Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I WON!


I gotta say, I have never, ever written that many words on a single story in one month ever. NaNoWriMo rocks. I now know I can write fast, that I love Twitter #wordwars and #1k1hr, and that I can commit to writing every day and Get. It. Done!

Such a good feeling. Now if I can just continue a similar pace for December, I can meet my goal of writing a whole first draft this year.

Suddenly I feel very tired.

Anyway, as promised, this is my graph. If you look closely, you can see all the days I slacked, the weekends I caught up with a tremendous burst of words, and, most importantly, the overall consistent effort to moving forward.
I am so proud of myself right now. :)

How is everyone else doing on NaNo? Didja win? Get close? Write anything? Congrats to you all! :)

Come back Thursday for a chance to win David Farland's new e-book, Nightingale. And find out how cool I really am. :)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

NaNo Home Stretch

As of yesterday, I have 42,264 words. In 15 minutes, I'm going to start a few marathon #WordWar rounds on twitter (come play!) and try to get at least 4000 words today.

This is my first NaNo and I fully expect to win. I'm not like many of my buddies who finished weeks ago, but I've written almost every day, and used the weekends to catch up (and occasionally get a tad ahead). I'll show you my whole chart next week when it's over, but I'm happy to say I've stayed close to the goal line all month.

In other news, my NaNo project is taking me in fun directions. I didn't have time to plot the thing before November 1 (I just found out on Nov1 that I had time for NaNo), so I'm discovery writing with a 4-point benchmark outline. I was shooting for an 80k word book, but I'm thinking it might run long. Good thing there's a lot to cut, right?

Okay, I've got to figure out what happens next in the next 5 minutes before WordWarIII starts. (Have I mentioned how much I love Twitter? You people are SOOO motivational!)

How's your NaNo going?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Turkey Day!

Happy Turkey Day, everyone!

A short list of the things I'm thankful for:

  1. My husband, who lets me write, read, ignore the chilins, and leave him for writer's conferences. I couldn't accomplish half of what I do without him.
  2. My three sons, who take it as a given that my book will be sold someday, catapulting us to vast riches.
  3. My extended family, biological, in-law, and adopted, who don't gripe (much) when I'm antisocial at family functions, with my nose in a book or my fingers on a keyboard--but who make me feel welcome when I can tear myself away to play games with them.
  4. My wonderful blog followers, twitter friends, online writer's groupies, and other scores of people, most of whom I've never met in real life, who have encouraged my writing, critiqued my book, corrected my mistakes, motivated my NaNo, and generally been downright awesome. You guys are the best!
  5. My real-life friends (few of whom read my blog... that I know of), who keep me grounded, remind me that there is life outside the computer, and who ask about how my book is coming.
  6. Authors, libraries, book stores, publishers, agents, and everyone else involved in feeding my addiction to stories. My life would be so much poorer without you.
  7. My day-job, which proves every day that real-life conflict is stranger and more compelling than anything found in a book. And which occasionally proves that happy endings are still possible.
I hope everyone's Thanksgiving is going well, and that you are surrounded by family, friends, and great food. And good books. :)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How NOT to Write a Query

One of the lessons that stuck with me most strongly from my college years was from my History of Civilizations class, where I learned that, in order to give a complete definition to something, you must also define what it is NOT. For example, an apple is a fruit, but it is NOT an orange.

I've found that this works for all sorts of things in life, and I want to try it with queries.

Now, there are lots and lots of bad query examples on the internet. Stop by Query Shark for just one small sampling. I'm not here to reiterate the many, many common mistakes newbie queriers will make. Instead, I want to explore some of the deeper mistakes. The ones that don't seem like mistakes at the time. Like describing your story wrong.

Take, for example, a little international bestseller like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

I have no way of knowing how JK Rowling queried Harry Potter, but she was rejected, so we can assume that, like all of us, she didn't immediately hook every single agent she queried. Even if she used the blurb below, we can assume she would have faced rejection, but let's pretend that the blurb drawn up by the Scholastic marketing team is the blurb she used in her query, huh?

This is the front flap blurb in my copy:
Harry Potter has never been the star of a Quidditch team, scoring points while riding a broom far above the ground. He knows no spells, has never helped to hatch a dragon, and has never worn a cloak of invisibility.
All he knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley--a great big swollen spoiled bully. Harry's room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn't had a birthday party in eleven years.
But all of that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to an incredible place that Harry--and anyone who reads about him--will find unforgettable.
For it's there that he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic in everything from classes to meals, but a great destiny that's been waiting for him... if Harry can survive the encounter.
Can you think what this might have been like in the hands of someone who hasn't been trained in marketing? Have you thought about how you would write a bad blurb for Harry Potter?

Consider if you knew nothing about the book except this:
Twelve-year-old Harry Potter is the Boy Who Lived... but he doesn't know it. Oh, he knows he's alive, of course, but he has no idea that he is the only survivor of a terrible evil. He thinks his parents were killed by a car accident, a fiction his horrible "muggle" relatives are eager to promote. They hate all things dealing with the magical world to which Harry truly belongs.
Then one day a mysterious letter arrives, and his uncle panics, going to extreme lengths to prevent Harry from reading it--or any of the hundreds that follow. Harry does his best, but can never read more than the strange green address on the front. He doesn't know that his life is about to change. That he is about to discover a powerful heritage... at a magical school called Hogwarts.
That's awful, yes? Still mildly interesting, but confusing (what's a muggle?), and utterly fails to convey the magical wonder of the actual flap blurb.

If you've been around the writer blog-o-sphere or following this blog for a while, you've probably stumbled upon many variations of my own query... and you know I know how to write confusing query blurbs. I'm still working on it, and I'm getting closer with every wonderfully helpful comment, but man, this has been a long journey.

So I'm challenging myself and all of you: write a really, really awful query. Either for one of your favorite books or for your own. Make it sound like something that someone might actually write, but remove all the most important concrete details. Use terminology the reader will know... once they read the whole book. Make it mysterious (read: confusing) and hint at all your twistiest secrets without explaining any of them.

Maybe, once we can really see what goes into a bad query, we can learn how to write a good one?

Leave your bad queries in the comments, please. I can use all the negative definition I can get.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Swear Words

Do you swear? Hang out with people who swear? Read books where characters swear? Does it bother you? If so, why?

I'm torn on this subject.

On the one hand, I was taught by a wise playwrighting professor at BYU that all words are morally neutral. There are no "bad" words, just bad context. Even the dreaded F-word can be used effectively in a way that teaches a moral message.

But if you use those words,will anyone notice your message?

The main problem with the traditional "curse words," in my opinion, is not that each word is bad, in and of itself, but that society has attached so much subtext to each one, they have become rather unwieldy to use.

Let's examine, shall we?

As I see it, swear words fall into four basic categories: crude, gender-hating, religious, and sexual.

Crude words are those that refer to the more unsavory bodily functions or the regions from which they come, such as (I'll use asterisks to avoid offending your eyes and attracting google searches I might not want) sh**, pi**, and a** It seems to me that we look down on those who use them in non-medical conversations mainly because they're impolite. We don't want to talk about bathroom functions at the office. This doesn't explain why euphemisms of these words are more accepted. Crud, or poo, for example: how, exactly, are those different from sh**? And how is butt or even bottom different from a**? Anyone?

It's not semantics: it's subtext.We think differently about someone who says butt than we think of someone who says a**. There's no reason that I can see, but there it is.

Gender-Hating words seem to be more plentiful in female varieties than male, but, as I see it, they're offensive because they cast one gender in a negative light or serve to basely objectify an individual. The word bastard seems to have fallen out of disfavor lately, but it used to be a horrible insult to suggest someone's parents weren't married. Now, it is used mainly to refer to an insensitive male, though it still seems to suggest that the one so labeled is (or should be) of a lower caste of society. Similarly, b**ch isn't quite so bad as it used to be, though it still suggests that the woman is animalistic and short-tempered. Worse, and still quite offensive to most of society, are those words that refer directly (and negatively) to female anatomy, such as c**t. (It is interesting that dick can actually be a man's first name.) Though the actual definition of this base insult doesn't even make sense ("You are such a vagina." "Huh?"), it is universally understood to be negative. And insulting.

When people use these words, we generally label them as insensitive and boorish. We see them as unrefined and mean. These words carry a bite to them that the more medical terminology does not, mainly because they've been thrown around by angry people for so long that they seem to retain some of that anger, even when used more neutrally.

Religious words are those that are found in the Bible--and are perfectly fine when found there. In church, it is rarely offensive to talk about Jesus Christ, God, and all the people who were damned to hell. The difference comes when these words are used out of context, in casual or offensive ways their originators never intended. I met a man once who seemed gleeful that he would mention Jesus Christ whenever he dropped something, thereby proving that he thought of Him a lot. This was a little offensive to me.

It seems to me that these words became curse words in an act of defiance against authority, and remain offensive because some of us hold them sacred and dislike to have them used in non-religious ways. (For me, this prohibition does not extend to the words damn and hell. They are my most frequent curse-word indulgence.) Those who use these words out of a religious context are often seen as sacrilegious and rebellious. It can send the message that you are not a "good" or holy person.

Sexual words like the omnipresent f*** are essentially like the crude, potty words. They refer to a natural process in a crass way. Not because stringing four letters together makes something good turn bad, but because society has decided that, for whatever reason, good people don't say that word. It becomes impossible to use it, even in the appropriate context, without dragging the societal subtext along with it.

So what's a writer to do? What, specifically, is a YA writer to do? It is ridiculous to suggest that putting these words in our books will expose otherwise innocent minds to awful letter combinations that will scar them for life. It is possible that excessive repetition will encourage young mouths to parrot these words, thus drawing the associated sub-textual judgments upon themselves... but, really, can a single book hope to reach the numbers of repetition that our young people hear at school on a typical day? Will seeing it in black and white really make that much of a difference?

I think, when it comes right down to it, we need to be careful with these words not because they're "bad," and not because people might judge our characters (bad words might actually help our characterizations) but because we need to be aware of our audience.

You've probably all had at least one "conversation" with someone determined to prove how bad-a** s/he is. This type of person will sprinkle expletives throughout his speech until you can hardly discern what he's talking about. It's very frustrating. In this sort of speech, the bleepity-bleep words have as much meaning as, well bleepity-bleeps. If he would cut them out, the meaning would be much clearer. But these sorts of people often use "bad" words without regard to context. They could be talking about going to the store or *shudder* playing with a baby. They use them as filler words the way the rest of us might use "um" or "ah" or "you know." After a lengthy conversation with one of these, I stop noticing the swear words. My brain has to filter them completely out or I'll never figure out what they're saying. So all those words become a complete waste of breath. No more shock value. No more convincing me he's a bad-a**. Just meaningless bleepity-bleeps.

So be hyper-aware of your use of swear words in your writing (and in your speech, by the way). Not because you're going to go to hell for using them or because you're going to send someone else there because they hear/read them. Because when you use one, you drag along the subtext. The small zing of shock value. All of society's judgments on your characters' heads. But when you use lots... you're wasting ink.

What do you think? Do you use swear words in your writing?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why I Love My Husband

You know those silly childhood "premonitions" about what your future spouse will be like? What kind of career, what kind of family, what kind of car? That sort of thing?

I didn't set a whole lot of goals for my future husband. Didn't care where he was from or where we'd live. Didn't care what sort of car he'd drive, or what his career might be. I have, at certain times, actually vowed never to marry a cowboy. I certainly never dreamed of marrying a hunter, who would hang deer antlers on my wall. I would have preferred to be closer to my family.

One premonition has stuck with me, though. I can't remember now if it was a dream or just a very vivid wish, but I remember the vision. I was standing in an auditorium (all my dreams revolved around the theatre in those days) and someone was standing behind me, with his arms around me. I couldn't see his face, and I didn't know his name, but there were two things I knew without question.

One, he loved me. Utterly. Unconditionally.

Two, he supported me. In all my dreams, in all my worries, in all my crazy delusions.

And he does.

And he does.

Happy Birthday, Jerry, my love. Someday I hope I can deserve you.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Agent Inbox Contest

I've resolved recently to try to keep my blog followers more up-to-date on the cool contests I stumble upon. Not that I need more competition, but because I'm so grateful for everyone who hosts those contests, I want to give back as much as I can. Please help me out by showing your love and following these great hosts.

So there's one starting on Monday (at 10 am EST) that I'm going to try my hardest to get in on: Krista V. over at Mother. Write. (Repeat.) has a regular monthly feature on her blog called "An Agent's Inbox." She accepts a certain number of queries, posts them on her blog, and lets blog readers critique them--along with an actual agent, who gives her honest opinion about the query and selects winners to request additional material from.

This month's contest features agent Taylor Martindale of Full Circle Literary. Taylor represents a variety of genres in YA, women's fiction, and select children's picture books. Her profile on the agency site says that "More than anything, Taylor is looking for character-driven stories that bring the world vividly to life (whether it's fantasy or not), and voices that refuse to be ignored." You can read a great compilation of her preferences and interviews (which may or may not be outdated) at Literary Rambles.

If you have a completed manuscript and you're not sure your query is all it can be, this is the contest for you. Polish your query and first 250 words, and pack your thick skin--could be a bumpy ride. Yippeee!

Go here for full details.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Book Bomb! Today!

I'm an obedient soul. I generally do what I'm told, unless there's a good reason why not. When there's an excellent reason to do it, well, of COURSE!

So when Larry Correia calls for a book bomb, and that book is VARIANT by Robison Wells, I'm a-gonna help out.

I mean, it's Larry Correia, who was on Authors' Advisory this summer to teach us about The Mechanics of Writing Action and Pacing. And it's Rob Wells, who was on Authors' Advisory just last month to teach us about Book Launching.

And, well, VARIANT rocks!

First, I'll let Larry tell you what a book bomb is:

What is a book bomb? Well, Amazon has its own bestseller list. It is calculated hourly and you are given a sales rank based up on how you stack up against the other six million books on there. It is some sort of strange rolling average algorhythm, but what it comes down to is, the more books that are purchased during that particular time frame, the higher you rank. The higher you rank, the more of their top 50 or top 10 lists you show up on. The more of those you show up on, the higher you go, the more attention you get, the more books you sell.
By getting as many people as possible to purchase the book on a single day, it really kicks a book up the rankings.

Sounds cool, right?

Larry also goes into detail about why he thinks Rob is deserving of this bomb, mostly because his recent struggles with panic disorder have now cost him his day-job, which is bad timing. No matter what everyone thinks of writers, publishing a single book does NOT make you a millionaire. (Sorry if I've crushed your dreams.)

As much as I love Rob, though, I wouldn't recommend VARIANT if it wasn't amazing. Fortunately, it is. The ONLY thing about the book that I found at all irksome was that it ends on a cliffhanger. But that's okay, because I'm going to read the next book (and the next, and the next) anyway.

If you liked MAZERUNNER, this book will fascinate you. It's an amazing blend of sci-fi and dystopia and plain old mystery. Rob's writing is clean and crisp and builds the tension perfectly. You want to read this book.

So today, November 10, 2011, please head on over to Amazon and buy the book. Also, don't you have Christmas shopping to do? Any readers on your list? Especially of the 12-18 male variety? Of course you do. Buy it for them, too. :)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Why I Love Miss Snark

**Correction: Authoress is actually Miss Snark's First Victim. My mistake. :) **

I'm supposed to be pounding out thousands of words so I can catch up (or at least not fall farther behind) on NaNoWriMo... so, of course, this is the perfect time to blog.

But I'll make it fast. Really. Maybe.

I've been very, VERY impressed lately by the blog Miss Snark's First Victim, run by the anonymous Authoress.
Isn't she lovely?

I've been following her for many months, and the wonders she is doing for aspiring writers continues to inspire me. She has regular critique sessions, where her loyal fans submit various sections of their work for general critique. She has regular "Secret Agent" contests, where actual anonymous agents come by to peruse a certain capped number of entries, comment, and request material from the winners. (The agents are announced at the end.)

Lately, though, she's been running [around like a headless chicken to run] her second (?) annual Baker's Dozen Auction. Over the last couple weeks, she's been logging entries for this massive undertaking--capped at, I believe, 350 for YA/MG and somewhere around 250 (total guess) for adult books (because there weren't enough adult entries, they gave the extras to the YA/MG category).

Once the entries were received, she and author Jodi Meadows started reading slush. The goal is to whittle each category down to 25 entrants.

Those 25 entrants will then get to participate in a massive auction where, if I understand it right, lots of agents will look over the entries and place bids (Gimme 5 pages!, 50 pages!, Full!) on the ones they like and want to see more of. That's 50 potential wanna-be authors who will have an excellent chance of finding an agent during this contest.

Miss Snark's blog has already logged 30 success stories--and she admits she hasn't even covered them all.

All this while striving to become a professional author herself. She announced several months back that she has an agent and may someday unveil herself and start marketing, but for now, few know who she really is.

I can't think of the most impressive thing about all this, because I'm thoroughly impressed by everything I've seen. Though she finally broke down and charged ($8!!!) to participate in the Baker's Dozen contest this year, everything else on her blog is completely free. That's thousands of hours she's just giving away to help others. She even has a portion of the entry fees earmarked to donate YA books to her local library.

And on top of everything, she's amazingly humble. It would be so easy for her to feel entitled, and to demand payback from karma, or worship from her growing legion of fans. Not so.

On November 1st, when hundreds of Baker's Dozen wanna-be entrants visited her web form to submit their entries, the payment link hadn't been set up. She had to cancel scores of entries and start all over again. The response from her fans was very positive. No one yelled, griped, or swore. Even those who wouldn't make the next window were gracious. Miss Snark still agonized over her mistake and, the next day, lovingly expressed her gratitude for grace.

How can we not love her?

**Note: I actually made it into the YA/MG Baker's Dozen slush pile. (Twice.) I'm waiting on tenterhooks to see if I'll make the cut for the actual auction. Still--should Miss Snark stumble by (and, yes, I'm tweeting about this post, and mentioning her) I want it to be clear that I do NOT expect special treatment. If I don't make the cut, I will still adore her blog. Adoration would be a fickle thing indeed if it were so easily killed.

So head on over and check her out. You'll thank me later... or you would if you weren't going to be too busy thanking Authoress. :)

Have you been impressed by any other blogs that help aspiring authors?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Blog-Day Winners and NaNo

Should I talk about NaNo first? Or winners?

Okay, okay. NaNo it is.

Today is day four and I haven't written yet today (darn day-job,anyway), but I have high hopes of breaking the 4000 word mark today. Which isn't as far as I should be, but there's the whole weekend ahead of me to catch up, right?

I was actually going to travel to visit family this weekend, but 1) my husband has a migraine and can't travel and 2) snow's a-comin' and I don't want to be alone with my boys, driving in a blizzard, and 3) I'd planned to write during the drive so I could keep up with NaNo... but that's hard to do if I'm the one driving.

I have friends (Donna Weaver and Owasm) who are burning it up for NaNo. They're quite intimidating. Over 10,000 words already. It's DAY 4, PEOPLE! That's like 2500 words a day--except they had that yesterday, after 3 days of writing, so it's more like 3000 words a day. How am I supposed to compete with that?

Oh, right. It's not a competition. Except against that 50,000 word mark. Can we all say "grueling?" Good job.

For those of you skipping ahead, you can start reading now.

The $10 gift card winners are....




Random.org always amazes me with its seeming un-randomness. Chantele was the first commenter, and Eric was the last (save Susan, who'd commented earlier). Who'd have predicted that? :)

I'm off to email you both. Thanks to everyone who commented and tweeted, etc. You guys are the best.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaNo!

Until this morning, I didn't think I'd get to play. Then I got a very exciting phone call and suddenly my November is a LOT less cluttered than it was. (It's a day-job thing. Moving on.)

What to do with all my extra time?

NaNoWriMo, of course! I'm all registered and everything!

I've never played before, but figured this was the perfect way to finally jump-start my next book.

So who's with me? I need more buddies who will mock me and throw ripe fruit when I slack off.




In other news, my Blog-Day give-away is still ongoing through November 4th.