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!
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    See Heather Write
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