Friday, December 31, 2010

How to Eat an Elephant?

Please excuse me for getting a little personal here- I'm working on some posts about flashbacks and pacing and a brilliant post about how I got my agent...I'll let you know as soon as I work out the details on that one! But for now, a bit about writing and how being a Sunday school teacher gave me a little push.

I started writing a few years ago as a result of being a teacher in the Young Women's organization at church. The girls, 12-17 years old, all participate in "Personal Progress," a program with hundreds of activities designed to develop different virtues. These activities could be anything from reading the scriptures daily and recording what they learn to learning a new skill.

In addition, the girls are required to complete a ten-hour project for each of these virtues, and I'd often ask the girls about their progress. As a teacher, I was encouraged to work on my personal progress alongside the girls, and that was why, when an idea flashed through my brain, I picked up a pen and wrote it down. I already had the goal in place and the time had come to act on it.

Two years after beginning to write in earnest, and four years from that first sketch, I realize that my little idea has taken slightly more than ten hours to develop!

It can be done, and here are some things that have helped me.

  • Track your progress. Whether you use a star chart or a marker on your bathroom mirror, write down your goals and what you do each day to meet that goal. It doesn't have to be number of words- that only worked for me for the first draft, but perhaps an amount of focused time? Perhaps it will be to mark up so many pages a day with tiny scribbles that seem perfectly legible until you try to decipher them a week later.
  • You can write a paragraph in five minutes, and eventually you'll fill a book. It adds up. So don't waste your spare moments. Sometimes they're all we get.
  • Eliminate the junk. I don't mean that you can't allow yourself to enjoy some leisure time- even TV can can be a nice break- but if you want to write, you have to give yourself the gift of time to write.
  • Don't get upset if you mess up. Start again. Say it with me: Today is the first day of the rest of my life!

How do you stay focused on your goals, whether writing-related or not?

I hope that you all have had a wonderful 2010, that this coming year will find you well and happy. Enjoy this video--it got me a little pumped!

Glutton for Punishment?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sane, Who Me?

It's that special time of year when we put on some weight, freak out because the scotch tape roll was full yesterday and now everyone is running around with their noses taped to their foreheads and there'll never be enough to wrap these presents, and I just set down the scissors, where did they go?...No! Don't unwrap the presents yet! (true story)

It's been very interesting around my house, and I'm sure things are a little hectic for you, too. That's life, right?

My main defense against stress is to stop doing stuff. I resist *most* attempts to get my kids into extracurricular activites. Good luck to my husband in getting me to the store for a new can of shaving gel if we still have toilet paper.

But we can't not decorate the house for Christmas, or skip our church Christmas party. We spend hours and mind-numbing hours making a present list and shopping, then wrapping all of those items. I feel every one of those minutes. It irks me if I don't make a certain amount of progress every week on the book. I don't mean to be irked, but I am.

Here's the thing I have to remember: It's not all about me. It's about my family, it's about reconnecting with friends and taking the time to show people that they are important. Again, because sometimes I'm incredibly focused on what I want to accomplish: It's not about me.

I should get this since I'm all about quality time (Have you guys all read "The Five Love Languages"? I think that's the most widely read relationship book ever. Great read, btw.)

Some days I feel so grinchy that hubby starts singing the Grinch song to me, and I deserve it, i.e.- I griped about having to put out stockings. So, in order to be a nice, happy person during the holidays, I have set some modest goals.

Kelly's Modest Goals:
1. Do not lose your book. (I warned you they were modest!)

2. No querying in December. Better yet, wait until Jan 15th, after the rush of "New Year's Resolution" queries.

3. Cut back on the internet and use that time to write. Sorry guys. If I have to choose between checking facebook or using that time to get through a few pages today, I have to get a small amount of writing done.

4. Say "no" to some activities. I don't like to say no, but it's good idea.

That's it. No pages per day, no waking up at five for me right now. I tried that on Monday and Tuesday, and after the third snooze alarm, my hubby was not full of Yuletide cheer, so I turned the alarm off.

How do you keep writing during the busiest season of the year?
Glutton for Punishment?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Raising the Stakes...

...Before Driving Them Home in the Breast of Boredom.

He was dying from boredom. It's better this way.

I always have a book on the table while I eat. My kids think it's unfair because I won't let them read while they eat, but they are much more likely to have a spill, so it's just too bad for them.

This morning that book was Story, by Robert McKee. Easily the best book about how to engage an audience that I've ever read. I'm reviewing conflict and act design.

Here're a few tidbits-
Here's a simple test to apply to any story. Ask: What is the risk? What does the protagonist stand to lose if he does not get what he wants? More specifically, what's the worst thing that will happen to the protagonist if he does not achieve his desire?

If this question cannot be answered in a compelling way, the story is misconceived at its core. For example, if the answer is: "Should the protagonist fail, life would go back to normal," this story is not worthy of telling.  
Ouch. Not worthy of telling. Sound like any memoires you've read? I kid, memoire-writers. Or is this one of those jokes that reveals my true feelings?

Okay, let's take this concept down to the scene level. In a particular scene, what happens if your protagonist fails? If it's a return to real life, that's a problem, too. There are building scenes where the conflict is increasing without coming to a conclusion, sure, but there must be risk for the protagonist. There must be stakes, and they must be high.

A crit partner told me that's what her agent commented to her over and over in her edits: Raise the stakes.

In behavioral psychology, there's this term for increasingly desperate behavior called an extinction burst. We all do it. You put a few quarters in the vending machine, press the button. Your drink doesn't come out. You press the button again, a little more firmly. When you press the return change button, it's the same. Nothing. You lift the door, maybe the drink was released and somehow you didn't notice the loud thump as the can landed in the trough, but there's nothing there. So you press the button again, ten times real fast, each time getting harder. Maybe you're a little mad now. You hit the side of the machine, sure that somehow this will work.

In a lot of novels, the protagonist is operating in this way: trying with increasing desperation to get the Coke out of the machine. They would never just walk up to the machine and punch it, but because they are blocked over and over again, they are willing to try just a little bit harder, then a little more, hoping that it will finally work.

Incidentally, giving in when a child is in the midst of an extinction burst is the best way to teach them that desperate behavior works. It sets you up for years of buying candy in the checkout line at the grocery. So don't give in when kids are kicking and screaming. They are so close to giving up and getting on with their lives. That makes for a boring novel, though. In writing, we want to increase desperation.

Here's one more quote from Story:
A story must not retreat to actions of lesser quality or magnitude, but move progressively forward to a final action beyond which the audience cannot imagine another.  
You can't have your protagonist discover a baseball bat, and walk toward the Coke machine at the end of the chapter, then have them find 75 cents in their pocket at the opening of the next chapter. Wouldn't they have checked their pockets for more change before they considered destroying the machine? Raise the stakes, one step at a time. Lead the character to the climax, where they will do something they never could have seen coming on page one.

I hope you all had an amazing Thanksgiving. I love having a few days off to be with the family and revel in all of my blessings. Happy Writing!
Glutton for Punishment?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What'd Ya Do That For?

In a previous life, I worked as a behavior specialist. Basically, I would teach parents or caregivers how to encourage better behavior from children and adults with developmental disabilities. Think Supernanny, without the accent.

One of the most important things to changing someone's behavior is to understand why they're doing it. There are five categories of motivation to pick from (I refreshed myself on these on the wiki page for "Behavior Modification, functional analysis. Check it out if you want to learn more.) They are:
Access to Attention
Access to Escape
Access to Automatic Reinforcement
Access to Intangibles

I'm going to use head banging (actual hitting of one's head on another surface, not the "dance!") as a typical behavior I've worked with. Then I'll give examples from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix of these same motivations at work.

Access to Attention- Child hits his head on the desk, the teacher comes over, rubs his back. She might ask him please not to do that, warn him that he'll hurt himself, etc. but everything she does/says is giving the child what he wants: attention. (The proper response here is to ignore the behavior.)

Access to Escape- Worksheet gets distributed. Child hits head on desk, maybe even hard enough to start bleeding. The teacher reacts by sending the child to the nurse. The child escapes having to do the worksheet. (A better way to deal would to have the nurse come to the classroom, and to establish a reward program for completing work.)

Access to Automatic Reinforcement- There is a substitute teacher. The child is nervous because of the change in routine and bangs their head on the table to relese this tension. (The best way to do this is to avoid stressful situations, and to give the child a constructive outlet when stress occurs. Having a pillow or stress ball to squeeze would provide a better way to release stress.)
Access to Tangibles- The child bangs their head, and the teacher brings them an ice pack. The child now has what they wanted: an icepack. This is a simple one to stop: don't give the child what they want. The behavior may increase for a time, but once the child is sure that their behavior isn't working, the headbanging will stop. This is why I never ever ever buy whiny kids candy in the checkout line.

Sensory- Child hits head on the desk because he likes the way it feels. Maybe he has a headache, or maybe it's just a strong sensation. Once medical reasons are ruled out, the best way to deal with this is to interrupt the sensation. If the head banging is severe, the child may need to wear a helmet. Maybe it would be better for the child to sit in a bean bag chair or otherwise make the environment unfriendly to head banging. This is, in my opinion, the hardest type of behavior to stop.

Okay, let's look at Harry Potter. I picked this book because most of you have read it, and the movie comes out this week. Yay! (Unfortunately for me, I'll have to wait a week to see it because Nathan is having his hernia repaired on Friday and won't be up to going to the theater for a few days. He claims that it would be desertion if I went without him. And he won't go to the midnight showing on Thursday, even though he's just going to be in surgery and sleeping all Friday. Sometimes I just don't understand him, lol)

Okay, back to Harry and his varied motivations: 
Access to Attention- This is the one that Harry is least likely to do, since he gets plenty of attention just for being the Boy Who Lived, but there are times when he wants attention from his friends. His tantrums in the beginning of the book about having been left alone all summer would be such a time.
Access to Escape-Harry says he's feeling ill so he can leave class and take Hedgwig to the infirmary. All of those Skiving Snackboxes Fred and George make are helpful to students motivated to escape class. Harry doesn't continue with Occlumency lessons even thought everyone around him tells him he should because his motivation to escape Snape is so strong.
Access to Automatic Reinforcement- At the end of the book, Sirius has died, and Harry is raging at Dumbledore. Harry is not seeking attention, he is releasing stress. Incidentally, Dumbledore handles it just as he should- calmly, without yelling back. Dumbledore remains the adult. Good job, Dumbledore! I think this would also be why Harry has a "thing about saving people." It's a reaction to who he is and not a sensory motivation.
Access to Tangibles- Harry does all kinds of things to get things he wants. He enters the Great Hall at the appropriate time so he can get food. He does homework so he can get decent grades and maybe become an auror some day. Note that "behavior" does NOT mean "bad behavior." The behaviors can be good or bad. 
Sensory- Harry has some pretty nasty headaches in this book, and he's always rubbing his head afterward. Kissing Cho has a sensory motivation, as does riding a broom. Avoiding Stinksap also has a sensory motivation.    
The important thing is that there are 5 basic motivations to behavior. You can also count NOT doing something as a behavior, for instance, Harry and Ron often don't do their homework because they want to pratice quidditch. If Hermione really wanted to make them study, she wouldn't give them planners, she'd take away their brooms!

This isn't the only way to look at character motivations, but perhaps it will add a layer as you think about what your characters are doing and why. Anybody have any idea what motivates Voldemort?

And I forgot to link to this fantastic article on pacing and dialogue last week. My friend Teresa Frohock picked the brain of Lisa Mannetti, winner of the 2008 Bram Stoker Award for her novel "The Gentling Box." The book trailer is on there, and it's way too scary for me, but Teresa says it is amazing!

Happy Writing!
Glutton for Punishment?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pacing in "The Hunger Games"

Each chapter has a story arc. You've heard that, right? In view of some comments about pacing in my own writing, I did some studying in The Hunger Games. Look at these chapter endings-

Me in red and my sister and some of our kiddoes hanging off a cliff. Get it?
Ch 1- Effie trinket crosses back to the podium, smoothes the slip of paper, and reads out the name in a clear voice. And it's not me.
It's Primrose Everdeen.
Ch. 2- Peeta looks me right in the eye and gives my hand what I think is meant to be a reassuring squeeze. Maybe it's just a nervous spasm. We turn back to face the crowd as the anthem of Panem plays. Oh, well, I think. There will be twenty-four of us. Odds are that someone else will kill him before I do.
Of course, the odds have not been very dependable of late.

Ch. 3- Just then, Haymitch staggers into the compartment. "I miss supper?" he says is a slurred voice. Then he vomits all over the expensive carpet and falls in the mess.
"So laugh away!" says Effie Trinket. She hops in her pointy shoes around the pool of vomit and flees the room.

Ch. 4- All of the pieces are still fitting together, but I sense he has a  plan forming. He hasn't accepted his death. He is already fighting hard to stay alive. Which also means that kind Peeta Mellark, the boy who gave me bread, is fighting hard to kill me.

Ch. 5- Peeta is planning to kill you, I remind myself. He is luring you in to make you easy prey. The more likeable he is, the more deadly he is.
But because two can play this game, I stand on tiptoe and kiss his cheek. Right on his bruise.

Ch. 6- I pull the covers up over my head as if this will protect me from the redheaded girl who can't speak. But I can feel her eyes staring at me, piercing through the walls and doors and bedding.
I wonder if she'll enjoy watching me die.

Ch. 7- the arrow skewers the apple in the pig's mouth and pins it to the wall behind it. Everyone stares at me in disbelief.
"Thank you for your consideration," I say. Then I give a slight bow and walk straight toward the exit without being dismissed.
Okay, is that enough to get an idea of what she does?

My big breakthrough came when I realized that if I were writing THG, my chapters would have kept going. On. And ON. Primrose's name is called? I wouldn't have started a new chapter. I would have made that whole scene, with Katniss climbing the stairs and Effie congratulating them one continuous scene.

Suzanne Collins doesn't follow the classic story arc inside her chapters. She is continually cutting us off right at the climax. Then the next chapter finishes the scene up, if necessary, or if the reader can easily guess what will happen, she starts at the next scene.

Her chapters tend to be briefer than I go, also: 17, 12, 13,12, etc. Low teens, not low twenties.

I was giddy as I read through and figured it out. I promptly printed the last page of each chapter with the plan to find those high tension moments and insert a page break! Except the moments weren't there. They were back a page or two...or five.

Sometimes I found that the end of the scene was necessary and kept it. Other times, it was just me trying to wrap up all my loose ends. Which is exactly what I don't want to do! Delete! Delete! Delete!

No loose ends=no tension. No reading on to find out what happens next.

I'm not suggesting that we all have to structure our chapters that way; every story is different. But Suzanne Collins knows how to keep the reader turning pages, and I found it helpful. I hope you do too!

Any other tips on pacing? Any other authors to check out? Thanks for reading.

PS- My kitchen is now pistachio pudding green, and the foyer will soon be a buttercream. I love it. Plus the two hundred bulb I bought are in the ground. Yay!
Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Opportunity Knocks

Three years ago, Nathan and I moved to South Carolina, intending to stay with the in-laws for a few months while we saved some money and looked for a new house. We'd spent the previous five years fixing up a 90-year-old Victorian, and I was always too busy during my few free hours, caulking and tiling and wielding my prybar. So when we sold the house, I lost a huge piece of who I'd been, Kelly the Remodeler, but I chose to look at it as an opportunity to try something new. 

This picture has nothing to do with anything.
No, wait. I can do this...Ummm...Okay. Here goes.
I like taking pictures of unusual churches,
but I don't have time to pursue photgraphy, either.
It's about choices.
And it was nice. Weekends weren't inevitably full of project after project, and with 3 out of 4 kids in school, plus a few days of preschool co-op, I had more free time than I'd had since pre-kiddoes. By far. I wrote a lot. I read a lot, too. It was heavenly. 

Alas, we are homeowners once more;)
I'm excited to be picking out paint colors and curtains again, but I will miss the closeness we've had with Nathan's dad and stepmom. My youngest has no memory of life without in-house grandparents, so once they close on their house and move out, nuclear family life will be totally new to him. It's definately bittersweet.

I've already cut back on my blogging and internet time, but I'll probably cut back to one post a week, instead of closer to two. I'll still be checking in with you guys, but I may not be on here every day. There literally aren't enough hours in the day, and I am a terrible person when I'm tired. Really grouchy, and prone to crying, and I don't want to be that mean mom.

Though I enjoy writing even more than I did three years ago, I've been able to pull back from being obsessed by the book to being preoccupied with it. There's a fine line there, but on this side, my kids don't ask me why we don't go anyplace fun anymore. And the neighbors don't wonder why no one ever leaves that house. Is it haunted?

I have a paintbrush in hand once more. Left hand, that is. Right hand is holding a pen.

Any tips on achieving balance? On loving the life you have instead of wishing for change? Did anybody else have a special opportunity to follow a "one day I'll..."-dream, as I did?
Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Manifest by Artist Arthur and Tutored by Allison Whittenberg

So the way Around the World ARC tours works, you read a book blurb, and if it sounds interesting, you ask to be put on the list, and some time in the future you receive it in the mail. You have a week to read it and send it on, and then another week to review it.

I'm so late with these two. I received three books in one week, and while it was no problem reading them, I really liked "Girl Parts" and it was hard to muster enough enthusiam to review these. So this post is not a strict review, more my thoughts on great vs. okay books.

Coincidentally, both "Tutored" and "Manifest" are by African-American authors, a group that is under-represented, shall we say, in bookstores. I don't select books based on race, in fact some of my favorite books are by people of African descent. Errrr, does that sound cliche?

Well, it's true, so there.

Alan Patton, for instance. "Cry The Beloved Country" is an amazing-
What's that? He's white? Seriously?

*Checks wiki* Holy crap. So he is. Still, he was born in Africa...

All joking aside, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man changed me. As a high school student, I fell in love with the writing, with the struggle to be seen. I still love that book.

Maya Angelou was and is a huge inspiration to me, many of her books broadened my vision of the world. I identified with her characters and felt that she understood people- of all colors- so deeply.

I haven't read much lighter fare from African-American authors. Perhaps there's some kind of reverse discrimination going on behind closed doors in my head, like I expected them to be more than they were, but both these books disappointed me.

I'll give my summary of both books, and then explain what felt off to me. I add, they were decent books. For someone else they might be awesome books, but for me, the connection was shaky.

"Manifest" is about a girl named Krystal who sees dead people. She moves from The City to a small town, and gets sucked into solving the mystery of a young man's death by his hawt ghost. She has no interest in the cute living boy that likes her, since she's got a HUGE chip on her shoulder. But Ricky's ghost claims that he was murdered when he discovered who killed his girlfriend, and soon Krystal begins to wonder if the same person isn't after her.

"Tutored" is about a young woman, Wendy, whose father escaped the inner-city and is determined that his daughter not fall back in. Wendy is tired of being the "only chip in the cookie" and starts volunteering at a community center. She tutors a young man, Hakiam, who has just moved to Philly and is trying to get a fresh start. But with little family support and no education, Hakiam sees little choice but to steal if he wants to eat. As Hakiam and Wendy get to know each other, they find they have more in common than they could have imagined.

Both of these books had some good moments, and I didn't feel it was a total waste to read them. But they weren't amazing. I didn't believe that a good girl like Wendy would get involved with Hakiam. The leap from reluctant study sessions to boyfriend/girlfriend was too great. And when Wendy takes Hakiam to a "white" party, and everyone is drunk and stoned, that was presented as a positive (Hakiam says "White people are all right" or something close to that.), while the same situation in the ghetto was presented as a huge negative(although the situation was different since Hakiam's cousin had a small baby present). Still, to find common ground in drugs is not my idea of a bridge between cultures.

In "Tutored",I never quite believed that Krystal was as angry as she was presented. It just wasn't backed up in her history. Like, what teenage girl isn't going to be a little flattered when a cute guy keeps stopping by her locker to talk to her? Yeah. I can't think of any either.

I also felt that both of these authors accepted violence as part of life in a way that I am not comfortable with. Hakiam has several scenes where he is tempted to steal someone's purse, and when he and Wendy talk about that, her reasons for not stealing fall flat. How about "it's wrong?" To the best of my memory, she only says it's inconvenient to the other person. It's a whole lot more than that. Likewise, in Manifest, Ricky ran with a rough crowd, and his girlfriend was involved in "sexting" someone else. He had the attitude that it's her decision and unrelated to him. That did not work for me. I didn't buy his attitude.

The magic of Ralph Ellison was that he made us live through another's eyes, and I never got anywhere close
to that with these books. They were okay.
Glutton for Punishment?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Seeing Like a Rat, starring Nightshade City by Hilary Wagner

I gave Nightshade City by Hilary Wagner to my now-ten-year-old for his birthday, but of course I had to preview it first. He said "I love it. this is, like, the best book ever!" I say Hilary has created engaging, distinct, and memorable characters, but more impressive is her abiltity to turn readers into rats.

Really, she did. I was a rat for several hours. She describes the beautiful Clover in such a way that I believe that Clover's not just a rodent, she's a female to envy and admire. Hilary somehow skipped over all the little nudges that often occur, where the author has to keep reminding the reader that the animals are animals, not people in fur with whiskers and tails glued on.
She was quite lovely, with smooth cocoa skin, and light fur, buff in color and downy soft, much more suited for a snow hair than for a rat. She had a short, rounded nose and a sculpted refined muzzle. Eyes the color of citrine offered up varied hues of yellowy briliance, round and open. Despite her beauty, she had an approachable sweetness, modest and shy.
Shall I give you Killdeer, snarly High Minister?
Lazily picking a scrap of roast hen off his distended stomach, Killdeer idly flicked the oily meat across his den. The mammoth rat slumped down further in his silver-chalice throne, only his limbs, potbelly, and snoutvisible to an onlooker...His legs draped over his silver throne like mounds of heavy velvet, leaving his immense feet hanging over the side like two dead gray rabbits. 
The dead rabbits line really jumped out at me, in a good way. He's like a furry Henry the Eighth.

Nightshade City follows two orphaned brothers, Vincent and Victor, who escape from the Catacombs and forced service in the Kill Army. They stumble into the rebel stronghold and find a group ready to fight for the freedom their father died trying to restore.

Another orphan, Clover, has caught Killdeer's eye and has no chance of escape with the Kill Army guarding her. Their paths will cross as the rebels seek to pull down the power-hungry Killdeer and his creepy second-in-command, Billycan. Nightshade City, once just a dream of the earlier generation, waits to be born.

This was a great book, well worth the purchase. Isaac was rereading some of his favorite parts at breakfast this morning and almost made us late to school. However, parents may want to preview this book. I don't suggest it to younger elementary, as Billycan and the Kill Army are quite vicious, pulling out tongues for torture, and there are some mentions of females being chosen to mate with Killdeer. Not graphic, but you might check it out first. I really liked the overall message of the book, actually.

Hilary is one of the friendliest writers I've met, so you might want to stop by and say hello to her. Because let me tell you, it was cool to tell Isaac "I know the author of this book." He was impressed ;)

Has anyone else been turned into a rat? What got you?
Glutton for Punishment?

Friday, October 15, 2010


I went to book club recently, and I told myself in the car not to bring up writing or my book. But I made a comment about the ancient Egyptian worldview, which I've been learning about for Book the Second, which led my friend to bring bringing up my new book.

This dear friend RAVED again about my writing and my ideas and how so very clever and imaginative I am, and on and on. I blushed and got through my elevator pitches.

                                   It was just like this.

I don't want to be like one of those people that are always asking people for praise or constant affirmation. Most of the time I can just keep plugging away, nobody knows what I'm working on. I mean, how many times can someone ask "How's the book coming?" and you answere, "Oh, I'm just trying to tighten things up, still editing," before it gets boring?

But man, it feels so good to have someone get excited about my book. It feels so good after rejections and the ever-present fears of what may never be. I've missed a lot of baby showers and Pampered Chef parties to write this thing, but to this friend, it was worth it. It spoke to her.

This friend is a naturally exuberant person, and I feel narcissistic when I'm around her. But it feels good. Yay for positive people.

I can do better than that. A-hem.


Who are your cheerleaders and how have they helped you? Can you tell them I want to be friends, too?
Glutton for Punishment?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Girl Parts

What is it about girls and cyborgery? I've picked up several of these books recently, the latest being "Girl Parts" by John M. Cusick, but I've also read the "Specials" by Scott Westerfeld, "The Adoration of Jenna Fox" by Mary Pearson and "Skinned" by Robin Wasserman. Apparently in this age of texting and Facebook and smart phones, there're a lot of questions about how this affects us as human beings. In typical science fiction watchtower syndrome, there are warnings about the dangers of the ultra-linked world that has already arrived in some ways. Lots of folks have reviewed the latter three, so here's my review of "Girl Parts."

Gorgeous cover, right?

"Girl Parts" is about a Companion bot named Rose, who is designed to help David Sun overcome dissociative disorder, kind of like how teens have might to carry around a fake baby for health class. But Rose is an AI girlfriend, programmed to require certain kinds of interactions before she'll allow physical contact. And it seems to be working. David spends less time with his video games, and is eager to meet Rose's requirements so that things can progress to sex. Unfortunately...well, it is a YA book. When Rose's program to please David can't be completed, she has to find her own reason for existing.

The most interesting thing about this book was what it says about real relationships, and how sometimes people can get into patterns of thinking that are very robotic. Boy spends time with girl, thus girl is obligated to do XYZ. Rose's thoughts in some places were very poignant to me, but I don't want to spoil it for you. So, I'll just say that this book was worth reading, especially if you enjoyed any of the other books above.

If you're looking for a book for your teenager, I would highly recommend you preview it first. David is very concerned with losing his virginity, and while I imagine that his motivations are fairly realistic, it's a bit detailed for my taste in some places. But, I think the consequences of his actions are worthy of a good discussion. His choices are not glamorized, and the overall message is a good one.

Girl Parts came out in Aug. of this year, and I received this ARC (better late than never!) on loan from Around The World Blogs, which you can find in my side bar. Thanks!
Glutton for Punishment?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Plumping Up Dialogue

In celebration of multiple signs from the universe that I need to tighten up my pacing and set some better hooks at end of my chapters, I'm studying. Today I'm sharing what I've gathered about convincing dialogue.

My favorite dialogue movies are very revealing about what I value: wit. "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?," and "Clue," "Real Genius," and "Napoleon Dynamite". TV shows would be "Seinfeld", of course, "The Simpsons", "Burn Notice," and "Castle."

It's a wonder my characters ever have anything serious to say.

As with all writing, the first rule is to revise. As far as I know all good dialogue must be revised no less than twenty times. Maybe that number varies, but good dialogue doesn't just happen. It takes a lot of work.

Here're my current dialogue guidelines. Please add anything in the comments that has helped you.
  1. Don't have the characters say anything they both know. "Look, he's dead." That kind of thing. Never say "As you know, Jim, my pet zebra escaped last week..." Have you tried to use this in real conversation? People get annoyed really fast. It's kind of fun.
  2. Don't go on and on. Or even just on. It might be one of your character's quirks to be longwinded, but be aware that the reader will likely skim! "But Tom Clancy still got published!" you protest. I know. He did, so did Ayn Rand and tons of other writers. I skim those books. A lot.
  3. Use dialogue to reveal character. Sure, sometimes dialogue will be necessary to move the plot, but that's not its main purpose. Dialogue is for the reader to get to know the characters. The beats and action are to move the plot.
  4. Have characters at odds with each other as much as possible. Not necessarily fighting, but they can't want exactly the same thing. Otherwise, what are they talking for? They could be doing whatever it is that they are in perfect agreement upon. Thus...
  5. A major purpose of communication is to persuade people to do what we want. 
  6. Other purposes of communication are information sharing. I'd suggest keeping this type of dialogue to a minimum in a novel. It's great for real life, though.
  7. Another purpose is establishing levels of intimacy. Word choice and levels of playfulness are mutaully agreed upon in the art of conversation, and that can be fun to read, especially when the characters are uncertain about the other person's goals or they have conflicting expectations. Think every romance novel ever written. It doesn't have to be romantic intimacy, though. All relationships have a level of intimacy.
  8. Listen, listen, listen, but don't write the way people talk. You want to distill normal conversation into a more compact, clever, and conflicted version of real life. I might talk to a friend for an hour in real life, but if it takes more than fifteen seconds to read that dialogue, we'd better have saved the planet! 
  9. Never have your character trying to accomplish the exact same thing with a second line. Have their goals change with the conversation, in reaction to the other person's responses. People usually escalate when they're blocked. Or they try another angle. Or get it. Don't let them bore the reader. The reader wants to see what they'll try next, not what they just tried. "Story" by Robert McKee has a great chapter on this. It's a screenwriting book, but well worth reading.
That's what I've got. I'm also reviewing my copy of "Longman's Guide to Intermediate and Advanced Fiction Writing", and it's very good, also. (Both of these books I previewed at the library before buying, so I don't recommend them lightly.)

What dialogue moves you? Where do you go when you want to be amazed by dialogue? Books can have some good dialogue, too! lol "The Queen's Thief" series by Megan Whalen Turner has very clever dialogue. And Kathryn Magendie has great regional dialogue, especially if you want to look at a Southern twist. She goes way beyond throwing a ya'll in. Her blog is lots of fun, so check her out. When I first met her online, I commented on how much I enjoyed her dialogue, and she said that it had not been easy and seemed delighted. So, there's hope for all of us. Work hard, revise and rerevise, and you can have sharp, believeable dialogue that brings your characters to life.

I hope you enjoy the links; I'm trying to be less lazy in my blogging.
Finally, here's one of my favorite moments from Clue. Enjoy!

I have to go back to making Play-Doh snakes and eating salty blue spaghetti with the kiddoes now. Happy Writing!
Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bruiser by Neal Shusterman

Tennyson is very concerned when his sister, Bronte, starts a new project, in the form of social rehab of a loner, Bruiser, who looks like he's descended from the Hulk. Tennyson feels their home life is already complicated enough with their parents separating. But Tennyson gets to know Bruiser and realizes that he's an okay guy, if a little wierd. He and Bronte figure out that Bruiser has a secret as terrible in practice as it is wonderful in the abstract. They try to help him, but sometimes the person in the mirror needs help the most.

"Bruiser" is told from four persectives, and I was impressed with how convincing each of the voices were. I loved the Special Thing Bruiser could do, which I won't describe here. It was cool and very believable, though.

I also loved the theme of how pain is a necessary part of life, and it reminded me a bit of "The Giver" in that way. I'll just say that Bruiser changes a lot of things for the people he cares about, and sometimes protecting someone isn't in their best interests.

Thanks to Around the World Blogs for lending me this ARC. The book was released in June, and the paperback will come out in April. Definately worth reading and nothing was out of place. I highly recommend.
Glutton for Punishment?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Don't Wring Your Hands!!!

What to do when you are rejected:

  1. Refresh your email to make sure it wasn't a mistake.
  2. Find something to get angry about. You know it's in there. "This is a form rejection!!! I bet they didn't even read it!!!" OR "This criticism is too vague to even help me!!!"  OR "This criticism is specific, but it could apply to chapter one or chapter twenty-one!!!" Regardless of how your anger expresses itself, remember to use exclamation marks. Lots of them. We all know there's no better revenge against an agent than multiple exclamation points. Oh, yes. We have our weapons, too.
  3. Read the rejection again. If it's an email, print it just so you can have the satisfaction of balling it up and throwing it in the trash, or setting it on fire, if you run like that.
  4. Cry a lot, and make sure to tell people how devastated you are, and how cruel the publishing industry is. Facebook is very helpful in this regard. Don't worry about being an emo. Your true friends will want to know what you're going through.
  5. Shoot an email to your crit partner crying about number two above. Delete them from your address book if they reply and tell you someone else will be interested. After all, this is their fault for not telling you what you needed to fix in the first place!
  6. Get a milkshake. That's the drink I'd feel most guilty about drinking that I'd actually drink, but I'm sure you will adjust the beverage to fit your own personal demons. Get fat/drunk/stoned. That will show them!!!
  7. Make sure not to write anything constructive for a few days. Mull over the rejection for many hours. Accept that you suck and you'll never be published. And everybody who ever said they loved your story has bad taste in literature and is a pathological liar. They're all out to get you.
  8. OR Make the suggested changes, if the agent was jerky enough to provide any feedback. Stay up all night if that's what it takes. Email the agent back and ask them to look at your revisions. They'll be impressed with your passion, I promise. You might be willing to forgive the agent if they see the error of their ways.
  9. If some idiot tells you that you're not being very professional, remind them that you would like to be a professional, but you keep getting rejected! What kind of a trap is that? This is a good spot to use any short words based in Anglo-Saxon. 
Yes, I got a rejection. It was actually extremely helpful, and I still cried. A lot. I emailed a crit partner. I was frustrated. And then I got on with my life. If you're querying, you can't afford to lose a whole day of writing every time someone doesn't like your book. Because how will you be able to write EVER when you finally are published? Have you read any reviews on Amazon lately? Even books I love have pros and cons.

Seriously. Pick the last book that you really liked and go read the reviews. Unless you read Narnia, I guarantee you someone hated it. I was shocked that not everyone loved The Queen of Attolia. There are 58 reviews of The Queen of Attolia, and 6 are very negative. What are these people thinking? That's one of the best books I've ever read! Read the bad reviews. Laugh about how they didn't get it and remember again that there's a lot of subjectiveness in this business.

I am taking querying very slowly, and I think this has been a good thing for me. "Pulse" is my first book, and I've been fortunate enough to receive feedback from some of the agents I've contacted. The criticisms I got yesterday were very hard to hear, but now that I've gone through my stages of grief, I can see that she was right. It's very good that I didn't send out queries to all the agents on my list at once, because I still have lots of options, and that feels great. I plan on taking a few weeks to think about the criticism recieved, then fix it. I'll work on another project in the meantime.

So, when you get a rejection, keep breathing. Cry. Get it out, and get on with your life. I find doing something non writing related for a while helps, like playing piano or taking the kids to the park, or cleaning the disaster that was my kitchen.

Something to think about, though: If you query ten agents a month and lose a day with every rejection, you've cut down your writing time by a third. That would really be a shame, wouldn't it? Good luck, friends.
Glutton for Punishment?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick

Spoilers for "Hush Hush" ahead. You're warned.

I like the cover.

In "Hush, Hush", Nora Grey fell for the ultimate bad boy, fallen angel Patch. He lied to her, placed her in dangerous situations, and was actually plotting her death for the entire book. Nora knows she should probably stay away from him, but just can't say no and mean it.

"Crescendo" builds on this. I had forgotten how Nora operates, so I spent the whole first half of the book like a kid watching a horror movie: "No, don't investigate the mysterious thumping in the basement in the middle of the night with a half-dead flashlight during a rainstorm. Don't do it!"

I like my characters to be smart, to have some self-preservation instincts. Nora does not have this. Some people don't even notice, they love her for being so trusting and/or foolish. In "Hush, Hush", perhaps they trusted the writer that Patch would end up being worth it, but all I could think is, "Why would you go out again with someone who treats you that way?" There's more of that in Crescendo, too, although the book follows the required mid-series breakup formula.

I will say that Nora was a lot more proactive, if misguided, in this book, and the funny best friend was, well, funny. Patch's character was much more likeable and I found myself rooting for him. There were some scenes that were very fun to read.

I don't have to fall in love with a main character, but I couldn't lose myself in Nora at all. This may say more about me than about the book. I am not a let's-hope-this-doesn't-kill-me kind of girl. She was really emotional and insecure, and that was hard for me to read, too, but it wasn't beyond my experiences as a teen. I saw people act in ways that were at least this dumb.

I wish that Fitzpatrick had reminded us of how the whole Nephilim/fallen angel thing worked earlier in the story and how the first book had ended, because it took a while for that info to be restated, and I'd forgotten most of it.

The second half of the book really picked up and I read it much faster. I don't know if I will read the next book in the series, but maybe. I like tension in a relationship to be based on misunderstandings, not demeaning actions, and in that way, Nora's relationship with Patch was much more plausible to me in Crescendo. But with other characters, Nora is a total pushover. I'd like to tell Nora that she doesn't have to let guys treat her like she's a piece of trash, and I'd like to have a good, long talk with her mother for encouraging Nora to spend time with a psycho childhood friend. Neither Nora nor her mom have a backbone. Sigh.

TONS of people loved "Hush, Hush," and they will love "Crescendo," too. I was engaged with the story, but in a frustrated, "Wake up, girl!" kindof way.

Thanks to Around the World Tours for sending me this ARC. Anybody who reviews YA books on their blog can sign up, so check it out. They are also looking for YA ARC donations. Happy reading!
Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Why do you blog? Some people have goals about how many blogs they will visit and comment on, how many link backs they will make every week, and how many how many how many.

I tried that. For about a month.

It was stressing me out, and making it hard for me to want to write here.

At the University of Florida (and I suspect it is similar in most colleges), there were two main plazas that most everyone walked through on their treks from the dorms/parking lots to their classes. The Hari Krishnas would serve yummy vegetarian glop for a dollar donation on Fridays. The "Redcoats" would stand up on buckets in their maroon suit coats and yell at the girls in short shorts that they were the whores of all the earth, and the boys were informed their fornication would lead to their everlasting damnation, etc. And usually Yoga Guy was out there on his mat, too.

It was a rare day where I wouldn't see someone that I knew as I walked through. The plazas were a place to hang out and relax, a place to listen to people argue, a place to lay under the trees and look at the clouds or just lean up against a tree and read.

Blogs are that same type of thing for me. I'm on my way to email, or renew my seriously overdue library books, but I take a few minutes to hang out with you guys on my way there.

That's what I'm going for on my blog. I haven't checked my new visitors vs. returning visits, duration of visit, how the person got here. I understand that such stats would be useful if this were a business. But it's not. This is where I hangout. Stay as long as you like. Come back when you can. I'm not worried about it.

I comment when I'm interested in the topic and have something to say. When I follow someone, it's not part of my master plan to have X number of followers by X date. I follow someone because they intrigue me in some way.

I understand the usefulness of branding and online presence. I think it's great for people who can think like that, but it freezes me up. The blog is fun. That's my motivation.

Why do you blog?

Thanks for reading and commenting. Getting your take on things is the best part! 
Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, September 20, 2010

What keeps you up at night?

I'm ready to admit that I'm terrified of messing up my search for an agent.

It's the way that the timing is out of my control that kills me. Let's say, for instance, that I have a partial out to an agent that takes a full 6 weeks to read 50 pages. And then let's say that a new agent comes on the market, someone with decades of experience in the industry, and I fire off a query letter, thinking basically that New, Experienced Agent wouldn't want me, but I'll give it a shot. And then she requests a full, and she's got superfast turnaround.

Then say that a non-query email with a likewise New But Extremely Talented Agent leads to that agent asking what I write, and I tell her, and she says to send her a partial, too.

This would all be really awesome, right? Except I don't know how to handle this. I know it's silly to worry about it, because reading is not offering representation, not at all, but what if New Experienced Agent or New But Extremely Talented Agent offer representation? Do I wait for Super Yet Slow Agent to get back to me? Do I send them an email and hope they will get back to me soon enough that I don't look like a total butthead to N.E.A. or N.B.E.T.A.?

That is what I worry about. Looking like a jerk. That and not having an amazing relationship with my agent. I want to know that their input helped me to take it up a notch. I want an agent that gets who I am and what I'm about. I want someone who will know that if they aren't sure if I'm joking, that I am. I want somebody who shoots me an email out of know where, telling me they were thinking about my book, and wouldn't it be cool if....

I want someone who loves my book as much as I do.

Excuse me. I have to go read some agent blogs and make sure I get all this etiquette right. And go check out my friend Teresa's blog post on her editing letter. Very informative, and she always manages to throw in some good lines. Really, go find out why you need to get an ulcer, pronto!

And Kathryn Magendie has a brilliant post on the relationship betwen chipmunks and procrastinating. And M&Ms. You need to know this stuff, I promise!
Glutton for Punishment?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I thought I Made This Up.

I found a story about a woman, Jill Price, whose memories don't fade. She's been tested by various researchers and they've concluded she has accurate recall of daily events back from the time she was 12. (She kept a daily journal all those years.)

She describes the memories as a split screen, and says that a dozen or so times a day, a memory will be triggered by a smell, a song, a sight, and she reexperiences that memory.

From the USA Today Article-
The constant onslaught of memories is both a curse and a blessing, Price says. Especially under stress, the good memories give her great comfort. "I have this warm, safe feeling, and I can get through anything." The dark side is that she recalls every bad decision, every insult and excruciating embarrassment. "Over the years, it has eaten me up."
Peaceful sleep is rare because memories assault her, she says. "It has kind of paralyzed my life."
My MC, Lara, deals with the good and the bad of having a perfect memory. Can you imagine living this way? I thought I was making this stuff up.
Glutton for Punishment?

Friday, September 10, 2010

"Hunger" by Jackie Kessler

A girl with anorexia attempts suicide, but Death gives her a second chance by appointing her as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse: Famine.

Lisa is tired of being fat. She still has a muffin top, for goodness sake! How could her friend suggest that she has anorexia? When her boyfriend agrees that he's worried, she can't take it anymore. Enter: Mom's antidepressants. Lisa swallows one pill, then another. Then another. And then a delivery man rings the doorbell and hands her a package that contains scales, and tells her, "Thou art Famine: Go thee out into the world."

I'm not particularily interested in eating disorders, but the connection to Famine and Lisa's ultimate twist to her duties was intriguing. This book did not read as a self-help book, not at all, but I found the thought patterns a bit disturbing. Anyone who has fought themselves against grabbing an ice cream sandwich by how many calories it contains will recognize the thinking, and maybe even wonder if it would be so hard to lose track of "normal".

In my psych classes, I learned that when asked to select what images match their body types, anorexics will select body types that are more ample than their real body. There's a fundamental shift in perception, and that came across very clearly, as did the way that food becomes the most important relationship in Lisa's life.

"Hunger" comes out in October, and I thought it was worth reading, whether or not you are interested in eating disorders. And for those of you who are looking for books for your own teens, be aware that there are references to Lisa fooling around with her boyfriend. It doesn't get into any details, but from the character's perspective, it is a given that a girl with a boyfriend will be sexually active. I found it interesting that Lisa's self-perception changed when she and James went from being best friends to dating.

Thanks to Around the World Blog Tours for the opportunity to read this ARC. Now I'm off to the post office to send it to the next person! And for anybody that noticed I didn't get this review up yesterday, my apologies. I've come down with a cold.
Glutton for Punishment?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Time, Time Time, Is On My Side. Err, Not Really.

I started writing this post as a list of all the ways I'm overwhelmed right now, but it sounded a little pathetic so I erased it and started again. The point was that a lot of things are in flux right now for me, and none of it is bad, just changes. Some of it is even exciting- like we're going to be closing on a house any day now!

The hard thing is that while I get used to the increased pace, I'm not getting a lot of writing done. The good thing is that if I can make it through the adjustment period, I'll be much more involved in my kids' activities and time with them is never misspent.

Organization has never been one of my strengths, but I'm trying. I'd like to be able to be a cub scout leader, homeroom mom, writing workshop member, blogger, chaffeur, child care expert (my own kids plus two extra), new home owner/amazing designer/renovator and not go crazy, but it is feeling pretty crazy. I'll let you know how it goes.

I'm laughing as I think about my overly generous estimates on how much time I would have to write every week. Can you hear me? Because it's pretty loud, and a teensy bit on edge. 25 hours a week, I thought. Too funny.

I try not to get annoyed when life happens, like this morning. Two yearly checkups for the kids plus a snafu with the appointment scheduler (not a mistake on my end, amazingly) means I spent all three of today's precious free hours today at the doctor's office. Grrr. At least we had a whole bag of library books and Eli is well on his way to becoming a member of the celebrated Hundred Book Club. Three hours is a long time to read picture books.

But, an exciting thing- I signed up a while ago at Around the World Blog Tours- it's an ARC (an advance copy) sharing site, and I got the first book today, Hunger by Jackie Kessler. I will let you know how I liked it on Thursday. Around the World Blog Tours is pretty cool- you join the site, pick which books you would like to review, and you get a book in the mail. It's a pretty cool system and an easy way to get ARCs for those of us who can't make it to Book Expo or wherever else it is that people get them. 

Another good thing- the dream that I had where I got my book published by a vanity press, only to have an agent contact me the day the boxes of books arrived (and the covers were AWFUL!) ended up not being real. Whew! I was really really relieved that I wasn't going to have to hand sell them all. It was almost as bad as those dreams where one of my kids is drowning or about to fall off a cliff and I can't stop it. *shivers* Okay, it's not in that league at all, but it was really upsetting.

I've got one partial out right now to an Ms. Agent, someone that Mr. Agent referred me to, and have started a new edit, which I hope to finish up within two weeks. That will be well within the 4-6 weeks Ms. Agent said she would need to respond, so hopefully this won't backfire. I keep thinking it's perfect (enough) and I'm done, but it's not and I'm not.

Have a great day and write a little for me. I have to go finish my child protection training for cub scouts.
Glutton for Punishment?

Friday, September 3, 2010


Twitter paralyzes my brain. I can't handle the limits of 140 characters to express something awesome. I would retweet and get all linky, but the things I would retweet are from my friends, who are already on Twitter, and they're all friends with each other, so there's no point.

I'm overthinking Twitter, I know. I basically lurk, following the agents I'm interested in and some friends and publishing people. You should definately follow me. "Kelly_Bryson" Because I will not be bothering you much, but when I do, it will be scintillating.

Facebook is a little better, but I wonder did I say too much, was I too bland, too many updates, not enough updates to feel connected?

The blog is a lot more comfortable to me, though. Have I mentioned lately how much I adore your comments?

The kids are back in school, and with that comes the infamous parent-child notebook. I try to make it fun and interesting for the kids, but I hold back a little. You know, the teacher might read it and think I'm a nutball, or something. She might not want me to volunteer for field trips anymore.

I didn't hold back last week. I wrote all kinds of craziness to my Lou-lou about what privileges the special student should have, like getting to go to the moon, getting a baby monkey that she can teach sign language to, whatever popped in my head.

My Lou-lou wrote back to me yesterday and told me I was funny. We're going to get some vocab flash cards, and I'm going to keep trying until she tells me I'm scintillating. Maybe I can do this.

How do you feel about the social media part of being a writer? Where are you comfortable?
Glutton for Punishment?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fiction, really?

Here's my recent experience that makes the Hunger Games trilogy a lot more poignant. My husband works in the tire industry and this past weekend we went to the MotoGP races in Indianapolis. I've never been to a car/motorcycle race before, so I looked at the experience as a research opportunity. We were able to meet two of the racers at a company dinner and also go inside one of the garages on pit row and learn some cool stuff- for instance, the bikes cost in the neighborhood of 1.5 million dollars, and the riders (not drivers, they're particular about that) can make anything from a decent living to 35 million Euros. Holy. Crap.

So we went to the race, were amazed by the unbelievable, eye-blurring speed that these 800 horsepower bikes can reach (over 200 mph) and saw some very skilled people doing what they love.

This morning, Nathan called me to let me know what we hadn't heard at the race: in one of the exhibition races for up-and-coming stars, a 13 year old boy, Peter Lenz, crashed and was run over by another rider. He was pronounced dead a few hours later.

Peter Lenz in a race two years ago. These bikes are much smaller than
the MotoGP bikes, 125 HP instead of 800. AP photo from

He was a skilled rider and was leading his circuit in points, according to the NYT. His father expressed that Peter had died doing something he loved. No one stuck a gun to his head and forced him to pull out on that track, but he's dead and I am left wondering how different we are than the spectators in ancient Rome. How different is the audience on race day than the spectators in the Hunger Games? Is attraction to risk just human nature? 

People die all the time. A child at my kids' school died a few days before school started as a result of a short illness. Death happens. I understand that. But I can't help feeling a bit responsible. I don't think the riders look at it that way, though.

Collin Edwards, whom I met briefly at a dinner on the Friday before the race, said this about the death of his young friend, "It's a normal racetrack and racing incidents happen. From what I understand, it was a pure racing accident.
"The fact is, it's going to happen again at some point to somebody and we hate it, but we know what's going on when we put a helmet on. We know what can happen." (Quote taken from Sky Sports)

My thoughts and prayers are with Peter's family and those who are grieving in our community.

What do you think? Can things change or are we human, always have been, always will be?

Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Uber Rich

We visited my 89 year old great aunt a few weeks ago, and right before we left, she opened her wallet and passed out dollar bills to all the kids and myself. She gave me a quarter to pass on to hubby, too, and apologized that she'd run out of dollars. It took me right back to being seven and my grandma occassionally handing out some money. The kids felt rich, rich I tell you! I could hear them folding and unfolding their money all the way home- all four hours of the drive.

With that context, I want to introduce the newest member of the uber-rich elite caption writer club, winner of the impromptu contest and one dollar prize- Charity Bradford. [applause]

Charity, send me your address at kellybryson02(at)hotmail(dot)com and I'll send that right out to you.

Happy Writing!

"I wish I sparkled like Edward Cullen."
I feel that from him, don't you?

Glutton for Punishment?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Meeting Reader Expectations

I've read a few followup books recently- Mistborn after reading Elantris by Brandon Sanderson and Gathering Blue after reading several books by Lois Lowry over the years, including The Giver.

I loved Elantris and after a few months, I got around to reading another book by Sanderson. I noticed several things he kept consistent- both books are about a magic that affects not only people, but the world around them. He also has very strong characters, both male and female. Heroes, if you will. The point of views were the same. The tone was similar.

The characters, the magic system, the goals of each, the societal structure were all different, but because of the similarities, I was immediately comfortable.

Same idea with Gathering Blue. A child is stuck in a comunity that is unfair. That could describe The Giver, too. The conflicts are a little different, the plot and details differ, but the voice is the same.

To be a successful writer, a person has to sell books. And that means readers picking up/clicking on your book and paying for it. It's a lot easier to keep a customer than to find a new one. I think this is why writers are encouraged to find a genre they love and stay put!

I think you can switch things up quite a bit, and still have a followup book that feels familiar. I'm pondering POV for my second novel- is it neccesary to write again in first person? Would a switch from first to third cause me to lose readers that love the intimacy of first person? I'm not sure.

Brandon Sanderson does have a midgrade book out, 'Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians'. We haven't picked it up yet. In fact, I hadn't realized he had written anything but adult fantasy until writing this post. The point being, nobody has to swear off writing for other audiences, but you might want to establish yourself firmly in one, develop a fanbase, and then branch out.

One thing I don't like is when an author switches genres and there's nothing on the cover that tells me that this new book is going to be quasi erotica. I can look at the 'Alcatraz' cover and know immediately it's written for kids. Or a certain book my son was reading yesterday. We'd read another book by that author and so I assumed it was fine. But he said he didn't think he should be reading it because it had some bad words in it, and I asked him, "What words?" and he told me, and I agreed that I'd rather he not read it. Then he chastised ME for telling him to read it! This cover looks midgrade to me, but is actually YA.

We're reading another of MT Anderson's books right now- a midgrade novel-
'Jasper Dash and the Flame-pits of Delaware' and love it.

Anybody have any thoughts on this? How much can you vary and still build a fanbase, theoretically?
Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Plan and an Impromptu Contest

Here's my philosophy about planning: Dream Big. Bigger than that. BIG, I say.

This picture came up in the fotosearch under 'thoughts'. Any ideas on what he's thinking? I think I'll mail a dollar to the person who comes up with the best caption. Yes. Let's do it. Impromptu contest, starting now. You have until Sunday midnight, eastern time zone to enter. Winner gets a dollar.

I over-schedule, run run run until I drop, then rest and do nothing but read for a few days, then run run run all over again. It might sound a little manic, but I like having busy times and slow times much more than having all medium times.

When I write, this means I write in spurts, though I write some almost every day. My goals are always impossible, though they sound reasonable to me when I set them, but they don't account for this circadian rhythm in my energy levels. So, keep that in mind and recognize that behind these grand ideas lurks a procrasinating bum.

My plan is to write a thousand words a day for the next 80-90 days and get my rough draft for book 2 knocked out by the end of October, or thereabouts. Next phase- brainstorming and the outline for book 3 Nov/Dec with some editing of book 2 mixed in. Then maybe a rough draft for book 3 in Jan-Mar, another edit on book 2, some brainstorming for book 4... repeated to infinity. I'd like to get two book written by the end of 2011 and have another in the works.

Don't forget, I am still a procrasinating bum.

That's why it's lucky that it doesn't bother me at all to miss my own deadlines. I've got three kiddoes in elementary school and one in preschool, and I'm a fairly laidback person anyway, so I go with the flow. I mainly use schedules to motivate myself- as a reminder of what might be accomplished if I were to be totally gung ho. I'm usually quite happy to hit my goal in twice the alloted time. It's still progress.

Some people use goals as absolute measures of success, and I can see how that would be motivating, if you were able to accomplish your goals. But then you have to have reasonable goals, and where's the fun in that?

When (note the positive self-talk!) I get an agent, I don't think this self-deception will be a problem because I like to work under pressure. I've never had a problem getting papers in on time, so I think my brain files other people's deadlines are in a different, inviolable category.

I also set my clocks ahead an undetermined number of minutes ahead, so I'm constantly having to add subtract minutes to figure out when we really have to leave, and we'll still late quite a bit.

Which reminds me- I got the kids to school on time today for their first day back. I miss those noisy kids, but their teachers seem fantastic and they have gotten tired of hanging out with each other all the time.

And my son kind of embarrassed me at the meet-your-teacher event earlier in the week. He intro'd me to his teacher and told her I was a writer, and she promptly invited me to come teach the kids about where to get ideas and how to write. I told her I wasn't published, but she was extremely enthusiastic anyway. I could be a total hack!

I went to bed thinking about what basics fourth graders can use to improve their writing. I'm not even sure if Teacher was serious, but I think it would be so fun to brainstorm with a group of kids and write an outline on the board, talk to them about how to choose words to reveal character, etc. I was thinking about how many different forms of 'walked' there are, and what skulked would say vs pranced. Anyone have any great ideas?

Okay, done rambling. Back to the point-
Do you get crazy with your goals, or are you ever-so-realistic?
Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Summer is Over, People!

The trips are over, the lazy days at the pool are done, because school starts on Thursday for us. Just one last trip up to Mama's house today, and that's it.

This is First Day of School from a couple of years ago, but they're still about that cute.

I'm practicing commonly used phrases-
  • Your breath still stinks. Go brush again.
  • I don't know where your shoes are, but they're whereever you left them.
  • Five more minutes and this bus is leaving!
  • Walk fast! The bell rings in two minutes!
  • Sit down and finish your homework.
  • Why are you up? Finish your homework.
  • Finish your homework. You're not allowed to jump on the couches until AFTER your homework is done.
I'm missing some, but you get it.

I've come up with a writing time plan to help me stay accountable, and to help me realize that there are really only so many hours in the day, so if I blow an hour watching Youtube, I won't get it back unless I allow my kids' brains to atrophy by letting them veg in front of the tv, which I don't like to do. They fight a lot more and are way more whiny when I've gone that route.

So- my plan-
M-F 5-7am=    10 hours
M-F 8:30-10=  7.5 hours
Sat 7-10=          3 hours
Preschool 2x/week = 5 hours
Total=25.5 hours of potential writing time

25 seems like a lot of time, and it is, but I don't actually use all of that time wisely. I'm going to keep a log for a few weeks and see how I do. I lose time by sleeping in, which gets me off sinc with my hubby, who is trying to maximize his triathlon training time by getting up at 5 also. And I lose writing time by still not having much self control with books- I have a compulsion to read books all in one sitting.

I've actually gotten up at 5 a few times this Summer, only to be so haunted by the book I was forced to put down the night before (thanks, honey. I do hate book hangover) that I got up ridiculously early and finished a book. It's so dumb, but my brain won't let me slip back out of stories. So I read Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson basically ALL Saturday (great book, by the way. He has very strong male and female characters, and has made up some really cool magic). The kids can't distract me when I'm in my reading zone. Nothing can.

Do you have a plan? Do you have a goal? Haven't you read '7 Habits of Highly Effective People'? lol
I'll share my goal on Thursday. Happy Writing!
Glutton for Punishment?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Good News for a Friend

My good writing friend Teresa Frohock has just signed with Weronika Janczuk at D4EO Literary Agency. This calls for exclamation points!!!!!!!
Stop by and wish her luck on her blog. Teresa's a great lady and has been my faithful crit partner since I first posted on Online Writer's Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, scared to death and clueless about so many things, commas included. I just love her and am so excited for her success.

It's been a privilege to watch 'An Autumn Tale' change from a promising idea to a fully-realized story of redemption and love. If you like your fantasy a little darker, then you'll want to keep an eye on Teresa.
Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Book Envy: The King of Attolia

I'm in love. With a thief. How unlike me!

So, I read 'The Thief' a month ago, loved it, and picked up 'The King of Attolia' from the library a few days ago. I'd liked 'The Thief' enough that I requested the rest of the series, and yes, I know I skipped 'The Queen of Attolia'. I thought 'The King of Attolia' was next, but soon realized I had missed at least one book's worth of events. But it didn't matter. I have a hard time (nearly impossible?) putting down a good book once I get past the first page. A so-so book is hard to stop, even when my kiddoes want dinner and are dancing around me, jumping on the bed, saying things like, "Mom, are you going to read ALL DAY?" But a good book? I'm hopelessly addicted.

But I didn't neglect my kids yesterday. I started it after dinner and then stayed up until 1 am. And this morning I want to read it again, to get all the details that I missed the first time, but I have to go to the library and pick up 'The Queen of Attolia'. I have this idea that I should wait to open it until tonight, but what I'd really like to do is take the kids to the Y splashpad- it's a concrete pad with sprinklers and sprayers and nozzles that no one could possibly drown in, even if I didn't look up for two hours. Yes, I may just do that.

Eugenides is my new favorite literary character, more than Katniss, more than Tally, more than Ender. He is so very funny and tricky and reminds me a lot of Capt Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Carribean, except you can tell a little sooner that he actually cares about the people around him.

I love these books so much that I wish I had written them. Sigh. Will I ever be that good? No, will I ever be half that good? I don't know, but I intend to read and reread and basically take Megan Whalen Turner's brain apart and examine it until I can put it back together in 3.5 seconds while blindfolded.

Read these books. They are AMAZING! This book made me realize that it could be fun to write about castles and kings and assasins. Happy reading!
Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Winner of 'Inside Out' and Starting All Over Again

Thanks for stopping by and saying hello to Maria Snyder, blog friends. After a lengthy selection process (you know, writing names on pieces of paper and drawing one out of a hat) Myrna has been declared winner!
So Myrna, email me your address at kellybryson02(at)hotmail(dot)com. Thanks again to Maria for being so generous with her time and for providing such an awesome prize!

So, I've essentially finished Pulse. It's in the hands of some trusted beta readers, and though I will likely have to tweak a few things, I think it's in good shape. I have two query letters out to the agents that Mr. Agent suggested I contact, and a letter to Mr. Agent explaining what changes I've made in response to his feedback and thanking him for the feedback and for the referrals. That was a tricky letter to write, because I wanted to say, "Hey, I got what you were saying and I made some changes' without saying 'You were nice to me and now I shall never leave you alone!'

So. I wait. I check email. I recheck. I check the mailbox, but just once a day. I don't expect a response for another month at least, but that doesn't stop me from feeling like the phone is going to ring any second. Even though I KNOW noone is going to call me to ask for a partial. It's just how it is.

I like to change my phone ringer every once in a while because after a while, the sound of the phone ringing gets me stressed out. But what do you do with your email? Get a new account? Do you paint your mailbox? Fire your mailcarrier? There's nothing.

I was a little mopey on Saturday, and Nathan called me on it.

"You're upset because you finished your book! That's what's wrong with you!"

*crying* "That's *sniff* ridiculous! I'm FINE!"

It's been a little hard to let go. It's a lot like the feeling I've had a week before my babies were born. Just waiting. Empty. There's nothing to DO around here!

Of course, every room in our house needs to be gone through and roughly half our stuff will be going to Goodwill, but that's not what I want. I want the next project. So, I've started brainstorming. I was having trouble being freewheeling enough, so I changed the brainstorming title from 'Story Ideas' to 'Things That Interest Me'. There's a lot less pressure that way.

This is not that impressive visually, but this is where the Santa Fe River in FL disappears underground into caverns in the aquifer. Some crazy insane people scuba dive in there, but they're crazy insane and several of them have died. It resurfaces three miles down stream. My dad has been there after heavy rains and it was a churning whirlpool with logs beating against each other in a terrifying vortex. That's how he explained it to me, anyway;) It reminds me of brainstorming, of trying to get below the surface of the story,
 into the murky heart of the story.

I tried to get Nathan to brainstorm with me, but he was not interested since he had to give me the 'Your book is great and you're a good writer and everything is going to be fine' talk twice this weekend already. He actually threw a fake book idea out there that sparked off something else I was already thinking about, so I'm happy. I've got something to think about, at least.

How do you come up with new ideas? Do you wait for inspiration to hit you or do you think your way into inspiration?

Glutton for Punishment?