Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Structure for Revisions

First: Sorry being in such a whiny snit earlier. That's pretty rare for me. I shouldn't have posted so soon after reading the crit...and, despite being in a whiny snit, I do appreciate honest feedback.

Now, on to the topic at hand. Revisions. Ah, I remember the days. The good old days. When I thought all I had to do was fix the (few, of course) grammar mistakes and my little book would be perfect. I wrote "the end," printed the whole thing out, but a few little red marks on it, and mailed it off.


With this new manuscript, I've started (accidentally) to figure out a new way to revise, and it has been working, so far.

FIRST: Sent out the first few chapters to some people to get immediate reactions of what worked/didn't. This wasn't my serious critique people--I'm talking about mom, husband, friend...generally positive feedback who could tell me in very broad terms their favorite and least favorite parts. That gave me a basis to work from.

SECOND: Cut to market size. In my experience, an agent generally wants one of the following:
  1. First 5 pages with query
  2. First 3 chapters with query
  3. First 50 pages (with query, or as a partial request)
Therefore, I really analyzed those pages. I cut about 20 or so pages to get a big "reveal" scene within the first 50 pages--now, if you stop at page 50, you know what part of the twist is, and there's a clear direction for what the main characters will do. Then, I looked at the first 3 chapters. I made sure to drop some heavy hints within those chapters and really make them tight (which required some more cutting and moving around). Now I'm focusing on the first five. My beginning isn't working, and I'm honing it to make it perfect.

THIRD: I needed the most help with the beginning--it's my first impression, and I've got to make it perfect. So, I submitted (and resubmitted) the first chapter to different people who I consider "critiquers" (as opposed to smiling friends and family). I sent the chapter to one of my crit groups, and also submitted it to the online site to get some real anonymous, honest feedback (despite my earlier snit--I really have appreciated the help from that site). This has led to three different openings...

FOUR: A series of rewrites--perfect the opening and (future plans here) start taking a closer look past page 50 (especially the rushed ending), probably using more page/cut goals (i.e. cut so many pages by such and such a goal mark).

FIFTH: Once all the major cuts and structure is done, I'm going to print a copy and make sure grammar is tight.

SIXTH: I'd like to do a manuscript swap by this time, or some higher level of critique. It's my goal to be at this step by mid-September when I attend my state SCBWI conference.

SEVENTH: Start submissions after a final rewrite based on critique.

This is a drastic change for me--for all my other books, I'd print a copy, fix grammar and a few structure problems, and call it a day. I've got to say, I'm being much more productive with this style of rewriting.

Love the Husband

A mean critiquer was mean to me.

I feel like a school girl who just beat up by bullies. Big ones.

She said my writing was wrong and she had no idea how to fix it.

She made fun of me for using the word "was" three time in one paragraph.

She didn't understand why a world literature teacher would be teaching her students about Egypt.

She was "a bit flailing" as to what to say.

She said at one point in my writing "I just went 'ewwwww'." (direct quote)

My characters are, apparently, unemotional.

I told my husband on her.

He told me to pray and to think about Jesus and puppies and to not worry about it because God loves me and Jesus would totally read my book and you know, get it. Oh, and he reminded me of 2 Kings 2:23-24.

I love it when God makes bears eat mean people.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Irony!

About a month ago, I was excitedly keeping track of every word I wrote, eager to make it past the 60k mark, my goal.

Now I'm keeping track of every word I cut, eager to bring my chapters down in length and bring up the action sooner!

Synopsis Help

I recently came across this website with a helpful article on how to write synopses. My favorite part is that it takes you from writing a one sentence synopsis to writing a paragraph synopsis to writing longer synopses. It focuses on questions to ask yourself as you write, as well, so when I finally quit fiddling with my sentence and paragraph pitches, I'm off to attempt a page long one! It's got neat little workshoppy-like activities, too, and the advice seems pretty spot-on.
One good layout is a first paragraph that ties everything together for the beginning, progress through the characters, and then a last paragraph that ties it all together again for the end. For a single character, make sure not to let subplots get involved, since it might feel that you have room.
...Now I've got to tell myself to quit messing with synopses and pitches and finish my revising, first. *sigh* It's soooo much more fun to write than to revise!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Less is More

First, thanks to everyone who helped me revise my pitch a few posts down! Sometimes, writing just one sentence is harder than writing a whole page!

While I worked on my "pitch sentence," I also worked on my query pitch. In doing so, I noticed that in writing pitches, less is absolutely more.

For example, here is my new and revised query pitch (probably going to be revised more times after this, too, haha):
Fifteen-year-old Belle is bored with her normal life until she meets her magical new English teacher, Ms. Wendt. Ms. Wendt's classroom door has been enchanted to make everyone exiting through it forget about her magic powers—and forget about the fact that she is a prisoner of her own classroom. The alchemy that Belle's science teacher shows her may be the key to saving Ms. Wendt. But when Belle learns the real reason why Ms. Wendt has been imprisoned, she must decide whether it is worth saving her teacher if it means she will never have magic of her own.
This query pitch is 100 words long. My original query pitch is twice that (literally!! it was 199 words long...and still only 4 sentences!!). In order to cut so much down, I needed to analyze what was essential for an agent/editor to know about my book.
  1. Belle is normal
  2. Ms. Wendt is magical
  3. Ms. Wendt is trapped by a magical door
  4. The magical door erases her students' memories
  5. Belle learns alchemy
  6. Belle is tempted to not save her teacher in order to have magic
This was key information that pertained directly to my book. Belle is a normal girl--but moreover, she is bored with normalcy, so when she meets Ms. Wendt, she desires magic. Belle learns a new skill, alchemy, which might enable to her to get the magic she wants--but that would be at the cost of Ms. Wendt's freedom. Essentially, that is the crux of my plot. I wanted to add the detail about the door solely because that is a) the source of the novel's title and b) the tripping block that prevents Belle from rescuing her teacher for most of the book.

So what did I lose by cutting the query pitch in half? Details about how the door worked, the fact that Belle has two friends to help her in her quest to save Ms. Wendt, and hints that the science teacher isn't on the up and up. Essential details to the novel--but not essential details to the pitch. Taking these details out focused the pitch on the crux of the story.

And in focusing and cutting down the query pitch, I was also forced to analyze what the story really was about. For example, the last line of my original pitch is:
...the first step for Belle to save her teacher is to remember her.
Well, part of the story is the kids breaking the Amnesia Door. But the real problem of the story is Belle's temptation not to save her teacher so that she can have magic for herself. Even if the original first line is great (in my humble opinion) it detracts from the actual story...and left more than one reader wondering how boring the story would be.

This translated back to my pitch sentence, which, again, I'm so grateful to y'all for the help on. The original pitch sentence was 48 words long. Here's the shorter, 31 word long version:
When a normal fifteen-year-old girl sets out to save her imprisoned magical teacher, she must decide whether saving her teacher is worth losing the chance to have magic of her own.
In the original, I again fell into the trap of trying to explain the door. The concept in the book takes pages to explain--trying to shove that in a sentence was silly, considering the important thing is that the teacher is imprisoned, not how. The original sentence focused on the door more than the problem (the temptation), but hopefully this sentence shows that problem in a more concise, clear way. Sure, detail is lost--such as the door itself--but hopefully the meaning is there.

PS--I am going to try to have shorter, less my-book-specific stuff in my posts soon, I promise! I'm just a bit focused on this work right now!!

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Closer Look at Scenes

There are some standard rules that apply to writing: make every scene count, use characterization to progress plot, intersperse narrative with dialog. You need this in writing.

But not always.

I've recently joined the Online Writing Workshop and submitted the first chapter of The Amnesia Door for critiquing. My critique groups are busy with my other manuscript, but I didn't want this new one to stagnate. One of the critiques I got on TAD was that during a conversation between two of the main characters with two of the very minor characters, the reader has no concept of what the minor characters look like.

I had kept these two characters vague because, well, after chapter 2, they're not really in the book any more. I was doing that cut-everything-that's-not-essential bit in my revisions, and I never thought that describing these two soon-to-be-gone characters was something really needed; certainly not "essential."

However, if it makes a reader pause, then it's something I need to consider. Fortunately for me, Tabitha had a great post on her blog about "talking heads," or when characters just talk without showing any body language or action. While my characters do things--one reads a book, the other seems excited about asking questions--I could just as easily add in some more details about who these two minor characters are in between the dialog. Something as simple as having the girl ask a question and then flip her hair would give more sense of who the character is without spending paragraphs or pages describing someone non-essential to the plot.

Here's an example:

"What's everyone's schedule?" Veronica asked.

This is about the second or third thing Veronica says. As of this point--and really, as of the whole manuscript--the only thing you find out about Veronica is that she shares one class (Spanish) with the main character and at lunch, she sits with the main character, her friend, and another girl. That's it. There is no other detail about her. But, what if I add to her dialog?

  1. "What's everyone's schedule?" Veronica asked. She reached into her bookbag--which was really an overlarge designer handbag her father had purchased her during the annual family European excursion--and pulled out her own schedule to compare with the other's.
  2. Veronica re-adjusted her headband. Belle wondered if the headband was supposed to look vintage or if it really had come from the '80s; either way, it made Veronica look as hopelessly out of date as ever. "What's everyone's schedule?" Veronica asked nervously when she noticed Belle staring at her.
  3. "What's everyone's schedule?" Veronica asked. She leaned forward, giving the impression of polite curiosity in the others' schedules, but Belle knew that it was all fake and Veronica was only pretending to be nice to them.
The same basic information is present in each of these examples--Veronica asks to see everyone's schedule. But each detail attached to the question--a designer handbag, a dated headband, a falsely curious lean forward--give a very different impression of who Veronica really is. A snob, a hopelessly out-of-date shy girl, and a pretentious fake are all very different from one another. More importantly: none of these details really require further exploration. We know from their "typical" details just what kind of girl each one is, and none of them really need anything else.

So, by adding in a few details with the dialog tags, you can create a unique minor character that gives a more real sense of the story without stopping the plot.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A New Pitch!

I've been working on a pitch for my new novel, The Amnesia Door. I think this one is too long, but I don't know how to shorten it! (Also: I wish I could figure out how to write a pitch without ellipses. It reminds me of that Robot Chicken episode featuring M. Night Shamalyan where he keeps popping up and shouting "What a tweest!")

In order for a normal fifteen-year-old girl to help her magical teacher, she must break the enchanted door that traps her teacher inside her own classroom and erases all the students' memories of magic...even if saving her teacher means the girl will never have magic of her own.
EDITED: After suggestions, here's a new pitch:

Fifteen-year-old Belle is bored with her normal life—until she meets her new English teacher, a witch trapped in her own classroom behind a magical door that erases the students' memories of her and of magic.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


The Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is considered to be one of the best professional organizations for writers and illustrators who work from picture books to YA. Last Christmas, I became a member. On my critique group's blog, one of the members asked whether or not the $75 annual dues was worth it. I told her it was, but I thought I'd share my answer with a wider audience.

-Maybe it's just me, but I don't think $75 is very expensive. Sure, it was when I was in college a few years ago, but even then, I thought it was reasonable. (Especially considering my $400 annual National Education Association dues).

-Professionalism: Being a member proves that you take writing seriously. Several agents and editors have posted on blogs and websites that membership should be included in the biographical area of a query. Since I don't have much for my bio anyway, a whole sentence of "I am a member of SCBWI and a member of a SCBWI based critique group" pads out that tiny paragraph well.

-Professional publication: The bi-monthly SCBWI magazine is tiny, and some of it is just plain inapplicable to me. However, there is always at least one article that I find fascinating or inspiring, and the Publisher's Corner section is gold, I tell you, gold. Inside, up-to-date (or early) information on publishers, editors, and agents, submission guidelines (including submission from SCBWI members only), info on new agencies (who are more likely to sign someone because they need to build their client base)...see? Told you it was gold.

-Conferences: There are two national conferences--one in NY, one in LA. I've not had a chance to go to either, but they look amazing. The book-world gods (like Arthur A Levine and a wish-list of agents) attend.

Local benefits vary based on the area. I'm a part of SCBWI-Carolinas, and since I live out (waaaay out) in the country, I can't get to some of the events. Still, I've have plenty of local benefits.

-Email/Web Information: My local has a very strong and active listserv, and a shiny new website. The listserv always has something new on it: discussions of craft, notices about publishing business, success stories, info about contests, openings for critique groups. Whenever I've had a question, I've been answered by at least 2-3 people within the day. People swap info about agents/editors, too, and talk about advantages of publishing without an agent, etc.

-Critique Groups: There are lots of possibilities to join crit groups. I've actually joined another one based in SCBWI (in part to say on my query that I had). I'm a member of two crit groups, which has worked out well for me because I take the revisions the first one suggest, revise, then submit to the second one to see if it worked well.

-Critique Opportunities: Not only that, but SCBWI-C offers critique services for members where another published member reads part of a manuscript and offers advice for a small fee. I've not tried it yet, but plan to soon.

-Face to Face Opportunities: I have not had a chance to attend one of these face to face opportunities, but I plan to. There are "schmoozes" where you meet and greet with fellow authors in SCBWI (there have been 3 or 4 within an hour or two driving distance from me since I joined in Decemeber), and there are constant announcements of book signings and author talks.

-Conferences: I'm going to the state conference in September, and the line-up looks amazing. It's really not feasible for me to go to one of the big conferences in LA or NY right now, but I can make it to Durham for a weekend and meet professional authors and editors--exactly the boost I need right now as I work on revising my manuscript.

...So, those of you not in SCBWI, why not? And those of you who are members, what other benefits do you think you could find--or what are some SCBWI success stories that you would like to share?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Prayers and Memories

Please keep Randy Pausch and his family in your prayers today. Although his passing was not unexpected, a genius mind and an endless heart is gone from this world now.

What I Bought

*Sigh* Remember when I couldn't decide what to buy on Amazon? Here's my final choices:

-The Adoration of Jenna Fox (It was between this and Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why. It was a close call, but a recent review on the Bookids blog tipped it for Jenna)

-Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman. Entirely because bookshelves of doom said it was like Douglas Adams's works.

-Screwball, by Keri Mikulski. Cuz her blog is awesome.

-The Theif, by Megan Whalen Turner. Because the other books in the series look good.

-Fly by Night, by Frances Hardridge. Because of the great reviews on Amazon and bookshelves of doom.

-Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt. Because the concept just sounds brilliant.

And I've got Graceling and The Emerald Tablet on pre-order! And I've also got about 100 books on my "Buy Later" tab in Amazon... I've just got to find that stupid credit card...

Trouble in Computer Land and the Voice of Teens

My computer is blitzing out now, so posting on my crit group's site and even checking email has been a huge pain for me right now. Maybe this is God reminding me to get back to work on editing my book instead of playing around on the internet....once I've done backing up my novels to my web space, I'm going to try shutting the thing down and not opening it back up for several hours to see if it fixes the problems.

I've got my first fifty pages as short and concise as I can without my crit group's consultation, so I've begun moving on to what happens after that big turning point. I've also focused on how the teen characters voices sound. My beta readers for the first fifty said they felt that my portrayal of teens was very accurate (considering I wasn't a teen that long ago and considering that I teach teens, I'm really glad that I didn't screw that up!).

Writing in a teen's voice is difficult because of slang:
  1. Teens use slang constantly, but that slang changes constantly--depending on where the teen is from and what's popular at the time.
  2. Using slang incorrectly makes your character look unbelievable and stupid.
  3. Slang goes out of date quickly. If you have the best, most current slang coming from your character's mouth, then by the time the book is published, there is every likelihood that the slang will not be popular any more.
Now, some slang is universal and really shouldn't be avoided. "Cool" is a part of everyday vocabulary and would be entirely safe to use. You know this because it is such a part of everyday vocabulary that adults can use it without being mocked by teens--that's a pretty safe sign that it's acceptable from any character and doesn't risk being out of date. Unfortunately, there are very few words that fit that label.

Last school year, there were a few very popular phrases with my students. Here's some examples:
  1. "Beast" as a verb. Example: "I beasted that test!"
  2. "Fail" as a noun. Example: "You are fail." (Win can also be sometimes used)
  3. "FTW" as an abbreviation for "For the Win." Example: Someone says they are going to do something either really awesome or really stupid, and the other person responds "ftw!"
  4. Speaking in LOLCat language. This is basically broken grammar--see for examples of LOLcats. The most common example would be a student using the "I can has" phrase; "I can has a Dorito?" Also common was "kthxbai" as in "I'm going to the bathroom now, kthxbai." (This is basically "okay, thanks, bye" said very fast)
  5. "Made of" with a noun. Example: "That movie was made of awesome!"
As I focus on revisions in my novel, which focuses on three teens, I do keep teen slang in mind. However, I also keep in mind that what's popular now won't be soon, and I don't want to make my characters caricatures of themselves.

In general, I have relied on tone more than words to express my teens. Instead of a slang word, I italicize a word to show what the tone was (because while slang changes, tone and sarcasm doesn't, not in the teen world). So, instead of saying, "Wow, she totally beasted that test!" I have my character say "She did so good on that test." The important thing is the tone, not the word, so whenever possible, I try to express the tone before including a slang word.

On the other hand, making teens believable requires them to have some sort of slang. Here's an original passage I had without slang, where one character is trying to convince another to go to a club meeting with them:
"Come with us, Esperanza. What else are you going to do, just go home? Boring."

After thinking about it, I decided to change the passage to this:
"Come on, Esperanza, just come with us. What else are you going to do, just go home? That's a huge pile of fail."
The meaning is the same. I think the first one actually does show some tone (using one word "Boring." at the end is pretty typical). However, the next one adds a lot more tone: italicized "on" and added the slang use of "fail."

This is a bit dangerous, but not much. Even if "fail" isn't popular any more by the time the book is published, the meaning is still obvious. And "fail" is starting to catch on more and more--I've seen it on more blogs recently, and, unliked "beasted" it's not faded from the teen vocabulary. It's starting to hit mainstream, at least a little. And even if it does fade, it still has the classic teen tone. It's not that gimmicky (like LOLspeak), it's not difficult to understand if it disappears from teen language (like FTW).

Adding just a touch of teen slang will enhance a text--just walk the line between what's going to last and make sense versus what's just a passing fad.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Editorial Anonymous is hosting another Pitch Contest. You know, if you're interested. There's a best/worst part of it, and she's soliciting silly pitches, too, so it'll be kinda cool to see the end result.

Gone again...

This shows you how obsessed I've been with my book:

I almost forgot about taking my students to yearbook camp.

And when I say "almost forgot," I mean, I almost really really forgot. It's tomorrow. I've not packed--I've not even done laundry. I thought it was Wednesday. I wasn't even planning on showing up until Wednesday. I would have had a pile of kids waiting for me tomorrow...while I would have just been happily typing away on my book.

Argh. I'm such a nitwit sometimes. I think I need a break. I know I need to pack!

Saturday, July 19, 2008


I've been reading too much bookshelves of doom. It's not fair. She's got so many great book recs out there that my Amazon cart is currently showing nearly $200 worth of books!!! How am I supposed to afford nearly $200 worth of books?! I'm a teacher! I can't afford, you know, stuff!

Just argh.

So, anyway, what would everyone's recommendations for YA books be now? I'm looking for new, recently published stuff. (And I've already got Screwball on the list, and The Emerald Tablet is pre-ordered :) )

In Love with Our Books

Libba Bray has a hilarious post on her blog about how writing is like falling in (and out of) love. She splits each stage of writing up and compares it to stages in a relationship. For example, I can remember how, not so long ago, I was at this stage:

I love this book. And it loves me. I never want to be without this book. Never, ever. What? Were you saying something? I'm sorry I can't hear you because my book just said the best thing ever. Wait--just listen to this sentence. I know! Isn't my book so dreamy? I love you, book. Do you love me? Of course you do. OMG--we said that at the SAME TIME! WE ARE SO IN TUNE! This is going to be the best book ever written. Oh, whisper that again. I Pulitzer you too, honey. Sigh.

But now, I'm starting to enter this stage:
THE REVISION, MONTH ONE you still love me? Well, it's just that you didn't say it back a few times. And you've been sort of inattentive. Unresponsive. A bit. Do that funny thing you did early on. You know, that funny thing that made me laugh and laugh and think that you were the cleverest book that ever lived. You know. That thing. Well, honey, if I could remember it, I'd write it down. I was kind of hoping you'd remember. No. It's okay. Don't worry about it. Really.I love you. Do you still love me?
*sigh* And I'm already thinking of new ideas for a different novel. I'm such a flirt.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Speaking of Deadlines...

Maureen Johnson has a great post on her blog about them.

Setting Goals and Deadlines in Editing

This is something I've never done before: work on a deadline. Generally, in writing, I just write when I want to. Now, I've got something of a schedule just by nature--I tend to write for so long each week, not by personal mandate, just by habit and desire. But with this novel, I did have a deadline to finish writing (before I went to Europe).

Now I think I need a deadline for editing. I hate editing, so maybe I'll finish if I set a deadline. So: all revisions and editing done (at least for the first round) by August 15th. That's just before school starts up again, so if I can finish by then, I've got a shot at maybe starting to submit during school.

And for this week: Cut 13 pages to bring the action to a head by page 50.

Nothing like some goals! Now, I'd better go get to work before my Spartan conscience stabs me!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Editing with an Eye to Submission

You can tell that Amnesia Door isn't my first picnic.

First, I'm cutting pretty mercilessly. Second, I'm cutting with an eye towards submissions.

How bad is that?

In my experience, most agents/editors ask you to submit either the first three chapters or the first fifty pages. So, I've made sure to concentrate a lot of key info and "hooking" ideas in the first three chapters. The basic set-up is there, as well as a few well placed (but maybe too heavy) hints about the future: basically, I set-up the characters and the world and hint at the conflict that leads to the plot. In general, I think it's probably a good idea to get this info out by the first three chapters, so altering my book to fit this is probably a key thing. of the best scenes (in my humble opinion) is when one character reveals to the other characters the "big secret" that the other characters then spend most of the rest of the book trying to solve. It is supposed to be a touching, shocking scene that should illicit both pity and a desire for the other characters to set off on their mission. In other words, this is a pretty pivotal scene.

But it ends on page 64.

So now I'm asking myself...should I cut a chapter before this to make the scene get to the 50 page cut that many agents ask for? By page 50, Harry discovers he's a wizard in HP and the Sorceror's Stone. By 52, Meg has started looking for her father in A Wrinkle in Time. Way before page 50, Lucy's entered the wardrobe, and so has Edmund, and by the 50 mark, Susan and Peter are talking to the professor about it.

Now, I know that 14 pages are not that big a deal. But I also know that many agents/editors are only getting those first fifty pages, and won't see the next 14 with the big reveal. And, given the evidence of other books, I probably should move the scene up. But moving the scene up means that I have to cut--I can't rearrange these scenes.

When I said I was cutting mercilessly, I meant a few paragraphs here, a few pages there. Wow...14 pages hurts. But...I'd better go get my Spartan to sharpen his blade a bit more...

On the Origins of Ideas

Last night, just before I collapsed into bed and swore not to think about one. more. educational. thing., I decided to try to think of a new idea for my next book. See, for me, writing is all about coming up with an idea whose solution I'm clueless about. The fun of writing is discovering the solution. That's why revising is so hard for me: I enjoy discovering the end of the book, and once I've got the end, I don't care as much any more. (This is also, btw, why planning doesn't work well with me: if I outline the book all the way to the end, it kills the book for me.)

I drew a blank last night--probably because my head was still swimming with the consequences of vouchers for the public school system (vouchers = bad. really bad. realllllly bad.). But my crazy mind did start wondering where ideas come from.

For my hidden-under-the-bed novels, I was basically copying other authors. It wasn't fan fiction; I just took the same central themes, plot structures, etc. from my fav books and put them in my stories. There's a reason those books are hidden under my bed.

For my first "publishable" novel, the idea came from the first line: I had a dream (read: beer and/or sleep-deprived induced haze--I was in college) where a girl sees a cat and the cat says "I am not a cat." The entire novel was built around that one line.

For my second "publishable" novel, I had a very specific agenda. The actual story resulted from three different stories that I couldn't complete--then I combined them and came up with one complete story! But in reality, the idea of the novel was to show the consequences of addiction (on the person, on his family, etc.) as well as the different kinds of love (family, friends, romantic).

For this new novel...I'm not sure what the originating idea was. I wasn't trying to write The Amnesia Door, I was trying to write a book called The Death of Jennifer Morrison which you can see just from the title was a very different book from the one I actually wrote. In all honesty, when I think back to those days when I started writing this novel, I don't know where the ideas came from. I think it may have started out as a short story. I know part of my purpose was to make something completely different. The kids aren't magical--their teacher is. Magic doesn't solve the problems--actually, the teacher's in a lot of trouble because of magic. And one of my biggest purposes: to show that what you learn in school is applicable to life (some of the kids real-life lessons in class help them solve their problems).

But this puts me at a dilemma: one book started with characters, one started with theme, one started with a big pile of dunno. And now that I want to start thinking of a new idea (so that I can quit thinking about revising cuz I hates it! I hates it!), I'm not quite sure where to start. Do I focus my mind-ray on coming up with a new character? Should I turn my Agatha-Christie-like brain towards a plot twist? Or should I just find some brain monkeys?

How about you? Where do your ideas come from?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

More Links

Wow...that teaching conference has totally drained me. All I can think about are Working Conditions Survey Results and legalese. Sorry for nothing better than a link: PubRants is doing a series of posts on Writing Pitfalls.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I've been really busy with a teaching conference lately, so here's just a quick poetry non-Friday for you. (btw, I realize it's summer, not spring, but I still thought the sentiment apropos) (also, found this via bookshelves of doom) (and also, be warned about bookshelves of doom: my to-be-read pile has jumped up by about fifteen books since I started reading her!) (and that's it with the parentheses, I promise!)

by: Edna St. Vincent Millay

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


I was going to have this great, long philosophical post about editing and revising, but... of the members of my crit group just read my first chapter and gave me the most wonderful comments. Even better than the positive stuff, she included some notes of things she'd like to see, like she'd like a character to be explored more, or a plot point...and everything she wanted was what the book already was.

JOY! I can't quit smiling :)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Discoveries in Revisions

I'm a slacker, I know. But it's summer and there's, you know, sun out there, and I hate revisions!

But I did actually get started on revising/editing The Amnesia Door this week. Only the first bit--I've had a huge trouble with the opening scene and focused most of my time on that (eventually splitting chapter 1 into two chapters and starting the story at an entirely different point and with a less comic, off-hand tone).

Anyway, got to around page 20 or so and saw this clever bit of foreshadow that I'd neatly put in there. If I do say so myself, it was clever. Like Dr. Who clever. It was subtle, but with a distinguishing feature--in short, it was a Clue, not an obvious one, but one that the reader would be able to read later and go aha!

One problem. When writing the story, I took it in an entirely different angle, and the clue no longer fit.

I had a dangling Clue. A wonderful, brilliant, clever piece of prose... that was pointless because the story no longer fit it.

I can do two things: add something to the end and make it fit, darnit, or cut that wonderful, brilliant, clever piece of prose.

The story's more important than the words.

*snip, snip*

Friday, July 11, 2008


Argh. I really really really am just putting off editing cause I don't wanna! I *hate* editing and revising!

But my Spartan conscious tells me to get to work or he'll stab me with his pointy sword, so I'll just throw up some links and then disconnect my computer, tie myself to my chair, and type like mad.

First link: From Maureen Johnson's blog, about how muses aren't that great, actually.

Second link: Have you read The Book Thief yet? If not, you'd better read it before I send my Spartan after you! It's one of the best books ever written--seriously. I wept, I laughed, I wept some more. Anyway, Yapping about YA has an interview with the author, Marcus Zusak, who I totally have a literary crush on.

I guess I had more prospects than him when I was nineteen, but I didn’t really feel like it. I at least knew what I wanted, and that was to be a writer…That was when I was in my very valuable (in hindsight) failure stage, where I couldn’t finish anything, where I was aiming too far out of reach. What I didn’t realize is that I was struggling to find my own style.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


OMG! OMG! This is so much fun!!!


This site makes pictures out of the words of your story!! squee! It is SO cool!!!

Here's my "out for submissions (soon)" manuscript, The Red Thread.

Here's my "just finished (I should be editing it right now)" manuscript, The Amnesia Door.

I love it! These look so much better up close and larger. It's reminded me of all that I loved in writing these manuscripts...I mean, some of it's stupid (like how big "said" is...they should cut that from the program; also, it really bothered me that with the names Ms. Wendt and Mr. Mallory, it separated Mr. and Ms. from the name, but oh, well). But! It made me smile a secret smile that "heart" is right under "Belle"... and "monster" is right beside the "H" in "Heath" ...



Do you describe your characters when you write?

I'm on the fence about this. On the one hand, I hate it when I have an image in my mind of what a character looks like, say a tall but chubby blond with green eyes, and then the author throws in a description of that character as a short pixie-ish brunette with sparkling blue eyes. It throws me right out of the story. Usually this is off-set by a description of a character early on, such as Harry Potter with black hair, green eyes, and round glasses. I'll never picture him as anything else.

But there are still pitfalls to character description. For example, I never pictures Malfoy as the way Rowling described him. In my mind, despite her descriptions in text, he was dark and brooding (more like Krum). It wasn't until the movies that I even realized I'd supplanted the author's vision for my own. His character just didn't fit his description to me.

And what's more--if the main character is a girl who acts a bit like me...then I want to picture myself as the heroine. It drives me crazy when the physical description is nothing like what I had in my head.

To counter this, I purposefully did not describe the main character in my first two manuscripts. No one has ever commented about the lack of description on one of them, but many people have commented about the lack of description in the other. In fact, I had an agent reject that manuscript based entirely on the fact that he felt as if he didn't know the main character and he wrote specifically that a character description would have helped with that.

Do you give specific character descriptions? On the one hand, I can see the advantage: Harry Potter is an icon in part because of his description. On the other hand, sometimes it limits the reader's imagination. Where do you stand?


Nathan Bransford has a great question over at his blog. Now, I love me some Nathan Bransford, but here lately, I've found his posts a little...not as good as usual. But these hypothetical questions he throws out there are really interesting...

Question #1: Let's say there was a seer who could tell you definitively whether or not you have the talent to be a published writer. Absolute 100% accuracy. But. If the seer person said no, that's that. Final answer. Would you want to know?

Question #2: If the seer person said no, you don't have the talent to be a published writer, would you still write?
...So....what's your answer? For me: 1) I'd want to know. Her answer would either be yes--and I'd be inspired; or no--and I'd be too stubborn and would write more just to prove the old hag wrong. As for question 2: I *want* to be published. I want to be loved for writing. I want small children to clap at me when I enter the bookstore. But even if I knew none of that would happen, I'd still want to *try*.

I really like what these hypothetical questions are really saying: would you write even if you were doomed to fail? I hope everyone's answer is yes--the Spartan fight to the death side of me wants my writers to write or die trying. But of course...there's also the depressing reality, the pansy-doubting side of my conscience with the constant questions of "Am I wasting my time? My money? Is there something else I should be doing in life?"

Good thing the Spartan side of me killed off the doubting side of me a long time ago :)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008 just a short post today.

MoonRat has a great post of funny ways to not-write on her blog, Editorial Ass. Go check it out. My favorite one is:
His thoughts tumbled around in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without any Cling Free.
(Actually, some of these have been around awhile on the internet. You can find more great similes here.) My other favorite:

McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

When I'm a Famous Writer...

...I'm so gonna have a contest like this.


Before I forget: There's a good post over on BookEnds about what effective voice is. I missed it while away, but I'm slowly catching up on all the good stuff. Also, slowly catching up on the 100+ pages of critiques to get done for my critique groups, but...

Anyway, I've begun thinking about revising my recently finish manuscript. Unlike most of my peers, I HATE revising...but I do realize it's a necessary evil. Anyway, I've been doing a lot of thinking about revising openings in particular lately.

For me, writing openings is the easiest part of writing, as easy as coming up with a title. In fact, I've got a few files on my computer with nothing more than a few words for a title, or a few paragraphs/pages of an opening. It's what comes after that that gets hard.

However, and this is the bad part...I often get too attached to my openings. I do. I've been writing long enough to know that I simply must kill my darlings...but not my opening lines!

It is this viewpoint that has really hurt me as a writer. For example, in my first manuscript, my opening line is:
"I am not a cat," said the cat.
I love that line! I really, really, really do! I'm not trying to brag or anything, but that line is the best line I've ever written (oh dear, I've peaked early). However, that line means that my main character must react immediately--and it really leaves me no room for building up the world or character. It's too much in media res...unlike many writers, I actually have to work on slowing down my beginnings rather than ramping them up.

The opening line of my next ms. is below. Can you spot the problem?

The last thing Heath expected to see on the day he started his quest to save the Princess of Baloria was a girl in the middle of the street, covered in mud, crying, and naked.

The last thing Chloe expected to see on the day she somehow evaporated from her own world into this one and found herself in the middle of a street, covered in mud, crying, and naked was a knight in shining armor.

It took me ages to figure out what was wrong with this (OK, OK, it took my critique group ages to convince me what was wrong with it). I jump POV. And, once again, I start too in media res. I've changed the opening since then, but I kept the main structure:

The last thing Chloe expected to see after she'd been unexpectedly sucked out of her world and plopped naked into another one was a knight in shining armor.

Her mind was still foggy, but she tried to sort through it. About an hour ago...
You can see how I've taken out the knight's POV and added in backstory, but you can also see how attached I am still to the original opening. Openings are my Achilles heel--they are arguably the most important sentences in your work, yet I fight against changing them so much!!

I've sworn not to do that with this new ms. It helps that this ms. isn't a sentimental novel. In general, I'm kinda looking forward to killing all those darlings. But I've still got a shaky hand taking the knife to those opening lines..., what's your Achilles heel in writing?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Travel Journals

When you travel, do you keep a travel journal? I used to. On my first international trip, to Malta, I had a little reporter's notebook and wrote down everything the tour guide said, everything printed on the little signs in front of paintings or artifacts, just everything. When I studied abroad, I did the same, writing pages and pages at the end of each day.

But I quit doing that.

It wasn't because I didn't like writing--I did. But I noticed that much of what I wrote was facts, not observations. I wrote down the little historical tidbits. I wrote down dates and locations. It was like I was taking notes in history class again--and while that has been useful (i.e. when I decided to include some details from my trip to Malta in my latest WIP), it also slowed me down. Many times, I was so busy trying to write down the facts, that I forgot to take a closer look at what I was writing about. I copied down the information sign, but didn't use my senses to make a judgment on the object itself. What good is knowing who the king of the castle was in 1267 if you don't pay attention to what the castle looks like, smells like, feels like (I've yet to ever need to know what a castle tastes like, so I draw the limit there.)?

On my recent trip, a friend wrote pages of notes on everything. There was a lot of bus riding on this trip--we basically made a loop around Southern England, and let me tell you, there's not that much going on between Stonehenge and Warwick Castle. However, while my friend was copying down notes--facts--she missed the huge, majestic ruddy-brown deer that lay on a hilltop, surveying the world as if it were his; she didn't notice the placid way the tractors cut the wheat; she ignored the countless villages we drove through, each with its own personality.

Friday, July 4, 2008



I'm back! And boy do I have a lot to catch up on!! I've got tons of critiques to catch up on with my two crit groups, I've got to start getting ready for two other trips (anniversary and...*shudder* leading a group of 6 kids to yearbook camp), and I am simply dying to make a iBook of my Europe pics (I saw castles! Soooo many castles!)!

First, let me say thanks to everyone who commented on my posts about myths in books. It's a subject I love, and I really enjoyed writing about it.

I'm still a bit jet-lagged and brain-dead, but I thought I'd introduce y'all to my new favorite addiction...Bookshelves of Doom!

Written by a librarian, BoD is a fun, reliable, quirky sort of book review site. The blogger focuses mainly on YA (yay!) and the adult fic she reviews is really good stuff...the sort of stuff I either love reading or have been planning on reading.

And better yet, she loves Doctor Who. (And can I just mention that I saw the latest episode of Doctor Who in England? My friends went to see The Merry Wives of Windsor...but I watched Doctor Who! *squeee!* And now I'm about three or four weeks ahead of the episodes in the States!!)

OK, serious posting and a regular schedule to resume once I've gotten, you know, sleep.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Myths and Fairy Tales: Conclusion

So, what are YOUR favorite myths and fairy tales? What stories have inspired you? Which ones have similar themes with your books? Have you tried to incorporate little cameos of fairy tale characters or elements into your stories?

PS: This ends my series on Myths and Fairy Tales...and it's also the last post I've got scheduled before I can get back. I should be back in the States on July 2--but I plan on sleeping that day. If I'm conscious, I'll try to post on July 3...but if I don't get to, then don't expect a post until next week! Happy Fourth of July!