August 27, 2012

My Husband Is Trying to Kill Me and Other Stuff

Okay, maybe my husband isn't trying to kill me...but I'm beginning to think that he IS trying to permanently maim me. Here's why:

Incident #One: We were unloading groceries from Sam's club. I was busy throwing milk, Coke Zeros, etc in our garage refridgerator (yes I am one of those suburbanites) when hubby set down a stack of juice boxes behind me. HE claims that he thought that I knew that he put them there, but of course being the writer that I am I was fully in my head, humming tunes to myself and thinking plot points and the like as I organized the fridge, sooo when I backed up to go get more groceries I never even saw the stack of juice boxes and well, I stepped into them, lost my balance, had time to go what the? in my head and then I was spinning like a drunken ballerina, finally landing on the concrete floor by way of my hip then wrist, then face. Walking with a slight limp now.

Incident #Two: (same week) We were in bed (no, this is not going anywhere naughty) and I leaned over to kiss him and he ELBOWED ME IN THE FACE. He claims he was "adjusting his pillow" but I think we can all see the pattern starting to develop here. The man has it out for me. Now I have a swollen lip AND a limp. I AM SO PRETTY RIGHT NOW...time for that author photo shoot, right? I would look slightly deranged and could sell books, right?

The only upside to my injuries? They've guilted him into taking me to IKEA later today.

As for the other stuff....

Tropical storm Isaac is descending on us well as a bunch of republicans. BUT neither will keep me from furniture shopping!!!

Kids are home from school because of said will be a month before they're in school for a full week at this rate. Gah!

I have recently discovered Godiva milk chocolate salted caramel candybars at CVS...which is less than a mile from my house...way, way too close. Have already consumed one. (there goes my diet).

August 22, 2012

Want a Stronger Authorial Voice In Your Writing? Write Like You Talk and LET GO.

We hear a lot about voice, how it's one of the most important things that agents and publishers look for when taking on an author. In the past I've given you my take on what voice is (for my purposes, when I'm blogging about voice I'm almost ALWAYS targeting authorial voice-the voice you bring as the author-not your character's voice or the narrative's style, but your own personal writing style, what makes your writing uniquely yours). If you missed my other post on it, it's here. Now I'd like to talk about one of the biggest ways that you can infuse your own unique voice into your work without doing anything drastic.

 Very simply put, you write like you talk.

What does this mean? It means pretending that the reader is right there in the room with you as you write. It means acting like the words you put on the page are the ones that would naturally come out of your mouth.Your writing should feel intimate, confident--you're talking to a dear friend after all. It's all about you letting down your defenses and letting this person glimpse the you only those closest to you ever see.

When you're talking to someone this close to you are you ever worried about sounding smart or witty? No, you're concentrating more on conveying the story in the clearest, most entertaining way possible and on building your relationship with them. You want them to laugh with you if the story is funny or cry with you if it's sad. Your natural need for them to do this is infused into how you tell the story from the start because you're most concerned with helping them understand why this story was so important for you to tell in the first place. I think sometimes writers (I'm talking about myself here too) get caught up in trying to sound like a writer. They use words/sentence structure that they would never in a million years use under normal circumstances with the hopes that it will somehow elevate the story or make their writing sound stronger when ultimately it sucks their voice right out of the story. It's crucial, especially in that all important first draft that you let the most unchecked part of yourself, the rawest part speak.

 So how do you know if you're writing with less authorial voice than you could be?

1. You're purposely put words into your writing that you would find in a Jane Austen or Dickens novel that would get you weird stares if you folded them into a conversation with your neighbor next door...and you're not writing a historical novel.

2. You are trying to sound Harvard educated if you know what I mean. This is a trap I think writers in MFA programs and who prize intellect above all things make the most. They're sounding pretentious to please the literary critiquers or to fake a pedigree.

3. Or on the opposite side, you're trying too hard to sound like a teenager in your contemporary novel and pepper every sentence with slang. I think slang on a whole should be avoided at all costs unless you have a very good reason to use it. It will date your story right out of the gate. Try to get back into the mindset of  a teenager--how intense that first love relationship can be, how difficult it is to separate from your parents and find your way, standing up for what you believe in, figuring out what exactly you believe in.

4. You're trying to sound like a famous author you admire. It worked for them, right?

Authorial voice is one of the hardest parts of the writing process to nail and I think it's because to do it, you have to let go. You can't control how it comes out on the page, you just have to let it come. I think it's a lot like dancing or singing well.

 When someone's whole heart is in it, you can feel it, it raises goosebumps on your skin, brings you to tears, leaves you breathless. Forget the art and craft of writing(assuming that you have a pretty good handle on all of these things to begin with) and get lost in the passion and I promise your voice will be in every single word.

August 20, 2012

Exciting Cover Reveal!!

Some of you out there may already know that my critque partner, Krystalyn Drown has a book coming out with Entranced Publishing next spring-April 15, 2013 to be exact. Well, I'm extremely excited to help reveal the cover for her book today!

Pretty cool, right?

If you like it, make sure to stop by her blog, See the Stars and let her know!

August 15, 2012

Learning Better Writing In The Absence of Words

This past weekend I finally got around to watching a movie that I've been dying to see for awhile. I haven't watched it up until now because, well, I am the ONLY person in my house who was interested in it. The movie in question was The Artist. It's almost entirely a silent film.

It got great reviews and won lots of awards which combined with it's homage to the silent film era put it on my must see list, but put it firmly OFF of my husband's. If it doesn't have military dudes, aliens, zombies, and/or lots of explosions it is not his thing. Ever. So this week when he went out for a long run and the kids were zonked out for the night, I finally ordered the movie and settled in for an Amy-centric movie night. I was not disappointed. This movie utterly rocked...just not OUT LOUD.

Now before we go any further, you should know that I'm a sucker for musicals and movies made long before I was born. Brigadoon is still one of my favorites (if you mention this movie in front of my brother he'll STILL grown about how often I watched it). So keep that in mind as you read this and also if you decide to use this post as a reason to go rent The Artist. If Charlie Chaplin doesn't thrill you and dance numbers put you to sleep...this is probably not your thing either and you can join my husband in pointedly ignoring this movie.

BUT if you are a writer, no matter what your preference, you should stick around a moment because this movie gave me more than one writerly epiphany as I watched it. The most important being this: You can learn a lot about putting together a good story by seeing one unfold with little or no words attached to it. Think of it. Telling a story with only the characters' facial expressions, actions, and music. A challenge of epic proportions, right? I think it is and while I watched the actors in The Artist pull it off, I got to thinking about how I could take some of what was happening in this film and apply it to my writing to improve it. Here's what I learned:

1. Action can absolutely speak just as loud if not louder than character interiority when used properly. In the movie the wife of the main character is slowly starting to hate him. She can't exactly yell this at him because we can't hear it...but what she does is funny and telling and perfect. While he's reading the paper every morning in blissful ignorance, she defiles his pictures, drawing overly large moustaches on his upper lip and blacking in some of his teeth to make them look like they're missing. We never get in her head outside of these actions, but we absolutely know how she feels. Now, I'm not talking about a whole bunch of adverb laden descriptions of body language here like: he arched one eyebrow mischeviously, but actual physical action described in a very active way.

Example created from a scene in the movie ( I know, there is some interiority, but most of what's here is physical): She bent over a bit too far in an effort to grab her pen and paper from the sidewalk and felt her body go out of balance, tip forward before she could catch herself. She tumbled out past the barricade of police officers and  straight into her idol, the man whose autograph she'd been so hoping to get. He made no move to catch her. Instead he backed away, his jaw set into a grim line. She stood up with effort, her body righting itself an inch at a time. She felt her mouth twitching. Should she frown too or try to laugh off her clumsiness?

2. Physical characteristics/traits/clothing items (or lack there of) when used properly and intentionally, can speak volumes about your character. In the movie the male lead is a veteran silent movie actor who runs into the female lead quite by accident. She is a young aspiring actress and he takes her under his wing. He tells her that she needs something to distinguish herself from the pack, something to make people notice her. He draws a small beauty mark in the corner of her mouth, his suggestion on how to be different and it ends up being the very thing that makes her famous...her first leading film role is named for it.

The mole becomes not just a physical trait of hers but a symbol of how he helped her become a success even as his own career languishes. She can't look in the mirror without being reminded of him every time she draws on that mole. Genius. It deepens the story on so many levels (watch the movie and see what I mean), it tells us that part of him lingers with her even when they take different paths, and so much more. Conversely, the male lead has a tuxedo that he wears that's indicative of his old school status as a silent film star who isn't interested in moving with the times. Eventually he is forced to sell the tuxedo, which hints at how much of himself he has no choice but to abandon when the film industry changes.

3. Tap into a person's emotions and they'll stick with your story without intending to. My husband came home before the movie finished. At first he gave me the exaggerated eye rolls and pointed stares to "for the love of all that's holy, change the channel already", but after about five minutes, became totally engrossed in the film, watching it with me until the end. We even discussed it a little after it was over. He actually admitted that it was pretty good! I think it's because the actors did such a fantastic job of making their characters relatable without ever having to say a word. They showed us why they were worth watching. They tapped into our humor and heartstrings and gave us a story well told. ( Just don't tell him I told you this, it'll wreck his Jason Stratham-loving reputation...the one he's cultivated in his own mind)

4. A highly developed plot coupled with believable, relatable, and vivid characters is half the battle. Your words can be beautiful, perfection on paper, but if the story and characters aren't there, no one will stick around to read them.

There is more to be mined from this movie, of that I am certain, but this is what I took away from it. Are there any movies that taught you a thing or two about your writing? If so, drop me a comment and let me know!

August 13, 2012

This Weekend: All Good Things....

SO, in honor of this, our final week (at least in my neck of the woods) before school starts, we took off to Orlando, stayed over one night, then hit Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. It not as much fun as it has been in the past. Sounds crazy I know, but there it is. The night in the hotel meant my husband and I each slept with one child. There was a lot of this:

What is it about hotel beds that makes you want to bounce?

And even more of this:

Only these people look infinitely better than we did that morning.

Which we expect and have no problem with usually (and thought for that matter, that we wouldn't now). BUT we were just away and spent about a week in hotel rooms and another week rotating between family members' houses less than a month ago, so this ended up being one night too many. It sounded a lot better in theory than in practice.

The girls were moody and emotional AND at each other's throats. They aren't even at THAT time of life yet if you know what I mean, but there are moments when I start to wonder anyway. There was a lot of this:

Which meant I did a lot of this:

Then when we ran out of the hotel early the next morning to be at the amusement park right when it opened to hopefully beat the crowds into the Harry Potter part of the park and ran into this:

Add to that the fact that August is probably the worst month in Florida heat-wise than any other month, bar none and you'll understand why it didn't take long for all of us to look like this:

Okay, I'm exaggerrating a wee bit. There was fun this weekend: laughing and great memory/bonding type moments, but the high excitement that usually accompanies this type of escape was definitely missing and I'm pretty sure I know why. I think maybe this family is ready for school and the end of summer. The kids are ready to get back to their friends and my hubby and I are ready to get back to our regular schedules in general. I guess all good things really must come to an end, otherwise we won't actually be able to appreciate them.

August 10, 2012

Next Week is FULL Of Awesome!

One of my all time favorite writing conferences begins next week. I'm talking about WriteOnCon, the online, absolutely FREE writers conference for young adult, middle grade, and picture book authors.

Here's why I like it:

1. You can attend in your pajamas while eating chocolate. What's not to love about being comfy and indulgent while learning how to be a better writer?

2. You can post your work: first five pages of your manuscript, your query, your synopsis. Not only do other writers take a look at them, but quite possibly lurking agents!! You could get discovered without actually ever querying!!

3. All kinds of talented authors contribute. There is no other con that I know of where so many authors give out advice at the same time.

4. You can talk directly to agents, ask them questions, and get answers right away during the live chats. Last year Jessica Sinsheimer stayed in a live chat LONG after she had to answering questions and it was one of the most informative and wonderful interactions I've had with an agent at a con. Every agent that participates here is so generous with their time and expertise. It literally bowled me over last year.

5. You can pitch an agent without all the face to face nervousness that usually accompanies a conference pitch. I participated in the Twitter pitch last year and it was seriously fun and my palms weren't even sweaty!

6. It's one of the easies places to find other writers, get a feel for what kind of things other people are writing, and generally figure out if what you're writing is unique. Reading other people's work is where I got the most out of the con.

7. I'm a part of it this year!!! That's right! I'm involved with the Lucky 13 writing and marketing tips (scheduled for Wednesday), am on the official books list, and giving away a critique!

So clear your schedule, gather some snacks and join me at the con this year. I promise that it will be worth your while! AND if you decide to attend and are posting work, let me know in the comments (remember to give me specifics on how to find your thread) so that I can drop by and read your work!!

August 8, 2012

Not One Word Is Wasted

I am a very wordy writer. Now when I say this I don't mean that my books are filled with lots and lots of unecessary words, pages and pages of lengthy description, reams of paragraph-long, rambling dialogue, or irrevelant scenes (at least I hope not, but I suppose you all will let me know once my book comes out if I'm delusional here *grins*). What I mean is that I have to write A LOT of words to get to the ones that will one day make it into the final draft of one of my manuscripts. I have to meander down a lot of paths that lead nowhere, write scenes that I know I'm probably going to cut even as I'm still writing them. AND I'm not even a panster type writer. I'm a dedicated outliner. For every manuscript I've managed to finish there's at least as many words I've deleted as kept, usually much, much more. That's why it takes me a minimum of seven or more months to complete one story.

I wish it wasn't true.

 I wish that the first words I put to paper every day were pure gold, genius in ink form, but they are SO not. The real work for me as a writer is plodding through all of those unecessary, wrong words to get to the right ones. I HAVE to write out back story and take lots of wrong turns to get to the heart of my real story and its characters. I won't know either well enough to make them authentic otherwise. BUT it never fails to make me nervous and sometimes self critical. Some part of me will always believe that the process should be faster...if I were better organized, or more creative, or just, well, BETTER in general at what I do.

But what I'm finding is that the process is what it is. The only way to get a good book written is to write the bad version of it first--at least for me and I'm pretty sure one or more of you out there reading this.

Now I try to think of writing a story as climbing a giant staircase with an end so far into the sky that at first I can't even see it.

 I can't jump to the top, it's too high. I can't skip steps because they're too widely spaced. I have to put one foot in front of the other and take EVERY single step until I get to the top.There will be lots of times when I'll be out of breath, frustrated, and sure that the top doesn't exist-- that it's a staircase with no end that leads absolutely NOWHERE--and I'll sit down and have a good cry and contemplate staying right where I am or worse, going back the way I came without ever reaching the top.

 BUT then I'll think about the view all the way up there--which is panoramic and rich with landscapes I wasn't even sure were possible until I finished my first book--and I'll start climbing all over again, grateful that at least I'm not starting from the bottom. I'm halfway there. Every step forward tips the scales closer to done.

Not one word that I've written was wasted.Not one word that YOU've written was wasted.

Not one.

Every word that we write, usuable or not is part of a necessary step on the staircase that leads us to our finished books. We have to place our feet on those steps, to feel their rough, uneven terrain. It's the only way to get where we're going, to reach the heights ahead. The only way our words will have been wasted is if we never use them to MOVE FORWARD.

August 6, 2012

Road Trip!!

So you may have noticed that I have been MIA for more than a little while from this blog and sporadic at best with the posting before then. I must apologize. I was all good intentions and dedication at the start of the summer, but then the travel bug bit me and I lost my head for a bit, took off on a very impromptu road trip and just, well, lived a little.

Here's where I went:

The Biltmore: I've been dying to go ever since I wrote my first shelved novel where it plays a part in one scene. The surrounding area figured into most of the book in a BIG way.

The hubby sifting through rocks at a gem mining place that the kids LOVED.

Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. I made it across the swinging bridge which is a mile above sea level, but totally could not conquer my fear of heights to inch out across the outcropping of rocks beyond it. Instead I huddled in a crevice and tried not to whine!

The caverns we went to. To me this looks like another planet. Kept expecting gollum to come out...MY PRECIOUS.
Basically, I went searching for inspiration in the mountains...and found it, went to visit family and reconnect...and did it, hoped to make fabulous parent-kid memories...and succeeded, and generally decided to take advantage of the long days and the very needed influx of cash from my very first author advance (The day I got it was EPIC. There was squealing AND just a wee bit of dancing--something I NEVER do if I can help it, because I am rythmically challenged and plain old inhibited).

BUT now I'm back, recharged and fully ready to re-engage! So, after a little contemplation and a whole lot of re-organizing, I'm going to attempt to put this blog on a more concrete schedule. I say attempt because well, I am ME and generally begin with great intentions, but have moments of dramatic failure! So, here is my proposed blogging schedule barring any major complications such as sickness, acts of God, or general procrastination:

Monday: Personal post--could be embarrassing moment, a kid catastrophe or anecdote, etc. Lots of wiggle room here, so expect the unexpected!

Wednesday: A writerly post on craft. Something I've learned, struggle with, wonder about, or am working on at the moment.

Bonus Posts: Hopefully every other week or so on the days I'm not regularly posting. I might post a book review from a writerly perspective and/or recommend something for you to read that rocked my world and made me grow pen and paper-wise. These could also include alerts to other blog giveaways, my own giveaways, contests, wild card posts so to speak.

So there you have it, my very loosely structured blog schedule for the forseeable future. I must admit I'm looking forward to getting back into some sort of long as the kids stay healthy...and don't fight...and go back to school very soon!