Thursday, October 27, 2011

Why all the changes?

If you've been checking in lately, you may have noticed I've been changing the layout.. a lot. And not just little changes. We're talking big, jumping from Stephen King to Mary Poppins sort of changes [an aside: yes, I know I reference Mr. King quite a bit... but I'm going on a bit of a King kick right now so let me be, won't you?]. So I'll just go ahead and say it.

My blog is having an identity crisis.

And why shouldn't it? After all, a writer's blog is no longer just a blog. It is a place to show how witty and smart and charming you are. It's a place potential agents may stumble upon. It's a place other authors might look at. It is your platform. So it sure as hell better reflect you in a positive light.

My first layout was all ravens and darkness and trying to invoke feelings of seriousness and brooding. It was great for someone who wrote horror stories or chilling thrillers. I am not that person, and so the layout had to go. The next one had bright colors and happy smiling people and unicorns (OK, it didn't really have unicorns, but it would have... eventually). Just as I am not a horror writer - although I do have a thing for zombies - so am I not a child book author. Or, you know, the person who wrote the Sweet Valley High series.

As they say in the biz, three times a charm and so here you  have it. My new (and hopefully last) layout. It is simple with a splash of whimsy. The posts are clear and easy to read, which was high on my priority list. There is just enough color. And I am sort of in love with my main icon which I found over at The Frequent Peacock. It is an old cigar box emblem and I am a sucker for things that have old in front of them. No, I don't resemble the woman in any way, shape, or form nor does she represent any of my characters... but how cool does she look, sitting up on her throne with her hand on the world? That's right, pretty frickin' cool.

So there you have it. My new and (hopefully) improved blog layout. Let the chaos continue.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Why can't you just send it in to a publisher?

I was talking to my Mom on the phone yesterday. I told her I was moving on to the next stage of the judging process in a writing competition I had entered and she was happy for me, but more than a little confused.

"What kind of contest is it?" she asked.

"Just a small one that I entered." I then proceeded to try to explain the Third Campaigner Challenge excluding words like tacise and wastopaneer.

"Oh," she said after a pause. "So... what do you win?"

I told her that I actually couldn't win anything because I wasn't yet a Platform-Building Campaigner as I had just discovered there was such a thing as a Platform-Building Campaigner on the same day I entered the contest, but that it was very exciting to have my work noticed even if I didn't go any further in the competition.

Another pause, and then "Remember that story you wrote about the magic hat? I loved that story. Why don't you send it in to a publisher and make it into a book?"

Oh Mom, if only I could.

Do you remember way back when you first started writing and you thought about being a published author? I'm talking waaaaaaay back before you knew what query letters were and you thought agents were nice people who contacted you to get your novel? When you thought the process of getting published vaguely resembled finishing your book, sending it off in a beautiful package, and becoming a world renowned author  six months later?

I do.

"Mom, it isn't like in the movies. It's really hard to get published. Once you finish your book you have to edit it and then you have to write your query letter [an aside: have you ever tried to say query out loud? cause I have and I definitely know I'm not saying it right] and then you have to edit that and then you send your query letter out to a bunch of different agents who represent the genre you are writing."

"And then you get published?" she asked hopefully.

"No. And then, if you're lucky, an agent requests to see a synopsis of your book. If they like the synopsis they might want the first three chapters. If they like those-"

"Wait," she interrupted me. "Why doesn't the agent just ask for you entire book right away?"

"I don't know, Mom! There's a process. You have to follow the process. Anyways, if they like your query letter and synopsis and the first three chapters they might ask to see the entire book."

"And then you get published."


"This sounds like a lot of work, hunny. Why don't you just send it straight to a publisher or a magazine? You know that's how Stephen King got started. Writing articles for magazines. And I really think that story you wrote about the magic hat-"

"Forget the magic hat, Mom. So after you're done editing your book your agent sends it out to a bunch of publishers to try to sell it and then, if you're really lucky, it gets bought," I finished triumphantly.

A pause.

"And then what?"

"And then it gets published, Mom. Have you been listening to me at all?" 

"Of course, sweetie, of course. So where are you in all this? Do you have an agent? Have they sent your book out to publishers? Oh, maybe they should send it out to Stephen King's publisher! Ask them if they can do that. Ask them."

This time it was my turn to pause.

"Well, I'm not quite at that stage yet... I, um, am still working on finishing my book. But I have a good idea for a query letter."

"Oh. That's nice. I have to make dinner for your Father now. I'll tell him all about the contest you're in. Good luck!"

"Thanks Mom."

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Third Campaigner Challenge - My Entry

I have entered the 3rd Campaigner Challenge hosted by Rachael at Rach Writes... The contest guideless are as follows:
Write a blog post in 300 words or less, excluding the title. The post can be in any format, whether flash fiction, non-fiction, humorous blog musings, poem, etc. The blog post should show:
  • that it’s morning, 
  • that a man or a woman (or both) is at the beach
  • that the MC (main character) is bored
  • that something stinks behind where he/she is sitting
  • that something surprising happens.
Just for fun, see if you can involve all five senses AND include these random words: "synbatec," "wastopaneer," and "tacise."   (NB. these words are completely made up and are not intended to have any meaning other than the one you give them).
And here is my entry! I don't expect anything to happen, but it was a fun and creative exercise. Thanks Rach.


Keo knew it was morning because his watch told him so. It beeped six times, indicating the exact hour. She would be here in half an hour. Thirty minutes. Eighteen hundred seconds. Keo liked numbers. 
Beneath his bare toes the sand shifted and sucked. He stood at the edge of the surf, gazing out across the dark, restless waves. The air tasted bitter and stale, like potato chips left out at a picnic. There was a hint of something else in the stirring wind, something darker. Something synbatec.
Folding his skinny legs with their faint dusting of black hair beneath him Keo sat and began to count the bones sticking out of the sand. The surf had picked them clean and rubbed them smooth. He wanted to free them from their sand prison, to collect them and piece them back together one at a time, but that would be Tacise and so he left them untouched.
He smelled her before he saw her. Her scent was of lavender and rot, a familiar perfume that Keo had grown accustomed to over the years. Sometimes it was white oleander, sometimes cinnamon or pine trees, but the rot always lurked just under the surface. Try as they might, the Wastopaneer’s could never wash all the rot away.
“Do you know where you are?” he asked, standing and turning to face the girl. She was thin and pale, with wide blue eyes and purple lips that trembled.
“What happened to the sun?” she whispered, gazing up into the dark sky.
“There is no sun here.”
“If you hold my hand it will be easier,” he said kindly.
Wordlessly the girl stepped forward and clasped his extended hand. She gripped it tightly, wrapping her fingers around his until her knuckles shone white, and together they walked into the waves. 

The internet is great sucks. A lot.

I have a ritual I have to complete before I can write. Unfortunately, I am not one of those “write anytime, anywhere” authors and for the record if you are one, I loathe the very ground you walk on. So there.

I prefer to write in the mornings. My ideas feel fresher. My head hasn’t become filled with the List (clean the apartment, walk the dogs, mail the car payment in, brush my teeth, etc) and I can concentrate on my characters and their problems instead of mine. Like most aspiring writers I have another full time job, but am lucky in that I am able to live where I work and can spread my work hours around if my boss is in a good mood. I am still trying to make her understand that my writing should take precedence over the actual job she has hired me for. Bet you can guess how well that’s going.

Before I can sit down in front of my computer I need coffee. I was never a big coffee drinker until my last job with the boss Who Shall Not Be Named and now I can't function without it. The stuff is bad news. It should come with one of those surgeon general warnings, like cigarettes and alcohol. I've tried to stop, but the withdrawal headaches are awful, and some part of my brain has convinced me that if I don't drink coffee I can't write. So I turn on my Keurig (love love love) first thing and have my coffee in hand before I settle down in front of my large antique desk with it's chipped white paint on the sides and natural wood on top that has worn smooth with age. I keep the desk free of clutter and with the exception of my laptop, two pictures of my animals, a paper clipped list of wedding guest addresses, and a cracked coffee cup filled with miscellaneous pens and markers, it is clear.

As I sip my too hot coffee I boot up my computer. It only takes about thirty seconds or so, and I type in my password without thinking. If I had will power I would ignore the little blue E icon with the gold colored hoop around it and go straight for Microsoft Word. But I don't have any will power (as my secret junk food stash can attest) and so I ignore my current work in progress and pull up the internet. An hour later I have browsed through Facebook, checked my e-mail, and fed my neopets (don't judge me). I've checked on my two blogs, wasted some more time on Craigslist (I do not need another horse, I do not need another horse) and checked Facebook one more time to see if there have been any updates. Finally when I have run out of webpages to visit, I click the little red X and send the internet away. I open up Microsoft and get ready to write, but by this time my first cup of coffee is gone and I have to get up and make another. When I get back to my desk I can't help but wonder if the e-mail I have been waiting on all morning has arrived, and even though I tell myself I will just check Yahoo, I somehow end up back on Facebook. Then of course I have to recheck my blogs, because what if someone left a comment I have to respond to? And maybe my neopets are hungry again so I'll just take care of them real quick.

By the time I finally get my internet fix I have finished a cup and half of coffee and only have thirty minutes left before I have to go back to work. I force myself to open Microsoft for the second time and get busy. Luckily my brain does best when it is has limited time to work with and normally I am able to pump out around 2,000 words per half hour sitting. It is less than half of what Mr. King says we as writers should strive for daily, but I'll be back after lunch to write some more check Facebook again.

I do have to wonder how much I would be able to write on a daily basis if the internet did not exist. Maybe some day I will have the will power to say NO to Mark Zuckerberg. Until then, I will try to cut my pre-writing internet time down by five minutes every day (ten on Sundays) until my daily word count gets up to where it should be.  

Saturday, October 22, 2011

If you want to be a writer, you need to be a reader.


noun, verb (used with object)
1. to look at carefully so as to understand the meaning of (something written, printed, etc.): to read a book, to read music.

It was the great Stephen King who said if you want to be a writer, you need to be a reader. Or something to that effect. His advice is sound. More than that, it is necessary. Read everything you can get your hands on. Devour books like they are the chocolate bars you have hidden in the back of your fridge that no one knows about. Read before bed. Read before getting up. Read on the train. Read on the plane. Read in the coffee shop. Read instead of turning on the television. Read until your eyes hurt and your fingertips are smeared with black ink (or sore from clicking the next page button on your Kindle).

Read books. Read newspaper articles. Read CNN online. Read blogs. Read magazines (the National Geographic kind, not the Star People kind). Read fiction. Read autobiographies. Read things you don't want to read.

Confession: I am very guilty of the latter.  

I tend go in cycles with what I prefer to read. About a year ago I went on a Lisa Kleypas kick. Kleypas is renowned for her Regency Era romances. She has published well over twenty and I have read every single one of them more than once. When I finally caught up with her in real publishing time, I struggled to stay on the history romance train. I skipped through a few Jude Deveraux's. I reread some of my favorites by Johanna Lindsay (don't even get me started on her new crap). I discovered the delightful Julie Garwood. When I ran out of authors I liked, I went back to rereading Kleypas. In short, I refused to step out of the genre fence I had built around myself.

Before Kleypas it was Nora Roberts. Before her it was Harry Potter. Between Roberts and Kleypas it was (I am a little ashamed to admit) the infamous Twilight saga (also, for what it's worth, I do not believe Twilight should be classified as a saga. Harry Potter yes, a four book series about sparkly vampires no. Don't even get me started on Breaking Dawn Part I and Breaking Dawn Part II). Then something happened. Or rather, someone. My Aunt Sheila recommended a book series to me I had never heard of by an author I did not know. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Ring a bell?

A YA series set in the future that was half reality show and half war zone didn't sound too enticing at the time, but a few weeks later I purchased it on my kindle and got to reading.


Seven days later I finally came up for air after completing all three books. I don't think I've ever been so fully immersed in another world. I knew Katniss and Peeta. I cried for poor little Rue. I despised the Capitol. I cringed at the violence one person could do to another. I had nightmares about the Mutts.

I also learned a valuable lesson: don't be afraid to read what you don't think you'll like. I began to realize something as well. As my reading habits shifted, so did my writing. When I began my first "full length" novel I was in the midst of re-reading the Harry Potter series for the umpteenth time while I waited impatiently for the final book. My main characters strongly resembled Harry, Hermione, and Ron with a little more romance thrown in for good measure. They went around trying to defeat the big bad sorceress in a fairy tale like setting. Long story short, my first attempt at writing a 70k word book sucked. But at least I finished it. The next book I started was set in Regency England. The one after that revolved around a vampire girl and her wanna be boyfriend. Around the time I read The Hunger Games I came to understand that I had no idea what genre I wanted to write or what type of author I wanted to be. I finally began to heed Mr. King's advice and read everything I could get my hands on. I bounced from genre to genre. Horror, YA, romance, dystopian... I refused to read the same type of book in a row. And you know what? It ultimately helped me discover what I wanted to write myself, and gave a uniqueness to my plot and characters I had failed to achieve before.

So what about you? Do you tend to read one specific type of book? Has your work ever reflected what you are reading? Do you know what type of author you want to be?