Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving Joys

Happy Day After Thanksgiving everyone! I've recovered from my food coma (mostly) unscathed and am ready to function like a normal human being again. I always love Thanksgiving for the food and family of course, but my family has a particular tradition that I enjoy more and more with each passing year. After dinner is over, we go around the table and say what we are thankful for. EVERYTHING we are thankful for. I live in a family of talkers so you can imagine it takes about an hour. But that's kind of a wonderful thing that we're all grateful for so much. Graciousness, I think, is one of the often over looked virtues in this world.

So today on the blog, I would like to talk about what I'm thankful for this year. And boy is there a lot.

I'm thankful for my family. My family has always been entirely accepting of me and my dreams. They have never doubted my aspirations and they have always encouraged me to work hard. My parents were not my friends growing up. They were parents. They set limits. They pushed me. They called me out when I did something wrong. They held me to a high standard. And because of that, I have always strived to reach my full potential.

I am grateful for my siblings, especially for the close relationship we have. I don't fight with my siblings. We get along. We have meaningful discussions. And they're so different I learn something different from both of them. They are some of my biggest fans and I couldn't ask for a better older brother and sister.

I am grateful for my grandmother, now 87 years old, who was able to visit us this Thanksgiving. She is truly a remarkable woman, brilliant and strong. She relates to every one of her grandchildren despite the age gap and never talks down. I am so lucky to have her in my life and I hope to have her in my life for many years to come.

I am grateful that my family is still together and close, as so many families aren't. Divorce rates are high in the US. There are a lot of families split in half. I am so lucky to be a part of a family that is whole.

I am grateful for my friends, both from high school and college. They all get me, some way or another. They understand my loves and interests. They fangirl with me over shows and books. They stay up late talking with me. Some of them write with me. And we are never put off by our weirdness. We are a large group of odd artists who fit together perfectly. And a special shout out to my roommate who I could not do without.

I am grateful for everything that has happened this year in my writing career. I am grateful for my agent, Laura Zats, who picked me out of the slushpile and saw some potential in my book. Even though it needed copious editing. I'm so lucky to have her. I am grateful for my book deal with Curiosity Quills Press. Though I have only worked with them a short time, they have already been so friendly and communicative. I appreciate that and look forward to good things in the future.

I am grateful also, for all the stumbles that have led up to this time. I am grateful that I was rejected so many times for my first book only to find the perfect match with my second. I am grateful that it took so long because everything worth having takes time.

I am grateful for the improvements in my anxiety, and more than that, I am grateful that I have anxiety. A lot of my friends right now are going through the same rough patches I did, and sometimes it helps to able to say 'I know the feeling. I know it isn't alright right now. But it will be.' Its hard for people without anxiety to understand it, so being able to comfort my friends has been a huge blessing.

I am grateful for God most of all, and for his guidance in my life and the blessings I don't deserve. He is good through the struggles and the joys.

And of course I am grateful to all of my readers out there. Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Joys of Outlining

I'm a happy writer today, because last night I got a pretty detailed outline written for book 3 of my HOUR OF MISCHIEF series. Which is good because for awhile I only had a vague idea about what was going to happen. And since outlining has put me in such a good mood. I think I'll write a post about it today!

I think I've written about outlining many times on the blog in various other posts, which might put a few pantsers off. Hey, I respect pantsers. I have NO idea how they can start a story and just write without knowing the ending. This is a foreign concept to me. And honestly, if pantsing works well for you, go for it.

But today I'm going to talk about all the things outlining is good for and why I am such a die hard planner. So, let's jump in!

1) Outlining lays down the track

This is an obvious one. Outlining gives you a path to follow that will take you to where you're going. And for fast drafting especially, I find this useful. If I know where I'm going, I know where to focus in early scenes and it helps me pace my story better from the get go. That way there's a lot less huge structure edits to do after the first draft is done. Because structure edits are hellish. It also helps to see the end goal, It makes me power through the words, even when I'm hitting a block. And speaking of which...

2) Less writer's block

It helps to know what scenes you need to write because then you're not left sitting at your desk wondering 'what am I supposed to do now?' True you might be stuck at your desk one day not wanting to write anything even if you KNOW what's coming, but at least you know what you have to do. You aren't lost in the black pit wondering if there's even a story to tell. I know that feeling. That's why I vowed never to start a story without an outline again.

3) Outlining helps with Story Structure

You've probably heard of a lot of different structures. The three act structure, the heroes journey, there are a lot of ways to pace your novel, but really only a few that work really well. Even if you are a pantser, when it comes to editing, you really need an outline to figure out where your major story events stand. Does your inciting incident come to late? Is there enough build up to the climax? Do you have a lowest point? Does your middle have a lot going on or does it drag? These are all questions that need answering, and whether you choose to do it in the first draft or second is your choice. Though personally, I think its easier to tackle in the first draft.

However you write, outlines will always come back around. And while some may choose not use them, I think they are one of the most valuable tools in a writer's arsenal.

I guess it doesn't hurt that outlining makes me feel really organized and happy. But that's just personal.

Happy Writing!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Slushpile Musings: Why Agents Only Rep Specific Genres

Why do so many writers send their manuscript to agents who don’t represent their genre? Its just a waste of time for both parties. Despite what some people might think, the submission guidelines are not the pirate code from Pirates of the Caribbean. They are, in fact, rules to be followed.

Sometimes I think these mix-ups happen simply because a writer doesn’t do their research. But I think some writers make the mistake of thinking that their manuscript will be so good that the agent’s genre preference doesn’t matter. So to dispel this way of thinking, let’s talk about why agents represent specific genres.

1. Connections
When you get an agent, it’s the agent’s job to find someone to publish the MS. If they’ve been in the business a long time, or they’re new agents with an established agency, they have certain connections. That is, editors they go to first with projects. These editors specialize in certain genres just like agents do, partially because the publishing process is very different depending on the genre. Agents specialize in genres because they have strong connections built up with publishing houses who publish the same. If you send them something they don’t represent, they might not know the best way to get it published. Simple as that. Look for an agent who knows your genre and your audience. They’ll be the best match.

2. Specialization
Agencies have different agents for different genres and categories. Some agents represent young adult, some adult. Some represent speculative fiction and some represent contemporary. There is often an overlap, but an agency tries to cover a lot of different genres with different agents. That way a writer looking to query the agency can find a good match. An agent who doesn’t rep adult fiction might very well read adult fiction. But its not what they represent for their job. Again, pick your best match. That’s what will take you far.

In the end it’s all about passion. Agents read ALL KINDS of books. But they have preferences and certain tropes that really stick with them and tickle their fancy. An agent reps a certain genre or type of book because they have to LOVE the book. Not just enjoy reading it. They have to love it enough to read it over and over again and champion it as it goes to publishers. They need to want to fight for it. And they can’t do that for a genre they don’t love no matter how good the book is.

Bottom line: You want someone to fall in love with your book. There are many reasons agents only represent specific genres but the other thing is, there are agents who love your genre. Great agents. Seek out the ones who will be passionate enough to champion your book. It will work out best for everyone in the end.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

From First Draft to Book Deal

Two days ago, I was allowed to officially break my silence on the most amazing news ever. I've signed a book deal with Curiosity Quills Press for my YA Steampunk Fantasy novel, HOUR OF MISCHIEF. It is slated to be released in Fall of 2015 and I couldn't be happier. But the road to publishing is a long journey. And the only way to properly illustrate that journey is with Disney gifs. And as an extra challenge I only used one from each movie. So with that, I present to you, my journey from first draft to book deal.

When I began writing HOUR OF MISCHIEF I was in the trenches with my first ever novel. But that book wasn't getting any requests so, at the time, I was feeling something like this:

I'm seventeen and I haven't been published. Its all over for me! *dramatic sob*

To distract myself from the black pits of despair, I decided I had to start working on something entirely new. So I pulled out a short story from the previous summer that I had been wanting to turn into a novel.

And when I started writing, I was surprised how easily the words came.

Feeling the words
Of course there were also days like this...

Kill me
But by the end of the month I had completed a first draft that made me proud.

So of course I locked it away in a folder for two months and din't allow myself to read it. Until, on that fateful day in December...

Funny how two months can change your perspective on your writing. I looked at most of my words like...

And the world building was especially hard. It took me ages to figure out how to make it work.

But finally I had edited it to the best of my ability. So off it went into the querying trenches again. Unsurprisingly I was feeling a bit like...

I also submitted to a bunch of contests to get my stuff out there. I didn't expect anything, especially after what happened with my first book. But then, a surprise! Partial requests started rolling in.

Partial requests are kind of like fairy dust
And then, partial requests actually turned into full requests!

It was one amazing thing after another. And then one day, against all odds, I woke up to an email from one of the agents who had my query. She wanted to schedule a call. THE call. Unsurprisingly I was like


And I danced around the room with my friends.

Just not this gracefully
I finally accepted representation from that first agent who scheduled a call, Laura Zats. And we set to work immediately on preparing my book for submission. She was very good about pointing out other plot holes in my work that I needed to paste together.

And she was usually right.
But finally, when the manuscript was in top form, we started sending it out on submission. To publishers. Oh god, oh god, oh god.

Another waiting game began, this one even more tense than the last.

Keep cool, keep cool, keep cool
There is so much waiting in the publishing industry. So of course I distracted myself with other things. And then one day my agent called me again. She said we had an offer.

Uhhhh... what?
She had to say it about three times before I finally got it. But once I did I was like

Of course it was still super secret until it was official, so I couldn't say anything to anyone.

Which was terrible because I was bursting with the news.

So much waiting in the publishing world
When I finally got the okay, I broke my silence two days ago with a cry of pure happiness. 

There's the obligatory Frozen clip. You thought I'd skip it, didn't you :P
Everyone was super supportive and congratulatory. And even now, I still feel like I'm flying.

This has been quite the journey. I've imagined getting to this point for so long and I met my fair share of rejection and disappointment along the way. The journey still isn't over, but I am officially going to see my books in print some day. And that is a victory that will stick with me for a long time.

Thank you so much for everyone's well wishes and congratulations. And if you're still in the trenches, keep working at it! Your own Disney gif success story could be just around the corner.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Writer’s tips: Pinterest and the Visual Writer

I adore Pinterest. I also hate it. And can you really blame me? It is both a magnificent tool for brainstorming and character development and a ginormous time waster. I mean I can say I’m gathering images for my book and developing my ideas but I’m also just looking at pretty pictures.
But I’m not here to berate Pinterest for stealing hours of time away from me. I’m here to praise it for its help with the idea stage of the creative process.

I am a visual reader. Being a lover of film and theater all my life, I like to picture books in my head, not just read them. It’s an amazing feeling to get so lost in a book that you forget you are even reading words. My mind starts subconsciously painting the scenes for me. I am a visual reader and I am also a visual writer. I love finding little images that remind me of my characters. Finding images that suit my ideas really helps spur them on and encourage me to start, finish and edit projects.
If you are a visual writer as I am, here are a few Pinterest tips to help you cultivate your ideas in the midst of your procrastination.

1. Make a board for each book. A lot of people have writing boards for general book inspiration but if you put ALL your writing related pictures on one board, it will get cluttered really fast. Book boards work much better if you keep it to one book idea per board. Its more organized and its easier to identify a theme between the pictures. It looks prettier, honestly.

2. Whenever you are stuck on a scene, head to Pinterest and start pinning images that relate to the characters you are dealing with. Get lost for awhile in a maze of pictures and maybe your mind will get unstuck. Or maybe you’ll spend two hours getting lost. Either way, your book board just got a whole lot fatter

3. Use Pinterest for inspiration. Not feeling any of your current book ideas? That’s alright. Go browse random art boards and see what jumps out at you. Maybe a picture will spark an idea and send you down a rabbit hole to a new writing adventure. Pinterest is great for that kind of thing but also annoying when you already have ten other ideas. It’s a mixed bag.

4. When all else fails: look up delicious recipes. This is actually a horrible thing to do for your productivity. But, on the other hand, it involves awesome food.

So there you go. Simple tips for the visual writer on Pinterest. Get writing and, if you can’t find the motivation, get pinning! And if you're interested in writing and general nerdom, follow me on pinterest here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Slush pile musings: Meeting the Love Interest

So we need to have a talk about subtlety. When I am reading through the slushpile and I stumble across a submission, I like to see a certain degree of subtlety in the story telling. It should go without saying that I don’t want to predict every move the author will make. I want to be taken along for the ride and be surprised with the characters.

You probably know some of the basic tips to be subtle in your opening pages. Show don’t tell, no info dumps etc. But there’s another mistake a lot of writers make that really should be addressed. The intro of the love interest.

The short version: I do not want to know from the second I meet a character that they will be ‘the love interest’. It makes me groan and roll my eyes. Especially given the context in which some of these characters are introduced.

The long version: Okay, so your character… let’s call her Jane… is moseying about her everyday life. Being ordinary and unaware that an adventure is about to begin. Suddenly a bunch of thugs come after her. They’ve been sent by some mysterious villain to apprehend her. She runs, terrified for her life, and tries to make an escape. Clearly this is a tense situation and all Jane is thinking about is surviving.

But then this guy appears. Either he’s helping the main character or maybe he’s one of the guys chasing her. Let’s go with the first option. The new character busts in and says, ‘follow me!’ Jane does. But as she runs after him, fearing for her life, she can’t help but notice how pretty his eyes are and how strong his jaw is and how his face lights up when he gives a crooked smile.

NOPE! Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. This is not a thing you notice in an intense situation. I don’t care how his green eyes sparkle in the sun. Attractiveness is not on your character’s priorities right now.

I have seen this happen in both the slush pile and in published books. The MOMENT the love interest is introduced, I know they are the love interest because the MC looks at them and thinks ‘damn they’re hot’.

My most recent encounter with this trope happened in a published book. Within the first few pages, the MC meets BOTH of her love interests. I knew they were her love interests because of what a big deal she made about how good looking they were. And I mean a BIG deal. Problem was, she had just been dragged from a horrible prison and has no idea whether or not she is going to live or die. Clearly THIS is a good time to contemplate eye candy.

Its annoying to me because it feels so unnatural. I’m not saying attraction at first sight isn’t a thing. And I’d say that in a lot of romance novels, this attraction is warranted. I mean, that’s what the novel is about. You know who the MC is getting together with and you want to see that sexual tension from the first. Twilight, believe it or not, does this reasonably well. Bella is sitting in a school cafeteria. When the hot vampire enters the room, she probably doesn’t have much better to do than contemplate how good looking he is.

But when there are HIGHER stakes involved? Its not a priority. Hunger Games did this well. I knew who the love interests were going to be but Katniss was not concerned with it for...most of the series. When you give me something like dystopian or fantasy, I don’t want to be hit in the head with the main couple. I want it to happen gradually. I want it to feel natural and like a real relationship.

One of the fastest ways to earn a rejection from me is pointing out the ‘oh so pretty’ love interest within moments of meeting them. If that doesn’t fit your genre, don’t do it. Chances are, your protagonist has more important things to worry about than dating.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Soundtrack for Writing

Remember when I actually did those Sunday Soundtracks post? So do I. Good times.

Yeah, I kind of fell of the bandwagon with those. But I do want to talk about writing music today. Specifically, making a soundtrack for your writing.

I have so many playlists on youtube for my various projects. There are similar songs that seem to make it on the list, but each playlist has its own feel to get me in the mood for writing specific books. I have playlists with fight scene music and playlists for softer scenes. Playlists with instrumental music and playlists with words. Some playlists are for full books and some just for specific characters. But why do I love making them so much, and why should you?

Simply put, music is an important part of my life and of many people's lives. It’s a universal language. It can represent so many different things. And I actually think that some music is the closest we get as a human race to perfection.

But dramatics aside, music doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. In fact, that’s what’s so great about it. But if you like music it can be a wonderful tool for your writing. Say you’re stuck on a project and you don’t know where to turn? You can pull up the playlist you made for the project and give you a listen. It might inspire you and give you the motivation to keep going.

Music can also help you to visualize a scene so you can better describe it. That’s why I love my fight scene music. It gets my blood pumping and my fingers flying during the scene. Whatever the music does for you, its always fun to make a playlist!

Some bands that make frequent appearances on my playlists include- Skillet, Florence and the Machine, Two Steps from Hell, Les Friction, Icon for Hire, Disney music, and a variety of soundtracks for movies and anime. What are some of your favorite writing tunes?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Getting the Right POV

So let's say you're writing a story. Its coming along great and all, for a little while at least, but at one point you just get stuck. We've all been there. And while there are a lot of reasons for the evil presence of writer's block, one in particular might come as more of a surprise.

In some cases, you might just be writing from the wrong point of view.

Maybe its not a problem with the story itself. The world could be well crafted and the plot tight. All of the characters, including your MC, could be perfectly interesting. But maybe they're just in the wrong place to shine. Maybe you're just not observing your story through the right eyes.

Point of view makes a big difference in the direction of a story. J.K Rowling, for instance, did herself a big favor when she wrote about the wizarding world through the eyes of Harry Potter. Because Harry was new to everything, he had a lot to learn and the audience was able to learn along with him.

Suzanne Collins wrote the first third or so of Hunger Games both in third person and first person POV before deciding to take a more personal approach and rooting her story directly in Katniss' head. Both J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins made the right choice for their stories.

So what's the right choice for yours? Well, for one thing, that's up to you. First you have to decide which character will tell the story best, especially if you plan on a limited point of view. Maybe you want to tell the story from multiple views or maybe just one, but whatever the case, your point of view characters will determine how the reader sees the world of your book.

Let's take a look at a few possibilities of point of view and their advantages.

First Person Limited- This can be an excellent and extremely difficult POV to write from. On one hand its very personal. We relate very closely to the character and see everything through their eyes. It often allows for more experimentation with the character's voice as well. However it does limit the views of other characters and, if the reader doesn't like your main character, they'll have an extremely difficult time getting into the rest of the book. Examples include- Divergent, Twilight, Hunger Games, the Gallagher Girl Books, The Fault in Our Stars, etc.

Multiple First Person- Like the previous POV, this allows you to get personal with your characters, but this time with multiple characters. This can help you see the story from multiple different angles, as well as give readers options if they happen to not like one of your MCs. But, on the other hand, its very hard to pull off multiple first person POV without all of the characters sounding the same. Differentiating voices takes a skilled hand. Examples include the later books in several series, including Matched, Divergent, and the second Percy Jackson series I find a lot of books don't attempt this until after the first book. But that doesn't mean it can't be pulled off. Legend by Marie Lu does a great job with it.

Third Person Limited- This isn't quite as personal as first person point of view, but it allows a bit more flexibility and its still possible to get a lot of voice out of this. But since it is limited, it still restricts you to how your MC views the story. Examples include Harry Potter, of course, Wrinkle in Time and Cinder but there aren't, I find, a lot of third person books that don't jump heads a lot. Harry Potter is one of the few limited third person books that sticks to one head.

Multiple Third Person Limited- Boy is this a common one. While not being personal, it allows you to cover a wide range of characters and tackle the story from mutiple angles. Now, pulling off too many characters and keeping them focused and interesting takes practice, but this is the favorite style of many writers. Examples include: Mistborn, Vicious, Inkheart, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Night Circus, The School for Good and Evil, The Gone Series, A Song of Ice and Fire and about a million other books.

Third Person Ominpotent- This style has been fading as it was much more common in older works. Its a kind of impersonal style, told from a perspective removed from the main character but it can work if in the right hands. Examples include Les Miserables, Lord of the Rings, and a Series of Unfortunate Events.

So what style works best for your book? You might have to try out a few to figure it out. But once you do, it'll be worth it. The POV of a story can make all the difference.