Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Year's Delusions

If there has ever been an author who started writing her first book without a few, shall we say, unrealistic expectations, I've yet to hear of her. That's because the authors who inspire us to be authors... are already authors. We look at them and we see their shiny covers and their awesome book tours and, if that author is Stephenie Meyer, we love, love love to hear how she went from having a really vivid dream to writing and selling the next international sensation in six months. SIX MONTHS! Wow, we think. I can do that. And we end up like this guy:



Sadly, I was (am?) far from the exception to this rule. When I first decided to be an author, I literally contacted a very, very nice and patient editor with some questions about this great idea I had. I didn't offer to sell it to her, but I did want her to tell me if the idea would sell... before I had to go to the trouble of writing the thing. (She very kindly responded and encouraged me to outline it and ask again later.) My fantasies in those days were of someone offering to buy my book before I'd ever even proven I could finish a whole book.

I've learned a lot since then. I now know that you need to have a book before you can sell a book, that NOBODY who is not named Stephenie Meyer can write and sell their first book in six months, that even if my book really is the cat's meow, it still might not get the attention it deserves, and even if it does, I probably won't be building a mansion at any point in my career, and that writing a whole book is A LOT harder than it looks.

I also know that it is possible to do all those things... and that's the main source of my continuing delusions. My dreams aren't SM or JKR big, but, until I actually sell something and see how many zeros I get, I'll still dream big. Heck, I'll probably dream big even then.

Anyway, here's my short-list of writerly goals for this year:
  1. Edit and query WIP #1. (Hopefully by the end of April.)
  2. Write WIP#2 (currently just an idea)--the whole thing.
And here is the short-list of delusions that I can't control, but that the goals are working toward:
  1. Get agent for and sell WIP #1 for lotsa $$$, start editing for a 2013 release date.
  2. Heck, why not do the same with WIP #2... but with a 2014 release date. :)
What delusions will be driving you in 2011?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

100 Best Beloved (or not) Books

So my new friend Donna Weaver did this post on her blog last week (which was a copy from several other blogs) and it was such a good idea, I’m stealing it. This is not a chain blog post, but, well, you’re free to steal, too.

The rumor is that the average person has only read 6 of the following 100 “Most Beloved Books.” I’ve read 32, which makes me feel all sorts of cool, but there are 40 that I haven’t even heard of, so, as a writer and voracious reader, I’m feeling a bit guilty about that.

In the interests of full disclosure, I’ve color-coded the list as follows, and put the number of books that fall into each category so you can easily see what a slacker reader I am. (Have I mentioned I’ve read over 130 books already this year? What more do you want from me?)

Which of these have you read? Which of the ones I’ve never heard of would you recommend? Which ones should be a priority? Why is Terry Pratchett on the list so much?

Read it for Fun: 26
Read it for School… and liked it / loved it: 4
Read it for School… and didn’t love it: 2
Feel Guilty that I Haven’t Read it… and plan to… someday…: 8
Feel Guilty that I Haven’t Read it… but still don’t really plan to: 13
Haven’t Read it, Don’t Even Feel Guilty: 7
Never heard of it: 40

26+4+2+8+13+7+40=100 (Yes! I can count!)

1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
19. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
26. Tess Of The D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
53. The Stand, Stephen King
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding
71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

Friday, December 17, 2010

What happened to free time?

Five years ago, my life was much more simple. I'd go to work, come home, read a book (or two), maybe watch some television, take care of the rug rats, spend time with the hubby, maybe do something for a church calling (job), and go to bed.

Now, I have (count them) three blogs (family, personal, and Authors' Advisory), a Facebook page, and a Twitter account. I've written a 102,000 word WIP that needs some serious editing / rewriting / cutting. I'm the leader of an online writing group (yay Pied Pipers!). I get to help interview authors twice a month (yay Authors' Advisory)--or, as with this week, twice a week. I have two church callings, and I hardly ever watch TV. Who has time for TV? I don't read as much as I did before, but since I can't survive without reading, I'm still doing that. I stay up late, I get up early, I'm tired a lot, and I'm constantly busy.

I love my life. Relaxation is so overrated.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Revision Blues

11 days into revisions and I'm still trying to figure out how to start. I've tried to graph plot arcs, but realized I was spending more time figuring out the graph program than figuring out whose plot arc was where. I think I need to go a bit more low-tech.

I've nailed down (for the most part) the motivations of the POV characters and I've identified some subplots that are ripe for the chopping block, but it's hard to wrap my mind around the whole project.

Anyone have tips on how to start revisions? Do you start with the plot? Characters? What techniques do you use? Do you just go back to the beginning and fix the first chaper... and so forth? Methinks some training is in order....

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The End

Ah, the two sweetest words you can possibly write. The. End. Just send shivers down your spine, don't they? I got to write them for the first time on a novel two nights ago and I'm still glowing.

Now if only I were actually done.

Sadly, I feel more like a fraud. How dare I write such sacred words at the end of such a Swiss-cheese plot? "The End"? Please! Doesn't matter that it's a 102,000 word monstrosity of a YA novel (which are generally much more saleable at half that length) or that I finally, finally got to write (one of) the ending(s) I've been scheming about for too many months to feel proud about. Am I just going to ignore the dangling loose ends? The subplots that got abandoned halfway through? The subplots that popped up out of nowhere right at the end? What about the main plot... which one was that again?

If I were a weaver and my story a rug, I'd fold it up in a trunk and never let it see the light of day.

Which is why it's still a WIP, and not yet a MS. And, since I'm not a weaver, I can get out my scissors and Spackle and, if the crick don't rise, have it looking presentable... someday... and I don't even have to unravel the whole blasted thing first!

But at least I got to write "The End"!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thankful....

Hope everyone had a Happy Turkey Day! I'm coming down with the sore throat that my boys have been passing around, so they're going to help me with a list of stuff we're thankful for. Whether they like it or not:
  1. D is thankful for "nothing."
  2. C (after reading and laughing at D's response) is thankful for "beating up D."
  3. B (my favorite) is thankful for "you." Meaning me. Not you. Ha.
  4. D is upset that I actually wrote "nothing" and now declares that he is thankful for video games.
  5. C, when given another chance, is now thankful that he can "throw food at D."
  6. B tried to go with his original answer again, but I vetoed it, 'cause there's such a thing as too much gratitude. C suggested that he be thankful for "kicking D's butt." (My kids have a father who has a potty mouth. I take no responsibility. My speech is always as pure as the driven snow.) Finally, B decided he was thankful for snow.
For myself, I'm thankful for:
  1. My boys. Even if none of them came out as a girl. Maybe they'll eventually marry girls who will actually like their m-i-l. Do I have odds on that?
  2. My husband, who lets me read, and write, and read--even when he has no idea what the attraction is. He's unfailingly supportive, even if he will never read anything I write. Including this blog. (Good thing I love him.)
  3. Books. I'm currently reading book #126 for the year (though, really, The Way of Kings, at 1001 pages, should really count as more...). There is no better way to pass the time when you're sick. Or when you're healthy. Or when you're supposed to be doing other things. Last year I read 173, but I'm really trying to write my own, so....
  4. Authors. Even if their books are getting in the way of me writing my own.
  5. My job. I have dreams of becoming a bestselling author and never going back, but it's not a bad way to spend 40 hours a week.
  6. You. Especially if you leave me a comment. :) Thanks for reading.
Any readers crazy enough to brave Black Friday?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Stories We Tell Children

I write YA. I read YA. YA stories are some of the best stories written--and are increasingly popular among adults.

I can't help but notice, though, that some of the YA stories out there are more brutal and violent than many of the "adult" stories I read. One of my favorite adult authors writes books with quite a bit of blood and death, where the rather amoral heroines easily justify the killing of innocents--in a way that has me nodding along. Sure, sure. They had to die. Horrible, but necessary. (I would not recommend those books to children.) Other adult authors also deal with death, but it hardly ever seems to leave a mark, unless the death was a spouse or a child. (I'm sure I'm forgetting some adult books that mirror what I talk about below, but that's not really the point.)

Then we have Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, Harry Potter, and Incarceron, among others. In these stories we not only see brutality and the death of innocents, but it happens to people we know and love. No one is safe. If an adult author were to kill off such beloved characters, it seems there'd be a backlash, and a corresponding fall in readership. Instead, these books are wildly popular.

I'm not getting on a high horse here--my own WIP has a measure of violence and I plan a bit of shocking death, as well, but I just finished Incarceron and had to wonder: what stories are we telling our children? Is it good for them to see the world as uncertain and violent, with betrayal around every corner? More importantly, perhaps: why do they like these stories so much?

I have a theatre background and one thing that is always stressed in the theatre is the beneficial effect of catharsis. So playwrights, directors, and actors will put their characters through horrible experiences, hoping the audience will be able to feel the same emotions... and thus be more capable of dealing with their own mini-dramas in real life. I think, rather sadly, that this is what is happening in YA fiction.

When people die in YA stories, it leaves a mark on the surviving characters. Very few simply pass into death unnoticed, with the MC unscarred. The worlds these characters inhabit are exceptionally uncertain, with immense problems and betrayals lurking around every corner. Our world today is also uncertain, and our children deal with big-bad issues that can literally kill them... but that often are portayed as fun, harmless, and cool. Some are scarred by brushing against these issues, some are killed, but, I think, all are aware of the battle.

One of my favorite quotes lately is “Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.” — G.K. Chesterton (Thanks again, Shea.) In each of the horribly violent YA series (well, I'm taking a bit on faith, since not all of them are complete), the big-bad is conquered in the end. It is horrible, and there are awful consequences to be borne, but success, of a sort, is possible. Almost inevitable.

There's a lot of hope, hidden in the horror, and I think that our teens prefer to know and accept the truth that they will carry scars--so long as they also get to slay the dragon.

What do you think?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

11 things I learned about myself from Kevin J. Anderson

Last night, I got to interview Kevin J. Anderson for the Farland Author's Advisory Conference Calls. Kevin is amazing and sooo nice! We stumbled a bit, trying to decide whose turn it was to talk (really, it was always his turn, but he was nice enough to let me butt in on occasion), but Kevin managed to teach us about his Eleven Tips to Improve Writing Productivity.

The following is what I learned about myself:
1. I need to be better about writing every day. For example, after the call, Kevin said he was going to go write another chapter in his book. I celebrated a successful call by watching some television.

2. I'm doing pretty okay at filling space on the page. If I can't figure out what's supposed to happen next, I just start writing and figure I'll fix it in post. Post is gonna take a while....

3. I rock at writing the "bad first draft"--but I doubt I'll ever be able to write as fast as Kevin. Or even as fast as this guy in my writing group, who just celebrated hitting his NaNoWriMo goal: 50,000 words in 10 days!!! That's just crazy. My head hurts now.

4. I need to start a new project, so I can have something going when I finally finish my current WIP. Or get bored with it. Or want to brag that I have more than one project going at the same time.

5. I need to be better at ignoring the Internet Explorer button at the bottom of the screen. If I run across something I don't know about my setting, I just look it up! Bam! There goes an hour that could have been spent writing 500 more words or so. I don't edit much as I write, but I need to learn to put [look up location of police stations] instead of, well, looking them up right away.

6. #1 notwithstanding, I'm pretty good at snatching what time I have available. I don't need a whole day, just an hour or so in the evening, in between yelling at the kids to go to sleep. I can get a lot done with that. Not NaNo quantity, but pretty decent.

7. I need to consider submitting to Writers of the Future. I've been reluctant because it's a short story contest, but I can win cash and a week-long trip to a writer's conference in Hollywood! (Meanwhile, I still need to meet my goal to finish the WIP, too....)

8. It's a good thing I have hyper-focus, since I have no chance of creating my ideal writing environment. Right now, my kids are watching TV about six feet away from me. But I don't watch. Much.

9. For someone who likes talking so much, I'm awfully intimidated by the thought of walking around with a digital voice recorder.

10. My varied life is a great background for an author, but I still need to learn underwater basketweaving.

11. It's okay to stop editing before your story is perfect. I'm sure this will come in handy when I get really lazy later....

What about you? What writing habits do you have that help/inhibit your productivity?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Singing the Praises of My Writer's Group

A few years ago, I finally reached the point most writers get to where I read one too many books that made me think "Hey! I can write better than this!" Naturally, writing a book--whether I'm actually better or not--is easier said than done. I've learned a lot of respect for anyone who can finish an entire novel. Seriously. Kudos all around.

Getting in the habit took me a few years and I still struggle at times (for instance, I should be writing my book right now...), but I'm getting better. What I really, really needed was a writer's group, who could encourage me, tell me what I was doing wrong, and sneer at me when I slacked. I tried creating a mini-writer's group with a friend, but he was a bigger slacker than I was! (Sorry, Mclaine. You know it's true.)

My area (unlike the one I grew up in, which has bestsellers thick on the ground all of a sudden) has almost no serious authors. That I know of. Not that I put out an ad, or looked, or asked around, or anything. I can guarantee that no serious authors knocked randomly on my door to invite me to be in their writer's group. Snobs.

Finally, likely realizing that there were lots of wanna-be's like me out there, David Wolverton/Farland decided to start up an online writer's forum, made up of lots of writer's groups. Jim Wolverton, his brother, took over the project, and I was fortunate enough to get in on the ground floor--by which I mean I volunteered to help with absolutely everything I could (including writing the Critique Guide...yeah, I know... stop laughing!) and got to know Jim well enough that when I begged, he let me be the leader of his group. The one he put together himself (since he was in charge of putting everyone in groups). He swears he didn't just cherry-pick the best ones for us, but, really--what are the odds that random selection could produce the awesomeness that is my writer's group?

Anyway, unless things have changed since I last heard the numbers, my group is the most active of them all. By a lot. We chat, we critique, and I, for one, marvel that I get to "hang out" with such talented writers.  I'm already a better, more consistent, and more motivated writer.

So thanks to David, Jim, and everyone in my group. Being a wanna-be just got a lot more fun.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

In the Beginning....

When I was born, my parents (who have been known to wait for weeks after the birth of a child before naming it) took one look at me and decided that I looked like a baby robin.

Can you see the resemblance? Cute, huh?

This decision set off a series of unintended consequences. Like my frequent dreams of flying (don't tell me everyone has those--not everyone is named after a bird). Or, because of the spelling, the letters that arrived addressed to Mr. Rob (thrown away)... or the Gillette razor on my 18th birthday (works great on legs, too)... or the notice to register for Selective Service or face jail time (come and get me). Or the dreams where I was the hero, rescuing the damsel in distress. Or is that TMI?

My parents also instilled in me a love of reading and a belief that I can do whatever I want. Or was that me, telling them I could do whatever I want? Hard to remember....

The next thing I want to be is a published writer.