Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Taking the 2011 Debut Author Challenge

Twitter has been a time suck, no lie. But it's also been an awesome resource to find out about really cool things like The Story Siren's 2011 Debut Author Challenge.

The basic premise is that participants sign up to read and review 12 debut YA/MG novels, one for each month of the year. It's super easy to sign up and a great way to motivate myself to read more.

Here are my picks for the year, based unscientifically on what kind of buzz I've heard or how cool I think the title is. I haven't done any research, so unless I have already heard about it, I'm going on title alone. I may change my mind during the year, but this gives me a starting point.

January: Across the Universe by Beth Revis; I've heard some early buzz about this one and it sounds promising

February: How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy by Crystal Allen; funny title gets it picked

March: Entwined by Heather Dixon; sounds like it's a romance

April: Bump by Megan McCafferty; heard a lot of buzz about this one, too

May: How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend by Gary Ghislain; Best. Title. Ever.

June: Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard; sounds like it's contemporary YA, probably issue-driven

July: Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. by Medeia Sharif; second best title

August: Vanished by Sheela Chari; sounds like it's a mystery or thriller and I don't have any of those on the list yet, so it gets picked

September: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin; sounds paranormal, maybe a ghost story

October: Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez; I have no idea what it can be and that intrigues me

November: Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts; it's the only one listed for November so far

December: Fetching by Kiera Stewart; sounds like it's a funny twist on a fairy tale

I'm looking forward to seeing how close my guesses are on the novels I picked based on title only. I'm also looking forward to reading the DAC reviews of the books I haven't chosen.

Here's to 2011: The Year of Reading

Friday, November 19, 2010

Why I Broke Up with NaNoWriMo and Decided to Just Be Friends

I know, I know. Last post I'm so cocky that I'll finish NaNoWriMo this year, even if it means I have to write 20,000 words in four days.

But as I was working on my NaNo manuscript, I realized something important. I wasn't having fun. Yeah, there are times when NaNoWriMo is as much fun as pulling a scab off, but it's still its own kind of masochistic fun.

The reason I'm not having fun is because my heart isn't into it. Last year, NaNoWriMo was exactly the kick in the pants I needed to write the YA novel kicking around in my brain. Trouble is, I'm still revising last year's manuscript. It's close to being done. Real close. So now's not the time to leave it at the party while I go off with the new manuscript. Not cool, man. Not cool at all.

And all I did with the new manuscript was tell it how great the old manuscript was. The new MC wasn't happy with that. She wants to speak with her voice, not some other MC's. She wants her story, not some rehash of what my other MC did.

So, really, the break up was mutual. One day, we'll probably get back together again. On our terms. In our own time. And I'm okay with that.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

3 Reasons Why I'm Not Concerned That My NaNoWriMo Word Count Is Dismal

Maybe the end of October was a bad time to start screwing around with Twitter (I'm @YAWriterNews). Because now in November I find myself fiddling around with Twitter and tweets and whatnot instead cranking out those words.

But this is why I'm not worried (yet!):

1. I can write fast. Last year I cranked out around 5,000 words a day for the last 4 days of NaNoWriMo. While I don't recommend this for everyone, and I don't particularly want to repeat that feat, I can thank years of working in television production for the ability to write fast. Good is another thing. Good will come later.

2. I'm not afraid to rewrite (remember, good comes later). So I let myself go. "Dare to be stupid" was a great piece of writing advice I once read from Sue Grafton. And if there's any place to get stupid it's NaNoWriMo. This is not the time for self-editing. Good will come later.

3. I recognize that what I'm writing for NaNoWriMo is unpublishable. There's been some backlash about NaNoWriMo. I recognize that it's not for everyone. Especially writers who don't rewrite. Or think 1 or 2 revisions makes their novel publishable. Dude, it's not. You need at least a year, probably 2 or more, to make that NaoNoWriMo puppy even readable. (P.S. Laura Miller: You need the crap to get to the good stuff. Though most writers don't time the time --or have the craft-- to take their pile of crap and find that nugget of good.)

So I'm not going to tell you my current word count because it sucks. All that matters is that I have until November 30th. And on December 1, that when good starts.

(Updated 11-12-10)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dear Lucky Agent Contest Redux

Writers' Digest is hosting another "Dear Lucky Agent" contest for YA novels and tomorrow's the last day to enter! Guest judge Tamar Rydzinski at the Laura Dail Literary Agency will choose three winners who get a 10-page critique and a free one-year subscription to WritersMarket.com. Sweet!

Since I've gotten feedback on my YA novel, I've changed the title, the opening scene, and the tense that the novel's written in. I'm curious to know how the rewrite flies, so I'm going to submit and see how well it fares.

The rest of the novel still needs some tweaks, but it's pretty solid. This contest gives me the opportunity to give my novel (at least the first 150-200 words) a test drive before I do the serious agent querying.

The query is another thing I worked on during my hiatus. I've completely rewritten it at least a dozen times. Getting feedback on my YA novel really helped me articulate what the novel is about and now I'm pretty happy with the query. I think newbie writers are so anxious to get their manuscript out there that they don't spend the time working on their queries.

For me, getting that feedback was essential to writing my query. And I plan to get feedback on the query before I send it out, too. Because I get so close to the project that sometimes I don't see what others see. So my advice for writing a query:

  • Take a step back.
  • Have others read it.
  • Repeat as necessary.

Monday, November 1, 2010

NaNoWriMo Rides Again

So I took a hiatus there for awhile. Spent some time rewriting a screenplay. Got some fabulous feedback on the YA novel. And now it's November again. Which means ...


I'm working on the fifth rewrite of the YA novel from last year's NaNo-extravaganza (which will be referred to from now on as YA1), but I decided to plow ahead and start on a new YA novel (which will referred to as YA2). It's an idea that I've been kicking around for awhile and I'm pretty excited about it. Although I have no idea what's going to happen. That's part of the excitement.

There are some cons to working on YA2 while revising YA1. Mixing voice and tone is the biggie. My character in YA2 is younger, but more jaded. I also was going to write YA2 in third person, but it came out as first person. Probably because YA1 is first person and that's what I've gotten used to. This will probably mean a huge tense rewrite in the future. (Has Word developed an Tense Change function yet? Cuz I'd use that. A lot.) But that's the future. I'm concerned about now. Getting those 50,000 words on the page.

And I'm off to a good start. Not a great start. Fell a little short today on the word count. Went to a Starbucks after work and put in a couple of hours. I'll pick up the slack later. After all, I've got 29 days to go.

Friday, July 16, 2010

5 Time Wasting Websites You Should Visit

I've finished up the fourth draft of the NaNoWriMo novel. Well, pretty much. I make revisions on a hard copy and then I type them in, futzing a bit with it along the way. This should take me a week. At most.

But I'm almost 2 weeks in and still plugging along. I blame summer. I could blame lots of things, but let's stick with summer, with its sunshine and beaches and frozen lemonades.

Since I'm not working as diligently as I should, I thought I'd share some of my favorite time wasting websites with you.

1. Hot Guys Reading Books
I recently found this one through NPR's website. Way to go NPR! You're not as high-brow as I thought you were! The website offers exactly what it promises and makes for a nice diversion.

2. Double-Tongued Dictionary
Grant Barrett is co-host of A Way with Words, a great podcast about words and how people use them, and everyone should listen to it. They should also check out Grant's website on the latest words and phrases that are entering the lexicon but won't be seen in a dictionary anytime soon (Do you know what a "seagan" is? Grant does.).

3. Murmur
I came to Murmur through another podcast, iFanboy, which is a comic book geek's podcast. But Murmur has its own way groovy podcast and a much larger focus than comic books. Murmur covers movies, television, music, books ... pretty much anything that YOU want to discuss because it's a community driven website. Want to write an article about how awesome Glee is? Or if Doctor Who is still awesome post-David Tennant? A great place to geek out on what you love.

4. Fontspace
Fonts! For free! 'nuff said.

5. Cake Wrecks
My all-time favorite cake blog. The highs and lows (mostly lows) of cake decorating. Endlessly diverting. And, occasionally, book related.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Free YA Audiobooks? Where Do I Sign Up?

Actually, you don't have to sign up. Or register. Or do anything but download free Young Adult audiobooks from Sync.

Sync is offering two free audiobooks this summer on their website from July 1 - September 1, 2010. Their selections are a matched pair, a reading list title with one fun read. A week later the next pair goes live. The 1st pair is James Patterson's The Angel Experiment with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which sounds pretty freaking awesome to me.

Librarians, educators, and bloggers are encouraged to spread the word. There's a PR tool kit with banners and posters and other goodies to help. There is also an audiobook community that you can join (if you really must sign up for something) to share ideas and social network with other audiobookphiles. Or whatever you call people who love audiobooks.

Happy listening!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Stop Words That Kill Fiction

I'm on draft 4 of the NaNoWriMo novel. Still some big stuff to go, but I've been looking at some of little things, too. Like the words that totally creep into my writing without me even noticing. But actually not the first couple of times I've revised. Draft 4, yeah, they're pretty much popping up a lot and now I just really want to get rid of them.

Did you notice the stop words in the above paragraph? There are at least half of dozen sprinkled in. Stop words are one of concepts I learned in library school. These are words so common they don't rate on a search (such as "the" or "a"). And as a writer, they're the words I don't even realize I've written. But stop words in fiction are like bits of gravel that choke the flow of the story.

Since I'm writing YA, there is a fair amount of "I totally couldn't understand" or "I just want to be left alone" because many of these stop words are specific to a type of teenspeak. But the problem is when the sentence becomes "I just totally couldn't understand and I really just want to be left alone."

I've started a list of my stop words. After this draft, I'm going to search through the entire novel and get rid of as many as I can. Some are endemic to writers ("just" is one I see in manuscripts all the time), some are quirky to my own speech patterns (I noticed I used "a little" a lot.). The trick is deciding when a stop word adds to the story and when it chokes it.

Let's take a closer look at "just." Do a search for it on your manuscript. Are you surprised to see how many times it appears? Once, I saw it five times on a single page. Stops words are like the written equivalent of throat clearing, the um's and uh's of literature. They're insidious because you don't realize they're there until someone points them out.

  • actually
  • a little
  • a lot
  • apparently
  • even
  • exactly
  • finally
  • I decided
  • just
  • kind of
  • like
  • now
  • obviously
  • okay
  • pretty
  • really
  • seemed
  • so
  • some
  • started
  • still
  • that night/that day
  • totally
  • very
  • well
  • whole

Feel free to add to my list or start your own!

Friday, May 28, 2010

My First Rejection

So I didn't win the contest with the awesome prize of a 10-page read by Regina Brooks. Does this mean I curl up with a box of Ho-Ho's and cry uncontrollably? Or trash my entire novel because the first 200 words failed to grab the judge's attention? No and no (although don't me get wrong, Ho-Ho's are awesome). I've been doing this too long to let a blog contest get me down.

How long have I been doing this? Well, I won't get into actual years, but let's say it was before blog contests existed. Or blogs. Or the internets.

But this current rejection made me think about my first big rejection, and that's actually a pretty good story. So I'll share.

I was an English major at UCLA with vague plans of being a writer. I heard about a creative writing class taught by Irish author Brian Moore. This class was an audition class ... everyone had to submit a story and the names of those admitted to the class would be posted on a bulletin board shortly before the class was slated to start.

I don't even remember what story I submitted, but chances are it would make me cringe now. I do remember the day I went to the English office and saw the list of the chosen few. My name was not on it.

Bring on the Ho-Ho's.

At least, that was my first reaction. I wanted to go to my room and cry, but my roommates knew how much I wanted to be in this class and I didn't want to have to tell them that I wasn't good enough. And probably never would be. And maybe this writing thing wasn't meant to be.

I decided the best place to avoid human contact and lick my wounds was at Powell Library. (BTW, libraries are among the best refuges for a wounded soul that I have ever found.) I ended up in Periodicals and read a couple of short stories.

And that changed my life forever.

Because I knew that I could write as well as the authors who had published those stories. At least, I knew I could if I kept at it. The Brian Moore class was just one class. I would submit again the next quarter. And the next. Because I was a writer, dammit, even if I was the only who knew it.

I headed to my apartment, my belly full of fire as I resolved to stick with this writing thing come hell or high water.

And then a miracle happened.

One of my roommates had a message for me. Brian Moore called. He made a mistake. My name was supposed to be on the list. I was welcome to enroll, if I still wanted to. (Hell, yeah!)

But the important part, even more than getting in the class after all, was my determination to stick with it even when I thought I was Mayor Reject of Rejectville.

And that's the part I try to remember with each returned SASE, each form letter, each lost blog contest.

Because I am a writer, dammit, even if I'm the only one who knows it.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Enter a Contest to Test Drive Your Novel

I love contests! Back in my screenwriting days, I did pretty well with them. The biggie was winning a spot as a Disney/ABC Television Writing Fellow. But I was also in the Warner Bros. Writers Workshop, CBS Writers Mentoring Program, a finalist at Austin Film Festival, and a semi-finalist at Slamdance.

Am I bragging? Maybe a little bit. But these are my credits and they're on Google for anyone to see.

Now that I'm switching to children's/YA lit, I'm checking out the contests available in this genre. Because contests are a great way to test drive your manuscript. Of course, the manuscript has to be the absolute best it can be by the deadline. And for me, having a deadline was always a good kick in the pants to get a manuscript as sparkly as it could be.

I've noticed that there are a load of blog contests offered by agents or editors with a prize of a five or ten page critique. These contests have short entry times, usually a week, and contestants have to post about the blog's contest on their blogs or Twitter or whatever social media. It gives the contest blogger more traffic and the contestant the opportunity to win a great prize with no entry fee.

So I'm blogging about the "Dear Lucky Agent" contest which is open from March 31-April 14 for middle grade and YA manuscripts. The contest is offered by Writer's Digest and the top three winners get a ten page critique from agent Regina Brooks. Sweet!

Even if I don't end up being one of the lucky winners, at least I got that kick in the pants to spruce up the beginning of my manuscript. And if I do win, then that will give me an even bigger kick in tuchus to make the complete manuscript as brilliant.

Wish me luck!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Building a Platform. Who? Me?

Book Review:
Get Known Before the Book Deal
by Christina Katz

When I started this blog, it was with a vague notion that I had to had one. Because these days you can't be a serious writer without one. Or so I've read in blogs. So going back to the old chestnut, 'Write what you know,' I decided to blog about writing and library stuff. Platform done, right? Uh, no.

I came across Christina Katz's book at the library where I work, but decided to invest in a copy for my own personal library. It's mostly geared toward nonfiction writers, but there are a few nuggets that apply to the fiction writer, too.

Platform Building Golden Nugget #1: Christina's definition of platform makes gobs of sense, "The word platform simply describes all the ways you are visible and appealing to your future, potential, or actual readership." That could be the writer's blog, Twitter account, website, teaching, podcasts, articles, etc., etc., etc. Your platform should reflect you and what you do. It's how you present yourself (and your work) and how you interact with your readers.

Platform Building Golden Nugget #2: Don't be afraid to leave your comfort zone. Or leave your computer. You can build your platform with all the awesomeness of social media, but don't forget that meeting actual people while doing actual things is also a fantastic way to connect with future, potential or actual readers. Volunteer. Teach a class. Host an event. Sound daunting? It doesn't have to be. Start with your local library. Or community college. Or independent bookstore. Opportunities abound if you just ask.

Platform Building Golden Nugget #3: Write a mission statement. Seriously. I know mission statements are often associated with corporate style gibberish, but they can be useful. Seriously. A mission statement tells everyone who you are and what you want to achieve. Goals and action plans help you achieve your mission.

Here's an example:

I want to publish a novel. But that's too vague and out of my control. What's specific and in my control? I can have my novel in tip-top shape for the SCBWI conference this summer.

Well, that can be broken down into a measurable action plan! One thing I learned in library school was how to write an action plan. There are 5 recommended steps, and a cutesy mnemonic to go with it, SMART.

S is for Specific: The more specific my goal is, the better chance I'll be able to achieve it.
M is for Measurable: What are the benchmarks that let me know I've reached my goal?
A is for Attainable: Focus on what I can do. What's under my control?
R is for Realistic: I might want to revise my manuscript in a month, but is that kind of time commitment realistic?
T is for Time-limited: Give myself a deadline.

My mission statement is still a work in progress, but the more I work on it, the more I see how I can build my platform and my career. And if I can do it, you can, too.

And don't forget to check out Christina Katz's website for more good info.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Rewriting the NaNoWriMo Novel

It hardly seems like it's been three months since I was cranking out 5,000 words a day to finish NaNoWriMo on time. But now I have a little more perspective about my novel and the pros and cons of writing a first draft during NaNoWriMo.

First of all, I knew there was a lot of junk in the novel. The needless lists and random song lyrics are all part of the NaNoWriMo ethos. Get that word count up by all means necessary. And in revision mode, that's an easy fix. Just delete. Done. No damage to the actual story.

And all the "something something to be filled in later"s were another easy fix. Now I've been able to go back and do the time-consuming research that I skipped over during that crazy month of November.

Much of what I skipped over were little personalization touches, the kind that can consume me because I need to get it just right. I knew that in an important scene, one of characters was wearing a band t-shirt. But which band? That can says tons about the character, especially in a YA novel.

During NaNoWriMo, I skipped over it with "he wore a BAND t-shirt" and carried on. And I was right to, because I spent at least half an hour investigating different t-shirt websites until I found a band t-shirt I liked.

But as I dig deeper in the manuscript, I'm seeing bigger problems. Don't get me wrong, I still love the story & the characters, and I think the overall manuscript has good bones. But the last third of the novel seems underwritten. I tell instead of show. Conversations happen in vacuums because I don't tell the reader where/when they're taking place. Scenes just end without having a point. It's easy to see that I was tired of writing.

So very tired.

These aren't the easy fixes. These are the hard fixes that will make me want to scream and eat too much chocolate and wake me up at 2 am because I just a had an idea. But this, for me, is the core of writing. This is part I have a co-dependent relationship with because I can't leave it no matter how much grief it gives me. This is where, when I get finally get it right, I feel like a freaking genius.

So for now, I continue in rewrite mode. Please send chocolate.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Character Playlist: What Would Keely Listen To?

My absolute favorite character building exercise was creating a playlist for my main character. It's good way to get into her head and differentiate her voice from my voice (which can sneak in more than I like to admit). I have to remember that my MC is a contemporary 17 year old, which means she was born in 1993. Smells Like Teen Spirit is an oldie to her. So I've had to push myself and discover what kind of music she'd listen to.

Here's some background about Keely (my MC):
  • she considers herself to be emo-lite
  • she lives in a small town in Arizona with her mom and grandmother
  • she's a senior in high school and thinks a lot about the future

Based on that, I decided on these perimeters of her musical taste:
  • her favorite band is Green Day
  • she likes Johnny Cash because her grandmother does
  • she listens to a few '80s band because her mom listens to them (Police, Violet Femmes, The Cure, etc.)
  • she likes songs that are a little rebellious but not too dark

Last 10 Songs Played on Keely's Playlist:
  • Cry, Cry Cry by Johnny Cash
  • Nine in the Afternoon by Panic at the Disco
  • Mercy by Duffy
  • (If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To by Weezer
  • Pictures of You by The Cure
  • Flathead by The Fratellis
  • Don't Phunk with My Heart by The Black-Eyed Peas
  • Just Like Heaven by The Cure
  • Fell in Love with a Girl by The White Stripes
  • 1, 2, 3, 4 by Plain White T's
I've had to push myself and listen to music that I don't usually listen to. It's hard to admit that I'm a musical fuddy-duddy and stuck in a musical time warp of '80s New Wave. And show tunes. And the Great American songbook. These are my eclectic tastes, not Keely's.

So I'm asking for some help here. I'd like to add more songs to Keely's playlist, which only has 63 songs on it. Not even close to the number of songs a modern teenager would have. Based on the info I've given you, what would you recommend for Keely?


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