Monday, June 29, 2015

The Beauty Of Pantsing It: The Character You Didn't Expect

I've got a lot on my plate right now, but I mean that in strictly the metaphorical sense because I definitely just clean plated my breakfast. Farm eggs, man. Can't beat 'em.

The first draft of my fantasy series, GIVEN TO THE SEA, is due somewhat soon, and I also need to do an edit on my 2016 release THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES, which is a rape-revenge vigilante justice contemporary. It's possible that one day I will write something where the description doesn't make people cringe a little, but don't hold your breath - that's what I keep telling my mom, anyway.

So with all this work staring me down, the coffee pot on overtime and the cats tossed outside so they can't sit on my face, I've actually been getting a lot done. The fact that it's been raining non-stop in Ohio for the past two weeks has been a big help, as my outdoor soul isn't contending with much guilt from nice breezes and warm sunshine.

All that being said, it's still work, and cranking out the words is never easy. There's always the author's biggest enemy - procrastination - staring you in the face (well hello blog post, I should write you, yes?). But what stalled me the other day was something else, something that I only have myself to blame for.

I'm a pantser, complete and total. Whenever I turn in a synopsis to agent or editor it comes with a heavy warning that some people I earmarked as survivors may actually die, and I might decide to kill those who got a reprieve in the initial concept. I also might wander down paths I didn't know existed, which is where my subplots always come from. It's a lovely thing when an organic subplot pops up, and that happened to me yesterday, in the form of a character I didn't know existed.

He had a few things to say. He's quietly masculine and made of honor, and while I only meant to give him a line or two of comfort to a stricken female, he showed up again a few chapters later and kept talking. I was like dude, what are you doing - I didn't even give you a name, so shut it. And suddenly I had to give him a name, because he kept talking to my female character and the pronouns were getting old, and once I'd given him a name I gave him a wife and a kid, and suddenly he had a subplot and possibly his creator had a little crush on him.

This is why I love being a pantser - a subplot I never intended, but neatly ties together my overall arc came about organically, nicely tied up in a cool dude with armor and a conscience.

I'll take it.

Friday, June 26, 2015


I'm deep in a writing daze, cracking out the first draft of GIVEN TO THE SEA, the first in my fantasy series which will be coming from Putnam in the spring of 2017. And, I just received the edit letter for my contemporary release from Harper next fall, THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES.

So... I'm kind of busy. I thought this might be a good time to do a giveaway of a book that doesn't necessarily need to be book talked. I'm sure you're familiar with the cover, if nothing else, and if you haven't read MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN, you definitely need to.

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

My Dad Read to Me - And That's Awesome

I want to talk about two things that go hand-in-hand in my memory.  My dad, and kid's books. I come from a farming family, and anyone who knows anything about farming knows that farmers work hard - and often. My dad came home right around our bedtime, and was usually back in the fields before we were on the school bus. But he made time to read to my sister and I, one book for each of us. Mom would offer - Mom would darn near beg if it was getting late and he wasn't home yet - but we wanted Dad, cause he was our reader man.

Sister and I had a lot of books from the Weekly Reader Book Club, and if you were born in the same decade I was you probably had books whose first page looked like this:

Yeah, that's right, I spelled my name with a "b" at one point in my life. Actually, due to my confusion regarding the number of bumps in an "m" or an "n" and the (I felt) misleading nature of the letter "d," I often identified myself as "Mimby" when claiming my books, something my immediate family like to remind me of whenever I forget that I can be wrong sometimes.

I had a lot of awesome books from Weekly Reader, and other places too. Sure, I had RUNAWAY BUNNY and MIKE MULLIGAN and yes, they rock. I also had some awesome books that haven't stood the test of time in the sense of the big picture, but in my house they were golden.  

I had books that originally belonged to my Dad. And those books have his name on the inside cover - he spelled it right, by the way.

So, I want to hear about those unsung children's books that you wouldn't let your grubby little hands put down. Tell me about the authors and books who've passed down from parent to child, inspiring those moments when you don't need to turn the page because you know the words, even though you haven't laid eyes on it in twenty years. And don't forget to tell someone who read to you:

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

After four years training to be a warrior, Princess Raylene returns to her homeland to find that all is not well: burglaries are on the rise, people are disappearing, and officials are being murdered. Her grandmother, the empress, denies these signs of danger. But when her father meets with a fatal accident, Raylene is willing to risk her throne to uncover the truth. This looks great right off the bat. My only suggestion here would be that it might not hurt to mention why a Princess would be training to be a warrior (is this typical? Or is an exception being made for her?) But that's a small tweak, otherwise this is a strong start.

Raylene discovers the involvement at what level? Is he burglarizing, or killing? of a rebel named Lord Lancelot. He’s recruiting criminals and deadly monsters into his army. Many high-ranking officials are secretly lending him their support. Why? In order to identify the Lord Okay so "Lancelot" is his code name or something? Because since we know his name I assume he's been identified., Raylene resorts to torturing whosoever she suspects. Maybe a little bit here about how Raylene feels about torturing people - I'm assuming she's not so thrilled, but a little more on that point to make it a sympathetic choice. Furious with Raylene’s incessant is it actually incessant or is torture her first step outside the law? Because that's the first we hear of her toeing the line law-breaking, the empress sends her to prison.

Now Raylene must find a way not only to catch the rebel leader but also to get herself out of imprisonment. If she fails to stop the uprising it’ll be the end of the royal family that has ruled for centuries.

UPRISING, a YA fantasy complete at 84,000 words, has series potential. I believe it will appeal to readers of Kristin Cashore’s GRACELING and Ellen Oh’s PROPHECY.

For the most part this is a pretty strong query, except for the notes above. I would work on perhaps a little more world building in the query - you say there are deadly monsters in this rebel army, but that one word is the only hint of any kind of supernatural or high fantasy elements in the query. If the book has magic, monsters, demons, dragons, etc. get those pertinent world building facts into the query.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

When Laia's brother is taken captive by the Martial Empire, she wants to fight back, but knows that she doesn't have the kind of temperament that both of their parents - the founders of the Resistance - had. Even though she's terrified, Laia agrees to an exchange with the current leader of the Resistance. She will go undercover as a spy / slave within the empire's prestigious military academy, and report back to them what she learns as the Martial Empire moves toward selecting their next emperor, and in return they will rescue her brother from prison.

Posing as a slave means that Laia faces constant threats from both her owner - the female Commandent of the military academy - and from the male students. A slave has no rights, and Laia could lose an eye for being a few minutes late to a summons, or be raped in the hall by just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Still, her loyalty to her brother keeps her in the position. She begins to feed information to the Resistance as the empire puts it's four greatest military students to the Trials, which will determine who will reign next.

Elias is the Commandent's son, one of the best students in the school, and a contender to be the next emperor. And all he wants to do is leave. The constant violence of the military academy goes against his softer nature, and the golden eyes of his mother's newest slave have captured his attention. Together, the two of them could bring down the entire empire - or they could fade away like an ember in the ashes.

Enter to win a SIGNED ARC below!

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Monday, June 15, 2015

Social Media: Rabbit Hole Or Regroup Help?

I participate in social media in pretty much all the ways, and most of the time when I'm on one or the other I see writers talking about how they're supposed to be doing something else... probably writing. There are plenty of methods for blocking yourself from using Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest (you name it) but the easiest one is plain old self-control.

But lately I've come to question whether it's actually necessary.

I love social media and use it to my advantage - and I don't just mean directing readers to my books. I have a certain word count I want to hit every day when I'm drafting, and it's rare that I actually hit it in one bang-out session. Typically about halfway through there's a moment where I simply don't feel like writing anymore. Sometimes I even know what's going to happen next, but it doesn't matter. The candle has been lit, yes, but it burned down to the end of the wick and all I've got left is the little nub of blue flame that's about to be drowned in wax.

In other words, I'm just not on fire at that point.

Like all writers, there are times when I have to force myself to write. I actually make the announcement to the boyfriend, climb the stairs like Anne Boelyn at the Tower and treat opening my laptop like a reverse guillotine. It can be that hard.

Once I'm there, in front of the computer with the WIP up on a Word doc, I know I can't walk away. I won't have the fortitude to go through the process of putting myself in front of it again. But I also don't want to make words when all I'm running on is that little tiny blue flame.

So, I open up a browser screen, and I see what everybody else is up to. Sometimes I just hit up Goodreads for a little bit and look at books I want to read. Sometimes I scroll through Tumblr, check Facebook for any notifications, hop on Twitter to commiserate with other writers.

And you know what? The laptop is already open. The Word doc is hovering behind the browser, letting me know that the word count for today isn't hit yet. My flame rekindles as I give myself a little time away from the WIP, and when I return the next bit of dialogue is more natural than it would've been otherwise, the next step in the plot more evident than it would've been if I slapped something together for the sake of forward movement.

I didn't leave my computer. I don't have to force myself to sit back down in front of it. It wasn't a rabbit hole of distraction, but a much needed regroup - one I take everyday.

So don't treat social media like the anathema to your creativity. It might be the gasp of oxygen that you need.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Run Away! Run Away!

Which, as everyone knows is a much better way of saying retreat.

I took one of those this past week, getting away from floors that need swept, laundry that needs washed, dried, folded, put away (then dirtied and the circle of life continues) weeds that need pulled... all the things that make up daily life.

And getting away from all that is something I highly recommend for writers. I used to think that if I took a writing retreat, I would laze about, act like I'm in a coffee commercial while I sit on the deck of a cabin, watch cable (because I don't have it at home), take long walks in the woods while pretending that I'm in some sort of medication commercial, and other such things that wouldn't bulk the word count in any way.

But the pleasant thing about retreating is that there's no guilt. You don't have to sit in front of your laptop and immediately think about the dishes, laundry, garden, floors, and the multitude of other things that reality imposes upon us. Without the excuse of responsibility (and that's what we like to call it instead of procrastination) you can really make some strides in your writing.

I passed the 30k mark on GIVEN TO THE SEA this week, and that was a great feeling. So if you get the chance, definitely run away.

Monday, June 1, 2015

When You Have A Party & Nobody Shows

When I was pre-published I thought book signings must be glamorous things, with those twisty line corral things like they have at amusement parks, people peering over one another and snapping shots while the author signed the 100th book that had been put in front of her. Yeah, maybe I watched a little too much Castle.

Post-publisehd I've learned this is a myth. Even those of us who are somewhat well known can do a signing with only two or three people showing up - and some of those just happened to hear you tapping on the mic at the bookstore and wandered over to see what was going on. And in a lot of ways this is actually nice because we can give very personal attention to the handful of people that are in front of us.

Much like bad reviews, you build up a callous over the "ouch" factor when your latest signing fell flat. A lot of us travel in packs because of this. It's much easier to laugh off a bad turnout when you go out for drinks afterwards with a couple of writer friends.

I'm three years into published life, and have had some success. I'm happy with my sales, have contracts into 2018, and have a signing or event somewhere or other on most weekends. Do I feel famous?

Um... no.

I recently had the experience of exactly zero people showing up to my presentation and signing.

If this had happened at the beginning of my career I probably would've cried and crawled into a hole. But after three years of speaking to small groups I knew that eventually the day would come when I had my laptop hooked up, a screen pulled down, chairs set up, a display of my books for sale... and no one would be there to see it.

Did it kind of suck? Yeah. It kind of sucked. But at the same time I now have that low as a benchmark. Every signing from here on out will be better than that, or at the worst, match it. It's impossible for negative people to show up to a signing.

So I've hit my low. From here on out, the only place I can go is up.