Thursday, December 30, 2010


I can hardly contain myself. So even though you are very likely going to get a nearly identical post next week, I'm giving you this post now, because I need to get it out of my system or I might just freaking EXPLODE.

In one week, I'm heading up north for a wedding. Three days later, I'll get on a Greyhound bus for a journey to Montpelier, VT and my first semester as an MFA student at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Sorry for the yelling. But, like I said...I really, really can't contain myself. In case you're new to the blog, or have forgotten, I'm starting VCFA's low-residency master's program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. I've been waiting for this day for MONTHS, since I applied wayyy early, back in early May (they have rolling admissions but I barely missed the deadline to apply for summer term.) I'll arrive on campus on January 9 (which just so happens to be my 26th birthday - Best. Present. Ever.), and spend a week and a half there attending lectures with titles like, "Zen and the Art of Getting Through Your First Draft (Without Losing Your Mind!)"; "Airships and Goggles and Brass, Oh My!"; "Writing Kick-Ass Non-Fiction"; and "Cleaning Up the Shitty First Draft." I'll get to talk about children's literature with people who GET IT, and not just blabber to the hubs while he responds, "...?"

There is Wi-Fi available, and while I know I'll be busy, I'll do my best to update as often as I can, because I am so excited about this experience and I want to share it with all of you.

Sadly, there is still a week and a half until I get to start. Until then, I have a ton of reading to do (and I still haven't found appropriate gloves, eek!), and lots more excitement to let trickle out between now and then. So let's see if I can dial it back a few notches...for now, anyway.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Learning From Critiques

Critiques are a funny thing. You get them, and your first reaction is sometimes, "You are WRONG and have NO IDEA what you are talking about!"

Then you think on it for a day, possibly have a few drinks, and realize that the critique-giver is actually totally right, and why didn't you see it before? (Sometimes, when you're in a really good mood, you realize this right away, and then go and fix your draft immediately. All is well and right with the world, and the writing angels sing your praises.)

I think the best thing about critiques, though - particularly the harsh ones - is the way in which they help you grow as both a writer and a critiquer (not actually a word but I'm going to use it and MAKE IT WORK.) When I got my first round of crits back from one of my novels, pretty much everyone said that they wanted to feel more emotionally connected to the protagonist, and that they would really like to see me push her to give the reader a bit more insight into how she was feeling and show what she was thinking as her world came tumbling down around her. I sent out some rewrites, and from the reactions I've been getting, I think I did a pretty excellent job at nailing that particular problem.

But even better, as I went to start on a new project to bring to my first residency at VCFA (which I'll depart for in TWO WEEKS - OMG!), the emotions came completely natural to me. I didn't find myself having to push my new character to show her feelings, she just did. Now, part of that might be because she's, obviously, a different character. But I think a lot of it has to do with what I learned after my previous manuscript had been critiqued. Hearing the same comment from almost every reader made me realize that it wasn't an issue of character, but of writing weakness, and I worked hard to fix it. There are some heavy emotional scenes in both of my works, and I feel much more confident that I'm nailing them now.

Taking it one step further, knowing about my deficiencies also makes me a better critiquer, because as I read, I'm hyper-aware of these traits in other characters. The things that I struggle with, I'm also better at noticing if other writers are struggling with, as well. I've definitely heard this from other writers, too, so I know I'm not alone! It seems like knowing that you're not the best at something makes you able to look for it in other work, even if you're still working on mastering it in your own (and, I think, particularly if you're actively working toward mastering it.)

Just another reason why quality critiques are SO important. They help you become a better writer not just for this manuscript, but for future books, as well.

What has critiquing - and being critiqued - taught you?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays, everyone! Now that I'm full of lasagna (our Christmas dinner of choice many, many decades running...I couldn't change it if I wanted to, which is good because I don't!) and all my presents are unwrapped (95% of which were Harry-Potter girl much?), I wanted to wish you all a great holiday season. Whether your holiday ended several weeks ago, or will end several hours from now, I hope it was full of food, family, friends, and relaxation.

P.S. Sorry I didn't update last week! I had a wicked cold that pretty well knocked me all know I'm a night writer, but one night I went to bed at 8:40. 8:40!!! Yeah. I was exhausted. But I'm almost back to normal now, so regular posts should resume starting tomorrow!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday Funday! (46)

Happy Sunday, everyone! I usually like to open these posts up with a fun little story but...I have no story, because I did nothing today. Just sat around, cleaned the house, went for Thai food with the hubs, then came home and watch a movie. That's it. Now he's sleeping and I'm catching up on blogging, reading, and revising. Ah, Sunday. A day invented for someone as lazy as me. Love.

Here are some links from people who are definitely not lazy, and are, in fact, totally brilliant:

Ever wonder what to do when you get conflicting advice during a critique? Mary Lindsey has some words of wisdom over on Query Tracker's blog.

There's a great post over on YA Highway on the difference between revisions and rewrites, and why it's important to put time between your drafts.

Shannon Messenger gives some awesome tips on how to find a character's voice (and she uses them, so you know they're fab!)

Wondering how to increase traffic to your blog or get more Twitter followers? Here's a post analyzing what time of day blog readers and Twitter users most frequently use and read content.

Kiersten White explains why all authors - even unpublished, unagented ones - should be nice to everyone, in real life and online. Author gossip can be a serious issue, folks (though we should do our best to fight it).

OMG YOU GOT THE CALL!!!! Now what? Literary agent Jennifer Laughran breaks down all the possible scenarios.

Could you possible be telling when you think you're showing? This post from Sisters in Scribe will help you identify if you have any emotional tagging in your novel.

Janice Hardy discusses story and plot, and asks some big questions which will walk you through the process of ensuring that your scenes serve the greater story.

Have a great week, everyone!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Book-Crush Wednesday (14): Anna and the French Kiss

I cannot even tell you how much I love the book I'm posting about today.

I mean, to say I have a crush on it is actually a HUGE understatement.

I have a crush on the book. I have a crush on the characters. I have a crush on the setting. I probably have a crush on the author, too, even though she's a girl and we're both married to men so that makes it kind of weird. But I promise, the crush is a totally professional, "I bow down to how awesome you are" kind of crush. Or something.

That's right folks. Today we're talking about Anna and the French Kiss. Let's swoon over the cover for a moment, shall we?

Totally perfect and flirty and wonderful. And that boy you can't see? He's Etienne St. Clair, and he's pretty perfect, as far as YA male characters go.
Sometimes, when I can't really express how amazing a book is, I like to write a little list of the awesome-ness. (I did this with Paranormalcy, and thought it came out pretty great.) I honestly think I might have to do that here, because every time I think about Anna and the French Kiss, I just get all fluttery and excited and I kind of can't think because I just want to say "OMG THE BOOK WAS SO GOOD WHY AREN'T YOU READING IT RIGHT NOW??!!" 

So, to avoid a totally incoherent blog post, here is my list of reasons YOU should read Anna and the French Kiss. NOW. 

1. The characters. All of the characters in this book - from Anna herself to the man who runs the local cinema - are so incredibly well-developed that you will hear their voices in your head. Everyone has their own quirks and charms and neuroses which make them come alive. Main characters have intricate backgrounds (which are both hilarious and heart-breaking) that are shown (not told) slowly over the course of the novel, and secondary characters are completely three-dimensional. There isn't a single character in the book who is a stereotype of a teen; no one is perfect or without their own struggles. The character development is careful and flawless.  

2. Paris. Paris! It's wonderful! Stephanie does such a wonderful job inserting Paris into this book without using sweeping landscape descriptions that the city truly becomes a character unto itself in this book. I haven't been to Paris in around 10 years, which means that last time I went I was younger than the characters in the book and, much like Anna at the very beginning, I didn't know how to appreciate it. But I did study abroad in Italy when I was in college, so I could relate to a lot of Anna's experiences. Eating crusty sandwiches (described so well I could practically taste them) and that feeling of losing yourself amid the classic surroundings. There are so many gorgeous scenes set against incredible landscapes, and Paris is truly the perfect setting for what goes down.  

3. There's an actual relationship in this book. What Stephanie really manages to nail in this book is the actual growth and development of a real relationship. You see Anna and Etienne meet, get the first-crush jitters, become friends, and...what happens then? Well, I'm obviously not going to tell you :) Heh. But one thing that doesn't happen is the love-at-first sight situation (or, for that matter, the love triangle situation): there is no sweeping glance where they're immediately attached at the hip. There is a real friendship with real ups-and-downs. The tension is amazing, and you really do constantly ask yourself where the relationship is going, what's going to happen next, and then following along with all the swoon-worthy moments (which are sometimes so minor it hurts and is just beautiful) is really amazing. 
    So, in short, if you're looking for a book that has a gorgeous (yet imperfect) boy with a British accent, small history lessons, excellent film recommendations, thinly veiled jokes about Nicholas Sparks, realistic teen dating scenarios, descriptions of delicious food, a neat-freak (bordering on OCD), an absolutely perfect love story, and all-around lovely writing, Anna and the French Kiss is absolutely the book for you. 

    Don't believe me? Fine. But do you believe...John Green???

    Yeah. I thought so. 

    Monday, December 13, 2010

    On Night-Writing: Confessions of a 2am Writer

    Today, I decided I would switch things up a little by spending some time writing/revising at my local library. I did this for several reasons:
    1. This particular branch of the library doesn't have WiFi. Apparently, they're "fixing it," but they were "fixing it" last time I was there, and the time before that...for several months now. Honestly, I am totally OK with this, because...
    2. The Internet is distracting, You all are out there, with your bright, shiny Twitter objects and sparkly new blog entries and glittery YouTube videos, and when I'm at home I think, "Maybe I'll take a five minute break." And an hour and a half later, I'm Googling "Kitten Mittens" and wondering why I turned my computer on in the first place.
    3. Also, in some kind of evil twist of the universe, my official last day of employment (I was recently laid off) has collided with the cold-weather Apocalypse here in Florida. And I know that your Northerners are laughing because it's "only" 38 degrees here right now, but our heater is broken. So though it's 40 outside, it's also 55 inside. (I'm not even making that up. That's what my thermostat says.) So I wake up every morning and I'm snuggled in the blankets, and my dogs (who have an internal temperature of 101 degrees) are cuddled next to me, and I see no reason to get out of bed, or get dressed, or go anywhere aside from the couch or the bedroom. So I end up staying in my PJs all day. Like a bum. So I needed to get out of the house.
    Hence, my trip to the Dunedin Public Library. I had a nice hearty (read: warm) breakfast and chose my favorite comfy chair (with convenient attached swivel-desk), pulled at my revision notes and...


    Well, almost nothing.

    I'm not even exaggerating when I say that it took me three hours - three hours! - to revise a chapter that was actually pretty simply. I knew where I wanted to go with it and I had all my notes planned. I just needed to get the words out. I finally finished the chapter and packed up, wondering where my time had gone and what went wrong.

    Because if it had been 1am, I guarantee I would have had that chapter revision banged out in 40 minutes, flat.

    I'm not sure what it is about the nighttime that I find makes it so much easier for me to get the words out. But I will struggle and struggle all day long, then as soon as the sun goes down (which, thankfully, is quite a bit earlier these days) - BAM! My fingers can't stop moving. It drives the hubs crazy because I come to bed at 2, 3, sometimes even 4am (which is hilarious on the nights that he's waking up at 4 - he's just getting up as I'm going to bed. So by hilarious I mean kind of sad.) I would really love the muse to come to me at a normal hour, but she must be off hanging out with some of you folks.

    I'm going to try to tempt her, though. Most reputable places aren't open super late, at the kind of places that are...well, let's just say they don't make for very pleasant backdrops for writing your children's book. I'll keep trying to write it out during the day, and we'll see if we can't turn this night-writer into a day-writer.

    I'd love to hear from you...When do you write best?

    Sunday, December 12, 2010

    Sunday Funday! (45)

    Happy Sunday, everyone! Yesterday we went out and got our Christmas tree, and now my house smells like Christmas. I cannot WAIT until hubs gets home so we can decorate. I mean I'm actually bouncing in my seat, but for now I'll settle on watching Charlie Brown Christmas and drinking hot cocoa while my dogs cuddle in my lap (OMG my life is so hard right now, right?) Anyway, that has nothing to do with anything, except that I love December.

    Which is a terrible segue to say here are some links from around the Internet that I loved this week:

    Hey! Children's and YA sales increased 14 percent in October! Woot!

    Suzanne from Write it Sideways gives you three ways to tell if your characters are too perfect.

    You know by now that I LOVE The Princess Bride (and I found out a few of my readers hadn't seen or read it. And I had a sad.) But as it turns out, you can learn something about publishing from The Princess Bride, too!

    Ever wonder what would have happened if your favorite children's book had been written by a sci-fi icon? College Humor created five titles for your curious mind.

    Are you worried that your agent could be an idiot? Janet Reid tells you how to figure out if he or she is.

    Shayda Bakhshi has two posts on honing your skills. Part 1 discusses how writing challenges and blogs can make you a better writer, and part 2 gives some excellent tips for those looking to perfect their query.

    YA Highway has a cute little post on sexy villains - and why you should be scared of them.

    Are you an overwriter? Roni Loren from Fiction Groupie gives you some tips to help you avoid overwriting

    Over on KidLit, agent Mary Kole answers the reader question, "Do agents remember the submissions they receive?"

    Do you hate your book? According to Rachelle Garderner, that's totally OK.

    Alright, now it's time to hang my stockings (we have two for the dogs, too...who are wearing sweaters right now. Dudes, it's cold out. They shiver. Yes, we are so those people.), put out my centerpieces, and tap my foot until 3pm when I can finally hang some adorable things on my Christmas tree...

    Have a great week, everyone!

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Book-Crush Wednesday (13) (Or, How I Came to Love Harry Potter)

    This entry might be cheating.

    Usually, I try to draw attention to books you haven't heard of, or at the very least books by debut authors that you may know about but haven't gotten around to reading yet. But today, the books I'm discussing are neither obscure nor recent debuts. In fact, if you've never heard of these books or their author, you've probably been living under a rock for the past 11 years, and I should get you a glass of water or, more appropriately, a cup of tea.

    Today, we're going to talk about my gigantic freaking crush on the Harry Potter books.  I thought it was fitting, since 24 hours from now I'll be in line, in my Gryffindor PJ pants and Ravenclaw scarf (80 degree weather? Psh!)

    If you've been with me for awhile, you know how much I love these books. I shared my experience at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter with you. I wrote a love letter to Severus Snape. I've talked about how it doesn't matter that Jo Rowling breaks the Big Writing Rules, because she's just so freaking fantastic that she makes her own rules. But what you might not know is the story of how I came to find myself an HP fangirl, so that's the story I'd like to share today.

    When I was a kid, I LOVED fantasy books. My favorite series was the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede, but I loved pretty much any combination of wizard/dragon/princess/wizard/magic/dragon/knights/wizard. So when, in my eighth grade year, there was quite a bit of buzz going on about this new series about wizards, you would think I would be keen to jump on the bandwagon, right?


    See, I was just getting into the phase in my life where I was learning to value what was different. I was making weird fashion choices ( photos. Heh.) and listening to mix tapes my older brother's girlfriend made me that featured local indie bands. And it was AWESOME. So no WAY was I going to fall victim to what the corporate machine and the rest of society was telling me was awesome (even if, inside my heart, I knew I would love it. I mean, it was about WIZARDS. I LOVE WIZARDS.)

    So, fast forward three years. It's 2002, and I've spent much time mocking Harry Potter and how lame everyone who likes it is because they only like it because it's popular and why don't you try reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower? (because obviously no teenager has ever read THAT book before.) My friends were all going to see a movie, and, because I like having friends, and having friends is acceptable no matter HOW anti-establishment you pretend to be, I went with them.

    They were seeing Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. THERE WAS NO ESCAPING.

    So for two and a half hours, I got to endure enjoy a fantastic movie about one of my very favorite subjects: WIZARDS. I was delighted. I was terrified (HELLO, ARAGOG. PLEASE GET OFF MY SCREEN NOW AND OUT OF MY NIGHTMARES.) I was...totally hooked.

    At the time, I had two part-time jobs, one of which was at a dance supply store at this super sketchy know, every town has one, the mall that should have been bulldozed years ago but for some reason it's still around? (Consequently, I moved back to the town I went to high school in after college, and both that mall and another mall have actually been bulldozed since.) We were always really slow, especially on the next day, I went into work, and found the copy of Chamber of Secrets that I knew was in the drawer (a co-worker was reading the series.)

    I read it all that day. Then I got 1-4 for Christmas, read them before winter break ended, and tried not to cry when I saw that I'd have to wait a whole YEAR before Order of the Phoenix came out.

    Four years later, I was doing this:

    And this:

    And this:
    (K, I know you never read this blog. But if you do happen to read this entry...please forgive me for posting this photo. And if you beg me to take it down, I might.)

    At various midnight releases. (Do you remember the summer of 2007? That was like The Summer of Harry Potter. IT WAS EPIC.)

    So, to make that long story short...I'm glad I gave in. Because Harry Potter is awesomesauce. 

    Other random HP-related facts about me:
    House I think I'd be in: Ravenclaw. That's usually where those Internet quizzes sort me, and also just where I think I'm most suited.

    Favorite character(s): So many! I think Luna is my No. 1, though. She's so wonderful. In terms of character development, though, I love Snape. Obviously.

    My next dog will be named: Dobby. I wasn't fully into HP when we got Millie, so we named her Millie, regretfully...because you cannot tell me this dog doesn't look like Dobby:

    Yes, we put Halloween costumes on our dogs. We are so Those People.

    Then we got Evie, and it was the hubs' turn to name a dog (even though we got Millie long before hubs and I were living together...not sure how that math works out), plus since she's dark she doesn't really look as much like Dobby. (My vote was for Luna but hubs won with Evie, a variation on Evey of V for Vendetta.) Anyway, we love these Italian Greyhounds, and we'll get another one at some point. And then we are SO naming it Dobby.

    Place in HP world I'd want to live: The Burrow. Because Hogwarts is cool and all, but Mrs. Weasley is the best.

    Magical ability I'd like to posses: Apparition. COME ON. Is there another more awesome choice?

    Character I hate most: Rita Skeeter. This probably surprises you. There are so many great villains in the series...Voldemort! Umbridge! But Rita bothers me because she is a symbol of everything that is wrong with The Daily Prophet, and therefore of everything that is wrong with journalism in the Harry Potter universe. She disgraces my profession, and I can't stand her!


    Favorite HP-related awesome thing that is totally unclassifiable: Potter Puppet Pals.

    What are your plans for the movie? Are you a Potter fan?

    Sunday, November 14, 2010

    Sunday Funday! (44)

    Happy Sunday! It's Sunday Funday on See Heather Write, which means I'll share some of my favorite links from around the Internet. Here are this week's links:

    Agent Mary Kole from answers a reader question - just how hard is it to sell a contemporary YA manuscript right now?

    Lindsey Leavitt, author of Princess for Hire, talks about how writing is hard and awful - but also awesome - and shares a GloMo. (You'll have to click through to find out what a GloMo is. Trust me, the story is worth it.)

    Natalie Whipple says all the things she wants to say to new writers (OMG THEY'RE ALL SO AWESOME.)

    Author Cristin Terrill gives away her super-amazing secret for revising a manuscript. Seriously, people. It's awesome. (And colorful! No, really.)

    Lynda R. Young shares her five causes (and solutions to) writers' block. 

    Over on the Dark Angel's Blog, you can see a list of cliched dialogue that you should never include in your MS. 

    Literary agent Jennifer Laughran fills us in on some of the pros and cons of skipping the agent and working directly with the publisher. 

    Finally...I'm dorky (yet awesome) because I think this video is MADE OF WIN.

    (Thanks to Jessica Love and Anna Parker Brittain for sharing!)

    Have a great week, everyone!

    Saturday, November 13, 2010

    Eavesdropping for Action!

    I think I've mentioned before what an effective tool eavesdropping can be for getting authentic dialogue. That's not to say that you should include, verbatim, every conversation that you hear, but heading down to the mall and just listening to the way teens (or adults, if you don't write YA) talk to each other can really help you write more authentic dialogue. Take the best of the best of what you hear and stick it in your book.

    But lately, I've started a new (and much creepier) kind of eavesdropping - observing for emotional action. As I go through my MS, I'm focusing on getting rid of any of the instances of "telling" and making them all "showing" - for a basic example, changing something like "fear rose up in me" to "a chill ran up my spine." Taking the actual emotional word out of the phrase and focusing instead on how the emotion makes the character feel - the character's physical reaction to the emotion - makes some of the bumpier scenes better.

    Usually, I get the ideas for emotional reactions by thinking about how I would react in those situations. I close my eyes and imagine a time when I was scared, or happy, or nervous, then think about what my body was doing. Of course, that doesn't always work because 1. I'm not my characters, and we don't react the same way, and 2. Eventually, I run out of reactions, since I tend to do the same things. So I've started looking at the way people react physically as well as their dialogue.

    And I'm getting so much great material!

    Yesterday, I was in my local Super Target grabbing a coffee, and two women nearby were discussing the recent divorce proceedings one of them had gone through. They were going through the judge's or lawyer's report line by line, reading it out and reacting to (and dishing on) and it said. (Why they chose the cafe in Super Target to do this? No clue.) It was fascinating to watch, because things had obviously gone in the woman's favor - she was jiggling her leg, clasping her hands in front of her smiling mouth, and looked as if she were going to explode out of her chair at any second. I took my time pouring my cream and sugar into my coffee so I could watch their excited reactions and make a mental note of their physical clues, then when I came home I wrote the actions down in my writer's notebook. Now, when I need a character to act happy or excited, I can refer to my list, and maybe, if it fits the character, she'll be modeled after the woman in Starbucks.

    So, yeah. I'm a creepy stalker. But hey. It's for art. And it totally works.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    Book-Crush Wednesday (12)

    Back in August, I attended SCBWI-LA. And during one of the keynote presentations, I was fortunate enough to witness this:


    Later in the conference, I attended a workshop on literary experimentation in children's literature by the very singer featured in that video - the venerable M.T. Anderson. It was like a crash course in AWESOME, mostly because I loved hearing someone speak so intelligently about children's literature.

    One of the things Anderson touched on in the lecture was metafiction, or when an element in the story addresses the fact that the story itself is a fictional work. Anderson said that it was hard to pull off metafiction in novel lengths, but that picture books were often great examples of metafictional works. And he discussed a little (I mean really a little - he didn't brag or anything) about how he included metaficitonal elements in some of his books.

    So that, combined with the awesome Delaware state song, and I knew I had to try Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware. I'd read other works by Anderson, but never anything in his Pals in Peril series. I knew the books featured humor, but more "smart kid" humor than slapstick or gross-out humor. And I was ready for it.

    Jasper Dash was unlike anything I've ever read. The characters were quirky, the story was insanely original, and the narrator was kind of stoic but still somehow funny. And I loved it. I loved how the humor was unapologetically  weird, and how the narrator totally broke the wall and encouraged readers to participate in the narrative. I loved the metafiction parts, where the narrator straight up said, "These characters have been in other books before, you should go down to your local bookstore and buy them!" or "The author has never been to Delaware, so all the descriptions of mountains and monsters had to be made up. If you're not happy, here's the address for the governor of Delaware. Let him know!" (Clearly, not direct quotes. It could not be more obvious that mess is not M.T. Anderson prose.) I loved the mystery, the adventure, the smooth way that M.T. Anderson tells a story. At SCBWI, Anderson mentioned that, though he'd never been to Delaware, he did Google Map it, and saw that there was a Dragon Creek (which was obviously infested with dragons) and a town called Sandtown (clearly, in the middle of the desert), so he felt that was as much as he needed.

    Also, Jasper Dash has an amazing external, interactive website - the Tourist's Guide to Delaware. On it, you can view a map of Delaware, view a letter from the governor, sing along to the state song, and more.

    So, yeah. This book is fun. And (bonus!) it's especially fun for boys. But I think anyone who's interested in seeing some really different things you can do with writing and novels should check this book out (I'm giving Whales on Stilts a try next - can't wait!) I feel especially lucky that Anderson is going to be at VCFA in January giving a guest lecture...wootwoot! I'm so stoked for it I can't even stand it.

    Trailer for Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware:

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010

    Writing (and Revising) the Hard Scenes

    A lot of bad stuff happens in my WIP.

    I mean, that should really go without saying. It is a dystopian/sci-fi. There are very clear villains. And the premise involves killing.

    So. Yeah. A lot of bad stuff happens.

    But when I started writing the book, I never realized how hard this stuff would be on me. Because it's not just the villains who suffer in my book. The good guys suffer, too. They go through some painful stuff - physically and emotionally. There's one scene that makes me cry every time I read it - and when you put your very first word on the page a year ago, you end up going through a lot of readings. There are other scenes that make my stomach turn because...well, they're kind of gory.

    Every time I read some scenes, I consider changing the outcome. Even though I've always planned for things to turn out that way, even though I know they work better if I leave it as is, I can't help but think to myself, "What if I just tried it another way?" And maybe I even let the result play out in my head...but it never works as well.

    And that's how I know I'm making the right choices. Because even when it kills me to do mean things to my characters, I know, ultimately (as strange as it is) it's for the best. Kids don't grow up if they're coddled, and the same goes for characters. You have to let them deal with the hard stuff, with the heartache. And it's so rewarding to see how they change because of it. (Did I just compare my characters to children? YUP.)

    So don't be afraid to write the hard scenes. Let your characters suffer. You'll be glad you did.

    Sunday, November 7, 2010

    Sunday Funday! (43) (Plus, winners!)

    Well, hello there! It's Sunday, and I got an extra hour of sleep last night. And somehow it's still already 2pm, and I have accomplished literally nothing today. (I'm still in my pajamas. True story.) BUT I have compiled this AMAZING list of links from around the Web, with some great advice/news/general awesome for you to enjoy. I've also chosen WINNERS for my blogversary giveaway!

    So I guess I have accomplished something, after all.

    I'm not participating in this year's NaNoWriMo, because I'm busy revising my face off. (See my face, over there on the other side of the room?) But there has been quite a kerfuffle (what an excellent word) around the topic this year; Salon writer Laura Miller said NaNo was kind of lame and pointless. LA Times writer Carolyn Kellogg said that Miller, in fact, was the lame one (I might be paraphrasing there), and that NaNo is actually awesome. Maggie Steifvater wrote an anti-NaNo pep-talk.

    Should you tell agents who offered representation when they're considering your manuscript? Agency Gatekeeper says the question is pushy and should be a sign to run away. Janet Reid and Jessica Faust say she's ridiculous, that the question is a normal professional one, and that you - the author - don't even have to answer it. What do you think?

    Do you sometimes think that, with all the overwhelming positivity out there on the Internet from other writers, that you're the only one struggling or worrying or totally freaking out? Shannon Messenger assures you - you're not.

    Are you struggling writing a particular scene? Never fear - Jody Hedlund has five great tips to help you write the perfect scene!

    Super-agent Nathan Bransford says "so long, and thanks for all the fish" to publishing, and hello to CNET.

    Synopsis blues got you down? Agent Suzie Townsend gives some advice on how to makes them easier.

    Writer Jennifer Walkup tells other writers to just be nice to each other already. 

    Writers, agents, and editors are always talking about voice. They want a book that shows voice, characters with a unique voice...and you might be sitting at home thinking, "Great, but what the heck does that even MEAN??" Author Elana Johnson's post over on the Query Tracker blog gives some insight as to what voice is, and how to use it well.

    Need some tips on being a better beta? Here are a few things to look for when beta-reading, courtesy of Write Brained.

    Also LOOK HOW AWESOME THIS IS OMG I WANT FRIENDS WHO WILL DO THIS WITH ME. (This is why I want to move to New York. Because stuff this cool doesn't happen in Clearwater. We just stay in our PJs all day.)

    (Thanks to YA Highway for sharing!)

    And now...

    The winners of my blogversary contest!

    I went into my spreadsheet in Google docs and used to calculate the winners. I went in order, but my plan was if whoever was drawn didn't want the prize I was on, I would give them the next prize on my list. Fortunately, I went in order and everyone wanted the prize they were drawn for. (Does that even make sense? It does to me, and I think that's all that matters. Maybe.)

    OK! For prize number one, the signed copy of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, the winner is...

    Shannon O'Donnell!!!

    For prize number two, signed copies of Boy Meets Boy and Tangled, the winner is...

    Kristi Faith!!!

    And for prize three, the swag pack, featuring stickers, bookmarks, and other goodies, the winner is...


    Congratulations, everyone! I'm emailing you shortly for your address! If I don't hear from you within 48 hours, I'll have to pick a new winner! 

    Friday, November 5, 2010

    Copyright Infringement & Bad Magazine Editors (Or, Things That Piss Me Off)

    I get kind of ranty in this post. And it has nothing to do with novels or books. But it's important to me, and it has to do with writing, so I'm talking about it. But we'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming with the next post.

    Most of you are probably already aware of the controversy surrounding Cooks [sic] Source magazine and how they steal articles from writers on the Internet.  So you have to forgive me, but as a writer AND magazine editor, I'm doubly infuriated by this. And I need to vent.

    If you have no idea what I'm talking about, here's the run-down: Monica Gaudio, a writer, got word from a friend that her article about apple pie, originally published on the Godecockery website, had appeared in Cooks Source magazine. But Monica never gave Cooks Source permission to print her story. So she emailed the editor, Judith Griggs, and asked what was up. Long story short, Judith swiped the story from the Web, thinking that was totally fine. She said it was "her bad" and asked Monica what she wanted.

    Monica requested an apology in print and on the magazine's Facebook page (where the article appeared), and a $130 donation to the Columbia School of Journalism. Judith refused, claimed what she did was fine because the Internet was "public domain," and insinuated that Monica should pay her something for "editing" her article (her edits involved correcting traditional medieval spellings in old recipes.)

    So Monica went public with the incident, and posted Judith's rude email on her LiveJournal. And the Internet exploded.

    Turns out, Cooks Source took stories from other people, too - people like Martha Stewart, Paula Deen, the New York Times, Cooking Light, and NPR. And if it hadn't been for Monica, who knows how much longer this tiny regional magazine would have gotten away with it?

    I know I usually keep it pretty light over on this blog, but I really need to talk about how much this pisses me off. As a writer, my articles are ALL OVER the Internet. Google my name and, after my Twitter account and blog, pretty much everything you get is stuff I wrote for my job or reviews I write freelance. And I got paid for all of it. If I ever had that story reprinted anywhere else (which, by the way, neither my freelance job nor my full-time position would be cool with), you bet I would want to be paid for it. Or at least told about it. (No. I would want to be paid.)

    But here's what makes me the angriest of all - if Cooks Source needed free content to keep their magazine going, and that's why they felt they needed to turn to stealing to make it happen, it's EASY to get contributors to send free articles in. That's why people have PR managers. There are entire websites dedicated to connecting editors with PR reps. So if Cooks Source wanted a story about apple pie but couldn't afford to pay for it, they could have gone to a PR news site and submitted a query asking for a contributed article. Instead of stealing one. Chances are their inbox would have been FULL of pitches, all from PR people happy to submit an article to help promote their company. Eventually, they'd build up a store of trusted PR reps, and they wouldn't have to turn to the websites anymore. Which makes it clear that this whole thing is about laziness more than anything, because if you look in the right places, the content will come to you. 

    They also could have contacted local journalism schools to see if there was anyone looking to build a portfolio by writing some stories. When I was in college, I would have JUMPED at the chance to see my article in a professional magazine (though at this point, Cooks Source is far from professional.) In the email, Judith Griggs said she had several young writers, all happy to work for her for free. If that's the case...where are they? And why didn't she call on them...ever? (Of course that was probably a lie to save her butt.)

    I was recently laid off. I've been kind of keeping that in because I didn't want to get too depressing, but this is my last month at my job. My boss fought to keep me, but in the end...the parent company did what it had to do. Being in journalism is hard right now, and everyone is working to keep their costs down. So when I see irresponsible people doing irresponsible things, it makes all of us look bad. It makes her look ungrateful for having a job when so many people in the field can't find - or keep - work. And it makes me angry that someone who apparently has three decades of journalism experience doesn't know something I learned my sophomore year in college.  

    I guess the good thing about all of this is that pretty much every publishing professional will know that woman's name (oh, man, I feel sorry for any other magazine editor with the name Judith Griggs), and likely her face (her picture was up on her Facebook profile for awhile), so after the inevitable downfall of Cooks Source as advertisers pull out and lawsuits roll in, Griggs isn't likely to find another job in this field. And I'm sure she'll think twice next time she wants to refuse giving a much-warranted apology to someone.

    On a happier note...
    It's the last day to enter my giveaway! Click here for signed books, swag, and more!  

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010

    Waiting on Wednesday

    I know. I know.

    I usually reserve Wednesdays for book crushes. I feel like I'm totally cheating.*

    BUT I really want to talk about Bumped by Megan McCafferty, because, well...just read the synopsis:

    “When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents are forced to pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society.

    Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and had never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep. Until now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they are searching for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend Zen, who is way too short for the job.

    Harmony has spent her whole life in religious Goodside, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to bring Melody back to Goodside and convince her that “pregging” for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.

    When Melody is finally matched with the world-famous, genetically flawless Jondoe, both girls’ lives are changed forever. A case of mistaken identity takes them on a journey neither could have ever imagined, one that makes Melody and Harmony realize they have so much more than just DNA in common.”

    Yeah. The awesome. It will be brought. Especially because Publishers Marketplace describes the book as "sharply funny and provocative," and Megan herself describes it as a cross between The Handmaid's Tale and Heathers (that's me!! And also a fan-freaking-TASTIC movie.).

    As you all know, I'm a big fan of Megan McCafferty's first series, the Jessica Darling books. And if Bumped is even half as good (and I suspect it will be even better...I mean, it's dystopia! And the cover has pink on it!) we're all in for a treat.

    Bumped will be released way too late for my lack of patience on April 26. I'm definitely counting down the days... 

    *Full disclosure: By blogging about this, I'm entering for a chance to win an ARC. And I am so freaking PUMPED for this book I couldn't turn this chance down. I mean it doesn't come out until APRIL. That's like 6 months away!! Way, way too long. So that's really the reason why you don't get a Book-Crush post today. Because I'm greedy and want an ARC. Also, hopefully Megan is reading this RIGHT NOW and can feel my enthusiasm, but I didn't link it on her Facebook because I know she Google-blogs herself. Because she's awesome. So, i just want to say, "Hi Megan! You rock my face off."

    Monday, November 1, 2010

    It's NaNoWriMo! Some Tips to Get You Through

    It's National Novel Writing Month! Hooray! Although I won't be participating this year (I'm dedicated to finishing up my revisions on last year's NaNo...SEE? It takes more than a month, people!), I did win last year, with hours to spare. I posted a pretty nice set of tips/lessons/"what I learned" after winning, but since the blog was pretty new at the one really read them. Plus they were ill-timed at the end of NaNo so...that's not really helpful.

    So I thought instead of leaving that post buried in the back of my archives, I would re-post it today, where my followers can actually enjoy it and get some inspiration. I've also added some cheeky comments (as I do), and those are in blue. But only because when I put them in pink they're too hard to read.

    Heather's List o'Awesome NaNo Lessons, v. 2.0 (originally posted here, on 11/30/2009)

    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 fell* 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:
    *apparently, I didn't think editing was too important at the time. Maybe that's why I only had six readers...

    I AM SUCH A GEEK. I can't believe I posted not ONE but TWO charts about my NaNo performance. But the even geekier part is I still think these are REALLY SUPER COOL.

    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. (Which are still dorky/awesome.)

    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... I cannot even stress to you how much an outline would have helped. My current round of revisions involve changing the plot around quite a bit and a lot of new scenes, so I did some heavy outlining, timelines, etc. And WOW. I'm flying through it. I also know my characters better and can hear their voices immediately. But still. Preparedness would have helped. I already have index cards stacked up for my next novel with notes all over them (dorkdorkdork).

    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. Still so true!!! And those book club ladies are now my writing group. And I still want to thank them. Because they are epically awesome. As you know.

    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.) The good news is, I don't really sacrifice reading anymore. I've managed to get back up to my usual quota, even with a heavy revision schedule. Now I just sacrifice sleep and exercise and normal human companionship instead. 

    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.) Man, I was hard on adverbs! Sometimes they're kind of OK. But only in small doses. Like, really, really small ones. But it is true that writing is the best way to get through writer's block. I totally stand by that. Current Heather is patting Past Heather on the back right now.

    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. This line item makes me laugh. I even broke up with my title in a very dramatic, public, and hilarious way. Then, a month later when no one was looking, I ran back to it. I heart my title.

    8. It's not over til the fat lady sings. Which in publishing is when I see my book for sale. (And even then, it's still not over. That's what I've learned in the last year. That fat lady never, ever sings. Stupid hag.) 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. Actually, I think we will get picky, because it takes about 1,000 yeses to get published. That's another thing I've learned. Oh well. I'll still fight the good fight!

    Hope all you NaNoers have a great month! 

    Sunday, October 31, 2010

    Sunday Funday! (42)

    Hey! It's Sunday! And I'm not skipping Sunday Funday!

    It's also Halloween! I don't know if I'm actually dressing up tonight. Last night, the hubs and I went to a rowdy party, dressed as Mario and Luigi (I was Mario, because I'm shorter and fatter. I'm not being self-deprecating, that really is true.) Tonight, he's heading down to see our little nieces and go trick-or-treating with them, and I'm staying home to watch scary movies with my girlfriends and pass out candy to the massive amounts of children in our neighborhood - so they can spend the next month dropping the wrappers on our lawn while they wait for the buss. Ah, the circle of life.

    But enough about me. Let's talk links! Here are some great links from 'round the Interwebz this week: founder and literary agent Mary Kole asks whether you should get an MFA over on her awesome-sauce blog.

    Meanwhile, agent Kristen over on Pub Rants discusses the top 10 things she usually finds wrong with a kidslit SF/F query letter.

    Stina Lindenblatt has an awesome Q and A with agent Joanna Volpe. Her questions are really different from the usual, "What are you seeing in the slush pile?" type stuff.

    Wondering where to find crit partners and readers? Beth Revis, author of the fab-u-lous ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, gives some excellent pointers about where to look - and what to do once you have them.

    Shannon Messenger discusses the difference between competition and drive - and explains why kidlit writers are awesome.

    Power agent/author Mandy Hubbard shows how one of her clients' query letters evolved to book pitch and finally to back cover copy.

    And finally...LOOK AT HOW AWESOME THIS VIDEO IS OMG WOW. (I kind of want to do this in my house. Though I think my dogs would knock the books over before I got any set up. Or they'd just bark at them.)'s good to be back. Have a great week everyone!

    And Happy Halloween!

    Thursday, October 28, 2010

    Blogversay Giveaway! Signed books! Swag!

    Alright, it's time for the blogversary giveaway! And it's my biggest giveaway yet! I have THREE prize packs to hand out! *Puts on announcer voice*

    The first pack isn't technically a pack - just a book. But the book is so awesome that if I were to actually package it with other books, the post office would explode from too much awesome. And obviously we don't want that. So Prize #1 is a signed copy of Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith's The True Story of the Three Little Pigs! (Signed by Jon Scieszka only)

    Pack number two is perfect for the YA lovers...especially ones who heart them some romance. "Heart" being the operative word, since both books feature hearts on the cover! Pack #2 includes signed hardcovers of Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan and Tangled by Carolyn Mackler!

    And finally, for all you swag lovers out there, I've got just the thing for you! The swag pack, featuring the following items:
    • Bookmarks!
      • Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
      • Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
      • Prophecy of the Sisters/Guardian of the Gate by Michelle Zink
      • Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr (signed!)
      • The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
      • The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
      • Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff (signed!)
      • Sea by Heidi R. Kling
      • Perfect Fifths/Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty (signed!)
      • Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
      • The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting
      • Dirty Little Secrets by C.J. Omololu
      • The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez 
      • Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes
    • An Eat, Prey, Love sticker for Carrie Ryan's books!
    • A cute little notebook!  
    • Harry Potter Silly Bandz!
    • And more fun surprises! 
    *Takes announcer voice off*

    OK, so there you have it. The deets on this one are simple - everyone is eligible. You don't have to be a follower. There's no tweeting for extra points (though if you want to spread the word for good karma, I'll think you're pretty much awesome.) I'm just trying to find a way to say thanks to my readers for being so awesome and supportive this past year.

    I hope this gets the job done.

    Don't make me come to each of your houses individually. Cause I totally will. Eventually.

    Giveaway ends Friday, September 5. November 5. (Because a year would be a ridiculous amount of time for a giveaway. And thanks to Twitter user @Sparima for catching my goof!)

    Fill out the form to enter! (Click here to open the form in a separate window/tab.)

    Today's my Blogversary!

    I'm doing a giveaway later, but I have a lot of things to say, and I know it totally sucks to wade through a long post about feelings and whatever when all you want is PRIZES, so I'm going to post the giveaway in a little bit. (Like around 3pm. Stay tuned for that.)

    For this post, I'm going to get all sentimental.

    A year ago today, I started this little blog. I picked kind of a lame name, made a pink and black header, and hurled myself into cyber space with a post about how you shouldn't read my blog. And for awhile, no one did. It was just me, myself, and my Aunt Wendy. Then my sister tagged along. I figured it was because I was the only one writing about writing, because who would POSSIBLY want to read about THAT? I wrote about my NaNo project, and put up responses to prompts, and posted ridiculous pictures of my dogs and myself

    And then, somewhere along the road, I found a whole community of other writers. I have to give some credit to Shannon Messenger for this one, because she was one of my first regular commenters who was not related to me, and I know when I clicked on her blog I realized there definitely were other writers out there in the world. A whole freaking lot of them.

    And somehow, in the past year, I've gained almost 300 followers. (I'm sure if my posts hadn't been so anorexic in the past month, I'd have more. But I've got more on that in about two point five paragraphs, so hold on to your breeches, kids.) I can't believe that almost 300 strangers care about what I have to say. You listen to my crazy stories. Your comments make my day. You send me emails asking for advice! You are my confidants, my crit partners, my shoulders to cry on, and my pals to celebrate with. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for reading.

    In case you were wondering (aren't you? I totally am.), here are the top 5 posts ever posted on See Heather Write:
    1. The best thing to happen to my writing career. EVER. (Which at the time was getting into the Eckerd College Writer's Conference, and by now is getting into VCFA. Hopefully by my next blogoversary, it will be "landing a major book deal." Anyway, I think this post is mostly popular because of the awesome gifs found within.)
    2. What Makes a Character Kick Butt? (In which I talk about my favorite female main characters at the time, who would totally still make the list, but would have to scoot over for several more additions. Hm, I might need to do a version 2.0 on this one...)
    3. Happy Kissing Day! (This one was from a blogfest.)
    4. Should Writers Talk About Their Rejections? (A recent post, featuring guest agent Weronika Janczuk)
    5. On Boy Middle-Grade (My notes from an SCBWI workshop)
    To the very few of you who I've been fortunate enough to meet - it was awesome. I hope to see you again some day. To those of you I haven't met yet, I hope to see you some day! Really, this blog has meant the world to me, and having a place to talk about writing, and other writers to share it with, and other blogs to read...I've learned so, so much from it all.

    OK, so now I feel like I have to give a little apology for my lameness this past month. And not a half-ass one, like my last one. Because to be honest, me gushing about how awesome you all are, then you glancing over at my archives and seeing I've posted less than 10 times this month is pretty pathetic and comes off as disingenuous. OK, so the first thing is that I've had some MONSTER revisions to tackle. They're great revisions, and I'm so super pumped about them, because I finally feel like my book is worthy to be read by someone other than me or my dogs (see what I did there?). But it's pretty much requiring a complete rewrite. Very few words are making it through. I'm slogging away, putting as much time away as I can (and making great progress!), which is actually less time than I usually have because of point two, which is some job-related personal stuff. I don't want to get all depressing/personal on you, but let's just say that job hunting is a really gigantic time suck when you have a mortgage and need to take that crap seriously.

    Stupid adulthood.

    Anyway, so that's that. But I have resolved to make a New-Blog-Year resolution. Because this post and this past year has made me realize just how important you all are to me. I mean, I'm pretty sure one of you once recognized me by my earrings ALONE, which pretty much made my day. (They were the earrings from this vlog, and someone recognized me at SCBWI-LA when I was wearing them. I KID YOU NOT.) I will read your posts (I miss that, so much!) I will post here (no more skipping Sunday Funday! And I need some other posts, too! Because once a week makes for a sad, skinny blog.)

    And I will post contests. Like the one I'm posting later today. Stay tuned! (It's a good one.)

    And thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my blog-writing, WIP-slaving heart.

    Wednesday, October 27, 2010

    Book-Crush Wednesday (11)

    Today's book-crush is on another book series. And it's actually a pretty well-known series, but unfortunately it was mostly made commercially famous after a really terrible movie adaptation of the first book hit theaters. (I know, I've really narrowed it down, right?) But, since you are all awesome and savvy readers, I have a feeling many of you will be familiar with the titles. (They are bestsellers, after all.) And if not...then you should be.

    His Dark Materials is a trilogy by Philip Pullman which completely rocked my world when I read it. I had taken a break from fantasy (with the notable exception of Harry Potter, which is a constant in my life), though the genre was my absolute favorite during my childhood. (Particularly the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede. OMG LOVE. Forever and always. Cimorene is my homegirl. But I digress. As usual.) 

    So I picked up the book, not really thinking it was anything special (though it was GIGANTIC because we have the version which is all three books bound together in one epic volume of awesome), and it changed my life. I remember reading the first book (in America, it's called The Golden Compass - in Pullman's native England, the book is Northern Lights) thinking, "Hm, this is a nice story, lalala, oh, these daemon things sound pretty cool, your soul is outside your body as an animal, huh? That's different." And Lyra was feisty and fun and I LOVED her. The Golden Compass ends on this absolutely just...UGH...moment. Yeah.

    And then book two started (The Subtle Knife). And I actually remember when I read it, I had to flip to the front cover of the volume, because I wasn't sure I was reading the same book. Pullman totally pulls you into a different world, and then BAM! you realize that things are not at all what the seem, and everything is just...yeah. Awesome. I don't want to spoil it but it's really just amazing. (If you've seen the movie version, and especially if you've seen the movie version and haven't read the book, then that awful prologue/crappy explanation that Serafina does in the beginning doesn't even begin to describe the epicness of what's happening.

    In the third book, The Amber Spyglass, there are some huge decisions made by the characters - who are really still children. The ending is so bittersweet, and really just perfect, and so many sad and wonderful things happen in this book. Plus, LYRA AND WILL OMG. I die, people. I die. (Vaguest description ever? Yes. But I'm not a Spoilery McSpoiler over here, folks. Go read the books yourself.)

    OK, I will say that the books are not for everyone. It's pretty commonly known that the trilogy has a heavy anti-religious angle, particularly against Catholicism. But honestly, they're still great books, well-written, and with such wonderful characters, that if this would normally be a problem for you, I encourage you to try to put your beliefs aside and give the books a chance. 

    So, what will you find in the pages of His Dark Materials? These things:
    • A talking polar bear
    • A kick-ass heroine
    • One of the creepiest and most perfect villains ever
    • A visit to the underworld
    • Young love - the kind that is ever-lasting and epic
    • Secrets
    • Witches
    • Magical instruments
    • Multiple worlds
    • Heartbreaking decisions
    • Lots and lots of animals
    Hope you give it a chance! (And if you've already read them, I'd love to know what you thought!)

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    Finding Writers' Groups

    Every once in awhile, I'll get an email from a reader...and this pretty much makes my life worth living. (No, really. I'm not exaggerating. Other things make my life worth living, chocolate and my dogs and my husband and good books. But strangers emailing me because they think I can actually help? Yeah. That's up there.) Recently, I've had a few people ask (in both emails and the comments) if I could give them some advice about where to find a good writers' group.

    I'm sure they think I'm some kind of expert because my group is awesome, and I brag on them all the time. But the truth is, I stumbled upon my group pretty accidentally. I'm part of an online book club, and several of us participated in NaNo last year. We all created our own separate little forum, then those of us who were year-round writers decided to form a group together. We have a weekly online chat, and exchange emails via Google groups. I've met most of them in real life, and my goal is to meet all of them (I'm definitely on my way!)

    OK. So now I know what you're thinking. "WTF, Heather. You're saying the only way I can have an awesome writers' group is if I happen to magically stumble upon one?" Well...yes. And no. The truth is, to find a great group, you have to be willing to put yourself out there a little. For example, I have a friend who lives in Birmingham who's a writer. I knew someone through Twitter who lives in Birmingham, and I knew my friend was looking to meet writers in her area. Both women were awesome, so I introduced them in a tweet. They met up, and eventually brought some friends along with them - and now they're part of a writing group together. So really, it's mostly about keeping your eyes and ears open and looking for the opportunities.

    Here are more tips if you really want to find a good group.
    1. Go where the writers are. Chances are, if you're reading this post, you already know some writers. You at least know me, and you can check the people who post in my comments, or the other blogs I follow, then the blogs they follow, and on and on, to find a huge community of writers. You can also find others on Twitter - especially in organized chats such as #scribechat, #kidlitchat, or #YAlitchat. You should also check to see if your local library, SCBWI chapter, or other writers group has monthly or quarterly meetings you can attend. Hang out with other writers and you're bound to eventually meet someone you mesh with. You can also set up meetings on sites like, or even try to arrange something with your local library, if you're looking to start something up in real life.  
    2. Get involved in writing forums. Places like Absolute Write, the NaNoWriMo forums, Critique Circle, Writers' Groups, etc. are great for finding groups. It's really best if you go in just looking to meet like-minded people and start chatting, and eventually you will find that you click with a few people - then you can send them a message asking if they're looking for a group. The absolute worst thing they can say is no. Which leads me to my next point...
    3. Don't be afraid to ask. Again, the worst thing someone can say is no, and even then they'll likely be really nice about it. The best thing they can say is yes. Even if you know a writer has another group or crit partner, many writers welcome the chance to get out of their solitary bubble of writing and seek out a new group of peers to talk to. My best advice is to seek out people that you know are in the same stage of the process as you - if you see someone else has just started up their blog, or is complaining about revision pains the same way you are, they might be a good match for you. You can email or message people directly, or be bold and put out a call on Twitter or your blog - something as simple as "I want to start a writing support group! Anyone interested?" will get people interested. But if you put out a big call like that, remember that if you get a lot of interest or people who don't match exactly what you're looking for, you should be prepared to take everyone who responded, anyway. Also, be sure to ask your writing friends if they know anyone looking for a group or crit partner - if you have five friends (online or off!) who are writers, one of them may know someone looking to form a group.
    OK, so those tips don't seem particularly riveting. I know. But every crit partner or beta reader I've had, I got mostly through luck or having interests in common, or because they sent me an email or I emailed them and just asked.

    What about you? Do any of you have great tips for finding groups/crit partners?

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    Book-Crush Wednesday (10)

    Only six words need to be used to explain why this book-crush Wednesday is truly a book-CRUSH Wednesday:


    If you don't know who I'm talking about, then you need to drop whatever book you're reading and hie thee to your local bookstore to pick up a copy of Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty. While you're there, you should go ahead and grab Second Helpings (because you'll definitely want them), Charmed Thirds (which will definitely leave you charmed), Fourth Comings (er...OK, I can't think of a good pun for this one...uhm, it will have you coming back for more?) and Perfect Fifths (SO FREAKING PERFECT U GUISE.) Because you'll want to read them right away.

    I'll admit that this series was one of my first forays into YA in my own post-adolescent years. And it's a damn good thing it's so awesome, otherwise I may never have picked up another YA book, and I might be a very different writer today.

    The main character in this series is Jessica Darling. But she's not really darling, she's more...sarcastic. And witty. And wonderful. I'm pretty sure we'd be BFFs, except probably not if we met in high school because even then I wouldn't have been cool enough for her. Jessica did a lot of things I never would have had the guts to do, such as THE CUP INCIDENT which I won't talk about much here for spoilers, but it's safe to say if I were in her situation, the next four novels would have gone a lot differently.

    What's even better than Jessica, though, is the supporting cast. All of her high school friends, enemies, and frenemies are so well developed, each with their own little quirks and flaws and issues. Some characters just captured my heart, and others made me laugh because they were just so out there - but in a good, real way.

    But although these books are so much about Jessica and her growing pains, they're really about the growing pains between Jessica and Marcus. Throughout the books, you really see the ups and downs and ins and outs of their relationship. Marcus reminds me SO MUCH of the hubs that I'm pretty sure Megan McCafferty was channeling him at one point to write him into the book. There are words that Marcus says (or doesn't say) that could have come right out of my husband's mouth.

    And then...there's book five. OK, so the writing in the first four books is great. But the writing in Perfect Fifths KNOCKED ME OUT. The narrative structure is totally different, and it's perfect and amazing, and I love the alternate chapters because as a writer I know things like that are SO hard to do, and I think McCafferty did them just beautifully. The book is nearly flawless and the absolutely perfect ending to their story.

    OK, so hopefully I have you convinced. It's really hard talking about five books in one post. But, just know they are amazing, funny, insightful, smart, and just good, and everyone - everyone - should read them.

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    Query Advice from Holly Root - Auburn Writers Conference Recap Vol. 1

    I spent last weekend in Alabama, and I have to admit I am absolutely smitten. Friday and Saturday, I was at the Auburn Writers Conference (which was FAB - more on that in approximately one paragraph), and Sunday I spent in Birmingham catching up with friends and brainstorming all the ways I can convince my husband that a move to 'Bama is absolutely necessary. (The good news is, I've converted him to Harry Potter and Hunger Games, so I'm well-versed in the art of convincing.)

    But anyway. The conference. Auburn Writers Conference (AWC) was in its first year, and it was just wonderful! It was only a day and a half long, but the organizers really did a great job packing as much information as possible into such a short period of time. The focus of this year's AWC was The Child on the Page, so there were sessions on picture books and teen voice, but there were also sessions on memoir, the publishing industry, and, of course, querying.

    Which brings me to the point of this post.

    Literary agent Holly Root was in attendance at AWC, and she was just wonderful. I'll admit, I think there is a lot of unnecessary agent-worship on the part of unagented writers. But if there was ever an agent who will make a writer realize that agents are just normal people and not some crazy, unapproachable, scary beings, Holly is absolutely that agent. I attended her "Polish Your Pitch" session, during which she dispensed a TON of information about perfecting your query and making it shiny. So instead of further rambling (though you all know how much I love to ramble), I present to you:

    Query Dos and Don'ts from Holly Root
    Notes I took based on things she said are in italics. Everything else is copied from this awesome worksheet she passed out. I didn't include all of them, just a smattering - so if Holly is ever at a workshop in your area teaching a session on pitching or querying, GO! Then you can get the rest. Which you totally should, because it was useful and amazing.

    • Query widely. Email is great for this. Your "dream agent" might be someone you've never heard of because they don't tweet or blog.
    • Make it easy for agents to see your book as marketable. Don't hide the good stuff. This might mean revealing what you see as a big twist, but it might actually be the thing that hooks the agent. Another thing that she mentioned was that you can't write a book thinking just about money/marketability, but you can't query a book thinking just about art. So write the book to be the best book it can be, and don't worry about marketability. Then when you're done, try to think about the things that will make the book marketable. Look at it from every angle. There is something in there that makes the book uniquely yours. Lead with that.
    • Think in terms of back cover copy. Present the conflict quickly, hook the reader on the world you've created. This is not the place or time to tell me in detail about how normal the character's life was before the perfect the marriage seemed...a complete genealogy of the character's family. Quick and dirty. Holly suggested reading the cover copy of books before you start them, then again after you've finished. You'll notice that sometimes the cover copy will leave out events, or rearrange things into a more marketable order, and that's OK to do in your query, too. It's not that you want to be dishonest, but you do want to paint your book in the best possible light - just because you wear mascara doesn't mean you don't have eyelashes. 
    • Remember that a pass isn't always reflective of your work or a query. Holly has to pass on a lot of great books, and all of her reasons start with "I," such as I already have something in this genre on my list. She gets 200-300 queries a week, but about half of those are just weird letters or queries for things that have no home in trade publishing. Your odds aren't as bad as you think, so what you really need to overcome is timing. Her default setting is, unfortunately, no - it's your job to get her to yes.
    • Send more than requested because "the story really picks up about page 85." If the story picks up on page 85, then page 85 should be your page 1. Try cutting out pages 1-84 and see if you can rework the story to fit with where the plot picks up.
    • Ask a ludicrous question in the first line of your query instead of properly identifying your hook, i.e. What would you do if your job was to kill babies? Also "Imagine if..." and "What if..." Holly was so funny here. She gave an excellent example of how opening with a question can stack the odds against you, because immediately the agent might start answering in their own way and it will never be the way you want them to answer. She said she's much more interested if you get HER to ask the question than if you state it for her. So instead of saying, "What would you do if you woke up one day and the sky was at your feet?" Say, "Jacob Smith wakes up on his first day of school to find that his feet are in the clouds - literally." Or something like that. (I totally made that example up just now off the top of my head so if it sucks, blame me and not Holly, who is awesome and probably had a way better example which I forgot to write down.)
    • Edit out your voice. The voice introduces the agent to your story and gives them a taste for what they'll get in the pages. Don't edit it out!
    • Think that a "no" on this project means never for me with any of your work ever again. No means no to this query right now. Holly told a great story about a client who took four queries to get to sign with her - but in the end, she signed on with Holly.
    Holly gave some more advice, and also did a fabulous Q and A, and I'm sure I'll touch on both in another entry where I gush more about AWC. But my fingers are tired from typing up this awesomeness of awesome information, so I'm sure your eyes are tired, too. Plus your brain. So we'll leave that for next time.
    Copyright 2009

    See Heather Write
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