Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Character boards: I'm crafty! (Or just good with scissors and tape)

A few months back, I read somewhere (I can't remember where) about some author (whose name I can't recall) (I'm just full of information tonight, aren't I?) who created poster boards for herself (see! I remembered one detail! The author was definitely a woman) when she was working on a book. The poster boards were full of imagery which reminded her of the book she was working on. For example, if she was working on a book set in Africa, she would pick up a few travel magazines, maybe a National Geographic, and fill up a huge poster board full of pictures of African animals, people, landscape, food, colors that reminded her of her book, etc. It's sort of like creating a song playlist for your book, but with pictures. (If anyone can remember who the heck I'm talking about or where I might have read this, please comment and let me know! I'm pretty sure it was in one of the blogs I

Anyway, this idea stuck with me, and when I finished my first draft, I decided I wanted to do something similar. You see, I have some complicated locations in my book. The government headquarters is five floors, and Kaia has to navigate her way around with a poorly drawn map. The city/nation/province (I haven't landed on the right word yet) she lives in is about the size of Rhode Island, and throughout the novel we see pretty much the whole thing. But since I totally made it up myself, it's not like I can Google "Where is the closest rail stop to Kaia's house?" or "Is the secret entrance to the government headquarters located on the North or South side of the building?" I knew I would need to draw maps eventually, and with the great idea by the writer whose name I can't remember, I thought it would be good to create character boards, too.

So, what are character boards? Basically, they're an excuse for me to put pictures of this guy up next to me while I write:

Well, hello there, Spanish model Aitor Mateo. 


I promise, it's totally legitimate. This guy is channeling Brax majorly. I can't help it that one of my main characters is really, really, ridiculously good-looking. 

Seriously though, what I'm doing for my character boards is this: I looked around the Internet for some pictures of people who looked like my characters. In some cases (like Mr. Mateo here *scrolls up to look again*), the people I found looked more or less exactly how I pictured my characters. A non-droolworthy (not to say she's not beautiful, but...have you SEEN the picture up there?) example is Famke Janssen, who looks exactly like how I picture Kaia's mom (even Aitor is not totally perfect for Brax and has a few other pictures next to him). In others, multiple pictures were required. For Kaia, no one is even remotely close, but I still want to try to capture her, so I've got a bunch of sample lips, eyes, hair, and general looks on the board.

Below the pictures, I write any important facts about the character or major adjectives that describe them. Then, as I'm going through and editing the draft, if I have questions about whether or not a character would act a certain way, all I have to do is consult my character board. Does what the character is saying/doing fit their description? If so, it stays. If not, it gets changed or cut. This also works great for when you're first describing a character. Look at all your pictures. If you've got a bunch of skinny girls picked out and taped to your character board, and all of them are probably B cups, but you have your character described as "busty," "voluptuous," or "buxom," then maybe there's a disconnect between your mind's eye and your words. 

I don't want to post pictures of my character boards, because frankly you'd probably laugh (although I'm sure one day when I'm super rich and famous they will be of great interest to everyone). So instead I'm going to create a small virtual character board for Kaia's mom. Nothing huge, but just so you get the idea. 

Kaia's Mom - m (to indicate she's a minor character)  

2 jobs - dishwasher/serving
opposite schedule from Kaia - never home together

married young 
strong, independent
coped well with death of husband
no family left aside from Kaia

very motherly but doesn't have time to notice as much as she should (she's an absent parent!)
etc., etc.

You get the idea. It was nice to take a few days to work with my hands, exercise a different part of my brain, but still get to know my characters and my world. But I started editing again two days ago, which I guess is almost as fun as looking up pictures of hot guys on the Internet...almost.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Dear John Letter to my title

For quite some time now, I've known things just weren't meant to be with my title. At first, things were great. We were the perfect match. When we met, he helped me work through some plot problems, and we quickly became attached to one another. I even created an awesome(ly dorky) banner to put in my signature for NaNoWriMo.

But a few weeks into the relationship, we started to drift apart. My manuscript evolved, and the title...didn't. It sat there, stagnate, applying to only the first 25 pages of my novel, and not addressing the themes in my book as a whole. Still, I loved him so, and I refused to let him go. I even sent him in with my draft for my writer's conference, knowing full well that I had no intention of keeping him around for a long-term commitment.

Alas, I feel the time has come. I'm about the start my first round of edits, so I can no longer be attached to a title that doesn't work for me. I need to break up with my title. Here goes: *Ahem*

Dear The Reaper's List,
Thank you so much for the love and support you've provided me with over the last few months. I've appreciated our late nights more than you'll know, and I'll never forget the way you helped me work through my job assignment issues with Kaia. But I think we both know this isn't working. I want bigger and better things from a title than you can provide. I would love to keep you around and have some more laughs, or keep you on the back-burner for a future novel, but unfortunately I just don't think that's possible. I'm sorry. Please don't hate me. And remember - we'll always have NaNo2009.
Love, Heather
P.S. See you in January!

Whew. I feel much better.

Well, sort of.

Except for the fact that my genius break-out novel is now officially (once again) untitled, I'm totally golden.

Fortunately, I'm not the only writer struggling with title woes. Frankie is going through an epic title battle - she's blogged about it and tweeted about it on several occasions. The Literary Lab's Scott G.F. Bailey recently blogged about his title woes, but he's clearly more clever than me, because he had the foresight to name some characters Cocke & Bull, and I just love that as a title. 

Then of course there's the question of whether or not titles even matter. Editorial Anonymous had a great post awhile back answering a reader question about whether a good title would help get you to the top of the slush pile (the answer was a resounding...sort of. Maybe. It might help, but a bad title won't necessarily hurt, unless it's so awful it makes agents want to gouge their eyes out with a spoon.) And Jody Hedlund explained how her book, The Preacher's Bride (due out next year) ended up with it's title - yes, it was the title she used when it was sent on submission, but it wasn't the title she queried with OR her original working title. And even though the ultimate decision was to go with the title she picked, there was a whole Title Committee who met to discuss and decide on these things. Uh, wow. 

Still, even if it ultimately could be changed/doesn't matter (or might matter), I still want a great title. After all, if my title is good enough to convince the publishing powers that be to keep it, I could avoid having a McTitle. But for now, I mostly just want to be able to answer that question: "What's your book called?" And maybe I want to make another dorky graphic.

The new one I'm tossing around is The Death Day Machine, but I don't love it. I don't know if I don't like the word "death" in the title, or if I just think it's too clunky. Getting rid of "The" or doing just The Machine are other options, but I thought the latter was too boring/ambiguous. I want to include Kaia in there somehow (she's the reaper...not like the Grim Reaper, that's just the name of her job), but I'm not sure. It is her story after all, but I don't know...sigh. I'm hoping to have a huge epiphany as I edit, and if not, I'll be turning to the blogging community with a synopsis looking for advice.

BONUS! Are you, like me, Frankie, Jody, Scott, and apparently every other writer on the planet, having a hard time coming up with a title? Here are some tips from Writer's Digest! They were moderately helpful to me, and the last one was the final straw in convincing me to break up with The Reaper's List.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

In which Heather plays catch-up

I didn't mean to take a break from blogging this week. It just sort of happened. I usually write my posts late at night, or on my lunch break at my day job, so since I wasn't really turning on my computer, and I haven't gone to work in 4.5 days, I haven't blogged in awhile. Oops.

I do have a lot to share, though! I'm going to write everything out in a list, because I love lists.

1. It's Sunday, so I feel like I should start with Sunday Funday. A lot of people were on hiatus this week, but there are two epically awesome posts that I need to point out: Shannon's story that she wrote when she was 11 (Earth Had a Snack) and Frankie's untitled story she wrote when she was 10. Both of them are awesomely hilarious, and even better they started a blog war! You should also read this fun post at Book Dreaming, which highlights some quality student writing samples (and enter her contest while you're there!)

2. OK, the big news: I FINISHED MY FIRST DRAFT!!! Woot! This actually happened a few days ago (almost a week, in fact), and I tweeted about it (reason number 900 why you should follow me), but, as I said before, I haven't had a chance to post here in awhile. So I took a few days off to let it sit and remove myself from it a little (and stuff myself full of lasagna, cinnamon rolls, and creamed chip beef). Then today I went out and bought some poster board so I can make character and location boards. I'm going to diagram the important locations so I can keep all the mapping straight as I edit, and write out character traits and find pictures of the people who look like my characters. It will provide me some happy inspiration as I edit.

3. I got the pieces from the other nine writers for my conference in January. I have to say, at first I was a little intimidated. Some of the titles are incredibly literary, and the topics are serious and arty. I'm the only YA author in my group. (There are three groups, each with ten writers, and I know that at least one of the other groups has a YA author in it because I know her.) I hyperventilated a little, thinking that I would just be a failure at life. Clearly, everyone was going to mock me, I was going to be the joke of the conference, and all of my writerly dreams would be shattered into a million little pieces.

Then I realized I was being ridiculous. Not only did I get into the conference, but I got a scholarship. Clearly, they want me there. Maybe it's the very fact that I bring something different to the table that made them pick me. But no matter the reason, I obviously deserve to be there. Also, once I started actually reading the WIP samples, I felt a LOT better. They were great samples, but I felt like my writing was on par with theirs (considering that mine is YA and theirs isn't). So I'm back to looking forward to it!

4. My friend put together an art show, and I agreed to do PR for her. But then one of the artists dropped out, and she asked me to record some of my writing (they have headphones so visitors can listen to audio), and maybe even display it. I'm pretty excited, but I'm also kind of freaking out. I mean, this is an ART SHOW. So my little YA WIP wouldn't be appropriate, even if I did feel like I wanted to display it. I've decided to write a 2,000 word short story. I want to go for the literary fiction genre, because I think it will be fun to try something new, and that will probably appeal to the people who are at the show the most. I have some ideas, but I'm still nervous....eek! We'll see how it goes, though.

So I guess that's it! That's what I've been up to since Tuesday. Riveting, I know.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Lessons on writing from Twitterland

As Christmas approaches, I've been trying to come up with some appropriate blog topics that could top yesterday's epic kissing day blogfest. But I've already done the list of my favorite Christmas passages, and I don't really have any of my own Christmas passages to share, so I wasn't really sure what to do. As I contemplated my dilemma, I did what I always do when I'm procrastinating, bored, or otherwise looking to be entertained.

I logged into Twitter.

Since re-joining the notorious social networking site, I've learned a lot about writing. Instead of keeping these little sparkling gems of information to myself, I'd like to share these lessons with you today.

1. Brevity isn't as easy as it looks. To better understand this lesson, let's consider a recent tweet of mine:
My husband wants attention tonight. Silly husband. Doesn't he know that I'm married to my #wip now? I may be back for #amwritingparty later!
Seems acceptable, right? But what you don't know is that it took me a few minutes to perfect that tweet. It actually started out as something like this:
Ugggh. Apparently, my husband actually wants attention tonight. Silly husband. Doesn't he know my #wip is my life now? I might be back for #amwritingparty later!
I think in my head I even wanted to include that he wanted me to watch a movie with him, but when I saw that I was at 161 characters - 21 more than Twitter's limit - I knew I needed to brush off the old delete key. So I started making small cuts here and there. I think the "Uggh" was the first thing to go, followed by the "apparently." Then I started editing a little more until I achieved the perfect 140-character tweet! If I thought it was something people would want to retweet, I would have needed to cut more to leave room for the @HeatherTrese (I always curse myself for choosing a long/practical user name...why oh why did I need to waste 13 whole characters! Plus they'll have to add three more for the RT.)

Maybe I agonize over my tweets a little too much, and often I get less than 140 on the first try. But the times I don't are like a little mini exercise in editing, and it's always fun. In the end, I think Twitter has helped me learn when I need to cut things out, and has made me better at analyzing sentences to get them down to their core (because I refuse, even on Twitter, to use Internet shortcuts like U, 2, brb, etc. Although I do say OMG in real life, which is awful/hilarious.)

2. Even a two-minute critique can be helpful. If you're not on Twitter, you may not be familiar with #wipfire, which seems to heat up a lot at night (haha, no pun intended). Basically, any writer who wants to participate will tweet out a line or two from their work-in-progress, and tag it with the #wipfire hashtag (because, as Frankie said, #hashtagsareawesome). Then the other writers at the #amwritingparty will sometimes offer feedback. Well I shot out a little gem from my WIP the other night, and instantly got feedback that let me know I was going in the right direction. Amazing! Only one line and they could interrupt the mood of the scene. So cool. And since it was something that I was literally writing as I was firing it off, it made me feel pretty great about my first draft (which is probably a mistake...but don't worry, there are plenty of other things that make me feel sufficiently awful about it). Either I'm doing something right, or those #amwritingparty people are hacking into my computer and secretly reading my manuscript...eek!

3. The writing community is seriously awesome. Aside from the #amwritingparty peeps, I'm getting to know quite a few writers on Twitter. I read their blogs, and I think they read mine (hi, Twitter followers!). It's nice to know we're all out there supporting each other. I even got over a difficult hump when I was writing for #amwritingparty/#wipfire the other night, and ended the evening 1,500 words richer. I just felt like I needed something new for #wipfire, so I wrote it. Just knowing that others out there are doing the same thing is so helpful and empowering.

But it's not just the unpublished authors who are amazing on Twitter. Megan McCafferty gave a bunch of books away to some of her followers because they were trying so diligently to make #lassodicking a trending topic. Scott Westerfeld responds to fans (even when they're telling him not to do exactly the thing that he's already done). And countless other authors that I follow are out there, giving advice and guidance to other writers, fans, and just generally providing the kind of short bits of entertainment that only Twitter can provide. Plus, there are agents on Twitter who pass out links to news on the publishing industry like it's freaking CANDY.

So, will being on Twitter make you a better writer? If you abuse its power, definitely not. But if you keep your grammar in check and reach out to other writers, (like me! Come on, you knew a link to my profile was coming at some point), chances are you can learn a LOT from the Twitter community.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy kissing day!

Happy Kissing Day Blogfest! Sherrinda over at A Writer Wannabe was inspired by the mistletoe that abounds this season, and came up with the genius idea of having a kissing day throughout the blogging world! Being a big fan of kissing, I think it's a great idea. We're supposed to post a snippet from our WIP that involves a kiss, and/or some clips or snippets from other movies or books that show a great kiss.

First off, something from my WIP. There is one reference to a character name, but I took it out because...well, there are a few people out there who might be curious as to who exactly Kaia is kissing here (there are two prospects) and it's more fun to keep them in suspense. This scene is actually out on critique right now, so it's still a little rough. But in the spirit of kissing day...rough can sometimes be a good thing. ;-)
As he said it, I released his left hand from the restraints. Both hands now free, he lifted them to my face, pressing has fingers into my checks and gathering me toward him. He kissed me, hard, not bothering to take his time working up from a slow, romantic gesture. My head spun, my stomach felt light and airy. I wasn’t sure if I was going to throw up and faint or lift right off my feet. He tasted smoky but just a little sweet, like roasted cherries. I closed my eyes and kissed him back, parting his mouth with my tongue. His lips were warm and full against my skinny bird-like ones. Blood rushed to my head, making me so dizzy I thought I would drop any minute. My knees started shaking a bit, but he simply pulled me closer, wrapping his arms around my body and entwining his fingers in knots in my hair.

When he finally pulled back, my lips felt numb and raw. I couldn’t look him in the eye, so I looked pointedly at his shoulder, and wiped a drop of spit – mine or his? – from my chin.   
So there you have it. That was the first kissing scene I'd written in a very long time, too, although it's seen an edit or two since the first draft. I do wish there was a decent synonym for lips, but oh well. 

And now some videos! I couldn't decide between my favorite two kissing scenes, so I'm just posting them both. Apparently I really like scenes where people OMGTOTALLYMAKEOUT in the rain. 

And if the Half-Blood Prince movie hadn't screwed it up, I'm sure this scene would have made my list too:
That was such a great moment. *Sigh*

Want more kisssing? Head on over to the official Mr. Linky list of blogs participating in the Kissing Day Blogfest and click away! Better yet, post some kisses on your blog and join the fun!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Funday!

Before I get started on Sunday Funday, I have two quick announcements:

1. I won the One-Minute Writing of the Day again! Hooray! I was going to wait and post the award in my sidebar permanently only if I ever won the Writing of the Week, but I really think Beth has a great thing going on over at OMW, and I want more people to know about it. Also I'm a show-off.

2. Apparently, tomorrow is some kind of awesome celebration of kissing day. It's the Official Kissing Day Blogfest, put on by Sherrinda at A Writer Wannabe. I'll be participating, which means you can stop be here tomorrow to read an awesome/awkward/awful kissing scene from my WIP! (I haven't decided which way to go yet.) It will probably be short, because my draft is still pretty rough, but I couldn't resist the urge to post about kissing. (Special thanks to Frankie for letting me know about it!) 

And now, for a few fun writerly links from around the Web!

Are you familiar with Savage Chickens? You should be. I love his Post-It cartoons, but this one is author-related. (Mine is definitely glam - it's from my wedding. But I would get something a little less head-over-the-shoulder for a professional Web site. I just don't have many pictures of me where I'm not, say, wearing a Sombraro or looking otherwise ridiculous.)

Fans of Harry Potter must watch this video, where Hermione becomes Michelle Pfeiffer and Coolio raps about wizards from the wrong side of the Hogwarts Express.

Fans of Megan McCafferty/Jessica Darling must read this rendition of 12 Days of Christmas, which my book club wrote as an ode to our favorite dreg. (You should also try to use the #lassodicking tag on Twitter whenever possible.) I know I linked to this in my questions post, but it is so fabulous it needed to be pointed out again.

Marybeth at Desperately Searching for My Inner Mary Poppins explains why editing is just like parenting. I'm not a parent yet, but I'm already up all night with my manuscript.

And would it really be Sunday Funday without a link to The Rejectionist? I don't think so. They make me laugh almost daily (and they don't even update daily!)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

26 Things You Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask...

I've been tagged by Shannon!

Which basically means that I don't have to come up with a blog topic for today, but instead get to answer a bunch of writing-related questions that you probably don't care about the answers to, but I'm going to pretend like you do anyway.

Here we go!

1. What's the last thing you wrote? What's the first thing you wrote you still have?
I'm going to cheat a bit on this one because I want everyone to read the awesome 12 Days of Christmas (Jessica Darling/Marcus Flutie style) song that my book club friends and I co-wrote today. Admittedly, you won't get it if you haven't read the books, but we thought it was full of win, and since we wrote it today...that's the last thing I wrote, hehe. The last thing that I wrote on my own was a review of a bar called A Taste for Wine.

As far as the first thing I wrote that I still I think I have some of my old journals lying around somewhere, but I've been trying to find them to make some more retroposts and I can't seem to locate them anywhere. I'd love to find my Ortho the Giant story, the first short story I wrote on a computer, which told the tale of a lonely giant who didn't have any friends because he smelled bad, but I'm sure that the only copy I ever had was lost long ago. It's too bad I didn't think about filing all those things away.

2. Write poetry?
No. It would be a disaster if I did. Sometimes I'll write goofy rhymes, but it's not poetry. I wrote songs for awhile, but they were all pretty awful (just like my guitar-playing skills).

3. Angsty poetry?
It's the best kind! But I don't write that, either.

4. Favorite genre of writing?
Does this mean to read or to write? I'm not sure I've landed on a favorite genre to write, but so far the YA thing seems to be working very well for me. I love YA novels, especially fantasy and (the day I realized this I went OMG!) sci-fi (but light sci-fi, like The Hunger Games, not like Star Trek), but I tend to gravitate quite a bit to YA. I think I do best writing what I enjoy reading, because I'm going to have to read the thing so much in revisions that I need to LOVE what I'm writing and be super excited about it, so if I don't write in the genre I love to read, then I'll pretty much be miserable.

5. Most annoying character you've ever created?
Easily Isla, from my WIP. This isn't why she's annoying, but she wears coordinating blue eye shadow, lipstick, and nail polish. I just think that speaks to her character.

6. Best plot you've ever created?
Hands down, my WIP. I had to write a summary for my conference in January, and I literally got so excited when I was re-reading the summary that I couldn't wait to read the novel. Now if only I could finish it...

7. Coolest plot twist you've ever created?
Yeah, like I'd give THAT up. Sorry. But I'll gladly give you the names of the agents I'm querying (once I start) so you can write to them and tell them how badly you want my book to get published, then I can talk about the twist. It's no Scabbers, but it's pretty awesome. I also have an idea for another project, which will probably be my next one, which has an EPIC twist, but I haven't figured out the rest of the details. (Reading this answer on Shannon's blog made me very curious about her WIP, I have to admit!)

8. How often do you get writer's block?
This really depends on how you define writer's block. (Haha, that's exactly how Shannon started!) Sometimes I'll skip a day or two of writing, just because I know I need to think rather than write, but once my story is in front of me, I just type. I don't really worry about how neat and clean it sounds until revisions, when a ton of stuff gets cut, added in, and cleaned up. The first draft is such a hot mess it's not even funny.

9. Write fan fiction?
No. And I've tried to read it, but I just...can't. The only thing I could see myself getting into would be the James Potter series, but even that feels....wrong.

10. Do you type or write by hand? 
I carry a little notebook with me for when I get story ideas or plot bunnies for my WIP, but any actual writing goes on my laptop. Once I finish the first draft, I also create posterboards with character pictures and personality traits, any maps or spacing arrangements that need to be explained, and just random pictures that convey the feeling of my work. It helps a lot in revisions to keep continuity.

11. Do you save everything you write?
Now I do, but I didn't always, and I wish I had. I would love to have some of the stories I wrote in elementary school (so I could share them with you, of course!)

12. Do you ever go back to an idea after you've abandoned it?
I haven't yet. I think for me I'll try to make it work, and if I can't, I can't. I don't get too upset, and I can't recall anything I've given up on (and there hasn't been much) that I really wish I could have made work.

13. What's your favorite thing you've written? 
Currently, chapter 14 of my WIP. It hasn't even been edited yet, and I know it needs a lot of work, but I learned so much from it. It's actually out right now on a chapter swap, so hopefully my critiquer loves it as much as I do. But there is a LOT going on, emotionally, and some action, and it was a complete drain on me when I was done. My husband was sitting next to me when I was writing it and he was afraid I was going to cry. I had never written anything that challenged me so much, so that's why it's my favorite.

14. What's everyone else's favorite story you've ever written?
Since not very many people have read my WIP (though all of that feedback has been pretty positive), I think it would have to be this one-act play I wrote in high school. It was a class assignment, but then everyone picked people to read their first scene outloud. People liked mine so much they asked me to give them the rest when it was finished. I was going to enter it into this state competition, but the computer in the drama lab crashed and I lost the whole thing. I was pretty upset about it at the time.

15. Ever written romance or angsty teen romance?
Not really. There have been some romantic elements in my stories, but it's never been all about the romance. I do have an idea for a story like that, though, but it's one or two projects away. (And if my current WIP gets picked up, it will be a series, so that will delay it even further.)

WOW this is a lot of questions! Time for a hotness break!

Mmmm, sexy. I have a thing for Quidditch players.
OK, back to the questions.

16. What's your favorite setting for your characters?
I really like to put characters in the future, or in places that don't actually exist, because then I can make up my own rules and it doesn't matter if I don't get everything "right," because there is no "right." If I set something in a real location, it will definitely be somewhere I'm familiar with (Florida, Richmond, Perugia, etc.)

17. How many writing projects are you working on right now?
Are we counting work stuff? If yes, about six, with five or so more assigned. But as far as fiction that's just for me in my "free" time, just the one! I try to focus on one project unless something awesome comes up, like a great short story contest or something.

18. Have you ever won any awards for your writing?
The Pulitizer.


You don't believe me?

....You're lame.

OK, I haven't won any awards, but I've been published in a travel anthology where they had to choose from several submissions, and the magazine where I work full-time has a pretty good chance of winning some B2B awards we entered this year. So I'll keep you posted.

19. What are your five favorite words? 
Awkward, awesome, juxtaposition, clusterfuck, schadenfreude

It should be noted that I don't actually have favorite words. I just picked five that came to mind, without saying the obvious (Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!)

20. What character have you created that is most like yourself?
A girl named Jenn, from a book that I've created all the pieces for but haven't started (because my current WIP took a hold of my brain and wouldn't let go). She's pretty much exactly like me, I kind of just...modeled her after myself once I started to notice the similarities. And even though I haven't put her on paper yet, she has been created, because I have extensive background info, character analysis, etc. Other than that, I try to keep my characters pretty different from me.

21. Where do you get your ideas for your characters?
Ugh, this is so boring, but generally they're born out of necessity. That's not to say that my stories aren't character-driven, but I almost always come up with the plot first, then think about who I would need or want to tell the story. So, for my WIP, I imagined the world, then thought, "who would be the best person to tell this story?" Then I thought about who she would need around her to make everything happen (and of course the person who helps her is male, because I wanted there to be a little bit of romance). But then sometimes characters just show up as I'm writing, and I don't even intend them to be big or important, and all of a sudden they're stealing the scene!

22. Do you ever write based on your dreams? 
No, or at least I haven't yet. I don't think I've ever dreamt anything cool enough to be a story, because I usually dream about my real life or about books I'm reading (and writing that would be plagerism) or what I'm writing. Plus since I sleep about four or five hours a night, my body doesn't really like to waste time on dreaming.

23. Do you favor happy endings?
This is tough to answer. I want the ending to be true to the story, which sometimes means it can't be happy. I think there is always some happiness, but there is definitely always some sadness, too. The key is finding the right balance.

24. Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?
Spelling, no. I can't spell to save my life...if spell check didn't exist, there is no way I could be an editor. (I can usually tell when something is wrong, I just can't always tell you how to spell it correctly). But I'm huge on grammar, and even during NaNo when they tell you to ignore it I went back and fixed things that were wrong.

25. Does music help you write?
No. I prefer to write without music. I love music, and I love to sing, so I would get distracted and want to sing along. I do OK with music without lyrics, though. For sad scenes I like Explosions in the Sky.

26. Quote something you've written. Whatever pops into your head.
I thought about copping out and positng something from a review or a journalism article, but that would be lame. So here's something from what I submitted to my writer's conference. It's just something small, but since I referenced Isla earlier, here's the scene where we first meet her. This has only been through one round of edits, so it's still a little rough (there's even an adverb, eek! But I love the alliteration so I haven't gotten rid of it yet.)...*ducks and runs for cover*

The allocation room was so dismally dark and dreary that I was simultaneously dreading spending any time here at all and thankful that I would only be stuck here for one month. There was not a single window along the slimy, filthy walls. Bare light rods hung from the ceiling, illuminating five computer work stations located around the room. Save for these spotlights above the work stations, the entire room was dark. Three of the computers had someone busy at work in front of them; the other two were empty. I was just about to approach the closest one when I heard footsteps from my right.

“You must be our new recruit!” a friendly, high-pitched voice called out.

“Uh, right. I’m Kaia.”

“Well, hiya Kaia! I’m Isla, head of allocation! Welcome to your new home!” And she flung her arms around me, like an old friend greeting someone she hadn’t seen in years.

This woman was entirely too chipper for someone who worked in such a dank place all night. Isla had short, jet black hair that was cut in a spiky style many women would loathe to have. Like most of the inhabitants of Satera, her skin had a smooth olive color, and her eyes were a shade of brown. She wore bright blue lipstick, which made her lips look like a tiny marble when she pursed them together. Her copious amounts of eye shadow matched her lipstick perfectly.

Whew! Jeez, I thought those questions would never end! That was the longest game of 20 26 questions ever! But I hope you had fun reading (if you even stuck around that long!)

And now, to tag my choices...only one of whom I've told I'll be tagging, so they are under no obligation to answer this ridiculous list of questions.

1. Frankie! (I think now you have to answer every question three times as thoughtfully)
2. Marybeth Poppins! (That's what you get for saying right in the comments that you hadn't been tagged!)
3. Shannon O'Donnell! (Because I would love to read her answers since she's working on kid's books!) 


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My author role model

When I'm alone in my car, my house, the shower, or my cubicle, I sometimes often pretend that I've achieved ridiculous fame thanks to my wildly successful novels. I hold interviews in my head with the press and my adoring fans about how I come up with my ideas, I plan what I'm going to wear to my movie premieres (not this, for sure), and I think about how I'd like to behave when I'm OMGTOTALLYRICHANDFAMOUS.

Is that crazy? Probably. But we've all done it, so I am totally cool with admitting my crazy. Plus it makes me all eccentric and writer-like.

Lately I've been trying to decide who I'd want to model my authorly behavior after, and it only took me about two seconds before I decided: Megan McCafferty.

Megan McCafferty is the author of the fabulous Jessica Darling series, and her next book, Bumped, is being written right now (I am so excited about the premise I can't stand it! It's future dystopian, in that only teenagers can get pregnant, but get this: it's funny! Future dystopia is one of my favorite topics to explore, but they're always such serious, depressing books with moral lessons. Maybe that's why I like them, but I can't wait to see how she handles it.)

Although I think McCafferty is a talented writer who captures teen drama with painful accuracy, and I definitely love how she's been able to touch the hearts of so many teens, young adults, and adults, that's not the reason I'm writing this post. Because if I'm telling the truth, I'd rather steal the masterful storytelling abilities of, say, J.K. Rowling. But I do think McCafferty excels tremendously at reaching out to her fans. She is one of the most accessible authors I know. You can friend her on Facebook (or just become a fan), follow her on Twitter, or read her blog (although that definitely isn't updated as much anymore, there are some very cool old entries from her journal).

You can also email her, which I did when I was first reading the Jessica Darling books. You see, Megan McCafferty and I have something in common (aside from the fact that we're both writers). We both went to the University of Richmond (we even both wrote for the school paper!), and we were both pretty miserable there. Although my teachers were awesome, the student body as a whole pretty much sucks. Everyone is totally full of themselves, stuck-up, and looks matter so much it makes you want to throw yourself into the lake. She only spent the first two years there, then transferred, while I braved the full four years with a small group of friends who got me through.

UR has some crazy traditions, like Proclamation Night, where all the Freshmen women wear white (although my first year they told us we were encouraged to wear "clothes that reflected our ethnic background," which is hilarious since the school is like 99% white. So you want us to wear...white? Got it.) and carry candles around campus or something. I'm not really sure what goes on, because I didn't go my freshman year (my mom died, so I went home), and I skipped it my senior year since I hadn't gone my freshman year and didn't really give a crap about it.

Well, in two of her books, McCafferty references events that could only be describing UR happenings. After a little digging, I discovered our shared alma mater, and shot her an email, assuming she wouldn't reply, and might not even read it. And she wrote back! Within three hours! And not just a lame, "thanks for being a fan" email, but an awesome, thoughtful response that really meant something. Do you have any idea how incredible this made me feel? (I'll gladly pull out the dancing banana again if you're not sure.)

To make things even more amazing, lately she's been giving away books like crazy. On Twitter and Facebook, several times a week she's been holding semi-spontaneous giveaways and just mailing signed books to people. Awesome! (I did finally manage to get one, thanks to a senryu I wrote about UR...hehe.)  I know people who've written to her or attended her signings, and their stories are the same: she's personable, funny, witty, honest, and charming. When my online book club did a poll which included naming five authors who you'd like to invite to dinner, she appeared on the list more than once.

My point is, when authors make a connection with their readers, it doesn't just boost sales (although that definitely helps; it's safe to say I will read pretty much anything Megan McCafferty writes, ever). It also makes the fan feel special. If you're a YA writer, that becomes even more important. Young adults are at a difficult time in their life. Avid readers see their favorite writers as celebrities. Who wouldn't love to hear from a huge celebrity?

When I become rich and famous, I vow to make the same effort to be accessible that Megan McCafferty has. College talks, random giveaways, and answering fan mail is all in the cards. Without readers, we wouldn't be able to survive. Truthfully, we need them more than they need us, so we should show them the same love right back. 

Edit: Did you need further proof that Megan McCafferty was awesome??? She read this blog (I have no idea how she got the link), then tweeted me about it. Yeah, she pretty much rules.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I'm Tweeting!

Back when I was blogging at Run Like a Girl (which I loved, but couldn't keep up because, well, I do indeed run like a girl), I joined Twitter to connect with fellow runners and writers. I loved it, and thought it was a great way to share the little victories in life that were too short to blog about but still important.

Since starting this blog up, I've debated whether or not I want to get back on the Twitter bandwagon. Sure, it was fun while it lasted. But do I really need another distraction from my life?

Apparently, I do.

See, I kept hearing about these cool things like #amwriting, #YouTubeWars, #writingparty, etc., and I started to feel like I was missing out on something awesome. Plus I definitely missed out on some of Megan McCafferty's contests (but don't worry; I won on Facebook!) and was missing out BIG time by not being able to tweet the amazing contests my fellow bloggers put out.

So what does all that mean? 

I'm @HeatherTrese over on Twitter! (I know, the bounds of my imagination know no limitation.) 

It might take me a little while to get used to the writerly hash tags, so please feel free to educate me in the comments section. And if you don't want to follow me, that's cool, but at least drop your Twitter handle so I can follow you! 

Also, only a writer could take such a simple anouncement (hey, I'm on Twitter, follow me) and turn it into a decently sized post.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday Funday!

I'm barely getting this in under the wire, here, but it was a busy day! Here are some posts from around the blog-o-sphere that I enjoyed this week!

The Rejectionist watched Terminator: Salvation (so I didn't have to), and found out everything you needed to know about novel writing can actually be found in a Christian Bale film.

The Inkwell Bookstore begs to differ, and says that everything writers need to know can be found in a Roger Hargreaves book. They are also awesome and linked to my blog, which makes them the coolest blog I know (for right now).

Ulysses won a contest, and the prize was a query evaluation! He was kind enough to post his query and the slightly snarky response (by the aforementioned Rejectionist...I love them. I could pretty much make this entire post one giant link to their blog). Since QueryShark doesn't update nearly enough for my liking (but I understand that she has more important things to do with her time), I highly enjoyed this. 

This post on Janet Reid's blog, which led me to this amazing entry by Miss Snark, full of writely rewrites of classic Christmas carols. Break out the spiked eggnog and sing along; they're all quite enjoyable and accruate, and you will very likely learn something.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Thickening my skin, the journalism way!

In my spare (ha!) time, I write freelance bar and restaurant reviews for a few local papers and Web sites. Recently, I went to a bar that was so awful and awkward, it could only be defined by this:

Ladies and gentlemen, the awkward turtle. 

So when it came time to write the review, I didn't know where to start. As a result, my writing was just as awkward - if not more so - than my experience. I rambled. I told stories that didn't matter. And I trashed the place, going more than 250 words over my word count (and my word count is only 500 words). 

It's no surprise, then, that when I got the edits back, it looked a LOT different than what I had submitted. But rather than get worked into a fury over this, I was relieved. The editors over at the TBT/St. Pete Times took my messy piece of junk and turned it into something readable, nay, enjoyable. They cut down the word count, and turned my lumbering, rambling, incoherent mess into a usable clip which didn't trash the bar so much as tactfully point out its flaws and areas for improvement. I was thankful, and let my editor know as much.

I wasn't always this way. I remember the very first time I ever got published. A story I wrote about my travels in Pompeii was chosen for inclusion in a travel anthology called Italy from a Backpack. I was so excited, and as soon as I got my copy in the mail, I flipped immediately to my page, where I almost cried. They had changed the title of my story - how dare they! I agonized over the title, and thought mine, "The Lost City of Pompeii" tied everything together perfectly, while theirs, "Not as Seen on TV" was so cheesy it was unbelievable. Then I read the thing, and WOW. THEY MADE CHANGES. HOW DARE THEY.  I was crushed, and in every letter to friends and family, or every time I mentioned the book, I would tell people all about the edits and how it changed the story in a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad way.

Looking back, I know the changes they made were so minor I wouldn't even notice them today. And the title? Please. I could care less about that now, because about 95 percent of the stories I submit to my editors at my day job and freelancing get their titles changed. Just yesterday, in fact, I submitted a story to my editor, and in the email I wrote, "You can change the headline, BTW. That one's just for you." (And it was - the story was about the government long term care insurance plan - the CLASS Act - and I called it, "You stay CLASSy, Congress." I didn't expect her to keep it, I expected her to get a good laugh, then use some modification of the subhead. Which is exactly what she did.) 

After all these years in journalism, I've developed a thick skin when it comes to edits. I know an editor will look at my work with a heavy red pen, tear it to shreds, take out all the ugly words and replace them with shiny new ones. I used to care, but I don't anymore. Because at the end of the day, the article sounds WAY better, and it's still my byline. Sometimes I even read the article, wondering if I really wrote those words, but I never check my original draft (that would be torture). What's more, it's allowed me to become a better writer. I'm starting to write my work articles more in the style of my editor, which I hope makes her job just a little easier. My two freelance jobs might both require me to write reviews, but the two organizations have such different styles that I have to turn a switch in my head when I go from writing one to writing the other. 

I also hope, when I one day make my deal with the universe, meet my agent, and have that all-important meeting with the book editor, I can sit comfortably knowing that, no matter what they tell me to cut or revise, it's still my name on the front of the book.

BONUS FUN: Here's a link to an edited version of a recent review I wrote (it ran in yesterday's Times and today's TBT). It's pretty true to what I turned in, except for the ending. See if you notice the difference between the final paragraph in that link, and this, the paragraph I submitted:

While enjoying my second beer, I chatted with the bartender and some of the other patrons. I even skimmed a few articles in the Union Jack, then paid my tab and went home. 
Grind House is a great little bar. The food menu is huge, and they have some great drink specials. They even have the occasional special parties for Halloween or St. Patrick’s Day. Although they’re not doing anything especially unique, there isn’t an annoying gimmick to get in the way of your drinking, either. If you’re just looking for a regular bar with good prices and a pleasant atmosphere, pay Grind House Bar and Grill a visit.  

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The best thing to happen to my writing career. EVER.

Any of you who have been following my blog for awhile know that I applied to the 2010 Writer's in Paradise workshop. For those of you who are new (hi, welcome, thanks for reading!), it's basically a totally awesome workshop run by Dennis Lehane, and includes writers like Anita Shreve, Sheri Reynolds, and a ton of other amazing people. Your piece gets workshopped by the other attendees, and there are nighttime readings with wine and cheese and fancy things. Best of all, it's at Eckerd College, which is super close to my house.

I have been dying to get in. I felt like not getting in would mean that I totally sucked as a writer and just basically failed at life. All day, I've been refreshing my inbox, waiting to see what the verdict would be.

Well, it just came through.

I GOT IN!!!!!!!!!!!! WOO!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'm breaking out the dancing banana for this one.

BUT WAIT!!! There's MORE!!

I got a scholarship, too!!! I'm really excited about it! I think that calls for an even BIGGER dancing banana!

The best part about all of this? I'm going to share all of the amazing knowledge I get with YOU, dear readers. The conference starts January 16, and I'll post something every day. I'll also be meeting authors, and there is time built-in for book I sense prizes in the works? I think so.

And that should make all of you feel like this:

And this:

And this (added by suggestion - thanks, Kerry! - and I can't believe I didn't think of it first!):

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Getting in the Christmas Spirit

Courtesy of some of my favorite authors!

From Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling:

Snow was swirling against the icy windows once more; Christmas was approaching fast. Hagrid had already single-handedly delivered the usual twelve Christmas trees for the Great Hall; garlands of holly and tinsel had been twisted around the banisters of the stairs; everlasting candles glowed from the insides of helmets of suits of armour and great bunches of mistletoe had been hung at intervals along the corridors. Large groups of girls tended to converge underneath the mistletoe bunches every time Harry went past, which caused blockages in the corridors; fortunately, however, Harry’s frequent night-time wanderings had given him an unusually good knowledge of the castle’s passageways, so that he was able, without too much difficulty, to navigate mistletoe-free routes between classes.

From Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty:

Wishing You A Merry Xmas

‘Tis the season
For fireproof evergreens
Covered in pine-scented
Aerosol snow

Hip-hop carols
Performed by prepackaged teen divas
Backed by one-man synthesizer orchestras
Drunken Santa Clauses for
Every gas station
And the latest in nativity scene technology
“Hear the baby Jesus cry!”
Do genuine kisses exist
in world of plastic mistletoe?
Merry xmas ‘00

From How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss:

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?
It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.
And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before.
What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store?
What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?

Monday, December 7, 2009

YA Discrimination: Starting the YA Novel Rights Movement!

Lately, there's been a lot of talk from various people in my life about how young adult (YA) books are so much easier to read than adult novels. My husband even recently made fun of me for reading so many YA books, implying that just because the books were marketed to children/teenagers/young adults they weren't of the same literary caliber.

This really pisses me off.

The simple fact of the matter is, the person writing the book has no say over whether or not their book will be marketed as a YA novel. A well-known example is Stephenie Meyer: she didn't write Twilight with YAs as her intended audience, but when her agent or publisher or whoever read the book, they saw the high school setting and teenage main character and said, "Obviously, this is YA." Meyer was smart enough to say, "Fine, sure, whatever, I'm ready for my millions," and now she is a world-famous author.

What that means is that authors aren't always writing with the intention of "dumbing down" their vocabulary for teens or making an easy-to-follow plot so that YAs will be able to keep up (the idea that anyone thinks that either of those things needs to be done in the first place is upsetting). Writers just write. There are some writers (myself included) who write something with an intended audience, but even they/I don't know for certain that the publisher will agree. Therefore, it's ridiculous to assume that YA books are any easier to read or less of a literary challenge simply because they are marketed toward a younger audience.

Don't believe me? Here's a list of some YA and children's literature which includes complex vocabulary, themes, and/or plot points. If you think YA books are simple, you'll soon see that you are seriously mistaken:

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (and Through the Looking Glass) by Lewis Carroll Talk about a total mind warp; drugs, twists of logic, and a narrative structure that was incredibly influential in its time. I re-read this book just a few months ago, and even though it's barely 100 pages long, I still found it to be challenging and incredibly thought-provoking. There are so many plays on language, and even allusions to mathematics (my favorite being at the tea party, when the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse are discussing inverse relationships in math and attempting to apply them to sentences. "Why, you might just as well say that 'I see what I eat' is the same thing as 'I eat what I see'!") I still don't think I fully understand this book, and I'm not sure I ever will. To think it is supposed to be a children's book is just astounding; but then again, maybe it requires the mind of a child to understand the novel in the first place! (Sidenote: I am totally stoked to see what Tim Burton has done with this!)

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak A moving story about World War II, this book will make you laugh and cry all at once. Zusak includes illustrations inside the pages, which are absolutely heartbreaking. In Zusak's native Australia, the book is marketed to adults, but here in the U.S. you can find it on the YA shelves. The motifs of death, guilt, friendship, and humanity play heavily, and the imagery is gorgeous. This is a shining example of a YA book that has many complex layers; I can't believe someone would write it off simply because of its location in the bookstore/library.

His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman I might get some sideways glances at this one, but hear me out: there is a LOT of literary merit to be found in the pages of Pullman's epic fantasy series. Namely, the way he weaves a philosophical viewpoint into a fictional tale in a seamless way - it's so complex that I didn't even fully understand all of the connotations until I did more research, and I read the book when I was 23. The series has all the markings of a classic epic tale (including a voyage to the land of the dead), and an absolutely amazing ending - I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read the books yet, but I love when authors do what Pullman did. Whether or not you agree with the book's anti-religious overtones is not the point here - the point is that the book succeeds in being more than just a fun tale for teens, and creates a world and philosophy that is complex enough to make both YAs and adults think.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott A timeless story of love - sisterly, motherly, romantic, and more - which is beautiful in both its tragedy and its triumphs. The book is such a classic that when I was compiling this list, I almost forgot that it was YA and didn't include it; but it definitely is. It's the coming-of-age story of four sisters, but the power of women in the book and the relationships they have with each other is so much stronger than you can find in anything else. Of course, part of the more sophisticated language may have to do with the fact that it was published in 1868, but still; it's a YA, and you can't discredit any YA book, whether modern or classic.

Trust me, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are a TON of YA books which prove that YA doesn't equate to an easy read. What's your favorite example of a YA novel that packs a literary punch?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sunday Funday!

I have a new feature! It's called Sunday Funday, and basically it's a wrap-up of all the funniest blog posts I read throughout the week! I've wanted to do a feature day for awhile, but I couldn't come up with an idea. Then today I was reading some posts that made me literally LOL, and I thought...duh! This is a great way to feature some other blogs! I also might throw in the occassional one that's just really, super informative and isn't necessarily hilarious, but any post that is both hilarious AND educational will definitely be included. 

This week's Sunday Funday posts...

The First Novels Club explained all the things YA characters never have to pee, eat, or get their period! Sounds like a great life to me!

Editorial Anonymous dissected the form rejection, and helped explain the difference between "Not for me, thanks." and "Thanks, not for me." In an awesome and sarcastic way.

Shannon at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe had a great USC lesson this week about creating characters with weaknesses...which I didn't pay attention to, because there were hot pictures of Brad Pitt.

The Rejectionist informed me about Cormac McCarthy's typewriter woes in a way that made me want to be friends with them.

Lisa and Laura Write reminded me why I, too, am a writer and not a knitter/crotchetier...although in my current state of freezing (please, no comments on how I live in Florida, it is still cold and we don't have the heat on, plus my body's not used to it, plus I won't make fun of you when you complain about the heat in the least not to your face) I wish I knew how to knit.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Woohoo! (Take Two!) I'm a winner!

Even though I haven't posted it here in awhile, I've still been doing the one-minute writer. Not every day, but whenever I see it in my blog roll and the topic catches my eye. Well on November 23, the prompt was, "Travel: What is the furthest you traveled from home as a child? Describe the experience." In one minute, I wrote:

When I was 13, I flew to Australia with a group of children my age. It was my first time on a plane, and the length of the flight alone left me shaking with nerves. But Australia itself was not that different from home; with the exception of the kangaroos, and the terrifying giant spiders. I thought they would eat my face as I slept.

Beth, the owner of one-minute writer, picked me as the one-minute writer of the day! Woot! She said she was amused by the "spider eating my face" bit. Amusing? Yes. Still true and terrifying? Absolutely. Spiders are creeptastic.

Thanks for picking me, Beth! And to all you writers out there: Beth has a great blog going on over there; if you're not following it, you should be! Prompts abound! I've even used some of the prompts as character studies (and posted them here multiple times; that's just one example), and some of those character studies ended up in my novel. You never know where your inspiration can come from.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Woohoo! I have partners!

One of the best things you can have as a writer is a critique partner. They'll tell you what works, what doesn't, how awesome you are or how much you suck. When I applied to the Writer's in Paradise workshop (OMG, only 6 days until I find out if I got in!), I sent out my first 25 pages to some avid reader/writer friends, and the feedback I got was amazing. They all said I was off to a great start (woot!), but they also all pointed to problem areas, and made great suggestions for how to fix them. Some of the issues I was aware of going into it but I wasn't sure how to fix it, and other ones I hadn't even considered. By the time I got all four critiques back, I really thought my pages were vastly improved.

It was then I decided I needed to find myself a long-term critique partner. Unfortunately, I didn't really know where to start. I basically have no idea what I'm doing, so how do you ask someone to read what might be the worst piece of YA literature ever? Fortunately, one of the women in my online book club suggested a NaNo chapter swap for those of us who participated, and in that same thread I threw out (totally casually) that I was looking for a long-term partner.

And I got two responses! Yay! Of course, I won't be tapping into them for some time. I'm still sitting pretty at just over 50,000 words, my novel hasn't ended, and I haven't even given most of the pages a second glance. But come next year, after I've given it a few passes to beef it up, I'll be thankful that I've made these connections, and that we've made the commitment to each other now. We promised to be brutally honest with each other, no-holds-barred, no sugar coating.

The best thing is, we're all in different genres. One is chick-lity (but sophisticated chick lit...honestly her story sounds so awesome I am bursting waiting to read it), and the other is a short story compilation. Since I'm YA, I feel like we'll have a lot to give each other. Hopefully, our strengths will be different, and we can find the weaknesses in each other's manuscripts that we can't see ourselves.

I'm also trying to create/find a local writing group, so I can meet some writers in real life. I think the more support you have, the better. That's how I got through NaNo, and that's how I'll get through life.

More contests! (that don't belong to me)

The First Novels Club (a funny, insightful blog!) is giving away an ARC of debut author Bree Despain's paranormal YA The Dark Devine. It looks very intriguing, and hello, gorgeous cover art! Follow this link for a hilarious/excellent review and more info about the contest!

One of these days, I will have something of my own to give away. But for now, unless you want a signed copy'll have to settle for links to the other awesome blogs I follow.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tu Publishing - Bringing multicultural awareness to the masses

As a white female, I never thought much about the ethnicity of the characters in the books I read. (Although, interestingly, I do love a book with a strong female lead.) Obviously in the books where race really matters, like To Kill a Mockingbird or Invisible Man, it was a consideration. But if I'm just reading a book, I don't really care about the race of my main character. I'll just picture them as the author describes them, usually with a few modifications of my own (for example, no matter how hard I try, I can never remember to make Remus Lupin look run-down. He always looks too handsome in my head.), but I don't think about the bigger issue of race.

Then, a few months ago, I read about Justine Larbalestier's YA novel Liar. I would never assume that everyone reading this blog is familiar with the situation, so I'll sum up here. Basically, the protagonist in the novel is described as "black with nappy hair which she wears natural and short." The cover that the publisher came up with was this:

Uhm, right. Because that chick totally looks black.

Another interesting issue, apart from the fact that this was an inaccurate depiction of the protagonist, is that the character is a pathological liar, and you apparently spend the whole book wondering what is true and what isn't (for the record, I can't wait to read this). So, if the reader sees a white person on the front cover, but inside the book the character describes herself as black, but she's a liar...woah. Fortunately, thanks to some amazingly powerful blog entries by the author and others in the blogging world, the publisher changed the cover, and you can now buy this at stores everywhere:

Better. But the interesting thing about this whole issue is that this character's race isn't really an important plot point (not having read the book yet, I can't confirm this, but I'm almost positive). So this was the first time that I started thinking about race in books when race wasn't really an issue. Then I started thinking...

What if I was a minority, with so many of the books I read featuring white main characters? Would I think about it? Would it bother me?

That is why the new publishing company, Tu Publishing, is so great. They are a house geared specifically toward books that are fantasy or sci-fi YA novels with multicultural main characters. Amazing. Not only do I think this could encourage more people to incorporate multicultural characters into their novel, but it could also mean that books with minority characters have a better shot of getting published.

Unfortunately, Tu Publishing hasn't started quite yet. They need some help getting off the ground (namely, money). If you want to help their effort, visit their Web site, and make a donation.

And to learn more about writing outside of your cultural group, read these blog entries by Justine Larbalestier (who's white, so there's no excuse for you...or me).

Another great contest!

I don't have any free stuff to give away (yet), so I'm just linking to other people who do.

Shannon at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe is giving away a signed copy of Twilight! For the details, click here!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Who has two thumbs and just won NaNoWriMo?

I promise I'll post more within an hour or so, but I am seriously starving (you'll find out why soon!), so I'm going to feed myself, then give you all the fun details. I just wanted to share!

(About an hour later...)

OK, now that I'm fed (thank you, Chick-fil-A, for supplying my victory dinner), I can tell you all about what I learned and how amazing this whole process was. But since my husband has missed me most dearly in the last month, and is currently waiting for me in the other room, with a blanket, a movie, and the world's most adorable dogs, I'm going to condense everything I've learned into an easy-to-digest list form (with visuals!)


Heather's List o'Awesome NaNo Lessons, 2009

1. Old habits die hard. I'm a big procrastinator. I like to say I work well under pressure, but really I just think that I'm lazy, then all of a sudden my deadlines come up and I'm like OH CRAP. Case in point: I am really excited about my novel, and got off to a great, super ambitious start with the word count. But once real life started to interfere, I feel behind. I caught up a little in the middle of the month, but then I feel behind again. Finally, with less than 48 hours to spare, I decided I couldn't let my six adoring fans down and put fingers to keyboard and cranked out the last 10,000 words. (Which is why I was starving tonight - I wanted to finish up right away, so I came home without dinner. Like a misbehaving kid.) If you think I'm making this up for the purposes of good blogging, here's graphical proof, in both line and bar chart form, because I know everyone learns differently:

2. Write as much as you can when you're excited, so that when you're not as excited, or when you're tired, or when you'd rather have a martini kthanks, it won't matter. See the charts above for a visual example if it didn't sink in the first time.

3. Knowing where you're going is half the battle. Since the idea for my novel came so close to the start of November, I didn't get to outline much before it started. I really only had time for the basic world building elements, character ideas, and first few chapters...maybe the first 10,000 words? I wrote the first 10,000 words in about 3 days, then took another 10 to write the next 10,000. Say, I wonder if another look at those charts would help demonstrate things...

4. Having a support system is extremely important.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all the women in my book club who did NaNo along with me, and everyone from my local group, especially those who came out to the write-ins I attended. Also everyone who reads this blog, because you people are awesome.

5. Sacrifices have to happen. I typically read somewhere in the neighborhood of 8-10 books a month, give or take. Last month, I read four, and two of them were books on tape so I feel like they shouldn't count, plus one of them I had already started when November kicked off. But I knew that, throughout the month, writing was more important than reading. (Even though reading is extremely important for a writer, too, and don't you forget it.)

6. When in doubt, write. Even if it's terrible and you know think you won't use it, even if it's the worst piece of crap ever, even if it's an ADVERB (!!) just write it anyway. You can always use a strikethrough font to note that you want to get rid of it, or just delete it in revisions. But you also might come up with the best scene/idea ever. (Unless it's an adverb, which is never, ever a good idea. Ever.)

7. A working title is just that...working. I always knew I would part with my title, but tonight I decided for sure. It's got to go. I even posted a new working title on NaNo, but since I'm sure it won't stick for long, I'm not going to share it here. Once I have something I feel confident about, I'll post it. And then I'll post it again once I have to change it for my agent/publisher's fancy.

8. It's not over til the fat lady sings. Which in publishing is when I see my book for sale. That means, even though I won the NaNo battle, I still have to fight the novel war. I need to finish the book, then revise, revise again, revise a third time, cry myself to sleep every night, let some other people read it to get some opinions, wonder why my manuscript is bleeding (oh, wait, that's just red ink because the draft is so awful), fix all the mistakes, revisereviserevise, add some more steps I'm sure I haven't thought about yet, then send it off to all my favorite agents and watch as the rejections come pouring in. But it only takes one yes (well, a series of yeses, but let's not get picky) to get published.

Hope everyone else had a great NaNo!

Copyright 2009

See Heather Write
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