LINGER, Sisters Red, The Dead-Tossed Waves, and The Replacement on Maggie's blog.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday - 11

Waiting On Wednesday is hosted by Breaking The Spine. This week's choice is:

Exit Strategy by Ryan Potter - Release date March 1, 2010

Who are you supposed to look up to when it seems like every adult you know is more screwed up than yourself?

Looming above Zach Ramsey's hometown are the smokestacks of the truck assembly plant, the greasy lifeblood of this Detroit suburb. Surrounded by drunks, broken marriages, and factory rats living in fear of the pink slip, Zach is getting out of Blaine after graduation. But first, he's going to enjoy the summer before his senior year.

And Zach's having a blast until he uncovers dark secrets that shake his faith in everyone, including his best friend Tank (a state wrestling champion), whose 'roid rages betray a shocking habit. Falling in love with Tank's twin sister Sarah, an Ivy League-bound scholar, doesn't exactly make Zach's life any easier.

Eventually, with enough evidence to nail the town's steroid kingpin, Zach is faced with the toughest decision of his life—one that will prove just what kind of adult he's destined to be.

I'm really excited about this book because not only does it sound awesome, but Ryan Potter is from my home state of Michigan, and the story takes place in Michigan. This is Ryan's debut, is it on your Debut Author's Challenge list?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

In My Mailbox - 11

In My Mailbox comes from Kristi at The Story Siren.

This week the library came through for me with a couple of books I've been waiting on. I got:

Hold Still by Nina LaCour
Lips Touch Three Times by Laini Taylor

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Getting Back On Track

You know what they say about the best laid plans... My grandma passed away just two hours after my Focus February post. It's been a rough week, with the funeral happening yesterday, and there's still so much work to do clearing out her apartment. I had no idea how much is involved when someone passes away. From the mountains of paperwork, to the phone calls, and the physical act of moving all of their things. I honestly don't know how anyone ever has a funeral, there's so many things to plan and do. I have a whole new perspective now.

Anyway, I didn't want this post to be a downer. My goal is to start getting back on track. I have some critiques to finish, some prizes to mail out, a contest to put up, and of course, all that writing I'd hoped to do. I will just have to squeeze all of that into shorter periods of time for the next couple weeks. If you're waiting to hear from me, I should hopefully be getting back to you this week!

Lastly, I just wanted to say thank you so much for the kind words about my grandma and my loss. They were really appreciated, and meant a lot to me. Thank you.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Rest In Peace

I lost my grandma yesterday. She was 99 years old. She would've been 100 in just a little over a month. Despite her age, she lived on her own and took care of herself, and her death was unexpected. Even though I'm happy for her that she's no longer suffering, and that she'll be with my grandpa (they were married over 50 years when he died) I'm going to miss her. My grandma had spunk, and she had been, literally, EVERYWHERE.

She had a lot of great stories to tell, like the fact that in 1950, she and my grandpa were among a small group of African-Americans who went to Norway and attended the award ceremony for Ralph Bunche, the very first black man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She also had so many stories that I regret that I will never get to hear. But most of all, she believed in me. After she learned that I was writing a book, she told everyone she met that I was a writer, and she was actually proud of that fact!

Rest in Peace Grandma, you will be missed.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Focus February!

So it seems I'm not the only one who has big plans for the month of February. Sara over at The Babbling Flow is doing Saradise (or in my case, I guess that would be Valedise? Doesn't sound quite as awesome...) and I just discovered Grapemo thanks to my crit partner Lacey.

My writing goal for February is going to be to finish revisions on WIP #2 so that I can start querying in March. I decided to put it out there in the universe (um, again) so that there can be some repercussions if don't achieve this. Mostly, that would be SHAME. I'm finding revising is hard because I know that if I do it, I'm going to have to send it out into the world. I keep distracting myself with Shiny New Ideas that require LOTS of research but that's going to stop. This month will be all about one book until that one book is ready. Eep! Wish me luck!
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