Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Funday!

It's Sunday!! Which means I'm going to post some hilarious/awesome/hilariously awesome links from around the blog-o-sphere! (And you definitely want to visit them - they are full of win!)
  • The first one is, of course, another link to my signed book giveaway!! Win The Given Day by Dennis Lehane of The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve! Tomorrow is the last day to enter!
  • The ever-terrifying, ever-insightful Janet Reid tells you why you should make sure you've actually read the book you are comparing your book to in your query.
  • Frankie posts these (probably) great recaps of The Vampire Diaries over at The First Novels Club. I never read them because, well, I don't watch that show (even though it has Mia from Degrassi: TNG on it, so I probably should watch it...but I don't have cable.) Her most recent recap, which I can only assume is hilarious because Frankie herself is hilarious, is here.
  • Speaking of Frankie, she posted a helpful guide to packing/dressing for a conference weekend. Many of my blogging friends are probably at SCBWI or other awesome conferences right now, and therefore not reading this at all, but for those conferences in the future this could be helpful. 
  • The soon-to-be-published Steph Bowe, who is only 15 and quite frankly amazing, compares not outlining to pantsing. 'Nough said.
  • Can you spot the errors in this hilarious query phone call Getting Past the Gatekeeper received? (Please don't make these mistakes. Ever. Or you will be tarred, feathered, and sacked.)
  • Speaking of query phone calls, Diana Paz at Writing Roller Coasters posted a hypothetical query phone call which is also awful, then points out everything that is awful about it. 
  • And finally, my one true love, The Rejectionist, answers the best rhetorical questions they've ever gotten in query letters. This was my favorite post all week. Rejectionist, I'm pretty sure we're both girls and there are very few states that would allow it, plus I'd have to get a divorce first, but will you please, please, PLEASE marry me? I love you.
What posts from around the blogging world did you just love this week? Feel free to post them in my comments! 

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Don't Let the Crippling Fear of Rejection Stop You!

Just another reminder that I've got a contest going on! Win a signed copy of The Given Day by Dennis Lehane or The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve! Or, if you're in the mood for some YA, check out this contest by the Undercover Book Lover for Some Girls Are, All Unquiet Things, and Before I Fall, or this contest by Steph Su Reads for some incredible YA ARCs, including Linger; Will Grayson, Will Grayson; and Sisters Red. (See, even when I give away adult books, I still link to the awesome YA giveaways.)

Author friends, I'm here today to tell you the story of a woman I met last week at my writing conference. Although I'm not yet ready to query, a lot of my readers are preparing to enter the fray. And even if you're not, I know you think about querying all the time (come on, even I do it - I have a query letter written already, even though I know it's useless right now, and pretty terrible.) I wanted to share this woman's story with you as a great lesson of what not to do when you query. This woman told me a story that I literally could not believe, and I knew I had to share it with you. To protect the innocent, I'll call her Rita. (I've been making my way through Dexter lately. I considered calling her the Ice Truck Killer or the Bay Harbor Butcher, but that would color the already unflattering story against her.)

Rita is an older author - I don't know her exact age, but definitely over 50. A few years ago she attended the same conference, and the agent who spoke invited everyone in attendance to query him, even though he wasn't really taking on new clients. We'll call this agent Marcus. (I'm also rereading Perfect Fifths by Megan McCafferty. MarcusFlutieMarcusFlutieMarcusFlutie)

Rita had a finished manuscript that she was very excited about and had been shopping around to a few agents. She is in the "query-one-at-a-time" camp, and had received rejections from three or four agents so far (with a few partial requests). (The one-agent-at-a-time method of querying vs. the multiple submissions querying is a topic for another post altogether, but I thought her method was a bit counterproductive in the first place. Some busy agents take months to get through their slush piles, and the whole time you're just sitting on your manuscript? Agents expect you to be doing simultaneous submissions - they just don't want to know about it.) So with Marcus's invitation, she decided to try her luck with him.

She wrote a professional query letter, personalizing it to include his invitation to all authors in attendance at the conference. After a few weeks, she got a request (I wasn't clear if the request was for a partial or a full). She immediately sent her manuscript over. Months and months went by and she hadn't heard anything. She became dejected. She didn't understand; why wasn't Marcus letting her know what he thought? Months turned into two years, and when I met her, she was still waiting to hear back from Marcus. I asked if she had tried to query other agents, or even called Marcus to find out what he thought, and she said no - she was too heartbroken.

To be honest, I think this whole situation was a bit melodramtic. And I'd like to think that most of my readers would know that if more than a few months go by and you don't hear from an agent, you should either follow-up or assume no answer = rejection and move on. Then again, before meeting Rita, I had assumed every writer thought this way. Apparently not. Her novel - which sounds brilliant, and I know she must be a decent writer because she won a best-of-the-workshop award - has been sitting in a drawer for years, all because she was too upset by a single non-response.

Toughen up!! Don't let this happen to you! I think the best way to go into the query wars is to have a plan of attack for how you're going to handle rejections and nonresponses. How long will you let go by before you call up the agent and ask about the status of the full manuscript they requested? (I've heard from multiple agents that this is totally acceptable, though the time frame varies per agent. Do your research.) How are you going to react when someone sends you a form rejection, or worse, ignores you completely?

My plan? I'm going to print every single rejection, so that when I do get accepted, I can laugh in the faces of everyone who said no!! Mwahahaha!!!!!!!! (OK, the laugh in their faces part isn't true, but the printing thing definitely is.)

Fortunately, the story with Rita and Marcus does have a sort-of happy ending. Marcus was present at the conference again this year, so Rita finally got up the nerve to ask him what happened. Of course, since her manuscript had been on his desk so many years ago, he didn't recall it specifically, but he assured her that his agency had a very specific system set in place for this kind of thing, and that she probably got an email response which may have gone to her Spam box or gotten otherwise lost in the email. (Another word of caution - have a dedicated query email, and/or make sure every agent you query is in your address book so they don't wind up in Spam!) Rita ended up with a bit of egg on her face, but may just query again after all. And Marcus told us all to follow-up and not be so afraid of rejection.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why Adverbs Are Evil

Before we get started...don't forget about my first-ever contest! Win a signed copy of Dennis Lehane's The Given Day or Anita Shreve's The Pilot's Wife!

Now I want to talk about something that we all deal with. Every. Single. Day. Adverbs.

What is an adverb? An adverb is word that modifies another word, and answers questions such as who, how, or why something happened. And they should be avoided at all costs. 

What's so wrong with adverbs? To hammer the point home, I thought I'd borrow this crafty little fellow from Shannon over at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe to tell you all about it....

Blog followers, meet Ninjadillo!!!! A high-kicking armadillo who karate-chops adverbs to the curb! Heeyyaahhh!

Ninjadillo was introduced to me by Shannon. Those claws are terrifying, and a constant reminder of the way that adverbs will rip your precious manuscript to shreds if you don't remove them as soon as possible.

Now, I know most of you have heard this line before: get rid of adverbs, it will make your MS better. But do you really understand why adverbs are evil? I'll admit I didn't fully understand it until last week.

The truth is, adverbs make your writing sound weak, lazy, and boring. They dilute the power of the verb they're modifying. Instead of actually taking the time to describe what the characters are thinking, feeling, or doing, adverbs allow writers to insert one word and create a blanket impression of the idea they're trying to get across. When you use adverbs, you're taking away a lot of the meaning that your words could have - if you let them.

Take these two sentences, both of which say essentially the same thing, but only one of which contains any adverbs. 
The drunk entered the room unsteadily and walked noisily into a lamp.

The drunk staggered into the room, knocking over a lamp which crashed to the floor.
In both sentences, we know the man is drunk, having trouble walking, and is making a lot of noise. But the second sentence somehow paints a more vivid picture - the words themselves (stagger and crash) have a slight onomatopoeia effect, and give a precise image of how the man is walking. 

Sometimes, removing the adverb can be as simple as reorganizing the sentence structure, turning:
Suddenly, there was a blinding light overhead.
There was a sudden blinding light overhead.
But getting rid of adverbs isn't always the right thing to do. The thing you want to consider is this: is the adverb telling the reader something they don't already know or couldn't have figured out on their own from context clues? Or can you write a better sentence/paragraph to make those context clues more clear? Another thing to think about is when the adverb is describing something that is out of the ordinary. For example, you wouldm't want to write:
The boy stroked his dog's fur lovingly.
Because, well, how else would you expect a boy to stroke his dog's fur? But the minute the boy pets his dog in a way that shows aggression, well...then it becomes interesting...
The boy rubbed his hands roughly across the dog's back, forcing a whine out of the animal.
 It's possible that this sentence could be improved upon many times over, and eventually that adverb - roughly - could be eliminated altogether for some verb that simply describes rough rubbing (scour, maybe, but that doesn't seem right). But since it is unexpected, it is allowable, and Ninjadillo might retract his claws and allow your adverb to live another day.

The best thing I've heard about adverbs so far was from Dennis Lehane (I think I quoted this last week, but it's worth repeating): "Learn to sprinkle adjectives like salt and adverbs like cyanide." And of course, never forget the most important rule of all - every rule that has ever been written about writing has been broken, beautifully, by some writer, somewher.

Monday, January 25, 2010

My first contest!!! *Throws confetti*

We all love to read. I know not everyone who reads this blog is a writer, but if you're not a writer, you're a reader, or you're a friend/family member of mine, which means that you probably enjoy reading. And last week, I got to meet some very cool authors. So, as a thank-you for putting up with my ramblings, and just because I finally have something worthy of giving away...

I'm giving away signed books!!!! Woot!

Which books can you win?

The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve (signed paperback)


The Given Day by Dennis Lehane (signed paperback...I thought fewer people would have this than Shutter Island, and it's amazing)

Now, I know this might not be as exciting as some awesome YA books, because many of the people who read this blog are YA writers/lovers, like me. BUT both of these authors are incredible, and I firmly believe that you can learn something from any book, even if it's bad (which these books aren't) or out of your genre (which these books might be). Plus, did I mention they're signed???!!! Here's proof (excuse the crappy quality, my BlackBerry can only do so much):

Pretty awesome, right?

Here are the rules:
  1. You must be a follower to enter. (But you can become a follower now! Just click on that little button over on the right that says "Follow!") You get a few extra points for being an old follower. 
  2. You must be 13 or older, and you must live in the U.S. or Canada. Sorry!!! Since I already have the books, it's too expensive to ship overseas. 
  3. You are allowed to specify which book you want to win, and you can enter to win both. You can't actually win both books, though. If for some reason picks your number(s) for both books, I'll email you and ask which you'd prefer, then pick a new winner for the second book. 
  4. Contest ends at 11:59PM on February 1, 2009.
Here's how the entries work:
  1. Fill out the form at the end of this post to enter. If you have questions, post them in the comments and I'll answer there, or shoot me an email. 
  2. New followers get 2 entries; people who were already following me get 5.
  3. Post a whole blog entry about it (on it's own) for 5 extra entries. Put it in your sidebar or mention it in a post and get an extra 3. Links on FB or other Web sites (NBC excluded, since I'll be posting there...sorry!) get 3 points also. 
  4. Tweets get an extra point for each tweet, and you can gain up to two points per day this way. In order for your tweet to count, be sure to include my Twitter name, @HeatherTrese in your tweet, and make sure I know what your Twitter name is so I can match up your entry to your Twitter account! Don't count any tweets when you add up the total below; I'll add those all in myself. 
  5. If you refer a new follower to my blog, you get 3 extra entries.  
And that's it! Seems complicated...but I'll check all the entries to make sure everyone gets the points they deserve!

Just fill out the form below to enter...good luck!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Which comes first: Character or Plot?

Although my conference is over, I learned so much that my lessons will keep on coming! I'm even skipping Sunday Funday to post one today! (Though there is a fun announcement at the end of this, so read through!)

Here's an age-old question in story writing: what's more important, character or plot? Dennis Lehane talked about this last week, and followed that simple question up by saying "Plot without character is an amusement ride. Character without plot is a painting."

And that is so true. Plot and character are linked completely. External events (plot) trigger the internal turmoil that is inherent in your characters, but without the internal turmoil, the plot wouldn't be particularly interesting. In fact, you can build an entire plot based on a great character. But how do you build an interesting character?

One way to start is to think about the room they live in and build out. Consider the contents of their kitchen, their CD player, their book shelves, closet, etc. But although these things round the character out, they don't make the character. What makes the character is their quest for what they want: love, security, fulfillment, value, approval, fairness/justice, etc.

Most of us, when we first start forming our main characters, write someone who is very close to ourselves. You might not want to admit this, but it's true. (Come on, think about your main character, especially who they were in your very first draft. How much did they have in common with you, especially in terms of wants, desires, fears, etc? Probably a lot. Even J.K. Rowling did it, and fully admitted it, with Hermione.) But you lose objectivity in your character, because you can't remove yourself from them. So gradually you write them further and further away from you.

One thing you need to be careful of, something that can make your plot bland and even cliched, is making your heroes too heroic and your villains too evil. (The latter is something I'm struggling with right now.) Because I love HP, and I've already mentioned it, and I think most people reading this blog would get the reference, I'm going to continue with that example. Voldemort is obviously evil and awful. But, there are times in the book when you feel just a little sorry for him, particularly when we see the circumstances of his orphanage. Once we see his upbringing, we understand that he's complex and multi-dimensional. Every time you write about a good character, you need to ask yourself what's bad about them. And when you write about a bad character, you need to ask yourself what's good about them.

I mention all this stuff on character because, as I said before, if you have an incredible character you can create a plot around them. Let's take this list of qualities, totally stolen from an exercise we did with Lehane (the list is from a series of questions we all had to answer, then he drew one at random. These aren't my answers, and sadly I don't have the questions, but you can figure out the questions from the answers):
  1. Passion to learn
  2. Their eyes wander when they talk to people
  3. A bit bossy
  4. Their greatest desire is to be successful
  5. Wants unwanning drive
  6. Her sister has broken her heart, and she hurt her sister as well
  7. She cheated after drinking
  8. Afraid to fail
  9. Phobia of heights
  10. Does volunteer work
  11. Addicted to alcohol, exercise, marijuna, and tea
  12. Makes mistakes when she parties and drinks too much
  13. More than anything, wants to raise enough money to help her parents retire
So when you first look at that list, it might not look like much. But the more you consider it, the more the layers of this complex person start to come apart. As a group, we created a plot involving the MC having to raise the money to help her parents, but her addictions/phobias) kept getting in her way (we had various reasons, like having to go up an elevator for a job interview and not being able to manage it, or showing up drunk/high to an interview, etc.), so ultimately she had to ask her sister for help, and in the end her parents didn't even want the help.

OK, I'll give you another exercise. Here's another list of traits. Write a short story, or just outline a plot, based on the list below. I copied the answers as they were read, so you can interupt them as you want.
  1. Most proud of his wonderous humility
  2. Quirk: lines up Sweet & Low packets
  3. Snorts, not snores, in sleep
  4. Hopes for a quick death
  5. Wants to have their novel published
  6. His girlfriend's death broke his heart
  7. He doesn't like people and they know it
  8. He is afraid of lingering death
  9. Phobia: ferris wheel
  10. Once let down someone in need
  11. Has told big lies to the person he loves the most
  12. Addicted to cheap beer
  13. Once beat up a guy in a bar
  14. Nothing would make his life near-perfect 

In other news, I'm holding my first-ever contest! You all were such great little followers last week, telling me how wonderful and helpful all my posts were, that I've decided to give away not one but TWO signed books by some amazing authors! Tune in tomorrow for the details! (Hint: You might want to start following me now, before it technically starts, to give yourself a leg-up on the competition...)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Can't Get Your Point Across? Try a Different Form

Today's post is about form. Most of the people who read this blog are primarily novelists, but you might also dabble in other forms. Maybe you don't. If you don't, you should, and here's why:

Using a different form for your writing can put a whole different take on the piece and how it comes across.

My lecture this morning was from Sherri Reynolds, author of several novels and a play, Orabelle's Wheelbarrow. But Orabelle's Wheelbarrow didn't start as a play. It started as a novel, but was rejected by her editor. (Yes, she was already published. Yes, her novel, The Rapture of Canaan, had already been chosen as an Oprah's Book Club selection. Rejection can happen to anyone. Don't give up.) So she sat on it for a little while, but the story stayed with her.

Eventually, she decided to try writing the novel as a play to see if she got any ideas for developing it. She took a playwriting class and ended up with a 200-page play. (For those who don't know, that's....very long. Very.) Then she cut it down more and more, whittling out scenes until she ended up with 120 pages. That play won the Women Playwright's Initative award in 2005 and was published and produced - after she cut another 30 pages.

What does that have to do with anything? The point is, Orabelle's Wheelbarrow didn't work as a novel; it needed to be reimagined and thought about in a new way. So she thought on the form, created an incredible play, and in the end she thinks it works much better that way.

Tonight, I'm going to offer you a could even call it an assignment (wow, I feel like Shannon with her USC Lessons over here.) This is the assignment we had in Sherri Reynolds' workshop, so I'll even tell you what I came out with and how I think it will really help me tell a story.

Assignment: Think about a piece of writing you've been struggling with, or a story you've wanted to tell for awhile but haven't been able to. The writing can be anything - a section in your current WIP, a short you've been mulling over, a novel you stuck in the drawer years ago...anything. Then, think about how you might reinvent it and write it in another form. It could be a poem, a piece of flash fiction, letters, a narrative essay, a play, a song, a diary entry, a sitcom - anything, as long as you change the form.

What I did: I know I'm usually full of wit and charm, but this is going to get serious, guys. A little more than six years ago, my mom died. She spent a few days in the hospital in a coma before she finally passed. On my first day visiting her, I held her hand in mine and squeezed it. She didn't squeeze back, and it was the first time I really felt like I knew she was gone (even though she hadn't died yet). I always knew I wanted to write something about the power of that moment, but for years I've struggled to find the words. And today it hit me - that isn't a short story, or even a section of a novel, which is what I'd always tried to write it as. It's a poem, using my mom's hand as a guide for me throughout my life, and showing the times she was there and when she wasn't. It was so obvious when I thought of it today I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of it before. (Probably because I don't really do poetry, but after hearing Beth Ann Fennelly read hers on Tuesday I'm a poetry lover.) No, I will not be posting the lame poem I wrote here, unless I can clean it up some. But I do feel, for the first time, that the story is being told the way it should. And I feel so glad that I could finally get it down.

Another great thing that this lecture on form did is show how you can take something like a poem and come up with an incredible plot. We looked at a poem called Eulogy for a Snake Handler Killed by Canebrake. I won't post the poem here, because it's very long, but you can follow the link if you're interested and see that there is a LOT of story in that poem.

So the next time you're struggling to write something, remember - it might not be you, or the story, it might be the form that you're putting the story in.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Critiques: Turning Your Plot Upside-Down Since 1485

I want to start out by saying I'm sorry I didn't blog yesterday. I got so many ideas for posts from yesterday alone that I couldn't even decide which topic to address, and I was going to decide at the last minute, but then the last minute came and I laid down in my husband's lap at the early, early hour (for me, anyway) of 11pm and fell soundly asleep in the middle of an extremely exciting episode of Dexter (my new favorite television show). So I've decided to hold off on those genius ideas until next week, or possibly later, because I've been gaining new followers every day and I love that, so now I'll tease you with the promise of more excellent content. 

Now, onto the post: my workshop critique was Monday. I was very nervous. Although I've sent things out to people to read and critique before, it's never happened in real life, where I knew the people beforehand, then had to spend the rest of the week with them afterward.

For the most part, everything went very well in the oral critique. The worst part was that I didn't edit as well as I should have, so I had some tense issues, which caused my teacher, Stewart O'Nan, author of many books to say, "You change tenses so much it makes us want to stab you." Nice.

Once the group got going, they said they generally liked the premise, and no one picked on my writing (out loud, at least, but I'll get to that in a minute). They had some suggestions for plot improvements, one of which I immediately knew I would take, and others that I need to sit on...including one so major that it's literally given me a headache from thinking about it so much. Someone in the group compared the book to Farenheit 451, and I swooned, then realized he was kind of way off base...but it gave me a great idea for a new element to add, and I've been toying with changing that up, as well.

Here's the most frustrating thing that happened, and is a great lesson to you writers out there: I wasn't allowed to talk during the critique, which I thought would be fine. Then they started discussing Kaia's reaction to something that happens, saying they didn't think she would get that emotional because she didn't show emotion over an event that happened in the past. At first I was frustrated. I wanted to scream, "But she DOES show emotion to that other event, stupid!! You just didn't read it right!"

But after they spent three minutes discussing it, I realized something: if nine intelligent people (writers and mostly avid readers) who read the MS twice with the intention of critiquing it hadn't picked up on something, then it wasn't that they hadn't read it right - it was that I hadn't written it well enough. Instantly, I was thankful for the rule that I wasn't allowed to speak, because if I had pointed out the line which mentions it, they would have said, "Oh, OK," and moved on, and I wouldn't have fixed my weak writing.

Tonight, I started looking over the mark-ups and written responses. One of them in particular really stood out to me, because the critiquer literally rewrote a lot of the MS. I'm not talking a suggestion here or there - I mean crossed out half of the page and rewrote it using totally new words and descriptions. Yikes. I always thought that was stepping on the writer's toes a bit. Granted, this particular writer is very good with language. Still, if I think a paragraph or sentence needs work, I'll write something like, "Needs work" or "passive" or "not enough detail." I won't insert detail or rewrite the thing. I do suggest lines occassionally, but I thought this was a lot. Am I wrong to think that? Do most people rewrite a MS they get? (that wasn't my experience with anyone else).

Again, though, I saw a general fondness for my plot, with a few notes on holes (which can easily be patched). Two or three people said I still needed to clean up my writing, and that's fine; I know I'm learning, and that's why I picked this conference. It is great for people who really want to focus on craft. I honestly feel like I can learn to be a better writer, but I can't learn to have a great plot, so I'm very excited about this.

There were a lot of notes on how much they loved my opening, but I'm also thinking I might need to change it based on some other notes I got. I'll still keep the opening line in there, just move it a little later. It's such a great line, and it sets the novel up excellently, but I'm not sure it's perfect anymore. And the opening needs to be perfect.

This whole process was enlightening, though. I'd always heard writers talk about "killing your darlings," but I hadn't yet experienced that. Not that I thought I was so wonderful, but just that I hadn't found anything that I LOVED that I needed to kill. But it's definitely coming now, so I'm starting to get sad. I'll just file it away, though, and remember that it's not dead; it's just sleeping.

Monday, January 18, 2010

I learned, I learn, I will learn: Things got in-tense!

This cartoon has nothing to do with my post, except that I think it's funny given many of my blogging friends' recent posts about their fears that their plot isn't 100% original. Comic from

Before I get started on what I learned today, I have updated stats on how out-of-touch the rest of the literary world is with YA (at least at this conference):
  • My MS was critiqued today (I'll be posting all about the experience on Wednesday, after I've thought about it and looked over my comments), and near the end one of the women - who, admittedly, is probably in her 70s or 80s - had to ask what "young adult" meant.
  • During lunch, I was talking to someone about how Laura Lippman said we all needed to have a novel that was our "role-model novel" - the novel that we want ours to be. I said I've known for awhile what mine is, and the person I was talking to asked me what. I said The Hunger Games and got a blank stare. Then I mentioned The Handmaid's Tale and everything got better. 
  • No comments on my age today, though. Well one, but I sort of said something about it first, and it was a polite mention, not a rude one, or the kind where everyone assumed I was in college.
I am still learning a LOT, though, even if I sometimes feel like not everyone gets me (I do have 1-2 YA writers in my workshop group, though). One of the things we discussed today was the importance of tense.

It all started during my critique, when someone casually mentioned that I seemed to be struggling with my tenses (ugh. I really thought I caught all of them, but apparently not. When I looked back there were so many I was mad at myself.) Stewart O'Nan, who's leading my group, literally said, "You change tenses so much you make us want to stab you." Nice.

But the classmate (who, incidentally, is having a YA novel published in Sweden, where she's from, next year) said something that really got me thinking. Basically she implied that the entire narration, tone, and story of my novel could change depending on the tense.

And she's absolutely right.

I have to admit...and boy is this going to make me sound like an amateur...but when I started writing this book, I picked first-person POV with a past-tense voice because that's what I like to read. I like to get inside character's heads, and I think past-tense sounds more natural somehow. I don't know, it just felt right to me, so I didn't think about it too much. I briefly played with present tense (with the result that every single person who looked at my frist draft commented on my inability to keep to one tense) but ultimately decided past sounded better. That was that.

But my classmate got me thinking: when you choose your tense, what you're really doing is deciding when your narrator is telling the story from. If you use present tense, then the narrator is telling the story as it happens - no problems. But if you choose past tense...well, that opens up a whole can of worms.

Past tense can mean the narrator is telling the story from so many different times - anywhere in the future, really. It can be five minutes from now. It can be at the end of the events of the book. It can be at the end of the events of the book series. Or it can be at the end of the narrator's life.

Now, think about this: if your narrator is telling the story from a time far, far in the future (or even after the book happens) that means they already know everything that takes place in the book. And although that doesn't mean they need to react any differently, that does mean certain things might stand out that wouldn't have if a story was narrated as it happened.

Let's consider this example: a girl and a boy go to the store, and on the way to the store they got mugged. The girl dies. If the boy narrates the story from the present tense, he might emphasize what seems important about the trip to the store, because he's living in the moment. So he might talk more about the fact that they're out of eggs and he's annoyed with the girl for not telling him before they wanted to bake a cake, etc. But, if he narrates using past tense, he already knows that she's going to die. Instead of being annoyed with her, he might point out some good things, too, (of course he still wants to show his annoyance, since that was part of the initial experience) or he might point out how the girl had her money hanging out of her back pocket, making her an easy target.

Maybe that's not a great example, but you get what I'm saying: the tense that you choose has a lot more to do with what sounds good. You also need to think about when the narrator is telling the story from. No matter what tense you choose, make sure you can answer these questions:
  • When does the story take place relative to when the narrator is explaining things?
  • If the narration is far in the future, do you want to play with omniscience? Just because the narrator knows all doesn't mean he or she has to tell the reader. 
  • If you write in the future tense, you are probably writing something crazy, and I might want to read it. Unless it's crazy. 
So that's the explosion my mind has been going through today (along with a few more).  Am I the only person on the planet that didn't understand how important choosing your tense was? I'm not changing it; I like working with the past tense. But I do need to decide how far ahead she's telling from, and what she already knows, just to give context to what she's telling readers.

There were a few other things I learned, just little tidbits which don't fit in with this overall "tense" theme. They include:
  • Don't describe your character's clothes just because; everything needs to have context.
    • Example: Don't say "The 40-year-old was wearing jeans and a shirt from Hot Topic." have one character say to the 40-year old, "Aren't you a little old for that shirt? What are you, going to a rave?"
  • Don't write for people with ADD, but always keep the story moving forward. It doesn't have to move forward like a bullet, it can move slowly, as long as it moves. 
  • A scene ends when a character gets or does not get what they want or need. The novel ends when the character gets or does not get their super objective. (Dennis Lehane loves the ending of the movie Sex, Lies, and Videotape because it ends exactly where it should.)
  • Finally, the quote of the day, "The best thing that can ever happen to writers are the accidents. Don't ever walk away from a character that speaks to you." - Dennis Lehane

Sunday, January 17, 2010

On beginnings

Edit: I realized after I wrote this that this post is not at all witty, like I normally strive to be. Sorry. I literally got three hours of sleep last night. I'll try harder tomorrow. (Which shouldn't be hard, since I'm getting workshopped tomorrow!) But there is a LOT of great info here, so don't let the lack of my normal charming sense of humor deter you. ;)

Today's morning workshop was all about beginnings.

Gone are the days of the 19th century manuscript, where authors could spend page after page after endless page setting up scenes, themes, and motifs. The sad truth is, no matter how amazing the rest of your book is, the first 250 words better be the best writing in the entire thing, otherwise agents, editors, and eventually the general reading public will never get past the first page. Anita Shreve admitted that there is way too much emphasis on the beginning, but it's true; if your novel doesn't grab the reader right away, it will be auto-rejected, tossed to the side, or put back in the stacks. Worst of all, busy agents and editors are searching for reasons to turn your novel down; knowing they can put your book aside means they can easily move on to the next manuscript.

So what makes up a good beginning? The most important thing is arresting, beautiful writing. Anita Shreve admitted that wasn't particularly helpful, because it's mostly a gut-feeling kind of thing. She looks for the kind of beginning that leaves her with a shiver in a chest. She did read two examples of her favorite beginnings, one of which I've included below:
Mum says, "Don't come creeping into our room at night."
They sleep with loaded guns beside them on the bedside rugs. She says, "Don't startle us when we're sleeping."
"Why not?"
"We might shoot you."
"By mistake."
"Okay." As it is, there seems a good enough chance of getting shot on purpose. "Okay, I won't."
So if I wake in the night and need Mum and Dad, I call Vanessa, because she isn't armed. "Van! Van, hey!" I hiss across the room until she wakes up. And then Van has to light a candle and escort me to the loo, where I pee sleepily into the flickering yellow light and Van keeps the candle high, looking for snakes and scorpions and baboon spiders.
From Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller. There is a mistake, though, because you can't hiss the words "Van, Van, hey!" since there aren't any S's, but it took Anita Shreve five reads to notice.
There are several different ways to start a novel, including dialogue (which, incidentally, Dennis Lehane hates, because he likes to immediately know what's going on, but Anita Shreve is OK with it as long as she finds out soon enough what's happening), the telling of a tale, setting description, what the character is doing (AS's favorite), or a description of the relationship between the characters.

More importantly, though, are the ways not to start a novel. They include:
  • Descriptions of the sky or weather, because it happens so often it's now an auto-rejection (Hilariously, when she was saying this, she actually said "awful" instead of "often" the first time)
  • Waking up/dreaming, because it's a cliche, and with dreams there's a sense that you're cheating the reader because they're investing their time in something that isn't real
  • Letters (AS's editor said he always skips over dreams and letters in books)
  • A woman driving in the car with the wind blowing in her hair
  • They were 50-50 split on whether or not prologues were OK
Then we played a game called "Writer Idol." Dennis Lehane, Anita Shreve, and Tom Franklin sat at the front of the room American-Idol style. An actress read the first 250 words of anonymously submitted openings, and if any of them heard something that would make them stop reading, they would raise their hands. If two hands went up, the reading stopped. These are the things that made them raise their hands:
  • A bullet in the shoulder on the first line (arresting doesn't mean startling, it means well-written); it was too jarring and the author was coming in too hard. (Lehane said he doesn't like the beginning of Lethal Weapon 2 because it opens in the middle of a car chase with no context)
  • "My own personal opinion," because it's a sign of weak writing since it's redundant times three (obviously your opinion is your own and it's personal)
  • overwriting
  • confusion; when they didn't understand what was going on
  • sky/weather (one piece mentioned it three times in 250 words)
  • waking up
  • "shards of pain broke through his thoughts" (this phrase, on its own, was enough to get a work rejected since it has cliches and signs of weak writing)
  • lack of character or action
  • unspecific - the character had a thought but wouldn't tell us what it was. He was being needlessly coy.
  • Adverb overkill (the example was touching a pet - the author wrote "lovingly brushing his fur." Lehane said if someone brushes the fur non-lovingly, then he'll take the modifier, because it's not expected) Use adverbs the way you use salt.
  • Cliches
  • Unrelated, today's tally on number of comments on my age: 2.5. (One was in reference to the amount of YA I read, which I said I do because I love it, but also because I want to keep up my genre, and she said, "Plus you're in that age group anyway." *headdesk*)
Finally, two quotes I love (though there were several - follow me on Twitter for tweets throughout the day!)

"Read your first ten pages and find your most arresting sentence. Make that your first line." - Anita Shreve

"Any rule I give you, some writer, somewhere, has broken it beautifully." - Tom Franklin

Saturday, January 16, 2010

As Anita Shreve Once Said to Me...

Today was the first day of my conference!! Sort of.

It was the first official day, but really all that was on the calendar was registering, a campus tour, and Anita Shreve's reading/signing (plus a welcome reception). But since I was way too excited for my own good, I went down to St. Pete and checked in at 3:15 - a solid 45 minutes before the campus tour began. Unfortunately, there were some clouds in the sky, and a little bit of ominous thunder, so the conference coordinator said the tour may or may not be canceled.

I decided to kill the time between the present (3:18) and the tour by wandering down to Haslam's bookstore, which I had Googled in anticipation of needing a way to entertain myself. This was seriously the coolest bookstore I have ever been in! They had a mix of used books and new books, and it was GIGANTIC. It was arranged a little haphazardly, but since my life is arranged that way as well I totally appreciated it. I walked out with two used books and one new for less than $20. Needless to say, I will be back.

Unfortunately, I missed the campus tour, which I found out later wasn't canceled. So I wandered aimlessly in my car for 30 minutes, almost got in an accident, then ate dinner at an Italian place where I was easily the youngest person by 60 years.

Finally, I made it back to campus, where Anita Shreve's reading was about to begin. Dennis Lehane introduced her and, as it turns out, he's absolutely effing hilarious! I can't wait for his reading on Saturday because I LOLed so much tonight! He's also seriously down to earth. After her reading (and the signing, where I risked a side-eye from Ms. Shreve to say "Please don't put my name on this book, I'm giving it away on my blog" (soon, soon! Calm yourself!)), we had a welcome reception, where I got to know a few of my fellow writers, as well as Laura Lippman, one of the faculty members, and the kind of writer who makes you a fan just by having an awesome personality.

Here are some highlights from the evening:
  • Watching Anita Shreve (AS from here out) do her reading and seeing the rapt faces in the audience I knew - I want that.
  • AS made me feel like I should write about things that matter. (She talked a lot about her time in Africa, since her new book takes place in Kenya.)
  • AS lived in Kenya for three years in the late 70s, and always wanted to write a book that took place there. But she was afraid of it turning into a book about herself, so she had to wait long enough before she could remove herself enough that she wouldn't be writing about herself.
  • Both Dennis Lehane (DL) and AS hate the question "Where do you get your ideas?" and they think all writers hate it. DL said, "We give these long, complicated answers, but the truth is, 'my ass.'"
  • AS: "After 15 novels, you'd think I would have learned something, but I haven't. With each novel, it's like I've never written one before. The pleasure of writing is in changing the form, changing the voice, and that's why you never learn anything." 
  • AS has a broad-strokes outline, with the three (or so) main events, and she knows how it's going to end, but that's all she goes in with. It also changes as she writes. 
  • AS rewrites so much that she printed it all out for her son's class and the stack was well above her head (and she's taller than me, I think, and I'm 5'5")
  • DL: "You think people confuse giving birth with raising the child? 'Well, I wrote the draft!' Yeah, but you didn't raise the thing!"
  • AS: "I can always tell the point in the book when the writer got bored." (There was an audible sigh/groan in the room when she said this.)
    • To follow up, DL asked, "Have you ever fallen asleep writing?" AS: "No!!!!" DL: "I have. And that's how I knew I shouldn't write that scene."
  • AS and DL both talked about how authors always want to write the opposite genre, but editors either tell them no (AS) or say a sarcastic OK, knowing they'll lose interest or it won't work out (DL)
  • Fun fact: AS is married to a man she met when she was 13 at summer camp. Years later, he saw her picture in a NYT ad and wrote her a letter. They had an old-fashioned correspondence, then they met and got married. (This has influenced her work.)
  • When AS is writing a book, no one knows what she's writing about - not even her editor or her husband. She thinks it's like letting the fizz out of the champagne bottle. 
  • AS thinks this time is the toughest it's ever been for new authors trying to break in. But for short story writers, e-books might be a place for them to find publication. (She sees eventual potential for new authors there, too.) She thinks e-publishing will change everything and will make writing more accesible to everyone.
  • Laura Lippman: "You can't take good reviews seriously because then you have to take bad reviews seriously, as well."
  • Now, a funny story: A participant (who's not in my workshop, so she didn't read my MS) asked what my novel was about. I told her. Before I could finish, she interrupted twice and said, "Oh, that's just like ________ !!!" (Exactly what every writer wants to hear.) She did have a little smirk. Once I finished explaining, though, she said she liked the idea. Then I asked what hers was about. She wouldn't tell me, and said she thought like AS, that every time she talked about her story it was like letting the fizz out. Uh...1. You asked what mine was about, how did you not think I was going to ask back? 2. This is the piece you're workshopping. You could at least tell me about the first 25 pages (which is what I focused my description we all turned in summaries anyway.)
  • I only met one person who's in my workshop. He looked at my name tag, then said, "Oh, you're the reporter." Me: "How did you know??" Him: "...." Me: (figures he Googled the whole class) Him: "I looked up some local restaurant reviews and saw your name in a byline." Me: (Decides to play nice.) "Cool." Him: "Sorry, I marked your pages up a lot." Me: "It's OK! I'm here to learn, so the more you mark, the better." Him: "But I did say at the end that I thought it was like a Stephen King fossil - it needs work, but it could be a great story." (And I think that's AWESOME. I can make/am making it better, so I feel great about that.)
  • Number of jokes/questions about my age: 3.
  • Number of times I was told being a journalist first is awesome: 5.
And finally, I leave you with this exchange between DL and AS:

DL: "There are a lot of aspiring writers here tonight, and I'm sure they'd all like to say at a party some day on their blog tonight, 'As Anita Shreve once said to me...' So, what advice do you have?"

AS: "Don't give up. The road is long and the obstacles are huge, but if you really think you've got it don't give up. There were many times I could have given up ... I wrote my first novel at 43 ... Don't get discouraged because it's tough in the beginning."

Friday, January 15, 2010

Now would be a good time to follow me.

I know your type. You stop by here every once in awhile. Maybe you follow the link from my Facebook or Twitter profile, or you click on my name when I comment on someone else's blog, only to find yourself facing that impossibly cool (if slightly out of focus...the jpg conversion didn't go well) Wordle header. You're a regular visitor, but not yet a follower, and I have to tell would be a good time to scoot your mouse over the the right and click that little rectangle, my friend. 

Starting tomorrow, I'm headed down to St. Pete (a whopping 30 minute drive) for a whole week of workshops, lectures on craft, talks on how to get an agent or get published in a literary magazine, and more. And I'm going to share everything with you, which means I'll be laying all kinds of knowledge on your minds. (I'm more than happy/excited to do this. We get a two-hour break every day between dinner and the evening reading series, and there's no way I'm going to come all the way home and go back again, so I'll spend the time posting a blog update then reading, when I'm not spending time with my super cool new writer friends.)

Better still, at the end of the week (more like the beginning of next week, I guess, since the conference goes from Saturday to Saturday) I'll be giving away some signed books!! And in order to win, you're going to need to be a follower. So you might as well just get it over with now and clicky click on that little button over there. I know it's calling your name.

Still not convinced? Here's a schedule of events/preview of posts for next week (there are workshops every afternoon, so I didn't list those, and various social events thrown in, only one of which I listed because, well, it's a BOAT CRUISE):

Saturday: Registration, campus tour, Anita Shreve reading

Sunday: Anita Shreve's Lecture on Craft (Beginnings), Stewart O'Nan & Sterling Watson reading

Monday: Roundtable discussions (I don't know the topics yet, sorry!) and the day my MS gets critiqued in workshop session. CUE HEATHER'S FREAK-OUT. Ann Hood and Beth Ann Fennelly reading.

Tuesday: Dennis Lehane's Lecture on Craft, evening boatcruise, Tom Franklin & Peter Meinke reading

Wednesday: conference free day! (I might post Tuesday's entry today, since that day is pretty full, or I might use Wednesday's post to divulge everything everyone wrote on my MS pages)

Thursday: Dennis Duhamel's Lecture on Craft, Sherri Reynolds' Lecture on Craft, Dennis Duhamel & Sherri Reynolds' reading

Friday: Panel on editing and publishing, Michael Koryta and Laura Lippman readings

Saturday: Literary Magazines and University Presses, Finding an Agent, Dennis Lehane's evening reading

So if any of those topics sound interesting to you, or you'd want to hear what any of those authors have to say, then follow me now, and pay attention all week, because I will be taking notes and posting them here.

Until tomorrow...woot!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My editing process

I'm going to talk about my editing process today (since it has been consuming my life lately...although last night I took a break to read some other people's MSes and watch Secret Window, which I've had from Netflix for a month. Somehow, Johnny Depp is hot even when he's crazy.) But before I do that, I'm going to talk all about the shiny new award I got!!

Apparently, I make Shannon at Book Dreaming happy! (Which is great, because she makes me happy, too! She leaves comments and has a fun blog, and that little caterpillar is oh-so-cute!) In order to accept the award, I need to list 10 things that make me happy, then 10 blogs that make me happy.

So...10 things that make me happy:

  1. My husband (most of the time)
  2. My friends
  3. My dogs
  4. Chocolate
  5. Wine
  6. Reading
  7. Writing
  8. Snuggling
  9. When people leave comments on my blog
  10. Napping in the middle of the day
And now, 10 blogs that make me happy! If you're on the list, please feel free to post this on your blog, or not. I just picked some blogs that made me happy, mostly hoping to help more people to visit them and get happy, too. (Some of the blogs I know won't "pass it on," and that's OK. I'm just trying to spread the word about blogs I <3.)
  1. The Babbling Flow of a Fledgling Scribbler
  2. The First Novels Club
  3. Carol's Prints
  4. The Writer's Hollow
  5. Reading is Sexy
  6. Kimberly Franklin
  7. And Anything Bookish
  8. The Character Therapist
  9. The One-Minute Writer
  10. Bookie Woogie (how could this one NOT make me happy)
OK, now with that housekeeping out of the way...on to the post!

I enjoy reading about other people's editing process. It's fun to get a glimpse into other writers' lives, and I've definitely changed some of my ways thanks to what I've read. Because other people have helped me so much, I'm going to pretend that you all care about my process, too, even though I'm unpublished (hey, minus the character/plot stuff, this is more or less how I edit my journalism stuff, and I've had hundreds of those published! Right?)

After finishing the first draft of my manuscript, I took about a week off just to get away from the manuscript. During that time, I thought about it, and even created character boards. Since then, I've been diligently (for the most part) working on round 1 of my edits. So what does round 1 involve? *Cue boxing-match girl with sign* (I Googled a picture, but everything I found was way too inappropriate for this blog.)

During round 1, I re-read the entire manuscript from the beginning. I edit here and there, and anything I know I want to change (like major revelations that occurred to me during my week off, or plot points that I knew just weren't right while I was writing but I wanted to get through them to the next part) gets changed. I pay attention to grammar, but not like it's the end of the world - I have a hard time ignoring grammar issues (thank you, career in magazine editing), but I'm also not going to spend my time agonizing over how to eliminate that passive voice or kick that adverb to the curb when the whole passage might ultimately get canned, anyway. Mostly this process is just about figuring out where my strengths and weaknesses are, and re-connecting with my manuscript all at once (instead of over the months it took to write the first draft.)

For round 2, I focus on the plot. Is everything consistent? Where are the holes? Are there enough turns and suspenseful things going on? Do I keep the reader engaged? Am I ending every chapter on a note that makes people think, "OMG I HAVE TO KEEP READING!!! OK FINE, ONE MORE CHAPTER!" until before they know it they're done with the book? Are there subplots that are interesting and important but don't take away from the main plot? I choose to look at plot first, then character, because I don't want to change the character's reaction to a plot point that might not even exist later.

During round 3, I go through and look at character. Is every character meaningful? (I can already think of one character that is probably going to be cut as unimportant.) Do all the characters react appropriately to situations? Do they all have internal and external conflicts? Do the good guys have some bad qualities, and the bad guys have at least one redeeming quality? Do their motivations make sense? Do they have trademark phrases/actions, and do they keep up with them throughout the course of the novel? Do I care about the main character (more importantly, will readers care?)

Finally, I take a last careful look at the whole thing and do line edits. I cut all the words I don't want to use - eliminate extraneous "that"s, get rid of adverbs, put a check on my flowery writing, do my darnedest to cut out the passive voice (which is sometimes SO hard because I'm writing in the past tense, but sometimes passive is correct...just not usually).

After all that, I'll send it to a few crit partners and beta readers, apply their input, then hopefully send it to some more partners and gamma readers, then do a final edit before querying!

And that's my process. Sound impossibly long? It is. And it's exhausting to write it out and think about it. But it's working for me so far, and I love feeling close to my novel and really getting my hands dirty. If you want to try editing your novel in one pass, read this. It's an interesting idea, and I might try it sometime, but for now I like my way-too-complicated method...because I'm a complicated girl.

Does this sound like how you edit? Or do you have a simpler method?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What is Hollywood doing to our books?

This weekend, I went to see the movie adaptation of my favorite novel of all time.  (I've mentioned it a few times, but it's Youth in Revolt by C.D. Payne. And yes, it does pain me to no end that you can no longer get a copy of the book that isn't a movie tie-in edition, as my old copy is 100% falling apart and held together with tape. My best friend bought me a new copy so I would have a "Heather Loaner" to give out to people in addition to my "Heather Original," but she said all she could find was the one with Michael Cera's face on it. I love Michael Cera, but, as you're about to find out, I hate movie tie-in editions.)

It was a FAIL. Big time.

They totally changed the ending, a lot of the plot, cut out key characters, and prevented other characters the opportunity to be developed into the hilarious comic relief they are. I'm not going to get into it further (I could go all night), but suffice it to say I was very disappointed in what Hollywood did with the book.

And unfortunately, this isn't the first time that I've been thoroughly disappointed by the movie version of a beloved novel. Parts of the Harry Potter series (particularly the ending of the Half-Blood Prince movie) were just awful. The Golden Compass was a phenomenal book - too bad they totally ruined it with that joke of a movie. Part of what makes Jodi Picoult books powerful are her twist endings, but that all changed with the ending to My Sister's Keeper, the movie. And Stuart Little? I'm sorry, but I don't remember Stuart looking like this...or driving a convertible...or wearing Converse:

What upsets me the most about all this, though, isn't that creative liberties are taken. I even understand that. When you're working with a novel that's 400 pages or more, and you have to get it down to two hours, some side plots and minor characters have to go. But what I don't understand is when the entire ending of the original work is changed, or when the plot is so distorted that it barely resembles the original work in the first place. It just breaks my heart that kids think Stuart was a skateboard-riding, meatloaf eating mouse, or that Matilda's powers were actually magic and didn't just come about because she was smart but not being challenged.

Maybe these movies, changed plots or not, are getting people to pick up the books. Maybe they're not. But if a writer/director/producer/film studio sees enough merit in a book to adapt it to the screen, shouldn't they want to leave the major plot points alone? It truly makes me worry for the future movies for books I love (don't get me started on the trailer for The Lightning Thief). What's going to happen to Katniss and Panem when The Hunger Games is adapted? I have high hopes for that one with Suzanne Collins at the script-writing helm, but who knows.

I will admit that one of my favorite movies ever, The Notebook, was way better as a movie than as a book. There was more character development, and I liked the ending a lot better. So I guess Hollywood gets it right sometimes.

Oh, and a note on movie tie-in editions, because I said I would mention them, and then the post went in another direction (aka it became me ranting for several paragraphs). I don't really like them. I understand that it's all marketing, and I suppose it's smart. But when it's time for my amazing novel to be adapted to the big-screen, I hope that I can go the way of J.K. Rowling and say that I want to keep the books and movies separate. (Because, for all my ranting, I will absolutely not turn down a good movie deal. I could see my novel! IN THEATERS!!! And maybe even meet Johnny Depp or George Clooney...which reminds me, I need to write some devastatingly handsome middle-aged men into my MS.)

What do you think about film adaptations of novels? Does it bother you as much as it bothers me when they deviate from the original plot, or do I just need to shut the heck up? What's the best one you've seen? The worst? Any you're looking forward to? Will you let your film be adapted, when the time comes? And when the heck is it going to warm up in my house, anyway???

Monday, January 11, 2010

I was gone all's a contest!! (Not mine, of course.)

That's right. I was gone ALL weekend...Friday, Saturday...I even missed SUNDAY FUNDAY!!! (which I know just breaks all of your hearts.) But I promise I have a good excuse, because Saturday was my birthday! I've now been on this planet for a quarter of a century. And yesterday was my husband's birthday! So between all that partying, eating cake, and watching disappointing movie reenactments of my favorite novel of all time (more on that in a later update), I just didn't have time to say hello to my blogging friends. I'm so, so sorry. I will be posting a real update later, but for now, a peace offering...

The wonderful and fabulous Shannon at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe is having a contest! Go enter it! Win books by Lisa Schroeder! And follow her blog, because it's awesome, hilarious, and I've learned a lot from her.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Teens Don't Talk Like That! On Vocabulary in YA Lit

As I mentioned in a previous post, I've been listening to the Shiver audio book during my short commute to work, lunch break, and any other small stretch of time I have. (Totally unrelated to this post, I am liking it more, but still not loving it.) A day or two ago, I was parked by the water, munching on my turkey and pepperjack sandwich and listening to the book, when I heard Grace say the following sentence:

"I poured the odoriferous milk down the drain."

Later, when my car died, I had to rewind a bit to find my spot, and found myself replaying parts of the book I'd already heard. And that word, odoriferous, bothered me just as much the second time as it did the first time.

Why? Don't get me wrong; it's a great word, and totally appropriate to the situation. But Shiver is told from a first-person narrative, and, well...teenagers just don't talk like that! (Seriously. Have you ever been to a high school? Or the mall?)

"But wait a minute Heather!" I can hear you all saying. "Grace DOES talk like that. She's intelligent and likes to read non-fiction books, so it's totally in her character for her to use a word like that!!!"

Sure. Except the whole I'm-an-intelligent-teen-so-I'm-going-to-use-big-words-when-I-narrate has been done before. Over and over and over and over.

The first time I read a book where the teenaged narrator's vocabulary was noticeably beyond the level of a normal teen was actually my favorite book of all time: Youth in Revolt (coming out in theaters tomorrow, where I'm sure Hollywood has totally destroyed it. Even if it does star Michael Cera.) Youth in Revolt is told from the perspective of 14-year-old Nick Twisp (in fact, he's 13 when the novel opens), and yet he uses words so advanced that I literally found them on my SAT (I'm not making this up. I was re-reading the book for the 18,000 time the morning of the SATs and found no less than three words on the test that I had encountered in the book. I even wrote my college entrance essay, which was supposed to be about a book that changed our life, about Youth in Revolt, and mentioned the SAT thing. I got in with a scholarship.)

My copy is currently out on loan so I can't quote any passages, but I remember Nick using words like "nebulous," "sobriquet," and "torpid." He also uses phrases such as "wank your winkie" "more than usually horny" and "T.E." - short for thunderous erection, so he loses a little credibility in the intelligence department. But the entire book is written in the form of Nick's journal entries, and I never for a second doubted that Nick used those words every day. C.D. Payne told me he was intelligent, so I believed it. End of story. (This is still one of my favorite books of all time, and seriously hilarious.)

Then I started reading more YA, and found the phenomenon of teenagers using vocabulary well beyond their years was everywhere. Twilight's Bella uses some ridiculous words to descirbe Edward - but it's OK! She learned them from Austen and Bronte. And even my beloved Jessica Darling (and the sexy Marcus) uses some words she probably shouldn't know, but she's a writer, so it's justified. (admittedly, most of the people around her are pretty stupid and talk/act that way. Ohmigod, OTB!) 

This is the problem with writing a YA first-person narrative. If you want to use advanced vocabulary, you have to make the readers believe that your character would know that vocabulary. You can't have your character be the stupidest person in school, failing all their classes, then have them describe the myriad challenges of being an oafish dullard. Their voice has to remain constant not just when they talk to other characters, but when they talk to the reader, as well.

Of course, if you want to get around this problem, write in third person. I prefer first person because I love to get inside one character's head, but that's just me. I guess then I'll always be stuck with the wise-beyond-their-years type, or at least smart enough to have good vocabulary. Because no one wants to read a book that's, like, totally OMG, the best book EVER about my bff Jill!!!! J/K. I totally, like, would never write a book like that. (Of course it's possible to write a first-person narrative that isn't like this, but still makes you believe the character could really be a teenager. I was convinced by Katniss, and by the few passages I read of Ever. Still, Katniss doesn't really count, because she lives in the future, and since I haven't read all of Ever's story I don't know if she ever slips into some unbelievable vocab.)   

What do you think? Does it bother you mean teens use vocabularly that seems too good to be true? Or do you just suspend your disbelief and keep reading? 

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

How an Innocent Comment led to My DEAL WITH THE UNIVERSE

OK, I've done it. I've officially decided on my DEAL WITH THE UNIVERSE!!!!!!!!! (Imagine that in a big booming, echoy voice.)

What is a deal with the universe, you ask? It's the semi-embarrassing thing I'm going to do when my book finds a publisher. For references, see Frankie's this crazy person's deal with the universe, or Shannon's deal with the universe. (Seriously, Frankie's deal is honestly pure insanity. I mean, isn't it every writer's dream to get a three-book deal? But would you videotape yourself washing a car in a bikini, then post it on the Internet for the whole world to see if you did?? Maybe if you were built like Frankie you would, but my size 10 butt is staying in jeans, thankyouverymuch.)

I knew the day would come when I would have to make my deal. But I had NO idea what to do. I'm very good at embarrassing myself, but it usually comes about in a very natural way. So unless I kept a camera on me 24-7, I really had no clue what to do. I briefly considered turning it over to you, the readers, for suggestions, but I've seen how evil you can be, and I didn't want to take any chances. I figured it would come to me one day when I was least expecting it.

Boy was I right.

Today I was commenting on Frankie's most recent blog post (in case you couldn't tell, I love Frankie's blog), and said:
I agree with Sarah, but at the risk of involving myself in the blog wars and having to, I don't know, sing a song I wrote inspired by my WIP or something equally embarrassing, I'm not going to actually DARE you to do it, just say that I really, really, really want you to...and maybe offer a strong HINT to Shannon.
 I wrote that italicized bit (italics added here for emphasis) on a whim when I was trying to come up with something someone would dare me to do. My mind did a mental scan of my house, and I thought of the dusty old guitar that's been sitting in my closet, untouched, for a few years now. My husband plays his guitars, so I keep mine around in case his breaks (because I know we can't afford to buy another one), but I've moved on to other ventures. Every so often I'll pick up his six-string and bang out a few chords, but I always just laugh at myself and put it back down. I'm a writer, not a musician! This is ridiculous.

And then it hit me: what a perfect deal with the universe. Moderately embarrassing, so the universe will see fit to give me what I want, but still completely doable. I've written songs before (and they've all been awful and cheesy), so I know it can be done. And that settled it.

So...*ahem* (Universe, I hope you're listening!)

I, Heather, promise to write and record (possibly in a vlog, if I have that technology by then) a song inspired by my book when the Universe sees fit to give me a book deal. 

Ugh. I can feel the calluses forming on my fingers from hours of practice already.

Seriously, I know like three chords...G, Em, and D. Oh, wait, I know C, too. So that's four.

Now all I have to do is finish editing, get it out to my critique partners, edit some more, have some more people look at it, edit a little more, query, fail, query, fail, lather, rinse, and repeat, until I finally succeed. By which time hopefully you all will have forgotten about this post.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Just a quickie! (And a contest!...but not mine)

Edit: After titling this, I realized that apparently I don't really know the meaning of a "quickie." Hm...

First thing's first: Sara at The Babbling Flow of a Fledgling Scribbler is having a pretty cool contest. You should sign up! You should also follow her blog, because it is awesome. (And if you do follow her blog, and it's because I said it was awesome, then please let her know that I sent you, because I really want to win The Dark Divine. Like, really. And I could always use some more books on craft (especially since I'm currently editing my first draft...eek!)

Speaking of that whole editing is very time-consuming, this book editing. I have hardly any chance to read the pile of library books I have, not to mention the nine 25-page manuscripts I have to read by January 18 for my conference. But I'm plugging away, and things are going...OK I guess. This is the first time I've done this, so I have no benchmark to say if this is easier or harder than the first novel I edited. Plus the MC for my next novel just won't get out of my head. (LEAVE ME ALONE, JULIE ALONSO/HERNANDEZ/OROPESA. I HAVEN'T EVEN SETTLED ON A LAST NAME FOR YOU YET, CLEARLY IT'S NOT YOUR TURN, AND IF THINGS GO WELL FOR KAIA YOU MIGHT HAVE TO WAIT SEVERAL YEARS, SO STFU.) But it's fun. The aforementioned Sara inspired me to start keeping all of my deleted scenes in a separate "deleted scenes" file, so now I'm doing that. It's going to be depressing at the end to see how much ends up on the cutting room floor, but ultimately I might get a kick out of it.

Since I can't actually read a novel that isn't for my workshop/crit, I've been listening to Shiver on audio on my way to and from work (literally a 10 minute commute. I also ate lunch in my car yesterday, but I parked by the water so I didn't feel too lame.) I'm still on the fence about it. The writing is beautiful, if occasionally overflowery, and I love the alternating narrative (and my narrators are AMAZING). The author definitely handles that well. But Grace and Sam haven't pulled me in as characters yet, and their story isn't exciting yet. I'm only about halfway through, though, so we'll see. 
In other news, my amazingly talented graphic artist friend (who is probably reading this right now and blushing/laughing that I'm even mentioning this) has agreed to take time out of her busy winter vacation from school to design me a new blog layout! Hooray! I'm very excited for this, and you should be too. Having talented friends is amazing, and when she gets married maybe I'll awkwardly read a weird poem about love or something.*

And finally, I realize that I live in Florida and have no right to complain, but our heat doesn't work and it's 50* inside my house. Considering that we normally keep it around 78*...Typing hurts my fingers. If anyone buys me these, I will be your BFF. Kthanksbye.


*I'll take random Sex and the City reference for $500, Alex.

**Because, of course, #hashtagsareawesome

Why I love the delete key

Everything was going great tonight. I came home from work, snuggled on the couch with my dogs, and watched a few episodes of Arrested Development on DVD took a nap in front of the TV before booting up my laptop for another night of revisions to my WIP.

Of course, before I got started on my book, a little thing called REAL LIFE got in the way, and my pleasant life turned into a total crapfest. An email here, a reality check there, and before I knew it I was in a BAD MOOD.

My husband tried to console me. My doggies tried to cuddle me. Even M&Ms couldn't do the trick. The only thing that made me feel better was editing my WIP.

My characters are way luckier than I am. They get a delete key. Sure, bad stuff still happens to them...admittedly way worse than the stuff that happens to me. But their fates aren't totally sealed until my book gets published. Until then, people can rise from the dead, boyfriends can decide not to cheat on their girlfriends after all, and that cute girl across the street can turn out to be just a normal chick instead of a crazy psycho demon spawn intent on destroying all of mankind.*

And even when the bad stuff stays around, at least it sounds pretty. In real life, someone getting suspended because they did something bad at work (not what happened to me, at all. I'm a mostly model employee.) might sound something like this:
We're disappointed in you, Bob. Take the rest of the day off, without pay. Come back ready to work.  
But in my WIP, that scenario sounds like this:

“But,” he interrupted me, “you must work in the allocation room for one month to make up for your crime, and to help you detach yourself from this miserable regard you have for life. Life would not exist without death – the sooner you realize that, the better.” He looked me over one last time. “You will also be suspended for the night, without pay. Come back tomorrow, to the allocation room.”
 Clearly, things are way cooler in novels. So when I'm having a bad day, I'm going to edit my novel - I can't revise my own life, so I might as well revise someone else's. 

*These events may or may not be pulled from my book. Mostly not. Kaia really is too busy for a boyfriend, and if she had one, he'd be too busy to cheat on her. Plus then she'd kick his ass. 

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sunday Funday! (and New Years Goals)

Happy Sunday, everyone! (And Happy 2010! Side question: Are you saying Twenty Ten or Two-thousand Ten? Some customers asked me last night, and I'm doing a little informal research to find out).

Before I post my Sunday Funday links, I want to make sure everyone's seen my entry for the no-kiss blog fest, which I wrote and posted yesterday! The event, hosted by Frankie at Frankie Writes, was a HUGE success, with 76 writers participating! My scene is funny, so I think it counts as a Sunday Funday entry. Anyway, it got some good feedback, and there are some other amazing scenes out there, so I just wanted to draw everyone's attention to the event.

And now...the links that I'm sure you all care about very, very much, and anticipate seeing all week! Here are some of the posts from around the blogosphere/Web that I found particularly entertaining this week:

Janet Reid cracks me up, but also intimidates me a little. If I was writing something I actually thought she'd be interested in (she doesn't do sci-fi YA, and my book takes place in the future, so...), I'm still not sure I'd query her, because she is so full of awesome snark that I'm terrified at the type of response I'd get. Apparently, I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Speaking of Janet Reid ... After a long hiatus, Query Shark posted three new queries this week! Here is my favorite. Seriously? And on the same note...another author who doesn't know how to behave (again, from Janet Reid).

Ever wonder why characters in YA literature go right from kissing to having sex, and skip all that "stuff" in between? So did the First Novels Club, in another wonderful post in their series on YA characters and the ways they don't act like normal teens.

No amount of words can describe the sheer awesome that will be found if you click on this link of the most commonly misspelled words, so I'm providing a photo preview to entice you (trust me, you want to click on that link). Special thanks to Julie from Book Hooked (and my book club!) for the linkage!

Last week's Sunday Funday had a link to a story Shannon wrote when she was a kid, entitled Earth Had a Snack. I felt it was only fair, this week, to include the video reenactment.

And now, something I've been meaning to do for a few days but kept getting distracted, my 2010 New Years Resolutons/Goals (well, the writing ones people probably don't care that I'd like to have a smokin' hot bod by the end of the year).
  1. Save up for a new laptop (possibly/preferably a MacBook). Acquire by March.
  2. Write/edit at least 1,000 words every day.
  3. Attend two writing conferences. (I felt like I needed to say two, since I'm already scheduled for one.)
  4. Finish editing The Reaper's List my current WIP completely so that it shines and sparkles. (4a. Find a good title for my WIP)
  5. Start querying. Hopefully acquire an agent.
  6. Begin work on first draft of next, unrelated project.
I think that's all for now. That seems like a doable list, right? I wanted to make one that was just "Acquire an agent," but I feel like that is partially out of my hands, and I hate failing. So I just gave myself a little addendum to number 5. If I think of more, I'll add them later.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

No Kiss Blog Fest!

You all might remember the kissing day blog fest from a few entries back. Well, Frankie decided it would be a good idea to do a no-kiss blog fest, where we all celebrate the almost kisses in our WIPs! I thought it was a great idea, and signed up as soon as I heard (I'm the sixth name on the list!).

But then I realized the dilemma...I don't have any almost kisses in my WIP. Apparently, I like to just give my characters whatever they want. (Actually, it's really because there aren't that many kisses there to begin with, for reasons I can't really explain here because I harbor delusions that people care about spoilers.)

So...what to do? I wanted to participate, and I couldn't let Frankie I was already signed up! So I decided to write a scene just for the occasion! The characters are from what I thought would be my next project, but will most likely be the project after that, as I now have an idea I love for my next project, and can't give up on it now. (Of course, this is all assuming my current WIP, which is a planned series, doesn't get immediately picked up by the most fabulous agent/publisher ever.) Everything that happens is so them, I might just end up putting it in that WIP anyway.

I was also going to include my New Years Resolutions in this post, but the scene turned out rather long, so I decided not to. So tune in for that tomorrow.

And now, without further ado...the worst first date scene for the #nokissblogfest!
“I had a great time tonight,” Marshall said, gazing at me from the driver’s seat of his green Lexus. His eyes glistened in the light of the full moon. He had chosen an oldies station to set the mood, and Frank Sinatra was crooning through the stereo.

“Mm,” I replied, shifting uncomfortable in my seat. Ugh. Only a few streets until my house. I could hold out that long, right?

This should have been the perfect date. I’d had my eye on Marshall Fuller for months. He was intelligent, charming, cute in that geeky sort of way that I just can’t get enough of, and exceedingly polite. All night, he had been opening doors for me, and he refused to let me pay the bill at dinner or even buy my own ticket at the movies. When he picked me up four hours ago with a bouquet of roses – roses! – in his hands, I thought I must have walked into a dream.

But somewhere between the Indian restaurant and the previews for the coming attractions, that dream had turned into a nightmare. Who knew my favorite meal could turn against me? Usually, spicy chole hit the spot. But tonight … Thank goodness the romantic comedy we’d wanted to see had been sold out, and we’d opted for an action movie instead – plenty of explosions and loud gun fire to mask the sounds coming from my lower intestine.

“Are you alright? You look a little pale.” We’d pulled up to a stop sign, and Marshall was giving me a worried expression, a furrow forming between his eyebrows that made him even more adorable. WHY was this happening to me?!

“Fine. I’m fine.” I gave him a half-hearted smile, and he seemed satisfied. Talking was impossible. I was sweating, but somehow also pocked with cold Goosebumps along my entire body. How was that possible?
 “So, do you want to get a coffee or something?”

Yes. “No, thanks. I’m pretty tired."

“Well, that’s why you drink coffee. It wakes you up.” He looked at me, a devilish smile playing across his lips. God, those lips…

“No, really. Thanks though. I think just…take me home please.” It was getting worse. It felt as if someone was turning my stomach into knots, then stabbing it repeatedly with a sharp object. I needed to get out of this car. Now.

 “OK, if you’re sure.” The disappointment in his voice was evident, but I was beyond caring at this point. I needed the bathroom, and I needed it now.

 It wasn’t until Marshall turned onto my street that I remembered – the speed bumps.

 My neighborhood was so concerned about speeding cars that, in flagrant disregard for my emotional and physical well-being, they lined my entire street with gigantic speed bumps. Ten huge hills to torture me before I reached the conclusion of this never-ending nightmare.

As Marshall’s car lurched over the first one, my stomach began bubbling and gurgling. Immediately, I turned up the radio in a preemptive strike.

 “I love this song!” I said, blasting the volume as loud as I thought reasonable. And just in time – as Dean Martin reached his vocal climax, my intestines burbled loudly. I clutched my stomach and glanced at Marshall to see if he’d noticed, but he was humming along happily with the song.

After nine more agonizing mini roller coasters (for both the car and my stomach), Marshall finally pulled into my driveway. My hand was on the latch of the door before he’d even turned the car off.
“Thanks for a great night!” I said, opening the door. Finally, relief was in sight.
“Wait!” He called after me, his head popping over the top of his car. “Let me walk you to the door!”
 As he sprinted around to meet me, I wondered why I hadn’t seen this before. In an ideal world, this is exactly how our first date would have ended. He would walk me to my door, whispering romantic notions in my ear, then swoop me toward him and plant a passionate kiss on my lips. But for the past few hours, I hadn’t been thinking about anything but getting out of this. Now, the thing that I had imagined for months and months, the thing I had daydreamed about and scribbled in my pathetic journal about, the thing I had always hoped would happen was finally a reality, and I was going to shit – literally – all over it.
 Marshall took my hand and led me to the door. I bit my lip, trying to take deep breaths and keep myself calm. How long could a kiss really take? Thirty seconds? An eternity?
 “Jenn … you are so beautiful.” He ran his fingers through my curls, but they didn’t get caught like I expected them to. He continued moving his hand down, tracing the lines of my cheek and my neck, caressing my shoulder, brushing his fingers lightly across my back and sending a new kind of cold sweat running down my spine.
I closed my eyes, knowing exactly what was going to come next. As he leaned into me, I felt his breath on my mouth, hot and fresh – when had he eaten a mint? My stomach fluttered, and his lips grazed mine, just barely, when-
Grrggrrgtt. Another deafening gurgle from my stomach as its contents shifted, but this time there were no explosions on the big screen or singing Rat Packers to drown out the noise. Just me, Marshall, and the silence of the night. Maybe a few tree frogs.
Marshall pulled away, and both our eyes shot open. The look on his face was a mix of horror and amusement. Without a word, I spun around, and in one fluid movement, grabbed my keys from the front pocket of my purse, unlocked my door, and ran inside. __________________________________________

So, there's my scene! Happy no-kiss blog fest (and New Year!) everyone! And don't forget to check out the Mr. Linky list of other bloggers participating, and add your own scene, too!

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